Monday, February 29, 2016

And the Oscar goes to...

It was just a quiet Sunday night in my living room but all the way across the country, the scene was anything but sleepy. It was Oscar night.
The lights flashed in a dizzying flurry of paparazzi pandemonium. Women posed against backdrops of silver and gold, always careful to show the camera their "good side." Men dawned custom tuxedos with perfectly positioned bow ties and designer labels. Commentators spent hours speculating about which verdict the Academy would reach in each category. A grand staircase, blanketed in red velvet, led to the theater that would be home to the moment of truth for the anxious nominees.
But one particular nominee wasn't nervous at all. He was calm, cool and completely collected. The interviewer peppered him with questions, "Who are you wearing?" "What are are your post-Oscar plans tonight?" The nominee, up for best actor, was focused solely on the award he was sure he would take home. "I've got a good feeling about this one," he said. The nominee was all smiles, exuding confidence. He believed, without a shadow of a doubt, that by the end of night he would be in possession of a coveted golden statue.
The crowd gathered in the glamorous theater and the festivities began. Awards for music, visual effects and costumes filled the early evening. Finally, the time came to reveal the highly-anticipated best actress, best actor and best picture. The cameras panned over the crowd, landing on the nominees surrounded by applauding peers.
Best actress came first. The projected winner took home the prize. Then came best actor. Would the confident nominee from the red carpet be justified in his absolute assurance? The screen cut to a live shot. The contender for the prize was still smiling, not a hint of anxiety to be found.
Back at the podium the presenter stood poised, ready to deliver the verdict. "And the Oscar goes to..."
Not Mr. Confident.
The crowd exploded into applause as the Oscar winner rose from his chair with relief and pure ecstasy. The camera cut back to the dejected nominees, catching the crestfallen Mr. Confident. He would be going home disheartened, with empty hands and a bruised ego.
The confidence the actor had put in his work failed to win the prize when the final judgment came down. The Academy reviewed his performance, considered the competition and found his showing to be inferior. All the confidence in his own achievement came crashing down in front of millions of viewers.
But celebrities aren't alone in their mis-placed confidence and trust. To put belief and hope in anything or anyone other than the Lord will always produce the same result, a massive let down. The verdict may not be handed down in a glamorous Hollywood theater with a hundred cameras filling the room but the rejection can be just as painful. Trust in personal achievement and worldly accomplishments will, at the final judgment, never suffice because the only lasting prize isn't won with self-confidence. It is only achieved through confidence in Jesus Christ.
The only prize worthy of our confidence and trust is salvation won, once and for all, on the cross . It is by faith in Jesus that our reward is bestowed. With Jesus Christ's final, "It is finished" sinners are transformed into winners and presented with the ultimate prize: eternal life.
The greatest reward any of us could ever hope for is entrance into the Kingdom of God. Even the shiniest of Oscars can't compare to the unfathomable prize won by putting confidence and trust in the Lord Almighty. And that prize can be ours, no red carpet necessary.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Quality time

Early in the morning I sat down behind my computer screen eager to write; hungry to receive a word from God tailor made for print. I was so eager, in fact, that I skipped right over my morning journaling. After rushing through Bible readings I turned with hurried enthusiasm to my laptop and positioned my fingers above its keys.
"Alright, God, I'm ready! Give me a good word," I thought to myself.
Then came...nothing. My mind went absolutely blank. Inspiration didn't strike. My fingers didn't have reason to hit a single key.
With each passing minute that ticked by the empty page became more frustrating, as if its blank canvas were taunting me. I wanted so desperately to write something of meaning and significance gifted from the mind of God straight into the vessel of my readied hands. Why wasn't He delivering a message?
With a frustrating case of writer's block I took to the shower, the place where the very best spiritual and inspirational encounters have been known to occur. Sure enough, the soap suds and hot water were accompanied by a humbling revelation: God wasn't withholding anything good and meaningful from me. The aggravating writer's block was all of my own making. In my hurry to receive an anecdote worthy of a book deal I had overlooked the quiet, intimate, private devotional God wanted to share with me - just me. In my haste I had neglected to spend time with my first love and most faithful companion.
Thankfully, it is never too late to turn back to God and enjoy the rest peace of His presence. Although I had thoughtlessly pushed God aside, He was patiently waiting for me to join Him over a cup of coffee and well-worn Bible. Awaiting my arrival at the kitchen counter to spend quality time in the sweet solitude of His presence.
God used writer's block to remind me to dwell at the foot of His cross, free from distraction, wholeheartedly engaged.
To be a servant of the King God must first have my soul's surrender. To entrust me with the responsibility of a soldier in His army He has to have my undivided attention.
If I put Christ first and let Him nurture me with His presence He will fill me with His words, in His  perfect time. But first He simply longs to spend intimate, quality, blessed time with me in His Holy presence.

