On a recent trip to the National Zoo, we had a great time watching this meerkat. The other meerkats in the habitat were rolling in the dirt, playing, and digging, but this one climbed up on the highest rock in the enclosure and stood very still and just looked, systematically, in every possible direction. The educational plaque hanging on the wall nearby explained that this behavior is common for meerkats. Since they are such tiny creatures and generally walk on all-fours, meerkats will frequently pull themselves up on their hind legs to get a better, higher view of their surroundings and search for predators.
This week on my commute to work, I've been reading in Genesis about the life of Joseph. You remember Joseph - the coat of many colors, being sold into slavery by his brothers, being bought by the Captain of the Guard in Egypt, ending up in prison (unjustly), interpreting dreams beyond his own capability, being restored and elevated to the position of second in command to the pharaoh, saving his family from the effects of a severe famine, being reunited with his father who thought he was dead. AMAZING LIFE STORY to be sure. The thing that struck me this week as I read through the account of the life of Joseph again was that He was always experiencing God's favor, regardless of his circumstances:
1. His brothers threw him in a pit, but didn't kill him.
2. He was sold into slavery, but everything he did prospered and he was not treated like a slave in the home of Potiphar.
3. He was put into prison unjustly, but again everything he did there prospered and he was given responsibility and meaningful work even in prison.
4. He was offered a high position in the government of the pharaoh which he did not seek out.
5. Everything he did in Egypt prospered and his work there resulted in saving a nation from a devastating famine and in restoring his family to him.
As I read and reflected on Joseph's life, I was reminded that we cannot gauge whether or not we are living out God's will for our lives based on our circumstances. After all, Joseph was rejected by his brothers. a slave, and a prisoner, all while being right where God wanted him to be. A better gauge of living out God's will, it seems, is His favor. God's favor plays out in the smallest of ways and on the grandest of scales, but is of equal value regardless of the way it is displayed. Sometimes we have to be like that meerkat, and rise above our own limited perspective and try to catch a glimpse of what is really going on in the midst of our suffering. If we don't, we are destined to be enslaved to our current circumstances and our limited interpretations of them.
This is more than looking for a "silver-lining." This is about remaining faith-filled in our attitudes and faithful in our actions regardless of our situation. Refusing to despair when we know we are on the path God wants for us. Submitting to the route that He has deemed best and looking for evidences of His favor along the way to keep us going. When we are in the pit (rejected by those who are supposed to love us and protect us), in slavery (stuck in a difficult situation without any control over it), or imprisoned unjustly (falsely accused and punished without cause) - may we rise up to our full height (in his mercy and grace) and look for evidences of favor smack dab in the middle of the pain and difficulty. If they are there, then we have cause to rejoice in the midst of the mess and hold on for the deliverance that will surely come. If they are absent, we have cause to repent and wait for the restoration that God has promised never to withhold from His children.
Psalm 121:1-2 (NIV)
"I lift up my eyes to the mountains-- where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth."
Psalm 30:5 (NIV)
"For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning."
I've decided life is really about sifting.
Perhaps I should clarify. In 2013 in the United States, I would venture to guess that most households do not own a sifter and most youngsters today have likely never even seen one. There are many different types of sifters for many different purposes, but the one I'm most familiar with is a flour sifter. Hang with me here... I think it will be worth it in the end... Kitchensavvy.com tells us that, "In earlier days, sifting flour served several purposes. When flour was milled using stone wheels, as opposed to modern steel rollers, sifting removed bits of the millstone and other impurities that might be found in the flour. Sifting also breaks up clumps, adds air to the flour which helps produce lighter cakes and pastries, and makes measurement more uniform."So why do I think life is really all about sifting? Well, I've seen people who've been through horrible, nightmarish things in life who still live healthy, happy, fulfilled, purposeful lives and I've seen others who've been completely sidelined by the most minor offense.
The bottom line is that what we hold onto and what we let slip away, for better or for worse, really does define our human experience.
