Tuesday, November 29, 2011

THE GIFT OF EVERY DAY

Every day we are given is a precious gift. I spend most of my days living as if I have an unlimited portion to spend here on earth. I don't. No one does. I don't want to look back on my life and shake my head with regrets about how I used my own allotted amount. I want to be able to look back with a smile, knowing I lived with purpose, integrity, and appreciation for each and every day I was given.

I think that if people who have already passed away were able to speak to us, they would tell us to stop wasting time. I'm not referring to mundane and menial activities. These are a sacred necessity, and an opportunity to commune with God and develop more of his character in us. The time-wasters that are on my mind are mostly internal ~ worrying about the future, living in regret over a bad decision, allowing anxiety over present circumstances to take up residence. We humans can spend so much time and energy living in painful memories or fears about tomorrow that we miss out on the present.

I think that those who have passed on would tell us that life is too short and far too precious to invest it in emotional baggage that only weighs us down. They would nudge us to say no to the toxic memories, the debilitating fears, and the pity parties. I think they would encourage us to stop beating ourselves up because we did or said the wrong thing. They would implore us to discard the pains from the past and start enjoying the present. I think they'd counsel us to stop assuming responsibility for the wrongs we have witnessed. Let's face it. We all have things in our past or present that can drain the life out of us if we let them. Why do we let them?! I guess because it seems the noble thing to do, or we buy into the lies that are fed to us and accept them as truths. But I think they would tell us to put these things to rest.

When someone we know passes away, it reminds us that we don't know how many days we have left. I don't want to waste one more day of the time I have here. I am saying "no more" to my old memories that have haunted me for years. Instead, I am going to ask what I can learn from them and move on. I am not going to buy into the anxiety of what-ifs that can take up residence in my mind. Instead, I am going to breathe in peace and calm and faith that all will work out according to God's good plans. I am not going to whittle away my time stressed out about the future. Instead, I am going to adjust my vision and see it as an unknown adventure just waiting to be explored.

For those who have gone before us, you are missed. Your absence is a reminder to grab hold of those we love and tell them how much they mean to us. The memories we hold dear of you encourage us to build new ones that we can leave behind for those we love. Life is too short to wait until tomorrow to hold a loved one's hand, share a laugh with a friend, or tell someone you think the world of him.

"When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life in such a manner that when you die the world cries and you rejoice." ~Indian Saying

"Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why we call it the present." ~Alice Morse Earle

"Don't let yesterday use up too much of today." ~Cherokee Indian Proverb

"If you have one eye on yesterday, and one eye on tomorrow, you're going to be cockeyed today." ~Author Unknown

"We crucify ourselves between two thieves: regret for yesterday and fear of tomorrow." ~Fulton Oursler

"Every day you are alive is a special occasion. Every minute, every breath, is a gift from God." ~Mary Manin Morrisey

"Enjoy yourself. It's later than you think." ~Chinese Proverb

"One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon ~ instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today."  
~Dale Carnegie

"Life, if well lived, is long enough." ~Lucius Annaeus Seneca
         

Monday, November 28, 2011

WALKING IN FREEDOM

"Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take a stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you." ~Galatians 5:1, The Message

If I were to choose one word that encompasses a close walk with God, it would be "freedom". Some see it as a stringent set of rules to live by. This could not be farther from the truth. Walking with God is the most liberating thing we can do. Religion binds us to a set of laws; a relationship with Christ sets us free.

The relationship that God offers frees us from every wrong we've ever committed, any injury we carry inside of us, and each area of brokenness in our lives. Christ came to set captives free. He came to tear down the prison walls of guilt, shame, condemnation, fear, anxiety, anger, depression, and discouragement. He came to release us from the grip of regret, loneliness, worry, and low self-worth. Christ came to free us up to be all we can be. And he came to give us our ultimate freedom, eternal life with him.

The cross represents this freedom. It tells us that NO sin can keep us captive if we turn to him. It reminds us that NO illness, NO loss, NO empty place in our lives has the power to bind, paralyze, or defeat us. NO memory from the past or fear of the future can hold us down when we walk this path of freedom.

This morning I listened to a woman share about how she was raped by her father hundreds of times when she was a child. This woman was so imprisoned by him and the life he forced her to live. It took years of learning to trust God, but now she walks in complete freedom from all that she went through as a child. She was even released from the anger she felt for her father. Freedom!

It's why countries that want to control their people declare Christianity illegal, punishable even to the point of death. They know that a walk with Christ means a freedom that no government can squelch. No prison walls and no degree of torture can touch the freedom people have who know God.

