Friday, November 13, 2015

SCREAMS AND WHISPERS

The first time we met, he sat tall and quiet in our living room. Our initial hello was cloaked in smiles and a warm hug. I liked him instantly. He was soft-spoken, yet eager to connect. We covered the usual topics of conversation common to first encounters.

I wasn't prepared for what happened next. I can only say it felt like I was tiptoeing on rugged, holy ground.

Images ~ ugly visuals and tormenting vitriol ~ began to bombard my thoughts. I heard a man's voice scream cruel and injurious words. Not knowing what was happening, I took a deep breath and tried to push the painful thoughts away.

But they persisted, relentlessly screaming the same cutting words over and over. And somehow I knew. These horrible messages had been spoken over this young man. And now, they clung to him like an extra layer of skin.

My thoughts quieted down after he left. But there was much to process. And I wrestled. What did all of this mean? I had felt an instant connection with him. But those painful images haunted me. Try as I might, I couldn't shake them.

The next time I saw him, the same images and screaming words came rushing in. And I began to realize the long history of wounds this young man carried.

Write it down! I felt such a strong urge to put pen to paper. Eager to release all the toxic words and visuals, I did just that. Little did I know I'd be given the privilege to introduce him to my God. Or that I'd feel the pressing need to give him the paper littered with those ugly words tucked inside a card, and the domino effect it would have.

How did you know? Those were the exact words my dad used. Followed by gut-wrenching sobs and the release of emotions pent up far too long.

Because, along with the screaming words of a broken father, there were whispers from another. Bathed in agape love. And though it came from a gentle and quiet whisper, I knew it had to be God. I want him. I want to heal him.

How I marvel at the ways of God! Somehow, hearing and sharing what I heard with this young man, opened his heart and mind. And new words ~ affirming, loving, beautiful messages began to seep in and take root.

There's a long road of healing ahead for him. But I'm confident that God will not abandon the work of His hands. And this young man's heart? It will slowly heal, one loving whisper at a time.

"Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me. The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands." ~Psalm 138:7,8 ESV


Thursday, November 12, 2015

MOUNTAINS AND DESERTS

The photo, captured at a much higher altitude, jumped out at me. Mountains bathed in green flanked one small row of trees, bursting with autumn colors. The caption my son wrote underneath it struck home. "Think you know where the water runs through the canyon?" Of course. It was obvious when seen from a much higher location. And I realized, the further the ascent, the better the view. Truths we cannot see at ground level become obvious when we are given a loftier perspective.

I think about the photo he shared. This particular mountain range is planted in the high desert. At its base are cacti and mesquite trees, rattlers and javelinas. The contrast between the two is striking.

Oh, the desert! We've been talking about desert seasons in my small group. Boy, do I know all about them! When I'm there, I often feel as though they're a punishment...a consequence of my actions or inactions. But why? The desert has a beauty and power unique to its terrain. And just like the mountaintop experiences, it has its own gems to offer.

Desert seasons can be holy ground. It's there we learn to trust God more deeply and unconditionally. I have learned, when I press into Him during the stretches of barrenness, I encounter Him in ways I don't when I'm sitting high on the mountaintops.

Again, I look at those trees in the photo, bursting with fall foliage. "Think you know where the water runs through the canyon?" I see another truth. Even when we find ourselves walking the dry and dusty roads of a desert season, we can still thrive and flourish. If our roots are planted deeply along God's river of Living Water, He will sustain us in those parched places. We will stand out, glorifying Him in the midst of our rugged terrain.

I love how nature speaks to me, and how it so often reflects truths about our Creator. It can also teach us much about ourselves, the paths we walk, and the seasons we encounter. And this photo he shared? It reminds me. Stay firmly planted by the River of Life. Embrace each season, whether climbing new heights or camped in a dry desert. If I do, God will take even the barren chapters and create something beautiful. Like a tiny row of trees, bursting with autumn glory.

Copyright 2015 by Julie Cowell. All rights reserved.

"Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." ~Isaiah 43:19 ESV

"Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'" ~John 7:38 ESV

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

DIRTY WORK

The dirt was everywhere. I could feel the earthy residue in my nose as I breathed in deeply. Even my eyes were achy and itchy from the dust. I stood and stretched, then brushed myself off and headed for the bathroom.

I was startled when I caught a glance in the mirror. Little remnants of a long morning's work clung to my hair. Though I hadn't known it was possible, even my lips wore a gray, dusty hue.

Last year, I learned how to get over my need to always be clean. There were endless projects crying out to be completed quickly, and I slowly accepted the truth, it's okay to get dirty!

Just as I've learned to embrace the dirt, I am also grabbing hold of another truth. There are people  around me who are standing knee deep in disarray. They have had messy circumstances flung at them. And God is asking me to consider getting into the trenches with them. He's encouraging me to position myself in difficult places I've resisted in the past.

And I realize, by entering into the trenches, I'm bound to get a bit dirty, too. The deeper I go, the messier it's going to get. Jumping into someone else's pit experience can be very uncomfortable. It can even be grueling. Just like the work we did on our property.

I love the idea of a clean, polished appearance (though I've never really pulled it off). But I'm learning to let it go. Get dirty. Say yes to God and position myself in those messy places so He can use my hands, my feet, my voice. I can do NOTHING in my own strength. But I can show up. And let him do the work through me.

How about you? Has God been calling you into any trenches lately? Are you knee deep in your own messy circumstances? Let's encourage each other. And put aside the need to have a neat and tidy life.

"He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us." 2 Corinthians 1:4 The Message




Monday, November 9, 2015

RED CUPS

It's a cold and cloudy morning. My cinnamon-vanilla cup of joe is nestled in my right hand, a warm welcome. But my mind keeps traveling to those little red cups, filled to the brim with tasty goodness. Peppermint mocha and pumpkin spice lattes woo me!

I suppose I can blame all the images bombarding social media right now. If I didn't take the time to read, I'd likely think Starbucks is going heavy on their holiday promos this year.

But the company doesn't need to do much in the way of advertising right now. The ranting of one man gone viral has done the job for them. The ridiculous (in my humble opinion) notion that we Christians are being slighted (and that Christ is being removed from Christmas) because the red cups no longer wear a WINTER emblem, has become a hot topic. And those innocent red cups have dominated much of social media's threads. Making it all the harder to put my temptations to rest. My budget cries NO! But nothing quite compares to a red cup of hot peppermint mocha latte piled high with whipped cream.

Honestly, I do not believe Starbucks is making a statement with this year's little red cups. If anything, they might be encouraging simplicity, a notion most of us can glean from. You know what I'm referring to here ~ slowing down the hectic pace, the mad rush to the malls, the spending frenzies, the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality, the deck-the-halls-or-it-won't-be-Christmas mantra.

Because, really? As a Christian, this is NOT where I want my focus to be. I want it to be on a manger, and the babe who occupied it, then grew to be a man, who bore my sins and died for me so that I might live. This is the heart of Christmas as I understand it. This agape love of Christ is what we are called to show the world.

Starbucks, I don't want you thinking the rantings on social media in any way represent true Christianity. I am embarrassed at the thought of being lumped in the same category as this hyper-antagonistic young man. This is not what being a Christ-follower is all about.

Wouldn't it be a better witness (and a more pleasing one to God) if we stop criticizing businesses that don't even claim to be Christian? What if we were to set down our political correctness arguments, and start walking the walk? You know ~ feed the hungry, care for the sick and elderly, love the enemy across the street, and exemplify the love of Christ. (Let's not forget ~ faith without good works is like dead wood.)

This, I believe, is how we reach people ~ one loving act at a time. Not by throwing a tantrum over a simple red cup. As for me, please fill one with a peppermint mocha latte...extra whip, and put my name on it. Though my wallet screams no, all those red cups are calling me!

"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." ~James 2:14-17 ESV

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." ~1 Corinthians 13:1 ESV

Sunday, November 8, 2015

ONLY TODAY

We sat in a circle, a small group of friends who are truly more like family. We shared our concerns ~ people we know who are face to face with unexpected illnesses and frightening health issues. Unwelcome diagnoses. Symptoms that remain a mystery. Wondering if the days they have left are counting down much faster than they realized or dreamed possible. These are people we love ~ close friends, family members ~ two of whom sat in the circle with us. Wondering, what will the next days and weeks hold?