So how do we sift what life hands us? We can't hold onto everything we experience in life, so how do we decide what to hold onto and what to release? Here are two questions to ask about the stuff in our lives we are holding onto to determine whether it should survive a good sifting:1. Is it pure?
In the description of the flour sifter, we learned that one reason for sifting is to remove impurities. Is what you are holding onto pure? Is it True? Is it producing purity and truth in you?
If yes, then hold on to it. If not, let it go. 2. Is it adding lasting value?
A flour sifter incorporates air into the flour which makes the resulting baked goods light and fluffy. Is what you are holding onto adding value to your life that will produce something even better in the long run?
If yes, then hold on to it. If not, let it go.
So, what sorts of things need to be sifted...
- memories (more specifically, the way we interpret memories)
- relationships (careful here, grace is always the first resort)
- recurring thoughts
- possessions (or our attachment to them)
If the flour sifter example is any indicator, things get clumpy the longer they sit. Why not run the stagnant, clumpy parts of your life through the sifter and see what happens...
chances are there are some things that you've held on to that need to be broken up (reevaluated), filled with air (reinvigorated or reframed), and thoroughly filtered (keeping the good and releasing the impure and untruthful).Hosea 10:12
"Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you." ESV
The video below is a PERFECT example of a life that has been well sifted.
This is Luke McMaster. He is a multiplatinum song-writer who recently launched a solo career with a billboard hit song - "Good Morning Beautiful." About a month ago, just before Christmas, a friend of mine from childhood was facing a heart surgery for her 3 year old daughter, Elouise. Prior to her surgery, Elouise's grandma introduced her to "Good Morning Beautiful" and it became her favorite song. They tweeted Luke McMaster (a stranger to them) a picture of Elouise listening to the song before going into surgery. He promised to record a special version just for her.
The thing is, he actually did it.
He chose to be delightful.
He didn't have to. Elouise came through her surgery beautifully and would have lived a happy life without a personalized version of a billboard hit song. But he did it anyway. This isn't the first story or video to inspire this kind of attitude that I've come across lately: Jon Acuff wrote this blog post called Choose To Be Delightful
about his experience at Trader Joe's, and if you haven't been watching the Kid President videos
... well then you are missing out big time!
I guess the theme is, Why NOT be delightful?! It only takes a few extra moments of your time and makes a HUGE difference in the world around you.
P.S. You can get Luke McMaster's debut album, "All Roads," on iTunes or Amazon. (not a paid endorsement, I just think it is great to support artists who take the time to be delightful
My day started off with a problem yesterday. Don't you just love it when that happens? Yeah, me neither.
Our family car has been on its last legs for awhile and its latest malfunction finally forced me to call a mechanic yesterday morning. The key has been getting stuck in the ignition for quite some time (this is the original problem
), but we've always been able to eventually get it out, but lately getting it out hasn't been quite so easy. In fact, Monday night I couldn't get it to come out at all
, so "Old Yeller" sat outside with the key in the ignition all night. The next morning when I went out to start-er-up, the battery was dead as a door nail. That was the first problem
of the day. My son needed to get to school and the bus had already come by our house. That was problem number two
. I called a dear friend and neighbor and she came over at once to take Tim to school for me (problem two solved
). Then she came back with jumper cables and a can-do attitude. Only issue was - we couldn't get the hood latch to release on my car. You got it, problem numero three
. She called her husband and he walked us through the process and before we knew it problem three was history
and the hood was open! We got the car started in no time flat - and when I say WE, I mean SHE - (problem one alleviated
) and she left to begin her day. Problem four
reared its ugly head when I realized that I had less than an eighth of a tank of gas and I couldn't leave the car idling for very long to get the battery fully charged. I attached a battery charger to it and hoped for the best. The best was not in the cards and the car refused to start when I needed to take it to a mechanic (Problem #5 - which is basically a do-over of problem #1
). I called another good friend who came over with jumper cables and a "can you really do this?
" attitude. I assured her I was capable (I had after all just watched friend #1 jump-start the car and had quickly watched a youtube video on how to go about it right before she showed up. I was practically a pro!). Thankfully I got the car started without anything blowing up (problem five solved
) and my friend followed me to the mechanic's shop, because she's cool like that.
