Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's About the Cross

Today, a gentle, loving, Christian man passed away. He was a saint if I ever met one. Not too long ago, I had the privilege of working with him and I was shocked to my very core one day to hear this humble servant of God express great disappointment in himself and admitting that his greatest desire was to be a better disciple. This man whom I admired and held in high regard as a true and dedicated follower of Christ was almost in tears as he confessed his feelings of inadequacy in reflecting the glorious nature of his Lord and Savior in his daily living. He was an exemplary model of what it is to live in a committed and loving relationship with God and yet he felt he fell far short of the example he so desired to be. Yesterday he said that he knew he was going to die and that he wasn’t afraid. This man was able to say that because he had given his heart and his life to the Lord and trusted in Christ’s sacrifice to redeem him from his sinfulness. He held firm to his faith that Jesus was born, lived, died on the cross, and rose from the dead so that today, my friend could celebrate Christmas in the presence of the King.

This week, we celebrate the birth of Christ. We will gather with our friends and family and, in grand American tradition, celebrate with much food and gift-giving. In the midst of the holly, jolly merry-making, we will rush and dash and fluster about to get here and there and do this and that. Somewhere in the holiday frenzy, let’s be deliberate about taking time to meditate on, be thankful for, and celebrate what is now so undeniably true to my friend – Christmas is about the cross. Yes, we celebrate the birth of Christ at Christmas, but we must not forget, nor neglect, that Christ was born to die on the cross for our sins. This became abundantly clear to me a couple of years ago when I first heard what is now, and most likely will always be, my favorite Christmas song. And since they sing this truth so much better than I could ever write about it, I’ve included the song (compliments of YouTube) below. Take a few moments now, listen, and remember why it is that Christ’s birth brings us such great joy and hope. May you have a very merry and blessed Christmas.

Friday, December 18, 2009

People Get Ready - Jesus Is Coming!

Today, in this last week of Advent, I’m asking myself if I am prepared for Christ and for the Christmas celebration. Not long ago, I heard someone say that Advent is a time of preparation for the celebration of the birth of our Savior and for His coming. I’ve heard that statement many times before and never gave it a second thought, but that day, something about it kept tumbling around in my mind. It occurred to me that during Advent, we are to prepare for two events, not one: 1) the celebration of the birth of our Savior and 2) His return. In the past, I had assumed that statement to be repetitive or merely separating Christ’s birth from the rest of his life and ministry here on earth. However, now I believe that Advent is an opportunity to prepare our lives and our hearts to celebrate his birth, his life and ministry, and for his inevitable return. Am I prepared for that?
In Mark 13:32, Jesus tell us that no one knows the day or hour of his return, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son - only the Father knows. Jesus didn’t say no one knows “if” he is returning. He said no one knows “when” he will return except, of course, the Father who knows and orchestrates all things. If you’re like me, you probably haven’t given Jesus’ return much thought. If you’re like me, you’re expecting to see Jesus face-to-face when your body dies and your spirit goes to be with him. But do we really anticipate that Jesus may return before we die and if he does, will we be ready? What does one do to be ready for that?

Looking again to Jesus, in Mark 13:34, he says that it’s like when a man is going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Like that man, Jesus will return and I need to be dedicated to the task I’ve been given in anticipation of that return. So what is my task? It’s the same as yours - to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and to love your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:27)

So how are you doing with that? I admit - I could be doing a lot better. I love God, but it’s not in my sinful nature to love God completely and there are some people in this world for whom I have no love. Because of my sinfulness, I will always fall short of the perfection which God’s holiness demands. It’s only through the forgiveness that is so readily available in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross that I find myself celebrating instead of shuddering in God’s glorious presence. It seems that for the moment, through God’s grace, I’m as prepared as I can be to for the Christmas celebration and for Christ’s return.

My prayer for you this coming week is for you to be filled with the joy and hope that the birth of Christ brings and the peace that his return promises.
About the pictures:

Pittsburgh, PA (Dec. 2009)

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Little Drummer Boy

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31, NIV)

Two weeks and counting until Christmas Day! Christmas music is playing on my computer and in my car. The tree is up and decorated in silver, blue and purple, and the gifts are wrapped and sitting under the tree waiting for the glorious celebration of the birth of Christ and the sharing of gifts that brings much joy to the day. Don’t be mad at me that I’m done already. As a church secretary, the next two weeks will be busy enough. I love to listen to Christmas carols as I work to help remind me of the joy of the season when all I’m feeling is the stress the season so often brings.

One of my new favorite carols is “The Little Drummer Boy.” I know it’s been around for fifty years and I’ve heard it every year of my life, but it was only last year that it made its way to the top of my list of favorites. I’ve always thought the story in the song was cute, but that’s all it was – a cute little story. Last year, I heard a new rendition that not only caught my attention but sparked in me a new understanding of my relationship with Jesus.

In this new rendering, the words “I play my drum, I play my drum for the one who saved me” are repeated numerous times. The shepherds had sheep and the wise men had gold, frankincense and myrrh, but the little drummer boy had nothing to give and still he was compelled to come worship the King, albeit empty-handed. As I heard this new version for the first time last year and again this past week, it occurred to me that this isn’t just a story about a poor, little boy who had nothing tangible to offer his King. It’s a song about me.

On Christmas Day, as I come to give glory to the King, I also have nothing to give him worthy of the King of kings, the Prince of Peace, the Savior of the World. What shall I give to the one who created me, who breathed life into me, who gave me all I have, who loves me beyond reason, and who died on a cross to save me from my sinfulness and bring us into an eternal relationship? I can give only what I have – me. I’m a caring, encouraging woman and the Lord has generously blessed me in creativity and ability. I can offer that as my gift to the King, not just for one day, but every day of the rest of my life. If what I do for others is doing for him, then I can give compassion to the lonely and hurting as my gift to him. I can listen to and encourage a troubled friend for him. I can use the creativity and ability God gave me to give to him in a new way each day. Still a small, seemingly insignificant gift, consider the recipient, but just as the little drummer boy, it’s all I have. And like the drummer boy, when my song is over, I hope that Jesus will smile at me too.
About the pictures:
Pittsburgh, PA (December 2009)

If you would like to hear the version of "The Little Drummer Boy" that I spoke of in today's blog, click on the youtube link provided:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZS4bCGErBY

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Controlling the Christmas Chaos

The Advent/Christmas Season is a mixture of the best and worst time of year for me. This is the season of preparation for the coming of the Lord and of the celebration of the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. This is a time for family togetherness and for spreading Christmas cheer. However, it is also a stressful time for me personally and professionally. As an Administrative Assistant for a church, my workload increases significantly. Everyone in the church wants to plan and advertise their own special celebration and I sometimes feel like a contortionist trying to coordinate everything. Add to that the personal stress that comes from trying to find money in my tight budget to get everyone I love that one very special gift, the hollow pain of missing my son during the celebration of the season, and the attempt to fit even more gatherings and special activities into my already full life and it’s a wonder that I don’t give up celebrating Christmas all together.

