Monday, October 31, 2011

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

"Backward, turn backward,
O Time, in your flight
Make me a child again
Just for tonight!"
~Elizabeth Akers Allen

Okay...this isn't my all-time favorite holiday, but I do enjoy many things about it. As a mom, I cherish the memories of helping our kids get dressed into their constumes, pretending to be something outrageous or humorous. I love to see the parade of children that make their way to our door for their treats. From carving pumpkins, to decorating our porch with bats and black cats, to the endless supply of sugary sweets that stream through our home ~ I get a kick out of this day. Perhaps it's just that it brings out the child in me.

I'm not sure how the tradition of wearing costumes came into play, but I think it's interesting that even adults embrace this oppotunity to shed their identities and become someone or something totally out of character. I am giggling to myself as I recall my many costumes over the years. As I reflect back, I realize it wasn't just about the exterior. I also remember how the costumes made me feel inside. Some brought out a silly side, while other costumes seemed to bring a whimsical sense of mystique or charm.

Maybe that's why, as adults, we still jump at the chance to get dressed up on Halloween. Perhaps it has less to do with the costume and how we look, and more to do with how we feel on the inside. Who doesn't relish an opportunity to assume a new identity for a few hours out of the year, especially when the persona you become is one of choice.

This gets me thinking ~ what about the other 364 days in the year? Do I ever wear masks to hide my true self, my true feelings, my true thoughts? Do I let myself be coerced into putting on a mask that is a contradiction to who I am and what I believe? How often do I let people see the real me?

Those questions are altogether too serious for this day. Today, it's all about getting into a fun mindset, having a generous spirit, and celebrating the children that dwell inside each costume. Here's to a safe, fun-filled, blessed Hallow's Eve...

"Shadows of a thousand years rise again unseen,
Voices whisper in the trees, 'Tonight is Halloween!'"
~Dexter Kozen          

Friday, October 28, 2011

THANKS, DAD

"I thought of you with love today but that is nothing new
I thought about you yesterday and days before that too,
I think of you in silence I often speak your name
All I have are memories and your picture in a frame
Your memory is my keepsake with which I'll never part
God has you in His keeping I have you in my heart."
~ Author Unknown

Today marks the 27 year anniversary of my dad's death. I have shared in previous blogs about my dad's tragic suicide. But I haven't said much (or anything) about my dad ~ what kind of man he was, and the gifts and lessons he taught me. Today, I am paying honor to my dad.

My dad was an extremely intelligent man...a genius, actually. He played a key role in Intelligence during World War Two. Later, he used his gifted mind to create a system of determining the effectiveness of advertisements on potential buyers, with a ninety-six percent accuracy at predicting levels of sales. This system used a machine similar to a lie detector, and was proven time after time to measure the impact an advertisement would have before it was used. Major brand companies and magazine businesses used his system before making costly investments of air time, magazine spreads and covers.

My dad was very passionate about his family and home life. He was the provider and the protector of our home and all that resided there. We lived in a contemporary home in a very nice neighborhood. My dad purchased our home on a whim and surprised my mom with our new residence. I was only three at the time, so I cannot remember if that was a welcome gift in my mother's eyes. But I loved growing up in that house. It had four stories, built on a hillside, and I loved to fly down its stair rails. I loved the woodsy feel of the yard that surrounded our home. My imagination was able to soar in our unusual abode.

As I think back on my childhood, I realize I owe so much to my dad. He is the reason I went to college and graduated. With him, education wasn't a choice...it was "do or die". When I think of my rebellious years, I know it was my dad who calmed and soothed my mother's worries. My dad was fiercely protective of me. I remember coming home from my job at Baskin Robbins one night. A car had followed me the entire way. I pulled into our driveway, not knowing what to do. I planned to make a run to our front door, but when I opened my car door, the man who had followed me was already at my car. A feeling of panic rose up in me. But at that instant, the front door opened, and my dad came running out of the house, yelling at the man to leave me alone. The man raced to his car. But that wasn't good enough for my dad. He jumped into his own car, and began a hot pursuit after the man. I could hear the screeching of tires for a couple of minutes. My dad returned later. I never knew what happened, but I knew my dad had taken care of me.