Friday, February 26, 2016

You look beautiful

There comes a time in every girls life where she must part with her old prom dresses. Years pass and the opportunity to ever again wear one of those sequent embodied gowns becomes increasingly unlikely. At some point valuable closet space trumps nostalgia.
As freeing a moment as it is to unload of heavy taffeta and satin, it is, at the same time, bittersweet. Woven into every bead and intricate detail is a memory. The songs danced to at prom...The comical and clumsy ordeal of pinning the boutonniere....The heels that were too tall and too painful but too perfect to be denied...The thought that passed through my mind when I looked at myself in the mirror, all dolled up and ready for the big night, "I look...beautiful."
Each dress brought about sweet remembrances. It was a blissful walk down memory lane. But the journey had to come to an end. The garment bags, filled with formal gowns and cherished memories, made their way to consignment store racks and into the lives of other giddy teenage girls eager to make prom memories of her own.
I hope she looks in the mirror and thinks she looks beautiful, too. Because isn't that what every girl wants, to look beautiful on prom night? Isn't that what every girl wants long past the days of formal wear and corsages? To be lovely and stunning, an image of timeless beauty?
Prom night can give that to a girl. She can experience the elegance and grace of a fancy dress and perfectly pinned up-do. But someday the days of dolling up for a dance will be behind her and she, too, will have to part with her dresses. Will she still see her beauty?
The true beauty that lasts past high school dances and outlives dress styles and wilted flowers is the beauty of a woman's inner spirit that is gentle, quiet, loving and, above all else, God-honoring. The beauty of a woman after God's heart is a beauty that never fades and doesn't take up an inch of closet space.
I've parted with my dresses and to date, I still don't have any good reason to wear anything with a sequent attached. But I'm still beautiful. I am still a daughter of the King, filled with the Holy Spirit and love of Jesus Christ. I don't need a fancy gown and the perfectly matched set of heels to reveal what dwells inside my heart because I am adored and admired by God. And when He looks into my heart He smiles and says, "You look beautiful..."

Beatrice Potter and other rabbit ramblings

Growing up I absolutely loved The Tale of Samuel Whiskers. It was one of the many delightful narratives in the Tales of Beatrix Potter. I don't remember how old I was when I was first introduced to the Beatrix Potter video series, all I remember is the deep affection I had for those clunky VHS tapes. I loved Samuel Whiskers. I loved Peter Rabbit. I loved Timmy Tiptoes. I loved Benjamin Bunny. I even loved the lame opening credits of my beloved video collection which included a European inspired cottage, a woman in long, flowing garments sipping a cup of tea and of course, a rabbit.
Looking back on those videos makes me smile. The cinematography was certainly nothing extraordinary. The animation, in comparison to today's Avatar and Frozen, was elementary. But what would you expect from a 1992 video series produced by BBC? It was sweet and simple and that's what made them so endearing. And for me, truly inspiring.
Thanks to Beatrix Potter I fell in love with rabbits. Fifteen years later and that love affair still captured my heart, as evidenced by the twenty bunnies that inhabited by back yard. Pet rabbits, not wild. But that's a whole story onto itself.
Back to Beatrix.
Beatrix Potter and the tales of rambunctious animated animals had an effect on who I became. I became a lover of rabbits, English cottages and, of course, the elegance of English accents. I was forever influenced by the scenes and plots I viewed as a young child. The entertainment I put in as an impressionable youngster had lasting effects.
This principle has remained true long past my childhood. I am forever absorbing the influences that surround me like a sponge soaking up water.
As human sponges we are constantly faced with decisions about which pool of water to jump into. Even after our childhood VHS days have passed we are still impressionable. We cannot choose to stop being a sponge. It is part of being human. But we can choose what we will soak up.
Now that my days of Beatrix Potter have passed I must decide what I will let pour into me and what I will choose to influence my life, thoughts and actions. Every day I must choose to turn away from destructive, evil, insidious influences and open the Bible and be influenced and shaped by the word of God. If I hope to have the love of Christ pour out of me I must soak in the infallible truth of the everlasting word.
Just as Beatrix Potter influenced me to love bunnies, God's Word will do more than influence my actions, it will transform my heart, making me more like Christ each day.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