And I thought about the psalm so familiar to us. Because truth? We ALL have one thing in common. All of us are terminal. "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..." There it is! We don't recognize it most days. We choose not to acknowledge or dwell on it, and with good reason. But honestly, while we walk this earth, ALL of us journey through this valley. The shadow of death can overtake us at anytime. No one is guaranteed a tomorrow, or even a completion of today.

"I will fear no evil..." How comforting this is! We don't have to be afraid of death. How this frees us to live ~ really live ~ every blessed day we are given.

"For You are with me..." If we can wrap our heads and hearts ~ even a little bit ~ around this game-changing thought, death loses it power over us. HE ~ God who made and loves us ~ is with us. This is the truth that sends fear packing and running. It cannot remain when we grab hold of the knowledge of His presence and let it become our truest reality.

"Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me..." Not only is He with us, we have the reassurance He wants to come alongside and protect us. Always His rod serves a loving purpose. And that staff? If we veer off course, it pulls us gently back to the path He's marked out for us.

Sitting among my circle of friends I look into the eyes of people I love. People who wonder if their days are winding down faster than they'd hoped. And my flesh cries out. Heal them! Please spare them, God.

But the truth is, we are all walking a rugged road in this valley. All of us are shadowed by death. And maybe, just maybe, we can put our fears to rest and make the most of each day we are given. Remembering, we have a Good Shepherd who is with us. Telling us, we have nothing to fear.

I will continue to pray for my loved ones. With all I've got, I will cry out for their healing, and ask God to add many more years to their lives. But I will also pray for their peace as they wrestle and wonder. And I will remind myself ~ none of us is given any guarantees for tomorrow. We only have today.

Copyright 2015 by Julie Cowell. All rights reserved.

"How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog -- it's here a little while, then it's gone." ~James 4:14, NLT

"Tomorrow is promised to no one." ~Clint Eastwood



Saturday, November 7, 2015

MOSAICS

I have a friend and sister-in-faith who is a gifted mosaic artist. She takes broken pieces of glass, clay, tile, even expensive China. She brings them together to create stunning pieces of artwork. I marvel at her vision that can see beauty from brokenness, and her ability to transform her ideas into one-of-a-kind creations. And I can't help but think, something has to be broken before she can transform it into a glorious new item of beauty.

My friend reflects our Creator and Father. He, too, is in the transformation business. When we stand knee-deep in brokenness, we may wonder why our world has fallen apart. We might scoff at the concept of any good coming from THIS. We may cry and lament  and wish things could be different. We might even shake an angry fist at God (if we dare to be honest) and play the blame game.

Where were you, God, when all of THIS fell apart? Why is my life such a mess? Why do I feel so utterly broken and hopeless, and why would you permit THIS to happen? Aren't you supposed to be a loving and good God??

But like my friend, God sees through the eyes of an artist. Somehow, when we relinquish all of the broken pieces into His hands, He tenderly begins to form a piece of artwork our limited thinking can't grasp. Our finite minds wonder, how could beauty be the final product of such ugly brokenness?

This is the heart of our Father. Lovingly, intentionally, with beautiful plans and purposes, He works ~ arranging and building breathtaking pieces of art. His signature is written all over them whether we see it or not. Because honestly, only He can take the awful, painful experiences and circumstances and transform them into something wonderful.

I am blessed to provide a home for some of my friend's mosaics. Not only are they pleasant to look at, they are a lovely reminder. All the brokenness ~ it has a purpose. And if we let Him, God will take it and form a one-of-a-kind mosaic masterpiece.

Just like my friend, God our Father is a masterful mosaic artist, creating beauty from brokenness. When we surrender it into His care, we become pieces of His glorious masterpiece, transformed into His image ~ one broken piece at a time.

Copyright 2015 by Julie Cowell. All rights reserved.

"Blessings sometimes come through brokenness that could never come in any other way." ~Gerald May

"Brokenness has the power, unlike anything else, to bring forth new beauty, strength, and inspiration to others. Because it's often in those moments that we've tasted deep suffering, that we noticed, we were made for more. There's more. There's purpose." ~Debbie McDaniel

"God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It's the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume." ~Vange Havner

"Behold, I am making all things new." ~Revelation 21:5

"Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." ~Isaiah 43:19

Friday, November 6, 2015

ONE WORD

God knows I am a slow and distracted learner. Because I process information in a somewhat haphazard fashion, and because I'm so quick to forget what I learn, He simplifies the process ~ with one word.

The past few years, I have intentionally sought His "one word" for me ~ to meditate on and to implement in my life. When a new word quickens my spirit, I add it to the others. Slowly, each word gets lovingly woven into me, a work that only God can do.

HOPE. This word came to me at a time when I didn't understand its significance. I felt hopeful. But there it was. HOPE. I found every verse I could that covered my "one word" and wrote them down. I meditated, memorized, and prayed my way through HOPE. Gradually, I began to see areas ~ circumstances ~ where I had given up hope. What felt hopeless began to rise to the surface. It was a painful process as each became magnified in my mind and heart. And I discovered what it meant to cling to my own word, HOPE.

TRUST brought its own set of life lessons. Let me just say, when God is teaching us to trust, it isn't when we are cruising down easy street or tucked cozy inside our comfort zone. Trust comes when we climb rugged terrains, face giants we've cowered from, and watch people we love most wrestle with their own unknowns and sorrows. TRUST ~ what God revealed to me about this "one word" is how it begins and ends with a cross...trust. If I'm not seeing Him present from beginning to end, I cannot let go and trust. But oh, the freedom and exhilaration I have experienced during those rare moments when I close my eyes, unclench my fists, breathe in deep, and TRUST.

THANK. It wasn't until I became focused on this "one word" that I began to realize what it means to live in a thankful mindset. I can harp and complain and dwell on each and every problem and frustration. This comes so easily for me! But to stop and thank God ~ no matter what ~ in good times and bad, knowing He is always good and the Giver of all that is good? This changes me! It transforms my thought life, soothes my spirit, and heals my heart. In ALL things give THANKS. It's not only possible, its powerful!

PRAY. This is the "one word" I received at the start of the year. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed. PRAY? I do this! Boy, do I do this. I felt chided, like my prayer life wasn't enough, and didn't meet God's standards. But my initial response proved wrong. PRAY ~ entering into God's presence, sharing every burden and care, talking through each circumstance, covering many...MANY... people and seeing Him respond...Wow! PRAY. What a privilege. What a joy! It has become my favorite "one word".

And now, a new word pierces me. WAIT. Oh boy, this one does not sit well. So many unknowns and decisions loom before us. I want to know the direction we are taking. I yearn to settle and nest and know where my home is. And as I pray, I am hit with this "one word". WAIT. Not only during my prayer time, but just about every message I read repeats the same refrain...WAIT!

Have you ever asked God for a word? May I encourage you? He longs to meet us where we are... yearns to teach and guide and encourage us. One word. It might change everything. I know. They are transforming me, "one word" at a time.

Copyright 2015 by Julie Cowell. All rights reserved.

"How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" ~Psalm 119:103 NIV

"Everything starts with one step, or one brick, or one word..." ~Jeremy Gilley

Thursday, November 5, 2015

LIFE LESSONS

Maybe it's the teacher in me. Always, I am compelled to discover whatever lesson is buried in my circumstances. I want to find it! I want to grab hold and let it sink in. I don't want to have to repeat the same lessons over and over in order to learn.

Here I sit. In God's classroom. Pen and paper in hand. Waiting. Wanting so badly to see the lesson, glean the wisdom, and adjust my life accordingly.

My eyes are planted on my Teacher. But I get so distracted. There's always a pull to plant my attention elsewhere. Scattered thinking doesn't help.

Perhaps this is my lesson. Learning to wait, to focus, to remain fixed on my Teacher ~ this might be the ultimate lesson.

Waiting is so hard! This culture we live in doesn't help. Always, there's the ongoing message to rush...accomplish...push ahead...stay busy...go - go - go. Nothing gets done when you're idle. Nothing is accomplished when you're still.