My dad taught me a lot. By example, he drilled into me the message to pursue my dreams. My passion for writing comes from my dad. He loved to sit and read my poems, stories, song lyrics, and essays. His comments were always affirming. He also taught me to take risks in life ~ to not play it safe all the time. When my heart was broken by my college sweetheart and wedding plans were cancelled, it was my dad who encouraged me to open my heart up again to love.

My dad loved the holidays. He appreciated everything about traditions. He relished the fact that it was his job to adorn our Christmas tree with lights. The holidays seemed to bring out the child in him. I remember the year my siblings and I gave my parents puppies for Christmas. My mom was understandably overwhelmed with the prospect of taking care of two little furballs during the busiest day of the year. But my dad was in puppy heaven. He took to those little guys immediately, and assumed all responsibility for walking them three times a day from then on.

I loved the fact that my dad was so multi-dimensional. He was a hard-working man, dedicated (to a fault) to his work. But he could also reveal his inner child at the most unexpected times. I remember the year I went with him to Disneyland to do a job for his business. After our work was completed, he suggested we go into the park and have some fun. I was dumbfounded and delighted at his eagerness to go on rides. I will never forget the smiles and laughter that poured out of him that night.

Sometimes when you lose a loved one in a tragic and unexpected way, the memories of how they died override the memories of how they lived. For so long, I have made this mistake. Today, I look back with deep fondness and a thankful heart for my dad, who was that and so much more. I love you, Dad.

"To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die."
~Thomas Campbell                     

BE STILL

"Be still and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world."
~Psalm 46:10, New Living Testament
"Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything."
~same verse, The Message

Lord, the stillness, the quiet, the inability to do much has me in this place of seeking You. I can keep myself busy on this couch, still "doing" what I can. But this morning, I sense a higher calling of letting go of all I think I should be accomplishing, and just seek You. I see Lord that the more I have of You residing in me, the less I am bogged down by the cares of this world. As I set myself aside and welcome Your Spirit in, Your presence puts everything into perspective. My worries become opportunites to trust and wait on You expectantly. My burdens began to transform into hidden blessings. My anxieties and fears are replaced by a peaceful calm. My regrets fall away, no longer able to pull be down. My loneliness vanishes, for I realize I am really not alone.

This quiet helps me tune into You, my closest and constant companion. It's no longer about me running to You with my list of requests and demands. Instead, it's a two way conversation, where I want to sit and listen with an open heart and mind.

It is altogether too wonderful that You are here with me, being everything I need ~ my friend, my healer, my counselor, my strength, my comforter, my great physician, my encourager, my hope, my lifeline. Thank you for this quiet time out of life...on this couch...seeking You...and finding You in refreshing, new ways.

"Peace is not the absence of affliction, but the presence of God."
~Author Unknown

"Before me, even as behind,
God is, and all is well."
~John Greenleaf Whittier  

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

FRIENDSHIP

"Friends love through all kinds of weather, and families stick together in all kinds of trouble."
~Proverbs 17:17, The Message

I have always been a bit of a loner. I cherish my alone time, because it allows me to engage in activities I enjoy...reading, writing, praying, and puttering around my home. As a child, I was pretty shy. My siblings were older, and there weren't many kids in our neighborhood. Perhaps this is why I am so comfortable in my solitude.

But I am realizing that my self-imposed isolation isn't all that healthy for me. It's time to seek balance. It's time to nurture my friendships, and branch out to make new ones. But this doesn't come easily to me. I have so much to learn!

I begin by studying the art of friendship, because I do believe it is an art. Some seem born talented in this area. Others, like me, have to work at it more, and push ourselves out of our comfort zones.

"If you want good friends, be a good friend." I don't know who said that, but even I can see the sage message here. It's time to take a close look at what it means to be a really good friend.