A little bit of conversation, a whole lot of love

Standing in line at Starbucks was an old friend. Well, a sort of friend. He didn't remember me, which I expected and anticipated. I had met Tommy at the local homeless shelter while serving lunch. He came through the line with a tray in his hands and a smile on his face. In the winter months he donned a furry eared trappers hat. During summer he sported his Erie SeaWolves hat and jersey, always a proud baseball fan despite the teams losing record.
Tommy has brain damage. Although he is in his fifties, he looks much younger, thinks on a childlike level and speaks with an impediment that causes conversational challenges for those on the listening end of the dialogue. Despite his physical and mental limitations Tommy is always smiling. Always. He exudes joy from every line in his face and ever crinkle around his bright eyes. It's no wonder that I couldn't forget Tommy.
When I spotted him in Starbucks I had to say hello. I jogged his memory by reminding him of where we had met before and my Mom's name, someone who he chatted with faithfully every time he saw her. She was, and I assume still is, gifted at understanding Tommy's muddled speech. Upon hearing her name he lit up. "I know Cindy!"
From there Tommy was on a roll telling me about that day's agenda. He pulled out a receipt from his pocket showing me that he had just received a hair-cut from the SportsClips next-door. He took off his hat to show off the military style cut. He told me about where he lives now and why he doesn't come into the shelter for meals anymore. "They fight too much there." And he's right, they do.
I couldn't make out every detail of what Tommy was trying to tell me. He did his best to help me  by repeating himself when he could tell I wasn't catching on but even that didn't always prove effective. I wanted so badly to catch every word and be able to respond with more substantive feedback but the lines of communication were too fuzzy.
As I watched Tommy strain to make his words clearer a realization suddenly dawned on me. I didn't need to know what Tommy was saying or have the perfect response. I just needed to return the smile and return the joy.
By simply looking into Tommy's kind eyes and feeling the warmth of his smile I knew we were speaking in our hearts the same language - the language of Christ's love.
When Tommy walked out the door I don't know where he was going. He tried to explain but I couldn't make out his words. But by then it didn't matter. What mattered was reciprocating love to my brother in Christ. The most important part of our conversation was the spirit behind the smile.
Isn't that really the most important part of any dialogue? Sharing a smile and the joy of the Savior always makes for a blessed conversation.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Happy Sword Swallower's Day

