Today three delightful, hard-working ladies from the moving company are here packing up everything that we own. They have gone about their work pleasantly and with a sense of pride. While they were busy packing-away, a dear friend stopped by to chat and we stepped into one of the rooms that they were not working in for a lovely hour or so to catch up without getting in their way. When I bid my friend farewell, I walked through each room that they had completed and sighed... "This is real!" I thought. I joked with them that I guess there was no going back now and one of them insisted, "Nope, you are moving!"
I went upstairs to, ahem, use the facilities, and only after I'd committed to that act did I realize - THEY HAD PACKED THE TOILET PAPER. Wow. Talk about total commitment to the job. "You ARE moving!" Well, no kidding. We sure can't stay here without toilet paper!
As I reflect on that moment of shocking realization that the T.P. was in a box somewhere and not on the roll, I'm now laughing at myself... how often do I get ahead of myself in life... planning for what is coming a few steps down the road and inadvertently missing what is obviously important in the here and now? Answer: Too often.
Life lesson for the day - Don't neglect the needs of today while planning for the future... or if you prefer: pack the toilet paper last for Pete's sake!
"You are capable, competent, creative, careful. Prove it."
That was the fortune hidden inside my cookie on Friday night at the local Chinese restaurant. I had to laugh. I once heard my Dad jokingly say that my first words were, "Prove it!" I'm naturally a questioner and an analyzer. A truth-seeker. I want things to make sense and to be backed up by logic and facts (life of the party, I know). On the other side of that coin, if something can't be proven, I often have little time for it. I'm not a big fan of philosophical discussions or "what ifs" (much to the chagrin of my visionary, possibility thinking husband). This fortune, turned the magnifying glass back at me though. If I am who I think I am, then I should prove it, right?! It should be backed up by predictable actions and decisions that become "facts" about me and my character.
It is such a blessing to have people in our lives who do what this fortune cookie did for me... remind us of who we are and challenge us to live it out. It is even better to have His Word written on our hearts reminding us of who God says we are and how He's already proven it!
2 Corinthians 5:17 - "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed way. Behold, the new has come!" ESV
Galatians 5:1 - "For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." ESV
Ephesians 5:8 - "For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light." ESV
The reality is, I don't have to prove anything to anyone, and no one has anything to prove to me. God has proven what is ultimately true. It is now up to us to walk in that truth. Daily.
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
He walked in the door on Monday afternoon, fresh from a ride home on the school bus, dropped his things on the floor and started into his rant before he even had his jacket off... "They're on to me, Mom!" Well, that sure got my attention. He proceeded to tell us a story about a missing Agenda (aka: important middle school notebook that is a required tool for keeping track of assignments and info from teachers). The tale was lengthy and harrowing and passionately delivered and at its conclusion Tim stated emphatically that he was 99% certain it was not missing at all, but rather had been STOLEN. He then seemed perplexed that his father and I were not in a total state of outrage over this shocking revelation.
Meanwhile, Jason and I were trying to figure out what in the world he meant by the statement, "They're on to me." Jason was the first to sort through it. "Son, I think what you meant to say is that 'They have it out for you,' or 'They're out to get you.'" "Oh," he said. We went on to talk about how middle school is middle school and no one escapes unscathed, and how it also isn't wise to make accusations or get emotionally caught up in things that you can't control, but the real lesson that came out of that moment was, BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU SAY TO MOM AND DAD - THEY WILL USE IT TO MOCK YOU MERCILESSLY FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. Ever since Monday, "They're on to me," has become Jason and I's mantra. We use it frequently and with great delight on any given occasion, much to Timmy's chagrin. Give it a try sometime, it's fun! :)
On a serious note: The comparison of the two phrases is a great lesson for all of us. Are we tempted to assume the world is out to get us when things go wrong? Are we hiding anything that would cause us to be devastated to find out if someone was, in fact, on to us? Neither of these is any way to live! Honesty, integrity and perspective! May we all have them in abundance and strive to keep them all the days of our lives.
P.S. The agenda was located the next morning. All is well.
Yesterday my son went with his youth group to volunteer with Target:Dayton
. They served a meal to the people who came in need of one. Some were homeless, others barely getting by. Timmy was in charge of the coffee.
