Thursday, December 13, 2012

JOY TO THE WORLD

"Remember
This December,
That love weighs more than gold."
~Josephine Dodge Daskam Bacon

"We'd love to have you join us for Christmas Eve, Joy." Those words stuck with her as she made her way down the winding driveway to her old sedan. She tightened her scarf around her neck, grateful for the gift of warmth from her client.

"How can I join them for the service?" she argued silently with no one. "I don't belong in their church...in this wealthy neighborhood. I'm sure they were only being polite when they asked me."

But she couldn't shake the invitation from her mind as she climbed into her car, once again catching her jacket on the torn vinyl seat. She gazed through the windshield and the darkening night air at the home she'd just left. She had been cleaning for this family for over twenty years. She was fortunate. Most of her clients resided within a two mile radius, meaning less wear and tear on her tired, old car.  

The house was aglow with Christmas lights. A manger scene took up a good portion of the lawn stretched in front of their entranceway. She loved this family. The Martins had always treated her like a close friend. They never criticized her work or placed unreasonable demands on her, as some were in the habit of doing.

Once again, she traced her fingers over the cashmere scarf. It was by far the most generous gift she'd received this year. Tucked inside its folds had been $1,000, the amount Mr. Martin knew she needed for some repair work to her car.

"Come to Christmas Eve service with us." There it was again. The invitation seemed to have a life all its own. It had followed her down the driveyway and into her car. "What would I wear?" she spoke aloud in response. The scarf. Wear the scarf with your nicest pants and blazer. Go. They want to include you.

Though she wrestled with lingering doubts and the stirrings of nervousness, she made up her mind. "I'll go. It's only church. Maybe it will be nice. At least I won't be spending Christmas Eve alone."

When she got home, she had only enough time to shower and dress before the clock beckoned her out the door. She didn't mind. Her nervousness, coupled with an exhausting day cleaning three homes, had diluted her normally ravenous appetite.

She knew where the church was located. She'd passed it everyday on her way to work for over twenty years. Yet she'd never set foot inside. She imagined a room full of people dressed in their holiday best, singing Christmas caroles. "This will be fun," she said out loud.

She met the faces and eyes of the Martin family the minute she stepped into the Sanctuary. "You came!" Mr. Martin said with a grin. His wife and three children greeted her with the same warm enthusiasm. "And you're wearing your new scarf."

"You look beautiful, Joy," Mrs. Martin added. They led her to a pew near the front of the church.

Emily, their youngest, took her hand and held it tightly. "Wait 'til you see the angel. She's my favorite."

Angel? Joy squirmed in her seat. The lights dimmed, and a beautiful chorale filled the room. "Joy to the world, the Lord has come..." She sat still as could be, enthralled by all of it. But what pierced her most was the love she felt from this family whose toilets she scrubbed every week.

As the story of the first Christmas played out before her, Joy knew there was something this family had that she wanted. It had nothing to do with a large house, a fancy car, or a designer wardrobe. She wanted what only the Christ child could offer. When the pastor led in a prayer of salvation, she bowed her head in complete surrender. To the King of kings, and the Lord of lords. "Joy to the world, the Lord has come!"

"Merry Christmas, Joy," the Martins said as they parted company in the parking lot. "It already is," she thought to herself. As she climbed into her worn car and headed back to her apartment, she knew she would never be the same.

The next morning, Joy awoke to the ringing of her phone. "Hello?" she answered in a raspy voice.

"Joy, it's Mrs. Martin. We were wondering. You are like family to us. Will you come and spend Christmas day here? With us?"

Tesrs formed in Joy's eyes. Christmas with the Martins? Like family? Thank you, God! "I'd love to," she replied through her tears.

"I truly believe that if we keep telling the Christmas story, singing the Christmas songs, and living the Christmas spirit, we can bring joy and happiness and peace to this world."
~Norman Vincent Peale

"To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. If we think on these things, there will be born in us a Savior and over us will shine a star sending its gleam of hope to the world."
~Calvin Coolidge

"Christmas, my child, is love in action."
~Dale Evans

"What is important is faith expressing itself in love."
~Galatians 5:6b      

         

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

IN A MANGER

"He was created of a mother whom He created. He was carried by hands that He formed. He cried in the manger in wordless infancy. He, the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute."
~St. Augustine

When our children were young, we had a tradition of taking them to see the Glory of Christmas at the Crystal Cathedral. We purchased our tickets early in the season to reserve seats close to the stage. The parade of live animals, the angels soaring above us, and the beautiful music brought the meaning of the season to life.

But  the condensed, dolled up presentation of the birth of Christ couldn't adequately portray the raw and less attractive side of this historic event. Like a young teenager, accompanied by her new husband, travelling during her ninth month of pregnancy. Because Caesar Augustus had called for a census of the entire Roman world.

Perhaps it was the long trek that triggered her first labor pains. Imagine the fear, disappointment, and confusion she may have felt when there was no decent room for her to rest. And then, to realize she would give birth to her first child in a smelly stable. How could this be? Certainly God wouldn't want his Son to be born in these conditions. I wonder if Mary and Joseph began to question and to doubt.

I have given birth. In a hospital. With medical staff. And drugs. Even then it wasn't pretty. I can only imagine her experience, especially at such a tender age.

I like to display Nativity scenes throughout our home at Christmas. I enjoy seeing the life-sized versions in front of local churches and town squares. But I wonder what Mary and Joseph would say if they were to walk among us today. Perhaps they'd giggle and point at our creche scenes as they recalled what it was really like that life-changing night. Frightening. Messy. Smelly. Confusing. Unnerving. Exhausting. Miraculous.

 If Jesus was walking this earth today, I think we'd find Him at a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter, a halfway house, or an AIDS hospice . Not curled up on a couch, by a pretty tree, sipping Starbucks, and dreaming of a white Christmas. That's me.

I have so much to learn. May I never forget. It's not all about stockings on the mantle, presents under the tree, nutcrackers and snowmen, or twinkling lights. There is nothing wrong with these things. I believe God wants us to enjoy ourselves, especially this time of year. But there's more to the Christmas story. It was the breath of heaven in the form of a newborn baby, to a teenage mom in a stable after an exhausting journey. The Lamb of God was placed in a feeding trough for animals and visited by smelly shepherds. This is how God came down to earth.

"The Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as this truth of the Incarnation."
~J. I. Packer

"While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel. There were shepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God's angel stood among them and God's glory blazed around them. They were terrified."
~Luke 2:6-9, The Message  

  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A WONDERFUL LIFE?

Maybe I need to revisit the Christmas classic that brings enlightenment to downtrodden George Bailey. I may not be facing financial ruin and jail time like he was, but I can relate to his anguish. Let's face it. No matter how yours is packaged, it isn't always a wonderful life.

In fact, it can be downright awful. Heartwrenching. Disappointing. Even brutal. Sorry George, but I think you had it right. Life itself can be full of wonder and beauty, but day to day life isn't the wonderful, picture-perfect event we'd like it to be.

How can I look into the eyes of the kids I saw on Facebook, curled up in a hospital bed and fighting for their lives, and tell them it's a wonderful life? How can I even think of suggesting it to the elderly man I encountered in the store parking lot this morning? He slowly inched his way to the market, one step at a time, leaning heavily upon his crutches. The struggle, the pain, and the frustration were etched upon his face. Do I dare tell the homeless man and his young daughter I observed on my drive home that life is wonderful? These dear people know better.

Every year my family gets a chuckle over some of the letters we receive tucked inside the Christmas cards. We laugh because life isn't the way it's depicted in the sweet, sugary notes and the pretty photos. Life is hard! Yes, there are beautiful, wonderful aspects. And every day is a glorious gift. We are wise to appreciate the time we have to journey on this earth.

But it isn't a wonderful life. There are wonderful people, wonderful moments, wonderful memories ~ if we are blessed enough to encounter them. But from day one, life is a struggle.

The good news is that there is wonderful life ahead, IF we want it. No brag letter or polished photo can hold a candle to what awaits those of us who say "yes" to the invitation. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:16-17)

This is what Christmas is all about. God sent his Son into a world that had turned into anything but wonderful, in order that we could take hold of the wonderful life he has for us. And this life is for eternity. Not convinced? "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him." (1Corinthians 2:9)

"For God so loved the world..." How can we refuse that? Why would we want to? For those who choose to believe, it will be a wonderful life ~ one day.

"The birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it. It is a truth that, for twenty centuries, there have been untold numbers of men and women who, in untold numbers of ways, have been so grasped by the child who was born, so caught up in the message he taught and the life he lived, that they have found themselves profoundly changed by their relationship with him."
~Frederick Buechner

"I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of."
~John 10:10b, The Message           

Monday, December 10, 2012

THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS

"When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things ~ not the great occasion ~ give off the greatest glow of happiness."
~Bob Hope

I could tell it was going to be a long night. Our two young children were pumped full of sugary treats. Bursting with excitement over gifts received at Grandma's, they couldn't wait for Christmas morning to arrive.