To continue making a long story longer - here is what happened after that:
So, what is the moral of this story? Take your pick:
- The mechanic showed me in less than five minutes how to get the key out without fail every time it gets stuck (original problem solved), and didn't charge me a nickel.
- Another friend pulled in to the mechanic's shop as we were wrapping up explaining that every time he turned on his windshield wipers, his horn would honk, and vice versa. Laughter ensued.
- My friend followed me to the gas station so I could fill up and she could be on hand in case the car wouldn't start up again (problem 4 alleviated).
- I drove home and thanked God that I am OBVIOUSLY, His favorite. No seriously, if you haven't heard - that is the word on the street.
1. It is good to have friends. It is VERY good
to have friends.
2. Problems aren't always solved in the same order in which they arise. Tackle one thing at a time, but don't get hung up
on the way
it all comes together.
3. Sometimes your problems might make other people laugh - go with it, we could all use a good laugh. Getting bent out of shape only robs you of your own shot at joy in the middle of junk
. (Shout-out to the windshield-wiper-horn-blowing friend, I do hope everything worked out!)
4. Don't assume the worst when a problem arises - you aren't God and you have no idea where your "stuck key" will lead you today
, perhaps at the end of the day you'll still have a key that sticks, but you could also have a way to deal with it, a comforting knowledge of how far your friends are willing to go to help you, and a small glimpse at how much God truly loves you.
If I had gone to the Cheesecake Factory today by myself, I never would have tasted these. These are Avocado Eggrolls and they are DELICIOUS. I never would have ordered them on my own though. Never. I have my standard order and I don't vary from it much. I have my Cheesecake Factory favorite and I stick with it.
But today, I went with my husband, my son, my mother-in-law (Sandy), and my father-in-law (Jim). Jim and Sandy like to go to the Cheesecake Factory near their home sometimes and just order appetizers and drinks. Having tried several appetizers, they now know what they like best, so they ordered the avocado eggrolls and some calamari for us all to enjoy before our entrees, and I am so glad they did! I enjoyed every bite.
So this got me thinking... We really are better together, folks. We weren't meant to walk through life alone - picking out our favorites (places, food, books, movies, jobs, stores, bible verses, activities, etc.) and sticking with them. We were meant to walk through life together, to rub shoulders with many different people and experience their favorites along with our own; opening our senses to the world as THEY perceive it. We won't always love the world as others show it to us. Sometimes we won't be able to relate at all, but even if we don't share their view we will have a clearer, broader perspective when all is said and done.
Once during my childhood my grandparents traveled from Florida to visit my family in Arizona. We were so excited to take them to see the Grand Canyon! We couldn't wait to show off the beautiful scenery and watch them take their first breathtaking glimpse of God's creative power on display. I will never forget them getting out of the car taking a look over the edge and NOT BEING IMPRESSED AT ALL. It was just a big hole in the ground to them. For a long time this frustrated me. I just couldn't understand it. I even blamed them for not having a stronger reaction, but at the end of the day: they saw it. Whether it moved them or not, they saw it. They had that experience in their back pocket for the rest of their days and no one could take it from them. For me the Grand Canyon was a place where God was to be worshiped and where my imagination ran wild. For my grandparents the Grand Canyon was a place that made them glad they lived in Florida where there are lush green trees and warm, sandy beaches and not in Arizona where deserts are beautiful, but harsh and desolate too.
Regardless of whether our time spent with others trying new things, exploring THEIR favorites, shows us what we have in common or brings into stark contrast our differences, it is time well spent.
So my question today is, when was the last time you sampled someone else's favorite anything? When was the last time you stepped out of your routine and asked someone to show you a piece of the world through their eyes? A new sight, a new taste, a new perspective/opinion, a new hobby, a new labor, a new way of doing something you've always done?
You never know... it might just be a hole in the ground, but it could be THE GRAND CANYON! It's worth a shot.
"Your consistency makes us feel safe around you."