As we drove home, after the bus dropped him back off at our local church, I asked him about his experience. These are the 3 simple things he shared with me and the profound lessons I learned from him:1. Tim's quote:
"Not everyone there "looked" homeless
." Mom's lesson:
Not everyone I meet today who could use my help or encouragement will "look" like they need it. That doesn't mean I should withhold it. Target:Dayton provides their services indiscriminately and lets each individual decide whether or not they need them and want to receive them. I should be so generous with my time, resources and attention.2. Tim's quote:
"I didn't know there were so many people in Dayton that were homeless. There were so many of them
." Mom's lesson
: The need in the world is greater than I realize or have ever actually seen with my own eyes. If I saw it all at once, it would likely overwhelm me and paralyze me. The need is great. I would be wise not to forget that.3. Tim's quote:
"There was a lady who worked there who came up to me and told me I was doing a good job
." Mom's lesson:
It helps to know when we are on the right track. Serving others isn't easy and when I see someone doing it well, I should tell them so. We all secretly wonder whether what we are doing is making a difference and whether we are "doing it right." Words of encouragement are precious gifts that keep the givers giving.One bonus lesson I learned:
The first time our children (or any one else for that matter) experience something, we need to pay attention to their reactions and descriptions. When we have "been there and done that
," we forget the power of a first experience and the unique perspective that comes with it.
"When it is most difficult to worship God is when it is most important to worship God." ~Mandisa
On Tuesday, January 15th, I tuned in online to watch "A Night of Hope and Healing." I was not disappointed. Not only was I not disappointed, I was inspired and thrilled to my core at the display of the love of Christ that was taking place. The event won't get any national media attention, but I can't let it go by without talking about it here. It was profound to me.
The event was billed as "a free event designed to bring comfort to the community (surrounding Newtown, CT) through music, prayer, and uplifting messages." The lineup of talented servants was impressive: Louie Giglio, Max Lucado, Steven & Mary Beth Chapman, Mandisa, TobyMac, Building 429, Laura Story and Casting Crowns. Lest you think, the ulterior motive of this event was to make money - It was a FREE event, and 10,000 tickets were distributed to the Sandy Hook victims' families and community members affected by the recent school shooting. I can't even begin to fathom what putting on this event cost. To say it was an extravagant gift to total strangers, is an understatement. Here is a taste of what the event included:
Familiar scriptures were recited corporately - the Lord's Prayer, the 23rd Psalm - taking on more personal meaning in light of recent events. Less familiar scriptures were proclaimed boldly:
Psalm 34:18, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."
Hebrews 4:14-16, "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."
Songs were sung with rich lyrics that ministered healing to those who would accept it:
It is Well With My Soul
Beauty Will Rise:
"It was the day the world went wrong. I screamed til my voice was gone, And watched through the tears as everything came crashing down. Slowly panic turns to pain, as we awake to what remains and sift through the ashes that are left behind. But buried deep beneath all our broken dreams, we have this hope:
Out of these ashes... beauty will rise and we will dance among the ruins. We will see Him with our own eyes. Out of these ashes... beauty will rise. For we know, joy is coming in the morning..."
Whom Shall I Fear:
"I know Who goes before me. I know Who stands behind. The God of angel armies is always by my side."
"When all I can sing is a broken hallelujah, when my only offering is shattered praise, Still a song of adoration will rise up from these ruins. I will worship You and give You thanks, even when my only praise is a broken hallelujah."
Stories were shared. Mary Beth Chapman, in particular, shared openly, while holding back tears about the tragic loss of their own 5 year old daughter, Maria. Letting those present know they were not alone and they would not be forgotten. She shared her conviction through it all that in the end God is enough and He is faithful.
Prayers were prayed. At one point the names of each of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting were displayed in the stadium and a time of silent prayer for their families took place. Louie Giglio told the group that the pictures and stories of each victim were on display backstage and that the performers had been looking at them and reading about them and asking God for help to minister to those left behind.
One of the performers tried his best to explain why they had all come and put on the event: "We just want to bless you and encourage you and enter into your pain with you and say we hurt too, and tell you
of the God who makes life worth living." I'd say mission accomplished, and I've never been more inspired by a group of fellow believers trying to live out their faith in the world.
Some of the heartfelt comments I jotted down as I watched include these:
Louie Giglio said, "In times like this people ask, 'Where is God?' We are the body of Christ. We aren't a building with four walls, an institution, an organization. We are the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. If the world is going to see Jesus, they will see him through His sons and daughters. Where is God? God is here because the people of God are here."