I admit I can be a bit of a Type A personality. Okay, I am a Type A personality. My mind is constantly checking over a list of things I need to do and I’m compelled to check things off of that list as quickly as possible for fear of not getting them done in time. At Christmastime, there are so many things on that mental list that I lose focus trying to juggle them all. My struggle for control manifests itself through insomnia and in a sudden lack of patience which lead to exhaustion and depression leaving me in a state of confusion and with an inability to make even simple decisions. The more I try to organize the innumerable variables that Christmastime presents, the less control over everything I seem to have.

When I am so overwhelmed that I feel like I’m drowning in frenzy, I find myself crying out to God, as I did this week, to help me push all of it aside. I beg him to help me focus on celebrating Jesus instead of leaving me to wallow in the chaos. I implore him to help me get things organized and settled. That’s when he reminds me of one very important detail that I somehow forget too often. He reminds me that the control I’m seeking is not mine to have. Many years ago, I gave Jesus control of my life – every moment! In a previous blog (“Finding God’s Message in the Puzzle” - August 6, 2009) I concluded that I don't have control over what will happen. In fact, I never did and to embrace the kind of trust in God that he deserves, I need to stop clinging to the illusion of being able to obtain that control. I’m in such turmoil now because, once again, I’m trying to obtain something only God is wise and powerful enough to handle.

The peace and joy I’m lacking and desperately craving will come when I give up my foolish demand for control and seek to follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance as he reveals his will to me. I need to trust that God’s perfect timing will prevail and that the things that must be done will get done as they should. I must let go of the stress, the micro-managing of every detail, and the fruitless pursuit of control so that I can grab hold of the peace, the joy, and the love of the Lord that are waiting for me.
About the pictures:
Pittsburgh, PA (Thanksgiving Day)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thankful for a Broken Heart

On October 13, 1863, Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving Day a national holiday. It was the autumn after the Civil War had ended and he was imploring all Americans to give thanks: “The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

Lincoln went on to say that “in the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity,” Americans were fortunate to enjoy many blessings. Though we paid dearly in the battle between the North and South, we were able to enjoy a bountiful harvest. The war forced our country to grow and, in the end, prosper. We had become a stronger country whose continuing freedom and strength of nation were secured in the conflict.

Like most people, I took some time this week in honor of Thanksgiving Day to thank God for the countless blessings in my life. Many of these things I am sure appear on your own list – friends, family, shelter, food, job, and health. Others may seem strangely out of place and those are the ones I share with you today.

I am eternally thankful that God loved me enough to allow me to hit rock bottom in my life. It must have hurt him so to allow the onslaught of unbearable circumstances into my life that eventually broke my willful spirit and shattered my cold, hard heart. I’m thankful that God stood in silent anguish as he allowed the multiple abuses into my life as a child and as a young wife and mother. I’m thankful that he gave me the precious gift of my son even though he knew the pain I would endure when my Bryan, my reason for living, was taken from me in an unfortunate car accident when he was twelve years old. Allowing these things into my life to break my rebellious heart and lead me into his waiting arms was his gift to me.

I am also grateful for the challenges we have faced together since I’ve given my life and my heart to Jesus. No one looks forward to hardship and pain, but adversity is the way we learn and grow. I’m thankful that he allowed me to endure the pain of a second divorce so that I could learn to lean on his strength and rely on his perfect will in my everyday life. I’m thankful for the pain-filled years of therapy that helped me to discover this Godly woman that the Lord is, even now, still cultivating in me. I’m thankful that when I look back at all the abuse, and loss, and the painful moments when I felt alone and abandoned, I can see that he was right there beside me crying with me, holding my broken heart together in his hands.

Lincoln realized that God had brought good out of the devastations of war and was hopeful that we would not neglect offering our humble thanksgiving to our Father in Heaven for the blessings that arose out of that painful experience. Likewise, the challenges I’ve faced in my life have given me the opportunity to look to and lean on God’s grace and power. They’ve forced me to learn and grow in his Spirit and I am stronger for it.

What hardships has God blessed your life with?

About the pictures:
Parkwood Presbyterian Church, Allison Park, PA (July 09)

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Joy of the Lord

In July, I wrote about how God used a pinched nerve to teach me how to deal with temptation in “Temptation – the Ultimate Pain in the Neck” (July 10, 2009). It turns out that my pinched nerve was actually caused by several herniated cervical discs in my neck. The pain eventually subsided after two months of chiropractor visits and a lot of ice and ibuprofen.

Last week, I managed to aggravate those discs, and again, I found myself in pain and unable to do so many of the things I used to take for granted like standing up straight instead of hunched over, driving, picking up a book, taking out the garbage, holding my cell phone to my ear… the list goes on. Normally, I’m not that “I can’t” type of person and this week has been really hard on me because this week – I really can’t! However, now that my condition is starting to improve slightly and I’m a little less disabled, I can look back on this week with joy. I won’t say that I enjoyed this week at all, but day after day, I was truly blessed to see and know God’s love through the actions of friends and family.

Several friends made it a point to let me know that they were praying for me. My best friend spent hours with me on Saturday watching old movies on TV because I couldn’t do anything else. On Sunday, my mom brought me lunch and let me cry some of the pain and frustration out on her shoulder. My sister-in-law made dinners for me that my brother delivered and he helped clean my kitchen and gather up garbage before he sat down to chat. My nieces and nephew made a get well card for me. My out-of-town brother called and talked with me for a while. Coworkers took time out of their busy schedule to carry stacks of papers and equipment around the office for me and a volunteer came in to fold the Sunday bulletins for me.

I felt God’s love permeating all of those moments and the memory of that fills my heart with joy, even now, through the pain. I can’t help but smile when I think about that fact that God Almighty, the Creator of the Universe cares enough about me to show me his love by ensuring someone was there to open a window for me when I needed it most. He saw to it that I was not alone in my misery and supplied my daily needs when I couldn’t. He loves me so much that he reached out through the words and actions of those around me to tell me that he knows I’m hurting and that it matters to him deeply. What a Holy and Awesome God he is. Praise the Lord who loves me like that.
About the pictures:
Marshall Island, North Park (August 2009)

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Hole in My Heart

This week, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my young niece. Six months ago, they found a very large hole in her heart that had been overlooked for sixteen years. My niece always seemed like a bright and bubbly, healthy girl – a competitive swimmer, in fact, for years. There were no outward signs that a one-inch hole had been residing in her heart since birth. That is until a routine physical exam turned up a slight anomaly which led to tests that revealed the hole. They inserted a metal plug into her heart through a catheter and she was off and swimming again in two weeks. Unfortunately, we later learned that my niece is allergic to the nickel in the metal plug they inserted which was causing some serious complications. So this week, surgeons cut through skin and muscle and cracked her sternum open to cut the metal plug out of her heart and sew a patch over the hole. Yesterday she came home from the hospital and is starting her long road to recovery. They tell us that she will need approximately six weeks before she can return to her normal active teenage life and that it will take up to six months of diligent exercise before the visible effects of cracking open her sternum are corrected. We’ve also been told that it will take two cosmetic surgeries to minimize the scar left from the operation which she will need to wait approximately two years to have.