When I think of a good friend, I visualize someone who is there for you...wanting your best...rooting for you...encouraging and challenging you...watching out for you...offering sound advice when it's appropriate. It's someone you can laugh with, cry with, vent with, be silent with. A good friend does you good, not harm. You know your secrets are safe. A good friend isn't an enabler ~ she'll tell you when you're taking a wrong path. A good friend is thoughtful and eager to celebrate your victories and special moments. She is there to help when you need it, and doesn't ask for anything in return. A good friend is quick to forgive, and never holds grudges. A good friend overlooks your quirks and brings to light your best qualities. She sees your potential and encourages you to go for your dreams. A good friend loves unconditionally through thick and thin.

This is the friend I want to be!

"A friend is one of the nicest things you have, and one of the best things you can be."
~Douglas Pagels 

Monday, October 24, 2011

DIVINE APPOINTMENT

"He comforts us when we suffer. That is why whenever other people suffer, we are able to comfort them by using the same comfort we have received from God."
~2 Corinthians 1:4, God's Word Translation

I recently had surgery. I'll be honest ~ I HATE all things "medical". The science of medicine has always intrigued me, but the role of "patient" triggers anxiety and fear. That said, the whole idea of what they referred to as "major surgery" was far from appealing. The week leading up to my surgery date, I had a nervous stomach and wrestled with questioning every aspect of it. Did I really need this? Did I choose the right surgeon? Did I really want to have it two hours away from home? A trail of "what-ifs" paraded through my mind.

To calm my worries, I wrote out some of my favorite verses in a little book to remind me that God would be with me and would protect me. But honestly, I knew the verses were not guarantees that everything would turn out well...just that God would be with me every step of the way.

I was grateful to wake up after my surgery and hear that everything was fine. I was wheeled into a room with two beds. Relief washed over me when I noticed that I had the room to myself. My husband came in and sat with me. He helped me take my first bite of food. He helped me get out of bed and walked me to the restroom and up and down the halls for exercise. It was comforting to have my best friend right beside me, looking after me. Dave planned to stay with me all night. He figured he could create a makeshift bed out of the three chairs that lined my hospital room.

We were both disappointed at midnight when a woman was admitted and assigned to my room. Dave took his cue to leave. I felt sorry for myself. I wanted my husband with me, and I wanted my privacy. I didn't sleep the entire night. I lay awake listening to the painful groans of my room-mate, wanting nothing more than to get some sleep. Before long, daylight was breaking and my husband was by my side again. I was grateful that I would be discharged that  morning.

But there was Agnes, my room-mate, hearing from doctors that they needed to operate, and soon. I heard her fears in her replies. My heart ached for her. I knew her suffering had far exceeded my own.

As I got dressed and packed my items into my bag, I thought about the little book I had brought to the hospital with me to calm my fears. I got it out and went to her bedside. "Agnes, you seem scared. May I give you something? This little book helped me with my own fears." I handed her my little book of handwritten verses. She took it into her hands and clutched it firmly in her grasp. She thanked me over and over, and began to thumb through the pages. I put my hand on her and prayed for healing and for God's peace to wash over her. I could tell she didn't want me to leave, but it was time for me to go. I promised her I'd be praying for her throughout the day. I could see that my words brought her comfort.

Looking back, I can't help but wonder ~ was I placed in that city...in that hospital...with that surgeon...on that day...so I could offer a little piece of comfort? Had the little book I'd made really been written for someone other than me? How grateful I am that, because of my silly fears and worries, I was able to reach out and offer comfort to someone who really needed it. Who would have thought that a dreaded surgery would turn into a divine appointment? Only God...

"The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer someone else up."
~Mark Twain 



      

WALKING THROUGH THE VALLEY

"Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me."
~Psalm 23:4

What is the first word that pops into your mind when you read this verse? For me, it's "funerals". This has to be one of the most commonly quoted nuggets of Scripture at a funeral or memorial service. It is spoken as a gentle reassurance that death doesn't have to make us fearful, because the Author of life is right by our side, protecting and comforting us.

But I think this verse is also written for those of us who are still living. Why we wait until someone dies before we meditate on it is puzzling to me. In fact, I think we do ourselves a great disservice by filing it away for memorials and funerals.

