Monday, September 30, 2013

Heavy-Duty Thinking


Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! 
For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.  
But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; 
you will only find yourselves fighting against God.
Acts 5:38-39

During the past month, I have done some heavy-duty thinking about the purpose and goals of this blog.  And, in a supernatural I'm-sure-God-is-working-in-this way, I have seen waves of encouragement and support roll across this Christian-blogging community.  Writers are posting - don't be discouraged by not knowing who you reach.   Don't be discouraged by comparing your posts to others - other writers who truly excel at their craft - other photographers who regularly capture exactly that special moment - other bloggers with more followers, more friends in their circle, more likes. 

So.  Heavy-duty thinking.  Self-evaluation.  Self-searching.  And yes, I am guilty of comparing.  But, this is what I've come up with:

 Christians comprise the largest percentage of the world's religious population (which in 1970 comprised about 82% of the world population).   The religious population is projected to increase by 2020, to around 90% of the total world population.  Of this, Christians will again make up the largest percentage.  Christianity is not the fastest growing, however.  Islam is the fastest growing religion.





























This graph shows the projection of change - it shows a 'shift' of Christianity and Islam to the Southern Hemisphere.  My concern is the drop in North America, Europe, and Oceania.  Guess what - these are the countries most reached by blogs, and where blogs are most read.






Between 10 and 20 percent of bloggers write about religion/spirituality.  That's you.  If you are blogging from the United States, your blog is one of perhaps 3 million blogs.  Of those, let's guess that the statistics follow the world population - maybe 33% are about Christianity and for the sake of accuracy, put a give or take on it.  Give or take 10 percent and you have somewhere around one million blogs about Christianity.  Wow.  So of course you're going to feel a little lost in the mix...but look at the next statistic... http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Continued-Rise-of-Blogging/1007941

These are your readers.  Again, let's play with the population...  33% are Christian - maybe looking to read about your personal experience, your application, your encouragement.  That's a potential readership - again give or take - of 40 million or so.  Ok, so I'm being optimistic.  Take 10% of that - it's still a readership, in the US alone, of people who are already reading blogs at least on a monthly basis, of four million,  

Think about it!  Across the blogosphere, across our computer screens, we have the opportunity to change the world!  

Remember the trend - Christianity moving south?  Here's the part that really grabbed me.  When you pull the stats apart by region, the US, Northern Europe, South America, and Oceania are predicted to lose Christians.  Guess what they're expected to lose to?  Agnosticism.  Agnostics are people who don't believe in anything really - they don't deny the existence of God, but they also don't believe in God.  You can read about the trends in this report:  http://wwwgordonconwell.com/netcommunity/CSGCResources/ChristianityinitsGlobalContext.pdf 

Here's my guess.  These people haven't been shown God in the world.  These are people who believed because they were told to believe, but never really had any kind of life experience that cemented their belief.  

This is where you can make the biggest difference.  Don't deny your Christianity.  Don't mess around with the little things.  Proclaim, loud and clear, who you are and who you represent.  Show, in your writing and in your photos and videos, your tweets and your posts, the presence of Jesus in your life. Describe the miracles.  Define the joy.  

You wouldn't be writing if you weren't nudged by God.  I think He understands this blogosphere better than anyone.  He's using YOU.  You.  And you don't know who you're going to reach with your amazingly talented writing, or your amazingly sincere post.  

It's not a question of comparison or discouragement.  It's a question of what you're going to say, today, that might make a difference in someone's life - somewhere, somehow.  And it's God's plan - you may or may not ever know the difference you've made - but believe that you make a difference.  

Look at today's verse!  Our God is amazing - like Paul was looking 2000 years in the future.  Do you believe your blog has a God-purpose?  I do.

God, thank you for opening up an opportunity for me to do what I love and serve you at the same time.  Thank you for the encouraging community of bloggers I've met.  Help us to be missionaries for you.

Linking With:


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Isaiah 2:5


Happenstance.  The flower was facing the wrong direction, but I liked the light.  Hmmm....  Maybe it wasn't facing the wrong direction after all.  Thinking about walking in His Light today - and having fun with font colors in the verse - asking His Light into my life.  Have a joy-filled Saturday.  Janet

Friday, September 27, 2013

Finding Joy - the Truth



Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—
think about such things.
Philippians 4:8

We write for five minutes flat. All on the same posted prompt.  No extreme editing; no worrying about perfect grammar, font, or punctuation.  Unscripted. Unedited. Real.  So now on Fridays a group of people who love to throw caution to the wind and just write without worrying if it’s just right, gather to share what five minutes buys them. Just five minutes.

This week's prompt:  TRUE

....and GO

Here's the truth.  I have no clue what I'm doing as a blogger.  God told me to write (I know, there are some who will read this and indulgently smile and think to themselves - oh, she's one of those ...)  But it was a pretty clear telling and I'm obedient.  So I write.  I don't know, really, how to build followers, or how to reach more people.  I would love this to be my job - to be able to work from home and earn the kind of income we need for me to earn - It would be my choice for an answer to prayer.  But that part is in God's hands.  In the meantime, I write.

About whatever is on my mind in the early, early morning before my family is up, before my day actually begins, before the responsibility starts.  I have one tiny-huge rule for myself.  I want to write about joy - in some way, about finding joy.  That's my title.  That's my mission.  And it isn't always easy because I don't always see joy around me.

Sometimes I just see hurt.  Sometimes I see senseless violence.  Sometimes I see struggle and tension, weariness.  And sorrow stalks the edges of my search.  Sorrow for the world - because I'm a big picture person and sometimes I just cry.

So I have to look.  I have to search for the joy.  And sometimes, the best joy comes after the saddest and hardest times - so I have to go there.  To those difficult things.  To the sadness.  To the violence.  And sometimes, I just can't - so I put on my Pollyanna blinders and put my mind on God - and Jesus.  Our Creator and our Redeemer.  And I find joy.  And I find truth.

