Tuesday, December 27, 2016

What to do with expectations

It was written all over his face. Disappointment. All December (and November) long, little Eliot had waited for Christmas with a childlike wonder so intense it could have put A Christmas Story's star toddler, Ralphie, to shame. Now the day had finally come and, by the look of dismay on the little boy's face, the holiday wasn't living up to the hype.
But Eliot's forlorn response to Christmas morning is not all that unusual, at least not for six year olds. In the mind's eye of a six year old Christmas should be magical. Sugar Plums should come to life. Frosty should dance and frolic. Snow should fall in cloud-like blankets and soften the ringing bells of Santa's sleight as it dashes through the sky.
For the month leading up to the blessed Christmas morning Eliot had spent his days playing with wooden nutcrackers and hiding a stuffed Elf on nearly every shelf in the house. Eliot lived in a Polar Express inspired dream world all December long.
And then the morning came. The whole night had passed and he hadn't heard a single reindeer paw or ringing bell. The lawn outside his window wasn't snowy white. Frosty was no where to be found and not a sugar plum in sight.
Downstairs, beneath the tree, there was a bounty of presents but they weren't all for him. To Eliot's tragic dismay, it turned out the biggest boxed surprise didn't even have his name on it.
The rest of the day visitors came and went. Grandpa and Grandma, Aunts and Uncles. They all brought gifts and goodies. But it was too late to save Eliot's Christmas. He had already decided it wasn't magical. By dinnertime there wasn't a gift nor cookie on earth that could change Eliot's mind. He was depressed by a Christmas reality that didn't match his storybook fantasies.

I trust that someday Eliot will outgrow his childhood magical, fairy tale Christmas expectations and anticipations. In time he'll have to learn the truth about reindeer and Santa. Soon a day will come when he won't look for sugar plums and the Elf on the Shelf will be just a sweet memory.
But that doesn't mean Eliot won't be disappointed.
Each of us experience Eliot moments in life. We open a gift, go on an adventure or embark on a new thrill only to be let down. The present isn't what we asked for. The adventure is anything but smooth sailing. The thrill only lasts a measly three seconds and then the fun is over. Setting expectations by a standard of fantasy is a no-fail recipe for disappointment. When reality doesn't match the dream the dreamer goes sour on reality.
Eliot was sour on Christmas when the presents, the very day itself, didn't live up to his imagination. As a result of his disappointment Eliot missed out on the true spirit of Christmas. He missed the fun wrapped beneath the tree, tied with ribbons and bows. When his cousins all played with their remote controlled cars Eliot didn't even take his out of the box. While the rest of the family indulged in the array of sweet treats infiltrating the kitchen counter, Eliot passed on every cookie and didn't experience even a moment of sugar high.

Grown ups and kids alike are prone to disappointments because we are all prone letting stubbornness take over our imaginations. But there is an alternative.
We can turn our expectations into exultation. We can turn our pout into a praise. We can set anticipations aside and life up adulation instead. 
There is no excuse for a bummer of a life because God doesn't give sub-par gifts. The plans God has for our days are never mundane. God doesn't incorporate ordinary into any of His designs.
The cause of dismay and dissatisfaction with God's will and ways is not due to any inferior plans or gifts from Him. It is in our inability to release expectations and embrace what God has placed underneath our tree. We only miss the goodness of His gifts when we choose to lament our lot and fail to look and see the joy in living fully in the life God has given. 
We can all learn from Eliot's Christmas day expectation exasperation. Don't live in a land of expectations and miss the beauty in the land of reality. Instead, turn your expectation into exultation and thank God for His presence.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Dreaming of Christ on Christmas

Everyone has been dreaming of a white Christmas. Or at least that's what the season's favorite holiday songs would lead you to believe. And judging by the carols and tunes of the Christmas season, everyone is dreaming of a special someone, instead of a special something, underneath the Christmas tree. And we're all putting our faith in a deer with a red nose to guide you in inclement weather.
But this year northern Pennsylvania didn't get a white Christmas. Folks might have been headed here for the homemade pumpkin pie but they didn't have to head through snow on the journey. Instead of white flakes we've had a misty drizzle.
Not exactly the makings of a holiday hit single.
All December long I've been right there with my fellow carolers, wishing and hoping for a white Christmas if for no other reason than to sing, "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas" on the actual morning of the big day. But I woke up this morning with less snow than I'd seen out my window when I went to sleep the night before.
As every child expected, Santa came as promised and left a bounty of presents but must have forgotten to leave behind a dusting of snowy white. And so all of us dreamers will have to retire our song of precipitation hopes till next year. Unless we decide, instead, to retire the whole notion of the White Christmas carol along will all of our other wishing, dreaming, hoping sounds of the season.
Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas music. I'm one of Christmas music's biggest fans. And I like hoping. A lot. In fact, my whole life survives on hope. I am a dreamer, and happily so. I am a wisher who can never be disappointed too many times as to be discouraged from wishing again. But I'm not dreaming of a white Christmas one year longer. I'm not singing songs of wanting a particular "you" for Christmas or a date on New Year's Eve. I'm retiring the songs of this dreamy season because my merriment doesn't hinge on those dreams coming true.
I used to be certain that I knew what I wanted for Christmas and that it was written in a song. But, oh, how wrong I was. I don't want a white blanket of snow. I don't want a love interest named "you" or "him." I don't even want pumpkin pie. All I want is to be at home in Christ for this holiday. That is the one dream that I am resting my December and my entire life upon. My one wish is wrapped up in the hope of Heaven.
This Christmas wasn't white but I've learned that I don't need my Christmas to look like the lyrics in a song. It doesn't need to be white and it doesn't need to be romantic. The only thing I need on this Christmas is Jesus. That's it. In fact, He is all I need all year long. He is all any of us will ever need. And if I have Jesus - if you have Jesus - I promise, you won't even miss the snow on Christmas morning.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Ornaments

Every Christmas, for as long as I can remember, I've received a special "Christmas ornament." The ornament unveiling occurs every year like clock work. The moment comes when Mom and I are decorating the tree. I say "Mom and I" not because I am a fatherless child. Just fatherless at Christmas tree decorating time. The picking, purchasing and putting up of the Christmas tree has always been performed by my Mom. And happily so. She wouldn't trust anyone else to pick her perfect Fraser Fur or the traditional, yearly ornament gifted to her daughter as a special token to remember that one particular Christmas.
I have ornaments dating back to my toddler years. A few have been lost or broken along the way but most remain delicately wrapped and stored for eleven months of the year. Then, come December, the ornaments of Christmas pasts are unveiled and given a prominent place on the Christmas tree. 
Every year, as Mom and I decorate the tree she always sneaks away to her bedroom for a few minutes - sometimes longer if she can't find the bag or the box in which she's hidden my annual Christmas tree decorating gift. When she reappears she has hidden within her hands the perfect ornament wrapped up in tissue paper. The ornaments are always unique, like the skiing squirrel of 2014, and perfectly suited to the past year's events, like the NYC bulb presented on the Christmas following my first trip to the big city. The ornaments are always a testament to the year gone by and to the love of a Mom that has a talent for making holidays, and her children, feel special.
This year Mom and I were together again in the living room decorating the Christmas tree. We wrapped the tree in strands of little white twinkle lights, like we do every year. Then we opened up big boxes full of ornaments and unwrapped each one with tender care. Delicate ornaments made their way to the top of the tree while soft cotton mittens and fluffy snowman were affixed to low branches. In the midst of our tree decorating I disappeared up to my room and returned with a little white bag. The Christmas ornament tradition has now become my own. Now I too buy a special ornament and present it my Mom while we decorate the tree. She unwrapped the tissue paper to reveal a rustic wooden ornament decorated with beach glass in the shape of a Christmas wreath.
The newest Christmas tree addition was placed on a prominent branch and then the decorating resumed. The rest of the boxed ornaments were hung, broken ornaments were fixed and some had to be ditched. With a few strings of red beaded garland the tree looked complete.
Except for one thing.
There was no "Stephanie's Christmas Ornament of 2016" hanging on the tree. The whole Christmas tree decorating ordeal had come and gone and Mom had never slipped away to her room. She never revealed a white bag or wrapped box or tissue paper wrapped treasure. For the first time in twenty six years, Mom didn't give me a Christmas ornament.
But she didn't need to.
The time in my life has come and with it a new understanding has dawned. Christmas isn't about getting; It is about giving.
It has taken too long for me to get here - maybe it takes too long for all of us to get here. But short or long, delayed or early, the time has come when I no longer need to receive a special yearly Christmas ornament. The only special ornament I need is the one I'm giving away.