Let's face it ~ EVERY DAY we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. This shadow follows all of us...no one is immune. This shadow accompanies a young child as well as an octogenarian. It follows the healthy teen as it does the person riddled with terminal cancer. As much as we might try to dodge this shadow or put it out of our thoughts, death is a natural part of life...ours included. And NONE of us knows the day or the hour when we will breathe our last breath.

I am not suggesting that it's healthy to dwell on our own mortality. But we get so caught up in the business of living that we don't live with the understanding that today could be our last. I know I don't. I squander time. I shrug off missed opportunities to do an act of kindness. I behave as if I am guaranteed a few more decades on planet earth. I'm not.

Two weeks ago I got a wake-up call. The carnage of senseless murders in a local beach town, followed by the untimely deaths of three women enjoying a day on the lake remind me that each day is PRECIOUS ~ and each day could be my last. I think of those  dozen people and cannot help but try to put myself into their shoes. Why would it have cross their minds that a jaunt to the beauty salon, or an outing with friends, would bring the final word in their life stories?

We have no guarantees for tomorrow. Shouldn't that make us  more grateful for today, and more purposeful in how we spend it? As much as we may want to run from the shadow of death, maybe we can begin to see it as a friend...there to remind us to live each day to the fullest. If those people who died in the salon and on the lake could talk to us, I think they would tell us to live purposefully ~ love extravagantly ~ and savor the gift of each day.

"Gaily I lived as ease and nature taught,
And spent my little life without a thought,
And am amazed that Death, that tyrant grim,
Should think of me, who never thought of him."
~Rene Francois Regnier     

Monday, October 10, 2011

PLAN TO BE AMAZED

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
~Jeremiah 29:11

This is a favorite verse for so many. It resonates with a hope we all long for. Who doesn't want the reassurance that God's plans for us are good? Without a doubt, God's individual plans for us are unique. He didn't use a cookie cutter when he created each of us. His plans for all of us in this life are as diversified as our shapes, sizes, colors, personalities, and backgrounds.

That said, I believe there are universal plans that he has had for us since the day we took our first breath. First and foremost, I think his primary plan for each of us is that we know him personally. He doesn't want to be a distant figure that we run to only when we get in over our heads. He wants to be intimately involved in our daily lives.

We read how God's plan is to prosper and not harm us. Our limited scope sees the word "prosper" and visualizes dollar signs and material possessions. But I don't think that is what he is referring to. I think he longs to prosper us in eternal and spiritual dividends. The only way this is going to happen is if we know him ~ really know him. And the only way we can really know him is to have a close relationship with him. Yes, we can know about him without that relationship. But to know him the way we know the people we are closest to is a whole different experience.

When we enter into that relationship with him, our eternal futures are sealed. It's a done deal. The future and hope he has planned for us is so much more expansive than our human minds can grasp. Yes, he wants good things for us while we take this journey in our earthly lives. But the hope and future he has for us is so much grander than anything we have ever experienced or imagined.

God's plans for us are good ~ very good! All he asks is that we take the step of faith and walk in fellowship with him. When I think about it, it boggles my mind ~ the God of the Universe wants to have a close relationship with me??? Beyond amazing...almost too good to be true. Yet that is his deepest desire...and his grandest plan for each and every one of us.

"It's in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone. It's in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it, found yourselves home free ~ signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what's coming, a reminder that we'll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life."
~Ephesians 1:11-14, The Message     

HAVE A GOOD DAY

"This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it."
~Psalm 118:24

Somedays I have to talk myself into having a better day. I have to put aside my gloomy feelings, the frustrating circumstances, and the worries that have taken residence in my thought life, and look for the positives. Yesterday was one of those days.

I had been wrestling with a weight of discouragement since my eyes opened yesterday morning. Health issues sapped me of all energy, and the gnawing discomfort in my body was only worsening my mood. Although I tried to fight it, I found myself sinking into a dark hole.