We don't have to stay imprisoned by guilt or insecurity. We can break the chains of worry and hopelessness. We don't have to remain paralyzed by past hurts or poor choices. All we have to do is turn to him...take his hand...surrender our whole lives to him. Our whole lives? Yes, if we want complete freedom. The more we refuse to release to him, the less freedom we have from the things that bind us. I  have walked both paths. I choose freedom.

"For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." 
~2 Corinthians 3:17         

    

Friday, November 25, 2011

A GREEN CHRISTMAS

"The manner of giving is worth more than the gift." ~Pierre Corneille

After reading a book my daughter-in-law gave me called A Year Without Made In China", I was inspired. "Let's do something different for gift-giving this year." After discussing it, our family decided to go with a "used" theme. I referred to it as our "Green Christmas" because we were to recycle previously owned items. The rule was, "no new purchases". We could buy gifts at yard or estate sales, flea markets, thrift or antique shops, or give away something we already owned.

My daughter and I spent countless Saturdays combing through items at yard sales  within a ten mile radius of our home. We visited our local thrift stores on a regular basis. When we found something we thought might make a good gift, we brought it home, wrapped it, and set it upstairs in our attic.

Christmas Eve I trotted up to our attic, confident that we had created a generous collection of unusual gifts. As I began to lug them downstairs for their placement under our tree, I was astonished by the amount of loot we had accumulated. Dozens and dozens of packages crowded around our tree and overflowed into the living space of our small living room.

My own shock paled in comparison to the reactions we got on Christmas morning as our family descended upon us. Clearly, we had our work cut out for us! Hours of gift-opening was accompanied by much laughter, surprised reactions to the high quality of some of the presents, and appreciation for the people that each gift represented.

Why do I share this? Because it was memorable. It challenged us to think beyond the traditional shopping methods and think outside the box. It caused us to be more thoughtful and deliberate in our purchases. I spent way more time throughout the year thinking about each person and what they might like to receive. It also brought to light the waste we are so casual about. Items that someone paid full price for, we were able to purchase for a buck or two simply because they weren't "new". I had to pause and think about the number of things we spend our hard earned money on, things that will one day meet the same fate.

We did spend a lot less money on gifts that year. Instead, we invested more time, thought, and consideration. And isn't that what gift-giving is all about?

The whole experience challenged and changed my perspective in many ways ~ how I spend money, the whole tradition of gift-giving, and the emphasis I want to have during this season. As much as we enjoy the stockings and the presents, it's really about love ~ for our family, our relatives, our friends, and the One who came to earth, whose birth we celebrate. For me, that's what Christmas is all about.

"To perceive Christmas through its wrappings becomes more difficult with every year." ~Elwyn Brooks White
        

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A CHRISTMAS TO REMEMBER

A Christmas tree adorned with lights and keepsake ornaments…hand-stitched stockings hanging from the mantle…snowmen, santas, snow globes, manger scenes, nutcrackers…the sweet scents of pine wreaths and sugar cookies fresh from the oven…all of these paint a picture of Christmas at our house.

We were always generous with our children at Christmas, quite honestly, to a fault. They woke up on December twenty-fifth to stockings jammed with small presents, and packages galore surrounding the base of our tree. But when our youngest of four was rapidly approaching adulthood, we decided it was time to rethink our festivities and expenditures for the holiday.

I remember the year we all lived with the post-Katrina reports that seemed unimaginable for our nation. We watched the nightly reports of the loss and devastation and talked amongst ourselves about the countless victims. I was moved to tears night after night as I watched the nightmare of so many lives unfolding, wondering how they were coping with the aftermath of such utter destruction. I began to wonder if God was calling me to do something, but what? We never ever seemed to have a surplus of cash; every month was a stretch to get by.

 But one thing we could do was to take the bulk of the money we’d lavish on our children at Christmas and use it to help those who were in such desperate need, who didn’t even have a home for Christmas. My husband and I discussed with each of our kids the idea of toning down on the gift-giving so that we could help the Katrina survivors. We were so proud of all of them for not even hesitating to make the sacrifice. All four saw our "rich" condition in comparison to so many who had next to nothing after the hurricane . They assured us that they would be content with whatever we could afford to give them. It was equally exciting to watch our extended family embrace the idea of changing gift-giving traditions and lend a helping hand.

The holidays were a refreshing season of calm, relaxation, and peace in our house. The pressure to buy and wrap a lot of gifts was gone. I had fun coming up with ideas for presents that stayed within our new meager budget. Even the stockings were filled with little, inexpensive knickknacks.