It got me to thinking about the God-shaped hole that is in the heart of every person and how only God's Spirit can fill that hole. Oh, we try to fill it with other things – money, romantic love, or success. Some people try to fill it with their obsession for exercise, or drugs and alcohol, or sports. There are even those who try to fill it with some form of religion or new-age spirituality but none of these things can fill that hole. At first, they may seem to be the easier fix, but used as a substitute for God, these things can poison our lives – mind, body, and soul. In the end, we have to turn to God and ask him into our hearts and into our lives. It’s sound simple enough, but this is not an easy process. There are some things that God is going to have to cut through and break open as he reaches into our hearts. The healing process from a sinful life is rarely quick and easy, but when you consider the alternative – a hole in your heart or a deficient plug, who wouldn’t agree that it’s the only choice. Just as my niece has a long road of recovery looming ahead of her, the spiritual healing process in each of us takes time – a lifetime – to completely heal.

The thing to remember on this path of healing is that we are not alone. God is with us every step of the way. He is the Healer – the one who will lovingly scalpel through our character and excise the sin from our lives to give us life and give it abundantly. He is not some casual observer, but a living, active necessary part of who we will become. God is the one who sees all of the darkness in us and with great skill and precision, cuts it away until all that is left is his shining glory. Though it may seem like it in our dark hours, he will not leave the job undone. That is the hope he brings and reason enough for us to praise his name in good times and bad and in the moments in-between.
About the pictures:
Phipps Conservatory (June 2009)

Friday, November 6, 2009

How Do You Say, "I Love You Jesus?"

I mentioned in my blog “What Makes Me Worth the Air I Breathe?” (September 17, 2009) that I had been moved by a little girl I saw on TV whose special circumstances and whose passion has led her to organize blood drives in her town and neighboring communities. Her determination to make people aware of how important donating blood is has yielded a great bounty as the TV show I was watching showed that blood drives where taking place in five different states across the country in her name and because of the national primetime exposure, she had her opportunity to reach the rest of the country that night with her message. It reached me. I’ve never given blood before and am not particularly fond of needles but I decided that the next time my church had a blood drive, I was going to sign up. Then last week, I learned that a young family member unexpectedly needs open-heart surgery next week and blood donors are needed now. So this week I called the blood bank in my community and made an appointment to go in and give blood for her operation. I was assured that if I am the right blood type, she will get my blood and if not, someone else who needs it will receive it. It really didn’t take long and I am glad to report that I suffered no adverse effects from it.

The next morning, the only evidence that I had given blood was a small pin prick on my arm and one on my finger where they tested my iron level. As the day went on, I found it ironic that while the spot where they took the blood from didn’t bother me at all, the fingertip they pricked to check my iron level hurt every time pressure was applied to it like when I typed (I’m a secretary) or checked my phone for messages and emails (which I do more often then I ever realized). At first it was a little annoying, but then I began to think of those little pain-filled moments as a reminder to rejoice and praise God. I rejoiced that God blessed me with the means to contribute and praised him that someone who desperately needs that blood will have it.

As I said earlier, I’ve never given blood before. It’s something that I always told myself that I should do, but never found the time or put the effort into doing. There are lots of things I’ve told myself that I should do and then don’t. Then I feel guilty that I haven’t so I try to make up for it with something else which I may or may not do. Guilt-ridden giving is a terrible cycle to be caught up in. So this week I went searching in my bible for another motivation to give. Here’s what I found:

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what's coming to you in this kingdom. It's been ready for you since the world's foundation. And here's why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.”
Then those 'sheep' are going to say, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?” Then the King will say, “I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:34-36, The Message)

I thought about those things that Jesus said the blessed person does. They feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty. Those are simple things to do really. I don’t need special skills to do those things or even a whole lot of time or money. I just need to pick up a few extra cans of soup, a jar of peanut butter or a bottle of grape juice the next time I’m grocery shopping and drop it off at my local food bank once a month. I don’t have an extra room, but even on my tight budget, I could pull together $20 to give to the local shelter. I have a closet full of clothes, many of which I don’t wear anymore for whatever reason that I can give to a local charity. There’s a hospital a few miles from my home or at the very least, I could send a get well card to those people who are listed on my church’s prayer chain. I don’t know anyone in prison, but there are prison ministries that make it possible to reach out to prisoners or perhaps I could pray for those saints overseas who are cruelly incarcerated for their faith in Jesus and if I look at this metaphorically, aren’t all those who are lost in sin in some kind of personal prison – locked away from the Truth and the hope that Jesus brings. So there are plenty of opportunities for me to reach out to those in prison. I realized that it’s not about what I should do to show the love of Jesus but what I can do to love Jesus.

What are the simple things we can all do to express our love for Jesus? Perhaps you could help an elderly neighbor take her garbage out to the curb every week or rake the leaves in her yard. Maybe even something as simple as picking up his paper at the end of the walk and taking it up the stairs to his front porch because stairs are difficult for him. Don’t know any elderly people? Show Jesus you love him by offering to baby sit the children of a single parent one evening a month so that they can have just a little time to themselves or help them get their kids to and from after-school activities. Volunteer a couple hours a month to serve food at your local shelter or spend a Saturday volunteering at the local organization in your area that helps build or fix low-income housing. If we all stopped thinking about what we should do and just do what we can – how wonderful would that be?

How do you say, “I love you Jesus”?

About the pictures:
Deer Lake Park (October 2009)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Love Like That Doesn't Die

It’s been eleven years since my twelve-year old son died in a car accident and most of the time I’m okay with it. I’ve grown accustomed to life without him. Most of the time, I don’t even think about it. The occasional thought of him brings a smile to my face and laughter to my heart. However, there are times like this past week, when my heart aches for him. My broken heart is heavy with emptiness and painfully raw as waves of grief suffocate me.

If you have a child, you know the depth of parental love. Bryan was my reason for living. His presence in my life created a desire in me to be a better, stronger person for his sake. When you’re a parent, you find a way to do what you couldn’t do before. I worked at jobs I hated so that I could provide for him. I found the courage to protect him from big creepy spiders and the fortitude to care for him when we were both sick with the flu. My life revolved around him. Even my memories are dated by how old Bryan was when something happened. We moved from the apartment into our first house when he was three, we separated when he was seven and I remarried when he was eleven. Bryan was an intricate part of every moment of my life whether we were in the same room or miles apart. And like any parent, I would have willingly and without hesitation traded places with him on that terrible day to save his life.