For the most part, I didn't make a big deal about Santa. But I didn't exclude him either. I tried to incorporate Biblical truths and sound moral teachings in the character of Santa Claus. He got credit for filling each stocking and bringing the main gifts. Every year on Christmas Eve, we left a plate of cookies and a glass of milk. And every Christmas morning, there was a note next to the empty plate, sharing the true meaning of Christmas with our kids.

As we made our way home that Christmas Eve from my mom's house, I was desperate to quiet the kids down. We still had a bicycle to assemble after they fell asleep. But as I observed their jabbery, wiggly states, I realized it might be a while.

"Time to settle down, guys. Santa won't come if you're awake," I told them. I felt a bit guilty for playing the "Santa" card, but there was still a lot to accomplish before sunrise.

They looked at each other and smiled, then continued on their merry way. I tried again, but to no avail. We pulled up to the curb in front of our house. My husband and I helped them out of their carseats and onto the pavement. Their little arms were laden with treasures from Christmas Eve.

"Ho ho ho. What are you children doing awake? I can't come to your house until you're asleep!" We all looked across the street at a man dressed in a Santa suit, getting into a car. "Merry Christmas!"

I'm sure my expression was just as full of shock and bewilderment as our two young children's. Those little legs scurried up the path and onto the porch, not speaking a word. As soon as my husband opened the front door, they flew up the stairs and jumped into bed. Forget pajamas. Santa was in the neighborhood, and he wouldn't arrive at our house until they fell asleep.

And they did. Quick as a wink. My husband assembled the bicycle while I filled the stockings. I don't remember what I wrote on the note that was left by the plate of cookies. But I remember the words I spoke out loud as I reflected back on the whole incident. To me, it was a Christmas miracle. "Thank you , Jesus. Thank you!"

"It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas when its mighty Founder was a child Himself."
~Charles Dickens

"The message of Christmas is that the visible material world is bound to the invisible spiritual world."
~Author Unknown

"Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love!"
~Hamilton Wright Mabie


             

Saturday, December 8, 2012

CHRISTMAS MEMORIES

"Like snowflakes, my Christmas memories gather and dance ~ each beautiful, unique and too soon gone."
~Deborah Whipp

She pulled the knitted blanket up to her chin as the cold blast of air entered the house with her husband. Arms piled high with firewood, he kicked the door shut. "It's a cold one," he said under his breath as he headed for the hearth.

"You shouldn't be going outside in this weather. How can you see anything?" It was their first blizzard since moving to the mountains. Both were wrestling with doubts over their recent decision to relocate to a higher altitude.

He nestled into his chair and removed his cap and gloves. "Not to worry. I'm not going out again. Not 'til it clears. Supper smells good, by the way." He reached over and patted his wife's lap.

"Everything is ready. I feel a bit silly for cooking so much food." She sighed. "I couldn't help myself...holding out hope the weather would clear and the kids would make it up afterall." She smiled at her husband, though both had the same heavy heart.

"It doesn't feel like Christmas without the kids," he said quietly, looking at their photo on the mantle. "This will be our first year without them," he added.

"We'll see them soon enough. We'll just celebrate a little late this year." She hoped her words would soothe his aching spirit.

"Let's face it, dear. They aren't going to make it up. They can't take time off from work to come see us. We are on our own." He picked up a log and set it strategically on the fire.

He looks so defeated, she thought to herself. And then it dawned on her. The best gift she could give this dear man was a happy Christmas, kids or no kids. She'd do her best to bring some Christmas cheer to the evening. She got up and headed for the CD player, careful to select an upbeat holiday mix.

She scarmbled off to the kitchen and grabbed the dishes and utensils. Humming to the music, she set the table for two, using their best holiday china. She lit the candles and set the food on the trivets. Their dog Max followed her every move, eager to be a part of her festive new mood.

"Honey, supper is ready," she announced, pleased with the outcome of her efforts. "Come to the table before it gets cold."

"He stood up and stretched his back. "I'm not that hungry, just so you know," he protested as he made his way to his seat in the dining area.

"Well, get hungry! I've made all our favorites. And I cooked for twenty!" She squeezed his hand and smiled.

"Why are you so cheerful all of a sudden?" he questioned with a scowl.

"It's Christmas! And I have all the reason in the world to be happy. I'm married to the man I love, even if he is a bit grumpy tonight. Our family is healthy and doing well. We have this cozy new cabin to call home, and more friends than we can count. Most of all, it's His birthday," she said, pointing upward. "If that's not cause for celebration, I don't know what is." She squeezed his hand a little harder. "Let's enjoy Christmas, dear. If we let it, this can be a memorable one for us."

"You're right." They bowed their heads and gave thanks ~ for their family, their new home, their friends, good health, and for each other. And they gave thanks for the Christ child who had blessed them with so much.

The rest of the evening was spent reliving Christmases past, and sharing their dreams for the future. They exchanged gifts and read the story of the first Christmas together. The warm glow of the fire, the little tree laden with lights, and the snow falling outisde their window was enchanting. And they realized they would indeed look back on this night fondly. Gratefully. Even joyfully.

Christmas is what you make of it. It can be all about decorating, shopping, presents, and good food. For some, it can be a time of sadness, a season when loss is felt most profoundly. But for many, it's a time of reflection and rejoicing.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, Christmas is about the Christ child. And that holy, mysterious night over two thousand years ago. A young woman and a bewildered husband. And a stable full of animals in attendance of a birth. A choir of angels, worshipping, telling of the great news. Whether we choose to celebrate it or not, the true meaning of Christmas is unchangeable ~ and yet so profoundly life-changing.

Glory to God on the highest! And on earth, peace and goodwill to all...

"Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen."
~Attributed to a 7 year old boy named Bobby

"Christmas ~ that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance ~ a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved."
~Augusta E. Rundel

"Tradition: sit with husband in a room lit only by tree lights and remember that our blessings outnumber the lights. Happy Christmas to all."
~Betsy Canas Garmon

"But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.' Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.'"
~Luke 2:10-14   

      

     

Thursday, December 6, 2012

CONFESSION

"Few things accelerate the peace process as much as humbly admitting our own wrongdoing and asking forgiveness."
~Lee Strobel

For every time I have prayed, "Thy will be done," yet clung to my own will ~ Father, forgive me.

For every part of me that is still not conformed to You because I don't want to relinquish it ~ forgive me.

For every thought and action that is not in line with the truth about who You are, and the way I misrepresent you in the process ~ forgive me.

For being content to view people and circumstances through my own distorted perception instead of running to You for revelation ~ forgive me.

For clinging to my plans, priorities, and people instead of bowing to Your sovereign plans and purposes ~ forgive me.

For worrying about what others think instead of what You think ~ forgive me.
   
For running to the world for answers, affirmation, and affection when You tell me to come to Your throne of grace ~ Father forgive me.

For having one foot planted in worldliness and another in Your Kingdom, and unfaithfully trying to dance with two partners at once ~ forgive me.

For letting comfort trump courage, and putting pleasure above perserverance ~ forgive me.

For caring about feeding my body more than feeding my soul, and for overlooking the hunger in others ~ forgive me.

For words that say one thing and a walk that says another ~ forgive me.

For the abundance I have and the little I give ~ forgive me.

Wash me, that I will be clean and renewed. Fill me, that my life will be an outpouring of Your Spirit. Use me, that my life may glorify You. You are everything I need. All I am I give to You.

"The voice of sin is loud, but the voice of forgiveness is louder."
~D. L. Moody

"Peace comes when there is no cloud between us and God. Peace is the consequence of forgiveness, God's removal of that which obscures His face and so breaks union with Him."
~Charles H. Brent

"Forgiveness is always free. But that doesn't mean that confession is always easy. Sometimes it's hard. Incredibly hard. It is painful to admit our sins and entrust ourselves to God's care."
~Erwin Lutzer

"God pardons like a mother, who kisses the offense into everlasting forgiveness."
~Henry Ward Beecher

"If we admit our sins ~ make a clean breast of them ~ he won't let us down; he'll be true to himself. He'll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing."
~1 John 1:9, The  Message

"O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive,
so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help."
~Psalm 86:5

"As far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our sins from us."
~Psalm 103:12
     

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

IN GOD'S HANDS

"Don't you see that we don't owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There's nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God's Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!"
~Romans 8:12-14, The Message

I sat in church, clutching the dampened tissue as the tears streamed down my cheeks. The pastor's words, spoken with sweet conviction, were like a soothing liquid being poured into me. They flowed into my mind, then made their way downward. The message was more than just "something to think about".

My tears were an outward expression of what was happening on the inside. As his words of Life trickled down into my heart, they were challenging me. Changing me. Freeing me.