....and STOP

Linking with:
Five Minute Friday



Thursday, September 26, 2013

Pick Me...

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, 
because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, 
blown and tossed by the wind. 
James 1:6


Pick me - pick me - pick me -

The words are an unending loop I can't quite contain.


Interviewing is kind of fun and kind of not.  Fun because I honestly like people.  I like to get to know them - I want to figure out what makes them tick, their passions, share their experiences.  I like to watch people - make them smile - gauge their eyes as they talk about family, or friends, or their favorite movie.  I like to listen to their voices - the timbre, the accents, the music, the way they put words together.  So, interviews put me in the path of people.


But on the flip side, while I'm enjoying people, they're evaluating me.  My resume.  My skills and knowledge.  And let's face it, my personality.  And I want them to like me.  And in this economy, when you interview for a job, there's usually more than relationship and experience on the line.  It's a JOB.


I went on an interview today.  Yes, I could definitely use the job.  Yes, I am qualified and certified.  But, for the first time in I don't know how long, I want THIS job in THIS place.  Because THIS place is really making a difference, and I want to be in the middle of that.  And the interview was different than any others in my experience.  It was all about RELATIONSHIP.  And about who I am - underneath the degrees, underneath the experience, underneath the career.  And that was hard.  Because underneath all those things - I still don't feel like I'm good enough sometimes.  I still feel like the kid on the schoolyard who's not the fastest, or the best - the kid with the wistful face - don't let me be the last one picked.


Yes, I prayed before going.  Yes, I've been praying - telling God I know He knows what He's doing (but I'd love a hint or clue just the same).  Yes, my head knows that I AM good at what I do, but..... No, I won't know until next week.

So until then,

pick me - oh Lord help me trust you - 
pick me - thank you for all the blessings you always give - 
pick me - is this the one - 
pick me - help me follow you - 

pick me - oh!  It's not all about me, it's picking the right person for this place that's making the difference - 

oh God, if it's me, let me be ready to do a good job, if it's not me, then continue to guide and direct me to Your right place and Your plan.  And thank You for helping me stop the unending loop...

Linking with:

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

In the Garden


When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." 
For God cannot be tempted by evil, 
nor does he tempt anyone;  
but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 
Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; 
and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. 
Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. 
Every good and perfect gift is from above, 
coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, 
who does not change like shifting shadows. 
He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, 
that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.


"She was beguiled."

Beguiled, the little angels scribbled furiously in their note journals.

"Bamboozled, tricked, deceived, hoodwinked, misled, duped.  But she wasn't lied to."

Curio stopped scribbling and looked up in alarm.  "Not lied to?  How was it not a lie?  It was an apple - only an apple."

"An apple," the little angels repeated.

The man stopped his pacing around the classroom and looked at little Curio.  "It wasn't the apple.  It was the choice she made.  The choice to take the bite."

Curio squirmed under his gaze.  She always had to question.  Always had to ask.  Everything had to be spelled out and it had to make perfect sense.  Sometimes she just wished she could sit back and let something slide.  Like this apple thing.

She looked up at the Teacher.  No wings.  No halo.  A man.  With a kind face, laugh wrinkles and sunburn, longish hair, compassionate eyes.  A new member of the faculty, he had already won the hearts of many of the angels with his stories and parables.  He definitely knew his stuff - came VERY highly recommended - by the Big Guy himself, she'd heard.  But she still didn't understand what he was talking about.  Her little wings quivered.  Now or never,

"I just don't get it," she moaned.  "You can't take a bite out of a choice, a choice isn't a thing..."

"You're right!"  The man beamed, his smile fell on her like sunshine, warming from the inside out.  "A choice begins with intent.  Her choice was made as soon as she intended to take the bite.  The intent was the main course - the bite was just dessert."  He winked.

Titters and squeaks, Curio heard the ripple of reaction spread through the room.   Dessert?  It was an apple...  

He walked rapidly to the front of the classroom and moved his hands across the board.  He was creating lines.  The room grew quiet; the little angels focused their attention on the Teacher's drawing.  As they watched, the lines formed images, and then the images began to move.

"Here is the Garden," the Teacher narrated.

 The angels could see the lush greenery; they could smell fragrant flowers; they heard splashing water, and birds.  Curio thought she detected cricket song.  The Garden was everything and more than they remembered.

"Here is Adam."

The Teacher had drawn a fine man, strong and intelligent.  He was walking in the Garden alone.  But the angels knew he wasn't truly alone.  Never alone.  They could sense the presence of Adonai - even in the images on the board, and the images paled in comparison to what had truly been.  Many in the classroom were glowing at memories of the Beginning.  When the world was true.

Curio sat up straighter on her bench.  And watched.  And listened.  And felt.

A voice filled the classroom.  A voice she knew - like music, melody and harmony - resplendent in love, compassion, command, and joy.
"You are free to eat from any tree in the garden.  But you must never eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because when you eat from it, you will certainly die."
Certainly die.... certainly die.... certainly die... THIS was the lie - Adam WAS lied to, she thought.  Curio's face had gone hot, and she knew from experience, red.  Despite the spreading heat caused by her stubborn inability to let this thing go, her hand shot up in the air.

"But they didn't die," she blurted out, before the Teacher could acknowledge her.

More twitters and squeaks.  The pictures stopped moving in the front of the room.  Curio shut her eyes tightly - she could feel their stares like pinpricks on her heart.  Mercy and Grace, her best friends, reached across the aisle to rest their hands on her shoulders.  She sensed empathy in their touch, and felt the wave of heat on her face fade.  Patience looked at her from across the benches and winked.  It was Curio's second wink of the day.

The Teacher stood by the board, hands not moving, smile gone, eyes commanding attention.
"Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear."
"This is Eve."

