Monday, December 16, 2013

A CHRISTMAS OFFERING

I turned the corner and saw him. An overstuffed duffle bag and his large four-legged companion sat at his feet, all shouting "weary". He pulled a bottle from his back pack and took a swig. My heart sank as I watched him carefully tighten the lid on what appeared to be vodka or some other clear liquid "spirit". He couldn't have been more than 25, and I guessed that his journey on the streets was a new one. I wanted so badly to pull over and speak with him, and offer help of some kind. But my years of playing it safe flashed multiple warning signs, "Don't approach him alone." Yet I can't get him off my mind. I'm praying for him, but that seems so inadequate and a bit trite when he clearly needs help...tangible help. What am I to do? How am I to respond -- to hurt and pain and emptiness around me, especially this time of year? If I sit in my own cozy winter wonderland, sipping my fancy coffee and gazing at the tree all lit up and sparkling, am I getting it? If the warm glow from the fireplace mingled with holiday music and gingerbread baking in the oven is my Christmas experience, do I really know? If the gifts wrapped under the tree and stockings waiting to be filled are my source of joy and my definition of giving, do I truly experience it? If it's all about those faces I love and the feast planned for dinner, am I living what I claim to believe? And I have to ask myself, are these the vignettes I'd see Jesus in? There's nothing wrong with any of these holiday traditions. In fact, I believe God wants us to rejoice and celebrate the birth of Christ. But if these pastimes are the essence of my Christmas, I think I've missed the boat. Where would Jesus be this Christmas season? I can look at His birth and proceed with His life to get an idea. Born in a stable under the stars, in the presence of animals and angels. Looking at His life, I see a man who moved from one person's mess to another's. Touching, healing, delivering, teaching. Would He live any differently today? When I look at His life, I don't see a man clinging to His loved ones, creating a Thomas Kinkade painting in His daily round. Oh, He brought light. But His was the real deal, not an illusion of light on a canvas. I want the tree, the stockings the gifts, the carols and the scents of the holiday. And I long to be surrounded by those faces I love most. But if my vision of Christmas stops there, I'm way too near-sighted. Christmas is about heaven come down to earth in the form of a tiny baby. But it's also about the man He grew up to be, the life He lived, and the death He died. He was the greatest gift this world has ever seen. May I never forget, and may I live out this Christmas, the Gospel message to a hurting world. One thing I'm sure of ~ Jesus would have stopped, looked that young homeless man in the eyes, and offered Himself. Lord, teach me to do the same.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

BOXED UP MEMORIES

"One more box," I tell myself. Bending down to avoid another close encounter with the low ceiling, I inch my way toward the back of the attic.

"This is why I want to be more organized," I audibly chide myself. Each box is a mystery. I don't know what I'll find as I lift another lid.

The heat of the summer day is making its presence known as I commit to just one more project. Settling onto a pillow, I lift the dusty lid to see what treasures await me.

Maybe it's this season of transition, saying goodbye to the familiar while waiting for the unknowns around the bend. Or maybe it's the culmination of raising a family of four. All I know is my emotions are raw. One minute I'm laughing at clothing I wore twenty years ago. The next, I'm in tears, wondering where the time went.

Today's treasures take my breath away. The sweat on my brow mingles with unexpected tears as I lift each content out of the box. Reliving the moments is bittersweet. A small ziplock baggie of brown locks from my son's first hair cut. A colorful picture my daughter drew as a pre-schooler, her attempts to cheer me up when I wasn't feeling well. Dozens of momentos, pieces of history, all nestled in an unmarked box.

I don't feel the heat in the attic anymore. Just the pulse of my heart as it swells with sweet memories. I want to climb into that cardboard box and relive it all. I want the days of crayons and matchbox cars and barbies back.

Our house has become a museum of boxes as we sort, pack, and prepare for our daughter's move out of state. And this mama's heart cries, "NO!" Stop the clock. Hit the reverse button. I want a re-do.

I close the box. The contents will remain safely tucked in our attic for now. They're too much a part of this heart. I can't let them go. When I feel the need to revisit those fleeting, messy, beautiful days of childrearing, I can open the box. With kleenex closeby. And transport myself back in time when bedtime stories and teddy bears were a part of each glorious day.

"Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."
~Robert Brault

"Stockpile treasures in heaven, where it's safe from moth and rust and burglars. It's obvious, isn't it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being."
~Matthew 6:20, 21 The Message

WEEDS AND WORDS

I'd paint my thumb green if I thought it would help. I try. Really, I do. I stroll through the nursery and study the plants carefully. I make my selections as I envision the blossoms bursting with color. I dig the holes and add the soil mix, gently placing the plants in their new homes. I step back and imagine how the yard will look as they grow and mature.

Come to my house. See for yourself. Weeds of all shapes and sizes thrive on our property. But the plants I picked out, purchased and planted? They are hanging on for dear life. Some have already made their way into our green trash bin, a lost cause.

I long to have a beautiful garden! I want to possess the skills and a green thumb to make my dream garden come to life. But I fall short. Everytime. And I beat myself up. Because I am not gifted when it comes to gardening, and no amount of effort seems to make a difference.

But if you place a pen in my hand and a notebook on my lap, something else happens. I come alive. It's not so much about the final product as it is the process. Pen in hand, words pouring onto paper, I feel at home. I'm doing what comes naturally.

Writing is a form of worship for me. I believe we honor God when we are obedient to what we feel called to do. I may not be the most talented writer. And my words may appear like those weeds in my yard, untamely and unplanned. But we honor God when we use the tools He gives to us, whatever the gift may be.

I wish I could retire my spade and do only the activities that come easily. But life is a lot like school, and every lesson has a purpose. Pulling weeds and penning words are part of the package for me. One of the lessons I'm learning along the way is to embrace who I am. Strengths and weaknesses, gifts and flaws.

And always, always I'm called to do the work ~ what I do well and what I struggle at ~ with all my heart. When done unto Him, it's wondrous worship.

"Let every detail of your lives -- words, actions, whatever -- be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way."
~Colossians 3:17, The Message

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

EYES TO SEE

"I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim...And they were calling to one another: 'Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.'"
~From Isaiah 6

My prayer list in hand, I began my petitions too casually. I wasn't praying for myself, but I was conscious of how good it would feel if my prayers for others were answered.

But then it hit me ~like a ton of bricks. If God was standing visibly in front of me, would I be so casual in my requests?

No! If I could see Jesus beside me, I'd fall down on my knees in utter worship. I would be trembling in holy awe of being in the presence of Almighty God. Speechless by his glory, I'd find it impossible to make eye contact with him, feeling so unworthy to be in his presence.

But isn't that exactly where I am, with my prayer list in hand, and my head bowed low? Though my physical eyes can't see him, I have a heart knowledge of his presence. That's what faith is ~ believing in what we can't see. Perhaps I couldn't handle such a glorious vision.

The seraphim saw him, and their response was complete worship. "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty. The whole earth is full of his glory."

The WHOLE earth?! Why can't I see it? Eyes too tainted by sin, I cannot behold such glory. Eyes too focused on the temporal, I can't even glimpse at eternity.

My list of people to pray for sits by my side. Their faces and circumstances flood my thoughts. And I realize, as I pray, my focus must shift to him who already knows what my list looks like. Because God inhabits the praises of his people, then worship should be the heartbeat of my prayer time.

And in complete adoration of him who is with me, even when my worldly eyes don't see him, I can lift these dear people to his throne with praise instead of worry, adoration rather than obligation.

"Holy, holy, holy...the whole earth is full of his glory." Open my eyes, Lord. I want to see Jesus.