I've often heard it said that it is better to give than to receive and at Christmas time I am reminded of why that saying is true. Because Jesus was a giver, not a getter.
This Christmas and all year long, I want to give like Jesus. I want to give, not because I'm hoping to receive, but because I'm hoping to bless. I want to give because I want to show Christ's love. I want to give sacrificially in order that the receiever will experience the joy of knowing they are special and treasured.
For my 26 years of life, my memories of Christmas tree decorating have been wrapped up tissue paper, in the special gift I was given. But not this year. This year my tradition, and what made Christmas tree decorating special, was wrapped up in what I gave and the special woman, my Mom, who I had the gift of blessing.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

HIS strength

I wanted to cry one of those truly cathartic cries that is all at once exhausting and invigorating. In theory it was the perfect moment for such relief. First of all, I was already soaking wet, in the shower with no mascara to mess up. I wouldn't have needed a box of tissues since my face was already drenched. I could have wept with all of the pathetic emotionalism of a school girl and no one would have known.
But as hard as I tried I couldn't cry. It was as if my tear ducts were in a season of drought. Not a drop of salty moisture broke the barrier of my cornea. I kept blinking, willing the floodgates of my eyes to spring open but they kept coming up dry.
To bring about the sobs I so desperately desired I thought about the pain I was experiencing in that moment. My left side was terribly flared. My muscles felt like stretched rubber bands on the verge of snapping. This is the terribly distressing sensation I have during every warm shower. I've had it for years now. Warmth hits my skin and the left side of my body reacts violently. Most mornings in the shower I try to ignore the tension and bite my tongue to buck up under the pain. But not today. Not this shower. Instead I thought of nothing but the pain. I told myself that this excruciating physical agony was just cause for weeping.
But even justifying my desired tears couldn't bring a single one to the surface.
So I touched the side of my torso and intentionally lingered on each bone. I cringed as I considered my sharp ribs. My lack of cushioning has caused me such physical and emotional grief. As I reflected on my gaunt frame I hoped a stream of tears would flow.
But not even a drop appeared.
I couldn't cry. I couldn't even whine. All I could do was stand still under the heat of the piercing waters, immobilized by my spastic left leg, and simply listen.
And that's when I heard it. Or should I say, when I heard Him.
The moment I stopped trying to force an emotional break down that wasn't coming I heard God speak right into my soul, right there in my shower. "What you've gained is more of MY strength because you haven't been able to develop any of your own."
Standing in the shower, naked and vulnerable, I wanted to think about what I had lost. I wanted to feel sorry for myself because of my condition, my size and my glaring weakness. But God wanted to show me strength. His strength. By being stripped down to nothing, emotionally, physically and, in that moment, quite literally, God was able to make His message clear as a bell; as obvious as everyone of my protruding ribs.
In taking away my health God has shown me what is truly good - He and He alone. By draining my body of its strength, size and stamina God has shown me the power that is unconquerable - only the power of His indwelling. By prying my dreams out of my hands God has removed every distraction so that I can see clearly the only eternal glory - the glory of His presence.
This morning while I was set on wallowing in the sorrow of my weakness, God wanted to show me the beauty of His strength. Without this weakness and frailty I wouldn't know the power of God to be as real and mighty as it truly is. Without my sickness and lack of weight I wouldn't understand the gravity of 2 Corinthians 12:9, "for my power is perfect in weakness." Without this illness I would still put my faith in my own strength. Without MS, flared muscles, protruding bones and ailing digestion I would not know the miracle of God's grace that sustains me.
God has carried me when human logic says I should be falling. He has enabled me to live against all odds. And He has done it while I've been utterly frail and weak, without any strength of my own to depend upon. He has done it entirely with His power.
God hasn't let me develop my muscles or gain a single pound. But He is making me strong. Stronger than I ever thought I could be. This morning God showed me a glimpse of the greater purpose in His plans for my physical failing and spiritual soaring.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

I still have my eyebrows.

I've lost a lot in the past six years...
I've lost weight. Lots and lots of weight. I've lost cushion on my bottom and covering on my chest. I've lost color in my skin and what little thickness I had in my hair.
I've lost my body's ability to digest, absorb and nourish. I've lost my physical ability to thrive. I've lost temperature regulation and vision. I've lost the dependability of balance and my hands capacity to grip and hold.
In illness I've lost the security of health and wellness. I've lost the memory of what it feels like to have a chronically normal, symptom-free body. I've lost the remembrance of waking up without urgency. I've lost the serenity of living without hot flashes and muscle flares. I've lost the comfort of sitting without pain and spasms.
In the past six years I've lost more than physical functioning. I've lost love, experiences and relationships. I've lost future plans I thought were a sure thing. I've lost dreams that I had come to cherish. I've lost fantasies I so wanted to hold onto.
I've lost memories of family gatherings. I've lost friendships that I couldn't sustain. I've lost opportunities I couldn't capitalize on and adventure I couldn't commit to.
At times I've lost my humor. And even my ability to laugh. I've struggled as I've tried
not to lose my smile.
But I've never lost my eye brows. My thick, always-in-need-of-plucking eyebrows. The eyebrows that ladies at church have always envied. The eyebrows that needed tending to since I was a young girl. The eyebrows that plagued me as a teen with their furry, unified shape. Those eyebrows are still the same.

And so is the girl wearing them.

The past six years have been years of loss in a million ways. Physical, emotional, relational. I've lost more than I've gained. But what I've gained is more valuable than what I've lost. What I still have is more important than all of the multitudes of features, comforts and securities of memories gone by.
What I still have is more glaring and permanent than the diligently plucked uni-brow above my eyes. I still have God's promises. I still have His utterly holy, gracious, merciful spirit sustaining me. I still have Christ's strength and power that can't measured in pounds and ounces. I still have vitality that doesn't run physical races because it's too busy running spiritual marathons.
There are so many things chronic illness has ripped out of my life. It has caused me to lose things I wanted to keep. Things I couldn't imagine living without were pried out of my weak, sweaty hands. But from all of this loss I've learned something. I've learned that I've only lost what isn't lasting and what I don't truly need.
In the past six years I've lost the things that used to keep me from seeking Christ. I've lost ignorance that has blinded me to my pride, arrogance and sin. I've lost false security and make-believe peace. I've lost the chains of my past and misguided visions of my future.

And I've gained my soul.

So I guess you could say I haven't really lost anything at all. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The baby

3,988,076. That's the number of babies born in one year in the United States. All of those babies become born without much of a fanfare. Celebrity babies get a bit more recognition, especially when their parents name them "Apple" or "Blue Ivy." But even celebrity babies are forgotten after a few short days on the Entertainment TV news real. Babies are a big deal to their parents and their immediate family. There aren't press releases for every one of the nearly four million babies born in a single year. The country doesn't stop and celebrate 335,000 times a day when a baby is born.
But we do celebrate one.
We celebrate Jesus.
Have you ever stopped to truly think about the wonder of the Savior of the world being born as a baby? Take a moment and let that sink in. A baby. A tiny, helpless being that can't speak or feed himself or even change himself. Through the most vulnerable means possible is how God choose to enter the world. He decided to come as one of the millions of babies born every year.
Jesus' entrance into the world was entirely average. According to scripture there wasn't even an earth quake or a unprecedented meteorological event. Nothing to alert the world that this one baby was about to change everything. The only sign that God gave the world was a star. That was Jesus' "big" birth announcement and it didn't even come with a trumpet's revelry.
And yet that one birth changed everything. That one single birth has been celebrated more than every other birth combined. The birth of a baby born in a stable to a young girl, surrounded by farm animals has been written about in more newspapers, press releases and books than any ruler, king or president. His is the only birth that is celebrated annually in every country in the world. And it has been, He has been, for thousands of years.
Suffice it to say, that little baby is kind of a big deal.
This Christmas some people will somehow miss the whole point of the celebration. They'll get confused and celebrate sugar plums. Instead of looking for a star, they'll look for Santa. But the blessed miracle of Christmas is that it only exists because of a baby. Even those that don't acknowledge the coming of the Savior are impacted by His birth. We all are. It is impossible to miss the celebration of the one baby that changed history.
So next time you hear someone avoid the word "Christmas" and replace the Savior's name with "Holiday" don't be discouraged. Instead, be full of joy because this world is still celebrating. The Savior is still alive and relevant and active in this world. He is still a very big deal. And He always will be. Because this world can't deny that something happened thousands of years ago in a little town called Bethlehem. A baby was born. And not just any baby but the one baby that would cause worldwide celebration every year and every day to come.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Smoke gets in your eyes