"Die to self." I have seen the sacrificial element, and known it to be a multi-dimensional principle. But I wasn't able to grasp what the other dimensions truly look like. Until Sunday, when I heard the pastor's message, and saw the visual demonstration.

The only way to really grab hold of God and live the Life he has for me, is to let go...even die...to my preoccupation with "self" and the things of this world I cling to so tightly.

Release. Let go. Trust Him. It's sounds simple. But it's so difficult to do. Why? Because I spend my life more focused on what I want than on who I want to be in Christ. I invest too much of myself in the pursuit of fleeting comforts and pleasures. I set my hope on people, promises, and promotions that are transient and temporary at best.

It doesn't have to be this way. I can release my grip and place both my hands in God's. It doesn't mean the other things will disappear. They may remain. But now, He is the one who will be caring for everything and everyone I clung to for so long. And what better hands to release all my cares into then his?

What blessed conviction! Because true conviction frees us, and empowers us in new and exciting ways. Those tears I cried in church were shed in joy, in new hope, and in holy revelation. If I can keep both my hands nestled securely inside of God's, I will know the freedom that comes with dying to self. And I will never be the same.

What are the things I am clinging to? What do I need to let go of? Show me, Lord. I am listening.

"Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you'll have it forever, real and eternal."
~John 12:24-25, The Message

"We feel 'conditioned': bound by the chains of our habits and compulsions, our likes and dislikes, our fears and guilt, our inability to love. Our great tragedy is that we often mistake these habits and compulsions for our true self...Our false self must die, so that we can find our true self, the self which God meant us to be and which he created in his image and likeness."
~Irma Zaleski

"We must die if we are to live. There is no spiritual life for you, for me, for any man, except by dying into it...The sentence of death must be in yourself, and then you shall enter into life."
~Charles Spurgeon

"Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not 'mine', but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." 
~Galatians 2:20, The Message

"If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang onto your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?"
~Luke 9:23-24

"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life ~ your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life ~ and place it before God as an offering."
~Romans 12:1, The Message

"That's why my cup is running over. This is the assigned moment for him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines." 
~John 3:30, The Message

"The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it!"
~2 Corinthians 5:17, The Message



    
       

Monday, December 3, 2012

GIFTS OR NO GIFTS

"I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year."
~Charles Dickens

How could it be December already? I walked throughout the house, flipping the calendars to unveil the Christmasy visuals. The stockings were already hung. Our house was beginning to have that cozy glow that comes with this season. But something was different.

I should be panicked, I chided myself. I haven't even begun my shopping. Every year, my goal is to have gifts purchased and wrapped by Thanksgiving. Not this year. There isn't a present in the house. Nothing to wrap. No trinkets to fill the stockings.

How am I not stressed? Honestly, it's a bit of a miracle. Christmas is going to arrive, whether I am "ready" with presents or not. If there is nothing under the tree, we'll still have so much to celebrate. Because the real gift of Christmas was birthed over two thousand years ago. Try as I might, no package under the tree is going to hold a candle to the real reason we gather together on Christmas day.

Usually, I share Jo's sentiments from a favorite classic, Little Women. "Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," she lamented. But this year has ushered in new circumstances. Wasn't that true on the first Christmas, too? Everything was new...different...unexpected. A marriage occurred between Joseph and Mary. And a beautiful baby was born in less than perfect circumstances.

The past few months, our family has been focused on similar events. A wedding on the horizon has occupied much of our time and our thoughts. So has a new baby. Our grandson made his entrance into the world last week. His unique circumstances and the way he has already taken up residence in our hearts makes everything pale in comparison.

Tomorrow I will go out and face the crowds, and do my best to carry on our gift-giving traditions. But my heart is so full right now. I want to pause...and savor this precious season in our expanding family. I want to focus on what's important, what this season is all about. For the babe that was born two millennia ago...and for the little boy that was born last week. Both are miracles. And both are all the reason I need to celebrate, gifts or no gifts. May I never forget this.

"We consider Christmas as the encounter, the great encounter, the historical encounter, the decisive encounter, between God and mankind. He who has faith knows this truly; let him rejoice."
~Pope Paul VI

     

Friday, November 30, 2012

ANGELS AND ANIMALS ~ SUMMER DAISY

"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened."
~Anatole France

The house is so quiet. It's just shy of midnight and I can't sleep. Curled up at my bedside is our beloved cat Summer Daisy. This is her last night to be with us. If she makes it through the night, we will be saying our goodbyes in the morning.

Summer came to us eleven years ago, at the end of our daughter's eighth grade. She had wanted a white kitten. But when she saw Summer in the pet store, Kelly knew she was the one for her. So full of personality, an average name seemed insufficient. Summer Daisy Angelface Mayonnaise Socks became her given name, such a long name for the littlest cat I've ever known.

Summer remained petite in size, but her heart seemed larger than life. She always knew when someone (human or animal) was upset. She had the gentlest way of coming alongside us and bringing comfort. Her keen intuition and her tender demeanor had me convinced long ago that Summer was an angel in disguise. I've held to that belief ever since. Please don't try to explain theologically how this can't be true. You won't convince me. Some things are beyond our comprehension.

When our doxie Nathan passed away last year, Summer lost her best friend. She went into mourning. For weeks, she curled up on top of his blanket under our bed. It was the next best thing to cuddling her favorite four-legged pal. I believe Nathan is in heaven, waiting expectantly for Summer's arrival. I can see them now, playfully greeting each other, then finding a shady spot to curl up together.   

Our family has loved and lost dogs and cats. It's always painful to let them go. But it's the price we pay for pouring our hearts into our animals. As a family, this is what we do. We are animal lovers, and those we welcome into our home become family members.

I have a heavy heart as I say goodbye. Summer, we have quite a history together. Your love and affection have seen me through some rough seasons. I can't put into words the ways you have blessed me. I only hope you feel the same. I will miss you dearly, my furry friend. But you will always live on in my memories and my heart.

"Who can believe that there is no soul behind those luminous eyes!"
~Theophile Gautier

"Cats are angels with whiskers."
~Author Unknown

"One small cat changes coming home to an empty house to coming home."
~Pam Brown      

Thursday, November 29, 2012

DEAR BRAYDEN

"Every child born into the world is a new thought of God, an ever fresh and radiant possibility."
~Kate Douglas Wiggin

Dear Brayden,
Yesterday, you made your grand entrance into the world. So many hearts were bursting with excitement when you arrived. I admit I cried when I saw the first photos of you. Not to worry ~ they were tears of joy.

From the moment we heard of your existence, our hearts expanded to embrace you. When we learned about your special circumstances, they stretched and grew even more. Since then, you've been center stage in our hearts and minds. The prayers that we, and many others, lifted up on your behalf are too numerous to count.

And here you are. Beautiful beyond measure. Strong like your parents. And full of "radiant possibility".

I want you to know, you could not have chosen two more loving and capable people to call Mom and Dad. What's more, you have two beautiful sisters who will lavish you with attention. You have entered into a family who will pour more love and energy into you then you can imagine!

Brayden, you are a treasure to all of us, and we couldn't love you more. Our world is richer and fuller because of you.

Quoting your Uncle Daniel, "Welcome to the world buddy!"

"A little bit of heaven drifted down from above,
A handful of happiness, a heartful of love.
The mystery of life, so sacred and sweet,
The giver of joys, so deep and complete.
Precious and priceless, so loveable too,
The world's sweetest miracle...baby, is you."
~Author Unknown    

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

LOST AND FOUND

I was in tears. It was our first Christmas in a new home. I couldn't wait to deck the halls, decorate the tree, and bring a little bit of the holiday into every room.

But something was missing. Amidst the many boxes I'd brought from storage, I couldn't find our stockings. Had they been store-bought, I would have chalked it up as a loss and purchased six more. But the stockings hanging on our mantle every Christmas were labors of love. I had needlepointed each one over the course of four years. Though the kids were young, they seemed to have a grasp on the care that went into each stitch. How would I break the news to my family that the stockings were lost?

I pictured our Christmas treasures at a dump, buried under mounds of trash. Perhaps they'd been tossed out accidentally during our move. It would have been an easy mistake for someone to make. The stockings were stored in a heavy duty black trash bag to protect them from moths and other critters.

My husband walked into the living room and noticed my tearful state. I explained the reason for my mood. "Have you looked everywhere? Maybe they got tucked away someplace else. Think."

I dried my eyes, though my heart was still racing with emotion. Think! Where else could I have put them? My mind travelled to two cupboards in the hallways. But when I looked, I came up empty-handed. Then I remembered, I had stored some seasonal items under our bed. I darted to our bedroom and began pulling out garment bags, storage boxes, and a black trash bag. The shape and feel to the bag spelled success. I'd found my missing treasure. I ran to my husband, clutching the six stockings to my heart. "Look! I found them!"