But I'm beginning to think, maybe we've been sold a bill of goods! Maybe some of God's best work comes to us in those quiet, still moments. Could it be that our hurriedness and busyness drowns out the lessons our Teacher longs to give to us?

Seasons of quiet...of waiting...of stillness ~ they are a gift. When we embrace them as such, and open them reverently and thankfully, glorious lessons pour into us. Wisdom we could never unearth on our own begins to seep in and take root. We start seeing everyone and everything through a new lens. A shift in perspective has a rippling effect...into our thoughts, and eventually our hearts.

Here I sit. In God's classroom. Waiting and ready. Teach me, Lord. Breathe your good thoughts and purposes into me. I want to learn.

Copyright 2015 by Julie Cowell. All rights reserved.

"Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long." ~Psalm 25:4-5 ESV

"To wait is often harder than to work." ~Peter Marshall


Thursday, October 15, 2015

BE STILL

"Be still and know that I am God." ~Psalm 46:10

Do you ever notice how the best and the worst often go hand in hand? Boy, do I wrestle with this. The hard seasons ~ those gut-wrenching paths ~ I want them done. Over. I want out. A quick fix. A solution, because isn't that what we need when we are faced with mounting problems?

When it doesn't come? There is always a choice before me. Kick and scream, let the clouds of discouragement and depression engulf me. Or stop. BE STILL. And trust that God in His infinite wisdom is up to something. Remind myself ~ He is always good. And His plans and His ways are always best, always to benefit and not harm us.

Too often I've taken that first path. And boy, does it take its toll. It doesn't solve anything. In fact, it often ushers in a whole new set of problems and frustrations. That path of self-sufficiency pulls me down, and places weights on my heart and mind I was never designed to carry.

The times when I've managed to get myself onto the road of trust, those weights don't find a resting place in me. Being still ~ choosing not to fret, worry, and play the card of problem-solver ~ it triggers a shift. The weight of responsibility I clung to, trying to work it out in my own strength and wisdom, is picked up. The strong, wise, and capable hands of God reach down and grab hold. And somehow ~ somehow ~ He does a work that aligns with His good purposes and plans.

Why don't I run to that second road if I know He is waiting there to carry all my burdens and problems? Because honestly, it doesn't always feel good. Or look pretty. Sometimes, what He allows me to experience on that road called Trust ushers in the polar opposite of what I desire. And I wonder, did He even bother to show up? Is He really carrying all those weights? Has he forgotten me and mine, and the messy-painful circumstances we are in? Does He not care? Is He punishing me?

All those thoughts, they arise from my burning desire to still be in control...at least to some degree. After all, this is my life. Surely I have valuable input!

Here I sit, in another season of emotions and events I don't want. Don't like! And the choice stands before me. Cling to my wishes, my plans, and the illusion of being even a little bit in control. Or BE STILL. Give it to Him. And trust that, no matter the outcome, He is always good, and His plans are always best. Even when it doesn't feel that way.

BE STILL. Yes, this is the path I want to stay on. I have learned the hard way. My plans, my efforts ~ they always fall short of the good work He wants to do. And whether I like it or not, there's this truth. His best often comes cloaked in what feels worst.

BE STILL. He's got this. Rest in His presence, His purposes, His good plans. And trust Him, believing it's all going to unfold according to His divine and loving plan.

BE STILL!

"We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose." ~Romans 8:28


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

NICE AND TIDY

Our memories are strange creatures. I cannot, for the life of me, remember where I set my coffee cup five minutes ago. But I can recall with sharp clarity a picture I colored in kindergarten.

It was one of those worksheets with the purply-blue ink. Color three of the bananas yellow. Color two of the strawberries red. Color five of the grape clusters purple. You get the picture.

Why do I remember this insignificant piece of ditto paper? That was fifty years ago! Yet the whereabouts of my coffee cup remains a mystery.

I'll tell you why. The day I completed that assignment, the weather was dark and stormy. Which prompted my mom to meet me in my classroom after school. I remember the onslaught of many moms...the wet umbrellas dripping profusely on our classroom floor. I was glad my mom was among the crowd of grown-ups.

My teacher greeted the parents, but paused when she got to mine. My heart jumped, wondering if I was in trouble. But her smile told me otherwise.

"I want to show you something," she said to my mom as she led her to my desk. "Julie did so well on her assignment today. In fact, she's the only one who stayed within the lines."

My mom admired my worksheet, praising me for my uncanny ability to color every purple grape on those clusters without once crossing the lines.

The only one!, I thought to myself. Little did I know this was the beginning of a life lesson based on truth and appearances. But not on wisdom.

As I navigated through childhood, I picked up on similar messages. When I kept within the lines of what appeared nice and tidy, I was doing okay. But when I veered, there was a shift in how I was perceived and treated.

When my room was clean and organized, I had my mother's approval. But if she discovered toys under my bed or a closet jammed with items I'd pushed out of sight, I received a scowl and a scolding.

The same held true for emotions. If my feelings were hurt and the tears flowed, I was told not to cry. Emotional outbursts were too messy and unbecoming.

I got the message loud and clear ~ Stay within the lines of what appears nice and tidy.

Fifty years later, I still wrestle with this. I recoil when an unexpected visitor knocks at my door and the house is in disarray. I still find it difficult to shed tears in front of others, even my husband.

But here, in this season of shifts and changes and unknowns, it feels as though everything is a mess. And those tears I try so hard to hide, they seem to have a life all their own. They come and go as they please, and make their appearances at the most unexpected times.

So much for staying inside the lines and having a life that looks nice and tidy! Truth? The longer I live, the more I see how overrated "nice and tidy" is. In fact, it can cheat me of the really good stuff....the beautiful messy life, overflowing with purpose, passion, and adventure. And yes, a lot of emotions!

I don't know what tomorrow will hold. But I know what I want to let go of ~ that message drilled into me to stay within the lines, to keep it nice and tidy, to swallow back the tears. Those days are gone. Life is too stinking short to live so one-dimensionally!

I can see now, the messy, purposeful life bursting with emotions and unknowns...it's beautiful!

"So what if your life's messy. Perfect isn't the plan. Purpose is." ~Author Unknown

Sunday, July 26, 2015

IMAGINE

Just imagine ~ you are given two choices. The choice you make will span the rest of your life. There will be no going back, no do-overs. God holds out both hands, looks you in the eye and says, "Choose. I will honor and bless it."

The first hand opens. Inside it rests the dream life, the one you always wanted but never thought possible. This will look different for everyone. For me, it's a rustic but comfortable estate on the northern coast, surrounded by water and pine trees and flowers. Wildlife abounds. All my loved ones live within walking distance. We are healthy, energetic, strong. Our pets can run free. We have the means to do whatever we please. Travel, entertain, you name it. They are all at our fingertips, and money isn't even an issue to be considered.

The one catch ~ that hand, it has to be all about you. The blessings will pour down upon you like rich spring rains. But they stop there. You do not possess the power to extend them to others. What you are given, you must keep for yourself.

God opens His other hand. The inside doesn't look so attractive. In fact, there is service, hard work, and a fair share of heart ache. You look closer. Doors you didn't know existed open wide. These doors lead to places and people ~ hungry, hurting, lost, empty. You possess the power to walk through those doors. You have resources to feed, minister to, encourage, and love on the countless people huddled inside that other hand.

"Go ahead. Choose. Which hand do you want? I will honor your request."

You look at the first hand again. It looks so appealing! Everything you ever dreamed of for this life, it's right there! It couldn't be a more idyllic picture. Really? All this could be mine?

Your eyes wander back to the second hand. You see the faces. People, young and old, hopeless in their condition. Not knowing which way to turn. You realize, choosing this hand means you give up that other life of comfort and ease.

Your mind latches onto the first hand. Oh, how nice it would be to sit by the water, read a good book, play with the dogs, and invite your friends over for a meal worthy of a magazine cover.

But your heart, it is drawn to the other hand. So many people, in such desperate need. While they tug on your heartstrings, you can't help but think of the hard work the second hand holds. It certainly would be a far cry from the comfortable first hand God showed you.