Every bit as strong as the man, yet softer, feminine, and, Curio knew, equally intelligent.  The woman called Eve had taken Adam's hand. The angels could hear them talking and laughing as they walked through the Garden together.  A collective sigh whispered across the room.

"Here is Deceit."

The Teacher's voice rumbled beneath the memories like low and distant thunder.  The angels stared at the image of the serpent, sliding through the Garden, in and out of the shadows.  They watched, mesmerized; the creature in jewel tones wrapped itself around Eve's arm like a glowing, living bracelet.  They watched Eve's delight.  They heard the conversation; questions and answers about the nature of beauty, about purpose, about relationship, about life in the Garden.  And the angels felt a rising dread when they heard the snake whisper,
“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The pictures shifted; the serpent wound around the tree in the center of the Garden.  The angels held their breath.
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ”
Breath released.  They already knew the end to the story.  Curio felt like she was standing at the edge of a great abyss, like she was teetering on a precipice.  One little whisper of wind... And then she remembered; angels fly.
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
The Teacher stopped the images and wrote the words across the frozen scene.  The letters glowed like embers.  He underlined.  The words changed color.
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
"Who is speaking?" He asked the class.

"The serpent."  Curio looked at the notes on the board.   She carefully underlined the words he had highlighted.

"Who is he speaking for?"  The Teacher walked around the classroom as he spoke.

"God."

"Is he God?"

"No."

"Can he speak for God?"

"No."

Back at the front, the Teacher wrote a definition on the board.  "Copy this", he said.
Deceit:  concealment or distortion of the truth for the purpose of misleading; duplicity; fraud; cheating
  Then he rewrote the serpent's words again.  The highlighted words were different this time.
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.
"Are these statements true?"  He asked the class.

The angels blinked.  Curio was still confused.  It was only an apple.  Apples are apples - they don't open eyes to knowing good and evil.  And nobody died.

"But...," she looked at her hand - in the air, raised of it's own volition.

The Teacher smiled at her.  And then turned to touch the frozen images on the board.  The angels saw Eve take a bite of the apple.  They saw her offer the forbidden fruit to Adam.  They watched the man and woman cover themselves; they watched them hide.  They saw the snake slither from the tree and disappear into the Garden.  And they felt the sadness of Adonai.  A sense of something lost settled like a fog; a cold blanketing mist spilled into the classroom.  Curio heard a whimper in the back of the classroom.  Innocence was crying.  Kindness took her in his arms and comforted her.

And that's when she understood.  Curio's hand came down, slowly.  Adam and Eve didn't die; it was their close relationship with Adonai that could no longer exist.  They knew evil.  HE was totally good.

The statements were true.  The deceit was in the consequences.  But she was still confused about the apple.

"But..." For the third time, Curio's hand rose like a disobedient child.

This time, the Teacher came right to her.  He knelt beside her bench and took her face in his hands.  His words were quietly spoken; she could feel his love like velvet, soft and warm, luxurious.

"Dear One, do not fear - you are right.  It was only an apple.  It was only a bite.  The distance between good and evil is not a great distance.  The difference is in the intent.  My Father will always allow a choice.  He will always guide and direct.  He loves you too much to not - He is no dictator.  There is only a very small distance between an apple and a fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  The difference is in the intent.  Once the choice was made to go against my Father's wishes, the apple became - it crossed that distance."

Curio sighed.  She understood.  She smiled at the Teacher and wiped a tear away simultaneously.

"It was an apple."  She said.

"They died."  She wrote, through new tears.  The sadness she felt threatened to overwhelm her.

She sensed rather than saw a change in the classroom and looked up from her notes.  The Teacher again stood at the front - and He was radiant.

"Eve was deceived," his voice, starting softly, grew in exuberance, "but My Father has a plan...".  He looked directly at Curio and winked.  "And His plans are pretty good, don't you think?"

Father God, thank you for your plan to rescue us from deceit and lead us to truth.  


Monday, September 23, 2013

I Saw Jesus


I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.  Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me.  Because I live, you also will live.  On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 
John 14:18-20

I saw Jesus yesterday.

He was standing in the front of the church with a welcoming smile and a microphone attached to his head.  His hair was cut in a fashionable bob and he wore a spunky jacket, silky and beaded, printed in fall colors.  He looked at the empty front row and told the congregation how much he missed the group of friends who usually sat there.  He said he missed their smiles and genuine joy in worship.  He looked and sounded just like our new pastor, Sylvia.

I saw Jesus yesterday.

He stood in front of me at the end of the lesson - the lesson about God using the un-perfect, the sinners, the less-than-able.  The lesson about praying for God's help and strength.  He was short and dark with black curls and blue barrettes.  He frowned when he asked me to pray for his neighbor - the woman who had just found out that the lump in her breast was cancerous.  He looked and sounded just like Mary, differently-abled Mary.

I saw Jesus yesterday.

He was tall and thin with a wisp of a beard.  He wore a t-shirt with his high school logo.  And khaki shorts.  And sandals.  He was talking to the new kid in the youth group - the one who wasn't standing by himself any longer.  The one who looked like he was beginning to fit in.  He looked and sounded just like Zak, a high-school senior.

I saw Jesus yesterday.

He was with two young children, a girl and a boy.  They were playing.  He laughed and smiled as they rolled and tossed balls.  He gently suggested ways to include each other in their play, and cheered them as they began to have fun together.  He looked and sounded just like Luke, husband to Megan.

I saw Jesus yesterday.

I saw him.
Welcoming.  Caring.  Kind.  Encouraging.

Father, thank you for the glimpses we see of your Son in our daily lives.  Thank you for his disciples.

Linking with:
The Weekend Brew
Hear It On Sunday
Sunday Stillness




Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Or Can I?