"Happy the soul that has been awed by a view of God's majesty."
~A. W. Pink

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

MY FOUR-LEGGED INSPIRATION

"Let every living, breathing creature praise God!" ~Psalm 150:6, The Message

"Everyone is as close to God as they want to be." ~Joyce Meyer

When I was a child, too young to really remember much, our family had a basset hound named Archie. With two siblings and several years between us, I relied heavily on my four-legged companion. Archie was my closet friend. We'd nap together, share his doggie treats (disgusting, I know), and had daily play dates. For such a distinguished breed, Archie was a good sport. But he possessed a spiritual side to him I knew little about.

Archie lived during the era when dogs were allowed to roam free. This was long before communities went hog wild on leash laws. During many of his solitary excursions, Archie would amble over to the church on our street.

I've heard many stories over the years of him cruising down the church aisle, settling next to one of the pews for some quiet, reflective time. Those who worked at the church became well-acquainted with Archie, and seemed to welcome his many visits. There were days Archie hesitated to come home when we called his name. My family members took many walks over to the church to fetch our beloved canine.

Memories of Archie inspire me. Do I possess the same yearning for the sanctuary of God? Do I grab every chance I get to mindfully enter into His presence and commune with Him?

Honestly, I am more apt to become distracted by worldly stuff. I put unnecessary pressure on myself to accomplish things that don't really matter in the grand scheme of things. Of course, most of those things need to be dealt with. But the trouble begins when they move up above God in my list of priorities.

When I allow this to happen, I forfeit the peace of focused fellowship. Time after time, my mind and my heart become divided by external forces.

It wasn't that way with Archie. It's true, he was my faithful companion. But he didn't allow his family duties to deter him from the deeper longings for his sanctuary time.

Maybe Archie had other reasons for loving church so much. Perhaps he was enticed by treats from the local priest. Or maybe he needed a little peace and quiet now and then. Who's to say what went on in his heart and mind when he walked through those doors? After all, the same God who created us also made Archie.

Being human, I am different. I can think through what drives me, and I can address the distractions pulling me away from the greater path. I have choices. Will I put God at the top of my list? Or will other activities come before Him?

I shouldn't become neglectful of family, friends, home, work, health, and hobbies. But I should follow Archie's example and make it my priority to enter into the sanctuary of God and spend time alone with Him every chance I get.

Who knew a basset could be so inspiring? I guess this old dog can learn something new from a childhood memory of a faithful friend. Good dog, Archie!

"If I put God first in my life and my time, everything else will work out." ~Joyce Meyer

"I love those who love me; those who look for me find me." ~Proverbs 8:17. The Message        

Monday, June 17, 2013

FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS

"Old as she was, she still missed her daddy sometimes."
~Gloria Naylor

I rummaged through my collection of old photos, hoping to find pictures of me with my dad. I ended my search frustrated. Dad had always been the one behind the camera, eager to capture the memories. With the exception of one polaroid shot, I was left empty-handed.

When I saw my sister's post on Facebook, I wrestled with conflicting emotions. There she was, arm in arm with our dad, both clothed in wedding attire and radiating joy. He had been there to walk her down the aisle, and he lived to meet her children. I was happy for her memories, but felt cheated at the same time.

"When does the sadness go away? When will I be able to experience days like Father's Day without a lump in my throat?" I asked my counselor years ago.

"Never. There will always be a melancholy undercurrent. Especially given the tragic way he died."

It wasn't what I wanted to hear. Never? I did not want to carry this cloak of grief the rest of my life.

"It will get better," she encouraged me. "Some years, you may not even notice it that much. And good things will spring up from this, if you let them. You'll develop compassion and strength you wouldn't have known otherwise. And appreciation for the people who still occupy your life."

Yesterday was Father's Day. I wanted to celebrate my husband, and the many ways he has poured his life and love into our family. When I asked him how he wanted to spend his special day, I was taken back by his response. "I hate Father's Day. I'd rather not do anything."

"Why? You still have your dad. And a family who wants to honor you." I wondered if it had anything to do with our newly married daughter, and the fact that she'll soon be moving to another state. I know his heart, and how much he's going to miss her. Though we are fortunate to have our three sons closeby, there's just something unique about fathers and their daughters.

"It's because of your dad. And the pain it causes you every year," was his unexpected reply.

I was stunned by his words. I had no idea the impact my own grief was having on him, too. "We need to change our perspective. We are blessed with so many loved ones. We need to make them our focus. Let's enjoy them while we can. Life is too short and unpredictable."

And that is how we spent our Father's Day. Honoring his dad, and my stepdad. Savoring the time with our kids. Swelling with gratitute for our grandkids who have enlarged our hearts in ways we couldn't imagine. And yes, even honoring the man I called Dad. How good it felt to put aside the garment of sorrow and celebrate him too, photos or no photos.



    



      

Friday, June 14, 2013

LIFE AND DEATH AT A FUNERAL

The visual was crystal clear. I was hovering over the funeral, but I didn't see who occupied the casket. I only knew someone I loved had passed away.

That mental picture haunted me for the next few days. When I least expected it, the scenario would pop into my thoughts and trigger a sense of foreboding. Was this some type of warning? Was I on the brink of losing someone near and dear to me?

I shared the vision from my dream with one of my "sisters". She didn't act surprised or alarmed, perhaps because I had told her of a similar experience weeks prior. Her gentle response caught me off guard. "Do you think it's because you're dying to SELF?"

Her words have been playing like a broken record in my mind. Die to SELF. Ever so slowly, I've been learning what this means on a much deeper level ~ emotionally, relationally, practically. The gentle nudge of the Holy Spirit to put SELF to rest has been with me all year.

Die to SELF. Set aside my own agenda, my own wants, my own needs. Free myself to live a higher calling. I am so slow to grasp this! I cling so tightly to my selfish amibitions, desires, and mislabeled "needs".

But I do myself and everyone around me a grave disservice. By going after the things I think are important to me, I keep myself bound by their elusive claims to a better life.

He is calling me to let go. Not to deprive me, but to free me. Only then can He fill me with a deeper, more satisfying life.

I can see the visual before me. People gathered around a wooden casket, a pastor offering words of comfort and eternal insight. But this time, I see my SELF inside that box, preparing for its proper burial.

For me, this is the most challenging part of following Jesus. But it's also the most liberating. If I am going to live my life dead to SELF, I have to make the choice every moment of every day.

SELF. It's been a road block, a hindrance, a weight. It may take a lifetime to bury, but I'm putting it to rest, one shovel at a time.

"Many deaths must go into reaching our maturity in Christ, many letting goes."
~Elisabeth Elliot

"For if you want to save your own life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for my sake, you will find it."
~Matthew 16:25            

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

PRUNED AND READY

When I asked what he wanted for our anniversary, I already knew his answer. "The best gift you can give me is to not buy me anything."

I had to come up with a gift that wouldn't cost me a cent. What's more, I wanted it to be something meaningful.

But I was distracted. I couldn't stop thinking about a discussion we'd had with friends about Jesus' parable of the vine and the branches. The neat and tidy visual I had carried with me was being challenged by various thoughts and perspectives.

My mind kept wandering to the theme that had struck the biggest chord with me ~ the importance of pruning. Just like the plants that grace our gardens, we have seasons where we are in need of some extra pruning. Even things that look good on the outside can actually stifle our growth and productivity if they aren't snipped away.

Midweek, the two meditations of a gift for my husband and the pruning principle intersected.

I got out my heavy-duty pruning shears, gardening gloves, and every vacant trash can I could find. I took one last gaze at the bushes bordering our driveway. This was going to hurt. Camelias that have proudly stood along our home for decades, perhaps older than me, have been a source of contention in our marriage since the day we moved here.

I love their heighth and depth, the privacy and shade they provide, and the abundance of pink blossoms during the months when much of the landscape is barren. My husband, on the other hand, despises the way their leafy branches stretch over the driveway, infringing on his space when he loads and unloads his work truck.