Your decision is clear. There's no turning back. You made your choice. But you remember his words and his promises. He will honor and bless it...

We don't live in a world that demands one extreme or another. But this visual got me thinking. Which hand would I choose? Honestly? I am grateful I don't have to make that decision. But everyday, I do make a choice. Does my life move in the direction of the first hand, or the second? Am I more consumed with myself and my own comfort and desires in this fleeting life? Or am I learning what it means to set my self aside and put others first?

I know what Jesus would do. May I find myself following his example! I don't want to look back one day and be filled with regrets. I want to have peace that I gave myself to him and to others in increasing measure. I want to make a difference. I want to get to that place where I would grab hold of the second hand if he ever asked me to choose.

How about you? Which hand are you most drawn to? I don't believe God wants to guilt us into changing our lives. I think he wants to grow us into people who live with greater purpose and joy, people who will have a positive impact on the people and the world around us. That he can use us to bless others? Just imagine!

"We know that we have been created for greater things, not just to be a number in the world, not just to go for diplomas or degrees, this work and that work. We have been created in order to love and be loved." ~Mother Teresa

Thursday, July 23, 2015

MOUNTAIN TRAILS

My feet recline on this comfy, old couch. But in my mind, the same feet are moving, finding their way onto a trail. Mountainous terrain dwell under the umbrella of stark blue sky. Thunderclouds off in the distance build momentum, chock-full of promise. The scent of pine fills my nostrils, and I breathe in deep. The higher elevation and clean air demand it. I hear the roar of a waterfall around the bend. And these feet, they cannot wait to feel the icy wet shock hit them. One foot in front of the other, always on the lookout for some form of wildlife.

I feel wildly free myself. No walls to confine me. Surrounded, swallowed up by His jaw-dropping creative work. I can almost taste it. Every sense in me is coming alive.

The mountain treks I have taken, still so fresh in my mind, they hold a healing element. Calming, cathartic, liberating.

There's a holiness to them, too. Nothing humbles a soul like being at the mercy of God, smack in the middle of His powerful creation. One wrong move, and the path that seems so benign sends you reeling hundreds of feet. A warm summer day meets with a sudden, unexpected shift in the air. Lightning, torrential rains, hail, even snow appear out of nowhere. The bear, mountain lion, and rattler ~ all look so regal and beautiful from a distance. But a close encounter can be a deadly one.

I wiggle my toes, bringing my mind back to this couch and the four walls surrounding me. Ah, safe and sound.

But I have to wonder. What am I missing? Is it really so safe to play it safe ~ and only reminisce about my trail days? What if I am missing out on holy ground, that humbling awe of God in the midst of His most breathtaking splendor?

I don't have answers. This couch, it can be holy ground, too. Any place we experience God in some shape or fashion ~ that is holy ground.

The question lingering in my mind is like cold water on my face ~ what would it be like to take to the trails again? How would it be different this time around? What part of God would I experience that I just don't encounter on this comfy, old couch?

I look out my window. The mountains off in the distance, they beckon me! I sigh in wonder if I'll ever find my feet back on the trail.

And this couch? It no longer feels so comfortable.

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn." ~John Muir


Friday, July 3, 2015

A RAINBOW

It hung from a cloud in the sky near our home. One big, puffy cloud with others scattered on the horizon to the west. No rain. Not even a hint of moisture in the air. Just that brilliant array of colors pouring down from that cloud, all pumped with glorious color as the sun bid farewell for the day.

My heart leapt with indescribable excitement. Capturing the image on my phone, I sent a hurried and emotionally charged text to my kids who were over five hundred miles away.

Their response made me tear up. "There's a rainbow on TV...Right when you sent this there was a rainbow on TV on the movie we're watching..." Followed by a photo of a rainbow. "First thing I see when I opened Instagram," my daughter added.

I was blown away.

What is so significant about simultaneous rainbow sightings? Let's begin with the rarity of a random rainbow making its way across our local evening sky.

But, there's more. The plea I had made in prayer minutes before, Lord, if I am misunderstanding what I believe to be Your calling on my life, will you please tell me? If I'm not on the right path, will you please SHOW me?!" 

I was feeling very battle weary. Vitriol on Facebook had me scratching my head in discouragement. I was lamenting over some of the messages I'd received. Head stuffy and body lethargic from a summer cold. Feeling completely misunderstood, labeled, judged.

MUCH like the people I feel called to love on, support, and serve. Wow...it was just a glimpse. But I am beginning to really get a feel for their journey. Those who have been misunderstood. Labeled. Judged. Mistreated. Discriminated against.

That rainbow? And the other two appearing to my kids at the exact time, over five hundred miles away, at exactly the same moment in time (8:14, to be exact!)? I believe they were answers to this woman's plea ~ SHOW me! I want to get this one right!

A rainbow of all things!! As Facebook is overtaken by countless profile pics photo-shopped with rainbow colors to represent their support for a community of people who are rejoicing ~ finally feeling seen, heard, acknowledged.

How utterly fitting it seems. In my cries for direction and affirmation, I saw a rainbow. Dangling from a cloud. And what I heard in my spirit was this ~ Stay the course, my child. Stay the course.

I know. This is just one girl's experience. I know all the theological arguments and I never claim to have all the answers. But I know the One who does. And what I do have, is a love for people in the gay community, and for their families and friends.

Radical, eye-popping, hand-clapping love I did not...could not...manufacture on my own.

YOU are loved! And this woman of faith is here to proclaim ~ GOD LOVES YOU TOO!

May I never forget that colorful reminder.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

LEAGUES ABOVE

I am navigating through rough waters, Lord. But I know You are here in the midst of the rise and fall of each wave. And a fear response is really just a call to plant my eyes more steadfastly on You, my Lighthouse, my beacon.

Waves of doubt. What if my vulnerability backfires? What if I misheard this call to share? What if family and friends walk away instead of pausing to listen, really listen? I give you my doubts, Lord. Though they are many, like grains of sand on the shore.

Waves of emotion. Talking about this ~ sharing such deeply personal experiences ~ it churns up feelings I'd rather not revisit. But feelings aren't bad. They don't have to play out in a destructive manner. I'm riding the waves of these emotions, Lord. Knowing you are here and have felt them, too.

Waves of humility. I know, we are called to be humble, but being humbled hurts! Oh, how it smarts! Yet I know if I want to be used by You, it's a major stepping stone to getting there. I cling to You Lord, as I bare my soul and embrace the humility.

Waves of loss. Lord, I know what this means. There are people who will vanish from my radar. Some will simply pull away, avoid, and write me off ~ because of THIS. It's funny. Yes, it hurts. But in a good way! In a freeing way. I no longer need to try to please or impress ANYONE. Except You.

Waves of criticism. Those who don't walk away, but still feel the need to counter my experience with their own thoughts on the matter, it's hard! Who likes to be criticized? Lord, will you please keep my heart soft and tender to those You choose to speak through. And the rest, will You please silence their lips or put a covering over my ears and my heart? How I plead this for my son, too, and for my entire family!

Waves of unknowns. Where is this riptide taking us? What does the future hold? How will You use this? All of these I release into Your powerful hands. Today, and all the tomorrows, they are in Your hands, for You to write.

Waves of surrender. Ah, yes, blissful surrender. Letting the currents move me as they will. I don't have to fight it, don't want to anymore. Even when the waves come crashing down, I'm drowning in You and Your presence. This is sweet surrender, life-changing trust.

I see, Lord. It's not really me navigating these rough waters. I'm just along for the ride. And the calm I feel inside, it's leagues above anything I have ever experienced.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

GAY OR STRAIGHT, PART 3

Can we please be brutally honest? None of us has it all together. We are all flawed. No one completely knows EVERYTHING about ANYTHING. Not a one. Except God.

This is how we are wired. If we could attain perfection and complete knowledge while on this earth, there would be no need for God.

Maybe this is why God says he hates pride. HATES it. Not the prideful. Just pride in and of itself. Because pride puts an emphasis on us ~ who we are, and what we have accomplished.

Jesus wasn't calling out the sinner when He walked this earth. He used His harshest tones on the know-it-all, self-righteous Pharisees.