"You believe at last!" Jesus answered. 
John 16:31

Sierra and I watched every single episode of "So You Think You Can Dance" this season.  Except the very last one.  The one where the winner was announced.  Sierra says Amy and Aaron won.  I just can't predict.  The final competitors were all so very good.  And I wanted to know who won.  Really.  I thought I had the show recorded, and I've looked it up on my On Demand listings, but either it's not there or I'm looking in all the wrong places.  I suppose I could just google the results, but that seems kind of anti-climatic.  I want to see the winners.  I want to share in their triumph.  I want to feel like I'm there with them - in time and place with them.

Time and place and shared experience.  They're part of relationship.  During the season, I felt like there was some kind of relationship between me and the contestants on the show.  The producers were pretty darned strategic about building connections - by showing us back story, by prompting the dancers to describe themselves in 15 seconds or less, by catching bloopers and rehearsals.  By helping us, sitting at home, to relate to the competitors.  Giving us shared time, shared place, and shared experience.  It was important to the show because the audience got to vote.  And votes weren't always based on the best technician.  The show was designed that way. 

So, I don't know who won.  And it hasn't made one, single difference in my life.  All of that strategic connection-making hasn't made one difference in how I live, in what I say, in how I think...  Because it wasn't real.  It was manipulated.  The magic of television brought the show into my living room each week - but I could watch a recording of it at anytime and in anyplace.  Fifty years from now, a hundred years from now someone could watch these recordings and the dancers would seem just as young and just as vital, and the show would be just as much about false relationship as it is today.

I say false relationship and it sounds negative.  I don't mean it that way.  I simply mean it is not.  The simplest definition of relationship is "the way in which two or more people or things are connected". (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/relationship)  I'm not connected to these dancers - except through the window of television.

So, what does that say about a relationship with Jesus?  Where's the connections?  Time.  Place.  Experience.  He lived over two-thousand years ago and I can't watch reruns.  Not even through the magic of television can I share time with him.  He lived in Roman-ruled Israel.  His place simply doesn't exist anymore.  And experience?  Good grief - he was fully God and fully man - I can't possibly connect to that.

Or can I?

Heavenly Father, Awesome God, 
Did you intend the world to be in relationship with You through Your Son? 
What a vision!  Help me to do my part - to see Jesus in the world, to know Jesus in the world,
 to connect to Jesus in the world, to follow Jesus in the world.  

Linking With:
Three Word Wednesday

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Extravagant Rampant Praise


Praise the LORD, everything he has created, everything in all his kingdom. 
Let all that I am praise the LORD.
Psalm 103:22

What if we were surrounded by praise.  All the time.  From every little no-see-um nano-quark, to every atom of every molecule.  And what if the praise came in every form imaginable - and unimaginable.  What if it came through the medium of any or all of our senses - sound, sight, smell, touch, and taste.  Praise for our God - Creator of the Universe and all that's in it.

All.  Not just the little bit that we recognize.

All.  Not the little bit more that we theorize.

All.

Imagine the universe overflowing with praise.  Extravagant, bursting, rampant praise.

What if the rivers of our lives, our timelines with drama unfolding at every bend and turn, at every turbulent set of rapids or waterfall, and in every shallow pool and glassy meander, what if they are really silvery threads woven into a tapestry of praise.  What if the seasons are praise-threads of time - autumn colored, and green and white.  What if change itself is a form of praise to the God and Maker of all change?

We were made to praise God - created for His Glory.  What if everything was made to praise God. What if we were just a small part of a community of praise?  A tiny percentage.  Our infinitesimal particles of praise part of a universe community.

What if our own fellowship, our relationship with one another was its own form of praise?  Would it change our actions?  Would it change our words?  Would it change our world?

Wouldn't our lives become holy - because we would be making a gift of them to God.  Our lives lived in praise of Him?  He is awesome.  He is just.  He is loving.  He is jealous.  He is wise.  He is gracious and forgiving.  He is all-knowing and all-powerful.  Comforter.  Healer.  Provider.  Redeemer.  The First and the Last.  The Three-in-One.  HE IS.

And He lives in our praise.  But you are holy, O you that inhabit the praises of Israel.  IN IT!  Imagine that.  And he IS our praise.  He is your praise and He is your God.  Love Him, cherish Him, pursue Him with praise.

Not just when you're happy.  Not just when you need Him.  Not as a trade for a favor.  Not just because you're in the mood.  Not just when the program says so.  Not just when the right hymn plays. With every breath a praise.

Imagine yourself - in cahoots with the universe - overflowing with praise.  Extravagant, bursting, rampant praise.

Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,
who was, and is, and is to come.

You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.
Revelation 4:8, 4:11

Linking with:
Women Helping Women
Titus 2sdays
Titus 2 Tuesday

Monday, September 16, 2013

Dear God



But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.”
Nehemiah 6:9

Dear God,

Thank you for the beautiful sunrise this morning.  The one I wouldn't have seen if I hadn't forgotten that I needed something from my husband.  The one I wouldn't have noticed if I hadn't stopped my running on the treadmill; if I hadn't gotten in the car and driven east to the freeway.  East, God.  You knew I'd be driving east.  It was a late sunrise.  The sky was already tinged in blue.  But the clouds, God, you did a really nice job with the clouds this morning.  There weren't very many and they weren't very big.  But they were perfect.  Perfectly white in the middle with hints of orange and pink toward the edges.  And those edges shimmered with light like neon halos of gold.  Oh, I don't know about neon halos, but they were bright.  And beautiful.  And like I said, perfect.

Like you, God.  You must have known that I needed to see the sunrise this morning.  You must have known that I was feeling a little bit like the night.  A little bit on the underexposed side - you must have known I needed to see your light early.  Because that's how you are, isn't it?  You give us just what we need, right when we need it.  

Yesterday, you did the same thing with the message at church.  About the prayer of Nehemiah.  Not the long prayer in the first chapter - but the little plea for help in the sixth.  It was a simple prayer.  Thank you for showing me that simple is ok, too.  Sometimes it's the best thing, right?  Too many words can muddle up the message.  