We have argued about the bushes more than any other subject. We've tried to find a middle ground. But my attempts at trimming are never satisfactory in his eyes. And his attempts have left me breathless with frustration.

As I stood in our driveway with shears in hand, I knew this was the gift I could give that he'd love. Better yet, it wouldn't cost me anything monetarily.

I pruned away, cutting deeply into the thickest inner branches. While I worked,  it struck me ~ pruning is painful! It's messy. And exhausting. But there's a higher purpose. As I snipped and clipped away at the camelias I love, I saw new dimensions to this chore I'd been resisting for fifteen years. The more I cut back, the freer I felt. I couldn't wait for my husband to see his gift.

The following day was our anniversary. We spent the afternoon giving much needed attention to other parts of our garden. Once again, I found clippers in my hand and more overgrown bushes to tackle. "It's going to look so bare," I thought to myself as I snipped and clipped.

The day was hot and muggy. I headed for the kitchen to get a cold drink. I glanced out the window, hoping I wouldn't be disappointed by my efforts. To my surprise, a heart had taken shape. I had no idea I'd clipped the bushes to create a heart-shaped pattern.

Yes, pruning is painful. But the truth is, it empowers us to grow in healthy ways that produce more fruit. Our hearts become more pliable, softened, and usable. At the hands of our Gardener, we begin to thrive and produce a new harvest.  With the old clipped away, we are freed up to be who we're created to be. My heart-shaped bushes serve as a sweet reminder.

"I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn't bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more."
~John 15:1-2, The Message   

        

Saturday, June 1, 2013

TREASURE HUNT

"Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure." ~Author Unknown

When he first began to approach the subject, I have to admit, I cringed. I think I even laughed at such an outrageous idea.

When he continued to revisit the whole topic, I tried to muster up an open mind and an expression of interest. Afterall, he seemed serious about the whole idea. But on the inside, I was wrestling with a case of heartbreak, anxiety, and a sense of pending loss.

Give up our home? Really??

As the possibility began to sink in, things worsened. My mind started to wander into the future. I began to imagine the torture it would be to daily witness others occupying our family home while we resided in the granny flat behind it. I envisioned myself walking down our driveway, listening to new voices filling our living room. And a cloak of dread would wash over me.

If that wasn't bad enough, I pictured my husband and I occupying the one room attached to our garage. Where would we fit everything? Would we be able to stand living together in such a small space, day in and day out? How would we entertain guests? Everytime my mind went to these unknown places, my wall of resistance grew.

Then something happened. I don't even know what changed things. But very slowly ~ over weeks, months, even years of discussing it ~  the challenges and host of negatives I saw and felt have faded. And in their place, a sense of freedom, adventure, and relief have flooded my spirit.

Less is more. That is the essence of what I've been learning lately. The things I've held onto so dearly have had too strong a hold on me. It's time to let go.

A treasure in the hand can't compare with those we acquire in the heart. I invite you to join me as I begin this path of discovery. I'll do the leg work. And I commit to transparency, even on the dark days.

Who knows what treasures await us?!

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."
~Elisabeth Elliot

"Do not gather and heap up and store for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust and worm consume and destroy, and where thieves break through and steal. But gather and heap up and store for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust nor worm consume and destroy, and where thieves do not break through and steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
~Matthew 6:19-21, The Amplified Bible

 


Friday, May 31, 2013

STEPPING UP

It had been a long and painful year for me. I was dealing with the unexpected termination of a five year relationship and enagagement. My emotions were raw, but they were healing.

I wanted to meet someone new, fall in love, get married, and raise a family. When my dad took me out to lunch and encouraged me it was time to move on, I smiled. Maybe it was his choice of words, "You need to use it or lose it, Jules."

Soon after, I met him. He was quite a bit older. And very handsome. The take-your- breath-away handsome.  With two adorable little boys in tow.

"Date him all you want. But you cannot marry him," my dad insisted. He wasn't kidding. He looked past Dave's handsome smile and the boys' toothless grins. He saw a man ten years older than me. Divorced. With two small children to raise. An ex-wife. And his father-heart, always my protector, longed to spare me.

I heard his warnings. And fell in love anyway. Two years after we met, we were married. This weekend we celebrate twenty-nine years since we started dating, and twenty-seven years of marriage. But it's more than an anniversary. It marks the day I joined the ranks of "step".

I admit, I sometimes cringe when I hear that word. The stigma attached to it is so outdated, unfounded, and just plain wrong. For those who embrace the role, step-parenting is a holy and high calling. And not for the faint-hearted! I have learned and stretched and grown more through this role than any other.

It's true, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I said, "I do" to all three. And maybe if I had, I wouldn't have been brave enough to "step" up. There was no way I could have prepared myself for such an immense role in the lives of those beautiful boys.  I just knew that the pre-schoolers who loved to play cowboys and Indians, and who never seemed to tire, had taken up residence in my heart along with their dad.

Today I give tribute to all you step parents. I know all about the sacrifices you make. I know the struggles of trying to find balance between "steps" and birth children, and wondering if you're shortchanging your own kids in the process. I am aware of the scrutiny you feel. I know all about the moments when you feel unfairly judged and unappreciated. I understand the frustrations of loving and caring for a child without all the "say" of the birth parents. I know how it can hit you in the gut when you hear the comments, "Oh he's just a stepson," or "You're only his stepmom." I get it.

But I also know the rewards. And how they can multiply and catch you by surprise. And if we let it, how the whole rugged journey of step-parenting can refine us and bring out qualities we want to possess but can only acquire through the challenges. I know my dad would be proud if he were here today. Because he also taught me that the best things in life don't come easily.

Today, I'm more blessed than ever as a "step". I am honored to be step-mother-in-law to an amazing woman. I'm step-grandma to sweet Aven and Brayden. And...get this...I am step-grandma to my stepson's stepdaughter. That's a lot of steps! Throw in my own birth "kids" and my new son-in-law, and I see...the blessings are too numerous to count.

So, to the step-parents out there, I say, "Hang in there! You carry an honored title. There are special treasures that await you." And to my own clan ~ happy anniversary Dave...and Joe...and Matt. (Kelly and Daniel, you came along later, so please forgive any exclusions here.) It's been a wild ride. And I wouldn't change a thing.

"I love you just as though you were my own,
Though you are not the children of my blood.
Love is not lodged within one's flesh and bone,
But in one's heart, which goes which way it would."
~Nicholas Gordon   
    

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A FREE LIFE

"Does it have to end? Can't we stay a little longer?" He squeezes my hand in reply. It's the most we've spoken in the past hour. Nestled contentedly in our chairs on the weathered deck, we sit immersed in the symphony of nature, no city noise to distract us. A week away at our favorite Central Coast hideaway, we are completely removed from the hustle and bustle. It's been a glorious week to slow down, unwind, breathe deeply, and reflect on what's most important to us. Right now, in this season of life, with all of the changes looming on the horizon, it's time to pause and re-evaluate.

It's our last full day here in our private paradise tucked away in "the middle of nowhere". At least, that's how this place feels to us. The endless green hillsides blanketed by the blue skies have provided the perfect retreat.

Our epiphany is simultaneous as we soak in the last of the healing sunshine. Both of us ache for more freedom, a slower pace, and less of the "stuff" of this world.

This morning, as we drank our coffee and watched the day begin to unfold, two birds flew through the open door and into the house. Frantic to escape their unexpected confinement, they fluttered about, pressing anxiously against the windowpanes. Grabbing a broom, my husband gently nudged them, trying to steer them back toward their only true path to freedom. Though they could see where they were supposed to be, they couldn't navigate themselves successfully.

As I sit here in the stillness, I realize we are just like those birds. We see the freedom we're being called to, but don't know what path to take. Just like the little birds, we move about busily, trying to find our own way. An open door looks appealing, and we take it, only to find it's leading in the wrong direction. And we hit a glass wall of confinement.