The sinners ~ the ones struggling and knee-deep in messiness ~ He came alongside of, lovingly ministering to them.

I am writing from my own personal experience at the risk of ruffling a few feathers. Many feathers, actually. That's okay. In fact, I think it's a good thing. And long overdue.

What I have personally witnessed inside some church walls has made me angry. And very sad. I believe it angers and saddens Jesus, too.

While men who struggle with pornography serve on church boards...innocent male/female friendships evolve into affairs...adults co-habitate before saying their vows...juicy gossip is served up on pretty plates...the god of self is commonplace, and countless other sins run rampant against our own bodies as well as the body of Christ, ONE issue gets labeled. UNACCEPTABLE.

What's more, it has been deemed acceptable to treat people as such. UNACCEPTABLE. Somehow, it's okay to excuse the pornography, look past the adultery, turn a blind eye to the rampant gluttony, make excuses for the dribbling gossip. But this ONE thing? Oh no! THAT is UNACCEPTABLE.

In our attempts to keep the church "clean" and presentable, I think we have managed to scuff up the very image of Christ and all He stands for ~ those He came for!

This I know. Jesus wasn't afraid to get dirty. He didn't turn a blind eye to those society cast off. Some of the people He chose to spend time with caused jaws to drop. "HOW COULD HE?! Doesn't He know who they are?"

An experience we had at a church we used to attend still causes my stomach to churn. A visitor in our adult Sunday School class, clearly gay, came asking questions. He didn't know the class protocol. He didn't know the Lord. He just knew he was hurting. He showed up searching, in desperate need for answers and for healing.

When he opened his mouth to speak, the tone in the room went sour. How could this visitor have made his way into OUR room? Who was going to control him? After all, this hour on Sunday morning wasn't about him and his problems. We were there to learn!

My husband and I left after class with a weight on our hearts too heavy for words. When we encountered the man in the foyer, we knew it was a divine appointment. For an hour and a half, we listened, encouraged, and prayed we'd be lights in a church that had dimmed theirs to this hurting man. Oh, how I pray we were lights!

To make matters worse, the expressions we witnessed on familiar faces as they saw us fellowshipping with him gave me a very small glimpse into what this man had endured for probably all of his adult life. Tsk, tsk...shock...everything but the love of Christ. Oh, how I pray he saw Christ's love in us that morning!

That day I knew. Though our history with that particular church was long and we had good friends there, it wasn't our home anymore. Sometimes you just know when it's time to move on.

My heart still aches for the man. But it also aches for my fellow believers. Those whose hearts are hardened, who find it easier to judge than to love ~ their condition cannot possibly be pleasing to God.

Again, no one has it all together. All of us are flawed. I place myself at the top of that list. We all need God's grace. And thank GOD He has an abundant supply of it!

I am pretty sure if Jesus had walked into our church that morning, He would have given some of His followers a stern talking to. But first, He would have sat with that man ~ talked, listened, and showed him the agape love he was craving.

Lord, please! Help us to stop pointing fingers! Help us be lights to a hurting world. Help us to be channels of Your agape love to all. Gay or straight.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

GAY OR STRAIGHT, PART 2

Welcome back, friend. After the unexpected responses and the incredible number of reads on my last blog, I know what I am being called to do ~ continue on this road of transparency and personal experience. I have so much to share! One blog at a time...

Much of this is tough to put into words. What happens in the heart often is. And I have hesitated. Because I don't want it to burden my son as I share my own path on this rugged, unfamiliar terrain.

But there's this ~ he has already been carrying a weight NO teen or adult should have to bear. What he has experienced over the years could have made him very bitter. Honestly, it could have destroyed him.

It didn't. Today, I see a man of strength...honor...faith, who has risen from the ashes of pain and confusion. He has emerged a loving, compassionate man with so much to offer.

I think he wants me to share. I think he welcomes my transparency, because he knows it will foster growth and will touch lives. It may even save a few.

This road I walk as the mom of a man who is gay ~ it's hard. Lonely! I feel as though I am trying to navigate a long, winding road less traveled at a very high altitude. I have a small group of dear ones who cheer me on, but this road is also flanked with stone-throwers.

Truth be told? This journey has triggered so much WORRY. FEAR. GUILT.

Oh, how I have worried about my son!! Have people mistreated him? Judged him? Excluded him? What injuries has he sustained simply because he feels no physical attraction to females?

Fear has been a very close companion. Will this cause him to lose faith? Because some believers have been the most injurious? What does his future hold? Will he be discriminated against? Yes, fear has clung to me like a relentless shadow.

Let's not forget guilt. What have I done or said to contribute to his pain and the hardship accompanying his sexual wiring? And what about the times I wasn't there to protect him, especially from the moral bullies of this world. Guilt eats away like a cancer. Oh, how I have failed him at times!

The flip side to all of this? God has brought me friends ~ glorious friends who want to walk this path with me, with us. People who want to understand, who want to take this life trek alongside of us. Friends who love my son extravagantly for who he is, not in spite of it! These friends, they are GOLD to me. They let me vent, share, cry. Always offering me their love and support.

Listen up. My journey? It PALES in comparison to my son's. I hope one day he will share with you personally what his own path has been like ~ and what his life is like today as a gay Christian. (No, people, that is NOT a contradiction.)

And to anyone reading these messages I am sharing from my heart ~ who use them to gossip, to judge, or to look down on us ~ I feel very sorry for you. I'll even go a step further and say, SHAME ON YOU.

Transparency and vulnerability are NOT invitations to hurt, belittle, or pass judgment.

They are offered in love to open eyes, to minister to others, to help people who finds themselves dealing with a similar life script.

My son is gay. As I bear this mama's soul, my prayer is that we can ALL get off whatever high horses we're drawn to occupy. And remember ~ we are ALL God's children, ALL dealing with struggles. ALL finding our way. May it lead us to a place of compassion ~ grace ~ love.

Like I said, I have much to share. Oh, how I hope this blesses you, friend!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

GAY OR STRAIGHT

I have a son. He is smart, funny, talented. He has one of the biggest hearts I've ever known. His handsome face so often mirrors his dad's. Sometimes I see my own dad in him. And my mother's dad. Facial expressions, gestures, personality traits that span generations ~ all evidence of gene pools we don't choose.

My son loves nature. With a degree in Environmental Sciences, he will pursue a career preserving what he is so passionate about, God's creation. He has taught me by example what it means to step up and do what you can to make a difference.

My son is a huge Dodger fan. If he's not at the game, he's likely watching it or listening to the play by plays. Without a doubt, he bleeds blue! If you know my son, you already know all of this.

Oh, there's one more thing. My son is gay.

I won't say I have a gay son. Because his sexuality isn't what defines him as a man. It's just part of the whole package.

There's more. My son loves the Lord. And despite the overall judgmental tone he has encountered in the church, he remains strong in his desire and determination to know God and to walk with him. What's more, he wants to be a voice for others like him, who love God but have experienced mixed and hurtful messages from the church.

I don't know why my son is gay. But as his mom, I'm convinced he arrived this way. Years of research on my part has me thinking there is probably a very good biochemical reason why he isn't wired to be attracted to the opposite sex.

I don't have all the answers. And honestly ~ many days I'm not all that sure what the questions should be!

This I do know. Only ONE knows and completely understands. And that's God. After all, God created him. I only had the privilege of carrying him in my womb and watching him grow into the man he is today.

Why am I sharing this? Because maybe ~ just maybe ~ talking about it will help someone else who is struggling with the reality that they ~ or someone they love ~ is gay.

And maybe ~ just maybe ~ CHURCH, we can stop labeling...judging...and pharisee-ing long enough to take a good hard look at a growing number of people who are finding themselves on this journey. People who are hurting, who need LOVE more than they need a pat answer. Who need to hear that God LOVES them...just AS THEY ARE, unconditionally.

Because there are too many teens and young adults who are confused. Many are filling the pews of our churches. Looking for answers, affirmation, connection. Who DID NOT CHOOSE this. Who are trying to figure out who they are, as they listen to voices telling them that who they are is wrong ~ resulting in a suicide rate that is among the highest in this mislabeled and misunderstood population.