Christmas morning was joyful in our home. A handcrafted photo menagerie made by our daughter for her younger brother was a huge hit. All four of the kids expressed surprise and gratitude for the gifts we had managed to purchase. Their dollar value didn’t seem to matter. I honestly think that it was one of my favorite Christmases.

The next day, I reflected on the amazing gifts God had given me that year, gifts that were so much more meaningful than any material object I could receive under the tree. I thought about our great marriage and how God had strengthened our union and filled our hearts with a deep, selfless love for each other. I savored the mental images of our family…all four children, alive and well and maturing into adulthood. I was grateful for the season of calm we were experiencing as a family. I reflected on the gift of agape love and how God had been teaching me to see others through His eyes. Finally, I rejoiced in how we learned as a family to accept and embrace each other with all our imperfections.

My thoughts went to the priceless gift of being able to stay at home that year and devise a workable budget, and to make our home more organized, welcoming, and healthy. I couldn’t help but think about the gift of our church and the people we befriended there, and our precious freedom to worship. I meditated on the gifts of contentment, peace, hope, faith, trust, and the ability to let God carry the life's burdens. How richly God lavished these priceless gifts upon us!

Christmas has been my favorite holiday for as long as I can remember. But that year was something extra special. I watched my children see beyond their own little worlds and material objects desired, and open their hands and hearts to a hurting world. I saw them appreciate and show genuine gratitude for small gifts they could have provided for themselves. I saw their focus shift from what awaited them under the tree to the gifts we have in each other. And I couldn’t help but imagine the faces of those who were blessed by our decision to give to them instead of following the traditions of past Christmases. I even imagined the face of God looking down on us, and I’m sure I saw a smile.

Friday, November 18, 2011

REMEMBERING GRANDMA

"Grandmas are moms with lots of frosting."
~Author Unknown

My grandmother lived to be 104 years old. She managed to experience three different centuries, born in the 1800s and passing away in 2001. Today would have been her 115th year of celebrating her birth. My grandmother's life was rich with experiences I can only imagine. I used to love to listen to her revisit one of her many cherished memories. Her family was the first in their Iowa town to own a car. She spent much of her adult life as a missionary in South America. I will never forget her words to me on her one hundredth birthday, "I still feel like a young girl on the inside." Perhaps that was her secret for her long life, lived out so well.

Even though her life was full of adventures into the unknown, my fondest memories of her were birthed in her kitchen. My grandmother loved to cook and bake. She managed to make every meal a sacred feast. Her humble home shouted simplicity, and her kitchen was no exception. I remember how hard she resisted the idea of a microwave oven. The utensils and pans she used to create her homemade treasures were decades old. The tiny space she worked in never dampened her passion for making her many culinary delights. She managed to work with her very limited counterspace to produce a dining table covered in tasty dishes I can only dream of concocting. Her garage was used as a pantry, housing her many jars of homemade jams, jellies, apple butters, chili sauces, and relishes. She made a pomegranite jelly that no one has ever held a candle to. What I would give for a jar! The truth is that I never ate a meal in her home that I didn't love.

What a beautiful example she was of using her gifts and talents to bless others. For everyone who walked through her door knew she would share her heart through a meal prepared with loving care.

I miss my grandma, and not just because she was my favorite chef and baker! She was a dear, kind, giving woman who led a refreshingly simple and beautiful life. Her talents were not limited to the kitchen. Her hands could produce lovely hand-stitched quilts, two of which I proudly display in our home. Because of her gift with a needle and thread, my Barbie dolls were the best dressed dolls handsdown.

My grandmother was also very gifted in mathematics. She followed the stock market like a hawk, not because of investments, but because she was intrigued by it. She had a keen sense of what stocks would do well and which ones to avoid. She was also musically gifted. She played the piano as well as the organ, a gift she purchased for her church. Her garden stood out in her neighborhood as one of the prettiest. Her table was always adorned with a floral arrangement she grew herself.

My life is richer because of my grandmother. Her example of a life well lived inspires me to this day to learn and grow and stretch myself, and be the best I can be. I can only hope that my own grandchildren will one day say the same about me. 

"There's no place like home except Grandma's." 
~Author Unknown   

Thursday, November 17, 2011

THE FOUR "A"s, PART THREE

"Don't just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God's people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. Don't curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are  happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don't be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don't think you know it all!"
~Romans 12: 9-16

This is where the rubber meets the road ~ putting action to what we think and believe. And I am bracing myself for today's meditation, because I know how short I fall. I cannot begin to count the number of scenarios that parade through my mind ~ times when I failed to step up and show love to someone who was in need of a hearty dose. I can't shake the memories of times when my responses were anything but loving, completely void of sincerity. And how often have I lashed out in anger, or completely pulled away? Too many times to count.