The stuff, the pace, the over-obligations we'll be returning to tomorrow, they don't fit us anymore. All week long, we've been inundated with messages about giving ourselves away. And I see now, the freedom we're longing for, is really a path to do just that. It's not a "pass" to indulge ourselves or pursue our own concept of personal happiness. That mindset won't satisfy what we are longing for. I know from experience.

What once held such importance to us doesn't have the same meaning in this new phase of life. To empty ourselves of the old, so He can fill us with new meaning and purpose, this is the essence of the freedom we crave.

We don't have to scurry frantically, trying to find our own way. The One who calls us is Faithful, and He will guide our steps.

"In [this] freedom Christ has made us free [and completely liberated us]; stand fast then, and do not be hampered and held ensnared and submit again to a yoke of slavery [which you have once put off]."
~Galatians 5:1, Amplified Bible

"It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that's how freedom grows. For everything we know about God's Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That's an act of true freedom." 
~From Galatians 5, The Message

"The freedom after sanctification is the freedom of a child; the things that used to keep the life pinned down are gone."
~Oswald Chambers
     

Thursday, April 11, 2013

NO GREATER RIDE

From where I sit, he's just a speck in the water. The vast ocean surrounds him, the white caps pushing him back while he paddles all the harder.

I can imagine the intent in his eyes as he presses into the waves, moving farther from the shore line. He finds his sweet spot and waits, sitting patiently, watching for the one that will make it all worth it.

And I sit, protected from the howling winds, in the cozy warmth of our truck. Watching. Cheering him on. Tasting the salty thrill he must be feeling.

In no time, he catches a wave. Then another. And another. The passion for surfing he's carried inside of him since he was a young boy, it remains. And today, it comes alive again. The broad grin on his face, the exhiliration in his voice, and his boyish laughter...they're back.

This man who gives up his life each day to feed and to clothe, to house and to protect, he's my hero. My dearest friend.

In the early morning sunlight, every flaw, every wrinkle, every extra pound revealed itself. And we marveled at how we don't see it, don't even care. Like a home that grows only more beautiful over the years, with stories to tell and chock full of life, that's what we see. He's my home, my resting place. And I am his, while we walk this journey together.

He caught another wave. I don't have to see his expression up close to know the joy he's experiencing. I feel it too. Just watching.

There are a million reasons to grow tired, frustrated, annoyed, and upset with your spouse. But to be able to look past all that, and just love and enjoy the person you've been sharing your life with for decades? There's no greater ride.

Board tucked under his arm, he walks along the sand towards our truck. "Good job, honey. You looked great!" This day, it's a treasure. And I marvel that he still makes my heart leap, after all these years.

"Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years."
~Simone Signoret

"Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn't want what it doesn't have...Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end."
~From 1 Corinthians 13, The Message     

Friday, March 22, 2013

FRIENDS AND ENEMIES

I was twelve. And painfully shy. I had one close friend. But I longed to have the other girls in our small class like me.

Instead of including me in their tight little circle, they giggled when I walked by. They left ugly notes in my desk to greet me after lunch and recess. One morning, I arrived to see a sketch someone had drawn of me on the blackboard. It was crude and ugly, and it highlighted the fact that I was the only girl in class who'd developed a figure. A nasty comment was scribbled underneath.

"Ignore them. They're just jealous of you," our teacher said, trying in her own feeble way to soothe my aching heart. But her words were insufficient medicine.

One day, I got an invitation out of the blue to attend a sleepover. It was from one of the girls who'd been picking on me all year. Was I finally being given an open door to new friendships?

I wrestled with butterflies the next couple of days. How had I found unexpected favor with this girl? I should have seen what she was up to, but my heart wanted so badly to be accepted and liked. Who knew? Maybe our teacher had gotten through during one of her little lectures on how to treat people.

The eve of the sleepover, my mom dropped me off at the girl's house. I was so nervous, I'd been unable to eat all day. When I knocked on her door, I was greeted by all of the girls from the group. They ushered me in and showed me where to set my things down. Were they all wanting to be my friend now?

But I soon realized otherwise. At that point, I seemed to become invisible to them. The girls acted as if I wasn't even there. I tried to jump into conversations, but my words felt rejected and unheard.

Later that night, a game unfolded. Each girl was to take a turn in the hall while the other girls chatted behind close doors. The first couple of girls took their turns. In each girl's absence, the group shared things they liked about the girl who stood in the hall.

When it came to be my turn, I wondered optimistically what they would say about me. Perhaps they were beginning to see past my maturing body and noticing the real me inside.

Tears stung my eyes as I heard every word. The girls were brutal in their comments. The insults mixed with cruel laughter were too much. I ran to the phone and called my mom. "Please come get me," I begged between sobs. When she arrived, I was too upset to share my injuries. They remained locked inside, too painful for me to revisit.

I should not have allowed the girls' cruelty to affect me. But it did. For years. All through high school, I shied away from developing friends with females. It felt too risky. Peers assumed I was "easy" because I befriended guys. And I found myself being unfairly labeled because of it. Once a reputation develops in high school, it doesn't matter how unfounded it is. It tends to stick. And insult was added to injury.

Even today, I find my guard has a tendency to go up when it comes to the female population. It's silly, I know. But wounds that cut so deeply have a way of staying with you.

Today, those who I call "friend" are like gold to me. I would walk through fire for my friends.

"Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you." These words that Jesus spoke hit home with me. I can see it's the only appropriate response. Otherwise, the wounds they inflict continue to fester. Jesus knew this.

Love your enemies. Pray for them. Ask Jesus to change their hearts. In the process, you will find your own being healed. I know this to be true. I have precious friends to prove it.

Lord, please use this painful memory from my past to bless someone today, whether friend or foe.

"Jesus' enemies were the people who crucified him, and he prayed for them even until death. Such a beautiful act of love does not come easily, but brings grace to all involved."  ~Matt Sciba

"Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath...Make friends with nobodies; don't be the great somebody. Don't hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you've got it in you, get along with everybody. Don't insist on getting even; that's not for you to do. 'I'll do the judging,' says God. 'I'll take care of it.' If you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he's thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don't let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good."
~From Romans 12, The Message

"You're familiar with the old written law, 'Love your friend,' and its unwritten companion, 'Hate your enemy.' I'm challenging that. I'm telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives His best."
~From Matthew 5, The Message  
     

Saturday, March 9, 2013

WINNING AND LOSING

I knew better. Don't go to bed mad. But that's exactly what I did. Though the same blankets covered both of us, I stubbornly clung to my side of the mattress.

Eight hours of restless slumber didn't change things between us. In fact, with the rising of the sun came more details of what had angered me in the first place. I didn't just react. I exploded. Words were spoken in frustration. We both held our positions. And the argument escaladed.

In the end, I got my way. I won the battle. But the truth is, I lost something in the process. The expression on his face revealed the injury my stinging words had caused. And I hurt too.

An apology was a good place to begin. But the silence that carried into the following day was a powerful reminder. Our words have lasting impact. "I'm sorry" is important, but it doesn't work like a delete button. When feelings get hurt, it takes time for wounds to heal.

Don't go to bed mad. Don't speak in anger. Choose words wisely. Remember that words spoken in heated emotion only make matters worse. Twenty-seven years of marriage, and I'm still learning. Kindness trumps winning an argument. Every time.

"Don't go to be angry...Say the right thing at the right time and help others by what you say...Don't make God's Spirit sad...Stop being bitter and angry and mad at others. Don't yell at one another or curse each other or ever be rude. Instead, be kind and merciful, and forgive others, just as God forgave you because of Christ."
~From Ephesians 4, CEV

"Thoughtless words can wound as deeply as any sword, but wisely spoken words can heal."
~Proverbs 12:18

Copyright 2013 by Julie Cowell. All rights reserved.
         