I liked the message yesterday - strengthen my hands.  Because Nehemiah was literally re-building the wall of Jerusalem.  The success of his mission depended on the literal strength of his hands.  But, God, you are a master of stories and stories within stories.  Did you also mean for the walls to stand for something else?  A metaphor, maybe?  Like building a life for you?  Because Nehemiah did that, too.  He brought a whole bunch of those Israelites back to you.  He brought back the holy in the city.  I bet you strengthened Nehemiah's metaphor-hands as well, didn't you?  You strengthened him within your own will, didn't you?  You strengthened his leadership, his peace, his generosity, his service.  Because he and his workers were successful in a ridiculously short amount of time.  That wall was finished in 52 days.  That's less than two months.  Amazing.  

God, strengthen my hands.  You have something in store for me to do - something wonderful!  Help me to not be so busy on the treadmill of my life, that I miss it.  Help me to see it clearly - like your sunset this morning.  Help me to embrace this new opportunity.  Help me to build my life in you.  Strengthen my hands.  Strengthen my heart.  Strengthen my faith.   Thank you, Amazing God!

Linking With:

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Follow Him - Luke 5:11


Heavenly Father, help me pull up my boat, leave everything, and follow Jesus.

Linking with Still Saturday

Friday, September 13, 2013

Lord 'A Mercy

Every Friday, a whole bunch of bloggers get together at LisaJo's for a 5-minute writing festival.  The prompt comes out at midnight.  The rules are simple.  Five minutes.  You get five minutes to say what you have to say.  I have to admit, I cheat a little.  I look at the prompt and let myself stew on it for awhile before I sit down in front of the computer.  And then --- it's ready, set, go.  I do add the picture and scripture outside of the timeframe...

This week's prompt:  MERCY 


Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
Proverbs 31:31

We tumbled out of the car like an upended box of warm puppies - into the Indiana-farm air of alfalfa fields, soybeans and hogs. Sweet and sour.  Finally at Grandma's.  And there she was, standing on the porch in her apron and dress, socks halfway up her gnarly calves of varicose veins, wisps of gray hair like a halo.

"Lord 'a mercy!  How you've grown!"  She always said the same thing, in the same way - wrapping us up in arms that smelled like cinnamon and talcum powder - in a hug the size of Texas.   And folded into that bosom of love, we felt claimed.  Home.  Even though we'd never lived in the country, on that one-lane road, twisting and turning through planted fields and stands of trees.  We were the city cousins - come for our yearly visit.

"Lord 'a mercy!"  I loved the way she talked; things were purty, and she got away with saying ain't.  Less formal - softer around the edges - relaxed.  Memories spill over in my mind - card games around the kitchen table, fresh milk, chasing chickens, hide and seek in the hayloft, and always Grandma.  Cooking for the troops of relatives come to visit.  Doughnuts and cinnamon rolls in the freezer - canned fruits and vegetables, farm-fresh tomatoes, butchered bacon and beef.  She was so happy, surrounded by family.  Her laughter bubbled up from a deep, holy place inside like water from a well - it poured over us, sparkling cool and fresh.  Cleansing us of city sarcasm and city schedules.

Time stood still at Grandma's.  And peace endured.   She made a home for us in that country world.  Lord 'a mercy - she knew how to show love.

Father God, thank you for these precious memories.  

Linking with LisaJo at 5-Minute Friday

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Picture This


But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.
I Corinthians 12:18

The couple is cute as a button.  I don't believe she stands over five feet tall.  She dances.  Black hair bouncing.  In the front pew - especially when she hears the old-time gospel music with the syncopated beat.  And she claps.  On the beat, off the beat, doubling the beat.  She's all over that beat - music rolls over her, through her, and right on out into the sanctuary in rhythm with her special step-touch-step-touch sway.  Her husband dances along next to her - arms swinging, teeth shining in a smile as wide open as his personality.  I've never heard him say a mean word - not when he talks about his week, not when he talks about his his job with the slowly eroding hours, not even when he talks about his co-workers who sometimes make fun.  He says God doesn't like a grump.

She just turned 70 in May; he's 56; they've been married 27 years.  They're part of the Friendship Group at our church;  they are intellectually disabled.

There are several members - full of personality and flair.  And their capabilities vary dramatically.  One loves to gossip about the latest happenings in the disabled community;  one wants to sing a solo every week; one makes sure to keep me informed of upcoming meetings and scheduled events; one sits quietly watching - I can see her wheels turning taking everything in.  Assisted living, independent living, living at home.  They ask us to pray for their families, for their friends, for peace in the world, for victims of disaster.  They ask us to pray for better job schedules - this economy has filtered down to their bottom lines.  They ask us to pray for our church.  Generous.  Heartfelt.  Natural.

By creating this class, our church has provided a place to address the spiritual education of these adults.  Yay church!  But here's the thing.   As Jeff McNair, says in his blog Disabled Christianity:
The critical question in faith development, Bible "learning" is not whether, but how...  the changes that need to come to the church that would facilitate faith development for all, will largely result from a change in the entire church environment, not just in figuring out some way to teach the Bible to people with intellectual disabilities.  The discussion begins with the statement, "Yes, we want people with severe intellectual disabilities integrated into the church in as many ways as possible."
Once we make that statement our real goal, we will find that we will change our structures such that Bible instruction of persons with disabilities is no longer something else we do, it becomes a significant aspect of who we are.  We, the church body have changed from being a church to the Body of Christ with all that that entails. 
The thing.  It is a step in the right direction to provide a place/class/service for adults with disabilities.  It is an entirely different step to integrate that group into all aspects of the church.  Picture this; one day, I will walk into a class where church youth are sitting with disabled adults, helping them to read, to write, talking with them.  Picture this: one day, the Men's group will plan an event with the Friendship Men - to get to know them, to pray with them.  And picture this: one day, the Women's group will meet with the Friendship Women - to dance, to sing, to craft.  One day, some from the Friendship Group will volunteer to help watch the children when the MOPs group meets, they will volunteer in the kitchen during Vacation Bible School, they will explain what it takes to live independently to young adults.  Can you picture it?
I realize that this may be oversimplifying the issue, but we have to start somewhere.  The church can start by fully including those with severe intellectual disabilities which in turn encourages the message; all are valued and needed in the church and all people with disabilities or not are spiritual people who can not only learn but (and I know I am getting ahead of the issue here) teach profound spiritual issues.                                                       Karen Jackson - Faith Inclusion Network
Picture This.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Christ in this world of diversity.  Help us to fit ourselves into need.  Help us to see your face.