Bryan’s absence from my life was like a terrible severing – as if someone had sliced every cell in my body in half. I had to find another reason to get out of bed everyday and new things to spend my time and energy on. I even had to find a new way to remember things. Yesterday, a friend who was trying to comfort me told me that the pain I am feeling is testament to the great love I had and still have for my son. As I was considering his words, I thought about how Bryan was the one who taught me about how much my Heavenly Father loves me. What a terrible severing God must have felt when our sinfulness took us from his presence. Unlike a human father though, God had the ability to trade places with us, to die on our behalf so that we might live eternally with him. The bible tells us that through Christ’s sacrifice, we have been chosen and adopted into God’s family as children of God. He is our Heavenly Father and we are his precious children. The way that I loved Bryan is a dull reflection of the way that God loves me. I know from my experience with my own child that even when I make a mistake, God loves me. When I’m angry and disobedient, God still loves me. As I continued to reflect on these things, God gave me these words: “A love like that doesn’t die.”

The pain I’m feeling this week may indeed be a testament to the love I had and still have for my son but it is also a vivid reminder that I am wholly and deeply loved by my Heavenly Father, God of the Universe, Savior and Lord. If I can remember that, dwell on that, I can praise God for his love and his presence in my life. Because God’s love doesn’t die, there will never be a time when I can’t lean on his strength and rest in his comfort.

Suddenly, I don’t feel so alone anymore.
About the pictures:
Orlando Florida (May 2002)

Friday, October 23, 2009

An Extraordinary God In an Ordinary Day

Every Tuesday, my friends and I gather for study and devotional time. This week we explored 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

…and then He told me,

My grace is enough, it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size – abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. (The Message)

What I came away with was that bad things are going to happen and how I decide to deal with them, what I do with them, is my witness to Christ’s power in my life. My goal should be that God is glorified in my life even if it means I do nothing but admit my limitations and let God do the work.

God didn’t wait long to give me an opportunity to put this lesson into real-life practice. By ordinary standards, yesterday was not an extraordinary day. However, extraordinary it was – even if only in my own estimation. I’ll try to explain.

Years ago, I injured my neck in an accident and sometimes it will flair up causing incredible discomfort usually accompanied by migraines. Without the aid of medication and ice packs, the intensity of the pain and headache increases throughout the day until I find myself sick to my stomach lying utterly still with my eyes closed in a dark room in complete silence. Yesterday I woke up in pain. The flair up was bad enough that it hurt to hold my head up and the pressure on my neck from lying down was worse. This was bad enough, but I also was experiencing great discomfort caused by women’s issues, which meant I had a choice to make. The medication for the headache aggravates the other problem and the pain medication for that doesn’t do a thing for my headache and neck pain. I couldn’t take them both. I had to choose. Either way, I wasn’t going to feel well and I couldn’t miss work as I had too much to do and couldn’t put it off even for a day.

A headache and cramps – not the kind of thing people think about when they read 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. But then, aren’t we supposed to be faithful in the small things too? So as I drove to work, I prayed. I didn’t pray for God to take the pain away though. Instead, I prayed that in my weakness his Glory would show through. I was in pain and irritable but I didn’t want that to be what people saw in me. I wanted them to see Christ in me. I wanted them to know his love and patience through me. I wanted them to walk away from me not affected by my problems but by his presence. I acknowledged my shortcomings and my weaknesses before the Lord and asked him to work through those in his strength and to his glory. God honored my request.

I was able to complete all my work and help others in theirs. Instead of withdrawing in my pain, I joyfully welcomed those who walked into my office and felt as though, when they left, they were blessed by our time together not because of my effort, but because of God’s work. The pain subsided last night to a barely noticeable ache so instead of needing to collapse in a dark room, I was able to do even more good work and praising God the whole evening for the accomplishments of the day. Last night, I went to bed thanking God for an extraordinary day and praising him for his obvious presence in it.

So how do I sum up this week’s experience? I guess it would be to remember that God strength is sufficient to carry me through every trouble, every hardship, and to never forget that God is always faithful – even in the small things. So I should be too.
About the pictures:
Deer Lake Park (October 2009)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Autumn Leaves - God Doesn't

This past week has been depressingly cold, wet and gray with no sign of it letting up anytime soon. In fact, snow is expected this weekend. It seems like it’s been this way forever. I almost forget what a beautiful sunny day looks like. So today, I woke up with no enthusiasm for getting out of my nice warm bed to greet the cool crisp air of yet another dreary day. However, as I drove to work, something wonderful caught my attention. Everywhere I looked the trees sparkled with the vibrant colors of autumn – oranges, reds, and yellows painted the landscape. The rich brown of the rain-soaked tree limbs and trunks added a stunning contrast against the backdrop of the leaves. I wanted to stop and get out in the rain just to take in this amazing sight. I didn’t, but the drive was enough to brighten up my day. It’s going to be a good day after all. Isn’t that amazing? The weather hasn’t changed. It’s still cold, wet and gray, but somehow I feel like the sun is shining in my day.

Often in our lives, we find ourselves in a dark and dismal place. Something as small as getting the flu or as significant as a loved one’s death can plunge us into a gray existence for a time and we start to wonder if joy will ever be a part of our lives again. Sometimes I think that this is where we see God most clearly. It’s in this place that the beauty of God’s comfort and companionship is the center of our attention. His vibrant presence in our dreary world fills us with the warmth of his indescribable peace and we don’t want to take our eyes off him. Our life circumstances may be gloomy, but God reaches through all of that bringing us great and lasting joy. When I feel like my life is a cold, wet, gray autumn day, I need to search for God with confidence and expectancy in that moment because he has promised in Jeremiah 29:13 that if I seek him with all of my heart, I will find him and unlike the autumn leaves, his brilliance will never fade away.
About the pictures:
Deer Lake Park (October 2009)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Live Like There Is a Tomorrow

Last week a friend told me about a book that he is reading called “The Principle of the Path” by Andy Stanley. He explained that Mr. Stanley’s basic premise is that you will end up where the road that you are on is going. For example, a person who lives an unhealthy lifestyle will undoubtedly end up with health problems and a person who saves money today will have it tomorrow. The choices we make today have a direct bearing on our lives tomorrow and in the future. After our discussion, I began to look at my own life through the lens of this-path-your-on principle and realized how true it has been in my own life.

My life has been a long series of todays with no tomorrows in sight. As you would expect, my childhood was filled with the here and now. I never gave a thought to the consequences of my choices. That’s what parents are for. As a preteen struggling with depression, I made the decision to take my own life on my eighteenth birthday. I, in effect, took tomorrow away and lived my today knowing that one day soon – tomorrow wouldn’t come. God had other plans though and gave me someone to live another day for – my son. Still, I lived each day as if tomorrow wouldn’t come and awoke unprepared for a new day. It’s only been recently that I’ve started to look to the future. I am trying to live a healthier lifestyle now so that I can enjoy a decent quality of life twenty years from now and I’m striving to be more responsible in my finances so that I have some security in the years to come.