I know how it feels to find something valuable you thought was lost. A timely revisit to Luke Chapter 15 reminded me ~ So did a shepherd who lost one of his sheep. And the woman with ten silver coins who lost one knew, too. More importantly, God knows. When one lost soul is found, there is unimaginable rejoicing and celebration. It doesn't matter the condition the person is in when He finds them. He smiles with arms open wide and exclaims, "My child was lost, but now he's found!"

I watched my daughter hang our stockings on the mantle this week. I couldn't help but reflect back to the day when I thought they were lost for good...and the joy I felt when I found them. To know that God, my Father, experienced even greater joy over me is too wonderful to grasp. I was so lost, then I found my way into the arms of God. No treasure on earth can compare to that.

"When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: 'Father, I've sinned against God, I've sinned before you; I don't deserve to be called your son ever again.' But the father wasn't listening. He was calling to the servants, 'Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We're going to feast! We're going to have a wonderful time! My son is here - given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!' And they began to have a wonderful time."
~Luke 15:21-24, The Message

  
 

Friday, November 23, 2012

A MARY AND MARTHA THANKSGIVING

"An open home, an open heart,
here grows a bountiful harvest."
~Judy Hand

Mary and Martha were sisters. When Jesus showed up at their home for a visit, Martha went to work, zealously attacking everything that needed to get done. Mary, on the other hand, curled up at the feet of Jesus and soaked in every word. Martha was understandably annoyed. Why should she have to do all the work?

Martha couldn't hold in her frustration. She aired her complaints to Jesus. Then she told him to straighten her sister out. But his response to the scenario involved a gentle rebuke for Martha. "Mary has made the better choice," he explained. "I won't deny her simply because you've chosen the busier path."

Gulp... These words spoke volumes to me yesterday before I jumped into my hectic Thanksgiving routine. There was much for me to accomplish, but I didn't want to make the same mistake of Thanksgivings past, and allow the busyness to rob me of the "better" part of the day.

Maybe it helped that I'd just re-read a book on having a welcoming home. "Hospitality is much more about the condition of your heart than the condition of your home," wrote author Karen Ehman in her book  A Life That Says Welcome. This timely reminder nestled into my spirit like a breath of fresh air.

I still found myself knee-deep in things to do. Preparing a feast takes much concentrated effort for this old bird. And I wanted our home to be clean and inviting. But my thoughts kept wandering back to Mary and Martha, and how their day with Jesus played out so differently.

I'm not the manic Martha I used to be. But looking back, I see I could have been more engaging with my guests and less concerned with the mountains of dishes. That's okay. I did my best to keep my heart in check. The Martha in me took a back seat, and let more of my Mary take over. It's amazing the change we can see in ourselves when we sit at the feet of Jesus. And for that, I am truly thankful.

"O Lord that lends me life,
Lend me a heart replete with thankfulness."
~William Shakespeare

"Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving."
~W.T. Purkiser
  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

COME IN!

They stood at the door, gazing inside the banquet hall. A sense of inadequacy washed over both. They felt so out of place in their dirty jeans and faded shirts. Tossled hair and dark circles beneath their eyes made them even more self-counscious.

"We should get out of here," the young man whispered as he took his wife's hand.

"Just one more minute? It's all so beautiful. And it's warm in here. It's going to be freezing outside." Her pleading expression spoke louder than her hushed words.

"Okay, but just a minute. Then we're going. I don't want someone seeing us, and asking us to leave." He put a protective arm around his young bride. There was little else he could do. Times were hard. With no work, they'd lost their apartment. And the few possessions they'd managed to keep had disappeared while they slept at a shelter the night before.

Both stared longingly at the contents and people filling the room. Candlelight and exquisite floral arrangements made the atmosphere so welcoming and inviting. Music, laughter, and jovial conversations poured from the room and into the hallway. Every face was smiling, and all were dressed in elegant attire. China plates were piled high with foods they could only imagine tasting. But the aromas wafting into the hall were enough to give them a "taste" of what they were missing.   

"Everything looks so good," she sighed. A server brushed by them, his platter nearly empty, but not quite. She saw her chance and grabbed it, not caring what her husband would say. "Excuse me, are those extras?" She ignored the tighter grip of her husband, knowing he would give her an earful after they left the hotel. She didn't care. It looked too good. And she hadn't eaten in over twelve hours.

"Sure, help yourselves." The server handed them two plates piled high with a colorful array of tasty morsels.

"This isn't right. What if they catch us?" The young man looked over his shoulder nervously.

The server chuckled at his response. "Relax. No one is going to mind. In fact, there's a table to the right when you go through the door, and it's empty. Go sit down. Enjoy."

"You're kidding! They don't want the likes of us in there, mingling with those rich people. They'd kick us out!" Clearly the server was new, and didn't understand the ways of the world yet.

But the server smiled at the man. He knew something this couple didn't. "Go, Sit down. Trust me. This is a banquet to raise money for the homeless. If anything, you'll be the guests of honor. Go! Sit. Enjoy yourselves."

Clutching their dinner plates, the two looked at each other, then into the banquet hall. "Come on, dear. We'll sit over here." He led his wife to a dark corner in the hallway.

"But the server said we could go in," she responded.

"Look at us. We don't belong in there. Come on. At least we have food. And we've got a warm spot to sit. Maybe they'll have mercy on us and let us sleep here tonight...since it IS a banquet to raise money for us homeless people."

They sat on the plush carpet and ate their meals in silence. It tasted so delicious. When had they eaten like this? She couldn't remember. She was glad for the food, and for the refuge from the cold. But what about tomorrow? And the day after that? Why them? Why were they the ones in the hallway? Why couldn't they be among those who were enjoying the festivities in the banquet hall?

With full stomachs and a wall to lean against, they huddled together and closed their eyes. The distant murmurs of the party lulled them to sleep.

We may not be homeless, but many of us find ourselves just like this couple. We are standing at the door, gazing in at a life of beauty, splendor, purpose, fulfillment. And we can see it all before us. Because the doors are wide open ~ to all the glory, majesty, healing, deliverance, transformation, and freedom. We see it, and we acknowledge it. But we only stand at the doors looking in, as if that is sufficient...or out of fear we don't belong. Instead of going in, we hold back, choosing to stay in the familiar where we feel safer.

If only we'd take that first step, and walk through those doors. The joy that would greet us...the peace that would flood us! It's ours. If we want it. We only need to take that step of faith, and walk through the door.

"Enter in. Come," He says. "Don't be afraid. Don't be shy. Don't believe the lies that you don't belong. Come in! Look at all I have for you. What are you waiting for? Come in!"

"O taste and see that the Lord (Our God) is good! Blessed (happy, fortunate, to be envied) is the man who trusts and takes refuge in Him." 
~Psalm 34:8, Amplified Version

"Man finds it hard to get what he wants, because he does not want the best. God finds it hard to give, because He would give the best and man will not take it."
~George McDonald

"An infinite God can give all of Himself to each of His children. He does not distribute Himself that each may have a part, but to each one He gives all of Himself as full as if there were no others."
~A. W. Tozer

"Only God can fully satisfy the hungry heart of man."
~Hugh Black

"God does not come to us in nicely defined, rationally explained, thought categories. God does not fit Himself into our theological text books. The Hebrew God breaks all the rules. He is near, yet transcendent; clothed in human form, yet holy; more terrifying than can be imagined, yet compassionate; invisible, yet revealed; judging, yet merciful; sovereign, yet humble. No matter where you look, God breaks the molds."
~Skip Moen
                 

Monday, November 12, 2012

SACRED MONDAY

My Monday began like most days. Alarm set, I was eager and energized to jump in and tackle my to-do list. Our home has felt a bit neglected lately, as aging parents have been needing more of my time and attention.

"Where do I begin?" I asked myself. So many things were calling to me. Chores, errands, and pets all seemed to be screaming at once, begging to be first on my list. I reminisced about a time in my life when I was able to multi-task. I could accomplish several things at once so effortlessly. Not anymore. Lately, if I am not completely present in whatever the task at hand is, I get distracted and drop the ball.

But with the beginning of a new week upon me, I opened my eyes with an optimistic outlook. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," I reminded myself as my feet hit the floor. I'd been chanting this verse to myself all weekend. Now it was time to put action to my words.

I spent the morning productively cruising through the first section of my list. How good it felt to check off item after item on the paper. Laundry got done. The kitchen was cleaned. Even the refrigerator got a bit of a makeover. I ran my errands and planned our meals for the week. And in the midst of it all, I managed to take the dogs for a walk.

Mid morning I looked at my handwritten notes and all that was checked off. Why did I feel so unsatisfied? Was it because I still had things left to do...and more than I could hope to accomplish in one day? No, that wasn't it. Something was missing.