Friday, March 8, 2013

ABUNDANT LIVING

Just when I think I have this whole faith-walk figured out, God nudges my spirit. He gently calls my name, and tenderly shows me we've got business to address. Sweetly, He speaks words of stirring conviction. Lovingly, He unveils areas of weakness and vulnerability. Softly, He sheds light on pockets of darkness I didn't know existed or rationalized as okay. Consistently, He calls me to a higher road, teaching me a holier and healthier way to walk.

And I drink it in. The lessons, the prodding, the discipline ~ I used to dread it. I'd stand my ground, and insist I wasn't in the wrong. I'd have an excuse for everything He brought to light. I'd justify my actions, my thoughts, my attitudes. And I'd believe I was right.

Not anymore. Because honestly, I've lived through enough to see how destructive, defeating, and dishonoring it can be. I'm tired of trying to have my way, force my agenda, and present my arguments to God. I don't want to live this way. Not anymore.

That the God of the Universe who spoke everything into existence wants to come to me and show me a better way? Yes! I'll take it. Open the doors to my heart and mind, Lord. Shed light on all the dark spots. Breathe fresh air and new life into the hidden places that have been locked up tightly for so long. Open my eyes to the choices, habits, and mindsets that sabotage and hinder my growth. I want to climb higher, Lord. I want to put off the weight of old ways that have held me down and held me back.

I want more of You, Lord. I want Your ways, Your plans, Your purposes. I set before You my own in exchange for all you want to give to me.

It's freedom, Lord. This chance I have to give up my own agenda for Your greater way. It's exhilirating. Empowering. And it leaves me feeling almost giddy, so happy to be freed of all the stuff that "self" can chain me to.

I can see why He calls it the abundant life. When I let go and surrender all to Him, He pours so much more into me than I could ever think or imagine. I don't want to settle for anything less.

"Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I'm about; See for yourself whether I've done anything wrong - then guide me on the road to eternal life."
~Psalm 139:23-24, The Message

"God can do anything, you know - far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us."
~Ephesians 3:20, The Message

"I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows)."
John 10:10

Copyright 2013 by Julie Cowell. All rights reserved.
 
         

Friday, March 1, 2013

PURPLE MATTRESSES

I lifted the purple air mattress off the couch and wrestled it into the guest room. Though unsightly, it's the only thing that keeps our doxie from jumping onto the couch when we are away. "Why don't you ever move this thing? It's awkward for me to handle," I complained to my husband as he nestled himself into his favorite chair.

I was dumfounded by his response. "I didn't see it. Sorry, honey."

"How can you not notice a huge, bright purple mattress draped across the couch?! This happens everytime we get home." He shrugged his shoulders and I pressed on. "Is this a passive-aggressive thing?"

"No, honey. I'm sorry. I didn't notice it. I guess I'm just used to it being there." I can read my husband like a book. The sincerity in his tone and his facial expression told me he was being completely honest.

As I sat on the couch later that evening, I realized something. Though his is much more obvious and very tangible, many of us can be quite adept at overlooking our own "purple mattresses". Things that seem obvious to outsiders looking in can fall off our radar. We develop blind spots.

Some of us manage to sweep under the rug unhealthy patterns in our lives and our family dynamics. Destructive behaviors aren't seen as a problem because we've grown accustomed to them.

I am just as guilty as my husband of overlooking some "purple mattresses" in my own life...and in my family. Maybe more so!

Lord, open my eyes to see what I need to see. Help me to recognize my "purple mattresses" for what they are. Help me to accept hard truths, not judgmentally, but with an open heart and a discerning mind. I don't want to look back one day, shake my head, and wonder how I missed the obvious.

We cannot deal with what we don't see and acknowledge. Give us eyes to see, and healthy ways to work through our "purple mattresses" that will speak love, acceptance, and healing to those who need it most.

"Sincerity and truth are what you require; fill my mind with your wisdom." 
~Psalm 51:6

"Use wisdom and understanding to establish your home; let good sense fill the rooms with priceless treasures."
~Proverbs 24:3,4

"If you are willing to start seeking truth in every situation, you will grow spiritually and begin to experience more freedom and joy than ever before."
~Joyce Meyer

 


 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

ON GUARD!

When I was a child, my dad taught me skills to help me stay safe in a world that can be chock full of dangers. His protective side was especially evident as I journeyed through my teen years. Always lock the car door. Don't drive alone at night. Steer clear of neighborhoods with higher crime rates. Don't answer the front door unless you know who is on the other side. Don't let a stranger on the phone know when you are home alone. These were only a few of the lessons he ingrained into me.

I didn't mind. I may have rolled my eyes a few times at messages he repeated over and over. But I knew this was his love language to me. They told me how much he desired to protect me from harm. In my mind, I can still hear his footsteps making their nightly round as he buttoned up the house and made sure all the windows and doors were locked. It was a tangible way he showed his love to our family.

I know much of his attention to safety arose from personal experiences he had in his younger years. Because he had encountered times when his own safety was jeopardized, he was all the more diligent to protect his own little flock. How I wish I could have the opportunity to tell my dad how grateful I am for watching over me, and empowering me to navigate safely on my own.

I have another Father who speaks in the same love language. He tells me what to look out for, and what to avoid at all costs. His concerns for me are much grander than my physical safety. Some days, His words jump right off the page and into my spirit with such clarity, they take my breath away. And I have to pause. And listen up.

"Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be of courage; be strong. Do everything in love." (~1 Corinthians 16:13,14)

I meditate on these words. As I read them over and over, His message to me sinks in and takes root.
Be on your guard ~ Guard against negative thinking, time-wasters, and those who pull me down and lead me off track. Guard against old habits and self-defeating attitudes. Guard my heart and what I allow in. Put up a guard against false teachings and other deceptions. Guard my words and the messages I convey.
Stand firm in the faith ~ My faith is the foundation on which I stand. It empowers me to stand when circumstances threaten to knock me down. My faith calls me to take a stand, and stand up for what is right. In a world of unknowns, my faith is my one "constant". When I'm not standing on faith, I don't have a leg to stand on.
Be of courage ~ A spirit of discouragement likes to bully me. But I don't have to listen to the messages it doles out. These three little words instruct me to do the opposite. Be encouraged! Be hopeful. Have an optimistic outlook. Stay positive. Then go out and encourage others.
Be strong ~ Get energized! Get excited about this season and all it holds. Exercise my muscles ~ spiritual, emotional, intellectual, physical, and relationship muscles need daily workouts to be strong and effective. Like the slogan says, "Just do it!"
Do everything in love ~ The ribbon on the package that holds it all together is love. I want love to be the heartbeat of my daily round that dictates all I say and do. Love for God, love for others, love for myself, love for my life. Just this morning I was reminded of how easily words can flow out of my mouth that are completely void of this powerful commodity. I want to do everything, and speak everything, in love.

Memories of my dad and his protective nature are so sweet and precious to me. So is the knowledge that my Abba Daddy is always looking out for me, teaching me the better way to go. May I always have a teachable heart.

"Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance and above all that you guard, for out of it flow the springs of life." ~Proverbs 4:23

"He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from troubles."
~Proverbs 21:23


        

Monday, February 11, 2013

PUZZLE PIECES

"We live by believing and not by seeing."
~2 Corinthians 5:7

"Let's not look at the cover," my daughter suggested. "Let's do the entire puzzle without looking to see where the pieces belong."

Today I sit with pieces of my life before me. I don't know where they fit. I can't see how they will all come together, or the picture they will create when complete. Sure, there are parts that appear assembled. But I see God reaching in to even those sections and moving a piece I thought was settled. He sets that piece in a place that makes no sense to me in my limited vision. I scratch my head in confusion. It seemed to fit so well where I'd placed it.