I next applied this lens to my faith journey and asked myself, “If I could look at the end of the road I’m on, will I like what I see?” Do the choices I’ve already made lead to a dead end down the road or do they lead to my desired destination? I’ve been struggling for some time in my faith journey – Oh not that my belief is wavering. It’s not. Though it has become increasingly difficult to make time to study God’s Word. My prayer time has become more of a checklist than a conversation. The newness of my relationship with the Lord has worn off and I’ve settled into an almost uninvolved coexistence with Jesus. The problem is that I’ve been trying to fit my relationship with God into my plans instead of arranging my plans around my relationship with God. These choices definitely won’t lead me to the intimate spiritually mature relationship I want with my Savior. Fortunately, I can make better choices today. I can turn off the TV and spend time in the Word today. Instead of checking in with Facebook so often, I can update my status with the Lord in prayer - chat with him instead. I need to live today like there will be a tomorrow so that I won’t regret the choices I’ve made today when tomorrow comes.
About the pictures:
Deer Lake Park (August 2009)

Friday, October 2, 2009

How Do You Find a Word in the Dictionary If You Can't Spell It?

A few days ago, a friend asked me if I knew the correct spelling of a particular word. I said yes, turned to my computer, phonetically typed the word and clicked spell check when the red wavy line appeared. I hit the change button and spelled the word for my friend as I read it from my screen. Before word processors and spell check, people used a book called a dictionary when they needed the correct spelling or definition of a word.

When I was a child, I remember asking my mother how to spell certain words. Her immediate response was, “Go look it up in the dictionary.”

Now this was disconcerting to me because I knew that she knew how to spell these words. It would have been faster and much easier if she had just answered the question I asked by spelling the word for me.

I’d whine to her, “How am I supposed to look it up if I don’t know how to spell it?” Because, let’s face it, you really have to know how to spell a word to find it in an alphabetical listing!

She’d answered, “Sound it out. What’s the first letter? What letter sounds like it comes next?” I’d answer and then she would say, “Okay then. Start there and go look it up.”

I’d, of course, storm off to my room, pull my dictionary off my bookshelf and half-heartedly look through a few pages and then march back downstairs and announce in a frustrated tone, “It’s not in here!”

She’d take the dictionary from my hand, rifle through some of the pages, and then guide her finger down the list of words on a page. When she found the word in question, she’d close the book, hand it back to me and say, “Yes it is. Try again.”

Often, I would have to start at the beginning of a letter section and work my way through hundreds of words to find my word. Sometimes, I had to look through the whole section several times because I’d miss it the first time. I should note here that my mother was right – the word I was looking for was always in there – I just had to search until I found it. As I look back on this experience now, I realize how much I learned in the process. I didn’t just find the spelling of the particular word I was looking for. The spelling of words I knew was reinforced and I learned new words every time I worked through the familiar alphabetical listing. Perhaps this experience also kindled my passion for writing. It at least gave me the tools I needed to not only pursue my passion, but to communicate with the world around me. The time spent as a child with my dictionary has also helped instill in me a drive and the confidence to work through those little challenges I encounter each day.

Okay. This is where I compare my childhood experience with my mother and the dictionary to my faith life. Let me just first say that I’ve reached a point in my Christian walk where I’ve read the Bible enough that often, it’s a little too familiar to keep my attention. Yet if I needed to find a particular scripture, it’s not familiar enough for me to be able to locate it in a reasonable amount of time. I’d rather turn to some one who knows God’s Word better, let them give me the answer I seek, and be done with it. As a result, I’ve let my regular reading time become sporadic and too often, I find myself half-heartedly reading to fulfill some imaginary quota instead of searching for what God is saying to me in those familiar words. This is a challenge I’ve been facing for a while now.

My experience is that God hardly ever gives me the easy answer. He guides me to work through the challenge at hand and usually, it includes going to a book – the Bible! What I know from my experience with the dictionary is that if I keep searching for a particular verse, or story, or concept in the Bible until I find it – I will find it. And in that search, I will find much more. I will become familiar with what I read through on my way to what I’m looking for. It is in the search for God’s wisdom in his Word that my passion for God’s presence in my life is kindled. The tools to interact with the world around me are contained in its pages. Also, as with any endeavor, the more I work at it, the more confident I will become in the process and the better equipped I will be to face life’s challenges. So tonight, I’m going to sit down with my Bible and read. Not because I should, but because I really need to if I’m to be prepared for the challenges of tomorrow.
About the pictures:
Pittsburgh Zoo (June 2009)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Conversion Experience

I’ve recently had a conversion experience that I simply must tell you about! All of my life, I have been diametrically opposed to a particular group and their followers. This group’s elite are often treated like kings, gods even. Many of their followers are quick to confront others confident that their special brand of enlightenment is far superior to everyone else’s. However, it was the kindness of a few followers who didn’t try to correct the error of my ways but who accepted me as I am that swayed me. Today I want to, for the first time, publicly announce that I have become a Steelers fan!

Yes it’s true. I’ve hated football all of my life. I considered myself above such juvenile barbarism and laughed at those who were taken in by its overpriced hype. I saw no intelligence or reason in the cult-like hold it has on its fans or in the bizarre superstitions that control their lives during the season. Nothing could be a bigger waste of time. I was sure that someday, scientist would prove that every game watched kills thousands of brain cells. I did however enjoy Super bowl Sunday because I knew that all the football fans would be glued to a TV set near them and I would have no problem finding a parking space at the mall or a great seat at the theater.

So, as hard as it is to imagine, especially here in the capital of Steeler nation, I’ve made it into my forties with only an infantile understanding of the game. This past Sunday, as I sat glued to my own TV set, I found most of what I was seeing and hearing confusing. When it comes to football, I have no frame of reference to comprehend what’s going on. Players were penalized for things I didn’t understand. There were numbers all over the screen and I can only guess at their significance, and for the most part, the announcers seemed to be speaking a foreign language. Still, I was drawn to continue watching. I cheered when my team scored and screamed at my TV when the other team intercepted the ball. I guess I’m going to have to rely on my fellow Steeler fans to learn what I don’t know about football. I’m going to have to ask a lot of “dumb” questions and I hope that they remember that they are dealing with a baby Steeler fan when they answer.

So what does this have to do with faith? Over the last fifty years society has systematically removed Christianity from everyday life and relegated God into the more convenient and manageable Sunday morning box. We have effectively produced a social environment where one in three Americans are unchurched and the average person doesn’t know Jesus. They may have heard of him, they may have even dabble in the occasional church service, but they look at Christianity in much the same way that I viewed the football phenomenon – with hatred or with no concept of its value. Some Christians feel compelled to win the God argument among the skeptical, to explain exactly how wrong the non-Christian is and how right they are. Instead of accepting the individual as they are and tearing down those walls, these misguided God-arguers build up even higher the walls that separate them. Yes, we are to reach out to the lost - in love.

Also, as Christians, we have the joy and responsibility of discipling our less experienced brothers and sisters in Christ. As we learn from those who are more mature in their faith, so we are to guide others. No matter how long we’ve been a Christian, every day presents us with new challenges, new questions. Whether you’ve never been in a church service before or you’ve been attending Sunday school longer than your pastor has been alive, there is much to learn and we are called to learn and grow together in love and in the Lord.
About the pictures:
Marshall Island, North Park (August 2009)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What Makes Me Worth the Air I Breathe?