Are you ready for the big celebration this weekend? And no I'm not referring to the 20th anniversary of Pokemon. I'm talking about World Sword Swallowers Day. Did you already buy the party hats or is this internationally recognized holiday news to you? I'll admit I was was unaware of the wide world of sword swallowers and their annual celebration honoring their craft. Nor did I know that there is a Sword Swallowers Hall of Fame.
The ancient art of Sword Swallowing began in India. Today it is professionally practiced by less than one hundred gutsy individuals worldwide dedicated to preserving the age-old tradition of opening wide and gulping down a sharp metal sword. When asked, "why do you swallow swords" the swallowers will tell you that they are showmen willing to risk their life for the thrill and awe of overcoming a life-defying feat. Others will admit that they crave attention and swallowing a sword feeds their need to be noticed. One thing every sword swallower tends to agree upon is that the rest of the world thinks their crazy. But by the time they are a card-carrying member of the Sword Swallowers Association International (SSAI) they are used to the stunned looks and critical remarks. They take the heat for taking down the sword.
To most of the world, less about one-hundred sword-swallowing masters, this "art form" is completely nutty, long past daredevil and into the realm of lunacy. But who am I to judge? After all, according to the world, I'm crazy, too.
And no, not for swallowing swords or any other inanimate, dangerous object. In the eyes of the world I'm crazy for completely submitting to Christ. I'm crazy for surrendering my will and my plans at the foot of the cross. I'm crazy for being completely captivated by the Almighty God.
Not that I mind being called crazy. I expect it. I was warned that the sideways looks and furrowed brows would accompany the questioning. Paul even wrote to the Corinthians to expect on-lookers to question if Christ-followers were out of their minds.
I may be, but I'm still not going to swallow a sword.
The craziness I am prepared to embrace is the kind of crazy that doesn't come with a danger label attached. I'm all in for God's kind of crazy - the crazy of walking by faith and not by sight. Being this kind of crazy doesn't come with a threat of death. It comes with a guarantee of life - eternal, satisfying, everlasting life.
From the world's perspective you'll look crazy for surrendering your life to Christ, too. Maybe not as crazy as a sword swallower, but crazy none-the-less. But just like the sword swallowers, you can embrace your kind of crazy. Celebrate your submission to Christ with praise and worship. Share the joy you've found in surrender and the peace you've experienced through faith in your Savior.
And have a happy sword swallower's day because every kind of crazy can use a little celebration.

Beach Glass Beauty

In the center console of my car, right behind the drink holders, rests a little alcove. It's the perfect place to stash some coins for quick access should an unexpected toll road present itself. Or, if you're like me, it's the perfect cranny to safely store beach glass.
Some people like to keep a first aid kit on hand in their vehicle. This is wise, no doubt. As is the wool blanket, umbrella, water bottle and reflective triangle LifeHacker suggests as some of the "Essentials" that everyone should have in their car at all times. Oddly enough they left beach glass off the list.
In my car you won't find most of the basic car owner necessities. Thanks to my Dad I have jumper cables but for the rest I'm counting on AAA. Thankfully my lack of "essentials" has left me with plenty of room to fit in the not-so-typical essentials such as the trusty beach glass.
Should I ever end up with a flat tire on the side of interstate seventy-nine the beach glass won't be of particular use. And if I tried to stick it in a parking meter I wouldn't get much time. The beach glass serves a much different purpose. A much greater purpose, if you ask me.
The glass resting in the center console of my car is a daily reminder that God specializes in transforming the broken into something beautiful.
Along the banks of the sea and great lakes the crashing waves carry precious little gems of weathered glass to the beach's sandy shores. Each piece has a history, a story that all started with being broken. A bottle shattered. A ship wrecked, the content spilling into the sea, fragmenting into a million little pieces. The jagged pieces of glass sink to the ocean's floor where they are battered by waters, smashed by waves and scraped with sand for thirty, forty, fifty...even a hundred years.
And then, one day, that broken bottle gets pushed ashore, completely unrecognizable from the piece of debris it used to be. The piece of glass that is revealed is smooth, frosted and rounded. Years spent enduring the squalls of the sea have not ruined the glass, those storms have perfected it.
You and I are much like those pieces of glass. To become beautiful we must first be broken and battered. While the waves crash down upon us our rough edges and jagged imperfections are transformed. God uses the storm to soften that which is too hard. He uses the sand to sanctify, cleanse and renew our spirits.
Each time I look down at my center console and behold the beauty in the beach glass I am reminded of the process of transformation taking place in my life. I am still in the raging waters. I have been broken and now I am being battered for the sake of eternal beauty. The process can be trying but I hold onto God's promises. I am being renewed each day. I am being sculpted and shaped for the sake of the Kingdom. I'm still being made into finished, prized, treasured beach glass. So bring on the waves.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Camping with God