And because there are parents...grandparents...families who are struggling. Because someone they love more than life itself is wrestling with an identity crisis and a level of pain they can't begin to understand.

Like I said, I don't have all the answers. But I can speak from experience. I can be honest and tell you I have cried out to God too many times to count. And always, it's the same. JUST LOVE HIM. LOVE HIM LIKE I DO.

Do not try to "fix" him. Or "correct" him. Or "preach" to him. Just love him! Just as he is. For the exceptional man he is, inside and out.

That I can do! And I can shout it from the rooftops. I LOVE MY SON! I am so stinking proud to be his mom. So proud of the man he is!!

CHURCH ~ I think you have been blowing it. Big time. You are missing out on getting to know some of the sweetest people. What's more, you are inflicting wounds by your attitudes and behavior. Oh, if only you could see the injuries you are causing!

Because, honestly ~ when was the last time you invested yourself in someone who happens to be gay? When did you take time to listen..really listen...and try to understand their journey, and what they must face? Especially inside the walls of a church! When did you make the choice to love a gay person unconditionally and extravagantly ~ no agenda, just love?

As a mom, I have to say it. I am really tired of platitudes and attitudes that alienate my son and the entire gay community. I have had it with people tossing verses like weapons, people whose own struggles are somehow deemed more "acceptable". I am done listening to those who think they've got this one all figured out, and are all too eager to voice their "wisdom".

YOU HAVEN'T A CLUE.

I have a son. Who happens to be gay. Who loves the Lord. Despite the hurtful behavior of much of the church. And this mom? I love my son. Completely. Unconditionally. Extravagantly. Gay or straight. I love the man he's become.


~Friend, if you feel the need to leave a comment that could be perceived as hurtful, please consider doing so via private message. Thank you.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

SO, YOU GRADUATED

So, you graduated. As a parent, I see this occasion as my last golden opportunity to impart great words of wisdom. How ridiculous this seems! Intellectually, you are leagues above me.

I guess what I want to say comes more from a place of love and experience. That said, here goes ~

So, you've graduated. That cap and gown can drum up all sorts of emotions, fear being one of them. What's next? How will I do? Will I be happy with my chosen career? What if I'm not? My prayer is that you will recognize this feeling, respect it for what it is (and the fact we all have it!), then look it in the eye and say, I hear you, but I won't let you hold me down! Feelings and emotions are a misunderstood gift from God. Embrace yours, but don't let them rule you.

Jump in! Breathe in all the glorious possibilities this season holds. Drink in this fact ~ you're smart, talented, with so much to offer. Give yourself the gift of seeing life as an adventure.

On a more personal note, my prayer is that you will love and embrace yourself ~ just as you are ~ just as God made you. The more unconditional love you have for yourself, the more you have to extend to others. Cut yourself slack, but at the same time, be the best version of yourself ~ as a gift to God and to the world.

Have fun! Laugh everyday. Laughter really is the best medicine, and is so good for the soul. Find healthy ways to cheer yourself up when you're feeling down.

Put God first. Everything else has a way of falling into place when you do.

Hold onto your dreams. They will serve you in ways you can never imagine. Don't allow someone to belittle or talk you out of them.

Try new things as long as they won't harm you or others.

Be quick to forgive yourself and others. You'll be amazed at the freedom you experience when you do. Know we are all on a journey. None of us has "arrived". Respect your own and other people's. This life is just a road trip to our final destination. Never lose sight of this truth.

Enjoy the ride! But remember, the real treasures are eternal ones.

Love extravagantly. There is no greater form of worship than allowing God to love others through you.

Find balance ~ work, play, solitude, time with friends and family. It's the extremes that can do us in.

Let go of anger. It's so toxic, and it does damage we can't begin to measure.

Give back. The takers of this world have it all wrong. True joy and fulfillment comes with giving...and giving some more.

Be responsible with money. Though you don't want it to rule you, you will find that it does if you aren't careful with it. Remember, it's not about chasing the almighty buck, it's about making the most with what you have in ways that will honor and serve both you and God.

Do kind deeds frequently. The pleasure of lighting another person's day is the best reward. Put people before possessions and projects. Investing in others is like putting money in the eternal bank.

Treat your body like the gift it is. While on this life journey, it's the only place of residence you can occupy. It's also the place where God resides. Take care of it to the best of your ability.

Be prayerful. The fact that we can communicate with our Creator blows the mind. Yet we take it for granted. Don't. Talk and listen. He really is our wonderful Counselor and our closest Companion.

Never stop learning. Whether formal or informal, be a student of life. It will keep your mind sharp and your spirit humble. After all, we can never attain full knowledge. And the more we learn, the more we realize this truth.

Lastly ~ know with every fiber of your being, you have a unique and valuable purpose that only you can fill. Don't let that worry you. God has a way of revealing it one step at a time. As long as you know and believe your worth and the great value He places on you, you will find yourself going places and accomplishing things you never dreamed possible.

It's a long list. I know. So I'll end it with the most important. Love God and love others as you love yourself. Jesus said there is nothing more important. I am confident if you make this your goal, you will be blessed beyond measure, and you will discover that abundant life we all desire.

Always, I love you more than air, and I am so proud of you. You graduated! Let the adventure begin!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

BRESHELLE

We were driving along Highway One. It was one of those picture perfect days on the central coast. Green hillsides laced with wildflowers flanked us on one side. The other was an endless vast ocean of blues and grays.

They sat in the back seat, my son and her, laughing and chatting in their own unique friendship language. The swagger in the country singer's music changed to a slow, melodious love song. Both broke out in laughter ~ youthful glee bursting forth in gut-splitting, can't-breathe euphoria. I remember how she caught her breath and attempted to sing along in animated fashion, as fits of giggles she couldn't repress would catch her mid-phrase. And I remember thinking to myself, "I love their friendship!" And I loved her, this vibrant, amazing girl my son had befriended.

She accompanied us on multiple vacations. We were always happy to have her because she was such a perfect fit for our family. Always agreeable, happy, easy going, kind, respectful, and appreciative.

It wasn't just vacations. Her presence became a regular occasion in our home ~ a welcome breath of sweet, fresh air. How she suited her nickname, Breezy.

This is the girl I remember, the girl I  quickly grew to love.

As her illness settled in, I saw less and less of her. I ran into her one day a year or two ago. We hugged and spoke briefly. I remember looking into her eyes. Though her outer appearance had changed, I could still see the same gentle soul inside. And I thought to myself, "No illness can rob her of the inner loveliness that still resides here."

Her passing was like a kick in the gut, the kind that leaves you panting in agony and wondering if everything will ever be the same. Since I heard of her last breath, always it's the same. There's this vision ~ this glorious, beautiful vision ~ of her. Laughing! Smiling from ear to ear. Running like a child through a vast field of color and light. Throwing her arms up in childlike wonder. Head back, soaking it all in. Healed. Whole. Finally, her truest self. And the fact that she's left this world hurts just a little less.

Too young! Who wouldn't agree? Yet she gave us so much ~ taught us, stretched us ~ made us laugh, smile, weep. You are so very loved, and you will be missed more than you can imagine. But I am confident of this ~ you are there, waiting to see us face to face again. That radiant smile awaits us, and oh, how much fun you will have giving us a heavenly tour!

This I know ~ you won't be forgotten. You see, you left quite a mark on all of our hearts.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

MEMORIES

I look over at my mom occupying the passenger seat as I drive her to the appointment. Her emotions seem tangible, and that frown she's wearing, it makes my heart sink.

"No one bothered to ask me, to ask us, what we thought, and what we wanted," she says in a tone and volume she hasn't used with me in who knows how long.

I try to reassure her. "Mom, I did talk to both of you." But as the words depart from my mouth, they seem empty. Because I know that in her mind, it isn't true. There is nothing I can say except, "You are right, Mom. You should be consulted on these decisions."

Her spunky disposition, that lively spirit I can trace back to my earliest memories, it's still there. And slowly, in the midst of many trials and errors, I am learning. Music ~ songs dating back to her era ~ they seem to soothe her. I reach for a CD and fill the car with melodies from the forties. Instantly, the tension subsides, and I hear her voice chiming the lyrics she sang in her twenties. Her body begins to sway to the beat, hands tapping on her lap. The rest of the ride is a joyful one for mom, reliving memories I know nothing about.