Linking With:
Thought-Provoking Thursday
Thriving Thursday



Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Inside This House


And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house.
Luke 10:5


Inside this house 
Memories of years past, 
People and parties, 
Dreams, 
Growing up, aging and ageless.  

Inside this house, 
Out with the old in with the new, 
The gently used, 
The hand me downs, 
The treasured.  

Inside this house,
A little frayed at the edges,
Comfortable and comforting,
Placed lovingly in seasoned spaces.
Savored.

What was empty, filled.
What was longed for, received.
What was silent, murmuring and rustling with life.
Family life.
Home life.


God Bless this House

Heavenly Father, Thank you for the blessings you give us every day.  Thank you for this home, for this neighborhood, for friends and family.  Most especially, thank you for your Son.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

On the Mountain


Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
Psalm 139:7-10

There is poetry in the name - Ten Sleep, Wyoming. The story goes that it was the winter camp for one of the Sioux bands - years ago.  It was a ten-day trip from Summer Camp.  It took ten sleeps.  A small town, it nestles up against the western edge of the Big Horn Mountains.  And the day we drove through, it was snowing.

"We" was a small caravan made up of my husband-at-the-time, our two-year-old daughter, and me.  We had four vehicles between us, and I'm sure we were a colorful, if not slightly ragtag sight to see.  He was driving a small dump truck he had fixed up and painted turquoise, lift-bed loaded with tools.  Hooked to the massive bumper was a primer-gray bread truck.  Another one of his projects - when he'd had a mechanic's shop.  He liked it because of its rust-free aluminum body.  It was stuffed with household goods and mattresses that threatened to erupt from the cramped space every time the door was opened.   He was in the lead.  I followed in a little 4-cylinder, manual pick-up truck.  A single bench in the front with my daughter strapped in next to me.  The bed was loaded, tarped, and strapped.  I was hauling a 20-foot, dual-axle trailer, also loaded and covered with a multitude of tarps and tape - robin's egg and camouflage - in a patchwork over the lumps of the rest of our worldly possessions.  Can you picture us?  We were a sight to see.  A dump truck, a bread truck, a little Isuzu p'up, and a trailer.

It was snowing.  It was beautiful.  The air was crisp and refreshing.  I remembered ice skating on a frozen lake in my childhood in air like that.  The kind of air we used to gulp in and expel in little clouds of condensation - little engines that could - skating on solid ice.

He was in the lead - my husband-at-the-time.  His tires, his power, drew him farther and farther in front of us - my daughter and me.  We were singing, cocooned in the front seat, warm and dry.   The road was gray, and wet as we drove through the little town with the old-fashioned storefronts, leftover from a busier life.  Now it was home to ranchers - by the looks of the post-and-rail fences, the wide-open rolls of land that were slowly narrowing and folding themselves into a protected canyon with great lodgepole pines and steep, rocky sides.

My daughter and I were singing - silly Barney songs and nursery rhymes and the road stretched and then switched back as it took us higher and higher into the mountains.  I could see him leading, the blue and gray, through the snow, ahead of us.

And then I couldn't.

And the road, the gray road, had turned white.  And the snow, the beautiful flakes of snow, had thickened and were falling now with purpose, and there was wind.  We came to a long, straight stretch of road, no drop-off here, a white path through the tall trees, and I could feel the weight of the load behind me.  No one in sight.  The snow fell.  We sang.

When the load felt different, I looked in my side mirror and saw that the trailer wasn't following me.  It had begun to slide next to me.  In my mind, I knew what this was.  In my mind, I knew what I was supposed to do.  I was jackknifing and I needed my truck to move - a little faster, just a little, to straighten us out.  Thank God I was in a four-cylinder.  Too much power and we would have gone off the road.  Thank God there wasn't too much power in that little truck.  But by the time I got the trailer back in line, there was no more traction between the tires and the now icy road.  We were not going anywhere.

Do you believe that God watches out for us, even when we don't believe in him?  I do.  God is bigger than my beliefs.  He existed before I was ever born.  He will continue to exist long after I'm gone.  You would think that my tiny life would be pretty darned insignificant to him - Creator of the Universe.  And I used to think so.  But I've learned.  And I continue to learn.  He has a plan for us - even when we've run from him and hidden our silly heads in the sand.  Sometimes it takes finding ourselves in the belly of a whale to wake up.  Or the belly of a blizzard in Wyoming.

Hindsight.  My daughter was traveling with me.  No joke, getting stuck on the ice in the middle of the Big Horn Mountains, was pretty serious.  But we were on a fairly flat stretch of road; the trees and canyon walls were protecting us from the wind; we were warm, and we were safe.  We may have been sitting for an hour and a half when a car came riding rescue from the other direction - from the up-side of the road.  My husband-at-the-time jumped out, let some of the air out of my tires, and managed to drive us to a lodge about ten miles up the road.

Hindsight.  His truck had failed about ten miles from the pass.  His truck started to slide backwards on the icy road, zig-zagging backwards with the bread truck behind.  He'd had to jump out of the driver's seat and run alongside the sliding vehicles until he could throw something under the wheels - to stop them.

Hindsight.  If my daughter had been with him, he would have stayed with her in the cab.  He would not have gotten out of the truck.  Would they have stopped on their own?