I sat down with my cup of tea and grabbed my devotionals, my Bible, and my prayer list. My spirit was hungry. And as I refreshed myself in His Word and in quiet praise, I was reminded how much I need and want Him in every moment of my day. Errands, chores, and projects are of value. But they become sacred when I invite God in and welcome His presence as I go about my busyness.

With my arms elbow deep in dirty dishes and while scrubbing the kitchen floor, I can consecrate ~ set apart for God ~ every hour of my day. I don't have to be idle or silent to walk that holy path with Him.

The day isn't over. But I must say, it's been a blessed Monday. As I continue to chisel away at my overly optimistic goals, I am energized. Because I know that whatever I accomplish or fail to do, I am in the best company. However it plays out, my day is well spent if I stay in step with Him.

"There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God."
~Brother Lawrence

"The time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were on my knees."
~Brother Lawrence

"You have said, 'Seek My face.'
My heart says to You,
'Your face, Lord, do I seek.'"
~Psalm 27:8              

     

Friday, November 9, 2012

WHAT HAVE I DONE?

It was just her in the room now. The intrusiveness of the bright lights overhead caused her to feel exposed. She wanted nothing more than to escape the reality of what had happened on that table moments ago. But the truth was sinking in. No door existed that could remove her from this new place of regret.

The doctor had reassured her. It was only tissue they'd removed. There would be plenty of opportunities to begin a family. She was wise to wait until she was older, more mature, married, financially stable. It was the right decision.

Then why did it feel so wrong? Why was she mumbling apologies through a rush of tears to a container on the floor? Only tissue. Isn't that how her life had begun?

This was supposed to bring an end to a bad situation. But now she was realizing, this was only the beginning. A new nightmare was unfolding. There was nothing she could do to stop it.

Regret. Grief. Shame. Emptiness. These were her new companions. And as they introduced themselves to her, a darkness penetrated her spirit that no bright light in a doctor's office could penetrate.

The nurse returned and rested her hand on the girl's shoulder. "You can get up and get dressed. You'll be a little crampy. Here's a prescription that will help." She placed a piece of paper in the trembling palm of the girl's hand.

Once again, she found herself alone. She sat up slowly, oblivious to the physical discomfort the nurse had spoken of. There was a new pain to contend with. It reached far beyond her womb. And no medication was going to ease it.

She shed the gown they'd given her to wear, and slowly dressed herself. She tried to be mindful of the simple act of putting on her clothes. She wanted nothing more than to drown out the words that kept replaying in her mind. WHAT HAVE I DONE? WHAT HAVE I DONE?

A soft tapping at the door temporarily interrupted the chanting in her spirit. "Come in," the girl said, trying to choke back her sobs.

Her friend's face spoke volumes. She knew. She'd been on that table herself. "Are you okay? They said you can go."

She nodded yes, but every fiber of her being was screaming no. No, I am not okay. No, I cannot go back to life as I once knew it. No, nothing will ever be the same.

She made it to the door, then paused. "I'm sorry, baby. I'm so sorry."

My heart aches for every woman who has had this experience. Women walk this path everyday. Some are young girls overwhelmed by an unexpected pregnancy. For others, it's a matter of convenience, finances, timing. Some are trying to cope with the trauma of rape or abuse that led them to this place. And some women have had to make the heart-wrenching decision to preserve their own health and life, knowing the high risk they face if they proceed with the pregnancy. There is no perfect scenario. All are tragic. And all leave scars.

And the babies? There simply aren't words. Heaven is surely full of these young lives. May God forgive us, and may He have mercy on this nation that treats the sanctity of life so casually.

If you are struggling with the aftermath of abortion, there is hope and healing. I encourage you to find a godly counselor who can walk this path with you, and help you find wholeness again. My prayers are with you!

"I've noticed that everybody that is for abortion has already been born."
~Ronald Reagan

"Only half the patients who go into an abortion clinic come out alive."
~Author Unknown

"If it isn't a baby, then you aren't pregnant, so what are you aborting?"
~Author Unknown

"You are the one who put me together inside my mother's body...with your own eyes you saw me being formed. Even before I was born, you had written in your book everything about me."
~Psalm 139:13, 16    

Thursday, November 8, 2012

I BOW DOWN

I was a young adult, searching. I had a void in my life I longed to fill. I knew I was missing out on something larger than my little life had experienced. And whatever it was, I wanted it.

I was curious about God. But the little bits of information I accumulated confused me. The pieces of this vast puzzle weren't fitting together. I couldn't find reasonable answers to questions that lingered. One in particular tripped me up every time I tried to find a path to faith in God. If He is the One true God, why would He need people to bow down to Him? What was the point of worship? My skewed thinking led me to wonder if He was the ultimate ego maniac. It didn't add up.

Thankfully, I put those false notions to rest. And as I got to know Him, I came to realize that His love for us is at the heart of why He calls us to come ~ bow down ~ and worship.

God knows if we aren't bowing down to Him, we will be bowing to something or someone else. He knows the act of worshiping Him keeps us from worshiping others. And He longs to spare us of this. Because He knows what we don't. The other things...and other people, will never satisfy. They are a temporary fix to an unending need that only He can fill in us.

It's  a daily decision. Who or what will I worship? Today, I bow down to the King of kings and Lord of lords ~ in awe, in praise, in thanksgiving.

How about you? Who or what do you exalt in your daily life? Yourself? A family member? A paycheck? Your home? A leader? An image? Or God? Friend, only He can fill the void. Only God deserves to be on the throne. Only He can satisfy.

Come, let us worship and bow down...

"Worship changes the worshiper into the image of the One worshiped."
~Jack Hayford

"Whatever people worship, that is what they inevitably serve."
~Daniel Fuller

"Worship is our innermost being responding with praise for all that God is, through our attitudes, actions, thoughts, and words, based on the truth of God as He has revealed Himself."
~John MacArthur

"Come, let us bow down and worship Him;
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!"
~Psalm 95:6

"So here I am in the place of worship, eyes open, drinking in your strength and glory. In your generous love I am really living at last! My lips brim praises like fountains. I bless you every time I take a breath; my arms wave like banners of praise to you."
~Psalm 63:2-4, The Message

"Exalt the Lord our God! Bow low before His feet, for He is holy!"
~Psalm 99:5

       

Monday, November 5, 2012

MY HEART'S DESIRES

"Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of life."
~Proverbs 4:23

"Be careful what you wish for...you might get it." I used to blow this comment off as a cynical remark. I couldn't see past the tone to find the gift woven in the message.

But the truth is, the desires of our hearts often dictate the course of our day-to-day lives. You can usually tell what matters most to someone by looking at how they spend their time and resources.

With only one life to venture through, I want to keep a close watch over my heart. The true desires of my heart have nothing to do with accumulating more stuff or taking extravagant trips. But these frills can look so intriguing. If I'm not careful, they can mask as my heart's desires, and take me off course.

The desires of my heart go much deeper. And they've been a part of me for as long as I can remember. From the time I was a little girl, it's been the same three things ~ being a wife and mom, being a blessing to others and the world around me, and being a writer.

I look back at my life and see how short I have fallen on all three paths. I love my husband and children, but what I wouldn't give to turn back the clock and do a better job as a wife and mom.

Blessing others and the world around me? Sure, I have pulled this off from time to time. But I am more apt to drop the ball and look back, wishing I'd done more.

And being a writer...this is perhaps my greatest challenge because I can't force the doors open to a writing career. All the books and devotionals I have written don't carry with them the promise that I will become a published author.

It's when I let myself give in to frustration, regret, and doubt in these three key areas that I find my heart wandering. It goes to something more tangible and attainable. But the truth is, those secondary longings never satisfy. Because they have nothing to do with the true desires of my heart.

"Be careful what you wish for...you might get it." One can hope! Or go a step further. And jump in. With both feet. And give it all you've got.

Proverbs 4 warns to "be careful", "keep vigilant watch", and "guard" our hearts. Our heart's desires are too precious to do any less. And when they've been a part of us our whole lives, I believe they'll surely come to pass.

"Walk with the dreamers, the believers, the courageous, the cheerful, the planners, the doers, the successful people with their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground. Let their spirit ignite a fire within you to leave this world better than you found it."
~Author Unknown

"You will always gravitate to that which you secretly most love. Men do not attain that which they want but that which they are."
~James Allen

"If you want to know where your heart is, look where your mind goes when it wanders."
~Author Unknown

        

Friday, October 26, 2012

COVERED

"Don't bother cleaning the house today. This is going to be a messy job," my husband told me as he walked through our living room with a large roll of insulation. Our five layers of dilapidated roof-on-top-of-roof were replaced last month with a much needed new one. Now it's time to insulate our attic before the cooler temperatures make an appearance.

My husband was right about the mess. The scent of one hundred year old dirt, accumulated above us since our bungalow was built, is wafting through the house. The swirls of dust are settling on every surface, visible and remote. Once again, I will be giving our residence an unseasonal "spring-cleaning".