This week, I saw a story on TV about a little girl who has a serious illness that requires frequent blood transfusions. The story went on to say that less than five percent of Americans who are able to donate blood actually do. Her special circumstances have sparked a determination in her to make people aware of how important donating blood is, not just for her, but for the twenty-five percent of the American population who will need blood this year. When she isn’t in the hospital or promoting blood drives, she pours her passion into collecting new toys from local individuals and businesses to hand out to other children who are hospitalized. She is compelled to reach out to other sick children because she knows the healing that a toy given in love can bring to a fearful and hurting heart.

This story prompted me to think about how passion drives some people to reach beyond themselves to do amazing things. The entertainment industry is bursting at the seams with reality TV shows that showcase everyday people following their passions to sing, dance, or produce and market their own unique gizmos and gadgets. Then there is the woman whose passionate, yet often sensible approach to environmentalism has caught my attention and nicked my conscience. I also know many people in ministry whose passion for the Lord is almost contagious as they reach out to bless the community around them.

The next obvious question had to be, “Where is my passion?” I couldn’t let go of this question. What determines passion – is it a feeling? Is it the drive to make the most of natural ability? Or is it the heart’s unbridled response to life experience? I couldn’t rest until I found the answer. Finally, I had to stop and ask myself why this was so important. I realized that I wasn’t really looking for my passion. I was looking for my significance, my value. I needed to know – What makes me worth the air I breathe and the space I inhabit on this earth? Now that’s a question I can answer: But now, God’s Message, the God who made you in the first place, the One who got you started. I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You’re mine. I am God, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior. I paid a huge price for you. That’s how much you mean to me! That’s how much I love you! I’d sell off the whole world to get you back, trade the creation just for you. I’m with you. (Isaiah 43:1, 3-5a, The Message, adapted) I only need to read Psalm 139 to be reminded of how intimately God knows me because he created me and he is with me always. 1 John 3:1 tells me that God loves me so much that he calls me his child and Romans 8:38-39 explains that nothing exist now or ever that can separate me from that love.

My passion exists in the words I write and the photos I take. It’s in the music I sing, the quilts I sew, and the worship I bring in my daily life. But my significance, my value, derives from being a child of God, wholly and dearly loved. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19, NIV)
About the pictures
Landscape - Marshall Island (August 2009)
Grasshopper - Toronto, Ohio (August 2009)

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Relationship Meant to Be

Today is September 11th. Please take a moment to pray for those whose lives were irrevocably changed this day eight years ago and for all the families affected by the war that came out of the senseless violence of that day. Pray also for the world’s leaders that they might be guided by God’s will and that his peace would be known throughout the earth.

Long before it was 9-11, this was a day of celebration. Forty-seven years ago today, my parents were married. You don’t find too many couple around these days who have been married that long. They worked hard and stayed committed to each other even through the worst of times and believe me – there were enough hard times and disagreements that no one would have blamed them if they had given up and called it quits.

I remember the first time I walked down the aisle. I foolishly ignored the subtle signs and had no clue that I was walking toward a man who had been lying to me and who had no problem with enforcing his self-indulgent, egotistic attitude with verbal and physical abuse. The second time I walked down the aisle was to a kind man whose desperate need to be someone’s knight in shining armor was seamlessly matched to my deep-seeded need to be rescued. Both times, I had made a lifetime commitment and both times, that commitment failed because it was based not on mutual love and adoration, but on lies and human inadequacies.

My relationship with God has a lot in common with a marriage. I’ve made a lifetime commitment to Jesus. With all that I am, I have promised to love and obey him. To be with him through whatever life brings. To willingly share my life with him. However, our relationship is far from fairytale bliss. We have our share of troubled times too. There are times when I’m angry at him. When I take him for granted. Sometimes, I’d rather do it my own way, not his, and when that blows up in my face, I want him to rush in and fix it for me. Frequently, I find myself having to sacrifice my own plans and desires because I love him and he asks me to. My relationship with Jesus takes a lot of effort on my part. I have to make him a priority in my life and spend time with him in prayer and in his Word if we are to have a solid relationship. I’m growing and changing as a person because of my relationship with him.

One huge difference between my marriages and my relationship with God is that this commitment will last beyond a lifetime. God loves me more than I can comprehend and his patience with me and his forgiveness of my sinfulness are as eternal as he is. He won’t ever call it quits. He is with me 24/7 and I always have his attention. This relationship was truly meant to be because he created me to be in relationship with him and nothing has the power to come between us.
About the pictures:
Deer Lake Park (August 2009)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Thank You for Your Time

This story came in a friend's email today:
It had been some time since Jack had seen the old man. College, girls, career, and life itself got in the way. In fact, Jack moved clear across the country in pursuit of his dreams. There, in the rush of his busy life, Jack had little time to think about the past and often no time to spend with his wife and son. He was working on his future, and nothing could stop him.

Over the phone, his mother told him, "Mr. Belser died last night. The funeral is Wednesday." Memories flashed through his mind like an old newsreel as he sat quietly remembering his childhood days.

"Jack, did you hear me?"

"Oh, sorry, Mom. Yes, I heard you. It's been so long since I thought of him. I'm sorry, but I honestly thought he died years ago," Jack said.

"Well, he didn't forget you. Every time I saw him, he'd ask how you were doing. He'd reminisce about the many days you spent over 'his side of the fence' as he put it," Mom told him.

"I loved that old house he lived in," Jack said.

"You know, Jack, after your father died, Mr. Belser stepped in to make sure you had a man's influence in your life," she said.

"He's the one who taught me carpentry," he said. "I wouldn't be in this business if it weren't for him. He spent a lot of time teaching me things he thought were important….Mom, I'll be there for the funeral," Jack said.

As busy as he was, he kept his word. Jack caught the next flight to his hometown. Mr. Belser's funeral was small and uneventful. He had no children of his own, and most of his relatives had passed away. The night before he had to return home, Jack and his Mom stopped by to see the old house next door one more time. Standing in the doorway, Jack paused for a moment. It was like crossing over into another dimension, a leap through space and time. The house was exactly as he remembered. Every step held memories. Every picture, every piece of furniture...Jack stopped suddenly.

"What's wrong, Jack?" his Mom asked.

"The box is gone," he said.

"What box?" Mom asked.

"There was a small gold box that he kept locked on top of his desk. I must have asked him a thousand times what was inside. All he'd ever tell me was 'the thing I value most,'" Jack said.

It was gone. Everything about the house was exactly how Jack remembered it, except for the box. He figured someone from the Belser family had taken it.

"Now I'll never know what was so valuable to him," Jack said. "I better get some sleep. I have an early flight home, Mom."

It had been about two weeks since Mr. Belser died. Returning home from work one day, Jack discovered a note in his mailbox. "Signature required on a package. No one at home. Please stop by the main post office within the next three days," the note read.