For 25 winters I have watched the smoke rise from the chimney of my neighbor's wood burning stove. Russel tended to the fire for most of those years. It had been his duty and he had done it happily since 1950, the year he built the home with his own two hands. Then, five years ago, Russel passed away. He was 89 years old.
Ever since Russel passed away there has been a definable absence in the neighborhood. His duties were taken over by his sons and wife but his presence could never be duplicated. The lawn is still mowed and the driveway still plowed but the peaceful, smiling man in the train conductor's style hat hasn't been sitting on the riding mower for years now and I miss him. We all miss him.
But no one has missed him more than Gloria, his wife of over fifty years. Gloria and Russel had been a pair, a duo, a matching set. Where one went, the other went, too. Russel mowed the lawn, plowed the driveway and fixed everything around the house. Gloria cooked, baked and tended the flower beds surrounding their house. The two loved to drive out to the local hunting camp and enjoy afternoons with friends at the lodge. They had a small group of faithful companions they met regularly for breakfast. They had a life that was simple yet they were content. They had a steady and happy routine that suited them.
Today I walked over to visit Gloria and her sons. Just a short month or two ago I received word that Gloria was sick with terminal cancer and that she would be denying all treatment. At 91 years old she didn't want to put up a fight. She's lived a good life, a full life and now she's ready to go home. She's ready to go see Russel again.
As I walked the short few steps across the street and up to Gloria's back door I was met with a familiar scent in the air. The wood stove. From the rooftop I could see a faint cloud of smoke rise up and touch the gently falling snow. So much had changed across the street. Russel was gone and now Gloria would be soon. But the wood stove still burned.
Inside Gloria was lying in her bed under a mountain of blankets. She smiled when I entered her room and thanked me for coming. We chatted in that awkward way you do when there is so much and so little to say all at the same time.
In the background Gloria's radio was playing some of her favorite old standards. As our conversation quieted and came to a close, as if on cue, Frank Sinatra began to sing, "Smoke gets in your eyes."
I made my way out of Gloria's bedroom, down the hall and out through the living room where her son was tending to the old wooden stove. I told him how much I loved that wood stove. I told him how the smoke that rose from their chimney comforted me each winter. It's always smelled like home.
Jerry agreed as he poked around at the hearth. He was carrying on his father's job of keeping the home warm and toasty, as it has always been. But in that moment I know my heart was warmer because smoke was still getting in my eyes. Things have changed across the street. The comings and goings of Gloria and Russel are no more. But the wood stove is still the same. The scent in the air still reminds me of home.
I made my way back across the street breathing a bit deeper, breathing in memories and years gone by. And when I breathed out all I could say was "thank you." Thank you to a couple who showed me what a simple, quiet and beautiful life looks like. Thank you to Russel and Gloria for being steady and sure in love and commitment to one another. Thank you for keeping an eye out for this young girl across the street, for putting up with her lose rabbits and rambunctious dogs.
And thank you for never letting the wood stove burn out in the dead of winter.
Today, I noticed the smoke that has gotten in my eyes for the past 25 years and realized how the life Gloria and Russel built across the street has so profoundly impacted my own. I am the person I am today because of my neighbors and the smoke of a faithful wood burning stove that has been a blessing to my eyes.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Running retirement

Her stride was smooth as silk. From my road-side view she appeared to be gliding. Her cadence was graceful. Her posture was perfectly aligned. Her arms pumped back and forth in a controlled yet relaxed rhythm. Even her breathing looked effortless. She was running tall and strong.
With her every fluid movement forward I became more and more jealous. It has been months since I've traveled at more than a speed walk. The last time I attempted to run I felt so weak and fatigued I barely completed a mile. At the end of my pathetic run my left side was flared, my lungs were winded and I felt more whopped than energized. Every fiber of my compromised being screamed out at me, "no more!" I walked through the door, untied my running sneakers and stuck them in a box downstairs. I didn't even need a few days and a drink of water to contemplate my running future. I knew it was over.
That fateful day of running surrender was months ago and still the sight of strong, healthy, capable runners brings me sadness. I used to be like them. I used to be healthy, too. I wasn't always a slave to my body. But now I am and some days it utterly breaks my heart.
Not every day is spent pinning after the health I don't have but I can't claim jealousy immunity. When I am feeling particularly weak, limited and fatigued I ache at the core of my being for a new physical body. I long for powerful muscles in my legs and a layer (or two) of cushioning surrounding my gaunt frame. I wish my body were different, not this stick of a figure constantly at the mercy of a faulty digestive system and fritzy muscles.
But wishing and hoping won't bring my running sneakers out of retirement and up from the basement. Longing and yearning can't change my body's condition and won't touch my fragile weight.
So I have a choice. Watch the runners glide by with resentment, jealousy and angst in my heart. Or rejoice because they can glide. Celebrate because they can stride. I can choose to be happy for the healthy.
Jealousy is a destructive emotion. It has no benefactors and doesn't do anyone any good. The jealous person might as well drink poison. The coveted person might as well drink a hot chocolate. One gets warmth the other gets a cold heart and a dead spirit.
As I've watched runners bound past my car window for months I have taken a sip of poison with every stride but I'm putting down the bottle and picking up the mug. I'm going to drink something warm like a hot coffee. Black, no cream. Resenting their physical capabilities has done nothing but harm to my own heart and hasn't helped my health. There has been and will be no benefit to my jealousy so why drink the poison?
No matter what the future holds for my running shoes I have reason to rejoice because God blesses feet, not shoes. He smiles down on runners, speed walkers and wheel chair drivers just the same. God is the God of bodies regardless of speed. So I will move at the pace God has set for me and rejoice in it because this is the pace He has made especially for me.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Hallelujah what a Savior!

Hello, my name is Stephanie and I am immature, short fused hothead with a stubborn streak. I'm well versed in angry outbursts and disgusted rants. My voice is well tuned in hostility. I'm skilled at harboring resentments and internalizing frustrations. I have an uncanny ability to hold grudges and withhold forgiveness.
In short, I am a vindictive, irrational, cold-hearted sin-aholic.
But I'm here to announce that I want a change. I'm here to say enough is enough to my sin. I have come to admit that I'm in over my head, too far-gone and in need of help. I'm here to fall on the sword of who I am to be raised up as someone new, someone remade, someone restored. Someone holy.
Alone I am incapable of cutting the chains of my sin addiction. I'm chained too tightly. I'm in too deep. I'm trapped. The ugliness of who I am is too much for me to make beautiful.
I need help and a way out. I need a chain breaker, a redeemer. I need someone to rescue me from myself, my anger and my rage.
So here I am at the throne of God's grace surrendering who I am from the inside, out. I know that the hostile, wretched bleak heart I've harbored is slowly killing me so I'm choosing crucifying it in the name of new life. I'm choosing to give myself over to the Chain Breaker because I don't want to be shackled a moment longer.
And God says I don't have to be.
At the throne of His grace and forgiveness God releases me from my internal bondage. He severs chains I'll never budge by my own strength. He destroys my every ounce of resentment and white washes every layer of my hateful heart.
God has always said that the moment I would fall completely before Him, He would completely remake me. Why did I wait so long? Why did I refuse to allow light into my inner darkness even though I cursed it for keeping me blind and causing me pain? Why was I so stubborn? Why did I hold onto the sin that I knew was trapping me?
God lifts from me the burden of my darkness and the burden of my confusion. He takes away the questions and restores to me new life, new peace, new purpose. He gives me a way out of my pit and into the light - a way out that has been there all along.
The only way out of my sin has always and always will be by way of the manger. Through the perfect, spotless, blameless life of Jesus my slate is wiped clean, my past is forgiven and my heart is revitalized. My chains are broken because of the Babe in the manger who went to the cross to set me free.
Hallelujah what a Savior!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Everywhere I look I see clutter. Even Christmas decorations are overwhelming me. The "stuff" of this life is just getting to be too much. The gifting stuff that comes wrapped in ribbons and bows. The shopping stuff full of isles of glitter and shiny packaging. The buying, spending, browsing stuff. The decorative, nic-nak, cutsie stuff. Stuff, stuff, stuff. There is just way too much stuff!
I want simple.
Today as I opened up crammed boxes of Christmas decorations I hit my "stuff" max. Enough finally became enough. After de-cluttering every surface in my bedroom and dusting hidden nooks and crannies I realized I didn't want to unpack all of my Christmas decorations. I didn't want to refill the space with fourteen nutcrackers and an array of woodland creature ornaments. I didn't even want to put up a little tree adorned with strings of cranberries and popcorn. I wanted simple.
As I stood frozen in the middle of my bedroom surrounded by all the stuff I had accumulated over my twenty six years of life my eyes fell on a framed quote leaning on my dresser. "Live simple. Give more. Expect less." That quote had been staring me in the face for years and yet I never took note of its message. With all of the other nik-nacs surrounding my space, vying for my attention I rarely ever took a moment to look at it, let alone reflect on its message. But now I saw the sign and its words hit me square between the eyes.
I want the message of that simple sign to be my motto for a simple life. I want less stuff and more simple. I want less getting and more giving. I want less expecting and more existing.
The trouble with stuff is that it is distracting. When all the focus is put on accumulating and adding to an already overflowing abundance there is no time and energy left for truly living. Stuff won't allow it. The more stuff the more time taking care of the stuff, cleaning the stuff, organizing the stuff and buying more of the stuff. There is less time to give priceless treasures from the heart and serve with hands holding only the invaluable gift of love. Physical stuff holds us back. I know it has held me back. I have been shackled by my stuff.
So today I begin my quest to de-stuff. Less will be more. Giving will be better than getting. I'm going clear and uncluttered. I'm embracing the simplicity of a life focused on that which is intangible. I'm going to make my life about more than the physical stuff I fill it with. I'm determining right here, right now, to turn my gaze on that which cannot be bought or returned. I'm making my life about living simply and simply living for Christ.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Fertile Myrtle