But I couldn't let myself stay there. So I headed outside to our backyard sanctuary to commune with nature and have a heart to heart with the One who has unlimited peace to give. Just as I nestled into my favorite lounge chair and began to focus on the sweet sounds of the birds chirping, my peaceful haven was abruptly interrupted by the loud growls of our neighbor's motorcycle. I told myself that the rumbling noise would soon make an exit. My disappointment grew when I realized that  my neighbor was working on the motorcycle, not taking it for a joy ride. Ugh...

Some days are like this.  They seem intent on keeping us down. We try to move in a healthier direction. We try to drown out the negatives and zoom in on the positives. We do our best to minimize the hard stuff that is making us weary. Then along comes a snag ~ an interruption that seems to have the sole purpose of stealing our peace...and our joy.

It turned out to be a beautiful morning. The branches of the pine trees swayed gently for my entertainment, while the sunlight danced upon their green needles. The expanse of blue sky above me helped wash away the affects of a rough start to my morning. I thought about my mother's sage words, "This too, shall pass...", one of her favorite lines when I was growing up, and thought, it's so true ~ the dark moments don't last forever.

The gentle movement of air around me was refreshing, and I breathed it in, knowing that each breath, each day, is a gift...even the days that don't seem to be in my favor. I realized I didn't have to let my health ruin every aspect of my day. My circumstances didn't change as the day progressed, but still, I was glad to be here... and be a part of it.    

By the way, today was a much better day. And tomorrow? Well, I will leave that in God's hands.

"Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy."
~Anne Frank

Sunday, October 9, 2011

LOVE STORY, PART TWELVE

"But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love."
1 Corinthians 13: 13

Whether you are a bystander or you've taken your own steps onto Agape Lane, I hope that sharing my baby steps with you has blessed and inspired you. You know, this isn't about me ~ not even in the slightest bit. This is about God, our source of Agape love, and all that he wants to do in and through us. All we have to do is say yes and take that step of faith.

Just like the chapter sums up, our challenge is to "trust steadily in God" regardless of our circumstances...even when the thick fog and mist closes in around us. We are exhorted to "hope unswervingly", keeping our focus and direction firmly planted on God as we wait for the sun to break through. Lastly and most importantly, we are called to "love extravagantly". Agape love, the only kind we cannot manufacture on our own, is our deepest and most life-changing purpose.

I've made my decision. Sure, there will be times when I stumble or get off course. But I've made up my mind ~ I want this treasure, this priceless residence on Agape Lane. Why do I keep referring to it as a road...a lane...a path? Because I don't think we really arrive while we are here on earth. We journey along its trail, but our real welcome home will be in our eternal residence. Then why bother while we are here? Why not just get the most we can from this earthly life? Because the investments we make on this journey will go with us into the next life, and the people we leave behind will reap the benefits of a rich inheritance...Agape love.

When I see God face to face, I want to know him so well that I recognize him right away. I want to run into his arms and hear him say, "Well done, my child!" AGAPE LOVE. Why wouldn't I grab hold of it? In the end, it's all that counts.

"While God waits for His temple to be built of love, men bring stones."
~Rabindranath Tagore    

Friday, October 7, 2011

LOVE STORY, PART ELEVEN

"When I was an infant at my mother's breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good. We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!"
~1 Corinthians 13:11-12

I get it ~ it's time for me to leave my self-absorbed, me-focused life behind. It's time for me to grow up into a woman who walks in step with God day by day, minute by minute...letting his priorities and agendas become mine. It's time to stop investing myself in things that hold no eternal value, and let God step in and take his rightful place in my life. It's time to put to death my strivings to be or do things apart from God, and give myself over to his Agape love.

It's funny ~ I can't see what awaits me, but I know that the closer I get to my Agape residence, the clearer my vision will become. Just like it says, "We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist." That is exactly how I feel.

But it goes on to say that "it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright!" As I keep stepping out in faith, holding fast to God, I know that the fog and the mist...the confusion and uncertainty...will evaporate into thin air. Imagine ~ "we'll see it all then...knowing him directly!"

Is there any piece of real estate that can match that offer? Only what you find when you travel Agape Lane. My agent holds the key. He is guiding me through the fog and mist, and one of these days, it's all going to clear away. He's going to unlock the door and usher me in with a hearty welcome.