So what is the lesson for me in all of this? I think there are a few to be gleaned. First, life is always going to hold its share of messes. Just when it looks like one has been cleaned up, there's another one on its heels, kicking up dust. Dirt from the past may appear as an unwelcome visitor. Try as we might, there's no getting around the fact that life is messy! It's all part of the package while we journey on earth.

Here's another thing I am learning ~ as unpleasant as they seem, the messes don't have to drag us down. We can focus on the positives and see each messy situation as a challenge...even a blessing. My blessing in today's plume of dust? A husband and future son-in-law hard at work...an insulated attic...the time and ability to tackle the mess...a home to complain about!

The new roof and insulation leads me to another lesson ~ my ultimate Covering. It doesn't matter how strong, courageous, and optimistic we are. We still live in a world that is chalk full of unknown dangers, threats, and evil influences. We can remain exposed, or we can choose to place ourselves under God's protective covering. I want the daily presence of the One who is my Shield and Refuge in every storm. Only He can insulate me from the enemy's attempts to harm the body, mind, and spirit. Like those five layers of roof that used to cover us, I can turn to other sources of protection that appear sufficient. Or I can position myself under His covering, knowing it's the safest place to weather life's storms.

Tomorrow I will get out my duster and vacuum. And today? His covering and His insulation are more than enough to put a smile on this dusty, sneezy face.

"You are my safe refuge, a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me."
~Psalm 61:3

"God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble."
~Psalm 46:1

"I love you, Lord; you are my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety."
~Psalm 18:1,2

"May the strength of God pilot us, may the wisdom of God instruct us, may the hand of God protect us, may the word of God direct us."
~St. Patrick

      

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

WHO'S IN CONTROL?

"But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!"
~Galatians 5:22,23

The last fruit listed is perhaps the most difficult. Because self-control is more than just learning to control my behavior. On a deeper level, it's a call to set aside my need or desire to be in control, and to place myself...my loved ones...and all circumstances under God's sovereign control.

This is only possible when I am walking in close step with my Creator, moment by moment. And when I get myself in this position, I begin to see how foolish I am to cling to my desire to control anything. I think I know best, but I can only see a few small pieces of a vast, expanding puzzle. My attempt to control is like trying to navigate in complete darkness with an occasional flicker of candlelight. I can't possibly know what's ahead.

One of my greatest sources of frustration is tangled in the misconception I can or should try to control the path and the outcome in someone else's life. I create enough havoc in my own journey when I insist on doing things my way, in my timing, as I see fit. But taking it a step further and applying it to someone else's life can be disasterous. Why do I try to fill the shoes that only God is meant to wear?

I have walked through my share of painful stuff ~ experiences I or a loved one endured. And the biggest lesson I learned during those trials is to let go of the steering wheel and trust God to do the work that only He can do...especially when it involves a loved one.

My perceptions are so limited and skewed, and my wisdom always falls short. The steadfast message that God repeatedly gives me regarding others is, don't try to fix them. Don't attempt to make it all better. Don't step in to solve their problems. Just love them. LOVE THEM. ALWAYS. EXTRAVAGANTLY. UNCONDITIONALLY. TANGIBLY. Just love them.

Maybe it was my grandma's example that helped me see the heart of this fruit called self-control. She exemplified this priceless fruit every day of her life. Even more powerful was the humility and poise in which she carried herself through the ups and downs, the celebrations and the heartaches. She seemed to have no problem letting go of the wheel, and trusting that everything would turn out just as it was supposed to. Her quiet strength was certainly a result of putting to rest any need to control. I loved that about her.

Sure, I can apply the topic of self-control to my longing for a new dress I can't afford or the plate of cookies on the counter calling to me. But there's more meat to this fruit. And though it hasn't been easy or pleasant, I wouldn't trade what I have come to know over the years walking some difficult paths. Every day...every moment...presents a choice of who is in control. And today, I choose to let go, and let God.

"How appropriate that the list of qualities began with love and ends with self-control. Love keeps us afloat, and self-control keeps us anchored."
~Beth Moore

"Some of us wonder why our lives are such a tangle; if we wonder why we seem to live in an inner jungle; if the soil of our souls seems to be buried beneath a bramblelike growth of unchecked, uncontrolled wild vines, it is because we have not allowed ourselves to be brought under the control of the Good Gardener. We simply don't want Him interfering in the grounds of our lives."
~W. Phillip Keller      

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

THE POWER OF GENTLENESS

"Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength."
~Francis de Sales

Some think that gentleness implies weakness. But I have found the opposite to be true. A gentle response packs a powerful punch, and its infuence can be far-reaching. I love what Beth Moore says about it, "Gentleness is the power and strength created by submitting to God's will. Gentleness is responsibility with power."

How much easier it is to react in the heat of the moment ~ to push until you get your point across ~ to have the last word, determined to prove you are right. But these are signs of taking the low road. I recognize them right away. Because I have walked this path too often.

It's the high road I want to travel on. And who better to show me the way than my grandma. She walked it every day. Her touch, her words, and her heart were cloaked in gentleness. I wonder, did my grandma ever slam a cupboard in utter frustration? Did she ever raise her voice in anger at her husband? I doubt it.

Grandma knew how to let things go. She didn't stew, didn't blow things out of proportion. She seemed to have a forgiving nature, because I never saw her in conflict with anyone. All that she said and did were with a gentleness and a quiet strength you only encounter on the high road.

Me? I get frustrated. I become angry. I've slammed my share of doors. I've said some pretty ugly things. And I have overreacted when I was hurt or offended.

But that's not evidence of a gentle spirit. And I know that if I am going to take the high road of gentleness, I have to change my perspective. It begins with putting myself aside, and looking at others through the lens of agape love. I believe this was my grandma's secret. On gentleness, author W. Phillip Keller wrote, "This is no soft life to live. But it is the restful way. It is the peaceful way. It is the best way. It is His way."

"Both gentleness and meekness are born of power, not weakness...we should never be afraid, therefore, that the gentleness of the Spirit means weakness in character. It takes strength, God's strength, to be truly gentle."
~Jerry Bridges

"Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowances for each other's faults because of your love."
~Ephesians 4:2

"A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare."
~Proverbs 15:1

"Be beautiful in your heart by being gentle and quiet. This kind of beauty will last, and God considers it very special."
~1 Peter 3:4

"Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest."
~Matthew 11:29

"But the wisdom from above is pure first of all; it is also peaceful, gentle, and friendly; it is full of compassion and produces a harvest of good deeds; it is free from prejudice and hypocrisy."
~James 3:17    
   

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

CHOOSING FAITHFULNESS

"I am not called to be successful, I am called to be faithful."
~Mother Teresa

Have you ever walked the rugged path of unfaithfulness in a relationship? In a heartbeat, it can unravel a union that took years to build. I know. I've been there. Thankfully, that relationship ended before lifelong vows were made.

My husband and I have been married over twenty-five years. I know from experience it takes more than love to ride the rough storms of life together. Faithfulness is key. But when I am painfully honest, I have to ask myself the tough questions. Am I completely loyal to my husband when it comes to my words? What about my thoughts? How about the way I manage our money and my time? Aren't these a part of the whole "faithful" package?

Up until a week ago, I thought this message would be a breeze to write. But as I began to study the fruit of faithfulness, I started to realize there is so much more to it than we see within the context of marriage. And the more I pressed into it, the more I realized how short I fall.

"Faithfulness" is a big word with multiple layers that grow more complex as you peel them away. I am no expert. I have only begun the process. But I happily and humbly share what I am learning along the way.

I'll start with the first layer I found as I cut into the subject. "Faithful", full of faith, leaves me breathless. Am I really "full of faith"? This kind of faith goes far beyond believing. It is the unwaivering assurance of who God is and what He says. This kind of faith doesn't need to have all the answers. It knows some will remain a mystery, because, unless you are God, faith can't know everything. It wouldn't be faith; it would simply be knowledge.

The "faith-ful" don't have to have their way. Their faith is in the One who knows what is best at all times, in all circumstances. Their self-will loses its willpower, as they look to God's will in everything.

For those who are full of faith, there is an absence of fear. The two cannot coexist. There simply isn't room for both. A little faith and a little fear can cohabitate quite nicely. But when you are filled up by faith, fear sees the full house and moves on.

A life lived faithfully is written all over the actions of the faithful heart. Daily, hourly, moment by moment, a person full of faith is not full of himself. There is freedom from self to put God and others first. Faithfulness reflects the very image of God, because the Lord is always and completely faithful.

As I meditate on this fruit and reflect back on my grandmother's life, I find myself trying to make the pieces fit. My grandma didn't talk much abour her beliefs. At times she admitted to having doubts and unanswered questions. But I saw more faithfulness in how she lived her daily life than I do in many who talk openly about their own "faith".