Have you ever heard of a "Fertile Myrtle?" Women, don't get offended. The baby-making machine reference isn't a criticism. Productivity should be a compliment. After all, didn't God make man in His image to go and multiply? If you're a Fertile Myrtle, rejoice! You are fulfilling the call of God.
Unfortunately, forum posters on Thebump.com don't necessarily agree with my positive spin on Myrtle and her fertility. They claim that Fertile Myrtle was originated by anti-feminist, Leave it to Beaver watching macho men. The term actually originated from a retired b-bomber. The military vessel had a stork graphic painted on the side of the engine complete with a wicker basket in beak. Someone with a quirky sense of humor named the bomber "Fertile Myrtle," painted the name across the plane's engine and the rest is reproductive history.
Now a Fertile Myrtle isn't a bomber, its a female with a healthy pregnancy history and slew of offspring. Apparently this is offensive to some women although I can't understand why. The ability to procreate is a beautiful gift. For women who have no trouble reproducing, they may not recognize the immense blessing it is to carry in their being new life. They take it for granted.
The women who've never had to think twice about their ability to have a child might not realize that every step along the way to bringing a child into the world is a glorious gift. It begins with the relationship between the woman and her man. That union symbolizes companionship, love and togetherness. From there a deeper, immeasurable unity is developed between mother and her developing baby.
What Fertile Myrtle haters don't understand is the alienation and lonesomeness that comes from infertility. They overlook the blessing that is a functioning reproductive system because they can't comprehend life without it. But for those of us who will never carry a child we understand that there is a loneliness that comes from being incapable of giving life. Something feels dead inside. Where others enjoy life and the giving of it, the infertile feel an emptiness.
The blessing of procreation is about more than the nine months a mother spends carrying her child. It is about the unity of hearts and bodies. It is togetherness. It is connection.
If I could tell the Fertile Myrtles of this world one thing it would be this: don't take your gift for granted. Treasure the health and vitality God has placed within you. Even if you never choose act on it, don't overlook what an immense blessing you have within you. 
And if you're like me, not fertile and not named Myrtle, take heart. God blesses with two kinds of fertility: the fertility of the body and the fertility of the spirit. For those of us who will are incapable of reproducing, our capacity to give and enjoy life need not be dead. We can still have a fertile spirit if only we will ask God to impart that blessing in our hearts. Unlike fertility of the body, fertility of the spirit is a choice we make. It is not dependent on how our body's function or what our organs do on a monthly basis. Spiritual fertility depends on our daily submission to God and our unwavering confidence and obedience in His will and ways. When we invite God into our hearts without condition or hesitation He comes in and makes us procreate with His love. He'll use our fertile hearts to share His grace and the goodness of His salvation.
When you and I, physically fertile or not, ask God to have His way in our souls, He will make each of us spiritually Fertile Myrtles.

Thursday, November 24, 2016


I have lots of reasons to be unthankful. In fact, I have a whole plethora of thankless misfortunes to choose from. The question is where to begin?
I could be unthankful for my health. That provides a whole host of grievances in the form of symptoms in which I could air. Lets just say that if this were Festivus and Seinfeld were real life, my physical body would provide plenty of ammunition for the annual Airing of Grievances. I'd kick off the ritual by telling my body that I have a lot of problems with it and then I'd enumerate those problems starting with the most recent muscle flaring in my left leg. I would then travel up my left arm, rant at my optic neuropathy and curse headaches. If there would be time during the celebration I might discuss symptoms that didn't occur just this week.
There would also be the option of beginning outside of my physical body. I could be unthankful for less-than ideal family circumstances. For the second year in a row, the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays will be spent under a dark cloud of heartache. Wayward children have caused a sadness to befall every get together. Strained relationships have cracked and walls of hurt have been built in their place. How can a family celebrate when there is so much disharmony?
Outside the walls of my home and the boundaries of my body I can easily find more reasons to be unthankful. The world is in peril. The news tells a twenty four seven story of tragedy, danger and distress. Rioters burning flags. Students killed on their way home from school. Countries at war. Christians persecuted and killed for their faith. Where the news leaves off sitcoms pick up. Even so-called "comedies" are a tragedy with their immoral, debase humor and crude language.
If I had an unthankful tree it would be in full bloom.
Thankfully, I tore down the tree.
This Thanksgiving, next Thanksgiving and every day in between there will be cause for unthankfulness. In this fallen and sin-covered world there will always be tragedy, sadness and reasons to grieve. Loved ones will disappointment. Health will fail us. Defeat will knock on our doorstep. Evil will be set like a trap in the woods.
And yet there will always be reason for Thanksgiving.
You see, what satan means for our destruction and our emotional devastation, God means for good. He has plans for our ill health. God has stories of restoration and redemption to tell in the shattered plot of family discord. There is spiritual renewal to be experienced in physical distress and holiness that can only be found on our knees.
The truth is, all of the reasons I can find to be unthankful are precisely the reasons to be full of praise and thanksgiving because the struggle is where I get to meet my Savior. When Christ gives me a cross to carry it is so that I can walk alongside Him. God hasn't given me trials and heartache to have a Festivus celebration. He's given them to me so that I can have the truest, purest, most genuine type of joy. The kind that can only be found when I come to the end of myself and find my thankfulness in simply being one with Him.
When you and I look at our circumstances with the eyes of the world we will always find reasons to be unthankful. So turn your eyes to Jesus. He will rewrite your reasons to be thankful. He will turn your unthankfulness into joyful praise. Because He is alive and active. He is at work in your family, your body and this world. He is working in the struggles and the trials to write the story of His great redemption and everlasting love.
Aren't you thankful?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Perfectly Staged

To stage or leave empty? That is the question all listing real estate agents must ask when considering how to best market their vacant properties. Once the owner has departed what is left behind is a residence in flux. The personal touches that make a house feel like home depart with the resident. All that remains are nail holes and various pieces of furniture that didn't make the cut for the big move. The space doesn't look or feel like a home. It feels like an extended stay hotel that forgot to stock the kitchen with utensils.
What is an agent to do with such a conundrum of a listing? In my case, a conundrum of a condo? Should the agent enlist an interior decorator to bring in new furnishings and appealing accents to create a home "experience" for buyers? This option isn't cheap but it can do wonders for pictures. Or maybe the agent should hire movers and rent a storage unit. Left empty, buyers would have a clean slate to imagine their dream home in the unfilled, unencumbered space. And of course, there is the option of doing nothing. The agent could leave the listing as is and hope for the best. Maybe buyers will like the Residence Inn look?
The "right" way to handle such a listing is the subject of debate and disagreement among agents. Some swear by their go-to home stager while others have a mover on speed dial. I'm new to this business and as of yet, I don't have either a home stager or mover at the ready. Nor do I have enough experience to claim one approach is more effective than another. All I know is the Bible and it doesn't speak to the most effective way to stage a home in the world of real estate. It does, on the other hand, know the most effective way to stage the home in the heart.
In Revelations 3:16 the Bible speaks to a different kind of home staging - one far more important than any real estate listing and far less confusing, too. It's simple. Don't be lukewarm. In other words, don't be half-staged with random assortments of furnishings. Be hot or cold. Be staged with the best of the best or be a blank slate. God rejects half-way efforts. He doesn't look fondly on hearts with one foot in His kingdom and one foot in the world. He wants His followers to be all in or all out.
Just like buyers on the hunt for a home, God isn't buying into a sparsely, oddly furnished life. He doesn't want our random nick-nacs and old, beat up chairs. God wants to open the door of each heart and see either a home already furnished with His goodness or an empty, vacant, surrendered spirit ready to be made beautiful by the Master Stager. God wants to be all in. He doesn't reside in hearts that want a new look without getting rid of the old couch. He wants to decorate every square inch of hearts with His righteousness.
The principle of heart staging is simple. Give God the keys and let Him get to work. But what does this mean for real estate? I'm not an expert but I have yet to meet a buyer who wants to live in the Residence Inn full time. So I have a recommendation and it is based on the best kind of experience - Biblical experience. If you can't do the staging up right don't do it at all. Give the master - the person you hope to be the new buyer - an empty space and let their mind's eye get to work.
Your buyer may or may not buy your listing but in the end that isn't the most important sales transaction. What matters most is whether or not you signed over the deed of your heart to your Master in Heaven and gave Him your surrendered spirit.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Year-Round Operation

One teddy bear and one fairy princess doll. A bright red jump rope, purple kazoo and coloring book with crayons. Socks with prancing reindeer, gloves in a festive Christmas stripe and a comfy green shirt with a smiling owl. A pink Disney inspired toothbrush and a tub of bubblegum flavored toothpaste. An oversized bag of gummy bears and two packages of "hair pretties."
Every November I take a shoe box and fill it with little toys and gifts for a special child thousands of miles away, in another part of the world. Operation Christmas Child collects millions of these boxes every year and delivers them to needy children who would likely go without a single gift at Christmas if not for a shoe box filled with treasures. The precious kids who receive these boxes and the love of Christ tucked inside, are more accustomed to fleeing war-torn countries than being tucked in at night. They are more familiar with the mile walk for water than bounding down a flight of steps to find a tree surrounded by gifts on Christmas morning.
Each year I add a box to the millions that bring the Christmas message to one special child. I imagine the child in my mind. This year I pictured a five year old girl named Grace. In the isles of the Dollar Tree and Walmart I wandered around picking up little toys and trinkets. Would Grace like this shirt? Would she want to play with this doll?
Finally I settled on a box I thought she'd love but when I brought it all back home my box looked incomplete. Everything in the box looked so generic. Anyone could buy the things I purchased. I looked at the shirt made in mass quantities and the toothbrush with the same Disney princess I'd seen a thousand times and wondered how Grace would know she was precious, unique and unlike any other?
And that's when I spotted it. Sitting on my desk was a little wooden sign cut out in the shape of a word. "PRAY." Months ago I had colored the sign while helping with children's church. The sign had sat on my desk ever since. I had nearly forgotten about it. Now I saw it again and realized it was the special something my box needed.
With prayer in my box it looked complete. I secured the box with rubber bands and put my label on top. Most importantly, I prayed for Grace. I prayed that she would cherish her box and feel the love that went into it. I prayed that she would smile when she picked up the doll and hug her little white bear. I hoped she would see that little wooden sign of prayer and feel the warmth of the Holy Spirit's embrace.
As I stacked my box in a pile with hundreds of others I was struck by the great need symbolized in the mountain of gifts before me - the need for the gift of love, of feeling special and of being cared for in prayer. That need is not unique to third world countries. It is universal. Right here in my hometown there are precious children, made in the image of God, desperate for the gift of love and attention. They need to know they are cherished by God. They need to know that they are supported and lifted up in prayer.
I took a moment to look at all of the boxes ready to be sent across the world. It was an amazing sight of generosity and a powerfully convicting one, too. That mountain of boxes was just the start. This month and all year long God requires that I be packing boxes of love and prayer. In every interaction, in every season and in all twelve months I am called to give the joy of Christmas.
I packed one square shoe box this November but my generosity can't stop there. God won't let it. This year I'm going to spend every month packing boxes of prayer by how I live and how I treat the precious children of God living all around me.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Third Shift