Some believe that all roads lead to home. But only one leads to our Agape residence.

"The important thing is this: To be able at any moment to sacrifice that which we are for what we could become."
~Charles DuBois   

Thursday, October 6, 2011

LOVE STORY, PART TEN

"Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled." 
~ 1 Corinthians 13:8-10

Let's face it. Our time here on earth is fleeting. Life as we know it is a temporary condition. The sooner I can embrace this fact, the sooner I can begin to make my time here count for eternity. Honestly, most of what occupies my time and energy will have no real eternal value when I pass away. That said, why do I spin my wheels, acting as though my daily routine is what matters most?

I have heard it said that the only thing we can take with us when we die is what we have given away to others. When the heart of the gift is Agape love, I believe this is true. "Love never dies." Everything else we invest in for our own personal gain becomes meaningless when we die. Not Agape love. It ushers us into eternal life, and it lingers among those we leave behind.

We cannot lose when we invest in Agape love. No economy, stock market, or man-made commodity can touch it. As long as we continue to invest ourselves, Agape love continues to grow and multiply. Before we know it, we are rich beyond measure. Maybe not rich by earthly standards. No..this is better ~ it lasts for all eternity.

I think we can only grasp so much of this truth while we walk this earth. But there will come a day when we see it more clearly than anything we now see with our physical eyes. We'll see all of the "whys". We will see the way God has stayed right beside us, orchestrating our lives, using our difficult circumstances ~ even our bad choices ~ to help us find our way to our Agape residence.

How silly I feel for all of the times I feared and dreaded death. When my day comes, I am quite sure that I will look back and ask what I was so afraid of. Afterall, I will be seeing AGAPE face to face. What can compare to that?

"Love is a symbol of eternity. It wipes out all sense of time, destroying all memory of a beginning and all fear of an end."
~Author Unknown


 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

BEST SELLER

"For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power (making it active, operative, energizing, and effective); it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and (the immortal) spirit, and of joints and marrow (of the deepest parts of our nature), exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thought and purposes of the heart."
~Hebrews 4:12 (Amplified Version)

There is nothing like a good book on a gray, rainy day like today. I love to cozy up by the fireplace with my coffee in one hand, my favorite book in the other. The sound of the rain dropping in a rhythmical pattern is soothing to my spirit, a perfect accompaniment to my favorite read.

Truth be told, I find that this favorite book of mine beckons me to open its covers in any weather condition, and at any time of the day or night. This book entertains me. It challenges and stretches me. It teaches and counsels me. It uplifts and encourages me. It brightens my mood. It even comforts and strengthens me. How many books can you say this about? For me, only one fits the bill.

I first began to read this book after my dad's death. I was struggling with so many emotions that were foreign to me but that naturally follow the suicide of a loved one. There were so many questions swimming around in my mind, but no one seemed to have any answers. The pain and the guilt I wrestled with were paralyzing at times, and no counselor had adequate words to soften the hurt.

Then I found it ~ a book that seemed to have a power and life of its own. I spent hours during that dark season of my life pouring over its words, trying to make sense of it. It felt as if I was reading a "magical" book written in another language. So why did I keep reading it? Because everytime I held it in my arms, a peace and a comfort washed over me that I could not find anywhere else. It became my lifeline.

Months later, I joined a study, hoping to get a better understanding of the words that filled the pages. It wasn't long before I realized what I really needed was to know the Author of this dear book. I gave my life to Jesus and invited his Spirit to come in and take up residence.

Who would have thought that one little prayer would open up my mind to understand this book? But that is just what happened. The words that had read like a foreign language now made perfect sense, and I couldn't get enough of it.

I still can't! Everyday I look forward to opening it up and beckoning it to speak to me. It never ceases to guide, instruct, exhort, and benefit me. Sure, there are days when it sits on my coffee table, unopened. Those are the days I cheat myself out of a nugget or treasure that God was wanting to give me.

If you are like I was, unable to really understand the words and messages of the longest standing bestseller, the Bible, may I encourage you today? It's such a simple prayer that will open your eyes to a whole new world ~ Lord, I want to know you. I want a relationship with you. Would you please come in and reveal yourself to me? I invite your Spirit to come and fill me. Speak to me through your Word.