Early the next day Jack retrieved the package. The small box was old and looked like it had been mailed a hundred years ago. The handwriting was difficult to read, but the return address caught his attention. "Mr. Harold Belser" it read. Jack took the box out to his car and ripped open the package. There inside was the gold box and an envelope.

Jack's hands shook as he read the note inside. "Upon my death, please forward this box and its contents to Jack Bennett. It's the thing I valued most in my life." A small key was taped to the letter. His heart racing and tears filling his eyes, Jack carefully unlocked the box. There inside he found a beautiful gold pocket watch. Running his fingers slowly over the finely etched casing, he unlatched the cover. Inside he found these words engraved: Jack – Thanks for your time! -Harold Belser."The thing he valued most was...my time." Jack held the watch for a few minutes, then called his office and cleared his appointments for the next two days.

"Why?" asked his assistant Janet.

"I need some time to spend with my son," he said. "Oh, by the way, Janet thanks for your time!"

What a great story! Okay, maybe a little predictable, but perhaps that’s just because it is an issue we all face. Time doesn’t give or stretch. One minute will always be exactly sixty seconds – no more and no less. What we do in that precious minute is really up to us. We are all given a specific amount of time to do with what we choose. When I look back on the time I’ve spent, I hope that I will smile at what I see instead of wince.

The word “time” began to consume my thoughts after I read this story. I thought about the time I spent with my son and how that time has run out. Next, I thought about how the time I spend with my parents is growing shorter every day and I don’t want to waste a minute. Then I thought about last night and how I found myself at 11:00 p.m. wondering what happened to the evening. When I left work, I had intended to spend some time reading my Bible and talking with God about things in my life. Instead, I spent most of the evening playing with and figuring out a new electronic toy. Before I knew it, I had spent my time and as I look back on it, I’m not smiling. So now I find myself asking: Am I spending my time in such a way that Jesus will be able to say to me “Thanks for your time” when my time runs out?

By the way, I know that today's entry is a little longer than usual and I just wanted to take a minute and thank you for your time.
About the pictures:
Modern Art Piece - Oakland, PA (2009)
Clock Tower - North Park Boat House (2009)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Because He Said So

Many years ago, a small group of determined people and I stepped out in faith by developing a new ministry at our church. It was demanding work and we were unsure of whether it would be successful. Still, we knew that God had called us together for this purpose, so we poured our hearts into getting it up and running. God was faithful and prospered the ministry far beyond our hopes and expectations. Over the years, I've watched the people from that original group leave one by one. They moved out of the area or answered another call in their lives. New people came into the leadership of that ministry and it continues to grow and be shaped by their gifts, dedication, and vision for the ministry.

For many months now, I've been struggling with God's call to leave the leadership of this ministry. I've been stubbornly telling God that they need me and that I need it. Like a child who whines and cries when her mother tells her it's time to leave, I put up a fight. When I demanded that God tell me why, he, like parents so often do, told me "because I said so." That was it. No explanation. No itinerary. No reason other than "because I said so." Apparently, I still hate hearing that.

God was patient. He allowed me my temper tantrum. He waited for me to obey and follow his leading and I finally gave in. I stopped talking back. I gave up trying to enforce what I wanted and started listening to him tell me what I needed. I repented and obeyed his leading to resign from the ministry leadership with no excuse, no explanation other than "God said so." It was hard. Almost immediately after my resignation, something else presented itself. I've been in diligent prayer to discern a sense of call to this possible new service opportunity.

It's almost as if I had been in a dark place of disobedience while God was shining a bright light on my next step. While unable to discern what was in that light, I was able to see where to step. Having finally taken that step of obedience into the light, my eyes have begun to adapt to its brilliance and I am starting to make out the shapes of the things around me. I'm humbled by his patience, his forgiveness, and his love and I'm exited to see what he has in store for me.

So what have I learned from this experience? God's patience will outlast my tantrums every time, so maybe I should stop fighting him and just follow him. I've learned that he is my heavenly Father. He doesn't have to give me a reason and I should stop asking for one. Most importantly, I've learned that when I follow God's leading, I find myself where I wanted to be in the first place - with him! It doesn't really matter where his will takes me as long as I am with him on the journey.
About the pictures:
North Park (August 2009)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Do You Know Me?

This week I received an email that told this story:

In a trial, a Southern small-town prosecuting attorney called his first witness, a grandmotherly, elderly woman to the stand. He approached her and asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you know me?” She responded, “Why, yes, I do know you, Mr. Williams. I’ve known you since you were a boy, and frankly, you’ve been a big disappointment to me. You lie, you cheated on your wife, and you manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you’re a big shot when you haven’t the brains to realize you’ll never amount to anything more than a two-bit paper pusher. Yes, I know you.”

The lawyer was stunned. Not knowing what else to do, he pointed across the room and asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you know the defense attorney?”

She again replied, “Why yes, I do. I’ve known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster, too. He’s lazy, bigoted, and he has a drinking problem. He can’t build a normal relationship with anyone, and his law practice is one of the worst in the entire state. Not to mention he cheated on his wife with three different women. One of them was your wife. Yes, I know him.”

The defense attorney nearly died.

The judge asked both counselors to approach the bench and, in a very quiet voice, said, “If either of you idiots asks her if she knows me, I’ll send you both to the electric chair.”

I laughed when I read this story and then I paused. God knows me even more intimately than that. If I were to ask him, “Do you know me?” would I be able to endure the shame his answer would bring. There are so many things in my life that are hidden and I’m not just talking about the dumb things I did as a rebellious teenager or the greedy, self-serving offenses of my pre-Christian days. At least with those, I have the weak excuse that God hadn’t redeemed my life yet.

Even if God were to concentrate his answer on the years after I committed my life to Jesus, I couldn’t bear the encyclopedic volumes that would proceed from his mouth. Rebellion and sin are deep in my nature and that’s not going to just go away. I’m not going to wake up one day and never sin again. Yes, I am a Christian and my ambition and hope is to obey God’s will in my life, to become more like Jesus and less like the sinful human being that I am, but that is going to be a lifetime struggle.

So often in this world, a Christian’s sin is used as proof of “the deception” of Christianity. Non-Christians build their case against God with the sins of his people. They judge us self-righteous when we obey God’s will in our lives and hypocrites when we fail. How did any of us ever get the idea that “real” Christians are perfect all of the time? Real Christians are just broken people like everyone else. We are people who, by God’s grace, recognize our brokenness and in faith believe God has paid the price to redeem our lives. In gratitude, we offer our love and service to him, but we are still sinful human beings. God’s redeeming work is available instantly, but requires the rest of this lifetime to take root and flourish.

