A River Runs through It….

I went kayaking yesterday with my man. We put in at my parent’s house on the Greenbrier river and went about 11 miles. It was a beautiful day on the river. Each stretch had its own unique personality: the banks looked more or less plush with greenery; the flow of the water varying; and the mountains surrounding grew larger in some areas. (I noticed that my husband and I have both grown in our mid-sections as well.) Yes, change is inevitable on the river. And growth is a given.

A couple of years ago, the river experienced flash flooding which devastated this particular area of West Virginia. There were areas of the river where debris was still piled, including a couple of boat trailers that had been swept up in the flood. In the midst of such beauty, their were reminders of past devastation and hurt.

Our lives unfold before us much like a river. Each season is unique and brings it’s own set of obstacles and beauty. Sometimes the mountains we face seem larger; sometimes the waters we manuever are more turbulent; sometimes the scenery surrounding us is more plush and sometimes flood waters come out of nowhere and sweep us away.

Yet in the midst of it all, God stays constant and in complete control, orchestrating the ebbs and flows. Lest we forget that He created the beautiful, powerful, ever-changing river itself. He knows each stretch like the back of His hand. And He knows you too. And me. He also knows when we need a flood of water to wash us clean or maybe push us through to our next calling.

Now let me tell you about my favorite part of our kayak. Just around one of the bends, a gorgeous long haired golden lab came swimming out to see me. He swam up to my boat and laid his nose in my hand in the water for just a brief second and then swam back home to the river bank. It truly delighted my soul and made me giggle with joy.

God will show up along the way and surprise you with simplistic joy and satisfaction. Sometimes it will seemingly swim out of nowhere and leave you astounded at His goodness and perfect timing. So, I say, let’s keep paddling. Our journey will end in complete healing, complete joy and complete satisfaction. In Christ. And His river always runs through it.

Be joyful!

But the river itself, on both banks, will grow fruit trees of all kinds. Their leaves won’t wither, the fruit won’t fail. Every month they’ll bear fresh fruit because the river from the Sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing. Ezekiel 47:12 MSG

Photo creds to my beautiful daughter.

Lessons from VBS…

I spent the last week doing one of my favorite things: Vacation Bible School. God blessed us with over 350 children between the ages of 4 and 12. He also provided a staff of over 100 youth and adults who volunteered to spend time with His precious children. I find myself perfectly tired today and thankful. So, here are my top ten lessons from VBS.

1. Take time each morning to lean into God and pray. Nothing compares to starting your day centered on our mighty God.

2. Watching an enormous crowd of children dance, sing and wave their hands in worship is beyond humbling and completely glorious!

3. When the devil tries to throw stumbling blocks in the way of God’s plans, he will lose. God will not be stifled, wavered or detoured when He is on the move.

4. When Jesus enters the room, everything changes.

5. Joy is contagious and kindness is infectious. Both have the power to transform the world around us.

6. Free breakfast and hot coffee is a beautiful thing.

7. Generosity of spirit begins with direct eye contact, open ears and a willing heart.

8. Just when you think that you are doing ministry, God shows you that He is actually ministering to you.

9. An ice pack, a band aid or a cotton ball are cure all’s for most minor injuries. (Thank you Stephanie 😉).

10. When you’re lonely, Jesus rescues. When you worry, Jesus rescues. When you struggle, Jesus rescues. When you do wrong, Jesus rescues. When you’re powerless, Jesus rescues.

Be joyful!

And now I have it all—and keep getting more! The gifts you sent with Epaphroditus were more than enough, like a sweet-smelling sacrifice roasting on the altar, filling the air with fragrance, pleasing God to no end. You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need, his generosity exceeding even yours in the glory that pours from Jesus. Our God and Father abounds in glory that just pours out into eternity. Yes. Philippians 4:18‭-‬20 MSG

Flair for the Dramatic…

I have always had a flair for the dramatic. In fact, growing up my mom often referred to me as Sarah Bernhardt.

The first time I got sick after my man and I were married, I asked him to set me up on the couch. I needed lots of pillows, blankets and and of course my TV tray close by with kleenex, my drink, saltine crackers, remote control and anything I might possible need within easy reach. He thought that I was all set and was about to leave the room when I asked him where my bell was. You see, my mom would put a bell close by for me to ring if I needed something when I was sick. True story. I’ll just say it for you, SPOILED. The look on my man’s face was priceless.