The good news is I am forgiven of those past mistakes. And my actions today ~ and tomorrow ~ don't have to follow those nasty patterns I long to break. So I roll up my sleeves, take a deep breath, and delve into my instructions in this passage of Scripture.

Love sincerely. Don't just pretend to love others. That's a tall order, especially if it is someone I find difficult to like, let alone love. But for God, this is a piece of cake. He loves ALL of us. He doesn't show favoritism. If I open myself up and cooperate, his love can flow through me onto the people he puts in my path ~ even the ones I find challenging to love.

Despise the things in this world that are wrong, and cling to those that are good. I notice it refers to "things", not people. God hates the sin, but he ALWAYS loves the sinner. I am called to respond in the same way. This means I need to keep a clean slate before God and steer away from things I know are wrong. Sometimes I need to simply walk away.

Honor others. Let them go first. Place them in the seat of honor. Lift them up. Encourage and celebrate them when they are in the limelight. Be content to be on the sidelines offering my support. Learn to put others before myself.

Overcome my tendency towards laziness ~ step up and do my part. Work with an enthusiastic spirit and willing hands. Look for opportunities to serve. Remember, when I am serving someone, God says it's as if I am serving him. Powerful stuff!

Remain hopeful. As long as I have hope, my joy can remain intact. No circumstance or person can take it away. Walk through trials patiently. Impatience won't get me through the rough seasons any quicker. In fact, the opposite may be true. Keep praying ~ NO MATTER WHAT. Maintaining an ongoing communication with God is critical if I want to see any growth.

Have an open hand and hearth. Be willing, even eager, to share with others the blessings I have been given. Things cannot hold a candle to people. Live this truth in my daily round by being extravagantly generous. And stop waiting until my home is "good enough" for guests! A home full of love is far better than one full of expensive gadgets and trendy designs.

Bless those who persecute me. Ugh. These are the people who look down on me because of my faith. In my head, I understand that they don't see what I see, and they can't relate to my walk with God. But still, it hurts. And when I hurt, my tendency is to pull away or lash out. Neither is a healthy option. How good it feels to respond in love, and to lift them up in prayer.

Celebrate other people's victories, and cry with them during their losses. Empathy ~ what a wonderful quality. You can see it clearly on someone's face whose heart is full of it. Your pain and your joy are mirrored back to you by their own countenance.

Live in harmony with others. To do this consistently, I think you have to be a peacemaker. A peacemaker isn't consumed with being right ~ he is more concerned about having a right relationship with others.     

Swallow my pride, and learn to relate to people in all walks of life. It's easy for me to gravitate toward those who are most like me. This challenges me to be open and look for the best in all people ~ embrace them instead of avoiding them.

Put to rest any and all thoughts that I am better than another person. The One who created all of us says otherwise. How silly we are to compare ourselves with others and pass judgment on them. We cannot look clearly into anyone's heart to see what's there. We can't even get an accurate glimpse into our own! Only God has that ability and privilege.

Honestly, I am overwhelmed by today's message. The moments I live this way are few and far between. But how wonderful it is that I have a new day to walk through, and a new chance to get it right.

"I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts."
~John Locke

"Well done is better than well said."
~Benjamin Franklin

"Ironically, making a statement with words is the least effective method."
~Grey Livingstone

"People may doubt what you say, but they will believe what you do."
~Lewis Cass

      

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

THE FOUR "A"s, PART TWO

"Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully."
~Romans 12:4-8

I had to giggle to myself this morning. I heard one message, then read two others that addressed my theme for today's meditation: ability. Coincidence? I don't think so. Just strong confirmation that I am right where I am supposed to be, doing what I am being led to do. That is just what today's reading is all about ~ recognizing the gifts and talents we have been given, and using them to bless others. How I hope this message blesses YOU!

Since I was a little girl, there are three things I remember dreaming about ~ being a mom, being a teacher, and being a writer. My collection of dolls filled my first classroom. I'd prop up my blackboard, chalk in one hand and eraser in the other, and teach everything from spelling to cursive to math. I even taught my dolls to swim in my living room! By the fifth grade, I realized my love for the written word. My love affair with penning short stories, poems, and lyrics was passionate from day one. My best memory from high school was when my creative writing teacher included several of my pieces in her annual school publication.