Now, isn't that the fastest way to learn a new language? Sorry Rosetta Stone ~ you don't hold a candle to this method. If you have a Bible, why not open it? Try reading it with an open heart and mind. If you don't own one, I suggest you buy a study Bible. It will help you get a better grasp on the history and context in which it is written. The Bible comes in different versions...see which version is the most readable for you. I like the New International Version.

It's a perfect day to curl up with a good book. Happy reading! And if you are a new member of this life-changing book club, WELCOME!

"The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit."
~1 Corinthians 2:14

"Books let us into their souls and lay open to us the secrets of our own."
~William Hazlitt              

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

RIPE FOR THE HARVEST

"The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. Then Jesus said to the tree, 'May no one ever eat your fruit again!' And the disciples heard him say it...The next morning as they passed by the fig tree he had cursed, the disciples noticed it had withered from the roots up. Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, 'Look, Rabbi! The fig tree you cursed has withered and died!' Then Jesus said to the disciples, 'Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea, and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you've received it, it will be yours. But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a gurdge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.'"
~Mark 11: 12-14, 20-25

This passage has stumped me for years! I have yet to hear or read a message about it that satisfies my questions. So I run to the One who inspired each word, seeking answers to help me understand what it means. Surely there is at least one or two treasures here, or it wouldn't be recorded in the Bible.

Let me make this perfectly clear. I am NOT a theologian. I am just a child of God who loves his Word and wants to glean from it. I want it to teach me, counsel me, and literally change me. Here's what this passage is saying to me today.

When Jesus saw this fig tree that looked pleasing to the eye but was lacking fruit, he demonstrated his power over life and death. Notice he used a tree to give us a visual of this power...he could have easily struck down one of the Pharisees! (Also interesting to note is that it was on a tree...the cross...that he ultimately demonstrated his power over life and death.) I also realize that he could have told this tree to make fruit, because it says he was hungry. He didn't do that. With this image of him cursing this beautiful but unproductive fig tree, I know there is a challenge here for me, the reader. What does my walk with God appear like to others....and to God? Am I just going through the motions? Do I just talk the talk, or do I walk the walk? In other words, do I try to keep up good appearances, or am I actually producing fruits for his kingdom?

I have a garden with multiple fruit trees and rose bushes. I do my best to take care of them, making sure they are watered, fed, and pruned regularly. In spite of my efforts, there have been a few trees and bushes that simply will not produce anything other than pretty foliage. After years of trying to get them to produce, I give up and tell my husband to get rid of them. I want to make room for plants that will produce what they are designed for.

Now it gets personal. I look around my neighborhood and see many faces that I have prayed for over the years. But truthfully, I don't think that I have been been all that fruitful in reaching out to them. I hold my faith tucked deep inside of me, afraid of offending them and being rejected. Am I behaving just like that fig tree, keeping up good appearances, but in reality producing no real fruit? Honestly, I feel more like dead wood than the lush, thriving tree I am designed to be.

Again, I have to look to the One who has power over life and death and cry out to him to breathe new life into me. I know I cannot remain stagnant with God. I am either pulling away, or I am moving closer to him. This passage reminds me that he wants me growing closer in my walk of faith everyday. This is where the rubber meets the road! When I feel inadequate or too weak to press forward, he nudges me by reminding me that with faith, all things are possible because I am plugged into the ultimate power source. I don't have to remain in my unproductive status. 

He then gently and graciously reminds me to keep a close watch over my heart and not hold grudges; as long as I am forgiving others, I am being forgiven, and the channel between God and me is wide open. How critical this is if I want my life to bear fruit!

Lord, I look around my neighborhood and realize I have been like that fig tree, unproductive in a field that is ripe for the harvest. Forgive me, and breathe new life into me. Empower me to live a life that is fruitful for you and your kingdom.

"Bread for myself is a material question. Bread for my neighbor is a spiritual one."
~ Nicholas Berdyaev

"When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation. When I found I couldn't change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn't change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family. Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town.  Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world."
~Author Unknown
        

Monday, October 3, 2011

GOOD GRIEF!