But if I don't let God move the pieces to where they really belong, the picture won't come together. It'll be incomplete, and it won't possess the beauty it would have if I'd just let Him be God and put the pieces together, as He sees fit.

Pieces of a puzzle scattered on our table. Pieces of my life...my family...not taking shape the way I envisioned they would.

I can try to make the pieces fit myself. I can press them into the place I think they belong. I can create my own chaotic life picture.

Or I can relax. Let God build it one piece at a time. I can trust that He knows where each piece belongs. And I can have peace that the final product will not only come together, it will be beautiful. Even breathtaking.

Where does this piece go, Lord? How does this one fit? I can't wait for Him to show me.

"I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished."
~Philippians 1:6

"I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for."
~Jeremiah 29:11

"I don't think the way you think. The way you work isn't the way I work." God's decree. "For as the sky soars high above earth, so the way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think beyond the way you think."
~Isaiah 55:8,9 The Message   

  

Monday, February 4, 2013

FIX IT

"The difference is Christ in me. Not me in a different set of circumstances."
~Elisabeth Elliot

A quick fix. It sounds so appealing. God snaps His fingers and, BOOM. It's done. Taken care of. Another victory on the score card.

But God says no. A quick fix might change the circumstance. But it doesn't address the hidden issues. It's the underlying stuff He has His eye on. While we cry out for relief from our circumstances, His goal is to bring us a much deeper healing and victory. And God knows we need it, even when we don't have a clue.

I know what He is telling me as I stand knee-deep in stuff that cries out to be fixed. Do the hard work. Press through. Stay focused on the prize. Hold unswervingly to the hope He alone offers. Trust Him for the outcome.

But I'm tired, Lord. I'm exhausted from dealing with the hard stuff. I want You to fix it. Now!

Instead, He comes alongside me ~ in a message on paper, encouragement from a friend, a passage of Scripture. He fills my thoughts with reminders of the faithful work He's already accomplished in and around me.

So I drink in His refreshment. I wipe my brow, and pick up my tools. I give it my best. It's okay that it's not enough. Because He is enough, and therein lies my peace. It doesn't matter how weak I feel when He is my strength.

Yes! I'd love a quick fix. For everything that feels broken. But more than the fix, I want the One who alone can fix it. Fix me, Lord. Fix my heart...my mind...my spirit. I fix my hope on You. You are more than able.

A quick fix or God's fix. I see they aren't synonymous. This hard work, it can only be done on my knees.

"Let us hold unservingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful."
~Hebrews 10:23

"My thoughts," says the Lord, "are not like yours, and my ways are different from yours. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my thoughts above yours."
~Isaiah 55:8,9
     
"Don't you know? Haven't you heard? The Lord is the everlasting God; he created all the world. He never grows tired or weary. No one understands his thoughts. He strengthens those who are weak and tired. Even those who are young grow weak; young people fall exhausted. But those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed. They will rise on wings like eagles; they will run and not get weary; they will walk and not grow weak."
~Isaiah 40:28-31

"Now begin the work, and may the Lord be with you."
~1 Chronicles 22:16b

"You must be strong and not be discouraged. The work you do will be rewarded."
~2 Chronicles 15:7

"Cheer up! Because I, the [Lord] All-Powerful, will be here to help you with the work, just as I promised...Don't worry. My Spirit is right here with you."
~Haggai 2:4,5 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

RIGHT OR WRONG

"There is more right with you than wrong with you."
~Joyce Meyer

"What's wrong?" a friend asked me. I guess the haggard look on my face was her first clue.

Where do I begin, I thought. My mind whirled as it attempted to re-cap every circumstance that was weighing heavily upon my mind.

I tried to give a general summary of some of the events that were occurring simultaneously. Events that, in and of themselves, weren't all that earth-shattering. The ones that felt too personal to share I kept tucked away. Only God needed to know about those. Still, they were front and center in my own thought-life.

For two days I reassessed that conversation and the fact that I'd been so overcome with hard stuff, I'd allowed it to take over. Even my facial expressions were revealing the worries I was lugging around with me.

This isn't how I want to live! Circumstances may not change, but my focus, my perspective, and my response can change. I don't have to let the hard stuff mold me into an overwhelmed, burdened, haggard woman. No thank you!

This morning, a word from a teacher spoke volumes to my mind and heart. "There's more right with you than wrong with you," she stated emphatically as she taught on having peace in the midst of life's storms.

Today, I let that truth sink in. There's more right circumstances than wrong ones. There's more to rejoice over than complain about. There's more good happening than bad.

It's true with people too. Even those who have me scratching my head in frustration. There's more right in them than wrong. There's more to celebrate in their personalities and their lives than to complain about. There's more to acknowledge and embrace than criticize and get upset about.

Me too. I'm so good at nitpicking and dwelling on all I notice about myself that seems wrong and unlovable. But if I give honest reflection, there's more right in me than wrong.

I sense God smiling at this revelation. Yes, child. Now you get it! Now you see! Focus on the positives, and let Me handle the negatives.

It's too good an offer to pass up. And I find my smile has returned, right where it belongs.

"What's right?" That's my new question.

"If you can wear the hard times of your life as furrows on your brow, you can wear the good times as a twinkle in your eye."
~Robert Brault   

"Change your thoughts and you change your world."
~Norman Vincent Peale

"Every day may not be good, but there's something good in every day."
~Author Unknown

"A cloudy day is no match for a sunny disposition."
~William Arthur Ward

"Give goodness to the day and before you know it, the day will be giving goodness to you."
~Terri Guillemets

"Fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable."
~Philippians 4:8

"Being cheerful keeps you healthy. It is slow death to be gloomy all the time."
~Proverbs 17:22

"Peace I leave with you; My [own] peace I now give and bequeath to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. [Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed; and do not permit yourselves to be fearful and intimidated and cowardly and unsettled.]"
~John 14:27 Amplified Bible

"Those who enter into Christ's being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air..."
~Romans 8:1,2 The Message    

Monday, January 21, 2013

EVERY TREE

I sit alone in peaceful admiration
immersed in God's glorious creation.
Trees in stately manner stand,
evidence of our Father's hand.
With faltering eyes, I can see
the hand of God in this old tree.
Its branches reaching for the sky
while birds are passing merrily by.
And I, in wonder, worship too
amidst the green and brown and blue.
The sun's descent is telling me
this day will end eventually.
If God is willing, I will know
another miraculous day unfold.
When wakes the day all fresh and new,
the trees will stretch amidst the blue.
Songs of birds will fill the air
reminding me that He is here.
And every problem, worry, care
if I, before Him, leave laid bare,
He'll tend to as He does each tree
because of His great love for me.
All of nature seems to sing
Hallelujah to our King.
Ears to listen, eyes to see
the hand of God in every tree.


Copyright 2013 by Julie Cowell. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

POWER AND LIGHT

I remember the darkness. As the sun descended in its timely manner, a black cloak settled over our home and our neighborhood. With no power for over a week, we had to learn how to navigate our way from room to room in the darkness.

The windstorm that knocked down trees and power lines helped me appreciate something I had taken for granted ~ power and light. Without a light source, it's difficult to find my way without running into or tripping over an unexpected obstacle. It was especially unnerving when I was home alone. If I didn't pick up a candle, flashlight, or a charged cell phone, I had to grope my way from one room to the next.

The windstorm taught me a valuable lesson. I can find myself walking in another dimension of darkness. The days I don't go to my source of Light, God's Word, I am setting myself up for a collision course. Fumbling my way through the daily maze, I forget I have the source of Light with me. It's always there, but I need to activate it so it can illuminate my path.