As I meditate on this passage in Romans, I know how blessed I have been to witness my dreams come to fruition one by one. My first and most heartfelt dream to be a mom was answered in a big way. Before our third anniversary arrived, we had four kids under our roof, satisfying that deep longing for motherhood. My second dream to teach was realized a few years later, first at home with my own kids, and then in a private school. To this day, I am still blessed with the opportunity to teach as I tutor high school boys in our home. My third dream, to be a writer, continues to unfold before my eyes. I don't know where it will lead. I am certainly not confident enough in it to call it a "gift" or "talent". But I have already enjoyed the process of completing three children's novels, an autobiography, and an adult novel. This past summer, I felt a strong calling to begin a writing ministry in the form of this blog.

Wow...God has been so good to me. The dreams he planted in my heart decades ago are now part of my daily round. Not only has he equipped me to live them, he has opened doors of opportunity time and time again. So why do I sometimes look at others and wish I had their talents? A girlfriend of mine shared this same longing with me. She shared that she wishes she had the gift of putting words to paper. I looked at her, astonished. This beautiful, vibrant, GIFTED woman was feeling as if she was somehow lacking, even though her list of talents is a mile longer than mine.

Why do we expend energy on wishing for a different talent than the ones God has given us? Afterall, he can't call all of us to be singers, pastors, or doctors. This passage helps me better understand that if we could access whatever talents we coveted, we wouldn't be able to recognize our true calling. Whatever our gifts and talents are, they have been placed in us for a reason ~ TO BE USED. Instead of wishing I was something I am not, I think it's time I celebrate the way he created me to be. Imagine the possibilities if all of us would step up and use our God-given gifts and abilities to their fullest measure.

This past year, God has been showing me that I keep too tight a grip on the abilities he has placed in me. I have had to stop, pause, and recognize what he is calling me to do, and DO IT. This blog is a small step in the whole process. Everyday I sit down, pen in hand, and let the words flow through me. I often wonder if they are benefiting anyone ~ if anyone is even reading them. But that is not under the umbrella of my responsibilities.

Yes, I still wish I had the gift of song...the gift of speaking...the gifts of Martha Stewart! But the truth is, I am already living my dreams. I have to believe that if I am using the abilities he has placed in me, he will use them to bless others. Whatever your gifts are, the same holds true for you.

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else."
~Judy Garland                     

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

THE FOUR "A"s, PART ONE

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God ~ this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is ~ his good, pleasing and perfect will. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly that you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you."
~Romans 12: 1-3

I confess that I lack discipline when it comes to memorizing Scripture. Honestly, I don't take the time. But I did put to memory Romans Chapter 12. It is rich with practical wisdom, and it addresses the four "A"s I often struggle with: attitude, ability, action, and anger management. Today I am tackling the first...my attitude.

While it is easy to place the blame on other people or frustrating circumstances, deep down I know better. If I am having one of those hair-pulling, nails-on-the-chalkboard type of day, my attitude probably needs an adjustment. I know from experience that everything can be going in my favor, and I can still be tempted to throw myself a huge pity party. On the other hand, I can wake up feeling rotten, face a day of sour moods in my household, and still manage to focus on all I have to be thankful for.

It all boils down to attitude with a capital "A". So how can I improve mine? For surely I want each day to be rich with joy, peace, and contentment. And NONE of these is based in circumstances or other people. No, it all comes back to my attitude, and if I have adjusted it positively.

I look to the first three verses in Romans 12 for some strong directives in adjusting my attitude. First, I read that I am to offer my time and activities up to God as an offering, returning the love to him that he has so lavishly poured out upon me. Is there anything better than basking in unconditional love as I go about my day? How can I not give back what is given to me in such radical portions? Already my perspective is shifting. And with that comes a stronger sense of what I am called to do. How many days do I spend spinning my wheels? Focused on him, I have a clearer understanding of how my time and energy should be spent.

Second, I see that I shouldn't be so concerned with worldliness. It's tempting to want to fit in and be a part of the crowd. But that's not what I am being called to do. When I follow the crowd, I fall into that people-pleasing mode, eager for acceptance. In reality, I am already accepted ~ into the kingdom of the One who created all of us. I am his child, and there is no worldly acceptance that can hold a candle to this status. With that in mind, I don't have to be hurt or dragged down by people's rejection or misunderstanding of me. Instead, I am walking closely with the One who loves me unconditionally and who promises to never turn his back on me. How can this truth not brighten my day and my overall outlook?

Lastly, I read that I am not to put too much importance on myself. I need to lighten up! Let God be God. Stop trying to move mountains on my own. Rest in him ~ his power, his grace, and his love are more than sufficient in everything I encounter. How freeing this is! I can relax, knowing he is in control and is faithfully tending to every care, every need, and every person.

It's a new day. And with my attitude in check, I think it's going to be a good one!