One thing is clear. I cannot produce this fruit on my own. It takes the hand of my Master Gardener to make anything of value grow. While he weeds and prunes and plants and fertilizes, I learn to put my faith in Him. And in doing so, the fruit of faithfulness begins to slowly sprout up and grow.

A faithful life ~ a life lived in faith and bearing the good fruits it produces, is a holy existence. And though it's a far cry from my own, it's the life I want.

"Faith puts the best construction on every situation and looks for the silver edge on every dark cloud. It searches for any hint of honor and dignity. It believes that with God, all things are possible. It pushes on, perseveres, remains loyal in spite of reverses and disappointments. Such faith is steadfast in spite of shaking experiences and has its gaze fastened upon Him who is faithful, not upon the chaos and confusion of circumstances around us. It is in the atmosphere of this confidence in Christ that the faithful person (a person full of faith) quietly carries on living in serenity, strength, and stability. He is not shaken by the stormy events or unpredictable behavior of others around him. Gently, calmly, without fanfare he simply gives and gives and gives himself to God and others."
~W. Phillip Keller                  

Saturday, October 6, 2012

THE BEST KIND OF PEOPLE

"Kind people are the best kind of people."
~Author Unknown

Mean-spirited people can bring out the worst in me. When I am snapped at, I tend to snap back. It's a rare and rather holy moment when I can rise above my knee-jerk reaction and extend love when I am more inclined to retaliate.

I don't think my grandma possessed a mean bone in her body. If she harbored unkind thoughts or ill will toward others, it was well hidden under a life lived by the Golden Rule.

My only memory of grandma's feathers being ruffled was during her daily indulgence in front of her TV. If grandma had a vice, it was her soap opera. As the world turned, her world came to a screeching halt so she could plunge into the dramas of her fictitious friends. I am smiling as I remember her responses to scenarios that played out on the screen. Grandma lived by a strong code of ethics, but she was no dummy when it came to people and society. I can hear her now, "Oh, you don't mean it!" If she could, I think she would have crawled into that box to try and bring a little kindness into their made-up, heartbroken lives.

Grandma was kindhearted; saying and doing kind things seemed to come more naturally to her than it does to me. Genuine kindness is a valued fruit of God's Spirit, and I want to possess it more abundantly. So I look to my grandma, who was a glowing example. She didn't just speak it with words, she lived kindness daily. She has much to teach those of us who are hungry for more of this precious fruit.

What do we gain when we treat someone meanly? Nothing of value. But when we act kindly, especially when we don't like the way we are being treated, we can change the world. Grandma's code of kindness inspires me to clothe myself in it daily, even on those days when I want to reach for the robe of retaliation instead.

"Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not."
~Samuel Johnson

"The best portion of a good man's life ~ his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindess and love."
~William Wordsworth

"Kindness is the greatest wisdom."
~Author Unknown

"Even when you do not feel bighearted, you can give yourself permission to act that way."
~Lama Willa Miller

"If we cannot be clever, we can always be kind."
~Alfred Fripp

"To err on the side of kindness is seldom an error."
~Liz Armbruster

"Have you had a kindess shown?
Pass it on;
'Twas not given for thee alone,
Pass it on;
Let it travel down the years,
Let it wipe away another's tears,
'Til in Heaven the deed appears ~
Pass it on."
~Henry Burton

"Kind words bring life, but cruel words crush your spirit."
~Proverbs 15:4

    

Sunday, September 30, 2012

PRACTICING PATIENCE

"Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

"I am running out of patience." I have blurted those words under my breath more times than I can count. But how do we "run out" of something so intangible? Money, yes. Food, yes. Even time. But patience?

This is a difficult subject to explore, because I find myself running on empty all too often. Yesterday, it took me an hour to print a store coupon on my archaic computer. I slammed the mouse down repeatedly, brewing in frustration. Then I thought about the message I'd be writing on patience. Ugh...

Once again, I look to my grandma as my measuring stick and my inspiration. Everything about her daily round was laced with a heaping dose of patience. Her life began in the nineteenth century and ended in the twenty-first, touching three centuries. My husband reminded me of a story she shared with us about travelling in a covered wagon when she was a young girl. It got me thinking, when she was my age, it was 1948. She had already raised four children amidst the challenging life as a missionary in South America, with experiences I cannot grasp in my comfortable lifestyle.

So I cut myself some slack. Because let's be real ~ in this age of fast technology and instant gratification, we haven't had the opportunities she did to grow the fruit of patience. But I cannot let that excuse me from seeking more patience in my own life.

Grandma's life teaches me it begins with the simplest of things. If she wanted jam or jelly, Grandma set aside a couple of days and went about the task of canning her own. The same was true of chili sauce, relish, apple sauce, apple butter, and who knows what else. For me, it's a quick trip to the market.

Baking a pie was an all day event for her, beginning with homemade crust that would melt in your mouth. The best pie I can produce comes in a Marie Callendar's box.

New flowers in her garden began with a little bag of seeds, which she watered, fertilized, and cared for over the course of weeks, even months. I go to the local nursery and choose a plant to place in our yard for instant color.

Her need for a new dress or quilt for the bed didn't involve an online order or jaunt to the mall (that's me). Her hands created what she wore and the covers that warmed her at night.

Although she used a washing machine when I knew her as grandma, vivid memories remain of the clothesline outside her kitchen window. Her linens and clothes swayed in the breeze until she carried her basket outside to retrieve them.

Here's the irony. For all the hard work my grandma did in her daily life, she was never in a hurry. She went about her work at her own happy pace.

Have all the modern conveniences and time-savers we insist upon having, actually perpetuate the fast-paced mentality? It's no wonder we are short of patience in today's society.

I want what grandma had. I don't know if I have to shut off devices, give up conveniences, and learn the crafts my grandma knew. If so, it won't be easy. But it may be the gentlest path to growing more patience.

Today, as I type on my computer that moves at a snail's pace, I see it as a gift on the road to developing patience. I can do this! Grandma's life tells me it's possible.

"Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting."
~Author Unknown

"Patience is the companion of wisdom."
~St. Augustine

"Humility and patience are the surest proofs of the increase of love."
~John Wesley

"The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it."
~Arnold Glaslow

"One of the great disadvantages of hurry is that it takes such a long time."
~G.K. Chesterton

"Do daily and hourly your duty; do it patiently and thoroughly. Do it as it presents itself; do it at the moment and let it be its own reward."
~James H. Aughey

"God's patience is infinite. Men, like small kettles, boil quickly with wrath at the least wrong. Not so God. If God were as wrathful, the world would have been a heap of ruins long ago."
~Sadhu Sundar Singh

"Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times."
~Romans 12:12

"It's smart to be patient, but it's stupid to lose your temper."
~Proverbs 14:29

            

Friday, September 28, 2012

PLANTED IN PEACE

"Are there any of you who are wise and understanding? You are to prove it by your good life, by your good deeds performed with humility and wisdom. The wisdom from above is pure first of all; it is also peaceful, gentle, and friendly; it is full of compassion and produces a harvest of good deeds; it is free from prejudice and hypocrisy. And goodness is the harvest that is produced from the seeds the peacemakers plant in peace."
~James 3:13, 17-18

When I read these words, I can't help but picture my grandma's smiling face. The life she led was pure and peaceful, and she was a peacemaker by the way she conducted herself. There was no evidence of strife, tension, or resentment in her demeanor. She lived honestly, thoughtfully, and wisely, and she seemed to be at peace with everything and everyone.

I don't think I ever saw my grandma worried, upset, or fearful. Things that rattle my nerves didn't seem to faze her. Why can't I have that calm assurance and peaceful spirit she possessed? But this week I have been realizing that maybe I can.

It all began with a dream. I was entering into heaven. I saw the faces of those who'd gone before me. My dad, my grandparents, and others were there, cheering me on as though I was crossing the finish line in a race. They jumped up and down with excitement, arms opened wide to welcome me. There was no thought or sadness about who I was leaving behind, because I could sense in my spirit they would be joining us when their race was over. I was overwhelmed with joy to see those I'd been separated from for so long.

After I woke up and pondered my dream, I realized it had a powerful message for me. Death, the one thing that has held an element of fear for me, no longer has any power to frighten me. In fear's place is peace. Pure, penetrating peace has flooded my spirit this week. And if I can experience peace in the one area that has always been a challenge for me, I can have peace in every aspect of my life. I want that peace, and I want to be a peacemaker like my grandma. This is the legacy I want to leave behind.

My dream reminds me we are all running a race. I don't want to get so distracted and dragged down by the things of this world that I get off course. But there's another thing. We all run different races. Some of us have only a quick jaunt until we cross that finish line. Others, like my grandma, run a long race. It's not the length that counts, it's how we run our race...and what awaits us as we find ourselves at the end of it. "Well done!" and a cheerful welcome is what I want to encounter at the end of my journey. As D. L. Moody once said, "A great many people are trying to make peace, but that has already been done. God has not left it for us to do; all we have to do is to enter into it." I think my grandma knew this. And it's how I want to finish my race.