As part of my job as an executive assistant, I was asked to read this book and take the online strengths assessment that goes along with it. At the end of the process you end up with two areas of your greatest strength, a report that helps you understand how to use those strengths better at work, and a phrase that describes you. The phrase at the top of this post is mine. I've been batting it around in my head ever since. Is it true? I hope so. I want people to feel safe with me. I have seen this play out in a variety of ways throughout my life - being able to befriend people fairly easily when we have moved so many times, welcoming foster children into our home and helping them to quickly feel safe and at ease, gaining the trust of those who employ me. I guess I've always taken for granted these simple things, but I've never viewed them as what makes me different or unique.
The book describes your strengths as "those things that make you feel strongest", NOT as "what you are good at." The author makes a distinction by stating that just because you are good at something doesn't mean you gain strength from doing it. There are countless novels and movies based around this very idea... you can picture them now. The parent who pressures the child to excel in a sport or theatrical or musical endeavor because it is obvious the child is good at it, only to have the child rebel when she is old enough to say no because, while she is an amazing ballet dancer, she does not derive strength and joy from dancing... what she really gets jazzed about is Paleontology, or Nursing, or "fill in the blank." The Wall Street executive who walks away from a lucrative career to become a chef or appear on American Idol. We eat these stories up! Perhaps because we can relate on some level.
Do you ever feel like you've made choices in life that have led you to the place you are now because you've always just done what you've been good at, regardless of whether or not it played to your true inner strengths? That is the question this book asks and it is a good one to consider.
An even better question to ask? Have you submitted everything you are to the God who made you that way to be used for His glory in the world? It is one thing to know how you are wired; it is another to know the One who wired you that way and pursue that which He gives you to do on a daily basis.
I submit to you that while "playing to your strengths" may make you feel strong and energized, that will only last as long as you are playing to an "audience of One." God is the one who can renew our strength day-by-day even when all strength is gone. I'm so thankful to know that this is true and to have experienced that truth in my life. No matter where I am or what I am doing, my strength can be renewed and I can "feel strong," if I am following God and relying on Him.
1 Chronicles 16:11 NASB - "Seek the Lord and His strength. Seek His face continually."
Philippians 4:13 NLT - "For I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength"
Tonight we had the blessing of sitting on a panel for a young adult small group at our church discussing the topic of marriage. There were three couples on the panel - one couple had been married for 52 years, another couple had been married for 22 years and Jason and I were the youngest having been married for 14 years. A combined total of 88 years of experience at this thing called: "til death do us part." I enjoyed participating and I really enjoyed hearing the responses from the other panelists to the great questions the young adults had come up with for us to answer. Questions like, "How do you establish good communication?" "How do you turn your heart back to your spouse when you feel distant?" "How do you maintain joy in your relationship?" Good stuff! One response in particular from the most veteran of the couples really made me think. When asked about red flags in dating, they responded that things were different when they were younger. You didn't have all the resources or even think to have certain discussions while you were dating... "You just got married!" "It's funny," he said. "We didn't have half of what you have today to guide you, but the divorce rate today is so much greater than it was when we were young."
It is so wonderful to have the perspective of an older generation - things WERE different then. Things ARE different now. We will not learn from our elders and their unique perspective unless they show up to the table when these discussions are had, and they won't show up unless we invite them.
"The greatest asset a church can have is mature saints. We shouldn't alienate ourselves from these dear people. They have grown in their knowledge of God and in His likeness and have learned things that only experience can teach. On the other hand, the greatest liability a church can have are saints who got old and didn't mature. All they want to do is censor and control. They are no more loving, kind or patient now than they were 20 years ago." - The Common Made Holy by Neil T. Anderson
This is one of the great challenges of the Christian life: To remain teachable throughout our lifespan and to be willing to teach as well. We do not have the luxury of remaining stuck in our own generational rut, declaring our way to be the only way. We must expose ourselves to those who have grown up or who are growing up in a different culture and context from our own. True unity and true growth depend on our refusal to settle for ignorance when it comes to the ways of those older/younger than us.