Hindsight.  He was in a place where the slide was slow and he was able to stop it with his temporary block.  Would it have kept going?

Hindsight.  There was a lodge - open with a vacancy for us.

We ate in the dining room of the lodge, sharing stories with others who had been caught in this storm.  One family was making arrangements to have their vehicle recovered from where it had gone off the road and down an embankment.  They hadn't been hurt, but feared the vehicle had been totaled.

Hindsight.  Was God on the mountain that night?

Heavenly Father, 
Thank you for being always present, always caring, always loving - even when we don't believe, even when we run away.  Even when I ran away.  Thank you for having the faith in me to know that I would eventually come around - come back to you.  And I'm so glad that I did!  You have blessed my life in so many ways, help me to bless the lives of those around me - through you.

Linking With:

Monday, September 9, 2013

Letter to a New Mom


You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Psalm 139:5

Dear Chosen One,


Hi.  You may not know me, but I want to be next to you.  I promise I won't tell you how to feel, because you have to.  Feel....everything.  And it won't always  be easy; and it won't always  be comfortable; and the joy you expected to feel has been pressed under, pushed away, like something that got swept under the bed before unexpected company.  Because what you're going through, right now, is unexpected.  But I promise, that joy will come flooding back a hundred-fold, a thousand-fold.  I chose you for this role.  This motherhood.  I know you, and I know what you're capable of, and I know that you will seek me when you need strength, when you need hope, when you need reassurance.  And I will be there for you. 







That joy?  It will come at unexpected moments - when you breathe in the baby-smell of lotion and no-more-tears, when skin-to-skin is your entire world.  It will come in the first moments - first word, first smile, first step.  Just like other babies, typical babies.  But this baby you hold so tightly may not stay on the typical schedule.  This child might make you slow down; which just means you can hold onto those joy-moments a little longer.  





Feel my arms, holding you.  Feel my hands brushing away those tears of confusion, of confession, of fear.  Let my tears fall with yours.  I know.  I've been there.  It's scary to hold this life, this new life that you carried and nurtured within your womb - deep inside - breathing with you, growing, moving - protected.  A part of you.  You will always protect this life.  You can feel it, can't you?  That bond.  That fierce, powerful, overwhelming bond.  Even though this baby may not live the life you imagined.  It's ok - this baby will live an unimaginable life!  Full of surprises.  A life that will not only bless you and your family, but others as well.



And you will love this child.  Because this child will teach you how to love in ways you never dreamed.  And if you have other children - you will love them better, stronger, bigger, with extravagance and exuberance - because your love, your ability to love, has been tempered.  And if you don't already know, you will learn to find joy in the simple, the ordinary, the everyday, because these are celebrations in your life.   Everyday gifts.









I will be with you always.  Darkness will not hold you, because I will light your way.  I will keep you safe.  I will guide you.  Talk to me when you need to talk.  Whisper my name and I will come.  I will cry with you; I will laugh with you.  Do not fear; do not be anxious.  I will help you.  I will be with you always.

With Great, Deep Love,

God






Dear God, thank you for always being near, 
for never leaving us, 
for making us fearfully and wonderfully 
in your image.  
All of us.  
Thank you for comforting and guiding new parents - especially those with differently-abled children.  You show us your love in so many ways - Amazing God, Awesome God, 
Loving Father. 
Thank you.



Saturday, September 7, 2013

Peace in the Front



I'm leaving you well and whole.  
That's my parting gift to you.  
Peace.  
I don't leave you the way you're used to being left - feeling abandoned, bereft.  
So don't be upset. 
 Don't be distraught.
John 14:27  (The Message)


I love this picture, this scene. 
I don't know how it came to look this way - like a mirage - but look this way, it does.  
I think it's a God thing.  
Let me tell you why.

It looks like the world to me.
The world of steel and machines.  Of power lines, and construction.  Of pipes.
Do you see it?  The world of man?
And then, in the foreground, in focus, the trees - green and lush, foliage of summer - and the ocean, God's creation on the third day.  God's world.

And I think about being in this world,  
and how distractingly the world pulls on us and tugs at us, insists on our attention.
And how it threatens, sometimes, to overcome.
Has it threatened you?

But God sent his Son to save the world.
And we were chosen out of the world.
And everyone born of God overcomes the world.
And know this.
Jesus gave us his peace.

So I love this picture.
It puts the world, kind of beautiful in its way, into the background.  
And it focuses on God.

God in Heaven, thank you for the promise of your Kingdom.  
Thank you for your Son, the Prince of Peace.  
Thank you for this reminder of where 
my focus should always stay.

Linking with Still Saturday

Friday, September 6, 2013

For Us - Red


The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp.  And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.  Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.  For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.  And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
Hebrews 13:11-15

Every week, a very large group of writers take a prompt and write for five minutes - no time for editing, no time to really think it through, no time for polishing.  Just write.  For five minutes.  This week's prompt was "Red".   I'm afraid my word-thought associations came out a little (?) on the dark side.  But it is what it is.  Psychologists, beware!


For Us - Red

Red 

... like the rubbery beard of a rooster, folded and wrinkled,
... like that band beneath the clouds, holding up the last sunset of summer
... like Miley's lips, singing obscenity on a stage full of lost childhood
... like the balloon floating above the gray city 
... like a 1950's corvette and Elvis, petticoats and square dancing
... like anger bubbling up through veins of lava, volcano of emotion 
... like that checkerboard tablecloth laid on the table of my childhood memory
... like the lips of a princess in a fairytale, too beautiful for her own good
... like the stripes on the American flag, straight and narrow, cushioning a field of blue

Red ... like the very real blood of Jesus, beading from thorns, seeping from the lashes, dripping from nails, pumping from the heart

The heart of God.

For us.

Red.