I'm not much for camping. A combination of hard ground, bugs and unsettling noises has never been my idea of a vacation. My style is more Marriott than KOA. I appreciate the luxuriousness of the huge hotel beds and the vast array of pillow density choices to rest my head. And a bathroom only a few steps away beats walking through the woods, towel and washcloth in hand, to find a decent shower.
Given my aversion to the camping scene you can imagine my alarm when I opened my Bible to Psalm 61. It starts out with a rallying message. "Refuge"..."strong tower"...."tent."
Hold it right there.
Tents go with camping. And by now you know how I feel about that activity. How could David write that he longed to dwell in a tent? I guess the Old Testament didn't have a Ritz Carlton. David certainly would have longed to dwell there instead, don't you think?
Of course the Ritz and early check-in were long after David's time but David wasn't a stranger to luxury. He was, after all, a king. Still he longed for a tent. But not just any tent. God's tent.
David understood that life in a tent with God was better than residing in a palace without Him.
So, following the example of David, I've decided to pack up my knapsack and take refuge at God's campsite. Like I anticipated there is dirt and dust. The ground is damp and it hasn't suddenly become as soft as a down-filled pillow.
But once inside God's tent I don't even notice those campsite quirks. Inside God's tent there is peace, a peace that even the Ritz can't offer. There is security - better security than the double lock on any hotel door. There is perfect rest that is more restorative than any slumber I could hope for on a king size mattress with percale sheets.
God's tent is unlike any tent you can buy at REI. It is heavenly. It is glorious. It is holy.
I'm still not ready for KOA but I'm ready for GOA - God's Otherworldly Accommodations. Residing with God no matter what the accommodation is always the most perfect place to rest. It is the only safe place to put one's head. With God, even a tent can be a tower.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

New Job

I have exciting news.
I've been offered a new, high-level position. 
I know, you're excited, aren't you? I'm sure you're jumping out of your skin, thrilled at my good fortune. What could this new position be, you may be wondering? I'm an ambassador. 
And no, I am not filling the Cuban embassy vacancy. Nor am I being sent to Dublin, Ireland or Paris, France. Or better yet, the Cayman Islands. The ambassador position I will be filling doesn't require a move. In fact, I don't even have to travel for training.
I've been appointed an ambassador for Christ. 
Don't sight as if I led you on. This is a serious position. Actually, it is of more importance than any foreign assignment I could ever hope to receive. I'm working for an embassy that can't be taken down with bombs or enemy schemes. This embassy won't close due to a change in foreign relations or political climate. Can you say, "job security?" As long as I keep showing up, I'm in business. Or, should I say, God is in business and I am at work: constant, satisfying, fulfilling, meaningful work. 
To be honest, this position isn't new. At least the offer isn't new. The position of being an ambassador for Christ has been on the table for..well..ever. God has been offering me the opportunity of a lifetime to be His representative but I haven't been willing to take the plunge - at least not entirely. I've wanted the job on a part-time basis but that wasn't part of the offer. This is a full-time position. Take it or leave it. Be for God all of the time or go find work elsewhere. 
So I tried the work elsewhere option. I've tried more little start-up businesses then I can count. The vast array of VistaPrint business cards taking up valuable drawer space in my desk is proof. But they've all failed. Every single one. The cards will, I assume, make for good kindling to burn the dreams of fizzled entrepreneurship ventures. 
After this last round of no-go business start-ups I decided to turn back to that original offer. Full-time ambassador for Christ. I looked over the pay: none. I looked at the benefits: none. I considered the hours: full-time, plus over-time, plus always on-call. But then I looked at the reward: heaven, fulfillment, joy, peace, grace and, last but certainly not least, the world's best boss. 
I am ashamed to say that it took an embarrassingly low bank account and overwhelming failure to finally convince me to accept God's offer. I held on for too long to the idea that I had to be a financial success to be of value to this world. All the while God's been telling me otherwise. He isn't concerned with how the world classifies success and worth. Working for an earthly kingdom will pay in dollars and cents for the here and now but it won't amount to a hill of beans in the end. 
On the other hand, the job God has for me is of eternal value. When this life ends the work I put forth will reveal itself with the precious souls who are in heaven. God will use my ambassadorship to deliver His message and from there Christ will transform lives. As I commit my work to the Lord each day He will direct my steps, plot my points and give me tasks that bring Him glory and make His name great.