Loving someone through this chapter in life, it's downright painful at times. "You need thicker skin," I hear. It's true. But how to grow thicker skin, yet hold on to the compassion and tenderness, is tricky.

Tomorrow will be more of the same ~ moments, when she's smiling, content. Others when she wrestles with confusion, muddled memories, and the agitation that accompanies both. Her, wanting so desperately to maintain control of her life and her surroundings. Faced with the harsh fact that those years are behind her. And me, trying to figure all this out. Loving her and caring for her in ways that keep her dignity in tact.

Memories flash before me, the years when I was a handful and my mom had her own share of moments when she felt inadequate, wondering if she was doing it right. Still, she did her best and loved me through it all. Does she deserve any less?

Love isn't always easy or pretty.

"Come on, sing along," she prods me with that feisty expression she wears so well. And I join in, grateful for the memories she still holds tightly in her mind, and for the ones we are making here in the car. Side by side, swaying to the music.

Friday, January 16, 2015

PRAYER LIFE

Let's pray freedom-prayers. Bust down the door and set captives free prayers. Because nothing...NOTHING...is impossible with God.

Let's pray healing-prayers. Fully restored, made like new prayers. Because He is our Great Physician and He can do ANYTHING.

Let's pray purpose-prayers. Divine guidance and living your calling prayers. Because He has good plans for ALL of us.

Let's pray salvation-prayers. Open their eyes and soften their hearts prayers. Because He longs to welcome everyone.

Let's pray victory-prayers. Beat down and shut up the enemy prayers. Because He is our victory and we don't have to live in fear.

Let's pray provision-prayers. Give us this day, bless the work of our hands prayers. Because it all belongs to Him anyway, and He is our Good Father.

Let's pray protection-prayers. Covering our minds, bodies and souls prayers. Because He is our only shield in a perilous world.

Let's pray friendship-prayers. The laying down of one's life prayers. Because that's what He did for us.

Let's pray wisdom-prayers. Cry out for discernment, guidance and counsel prayers. Because we only get a distorted view of ourselves and the world around us.

Let's pray unity-prayers. Forgiving, loving and merciful prayers. Because a house divided cannot stand.

Let's pray miraculous-prayers. Jaw dropping, eye popping, how could this be prayers. Because He is still in the miracle business.

Will you pray with me?


"Never stop praying."
~1 Thessalonians 5:17


Copyright 2015 by Julie Cowell.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

PEACE OFFERING

A peace that passes understanding? Yes, that's it. Because I felt anything but peace. I felt attacked. Judged. Misunderstood. Insulted.

And that "peace"? I didn't expect it to wash over me like a tidal wave, drowning out those horrible, toxic feelings. So when it came unexpectedly, all I could do was whisper in wonder, "Thank you, thank you...".

I walked through the day as though I was treading on holy ground. Because, truth? I can't manufacture peace like that on my own. This radical, defying peace...it's not in me to create. It's all part of the GRACE package, a GIFT. What He literally died to give us.

All I did was to go to Him. "These feelings, take them! I'm giving them to you, Lord. I don't want to hold a grudge. I don't want to give anger permission to take up residence here."

"Forgive and leave it with Me." That's the message I got. "Okay Lord, I choose to forgive, and You can have it all. Take it, please take it. Thank you, thank you for being willing to take it away."

That's when it came, that rush of peace. Unexpected grace. Seeping in to the deepest crevices and hidden places, and washing all the toxins away.

The circumstances didn't change. No apologies, no confessions of how injurious and inappropriate the words were.

It doesn't matter. His peace does that. It silences the voices that harp on the injury. It opens the floodgates for grace to flow in. It releases the grip and deflates the power of the person who hurts you. It is freedom, pure and intoxicating liberation.

And I see ~ why on earth would I want to harbor anger, resentment, bitterness? Why would I make the choice to bask in feelings of woundedness? Knowing His peace was there...waiting, beckoning, wooing.

When He offers His peace in exchange for our pain? A peace that passes ALL understanding ~ it's too good to pass up!

"The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
~Philippians 4:7

Forget what hurt you but never forget what it taught you."
~Author Unknown

Copyright 2015 by Julie Cowell.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

RED TABLECLOTHS

We were sorting through mounds of linens, boxes of them piled high. Mom was quick to decide what she wanted to hold on to, and seemed happy to let go of the rest. Two tablecloths caught my eye. I asked mom about them and she encouraged me to take and use them. I set the cloths aside, excited about my new treasures.

Midway through the sorting process, I stepped out of the room to take a phone call. When I returned, one of the tablecloths had been reclaimed by my sister. My first thought was to say something. But I quickly realized, she had no idea I'd asked mom about those particular cloths. Plus, she seemed so pleased at the thought of using them in her own home. "It's just a tablecloth," I told myself. No linen could hold a candle to my sister and the relationship we've shared over the years.

Twice since then, I had fleeting thoughts of the tablecloth while standing in my own kitchen. The red would have been a cheerful addition to our otherwise neutral pallet. "Just a tablecloth!" I reminded myself.

A couple of weeks later I was helping a friend sort through boxes of items she was eliminating from her life. I stumbled on a beautiful quilted red tablecloth, and just the right size. "You should take it and use it," she offered. "It'll look good in your kitchen."

Since then, the tablecloth has spent many days on our kitchen table and on our patio table as well. It's a lovely reminder that if we put people before possessions, little treasures in life have a way of presenting themselves.

I can visualize my mom's red tablecloth on my sister's kitchen table, certain it adds color and life to her home. I'm so glad she is getting to enjoy the cheerful statement it makes, and the fact that it came from our mother. I glance over at my own red cloth, stitched by the hands of my dear friend, and I'm reminded of what matters more.

People over possessions. Every time.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A FRIEND'S LOVE

It was a small sliver of sunlight that woke him. He pulled the blanket up over his head, drowning himself in its protective warmth.

Out of habit, he reached toward her side of the bed. The empty space hit like a punch in the gut.  He inhaled deeply, hoping to catch a trace of her fragrance. There it was, that intoxicating blend of jasmine and another scent he couldn't put a name to. It was her scent.

The sheets soaked up his tears as they flowed freely. Who said men don't cry? He'd cried enough to flood a bath tub the past few days.

"I can't do this, Lord. I don't know how to live without her. Why? Why did you take her?!"

Memories came rushing in at record speed. The initial pain that had landed them in the Emergency Room. The tests. The unthinkable diagnosis. And then...not even a week later...gone.

He grabbed hold of her pillow, ignoring the ring of his cell phone on the bedside table. A brighter, bolder stretch of light forced its way into the room, reminding him it was one more day. One more day without her, another day alone.

The doorbelt chimed in the distance. Once, twice, and a third time. He stared at the wall, willing the sound to stop. The loud and insistent knocking that followed told him someone wasn't going to give up easily. No matter. They'd eventually leave.

"Hey buddy, are you okay?" It was the voice of his best friend.

"What are you doing here?"

"I let myself in. I've been calling and calling, and you're not picking up or returning my calls. I was getting really worried," his friend said as he made his way into the bedroom.

"Just go. I need to be alone."

"I'm sorry, but I can't do that. How about some breakfast? My treat."

The mention of food made him queasy. "No food."

"You've got to eat. Let's take a walk down to the pier and get some coffee. We can talk. Or not. Whatever you like."

"I'm a mess. Haven't showered since...well, you know. Just go."

"I'm not leaving. Shower first if you want. You've got to get up. This isn't good for you."

"Why are you doing this? I'm not good company. Go home."

"Listen, you're my closest friend. I know how badly you're hurting. Because I'm hurting too.  I'm scared for you. She was an amazing woman. The best. The void she left, it's huge. So I'm staying. We're going to walk through this together."

"You have work. And your own life to think about. Go home and be with your wife."

"Not a chance. This is where I belong right now. Come on, get up. I'll make coffee. Then we'll decide what to do...about breakfast...about your life."