Steven Curtis Chapman: "The world keeps spinning, leaving many paralyzed, angry, numb and stuck while the world goes on. We have not forgotten you. Not because we are wonderful in and of ourselves but because Jesus is in us. We may move forward, but we will not move on. We will keep listening to you, praying for you."
"I drove a stake down in the ground when everything went dark in my life. Even though I am still angry at times and even though I still don't get it - I have two choices - run away from God or run toward God and trust Him and trust His word is true. He is whispering, 'WILL YOU TRUST ME? I know your heart is broken. Will you trust me?' The story ISN'T over. We have lost so much but nothing is lost to God."
Max Lucado: "What Steven Curtis Chapman just did for you, you will one day do for someone else. For the rest of your life you can speak from a place of 'been there.' If you'll let God be your teacher then what was intended for evil will bear good - you will be a missionary to the brokenhearted."
The Night of Hope and Healing was an absolutely perfectly lived-out illustration of why I am a Christian. We do not "have" souls, we ARE souls and that night a group of humble, talented, people acknowledged the soul ache (that continues in CT long after the media attention fades away) and very respectfully and gently provided an outlet for those souls to reflect on the the Word of God, to pray and praise and thank and cry, and to find a way back to their Maker for restoration. Beautiful and powerful to behold.
The most poignant moment to me was when Chris Tomlin and a full band was singing the song, "I Will Rise" (listen below). There is a part of the song where the lyrics say: "Jesus has overcome, and the grave is overwhelmed. The victory is won. He is risen from the dead." The 10,000 people in the arena began to clap and cheer upon singing "The victory is won," and the clapping was so loud Chris Tomlin just stopped playing. And waited. And let the moment happen. People continued in their applause for several minutes and then they continued with the song. Truly, worship is never more beautiful than when it is offered in times of great sacrifice. When I find it hard to worship in the future because of something that has caused me pain, I will remember that night and offer a sacrifice of praise.
Lance Armstrong: "Cancer taught me that pain has a reason and that sometimes the experience of losing things – whether health or a car or an old sense of self – has its own value in the scheme of life. Pain and loss are great enhancers. We have unrealized capacities that only emerge in crisis ... capacities for enduring, for living, for hoping, for caring, for enjoying. Each time we overcome pain, I believe we grow."
Now the pain is of his own making and cannot be overcome through perseverance, but only through repentance. I'm disappointed. Maybe I have no right to be. I don't know Lance Armstrong. I have never met him. Why should I feel I have any right to feelings of disappointment? Because I read his book (multiple times), and I ate it up. Because I followed his story and wanted to believe him. Because he wasn't just an athlete, he chose to be a public athlete. He chose to allow people to rally around him and use him as an example, an idol. He branded himself and his brand was built on hard work, an indomitable spirit, perseverance, and an attitude that refused to embrace the victim mentality or any hint of negativity. Talk about inspirational!
The only flaw = himself. When you make yourself out to be a god, when you tell people that you went through hell and not only survived it, but crushed it under your feet and you did it all on your own merit and effort, well you better be telling the truth.
Yes, I'm disappointed in Lance Armstrong. His life and story, however, has become infinitely more valuable to me now. You see, as a mother, I would never have pointed my son to Mr. Armstrong as a mentor or hero. As someone who puts my faith and trust in Christ alone, I never have and never will encourage my child to place others on a pedestal. I will however, use his journey as a powerful cautionary tale. Right now, my son has no idea who Lance Armstrong is, but in the days ahead I will make certain that he does. I will show him video clips of Lance insisting that he never doped and have him read articles about the financial and personal pain that others were forced to endure as Mr. Armstrong kept up his charade in order to protect his own brand and image. We will sit down together and we will have conversations about why someone would lie and keep on lying, and whether or not we are capable of the same sort of deception (sadly, we are). We will discuss the danger of elevating ourselves and our accomplishments for others to take note of. And we will pray for Mr. Armstrong and we will pray for ourselves.