"You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you."
~Isaiah 26:3

"I am leaving you with a gift ~ peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid."
~John 14:27

"May the Lord himself, who is our source of peace, give you peace at all times and in every way." 
~2 Thessalonians 3:16

"Don't worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God. Then, because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will control the way you think and feel."
~Philippians 4:6,7

 "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as member of one body you were called to peace. And be thankkul."
~Colossians 3:15              

       

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

DRESSED IN JOY

"The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things."
~Henry Ward Beecher

Grandma loved to sew. If my house ever catches on fire, two of the items I am grabbing are the quilts she stitched over the course of several years. I can see the thread of joy in every stitch she made with her two hands and one heart. She lived her life much like her Creator, finding pure joy in creating things.

Most of the dresses she wore were birthed at her sewing machine. Their colors and patterns are imbedded in my memory. Grandma was a lady, and never wore pants. Even when working in her garden, she was clothed in a dress or a pretty housecoat.

Something else she wore everyday was a smile. It didn't take much to bring it out. Author Anne Lamott once wrote, "Joy is the best make-up." Grandma wore it well. And she wore it daily.

I want to know her secrets! I can find dozens of things to complain about as I go about my day. Not grandma. She took things in stride and kept a cheerful outlook. What I view as menial chores were simply a part of her daily rhythm. She was content to cook, clean, mend, pay bills, and putter in her garden. She never appeared burdened, overwhelmed, or exhausted by her daily demands.

Grandma took pleasure in the simplest of things. A smile and "Well, would you look at that," was her response to a humming bird buzzing on her patio, and the first blooms of sweet peas gracing her garden. Even a simple meal of soup and sandwich was met with a smile of appreciation. She knew how to pause in those moments and enjoy herself.

Grandma loved her life and the people in it. Her generosity was an outpouring of this love. She gave of her time, her talents, her energy, and her heart as part of her daily round. She didn't set aside one day a week to "give back". It was an integral part of who she was and how she lived her waking hours.

Grandma's contented spirit helped her keep perspective. She didn't allow limitations to dampen her mood or her lifestyle. Not having a car meant she'd have opportunities to see people she loved. A tight budget challenged her creative and mathematical skills. As she began to deal with health issues, she simply pressed through them and continued to do what she loved, focusing on her passion instead of her pain.

"Scatter joy," wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. And who better to learn from than my grandma, who daily dressed herself in joy.

"I think I began learning long ago that those who are happiest are those who do the most for others."
~Booker T. Washington

"The sweetest joy in life is to love and be loved."
~Mia Rose

"I have God's more-than-enough, more joy in one ordinary day."
~Psalm 4:7

"You have shown me
the path of life,
and you make me glad
by being near to me.
Sitting at your right side,
I will always be joyful."
~Psalm 16:11
  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

TASTE THE GOODNESS

"From the fruit of their lips people are filled with good things, and the work of their hands brings them reward."
~Proverbs 12:14

It's hard to live under a critical eye. You feel as though you never measure up. But it may be even worse for those who constantly look at people and things harshly. Do they see the good there, or just what they think needs fixing?

I cannot remember my grandma ever wearing a scowl on her face. Nor do I recall any critical words pouring forth from her lips. Maybe the genuine goodness she possessed opened her eyes to the goodness in everything and everyone around her. Perhaps it was because she was so content with her own life. She had no need to find fault in others.

The absence of a critical, complaining spirit makes her a wise teacher. And I have much to learn. I cannot control the murmurs, complaints, and critical spirits of others. But I can keep a close watch over my own words, actions, and thoughts. I can follow the advice of Paul to the Philippians, "I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious ~ the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse." This was how my grandma lived.

I can't help but wonder what Grandma would think if she was here, reading over my shoulder. I think she would giggle and say, "That's not me you are talking about?!" At the center of all her goodness was a very humble heart. A poem my grandma wrote makes me wonder if the only thing she struggled to see the goodness in, was herself ~
WHO AM I?
Within my earthly temple
there's a crowd.
There's one that's humble
One that's proud.
There's one that's brokenhearted
For his sins.
There's one that's unrepented
Sits and grins.
There's one that loves
His neighbor as himself.
And one that cares for nought
But fame and self.
From much perplexing care
I would be free
If I could once determine
Which is me.
~Mary Hughes, aka Grandma

"Good people bring out the good in other people."
~Author Unknown


 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

GRANDMA'S LEGACY OF LOVE

"Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within the reach of every hand."
~Mother Teresa

Everything my grandma touched was graced with a loving hand. It was evident when she puttered in her garden, created in her kitchen, and chatted over coffee. Hers wasn't a sappy, overly demonstrative kind of love. It just wove itself into everything she did.

A feral cat my grandma called BBC (Big Black Cat) saw this special quality in her too. The largest cat I have ever known, he wore his name well. An occasional visit on her patio evolved into a permanent residence for BBC. But it took time, and a whole lot of love. Grandma opened her door and her heart to this tempermental character. No one could approach BBC but her. He'd hiss and make a fuss at everyone else. But where Grandma was concerned, he was smitten.

Though it's been years, I remember the way he would stroll into the house with the regal manner that became BBC's trademark. He'd reach his front paws up onto the kitchen counter, his hind legs still anchored on the floor. His masculine meow was his way of saying, "I'm hungry." Thursdays he was all the more eager to get inside and head for the kitchen. Grandma always cooked him his favorite meal, liver. Perhaps it was the scent wafting from her kitchen. But he always knew when it was Thursday.

Over time, BBC became an affectionate cat, but only with Grandma. During her afternoon rest time, he'd climb up onto her chair and plop his large, heavy body onto her soft and welcoming lap. Siesta hour was often spent together.

BBC saw the love, the patience, the kindess, and the gentleness that was my grandma. And he drank deeply of her good fruits. If a feral cat can grasp the treasure of who my grandma was, I know I can too. As I tap into our family's memory banks, I know I will stumble on many examples of how she lived her life so authentically, beautifully, and lovingly. Even though she is gone, I believe the world still needs my grandma. It's an honor to share her with you.

"I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when I die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, 'How many good things have you done in your life?' rather he will ask, 'How much love did you put into what you did?'" 
~Mother Teresa

"Spread the love of God through your life but only use words when necessary."
~Mother Teresa

"The deeper we put down our roots and become established in His love, the stronger our branches become to bear His fruit."
~Karla Dornacher

   

Friday, September 21, 2012

GRANDMA'S FRUITS

"Eliminate the unnecessary so the necessary may speak."
~Hans Hofmann

My day began sweetly. Before my eyes even opened, visions of my grandma filled my thoughts. I lay there in the silence, picturing her just as I remembered her. I saw her face so full of expression. I heard her voice talking about her plans for the day. I smelled the aroma of breakfast that filled her home in the early morning hours. I tasted her apple butter, heaped generously on a slice of sour dough toast. And I missed her.

She's been gone for over ten years. But she lived such a long, rich life. Not monetarily. Her wealth was in things more lasting...her investments in lives, not bank accounts. Perhaps it's my recent studies of the fruits of the Spirit that brought my grandma to mind. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control ~ all of these describe who my grandma was and how she lived her life.

Grandma's life was a beautiful example of simplicity, order, rhythm, and balance. It wasn't cluttered with busyness. She didn't struggle with too much stuff or too much space. She knew the secret of being content. For her it meant living simply and having order in her day. It also meant no more and no less than what she needed, and what brought her peace and joy. She didn't strive for more things, more time in her day, or more meaning to her existence.

As I reflected back on her life, I realized there isn't a life I long for more than hers.
Perhaps my recent feeling of emptiness is really a case of "too much". Too much stuff to manage, organize, deal with, long for. I've lost my balance, my rhythm. Though I desire order, I can't find it amidst the disorder around me. And I see I want less of what I have, so I can have more of what she had.

And the best part? It's attainable. It doesn't have to mean a shift in houses or neighborhoods or professions. It's only a change in perspective, priorities, and attitude. Simplicity, order, rhythm, balance. People over things. Generosity with time, energy, and resources. These were my grandma. And they are the stepping stones I want to take in my own path to a life well-lived.

"Everything we possess that is not necessary for life or happiness becomes a burden, and scarcely a day passes that we do not add to it."
~Robert Brault

"Material blessings, when they pay beyond the category of need, are weirdly fruitful of headaches."
~Philip Wylie

"The sculptor produces the beautiful statue by chipping away such parts of marble block as are not needed ~ it is a process of elimination."
~Elbert Hubbard

"A devout life does bring wealth, but it's the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. Since we entered the world penniless and will leave it penniless, if we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that's enough...Pursue a righteous life ~ a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy."
~From 1 Timothy 6, The Message