God's word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105) ~
When I am overwhelmed ~ "Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens." (Psalm 68:19)
When I am weak ~ "Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always. Remember the wonders He has done, His miracles, and the judgments He pronounced." (Psalm 105:4,5)
When I feel defeated and hopeless ~ "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11)  
When I am upset ~ "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God." (Psalm 42:11)
When I don't know which way to turn ~ "I will instruct you and teach you the way to go; I will counsel you and watch over you." (Psalm 32:8)
When I am perplexed ~ "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5,6)
When I don't know what to do ~ "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." (James 1:5)
When I am burned out and battle weary ~ "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." (Psalm 46:1)
When I feel helpless ~ "I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand." (Isaiah 41:10b)
When I am weary ~ "He will not grow tired and weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak." (Isaiah 40: 28-29)
When I am anxious or afraid ~ "The mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace." (Romans 8:6) "Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9)
When I wrestle with discontent ~ "Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." (Psalm 27:14)

These are all "negatives". But His Light is just as revealing and valuable in the midst of my joys and triumphs. ~
"The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to Him in song." (Psalm 28:7)
"I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure. You have made known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand." (Psalm 16:8-11)

I learned quickly during that power outage. It wasn't wise to try to find my way in complete darkness when I had a source of light available. Just one small flicker was all I needed to help me move about safely and confidently.

It's equally true in my daily walk. When I begin the day turning to my source of Light, I find what I need to navigate successfully. The worries, the uncertainties, and the things that can be a stumbling block don't go away. But they lose their power to trip me.

"Sink the Bible to the bottom of the ocean, and still man's obligations to God would be unchanged. He would have the same path to tread, only his lamp and guide would be gone; the same voyage to make, but his chart and compass would be overboard!"
~Henry Ward Beecher

 
    

   

Friday, January 11, 2013

SLEEPLESS NIGHTS

"Fear can keep us up all night long, but faith makes one fine pillow."
~Philip Gulley

I hear the wind howling outside, bullying the trees and all that stands in its path. And I worry. It's something I'm good at. I've had a lot of practice. Worrying about loved ones. Worrying about finances. And health issues. And the future.

Worry is one more confirmation I'm not yet trusting God completely... unconditionally. My waves of worry are just manifestations of my doubts that He is in control and will take care of all that concerns us.

It's hard not to worry right now...tonight. As I think of watching my husband, tired and achy from too much physical labor, heading out the door in the early morning frosted hours to deal with yet another windstorm. The winds that shake our hundred year old bungalow this evening didn't seem to faze him. That scared me, because I knew he was too tired to even react to that dreaded sound.

I worry because I often see him sitting at his desk, trying to make the numbers add up. All of his hard work, and still, they don't equal enough. He sighs in discouragement, and I want so badly to fix it for him. And I worry all the more, because I know I can't.

I think back on all the unexpected expenses over the years that have led us to this place. Health issues we couldn't foresee. A host of other incidentals that have drained our resources. I see all of them etched into his brow, and I worry. And I think, he's too good a man to have done it any differently.

I know all the cliches about worrying. Glenn Turner said it best, "Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere." I know this to be true. But still, my heart and my mind team up and do what they do best ~ worry.

Another late night has me sleepless and burdened. The howling winds outside, the chill air in our old home, and a list of worries are my companion. I hear my husband stirring in the other room and realize, he's restless too. And burdened. And worried.

Perhaps it's cyclical. The ebb and flow of life bringing days that are packed full of joy, and nights that are harsh and unnerving. The winds pick up in intensity and so does my inner struggle with these beasts of burden ~ worry, doubt, fear.

Holy Spirit, breathe your presence into this home, into this heart. Help me to trust that, with you, all will be okay. Empower me to release my every care into your all powerful hands. I give you my husband, Lord. And every area where we are lacking, coming up short. And though I can't sleep, I choose to rest in you.

Calm the winds, Lord. Calm our spirits.

"Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy."
~Leo Buscaglia

"Every evening I turn my worries over to God. He's going to be up all night anyway."
~Mary C. Crowley

"I believe God is managing affairs and that He doesn't need any advice from me. With God in charge, I believe everything will work out for the best in the end. So what is there to worry about."
~Henry Ford

"Don't fight with the pillow,
but lay down your head
And kick every worriment
out of the bed."
~Edmund Vance Cooke

""When I am afraid, O LORD Almighty, I put my trust in you."
~Psalm 56:3

"Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?"~Luke 12:25

"Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid."
~John 14:27         

    

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

FEATHERED FRIENDS

"In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy."
~William Blake

I gaze out the window at the scene unfolding before my eyes. Tiny birds flutter about, moving from tree to tree, then perching on our bird bath. Their holy communion tugs on my heartstrings. How happy and utterly content they appear. Chirping merrily amongst themselves, they move in a rhythm that takes my breath away.

I look around my living room. I can almost see the silence. A house that once rattled with noise is now quiet. The season of raising our voices in the midst of raising our children is behind us. Evidence of those days is tangible. Photos and keepsakes sprinkled here and there remind me. So does a young child's handprint pressed into a clay plate...and a patched window where a tennis ball landed in our kitchen unexpectedly. I love it all. Even the piece of board where a glass pane should be. They are memories I cling to, and they take me back in time to those precious, exhausting days. Of messy rooms. And bedtime stories. And the endless list of homework assignments posted on our refrigerator door.

As I focus my attention on the birds outside, I wonder if they are all part of a family. Or if their holy communion in my front yard is a mass of  feathered friends enjoying the early morning together.

Gardeners up the street with their power tools cut into my silence. Still, it's way too quiet in this empty house for me today. I usually cherish the peaceful hours when I am home alone. Not today. Even the loud, laborous hums pouring into my home can't distract me from the fact that this new season in life is quieter... slower... less demanding.

But my winged visitors outside my window bring me comfort. They reassure me I'm not alone. I still have purpose, passion for my work, and people I love. A husband I wouldn't trade for the world. And good friends I have plenty of time for. Time to meet for coffee, a lingering meal, or a stroll through the shops. Ample time for some old fashioned fellowship over the phone or a chance meeting in a parking lot (that happened this week, and what a gift it was).

Whatever season I am in, I want to savor the good stuff, and soar above that which can drag me down. I want to bathe in the blessings of loved ones, and refresh those around me. It may be quieter than I like, but those sweet birds encourage me.

My husband will be nestled in his favorite chair in no time, and we will break bread together. Face to face time with a good friend is on my calendar for this afternoon. Two of our adult children will flutter in and out of the house today. And I realize, this life is a blessed gift.

"When one door closes, another opens, but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one that has opened for us."
~Alexander Graham Bell

"When you're really happy, the birds chirp and the sun shines even on cold dark winter nights ~ and flowers will bloom on a barren land."
~Terri Guillemets

"To get up each morning with the resolve to be happy...is to set our conditions to the events of each day. To do this is to condition circumstances instead of being conditioned by them."
~Ralph Waldo Trine

"I believe that life is given us so we may grow in love, and I believe that God is in me as the sun in the color and fragrance of a flower ~ the Light in my darkness, the Voice in my silence."
~Helen Keller

"Each day is a new beginning~
to care more about others,
to laugh more than we did,
to accomplish more than we thought we could,
and be more than we were before."
~Author Unknown

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

"Do not cling to the events of the past or dwell on what happened long ago. Watch for the new thing I am going to do. It is happening already ~ you can see it now! I will make a road through the wilderness and give you streams of water there."
~Isaiah 43:18-19

Copyright 2013 by Julie Cowell. All rights reserved.  

Monday, January 7, 2013

ARE YOU HURTING?

"Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future."
~Robert Schuller

If you are hurting, this is for you ~

I wish I could make it all better. I wish I could take every ounce of pain you've endured and cast it away. I wish I could free you from unpleasant memories that haunt you. I wish I could break those chains that have you bound to unhealthy coping mechanisms and addictions. I wish I could pour light into the dark corners of your life.