When was the last time you purposely sat across the table from someone from a different generation as yours, either to humbly teach or to humbly be taught? When was the last time you read a book about the nuances of a different generation in an effort to better understand? (Such as: The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw, or Generation iY by Tim Elmore, or You Lost Me by David Kinnaman) When did you last go out of your way to seek someone out from a different generation to ask advice on a specific topic or just to hear their story?
Proverbs 3:13-18 (NIV)
Blessed are those who find wisdom,
those who gain understanding,
for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.
She is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are pleasant ways,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
those who hold her fast will be blessed.
May we never stop learning and growing. May we never stop seeing the value in those older or the promise in those younger. May we learn to spur one another on toward love and good deeds and refuse to let walls of ignorance be built between generations.
Qualifier: I am not currently particularly hormonal... let me just say that up front. I just finished watching episode 9 of season 3 of Fox's cooking competition, MasterChef and I can honestly say I teared up at the end like I was watching a Hallmark tear-jerker. "Seriously?" You might say. "You cried watching a Gordon Ramsay show?" Yes. Yes I did.
This episode was the last episode before the finale and in it the three finalists would be narrowed down to the final two who would compete for the title. Becky, who had been a major front-runner throughout the competition ended up falling short (having to cook frog's legs, no less). She was completely devastated. That in and of itself might have made someone get misty-eyed, but that is not what made me cry. Once the final two were announced and Becky was left as the odd man out, Gordon Ramsay asked her what would come next for her. Feebly she answered that she would go home and see if she could find a restaurant kitchen to sneak into and work for awhile. Here is how he responded:
"I've got a few restaurants. Trust me, each one of those doors are open, whether it is in the center of Europe, Paris, New York, I don't care; the door is open. Any time you wish. You have a gift."
Okay. That's where I lost it. So did she. Gordon Ramsay has worked very hard over many years to get to a place where he can now, not just give others a leg up or a helping hand, but catapult them into the stuff dreams are made of. He put in the blood, sweat and tears to realize the dream and now he can "open the doors" of that realized dream for others to enjoy and benefit from. That is a beautiful picture to me. That is why I strive to do things with excellence and why I am disappointed in myself when I fall short, because it isn't just about me! The more I learn and grow, the more I have to offer the world around me.
When my friend Katie and I started a children's drama and choir troupe in a church in a small town in rural California many years ago, it wasn't to make a name for ourselves... that is laughable to even consider. We wanted to serve our church. We could have just gotten kids together and sung a few songs and taught them about music and it would have served a purpose, but instead, we both felt compelled to offer the children and the church the very best we could, with God's blessing and strength and grace along the way. In the end, I look back on those years with such joy. Because of that commitment and God's favor, we were able to offer the church, the children and parents, and the community an experience they wouldn't have had otherwise, one that the children in particular (who are all grown-up now) will be able to carry with them for the rest of their lives. We did full fledged musicals with 2nd through 6th graders! There were dance routines, competitive auditions, full sets, choreographic elements, costumes, and high expectations for memorization and performance. We taught them that "they had a gift" and then we gave them a chance to put that gift to use in a wonderful way.
Do you know who was most blessed during that MasterChef episode? Gordon Ramsay. No matter how blessed Becky felt, her joy couldn't have possibly paralleled Gordon's. Do you know who was most blessed at the end of each and every children's musical? Katie and I, no doubt about it.
What a privilege it is to work hard and in gratitude offer up what God has allowed us to attain to the building up of others. What are you working hard for right now? What possible ways can you imagine that God could use the fruit of your labors to bless others?
Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)
"Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think."
As my husband has made the transition from life as a teacher to life as a minister these past several years, I have been going through a transition as well. I can look back over the years and identify seasons of my life where I have known very clearly what God was asking of me (the year he asked me to learn submission was a doozy). In this current season, the lesson is about NOT HOLDING BACK. One by one, God has been peeling back layers of my own selfishness and showing me how I have been choosing to withhold good things from those around me. It isn't pretty. Some of the things are small, but could have great impact - a smile, a hug, a word of encouragement; other things are more involved - my time, my energy, my vulnerability, my love.