3:45 AM rolled around and it was time to clock into work. I heard duty call out silently in the night, "Wake up and get to work." Immediately I knew it was God issuing the call. He stirred me - body and soul - no alarm clock necessary. He woke me up to get about to his work - his praying work.
For a few minutes I tossed and turned in an attempt to fall back asleep but my heart wouldn't rest knowing there was an uncompleted task sitting on my spiritual desk. So I finally shut my eyes, not to sleep but to speak. I prayed the only thing that came to mind, the only pressing need I could pinpoint in that moment: God, please won't you bring a buyer for my listing on Society Court?  Chaos and turmoil are ravaging the world, robbing lives and destroying families and yet the only trouble I could think of was my own petty real estate dilemma. I could think of nothing else and for the next two hours I prayed with nothing but lame and self-absorbed motives.
Finally I fell asleep but I still wasn't at peace and when I woke up at six to prepare for the day I knew why. God had woken me up for work and I had never locked in. Sure, I showed up but I never suited up. I never got around to doing His business. I spent two hours obsessed with doing mine.Regret and shame fell on me like a heavy weight. God had given me a third shift prayer job and I ignored the assignment. I failed to spend a single second on task. I frittered away two hours on my own selfish laments and temporal concerns.
Thankfully, God is forgiving and didn't fire me on the spot. He gave me the opportunity to repent and come to work the very next night. At three AM He sounded another silent alarm, stirred my soul and handed me my assignment and I immediately went to work. I clocked it and got to the job of praying for the lost, broken and blind. I went to work interceding on behalf of God's precious children in need of salvation and new life.
And do you want to know what happened? I fell back asleep. It didn't take two hours. It only took a few minutes. Once I got on task God brought it to completion. He graciously clocked me out, filled with me with peace and sent me back to sleep.
Until the next night when I was honored to go to work for God once again.

Monday, November 7, 2016

A letter to Americans

It was a sunny Saturday afternoon as I sat on the park bench looking at the world around me. There off in the distance I saw a man being attacked by a thief. The robber came and beat him. I watched, motionless, paralyzed to act. I looked upon the scene in dismay and yet I didn’t make a move.
My friend on the bench beside me watched, too. We did our best to ignore the horror taking place just steps away. We looked away, chatted casually and pretended the assault wasn’t happening. But it was happening. The bloody sidewalk stains were proof of robbed innocence and injustice run rampant. Where were the police? Where was this man’s protection? Surely two women shouldn’t be charged with breaking up a fight.
Or should they?
Friends, can you imagine if that story were true? Can you imagine standing by and watching innocent life being taken while staring blankly, doing nothing?
I am here to tell you that the scene I have just described is taking place on park benches and church pews all over America. There is an attack under way and it is on the most innocent, vulnerable among us. Helpless babies. The vicious assault of abortion is robbing the heart beats of precious children still resting in the womb. The brutality of a beating is underway in doctor’s offices and clinics across this nation.
We can look away. We can say that we alone cannot step in and stop a problem so overwhelming. We can chat casually with our friends to drown out the sound of silent pleas for help. Yet the beating continues. Innocent, vulnerable, precious babies are still dying needlessly on the operating table in the name of “choice.” What kind of choice is this? That poor child doesn’t even have the choice to fight back.
So we must fight for them
This Tuesday we can confront the brutal scene before us at the ballot box. We can intervene on behalf of the innocent and send the attacker into retreat. We have that power with a vote. We have a responsibility to defend the helpless. With the gift of life we were given the blessing of choice - the choice to fight, to protect and to refuse to back down.
So this Tuesday don’t sit on the bench. Stand up and protect the vulnerable. Step in and defend the weak. Say “enough” to the brutal beating robbing the innocent of their choice to live and fight. Refuse to let evil have the last word. Vote for life.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Pick up your mat

Completely paralyzed. That was the man's predicament. He was so immobilized that he required carriers to move him from place to place, not that he got around much. The man was born in an age that knew nothing of motorized wheelchairs or miraculous surgeries to restore his leg function. For most of his life, this man was resigned to a life without the privilege and blessing of self-propelled movement. He had accepted his fate as a handicapped, disabled, paralytic.
But then a healer came to town and His name was Jesus. The crippled man's friends came to believe that their immobilized peer might walk again if he could meet the miraculous Healer who was the subject of remarkable stories of physical restoration. Since their friend could not get to the Healer on his own, the friends decided to carry him there. So determined were the friends that they refused to be stymied by the crowds. When the throngs of people blocked their way to Jesus, they maneuvered themselves and their paralyzed friend up to the roof where they were able to finagle him in. 
The efforts of the paralytic's faithful friends were not in vain. Once front and center of the crowd Jesus paused and turned His attentions directly to the man on the mat before Him. The first words out of Jesus' mouth extended forgiveness to the crippled man, an act met with scorn by bystanders. They didn't think a man should be extending God's forgiveness. What right did this Jesus have to do such a thing? And furthermore, why would Jesus worry about this man's forgiveness when the man so obviously had a desperate, physical need?
But Jesus wasn't done. He had a point to make. Any man could utter the words "your sins are forgiven" but only one could actually forgive them. Only one perfect, spotless Savior could heal the spirit of the crippled man. To show His power of restoration and bless the man's belief, Jesus went a step further. "Pick up your mat and go home."
In response to Jesus' command, the once immobile man did just that. He picked up his mat and walked right out of the house, in full view of the entire crowd. In one split second the whole identity of the paralytic was transformed. He was made new. His body was taken from disabled to able.
The restored paralytic could have questioned Jesus. It would have been natural for him to have inquired about how this healing was possible. For a man who had never walked before, he might have wondered what to do next with his life and newfound physical freedom. But he didn't ask a single question. He simply obeyed. He simply picked up his mat and walked.
When God comes with healing, both spiritual and physical, he issues the same command today as he did to the paralytic in Capernaum. Pick up your mat and walk. Go forth in the way of righteousness. Live in the fullness of your restoration. Don't worry yourself with concerns or hesitations. Don't question your new identity. Simply pick up that old mat of yours - the one you won't be needing any longer - and walk out in the strength of God's redemption and healing power. 
When Jesus comes with restoration and healing He lifts the burden of both physical and spiritual paralysis. He gives the healed reason to pick up the mat they once relied on. With His words of authority and love He commands the restored to walk out of the house with joy and thanksgiving. Because Jesus is busy making you and I new, pick up your mat and walk.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Speak now

"Speak now or forever hold your peace." Or is it "piece?" From the wedding guest seated on a hard wooden church pew the words come out the same. The officiant never stops and spells out his terminology. For the listeners the moment flies by in what is, hopefully, an uneventful standard procedure of the ceremony. The service will continue on without a hitch so long as no one raises their hand in objection.
In grammatical reality, speaking your piece and holding your peace are two different actions although they convey the same message and lead to the same ultimate end result. To "speak your piece" is to give voice to your opinion and beliefs. In other words, say what is on your mind now because this is your one final opportunity for anyone to hear it. To "hold your peace" is to keep your inner feelings close to the chest and silence your internal thoughts. In other words, have no internal peace to keep the external peace. During a wedding ceremony this is what the bride hopes her soon-to-be, can't-let-go-of-her-son, mother-in-law will do when the moment of potential disharmony arrives. The bride holds her breath in hopes that the woman in the front row with a pained look on her face will continue to reluctantly hold her peace and let the ceremony move onto the "I do's" without a hitch. For the mother in the front row skeptical of the union about to be sealed with a kiss holding her peace means not speaking her piece and ultimately having no internal peace.
Speaking one's piece and holding one's peace extend beyond marriage ceremonies. Speaking piece and holding peace are an integral part of believing truth and standing firmly in the infallible Word of God. When faced with falsehoods and Biblical compromises the truth-teller can't sit by and say nothing. They have to speak their piece, the piece of God's truth that is in jeopardy of being compromised. To hold peace in their heart, the Word of God that sheds light in darkness must be proclaimed. Distortions must be made right. Lies must be exposed. For peace to settle in the soul, spread through families and surround a city the counterfeit theology of man's wisdom must be overcome by the perfection of God's Holy Word.
It takes courage to speak one's piece in a room full of silent bystanders who are holding their tongues but the reward for such audacity is great. For those who will speak Biblical pieces of truth that are under the threat of being trampled and forgotten, God indwells with internal peace. When Christ-followers hold fast to the Word of God and stand firmly in the strictness of its statutes the reward is an internal quiet that surpasses understanding.
All around us the truth of God is under siege. From the pulpit to the front page of newspapers, the infallible wisdom of God is being compromised and abandoned for the foolishness of man. Leaders have forgotten who is King. Commentators and their opinions are given more air time than the light and life of Jesus Christ. As Christians we cannot sit by and hold our piece. Those of us who number our steps according to God's Word must stand up for the peace He brings. When you and I speak out for the Bible and refuse to be silenced the opposition will come from all sides. Even our friends seated next to us in the pew may try to hush our battle cry for the Lord but we must not stay silent. We must not sit back and hold our tongues. A say-nothing approach will ultimately bring no peace or serenity to the soul or to the body. Truth cannot reign unless truth is exposed. For God to be magnified and His peace to rule, you and I, His hands and feet on the front lines, must be willing to stand tall, act boldly and speak His piece.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Glorious water