"The only disability in life is a bad attitude."
~Scott Hamilton

"There are no menial jobs, only menial attitudes."
~William J. Bennett

"The only difference between a good day and a bad day is your attitude."
~Dennis S. Brown

"Anywhere is paradise; it's up to you."
~Author Unknown     

Monday, November 14, 2011

A STEP OF FAITH

"Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. 'It's a ghost,' they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: 'Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid.' 'Lord, if it's you,' Peter replied, 'tell me to come to you on the water.' 'Come,' he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, 'Lord, save me!' Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. 'You of little faith,' he said, 'why did you doubt?' And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, 'Truly you are the Son of God.'"
Matthew 14: 22-33

"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."
~Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is the time of year when we can run ourselves frazzled. The holidays seem to bring out the hustle and bustle in us. Meals must be planned. Gifts need to be purchased and wrapped. Kitchens everywhere begin to resemble bakeries. Our homes transform from the everyday ordinary to the seasonal extraordinary. No wonder we breathe a collective sigh of relief when the new year arrives.

God knows we can overdo it. He sees our priorities become muddled, then completely out of wack. He can see ahead to the fallout of running ourselves ragged. So why do we resist his nudgings to set aside time for rest...reflection...renewal? Because we are just too busy!

In this passage, Jesus makes his disciples pull away from the crowds and get into a boat. He knows that time spent out on the lake, surrounded by peace, solitude, and the gentle movement of the water will do them a world of good. He then answers his own higher call to go off and spend time alone with his Father. Surely he must be tired, too. But even exhaustion holds a back seat to his desire for one-on-one fellowship with his Father.

In the meantime, the winds pick up, guiding the disciples' boat out into the middle of the lake. It appears that the water's movement is powerful enough to arouse the men from their rest. Looking up, they see a figure like a ghost walking on the water toward them. They are overcome with fear. But to their surprise and amazement, the ghostly figure turns out to be Jesus. He is walking on the water's surface. How can this be?! His words, "Don't be afraid. It's me," do little to detract from the miracle they are witnessing. For Jesus is defying the law of physics. How can he possibly be walking on the water? Why isn't he sinking? Because the Creator of physics has complete authority over it, and nothing is too difficult for him.

Peter is so engaged in this miracle that he wants to be a part of it. "Tell me to come to you on the water," he says. Jesus replies simply, "Come." Peter climbs out of the boat and takes a tentative step toward Jesus. And we are given a beautiful picture of what can happen when our faith intersects with his power ~ ANYTHING is possible.

As he looks at the wind, Peter's fear dampens his faith, and he begins to descend below the water's surface. I have heard numerous messages about Peter's lack of faith at this point. But I have to ask, how many of us would get out of the boat in the first place and take that literal step of faith? Knowing my own fear of drowning, I can pretty confidently say it wouldn't be me. But I can't help but wonder ~ how many hopes...callings...and miracles do I drown out by my own fears and unwillingness to take a risk and step out? God only knows.

When they are all safely in the boat, the wind immediately dies down. In awe, they worship Jesus. Perhaps this is a reminder to me to invite him into the stormy, turbulent parts of my life. For when Jesus is present, those fierce winds of adversity aren't so frightening. And as I worship him (who can't when in his presence!) they seem to lose their destructive powers altogether.

I get it ~ hear his call today to rest; resist the urge to go-go-go. Take that step of faith. Put my fears to rest. Invite him into every nook and cranny of my life...and my daily round. Pause and worship him. This is how he wants me to live this day...and everyday. I can only imagine the miraculous moments that await me!

"Faith makes things possible, not easy."
~Author Unknown

"Faith can move mountains, but don't be surprised if God hands you a shovel."
~Author Unknown            


      

Saturday, November 12, 2011

INTEGRITY, COMPASSION AND COURAGE

Last night we had the pleasure of seeing one of my most beloved stories performed on our local stage. To Kill A Mockingbird embodies a powerful message of integrity, compassion, and courage. Atticus Finch, the small-town lawyer, is one of my all-time favorite protagonists. But I can most relate to his young daughter, Scout.

Atticus is a man of deep conviction and strong moral character. He knows the difference between right and wrong. He daily lives what he believes, even when he is scorned by his community of friends and neighbors and puts himself at risk. His quiet strength is balanced by his willingness to speak up for those who are mistreated and looked upon as second class citizens. Where his peers see the outward appearance of the local residents, Atticus looks at their hearts in his neverending quest for truth.

Atticus is criticized by many for allowing his children to run free and do as they wish. But in reality, Atticus is a single dad whose first priority is to teach his children to see all people as equal and to treat everyone with respect and kindness. In Atticus' mind, there is no exception to this rule. He wants his children to learn to put themselves in the shoes of other people. He instills in them the conviction to always do the right thing, even if it means suffering in the process.