"Why are you doing this? I'd rather you leave."

"Not a chance, buddy. It's what friends do. They lay down their lives for each other."

"I don't think I can do this. I don't know how to have a life without her."

"I know, buddy. I know. We'll figure it out together."


"A friend loves at all times."
~Proverbs 17:17

"There's no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends."
John 15:13


Copyright 2015 by Julie Cowell.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

MORE AND LESS

More purposeful, intentional living ~ less going through the motions.

More "What is the good in this day and what good can I bring it?" ~ less "What can I take from it and what is lacking and wrong?"

More prayerful response in my relationships ~ less knee-jerk reactions.

More thanksgiving ~ less complaining.

More interceding ~ less judging.

More reaching out ~ less pulling away.

More order and planning ~ less last minute chaos and stress.

More frugality ~ less spending.

More trusting and believing ~ less worrying.

More grace for myself and others ~ less impatience.

More hope ~ less giving in to discouragement.

More focus on TRUTH ~ less leeway for the enemy to harass me with "facts".

More worship ~ less focus on self.

More beauty from ashes ~ less "pit" mentality.

More focusing on the positive ~ less being weighed down with negative messages.

More faith ~ less fear.

More tackling the hard stuff ~ less looking for the easier path.

More courage and stepping out of my comfort zone ~ less playing it safe and allowing anxiety to dictate my life.

More creative endeavors ~ less stale activities and idleness.

More honest, open communication ~ less passive-agressiveness and stewing.

More follow through on acts of kindness ~ less missed opportunities.

More or less ~ the choice is ours to make.

"You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule."
~Matthew 5:3, The Message


Copyright 2015 by Julie Cowell.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

DON'T WORRY!

This retraining of the mind, it's hard. And when circumstances create even more resistance, it feels downright impossible.

"Don't Worry." I chant these two simple words in my mind over and over. But the words, they seem to float around in my thoughts like a thin mist, then evaporate.  As though the worries in the moment are too big and powerful to be brought down by just two words.

Until I open to Matthew chapter six. And there it is, clear as day. Don't worry ~ about your life, what to eat, what to wear, or what tomorrow will bring. "Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" That's Jesus talking! And I want to do more than just listen up. I want to live these two words ~ DON'T WORRY ~ in my daily round.

It hit me once more as I happened on Luke chapter ten as part of my daily reading. And though the name MARTHA is written on the page, it's my own name I hear as I continue in the passage. "You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better..."

I sit at our kitchen table gazing out the window at birds nestled on our feeder, delighting in a meal they didn't worry about preparing. "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?"

I've tried, Lord. I have tried to lay down my habit of worrying. Why is this so hard?

"You are worried and upset about many things." My mind recalls my list, a mile long and ever growing. People, problems, puzzling circumstances ~ all coming together to drive me to that pointless place of worry.

Lord, I'm tired! Then I see it, that one word missing from this mounting list. TRUST. How short I fall in trusting You, even though You have proven Yourself to be faithful time after blessed time.

"Only one thing is needed." One thing. My One constant. If I look at everyone and everything on my worry list with HIS name stamped across it, I can learn the better way. TRUST. Let it go. "Seek first His kingdom, and all these things..." All of them, He's already got covered.

Lord, I see! But how do I change this old way of living? I've spent a lifetime dancing to the rhythm of worry. "Mary has chosen what is better..." I see, Lord. It comes down to a choice. Daily. Hourly. Moment by moment.

The car in the driveway needing repair and bills piling high, they are no match to God our Provider. Loved ones walking difficult paths right now, all are safely cupped inside the hand of our Protector and Guide. Daily uncertainties and seasons of transitions, they are no surprise to Him who goes before us.

I breathe it in ~ TRUST, choosing what is better. I exhale ~ worry, stress, and doubt ~ toxic pollutants to the soul I was never meant to embrace. Inhale trust, exhale worry. A new rhythm, a new way of life. A choice.

"Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?"
~Matthew 6:25-27

"As Jesus and His disciples were on their way, He came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to Him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what He said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to Him and asked, 'Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!' 'Martha, Martha,' the Lord answered, 'you are worried and upset about many things, but few are needed -- or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.'"
~Luke 10:38-42


Copyright 2015 by Julie Cowell.

Friday, January 2, 2015

I AM RICH!

I felt poor. I know, in comparison to most of the world, I'm rich. But how I felt? Poor. Lacking. Deprived.

I hated feeling this way. I spent much of the day pondering ways I could generate income. Surely there was a job out there, one I would love that would provide a steady cash flow to wipe away the sense of lack I felt. The day ended in utter frustration and no direction towards employment.

Then it hit me. I have a roof over my head. And a cozy "nest" to  live in. I have a closet of clothes, and ample food in the cupboards. I am blessed with good health to enjoy life.

And people! I have a loving husband, such a good man. I have grown children and grandchildren who fill my heart to overflowing.  My husband and I still have parents, and mine live only feet away from our door. I am blessed with some of the dearest friends a girl could want. And there's our faithful dog, my sweet companion during the day.

I have purpose. I have dreams. I have interests I am passionate about. The list seemed endless.

Yet there remained this sense of lack. I still felt poor, less than, because our bank account wasn't what I thought it should be.

Then I realized. I have the fullness of God to whatever measure I desire. I can be as filled with Him as I desire. There is NO limit to His presence, His power, and His purpose and plans except what I put on them. If I can be completely filled, completely known by GOD, I realize. I AM RICH. Beyond measure. No amount of money can hold a candle to such wealth.

Walking closer to Him, my feelings of lack prove false. I am rich!

God's economy, it adds up to wealth that lasts forever. I can have Him to the fullest measure I desire. Rich beyond my wildest dreams.

I no longer feel so poor.

"I ASK THAT YOU'LL KNOW THE LOVE OF CHRIST THAT IS BEYOND KNOWLEDGE SO THAT YOU WILL BE FILLED ENTIRELY WITH THE FULLNESS OF GOD."
~Ephesians 3:19

"YOU ARE FAMILIAR WITH THE GENEROSITY OF OUR MASTER, JESUS CHRIST.  RICH AS HE WAS, HE GAVE IT ALL AWAY FOR US -- IN ONE STROKE HE BECAME POOR AND WE BECAME RICH."
~2 Corinthians 8:9, The Message


Copyright 2015 by Julie Cowell.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

RUNNING ON EMPTY

"THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD;
I HAVE EVERYTHING I NEED.
HE LETS ME REST IN FIELDS OF GREEN GRASS
AND LEADS ME TO QUIET POOLS OF FRESH WATER.
HE GIVES ME NEW STRENGTH.
HE GUIDES ME IN THE RIGHT PATHS,
AS HE HAS PROMISED."
 ~Psalms 23:1-3

Christmas morning wasn't like other Christmases. I sat in the peaceful desert terrain, no big meal to create. No stack of gifts to pass out. The snow-capped mountain range down the road from where they live looked like a Christmas card sent straight from heaven for us to enjoy. Breathing in the crisp morning air, I stared at those mountains, and thought about the gifts God has poured into my life. Too many to count. But so often overlooked.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you," I silently chanted over and over as gift after gift came to mind.  Prayers muttered in utter desperation...answered. Needs met. Hopes replenished. Lessons in abundance doing a radical work on my mind, my heart, my spirit. "Thank you!" I couldn't stop whispering those two words.

The silence, it felt like cool water refreshing a parched and weary body and soul. No chores to tend to, no calls to make. No appointments to hurry off to. Just this vast morning of quiet and stillness, filling me up with what I needed most.

Running on empty...it's a dangerous trend. Push push push to get it all done. Rush here, rush there, and all the while, feeling as though I am on a treadmill, trying to do a juggling act. Going absolutely nowhere.

Activities, errands, and appointments can be cruel dictators if we let them. And I realize, one of the best resolutions I can make this New Year is to stop...pause...rest...get refueled.  Not once or twice a year, but on a regular basis. I need to give myself consistent time to get replenished and renewed.

Because running on empty...it gets us nowhere.

"Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest."
~Matthew 11:28

"Jesus said, 'Let's go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.'"
~Mark 6:31


Copyright 2015 by Julie Cowell.