It was a hot, sunny summer afternoon, the kind of day perfect for two rambunctious schnoodle pups to run free and scamper through the wooded fields of Brown's Farm, their favorite local park. As is there want to do, the dogs ran up and down hills, jumped through tall grasses and explored trails leading into the woods. They ventured deep into the forest, all the way to the creek. By the time we had made it to the edge of the pleasant waters the dogs were panting, exhausted from their romp in the great outdoors.
The creek babbling before us was pristine and beautiful. The water flowed gently and the depth was so shallow we all could easily wade at the edge. I dipped my hands into the crystal clear blue below and scooped up some of its refreshing water. With my ankles submerged beneath the water's surface and my hands damp I felt cooler and more comfortable. Nature's provision brought me relief from the heat.
From behind me I could still hear the panting of Pippy and Molly. They had yet to experience the cool oasis at the water's edge so I called them closer. In a gentle, prodding voice I urged them to come and explore at the creek bed. But they wouldn't budge. From a few feet away they paced back and forth, looking at the water while keeping a safe distance.
When my two silly dogs wouldn't come near the water, I lapped some up in my hands and attempted to take it to them. But, of course, the droplets slid through my fingers before I could make it back to the dogs. Not that they would have partaken of my offerings even if I could have kept the water resting in my palms. They wanted nothing to do with the liquid relief I had to offer. For some strange, inexplicable reason, they preferred panting.
After a few minutes and multiple failed attempts to convince the dogs that the inviting water was good and enriching, I gave up, conceding to the fate that my thirsty dogs would be panting until we made it back home to a proper dog bowl. So we turned around and headed back out up the trail and out of the park.
Once home the dogs rushed to the front door. I opened it and the two went bolting in, straight to the kitchen where a porcelain dog bowl full of water was consumed in a flurry of slips and slurps. I'd never seen the two drink with such enthusiasm and vigor. They drank until the bowl was dry, then both collapsed on the floor from exhaustion and, what I can only guess, was dehydration.
In short order the dogs recovered. The effects of an hour of activity without water didn't cause them to expire but it did cause me to consider an important truth: you can offer a dog water, but you can't make a dog drink.
And so it goes with people.
Despite the dehydration and parched lips of a dried up spiritual life, no one can be forced to drink the nourishing water Christ offers. To you and I who see and gladly partake of the flowing, refreshing springs of His Holy Spirit we wonder why the thirsty stand by panting. The water is accessible and inviting so why needlessly suffer a dry mouth and a parched heart? Christ has prepared and made ready the perfect life-giving, soul-reviving refreshment fresh from His eternal spring and all anyone has to do is choose to drink it in.
The thirsty are spiritually panting like a couple of exhausted schnoodle dogs, in need of reviving, yet you and I can't make them drink of Christ's redemption. We can't bring another person's lost soul to salvation. We can only bring them to the creek and show them the flowing waters. God is the only one who can compel their hearts to drink and be satisfied. Only Christ can convince the thirsty that the water He has is good and worth kneeling down to receive at the foot of the cross with outstretched hands and a surrendered heart.
Like my thirsty dogs, many expiring hearts will stand away from the refreshing waters of Christ's redemption, looking on without ever lapping up the goodness of His eternal grace. They will choose to pant and sweat in exhaustion rather than get low and submit in humility.
But like my silly schnoodles, dehydrated souls are not hopeless. Like Pippy and Molly went running through home's front door and to their familiar and trusted bowl of refreshing water, there is hope that the spiritually thirsty will one day come running to the foot of the Cross where the refreshing springs of God's forgiveness and restoration are poured out. As long as their is still panting in their lungs God's work in their hearts isn't finished yet. You and I can hold onto the hope that our beloved one's with lost, thirsty souls just haven't run through the door quite yet to partake of the glorious water that will give them eternal, never ending life.
So let us never stop praying for our thirsty friends. May we never give up on the dehydrated and dry hearted. Because there is a door that leads them home and right to the life-giving water flowing from the spring of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


Caller one reported a man slumped over his steering wheel in the Auto Zone parking lot. Call two was made from a grocery store bathroom where a concerned patron described a distressed, inconsolable woman collapsed on the floor of the second stall. The third call came from a frantic house keeper reporting the finding of a lifeless body discovered alone on his hotel room.
After each caller made their report the operator asked questions, took down names and alerted authorities. "The paramedics are on their way. Stay on the line with me until they arrive." What little comfort the distant voice could offer to the worried caller and even less to the fragile lives of the suffering and deceased lying helplessly on the ground.
When paramedics arrived the verdict was the same for each case. Overdose. The man in the parking lot, the woman in the bathroom and the body in the hotel room had all consumed a dangerous and deadly substance. Each had filled their body with a material so harmful their precious organs stopped functioning. The man in the parking lot and the woman in the bathroom survived but just barely. The man in the hotel room was pronounced dead at the scene. His last moments were spent alone, gasping for air has his lungs fought for air and his body slipped into a state of unconsciousness.
The next morning the newspaper told a sad story that reflects the state of a city in an addiction crisis. Every one of the overdose tragedies had happened nearly simultaneously, all within minutes of each other. The three individuals had no relation to one another. They had never met one another and didn't obtain their drugs from the same dealer. But they all had something devastating in common. Each one lived completely dependent and utterly addicted to illegal drugs.
If only I could write that the story of these three was a tale of fiction or a fluke so out of the ordinary that a movie is in the works to recount the tale. But the tragedy of it is this story is all real and it is frequently repeated in my hometown and nearly every city across America. The drug epidemic is ripping lives apart and killing thousands upon thousands every year.
Drug addiction starts so innocently, or so the drug user believes. Just a hit here or there. They rationalize their use as "social." They call it minimal and claim they could choose to stop in an instant - if they wanted to. But they don't want to because, despite the negative effects and well-known dangers, they are addicted. They enjoy the high and the way it makes them feel. They like being numbed. They become dependent on the escape from reality and the stresses of daily life. Some claim it helps them to sleep, eat or come up with creative ideas. They say it makes them funnier, calmer or more cheerful.
But to the man on the hotel floor, it made him dead.
Addiction is dangerous. The addicted rarely, if ever, know they have a problem. They don't see it. The smoke from their blunt clouds their vision. The haze from their pills fogs up their reality. They can't see the threat they face every time they ingest their drug of choice. Every hit is harming them but they are utterly blind to the truth. They don't see the problem and some never will. Some will go to their grave with the problem. Others will end up face down in a steering wheel with droll pouring down their shirt and convulsions pulsating through their hands. A few will escape the death grip of the drugs, others will return to their dealer only to find themselves, once again, sobbing on someone's bathroom floor.
If only we could make them see that their addiction is killing them slowly, painfully and tragically. If only we could open their eyes to the life they are smoking away and the future they are destroying with every swallow of their precious pills. But we can't make them see. We can't open the eyes of the blind.
Only God can do that.
As a city, as a nation, as people who love the lost and care for the hurting, we can only pray for the chains of their addiction to be broken and the sight that sees truth to be restored and redeemed. As long as they still have a pulse, they have hope. As long as they can cry on the bathroom floor, they have a future. If there is still a flicker in their heart beat and a breath in their lungs, God is not finished yet.
By the power and grace of God the eyes of the addicted can be opened. The truth and depth of their destructive problem can be revealed by the enlightening and life-giving grace of God. Through God's redeeming touch He can show them how far they have strayed from reality. He can bring them to their knees before His throne and turn their hearts away from the false god of substance abuse and drug addiction. Then God can sanctify their souls and replace in them a hunger and thirst for His righteousness. God can turn the drug addicted into the Christ-addicted, lighting them on fire with a passion for redemption and salvation.
Friends, you and I can't change the lost, the drug addicted and broken. We can only point them to Jesus and share the truth that the only way to live free of the addictions of this world is by the power of God. Man can only live free of the chains of this world's deadly drugs when his heart is so captivated by the hand of God that he is utterly, totally and wholly addicted to the perfect Savior and Lord.

Friday, October 7, 2016

For Good

"You meant it for evil but God meant it for good." 