Scout, his endearing tomboyish daughter, is feisty and fiercely protective of her family. She always says what she thinks, even when she knows it's going to get her in trouble. She is more of a reactor than a responder, wearing her emotions on her sleeves. But she always seems to mean well. She does a lot of growing up during the short period of time the story takes place. This is to the credit of her loving father, and his decision to teach her through example rather than shelter her from the ugly battle he must fight.

This story is so rich with life lessons. In today's society, we all need the reminder to look beyond outward appearances. We are often too busy to take the time to pause and put ourselves in someone else's shoes. Instead, we are so quick to judge. Imagine the impact we would have if we made the decision to look through empathetic eyes each time we were tempted to think a negative thought about another person.

And how many of us have the courage and conviction to stand up to societal wrongs, especially if it puts us in the path of danger? Who among us has the degree of integrity that Atticus demonstrates? Not me ~ I am more like his daughter Scout. I react, letting my emotions get the better of me. I want to protect those I love more that I desire doing the painfully right thing. Like Scout, I have so much to learn about living each moment of each day with the utmost integrity and demonstrative compassion.

I think that the reason Atticus Finch is one of my favorite literary characters is because he represents all that is good and right and just in this world. Oh, how I long to be like him! And I can't help but think what a better world it would be if we had more people like Atticus Finch.

"Before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."
~ Atticus Finch, Harper Lee 

Friday, November 11, 2011

FEED THEM, PART THREE

During my last meditation on Mark 6, I felt the gentle tug on my heart to begin the process of relinquishing my earthly securities. I have so much to learn about what this really means in a practical sense. But I can see I have held a tight grip on numerous "security blankets".  God is nudging me to let go and trust him. I have a glimpse into the adventures that may await me if I take this leap of faith.

Today, I want to concentrate on the miraculous feeding of five thousand men with only five loaves of bread and two fish. It doesn't take a mathematical genius to see this just doesn't add up. How grateful I am that our God is not confined to the mathematics we were taught in school. Even this is under his sovereign power.

The disciples, now apostles, have just come back from accomplishing the unthinkable. Demonic influences have been cast away. Illnesses have been cured. People have had the opportunity to hear about Jesus. These twelve men must be questioning if what's taken place is even real. How can it be that they have been given the power to perform the miraculous?

But they are human, subject to exhaustion, hunger, and the fall-out of both. Jesus knows this and wants to address their needs. But at the same time, he cannot dismiss the growing crowd of needy, hurting people. So he calls his disciples to once again put their own needs aside and tend to the crowd first.

When it is brought to his attention that the people are growing hungry, Jesus tells the twelve to feed the crowd.  Immediately, what jumps out at me is the fact that Jesus doesn't just miraculously produce the food right then and there. Instead, he engages his men in helping him do the impossible. I have to ask myself why. I think that Jesus is setting the stage for his relationship with all of us. He wants to be connected to us ~ he wants us involved in the work he is doing. He longs for that intimate partnership.

I think he also wants the disciples to experience firsthand what happens when we surrender what little we have to him and put the needs of others before our own. I can only imagine the reactions he got when he takes their small offering and multiplies it beyond their wildest dreams.

I love how Jesus goes above and beyond, and provides an abundance for each of his disciples in the "leftovers". Surely they are more well fed and satisfied by their basketful of scraps than if they'd gone off by themselves and devoured the original loaves and fish. They don't hold back, but give him freely all they have. In turn, Jesus blesses them abundantly.

There it is again ~ that message to trust and surrender. The only way I am going to grow in this area is if my relationship with God is deepening. The closer I walk with him, the easier and more desireable it is to trust...to surrender...and to put the needs of others before my own.

"While they were saying among themselves it cannot be done, it was done."
~ Helen Keller       

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

FEED THEM, PART TWO

How many times have I read through the four Gospels? Dozens. If I slow down and meditate on what I am reading, I am astounded at how a common passage, read many times, speaks to me in a whole new way. Such is the case with Mark 6.

In the beginning of this chapter, Jesus ushers his disciples into a new role. He calls them to be apostles, and sends them out to battle demonic forces, to heal the sick, and to share the Good News. He tells them to take nothing with them except the clothes on their back and the sandals on their feet. Instead of worldly possessions to accompany them, he equips them with powers they know nothing about.