"For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven...A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance."
~ Ecclesiastes 3:1,4

"Grief is itself a medicine."
~William Cowper

Is there any experience on earth as gut-wrenching as grieving over a loss? The pain cuts so deeply. Life gets turned upside down. The trivial stuff that once seemed so important loses its significance. The hurt can be all-consuming.

I know. I have grieved a lot. And when I am in the midst of it, I HATE it. I intensely dislike my tears and how they seem to have a will of their own. I cannot stand the sick, gnawing feeling in my stomach that makes it difficult to eat. I hate the congestion and the headaches that follow every weeping session. I despise how weak and unmotivated I feel, and how my emotions seem to paralyze me. I loathe how embarrassed I feel about it, and how I withdraw into my protective shell as I go through the grieving process. I cannot stand how hard it is to sleep when that's all I want to do.

When I grieve, I feel as if I am locked inside a cocoon. But as I grieve, the layers engulfing me begin to peel away. It's a slow process. But it's my only way out. I wrestle through one layer, only to find another one awaiting me. Some layers fall away more easily than others.

I know from experience that the best thing to do is to press through the grief. I may hate everything about it, but I know it's my only healthy option. If I refuse to give in to the grief, I will remain imprisoned by my loss. There's only one way out ~ one layer at a time, one day at a time ~ until I get to the point where I no longer feel the need to cry. My trail of tears that I despised become my path to freedom.

"The sorrow which has no vent in tears may make other organs weep."
~Henry Maudsley      

ON DEAF EARS

"Some people brought him a man who was deaf and could hardly speak, and they begged Jesus to place his hands on him. So Jesus took him off alone, away from the crowd, put his fingers in the man's ears, spat, and touched the man's tongue. Then Jesus looked up to heaven, gave a deep groan, and said to the man, 'Ephphatha,' which means 'Open up!' At once the man was able to hear, his speech impediment was removed, and he began to talk without any trouble."
~ Mark 7:32-35

It is so easy for me to read over a passage like this without giving it much thought. Today, it beckons me to dig deeper. Why did Jesus put his fingers in the man's ears? Why did he spit and touch the man's tongue? Why not just speak healing over this man?

I have been mulling this over for most of the day. As I picture Jesus reaching over and placing a finger in each of the man's ears, I am a bit turned off by the whole idea. Then, I try to visualize Jesus spitting and touching this man's tongue with his spit. My first thought is, "Eww..disgusting." But I want to know why Jesus used these unusual methods to heal this deaf and mute man.

Three things are jumping out at me. First, this is such a personal, intimate gesture. The ONLY people I can see myself touching in this way are my husband and my children (when they were little!) Another thing that strikes me about this passage is that it creates a rather unpleasant portrait of an amazing miracle. This brings me to point number three...not only was this man able to hear after Jesus touched him, he was able to speak! I am not a speech pathologist, but I am thinking that this trumps the miracle of hearing for the first time.

Perhaps we are given this illustration to give us a clear visual of how Jesus longs to touch us personally. He doesn't just want to fix what's wrong in our lives. He wants to be intimately involved in every detail of it ~ the good, the bad, and the UGLY. He wants to reach into the dirtiest, sickest parts of our beings and heal us. He isn't afraid, repulsed, turned off, or offended by the festering wounds we carry. Just the opposite! He longs to engage with us on a very personal level and do the work that only he can do. He wants to make it better ~ but more importantly, he wants to bring us to a deeper knowledge of him. He wants us to know him intimately. He wants us to grasp the truth that nothing is too difficult for him to accomplish. He'll even spit on his own hand before touching our wounds if that's what he needs to do to get this point across.

Here I am, Lord. You see my festering wounds, my sickness, my filth. I invite you to come and touch me. Unplug my ears that often tune you out. Fill my mouth with words that edify and bless. More importantly, reveal yourself to me, that I may come to know you more deeply! 

"God is love. He didn't need us. But he wanted us. And that is the most amazing thing."
~Rick Warren