Those are words I have been repeating to myself with ever increasing sincerity and strength. In my mind I speak it to satan. In every corner of the world he is actively at work trying to undermine the peace, joy and spiritual prosperity of believers both young and old. He prides himself on breaking apart families, stealing children's futures and ravaging the hopes of believers. His weaponry includes lies, deceit and heartache. Sorrow is his specialty and destruction is his delight.
Over the years I've experienced the onslaught of satan's attacks. In the dark days of battle I've experienced satan make advances that fill me with regret. In my own heart I've allowed satan to infiltrate God's territory with sin. At my worst I invited in the enemy and let him claim victory - at least temporarily. I look back on my past and see that I once lived blinded by darkness. I stopped fighting against the attacks of the devil altogether and, instead, joined his forces. I took off the armor of God's truth and paraded about in the nakedness that I believed was freedom. Little did I know I was actually imprisoned, chained to a dead-end life and bleak future.
But what satan meant for evil - the chains he intended to shackle me - God meant for good.
It was those very chains, too heavy for me to carry while running free and full of joy, God used to pull me back to himself. When I couldn't move an inch further under the weight of slavery, God came with the Key to life and freed me from captivity.
Satan tricked me into believing that a life of sin would be fun and fulfilling. I could find love, freedom and endless good times if I alone could choose my steps and determine my future. So he waved in front of me every sin in the book. He draped them in bright colors and appealing designs but underneath they were all the same. Lies. Deceit. Corruption. Big, heavy, burdensome chains. He loaded them on, chuckling all the way because he knew the trap he was setting was ultimate my demise. Every sinful road I traveled down separated me from God and brought me closer to the evil destiny of the devil's design.
But what satan meant for my destruction, God meant for my restoration.
Along that sinful path the chains became too much for me to bear. Satan had loaded me up beyond my capacity to move forward. The road was too treacherous and the weight too much for me to take. I stumbled and fell. Where I landed was right at the foot of the cross, the place God intended to make me good - eternally and endlessly good.
At the foot of the cross satan's lies were exposed for the sadness, stress and brokenness they caused. The destructive plan set by the devil was exposed. The chains of sin that bound me were loosened and true freedom was found.
At the foot of the cross, down on my knees, I met Jesus. When I fell and couldn't travel away from his truth any longer I found myself face down in front of His forgiveness. His way was the only way up. Surrender to His authority and kingship was the only way out of the chains that were binding me in pain and destruction. Finally, I found what I had been looking for. I found the freedom I had foolishly believed I was choosing all along.

Satan thought he had me forever a fool but God proved to have me forever forgiven and free. Satan thought his chains would bind me to destruction. God knew the chains would lead me to the cross.
Today those same chains are binding countless wayward children of God. But, fear not believers because the story isn't over yet. What satan is meaning for ill, God can and will use for good.
The end of this story is already written and Christ wins. He breaks the chains that bind. He frees captives and releases slaves. He meets sinners on their knees when they can't take another step forward. He means all the hurt, pain, sin and shame for good. He means it for salvation when sinners stumble, fall and surrender at the foot of His forgiveness and grace.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Comfortable in a canter

Canter: a three-beat gait of a horse or other quadruped between a trot and a gallop.

Nearly every sweeping image of horse gliding across the earth in a fluid motion is capturing that horse mid-canter. The canter is a smooth, graceful movement. The horse's hooves meet the ground in a steady beat more akin to floating than pounding. The image is breathtaking as the mighty steed's power and majesty is on full display. 
For the horse back rider, the canter can be a challenging rhythm to master. The speed alone can cause the body to tense and the hands to clench around the reigns with rigidity. Although the horse may be yearning to run with seamless, free-flowing ease, the ride is halted and stiff. The horse struggles to maintain his cadence with an anxious rider at ill-ease on the saddle. 
With the right rider, a rider experienced and comfortable on the horse's back, makes for a beautiful image of the unity between man and animal. As the horse moves, the advanced equestrian relaxes into the saddle, their body moving in perfect synchronization to the pace of the horse. The shoulders are loose. The sit bones glide up and down with an effortless lightness. The hands rest comfortably as the reigns slide easily against the horse's mane. The whole motion looks effortless. The meeting of the majestic horse with the delicate frame of his rider is a glorious sight to behold. 
This is the only way the canter can look beautiful. The horse must be strong and mighty; the rider relaxed and at ease. As the two travel along in unison, the canter, three powerful, rhythmic beats, is an experience and a sight of wonder.
It isn't ironic or a coincidence that God made the canter to be this way - three beats, majestic, powerful and only beautiful when it is done with a relaxed and comfortable unity. That is precisely how God has intended man to ride along the trail of life with Christ as the Mighty One. Men and women, you and I, are to be the at-ease rider. Like the canter, to ride with God through this life with beauty worthy of an illustration is to relax into the saddle placed along His back. It is to connect with three essential beats, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 
God's canter is more majestic than the horses and more challenging to master. Riding with God requires a trust that surpasses understanding and a willingness to release the hands and let Christ's movement take the lead. The rider will look pained and anxious with hands taut and shoulders tight. The movement won't look fluid, beautiful or enjoyable with a face filled with fear and a back stiff scared as the speed increases. Balance will be challenged but it need not the throw the rider off the course or separate him from God's security. 
A canter at the speed, pace and gait of Christ can be the most glorious, enjoyable and peaceful ride imaginable. The saddle of the Lord is secure. His feet will never fail. All that is required to enjoy His ride and master His canter is to sit back and relax. Simply trust and obey the gait of the Mighty and Powerful God.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Comment-less Cards

Daisy went to her doggie grandma's while Treza went and wandered around the mall. I set stage - read counter - with farmer's market cookies, fall decor and a basket for the gift card giveaway. For days I prepared for my very first agent only open house. Knowing that I wouldn't be tehre to talk up my very first listing and sell the house with my words I did my best to show the home well from behind the scenes. The sellers washed the windows, vacuumed the carpet - twice - and left the home looking pristine. I sent out e-mail blasts to all of the agents inviting them to visit the home from eleven to one. I even promoted a gift card giving for visitors who entered the drawing with a business and comment card.
From eleven to one I watched the clock like a hawk, waiting anxiously to receive the feedback from my visitors. Would they think it was overpriced? Would they be thinking of which buyer to bring through first? How many cards would I find in my "home sweet home" basket promising one lucky winner a gift card to a local coffee shop? Would a rush of requests for showings soon flood my email inbox?
At one thirty I hurried into the home with excited anticipation eager to count the cards and read the comments. I made my way to the kitchen counter and reached into my special "home sweet home" gift card giveaway basket. And there it was. One singular piece of paper with one solitary agents comments.
My heart sank. My spirits were crushed. I had such high hopes for my very first agent open house. I never doubted for a moment that many agents would attend. I pictured a steady stream of guests pouring through the door for two solid hours. But there in the basket reality hit like a ton of bricks. The house, so lovingly staged and meticulously cared for, had sat for two hours fully lite and completely empty. The only agent who had come through, turns out, came through at one o'clock, just minutes before the open house has ended.
Feeling utterly dejected and disappointed, I pulled the comment card out of the basket. I'll be honest I didn't even want to read it. I feared a scathing review. "Over-priced." "A tough sell." "Sorry, no buyers for this house." Or worse yet, "Who do you think you are trying to sell this house for this ridiculously high price?"
With a deep breath I unfolded the solitary comment card and read two short, incredible, sentences. "Great house and well staged. Shows beautiful and is well priced."
Suddenly it didn't matter that only one agent came to my open house. Numbers and foot traffic didn't matter. I had feedback and it was good. The house, my very first listing, had approval by another agent - and not just any agent - but the top producing agent in the office.
My second empty open house provided another valuable lesson. Approval isn't about quantity, it's about quality. You can have the approval of the world and yet never make a sale. All of your buyers can be "just looking" for the fun of it. Every agent through the house can be there simply for the cookies. But if you have a quality visitor, well that's what makes all the difference. Having the approval of someone who is there to truly know the market, preview homes for clients and know the new inventory is the approval that matters.
And so it goes with God's approval. I can seek the approval of the masses but that kind of approval won't do me any eternal good. The approval that matters and counts is the approval of one, the approval of THE One. I can't earn that approval by staging my personal house, my life, with the best furniture. Heaven knows I can never have clean enough spiritual windows. Thankfully, God's approval and validation isn't contingent on how well my house shows. Approval in God's sight comes when I have a surrendered spirit and humble heart. It is what is going on in the deepest corners of my house that garners the most encouraging comment cards from God.
So to all of the agents that didn't come to my agent open house today, thank you. I learned a lesson from the blank comment cards you unknowingly left behind. God reminded me that I am here to live for His approval alone. The way in which I order my life and stage my internal house should always be to please and honor Jesus Christ first and foremost.
When God leaves a comment and encourages me with feedback such as "shows beautifully," I will know that I have something better than a sold sign and hefty commission check coming. I will know that I have eternal life for the future and a life that shines for the glory of God in the here and now.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Objection VS Obedience.