This group of ordinary men make the decision to listen and follow the instructions of their extraordinary Teacher. They do just as he says, taking no money, no food, no change of clothes. They have completely surrendered themselves to Jesus, willing to set aside all possessions and every source of comfort and security. Surely they must be uneasy. But they put those fears and what-ifs to rest, and in turn, they open the door for experiences beyond their wildest dreams. Their faith adventure is approaching an all-time high.

I have to ask myself ~ what is this teaching me? First, that I am called to not only follow Jesus, but to see the mission field he has for me. Am I willing to answer that call? Right now, my own neighborhood is my mission field. I don't have to go to Africa to see a hurting world that needs Jesus. I only have to look outside my window.

I can see from this passage that the more I surrender my own comfort and security, the less likely it's going to be about "me" and what "I" can do. Instead, I will be opening up the door to be used in a way that moves into the realm of miraculous. I have a choice ~ cling to my world and my concept of security and step out in my own feeble strength and mediocre ability. Or...relinquish and be witness to him working through me to accomplish what only he has the power to do.

My husband and I have a dream. Time will tell if it is God's plan for us. We dream of renting out our home, purchasing a camper, and travelling the country for a year. We want to make it a year of stretching our wings and our faith, and look for opportunities to serve along the way. The idea of leaving behind our home and our worldly possessions sounds oddly freeing to both of us. Whether our dream comes to fruition or we remain where we are, I long to be at that point of surrender. I want the desire to reach out to my neighbor to exceed my need to cling to the things that make me feel safe, secure, and comfortable. Comfort and security or a faith adventure? I already know the answer.

"One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar."
~Helen Keller    

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

FEED THEM, PART ONE

From Mark 6:
"Calling the twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits. These were his instructions: 'Take nothing for the journey except a staff ~ no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt...' They went out and preached...they drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them...The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, 'Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.'...But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus saw the large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd....By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. 'This is a remote place,' they said, 'and it's already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.' But he answered, 'You give them something to eat....How many loaves do you have?' When they found out, they said, 'Five ~ and two fish.' Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand."

I can't help but wonder what life was like for these twelve disciples. I am challenged to try to imagine myself in their shoes, expanding their roles from students to apostles.

There are mixed emotions as we reunite with Jesus and each other after our mission trips. We've just come back from doing the unthinkable ~ battling demonic forces, curing people of their diseases, and preaching the Good News. The high we are experiencing mingles with the painful loss of John. Who would have thought our lives would take this change in course? And why us? I am baffled.

We are physically exhausted, emotionally drained, and very hungry. Jesus sees our condition and takes pity on us. "Let's go off and get some rest." Yes! A good night's sleep is just what I need. Quiet and solitude never sounded so appealing.

But before we reach our destination, crowds begin to swarm around us. They recognize Jesus and are drawn to him. Jesus looks over the growing crowd and is visibly moved by the needs of each person. A look of compassion lights up his face, and we already know ~ our time of rest will have to wait.

Hours go by. It's getting late in the day. My stomach is growling so loudly, even the noise of the crowd can't drown it out. I look in amazement at the number of people. There must be thousands of men gathered around us. Surely they are feeling hunger pains, too. How on earth will everyone get adequate food? The churning in my stomach prompts me to approach Jesus.

"It's getting late. Maybe you should send these people away. They must be getting hungry by now. We have nothing to feed them." I didn't mention my own gnawing hunger. What I'd give for a decent meal!

"Give them something to eat." What?! I haven't even eaten myself. How am I supposed to find food for a crowd this size? The other disciples and I look at each other in disbelief. Does he really expect us to feed them?

"Jesus, we only have five loaves of bread and two fish among us." I want to add that it's not even enough for the twelve of us, but I hold my tongue.

"Have them sit in groups of fifty and one hundred." Okay. Not that it makes any sense to me, but why not? Maybe then he will see the magnitude of our desperate situation. When everyone is seated, Jesus takes the five loaves and the two fish. He looks up to heaven and thanks God, then begins to break them into pieces. As he does this, he hands us food to distribute among the crowd. I take the share he hands me and begin passing it out. Oh, how I long to sit down and devour the food myself! But I do as he asks, and continue to help the other eleven disciples pass out the food.

Each time I go back for more, I shake my head in wonder. How can there be anything left? Yet, with those five loaves and two fish, we are feeding tens, then hundreds, then thousands. Not only that, they are all getting an ample amount of food ~ enough to satisfy their hunger.

When everyone is done eating, we go around the crowd and gather up the leftovers. We have enough to fill twelve basketfuls! One for each of us...and more than we need to satisfy our own hunger. I raise a bite of the food to my lips, smiling in utter disbelief.

"There are only two ways to live...one is as though nothing is a miracle...the other is as if everything is."
~Albert Einstein