Dear God, I don't like to be reminded of the very real pain that Jesus suffered for us - for me - but I need to be.  It's not all cotton candy and roses, after all, and what he did, what he did for me, is beyond amazing.  Grace is not just a simple word.  I don't deserve the gift He gave.  But I want to.  Help me to live for you.  All the time.  In Jesus's name I pray.  Amen.

Linking with Five Minute Friday


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Choose Joy


Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, 
"Now, I have put my words in your mouth." 
Jeremiah 1:9

It's taken a long, long time for me to accept a label.  Pigeon-holing is not one of my strengths - not for myself and not for anyone else.  I see too many grays.

I remember going through a somewhat painful exercise with a boyfriend years ago.  He'd just come out of a series of workshops about relationship and he had a book.  He had me read a chapter, a chapter that analyzed and then categorized different 'types' of people according to how they acted and re-acted in relationship.  I really liked this guy and I wanted to please him very badly.  But I saw a lot of cross-categories.  He couldn't get me to nail things down.  There were too many grays.  I disappointed him; I wasn't trying hard enough.  

As a teacher, I see this labeling and categorizing from both sides of my desk.  On my side, different instruments are employed to find our 'color', or our 'learning style' - our personality type during professional development and team-building,   I can't help it - I end up pretty even across the spectrum.  I am gray.

On the other side of my desk - students come with their own sets of labels.  It's a world of black and white - students are or they aren't.  Gifted.  Learning Disabled.  ADHD.  Hard Worker.  Forgets homework.  Difficult parents.  Etc.  Etc.  Etc.  I've seen those labels color the lives of those kids.  In positive ways as well as negative.  I don't like them.  I like to get to know the whole child - the whole colorful child.  But then, I'm kind of useless in conferences when someone says "Tell me about so and so..."  Because I do.  I tell them everything.  All of the rainbow hues because I don't see black and white.

But I have accepted a label.  And it puts me in a community of many others who wear it.  It's not the kind of peel-off-the-back label like a name tag at a conference.  It's not a robe-or-cloak kind of label that comes on and off over my clothes.  It's more like my skin - so much a part of me that I cannot take it off and put it on at will.  It permeates everything I do.  Everything I say.  Everything I think.  It colors my entire existence.  And it seems to be a label of controversy.  One that is apparently illegal to talk about in my teaching. 

I am a Christian.  I am a follower of Jesus.  I believe in God, Creator of the universe, who not only knows each and every one of us, but loves us.  Loves me.  I believe in the goodness of God, and in His omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence.  He is sovereign.  I believe in the Holy Spirit,  God's spirit - holy counselor and comforter that dwells inside of me, guiding, encouraging, testifying, bridging.  I believe in Jesus Christ - fully man and fully God, who lived on the earth and died to redeem us - all of us - from sin.  I believe in salvation - not by works but by faith.  I believe that this faith changes us, allows the Holy Spirt to work within us, sanctifies us to be more like Christ.  

School is beginning.  In the separation of church and state, in our nation's struggle to allow religious freedoms to all, Christians are not allowed to 'practice' Christianity.  I beg to differ.  We don't have to pray out loud in order for our prayers to be heard.  We don't have to talk about who we are; our actions will speak for us.  We don't need the label to be God's instruments in this world.  Christ's instruments.  We can speak hope.  We can seek peace.  We can love one another.  We can choose joy.

Heavenly Father, thank you for keeping our children safe at school.  Thank you for your presence in those schools.  Thank you.

Linking With Desire to Inspire
Thought Provoking Thursday
Bloglovin' Blog Hop


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Friendship of God Upon My Tent


...as I was in my autumn days, when the friendship of God was upon my tent;
Job 29:4

I can feel it coming.  The air is cooler in the morning, the early, early morning, before the sun, before the birds.  It refreshes.  Like a tall glass of water, droplets condensed like pearls on the outside.  Sipping cool.  This air, this time is meant to be sipped.  Savored.  Enjoyed.

The dogwood trees are changing, losing the brilliant green of summer, the rich verdant-velvet cloak they've worn since the crucifixion-of-spring petals dropped away.  Between the leaves are new berries, some still green, but turning.  Changing daily to a rich, robust red, the color a harbinger of refinement to come.  The leaves themselves are rusting, slowly, like slate steps in mist.  Steps leading through the passage of time.

I, too, am changing  I can feel it coming.  Easily persuaded to watch the rites of Spring - memories of my own participation vivid, yet distant.   The effervescence, the exuberant movement of the youth.  Elastic.  Vibrant.  Noisy.  Full of joy.  I savor this sip of time.

I savor the time of summer, too.  The time of maturity, responsibility, love and parenthood.  Thirst quenched by summer rains of rich blessings, family gatherings, and friends.

Autumn is almost upon us.  Almost upon me.  Rich in color, refreshing and cool.  Peaceful.  Leaves let go of the branches that hold them.  Let go and fall, freely, to rest quietly on the ground.  Still.  Like God's hand, cushioning sound and seed, blanketing, protecting.  I feel the friendship of God.

In his suffering, Job looked back at the blessings he had once taken for granted; his wealth, the ease of his life, respect from old and young, rich and poor.  In his memories, he didn't the know the trials his future was to hold.  We don't know the trials our futures will hold.  But we know our God and He knows us.  We know our Jesus, who died so we could call Him ours.  Job suffered.  In the midst of his suffering, in the midst of his pain, he got down on his knees and praised God.  Amazing love!  In the midst of crying out to God in his pain, he called on the name of Jesus.  I know that my Redeemer lives!  Amazing grace!

Time passes; it circles; it folds upon itself again and again.  Seasons.  On earth as in heaven.  Seasons in the year.  Seasons in our lives.  Seasons in Jesus.  Seasons in eternity.  We are born.  We grow.  We laugh, we cry, we change.   Today, I thank God for his friendship upon my tent.  I thank God for seasons.

Father God, thank you for helping us to grow in You.  Thank you for changes.

Linking With Encourage One Another