When I stand before the Lord on the Day of Judgment, all of my sins will be illuminated and measured by his holiness. Though I am sinful, I’m not afraid of that day because, just as he is with me now, Jesus will be standing with me on that day blotting out every last one of my sins with his blood. It’s not a lack of sin that make a Christian different from a non-Christian. It’s a relationship with the Savior that makes us different.
About the pictures:
North Park (August 2009)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Here's What I Know

Years ago I was diagnosed with Dysthymia (a low-grade depression that lasts longer than two years or in my case thirty years.) It is only by the grace of God, loving friends and family, a good Christian counselor, and four years of hard work that I finally climbed out of the dark hole my depression had trapped me in. Today I am blessedly depression-free. That disease will never again eat away at my soul and my life. That's not to say that I don't feel sad from time to time, and yes, even depressed. However, I have learned how to deal with it.

I mention this now because August is usually a time of year that I am susceptible to falling into depression. While I haven't been feeling depressed, I have noticed some of the warning signs. One of the things I've learned to do when I get this way is to articulate what I know. That's what I want to share with you today.

Here's what I know: God loves me and I love him. Even if I don't feel his presence right now, he is here with me. He speaks to me through his Word, so if I want to hear his voice, I just need to open my Bible. He will comfort and protect me. He will heal me. He will teach and guide me. He has provided a home for me to live in and food for me to eat. He's provided a vehicle for me to go from one place to another with ease. He's given me a church home where I belong and a wonderful family and great friends. He's given me a purpose. And he has given me a life worth living.

Here's what else I know: This moment is fleeting. Right now it's here...then just as quickly it's gone. I won't be stuck in this moment forever. I don't know what the next moment will hold. But I choose to have hope in God's good grace that it will better than the one I left behind.

My question to you today is "What do you know?"

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - think about such things. Philippians 4:8

May you be blessed with an abundance of "whatevers."
About the pictures:
North Park (August 2009)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Finding God's Message in the Puzzle

Sometimes God speaks to me in puzzle pieces. What I mean by this is that separate and often times unrelated events occur within a matter of days that when fit together properly with prayerful discernment, give me a powerful picture or message. This week, I’m inviting you to look at the puzzle pieces with me.

PUZZLE PIECE #1: Friday, I found out that I have a disc out of place in my neck that is causing pain, tingling, and weakness in my left arm and hand. I was forced to accept the fact that I may need surgery to correct the problem. Immediately, I began to worry about missing too much work during a long recovery time. How am I supposed to eat, pay my bills, and afford my rent if I miss weeks of work? I don’t have disability, so I would have absolutely no income while I'm off work. With no savings to draw from, this is a very bleak and frightening prospect to face.

PUZZLE PIECE #2: Tuesday night, a disturbed individual walked into a local aerobics class, turned out the lights and started firing indiscriminately. He killed three women, wounded nine more and then killed himself.

PUZZLE PIECE #3: Wednesday afternoon, two American journalists, who had been prisoners in North Korea for five months, stepped off a plane in the U.S. In a press conference, one of them said that every time one of their captors came into their rooms, they feared it was to bring them to a hard labor camp where they would remain, possibly for the rest of their lives. They had no idea that they were being released until a door opened and they saw the American team that would bring them home that day.

PUZZLE PIECE #4: Reflecting on the pieces at hand, my thoughts drifted to some of those unforeseeable life-changing events from my past. There was the first time my first husband abused me. There was the day my son was killed in a car accident. There was the night my second husband told me he didn’t want to be married to me anymore. All of these things came upon me with no notice, no time to brace myself for their impact, or prepare myself for the hardships they put in my life and on my heart. In the midst of these trials, I was fearful because I didn’t know what the next day would bring. I was stuck in the fear, the pain, and the insecurity of those events. It left me with a feeling of uncertainty and a building fear that I have no control in my life.

PUZZLE PIECE #5: Wednesday evening, one of those silly Facebook quizzes told me that the Bible verse that best describes my life is 1 Peter 5:7 - Cast all your cares on him, because he cares for you. Then it proceeded to tell me that I tend to try to solve all my own problems. Jesus is there waiting for me with open arms to help me and "care" me through. I was instructed to let him – he loves me.

PRAYERFUL DISCERNMENT. What do I do with these puzzle pieces? I sense the overall picture is about trust - a deep, unwavering trust in the Lord. Trust that in this moment…and this moment…and this moment, the Lord is attending to his plan in my life whatever those moments hold for me. C.S. Lewis said that the next moment is as much beyond our grasp, and as much in God's care, as that a hundred years away. Care for the next minute is as foolish as care for a day in the next thousand years. In neither can we do anything, in both God is doing everything. Whatever the circumstances of my life, God's plan is for our relationship to grow and flourish. The plan is to weed out my sinfulness so that his holiness has room to grow in me. God uses the trials and triumphs of my life to create in me the perfect heart of a child of God.

God's deep abiding love for me is evident. He gave his own Son, his own life in a brutal violent death, rather than see me perish. His heart aches for my pain and rejoices in my jubilation. Hearing my voice call his name is his greatest joy. His thoughts are continually of me and his heart overflows with compassion for me. His love compels him to be ever-present in my life. This is the God who holds the moments of my life in his hands. He has power over all things. What is there really to worry about? I don't have control over what will happen. In fact, I never did and to embrace the kind of trust in God that he deserves, I need to stop clinging to the illusion of being able to obtain that control. Trust in the Lord with all of your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all of your ways, acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6) Not easy, but straight. Straight through the trials of this world into his arms.

So now, I need to answer one question: Do I want to trade the fear and insecurity of not being able to control what happens to me in life for the peace and security of trusting the omnipotent, loving God who holds my heart and my life in his hands?
About the picture:
North Park (August 2009)

Thursday, July 30, 2009


This week, I've been thinking a lot about change. The kind of change that gives us an opportunity to learn and grow. Somewhere this week, a marriage crumbled. A life-saving surgery took place. A job was lost. A child was born. A loved one died. You may look at this list and see some good changes and some bad changes. I look at it and choose to see God's gifts.

When something comes along in my life that's devastating, I hate it just as much as anyone else, but I've learned to see it as a gift from God. This precious gift is an opportunity for me to lean on him and rely on him even more than I do when life is favorable. There is a closeness and familiarity that comes only when I'm weeping in his arms and seeking his comfort. I learn more about who I am as a person and often times find things in me that need changing that I wouldn't have seen otherwise. It's in those unhappy, unwanted circumstances in my life that I grow in character and maturity. His strength in my weak moments leaves me stronger and more secure in good times.

When adversity takes a vacation and life is good, I need to praise God for the accomplishments he has given me in my life. I need to share that joy with those around me for no victory can truly be celebrated to its fullest alone. I need to be ever mindful that things are always changing, and hard times will come again but through it all, the good and the bad, God's Spirit is with me. That one thing will never change.

He is my constant companion. He is my protector, my guide, my comfort, my joy and my hope. Time and again, he has proved his love and dedication to me and only asks that I love him in return. How could I not? When all about me is in chaos, he is my rock. When all is calm, he is my peace. Nothing and no one else in all of creation or history can measure up to his perfection. So I choose to give my heart to God because I refuse to settle for second best.

Thank you Jesus for teaching me how to love you by loving me first.
About the pictures:
Deer Lake Park May 2008