As we made the drive recently from PA to OH, Timmy and Jason were in the moving truck and I was in our car by myself with time to think. I realized that God was indeed asking me to consider what life, what ministry, would be like if I stopped holding back and gave all, trusting Him to replenish me and use my efforts as He sees fit - refusing to make judgement calls about whether something or someone was "worth" my offering or whether or not "my offering" was worthy of the someone or something. Immediately, the lyrics to this song (by Ray Boltz) came into my head for the first time in many years:
He heard the preacher say
A single dime can feed
A hungry boy or girl
With nothing to eat
So he pulled a dollar
From the pocket of his jeans
And he asked his mama
How many will this feed?
She just smiled
And when she told him ten
He reached back again
What if I give all I have?
What will that gift do?
My child, a gift like that
Could change the world
It could feed a multitude
He didn't close his eyes
Or turn away
I can see him standing tall
He saw the need
And I can hear him say
What if I give all
The song goes on to recount the stories of both the young boy in the Bible who gave his lunch (fish and bread) to Jesus who used it to feed THOUSANDS, and to Jesus himself who gave everything He had to save the world from sin.
What if I gave all? What if I stopped acting like I belong to myself and started acting like my God was big enough to meet my physical, spiritual and emotional needs in such an overwhelming way that I was freed up to give liberally of myself, KNOWING I wouldn't be left depleted for long? What would that gift do? It is time to find out. This move to Ohio may not have turned out the way I expected it to, but it doesn't give me an excuse to withdraw and hold tightly to what is "mine." If anything it compels me to submit to the only One who is never taken by surprise, the only One who holds the future. The God of the Universe whose resources are without end and whose love is unfailing.
2 Corinthians 9:10-11 NASB - "Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God."
Romans 12:1 NASB - "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship."
We are up to our ears with packing tape, boxes, bubble wrap and sharpie markers at the moment. As we prepare to move to Ohio in 5 days, our house looks the part. Today as I was packing up my kitchen, I gave myself some excellent advice... I'm not the only one who does that right? Internal monologues are kind of a specialty of mine.
Any way, as I was individually wrapping and packing up several glass vases, I thought to myself, "I should label this box as one not to unpack." You see, we are hoping to eventually buy a house in our new city, which would mean we will eventually have to pack everything back up again from the rental home we are moving into and move it all. Again. So as I was packing up all of my vases, I had this "genius" thought that I'd save myself the trouble of unpacking and repacking that particular box. Vases, I thought, are non-essential items. If we just unpack the essentials, there will be less to repack when we do buy a house. Pretty smart, I know.
Here's the deal though. My internal monologue turned into an internal dialogue and another voice rose up inside me to fight back against the pragmatist. This voice said, "Don't you dare leave those vases packed! Why in the world would your husband bring you flowers if you don't have anything to put them in?! Don't you want flowers?!" Oh, I do! I do want flowers! Fresh flowers are something I've had far too few of in my home over the years.
That thought led me to another simple and obvious thought - How many times do I miss out on blessings in my life because I don't want to put in a little extra effort? Unpacking and repacking the box of vases and finding somewhere to put them in the rental house will take a few minutes of time and energy, but seeing fresh flowers on my kitchen table over the next year will bring many days worth of pleasure.
As I pondered that, another less simple, and less obvious thought dawned on me. How many blessings has God been prepared to give me, that I have inadvertently failed to receive because I had safely packed away the very vessel I would need to hold them? How many friendships has He been willing to prosper in my life that I refused to pursue because I kept my time safely packed away? How many times has He been willing to bless my generosity only to have me keep my money safely packed away when I could have given it freely? How many times has He had a Word to speak into my heart and mind that would have brought encouragement and growth, but I kept my Bible safely packed away on a shelf?
You better believe that when we start unpacking boxes at our new home in Ohio in a few days, I'm going to unpack those vases! More than that though, I pray that God will help me to remember that He has a plan to bring beautiful things into my life as well as my home, and that I need to be ready to receive those as well.
Don't leave your vases packed! Lesson learned.