If I could, I'd breathe new hope into you. I'd illuminate all the good qualities you possess, and help you see what a treasure you are. I would bring you a renewed passion and deep purpose in your life. I'd open your eyes to how radically loved you are ~ by God, family, and friends. I would lead you to the path of inner peace, radiant joy, and wholeness. I'd fill you with an unwaivering and unconditional love for God, for yourself, and for others. I would bless you beyond your wildest imagination, and make you an even bigger blessing to everyone around you than you already are.

But I'm human. The things I long to do, I can't. But I know the One who can. Nothing is impossible for Him. What's more, He has the same desires for you that I have. In fact, the good plans He has for you outshine anything I could ever dream or imagine. And the biggest miracle of all, He has plans to use for good all the painful stuff I wish I could delete.

So I entrust you into His care. And I wait for Him to work it all out on your behalf. Because I know Him to be FAITHFUL, and LOVING, and GOOD. While He does the work only He can do, there will be people and heavenly hosts on the sidelines, cheering you on. Because I believe that prayer moves mountains (I've seen it with my own eyes), I will cry out on your behalf. Until I see all I desire for you come pass.

"Leave the broken, irreversible past in God's hands, and step out into the invincible future with Him."
~Oswald Chambers

"Our God is at home with the rolling spheres, and at home with broken hearts."
~M. P. Ferguson

"Your most profound and intimate experiences of worship will likely be in your darkest days ~ when your heart is broken, when you feel abandoned, when you're out of options, when the pain is great ~ and you turn to God alone."
~Rick Warren

"He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds."
~Psalm 147:3

"If your heart is broken, you'll find God right there; if you're kicked in the gut, he'll help you catch your breath."
~Psalm 34:18, The Message

"Trust in the Lord. 
Have faith, do not despair.
Trust in the Lord."
~Psalm 27:14

"The Lord Himself will lead you and be with you. He will not fail you or abandon you, so do not lose courage or be afraid."
~Deuteronomy 31:8

Copyright 2013 by Julie Cowell. All rights reserved.



    

Friday, January 4, 2013

UNOPENED PACKAGES

She sat contentedly in the middle of the living room, surrounded by boxes of various sizes. All were wrapped in cheerful holiday paper and tied in colorful ribbons. Her small hands gently traced the edges of each box. As her attention drifted from one package to the next, her eyes lit up in renewed excitement.

The couple looked at each other and shrugged. The little girl had entered into their family nest only weeks before Christmas. Ecstatic over the long awaited adoption, they had overindulged their new four year old daughter. Though the details were lacking, it was clear she'd been through a lot in her short life.

"Why doesn't she want to open them?" the new father asked his wife for the upteenth time. "Doesn't she realize there are toys inside? She could be having so much fun with the stuff we bought her." Frustrated by the lack of progress, he turned his attention back to the task of diassembling their Christmas tree.

"I don't know. She seems to enjoy her presents just as they are. I don't think we should push it. For all we know, this may be her first time receiving Christmas gifts," his wife responded in a hushed tone.

The mother sat herself next to the little girl and stroked the bangs that tickled her new daughter's forehead. "Sweetheart, there's a pretty doll inside. Want to take a look?" she coaxed gently.

The little girl shook her head no and continued to admire her collection of boxes. Whatever she had been through in previous foster homes had silenced her speech. Clutching the smallest box, she looked into the face of her new mom and smiled. The  little girl insisted on having the presents nearby since receiving them days ago on Christmas morning. Even at bedtime, she patiently carted her loot to her new princess bedroom and lined the gifts next to her twin bed. They were the last thing she saw before falling asleep, and the first thing that greeted her in the morning.

"It's been eight days. How long are we going to let her keep this up?" The dad joined his wife and daughter on the carpet. "This one has a soft puppy inside. Don't you want to see what he looks like?" He handed her a box wrapped in snowmen and sparkly blue ribbon.

Again, she shook her head side to side and clutched the box in her arms. Little did he know, it would be days, weeks, even months before the little girl would give up her pretty packages to discover the real gifts inside.

Are we sometimes like this little girl? Does our Father feel the frustration and concern these parents wrestled with? He lavishes us with gifts too numerous to count. And what do we do with them? Do we even acknowledge them? Do we admire them from a safe distance? Or do we pause and take the time to look inside, appreciate, and put to good use the gifts He's given to us?

This four year old has much to teach us. It may have taken her months, but she finally got to the place where she trusted her parents enought to take them at their word. She began to listen...and believe...and do what they encouraged her to do. She opened her gifts. And she welcomed each one with open arms so she could experience them fully.

I have my own share of unopened gifts. Forgiveness for something I did years ago that still haunts me. A healing balm for a deep emotional wound that continues to fester at times. New purpose for a painful trial that left me wallowing in regrets. Unopened gifts. All around me. Attractive to the eye, but do I dare trust enough to open them? What if I don't like what I find inside?

But my Father is persistent in His generosity. Come on, child. Open My gifts. I wrapped them just for you. Because you are Mine. And I love you. Come on. What are you waiting for? Open them, and see all that I've given you.

"Many people neglect 'unwrapping' God's gift...they receive His forgiveness but fail to discover the marvelous treasures made available to them as children of God."
~Charles Stanley

"The gift is wrapped and ready, waiting for you to open and enjoy all God has given."
~Charles Stanley

"We all live off his generous bounty, gift after gift after gift."
~John 1:16 The Message    

Copyright 2013 by Julie Cowell. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

FAITHFUL IN ALL THINGS

"I do not pray for success, I ask for faithfulness."
~Mother Teresa

It just isn't New Year's without reflection and resolutions. My list of "usuals" seems to fall short. If there is anything I'd like to resolve to do this year, it is to be more faithful. Across the board. In every aspect of my life.

The truth is, I cannot accomplish this lofty goal in my own strength. If I want faithfulness to be a thread in me that weaves itself in all I say and do ~ in my relationships, my work, and my day to day living ~ I have to begin by running to the throne. To the One who is always faithful. If I cling to His faithful presence and nature, the impossible becomes possible. And the characteristic of faithfulness will become more and more evident in my life.

This is my prayer as I begin this new year. Lord, I want to be more faithful ~ in my time with You, and as Your representative. I want to be more faithful in my relationships, beginning at home. I pray I can bring more of this precious quality to my marriage ~ faithful to always take my husband's best interest to heart, and to act accordingly.

It's not just my marriage, Lord. Every role I fill ~ wife, mother, sister, friend, daughter, neighbor ~ I ask for more of Your faithfulness to flow through me. I fall so short. How glad I am to know I don't have to rely on my own strength.

My work and my ministries are really just an expression of what You've equipped me to do. Help me to remember this, Lord. It's not about me. It's about You and the people You place in my life.

I know each day is a gift. And lately, this head knowledge has found its way into my heart. However I spend it, I pray that each day will be lived mindful of Your presence, for Your glory, with a deep appreciation and keen awareness of how You want me to spend it.

There's one more thing, Lord. I pray for a more faithful spirit towards myself. Help me be faithful to take care of myself ~ physically, eating healthier and exercising regularly. Emotionally, putting old wounds and bad memories to rest. Mentally, keeping my mind sharp by learning, reading, and writing. And spiritually, putting the enemy in his place and exalting You to Your rightful place in my life.

This year will bring an abundance of change to my life. But you, Lord, never change. You are faithful and true. Please breathe more of Your faithfulness into me. Together we can make this the best year yet.

"Everyone talks about how loyal and faithful he is, but just try to find someone who really is!"
~Proverbs 20:6

"The word if the Lord is right and true; He is faithful in all He does."
~Psalm 33;4

"Whoever is faithful in small matters will be faithful in large ones."
~Luke 16:10

"Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, Your faithfulness to the skies."
~Psalm 36:5

"He who calls you will do it, because He is faithful."
~1 Thessalonians 5:24

Copyright 2013 by Julie Cowell. All rights reserved.