"I object!"
Every fiber of my being was dying to shout and raise a gavel in adamant protest. What was I internally protesting, you may ask? Everything. Everything about my life, my illness and my loneliness. I wanted to stand up and shout that I did not approve of the lot I had been dealt. It was unfair. It was unjust. In that moment of angst and frustration I wanted to take a megaphone to my grievances and demand a new set of circumstances, a new set of cards or at least some form of compensation to make up for the damages of my very existence.
But I stopped short of filing the complaint or picking up the closest, reachable thing that could serve as a gavel. I didn't even fill out a post-it note and stick it in a "suggestions box." Nor did I write a scathing review of God on the internet. I didn't even make a peep in the quiet of my own room with the door shut and house empty.
Although my ever emotional whim wanted to shout, my spirit wouldn't succumb to the temptation. Finally, after years of trying those failed, childish tactics, I realized that my breath would be wasted and my objecting would be in vain. I've come to learn tat God doesn't take kindly to His children protesting because, quite frankly, He isn't running a democracy. He doesn't take votes and rule based on majority opinion. God doesn't change His policies or His timing based on the indignation of the dissatisfied.
For far too long I didn't want to accept this part of God's governing structure. I can blame being American and valuing the right to vote but that would be a lame excuse. Patriotism can never justify disobedience. The truth is I didn't want to accept God's governing structure because I didn't want to accept that I wouldn't have a say in His laws, ways and decrees. I didn't want to give up my say in my future, my health, my love life or my career. But God has yet to ask for my opinion or my vote. He hasn't asked me to check a box next to the time table I find most agreeable. I've opened God's good Book thousands of times and never once found a ballot inside.
And then a truth, the truth, finally dawned on me. God doesn't value my opinion. He values my obedience.
I can object to God's rulings in any number of ways but no matter how I protest it will never change the verdict. The outcome is predetermined. God already decided. The ruling always come down in favor of His will and ways. God always, ultimately, wins.
To object is to waste my breath. To throw a fit is to tell God that His way is wrong and my way is right. To protest is to deny God His perfection. To claim righteousness indignation is to insist that I know better than the Creator of the Universe.
So finally this little fit throwing, protesting child ceased to raise her emotionally charged objections. This time around I stayed in my seat and let my gavel rest on the bench. From my seat I still wondered about the whys and ways of God's verdict for my life but I choose to trust instead of protest. Instead of raising an objection I lowered my head and heart in obedience and when I did the Holy Spirit brought peace to my emotions and stillness to my heart. Although I don't understand what God is doing today, someday I will and then I will understand that His rulings are always perfect and His ways are for my good.

Monday, September 19, 2016

An empty house

For two hours I sat alone in three thousand square feet of emptiness. The home has been on the market for over a year and vacant for most of that time. The owners have moved on. Their lives have taken them away from their custom built home on the hill with perfect views of the sunset and soaring twelve foot ceilings. Maybe it was a job transfer or an unfortunate end to a marriage that cut the family's stay in their dream home short. Or maybe their dream just changed, grew bigger or shrunk smaller, switched locations or shifted to the city. I'll never know. All I will know is that they left an empty TV mounting system on the living room wall and the kitchen with a refrigerator still sticky from life's messes.
After a year on the market all interested parties have, presumably, seen this home. They have clicked through the pictures online, taken a tour and attended one of the many open houses. At least that's what I assume since not one person came by the open house I had for the home over a year after it first hit the market. Not even one single car slowed down at the "open house" sign predominantly displayed in the front yard. Inside I baked cookies and set out marketing materials, business cards and a sign-in sheet complete with a Howard Hanna pen for guests. But two hours later not one signature was on the sheet and the cookies were untouched.
For those two hours I stood inside the house, pacing about, doing yoga poses to kill time and filling out announcement cards to prospective clients. I flipped through a free local publication, "The Erie Reader," that I had picked up at a newspaper stand a few days prior and scanned upcoming events and strange news facts from around the world. I diligently watched my cookies as they baked in the oven and was able to complete all three batches without burning a single tray, my most impressive accomplishment of the day.
As I stood in the empty house without a chair to sit on or TV to turn on for background noise, I couldn't help but laugh out loud at the irony of my Sunday afternoon. There I was in a big house, cleared out of every piece of furniture and every spec of clutter. The home was and is completely move-in ready, just sitting there waiting for its next inhabitants. But no one even came to take a look. A big, expansive house with four bedrooms, three garages and two and half bathrooms couldn't spark the interest of even one casual house hunter or a single noisy neighbor. A house perfectly suited to house a family with kids and a dog didn't have one visitor walk through the door.

The non-existent turn out might have not hit me so pointedly if it had not reminded me of myself. Completely alone. Like that house I feel ready and prepared to not be lonely. I'm ready to invite life, love and laughter into my own little world. I want to be home for someone. I want to be security, safety and sanctuary to someone. I've spent years getting ready for a special someone to come and take up residence in my life. Like that house sitting vacant on the market, I've had my inner house cleaned out. God has been busy removing all of the unnecessary baggage of my past. He's hauled out so many habits and misguided dreams that don't glorify Him. He's scrubbed my spirit and left everything empty so that He can refurbish my life with all that is beautiful and bright. And yet no one has come to share in this life with me. God has yet to bring a buyer or even a casual looker. For six long years I have been sitting vacant, as it were, on the romantic, life-partner, companionship market. 
But as I sat in the empty house surrounded by silence and filled with my own thoughts, I remembered that in another way I am just like that house. Someday someone will buy that house. Someone will move into the area or maybe a family will move in search of a bigger house and more bedrooms. Who the next home owners will be only God knows but I know this for sure, someday that house will sell with or without the buyer having attended a single open house.
And so it will be with my heart. Someday someone will come along and join me in this journey of life. He may not come along in the way I assume. In real estate terms, we may not meet at an open house. But we will meet in God's time and in God's way - the perfect way. Our lives will join together and the furniture will fit just right. There will be life and laughter in the now still and silent places of my heart. All of the preparations I have made for this special someone will not be in vain. All of the work God has been doing in my heart and all of the planning I have been doing in my mind will prove worthwhile in the end.
Today my open heart is empty and vacant. There is ample space but the right buyer hasn't come walking through the door. Someday he will but until then I'm going to enjoy the serenity of an uncluttered home. I'm going to bake cookies, practice my yoga stretches and keep sending out cards to clients because my house doesn't have to be physically full of stuff to be of value and worth. God has plans for me while I wait in my empty open house. He has things for me to accomplish, ways He intends for me to grow and blessings for me to experience.
I couldn't bring a buyer for the home on the hill. I couldn't even bring a prospect or a solitary name on the sign in sheet. But in my heart God accomplished something much greater than any real estate sale. He brought me peace, serenity and joy in the stillness.
A successful open house, indeed.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Fifteen years stronger

Fifteen years ago two American jet liners were hijacked by evil and used to kill thousands. That day is seared in the mind of every one old enough to remember the horror. Victims jumping from the burning towers. Survivors fleeing the towers were covered in ash, others covered in burns, some actively covered in flames.
After the towers fell New York City was unrecognizable. The landscape of the city and the lives of every resident forever changed. Fear flew into New York City and fell on it with a weight more gigantic than a million tons of steal and rubble. Routine, cross-town, travel came to a halt. People were paralyzed by confusion and uncertainty. Families were ripped apart. Businesses laid to waste. A collective grief covered the city.
The city that never sleeps wasn't asleep. How could they sleep? But how could they laugh at a Broadway show or stroll carefree and easy down Fifth Avenue? How would the subways and transit ever return to normal operations? When businesses reopened would there be any customers? Could air travel be trusted? Could the city be salvaged? Could spirits rise above the rubble and the unspeakable loss of loved ones, friends and security?
Someone had to stand in front of those questioning faces and thousands, millions, of broken hearts and promise that there would be a way back. This wasn't the end. It couldn't be the end. There were still people alive, people being saved in the rubble and an entire city and generation to protect. The terror wouldn't win. The righteous couldn't let it.
The city's mayor, who would soon become America's mayor, Rudy Giuliani took the megaphone and used it to project a message of resilience in the face of ruin. When no one knew if recovery was possible, Giuliani decided to declare it. Terror had ravaged the city and shaken the entire country yet the memo from New York's leader was, "you are going to be stronger than this." The strength of freedom and goodness is going to defeat evil.

The same message needs to be shouted from megaphones and microphones in big cities and small. In every nation, among every family and to the deepest recesses of the human heart, victory must be claimed because evil is attacking. Satan is busy spreading terror in the form of illness, lies, cruelty, injustice and hatred. Satan uses more than planes. He uses rebellious people. He uses false religion. He uses words and troubles. The devil is determined to spread his reign of terror despite increased security scrutiny in airports and reinforced steel buildings. Satan's terror slips through walls, comes silently in the night and requires no fire or physical destruction. It starts in the darkest places of the heart and spreads like a raging inferno.
And like the grieving in New York City fifteen years ago today the spiritually terrorized ask, "how can I overcome this?"
You don't need a mayor to come into your home with a declaration and an economic plan for recovery. You need Christ and His plan of salvation.
There is only one way to beat terror. The hijacked heart can only be reclaimed through the Holy Spirit. There is no other way. The enemy will win without God. Satan will have His way if we aren't letting Christ have His.
There is one sure way that the soul can climb out of the rubble caused by evil. Redemption and sanctification through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He has already climbed out of the darkest tomb. The evil of death overcame Him and yet He beat it. He can do the same for you and I. He will defeat every evil plot of Satan and give us eternal victory. Evil can take down buildings and temporarily separate families but it cannot kill spirits. Christ has declared that and claimed it. Now it is up to us to join His cause and daily choose His overcoming strength.
Because of Christ we have the promise of resilient hearts and strong spirits.
Because of Christ we can be stronger than every evil.