Revelation 2:5 "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent." (ESV)
2 Chronicles 7:14 "If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (ESV)
1 John 1:9 "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (ESV)
A couple of weeks ago, I told my son a story
that helped renew his faith in God's existence. It got me thinking. How do I know God exists? I have no idea how long this post is going to turn out to be, but I'm going to pour out from my heart whatever comes to mind from my personal experience that reassures me that I know MY GOD exists
. I am going to focus on ways that are personal to me, this isn't going to be an academic or intellectual endeavor this time around, although the evidence is staggering! (Check out the references at the end of this post for more information on the more universal evidence pointing to God's existence
.) These reasons are all mine. You could refute them in a million ways, and explain them away, but it won't take away from my joy or my confidence. My hope doesn't rest on these experiences, (that hope comes from the Bible and the Bible alone) but my faith has been strengthened by them along the way.1. I have been protected from COUNTLESS mishaps as a naive younger woman that cannot be explained. I should have been harmed. Period.
2. I once read my Bible one morning and then went to work and shared what I had learned with a co-worker who sobbed, telling me that she had randomly opened her Bible that very morning in desperation and read the exact same portion of scripture and got up bereaved because she didn't understand it. I had, unknowingly, interpreted it for her, and it spoke directly to a situation she was going through that I was unaware of.3. I have woken up in the middle of the night with crystal clear ideas about ministry that I couldn't have come up with on my own.
4. I have been offered jobs and promotions that my own knowledge and skill set could not have commanded on their own.5. My soul has been saved. Of that I have no doubts.
6. I have a strong desire to be in church with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Every. Sunday.7. I have had just the right friends at just the right times in my life.
8. My heart rate accelerates alarmingly whenever I am in a Bible Study or Sunday School class and I feel like I am supposed to speak up about something. Whatever comes out of my mouth in those moments is passionate and very different emotionally than any other context where I might share things with a group.9. There has been more than one occasion in my life when I needed a certain amount of money and God has provided it either to the penny, or above and beyond.
10. When we moved across the country (at God's leading), we left before our house had sold. We got a solid offer 100 miles before our car crossed the border into the new State we would be living in.11. When our foster daughters were brought to our home, I experienced the most unbelievable feeling of peace and a sustaining energy that I had never felt before. I sensed God's pleasure and His provision.
12. I have been able to forgive offenses that would have haunted others for decades.13. When my son uttered his belief in Christ and asked for forgiveness of his sins at the tender age of 6, he said and did some very specific things that made my heart sing and tears roll down my face. I had been fearful that he would attempt to make that decision too early in life and that he wouldn't really understand it and that I would be plagued with doubts. I have never doubted the reality of that experience for him.
14. I felt compelled to spend some time in intensive research of a specific portion of the Bible. My husband agreed to me being away from the house for 3-4 hours a day for a month as I studied and wrote. When it was all said and done, we didn't know what I was supposed to do with the final product. We prayed about it. Four months later a friend called and asked me if I would speak at weekend women's retreat at her church. I had already prepared for it and I didn't even know she was going to ask.15. My husband is not the man that I spent my college years looking for, and yet he is completely and utterly perfect for me in every way possible. He came into my life unexpectedly and in a desert place (literally).
16. Many times when I read the Bible I find myself getting very excited or weeping, or compelled to act on what I've read. This book was written by men who lived 2,000 years before I came on the scene, who lived in a very different cultural context. There is no other book I have this reaction to.17. Two of our foster daughters' mother was in a coma and very near to death. I taught them to pray for the first times in their lives and we daily prayed for her recovery. She bounced back.
18. My son has an inner joy and an adaptability that we could never have instilled in him on our own. It is a gift from God that has sustained him through a lot of changes.19. My parents moved to Southeast Asia as missionaries before my son learned to crawl. I prayed that he would somehow be able to bond with them and love them well even though the distance couldn't have been greater. They never spent a Christmas, Thanksgiving or birthday with us for the first 8 years of his life. As an 11 year old boy, he LIGHTS UP at the thought of spending time with them and loves them deeply as though they lived down the street.
20. I am rarely without a song in my heart.
These are a few of my faith-builders over the years. They are not yours. They aren't the bottom-line proof of my faith in God, but they are the icing on the cake. Looking for more concrete answers to your questions about God:
1. Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry
website - go here and click on "Questions."
2. Evidence That Demands A Verdict
- a book by Josh McDowell
3. Give Me An Answer
website - by Cliff Knechtle
Or - pick up a Bible - say a prayer telling God you want to find Him - seek out a Bible believing church to start attending - and see what happens:"You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." - God.
"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"