My best friend came to class today at the gym after being out for a couple of weeks. She passed kidney stones last week and has been in a lot of pain. I told the class that if I passed kidney stones last week that I would probably take maternity leave for my recovery. Yes, I have a natural flair for the dramatic.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how much those early Christians suffered and were persecuted for following Jesus. “For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.”
(Phillipines 1:21 NLT). This profound revelation from God could only come from deep relationship with our Savior. Jesus was the example of courage that those early Christians relied on to do His work against unbelievable odds. They relied on the power of the Holy Spirit to do miraculous things, stand up against enormous fear and continue to cling to the message of hope and love in the midst of horrific persecution.

Think about how differently and more boldly we would live for Christ if we fathomed that His very Spirit fills us, moves us and gives us all the fruit we need to proclaim Jesus in this broken world. The very “I Am” fills us with His power. He sets us apart to do mighty work for Him and He gives us the tools we need to accomplish the task. I am because of the great I AM.

Am I willing to live every day so boldly that I might venture out of my comfort zone? Am I willing to go where God leads me even if that road is unfamiliar? Am I willing to serve in ways that are uncomfortable and out of my normal ministry areas?

I think it is time for me to put my flair for the dramatic to good use for Christ. Go big or go home folks.

Be joyful!

For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. Philippians 1:20‭, ‬22‭-‬24 NLT

Trade-Offs…

I mentioned in the Story of Us that my husband and I met on-line. In fact, June 28th marked nine years since I first winked at him. (Yes, I winked at him first. Scandalous!) God was fulfilling promises when I met my man: a marriage grounded in Christ and a precious daughter to call me mom. But, along with these awesome blessings came trade-offs too.

I am extremely close to my parents. Moving to Texas moved me away from them. We take our family vacation every summer to visit them in West Virginia. And they visit Texas. But, the bottom line is that I am blessed if I get to see them three or four times a year at best. My mom and I talk most every day. I utilize Facebook to keep them connected with pictures. Yet, I find myself missing them and wishing they could be a more active part of my life and my family’s day to day activities. And oh how I would love for my daughter and husband to know these two amazing people more intimately. Bitter sweet trade-offs.

I think as followers of Christ we have trade-offs too. To truly follow Jesus, we must die daily to our old self, our sinful nature. I just came back from youth camp with over 130 middle and high school youth from our church. The main speaker pointed out that we are called to be followers of Jesus Christ, not simply fans. When we decide to go “all in” as a follower, there are things that we must give up, let go of, turn away from. In other words, there are trade-offs. I pointed out to my Sunday School class this morning that the gains we receive from following Jesus are so much bigger and better than anything that we give up. We receive freedom, security, hope, joy, peace, forgiveness, grace and an easy yoke. You see, the trade-offs of following Christ are not bitter sweet. Not at all. They are wonderful and completely worth it!

Fans sit on the side lines, cheering. They are not in the game. No, not by a long shot my friends. The action is when you get in the game and give it your all, pouring everything you have into the challenges ahead. I urge you today to get in the game for Christ. Give up your old, self-serving ways. Roll up your sleeves and let God use you! Run your race hard! In the end, you will have lived the most exciting, fulfilling, purposeful life you could ever imagine. Follow Jesus!

Be joyful!

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus , who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there , in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!
Hebrews 12:1‭-‬3 MSG

When the answer is no….

Recently, something didn’t go my way. Something that I have wanted to participate in for two summers now. And I found myself handling it well. Yeah, no. Again, in full transparency with this blog, I found myself crying pitifully and sulking for an entire day over the unfairness of it all. I found myself acting like a child who didn’t get my way. I even had the audacity to think that I was entitled to doing this particular thing. That I had earned the opportunity. I found myself questioning God about this “no” to something I wanted and even asked to do. The truth is that I don’t understand why this particular door is being closed, leaving me frustrated.

I pray that I am not the only one. Being told “no” is not easy for anyone, especially when you can not make sense of the answer. Yet, after my day of sulking, I began to consider that God has His reasons. I remembered that He is a good Father and that He requires my obedience and trust, which led me into His Word this morning.

In 1 Chronicles 28, we see that David had a desire in his heart to build a house as a place of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord. But, God tells him that he is not to build a house for His name. God tells David that his son, Solomon will be the one to build His house and courts. David responded in obedience and he chose to focus on the many ways that God had used him, time and time again. He chose to focus on the abundance of “yeses” and blessings that God had given him. And then he went to work setting up his son to succeed in this task.

After some reflection, I have shifted from this one “no” to the many “yeses” that God has provided in my life. I look forward to seeing what new ways that He would like for me to serve Him in the future. I will trust in His perfect plan and timing. My frustration has now turned to joy. And anticipation. So, I will join David in praying,

“Praise be to you, Lord , the God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, Lord , is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name. “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you. I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. Lord, the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep these desires and thoughts in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you.” 1 Chronicles 29:10‭-‬18 NIV

Be joyful!

“Then David said to the whole assembly, ‘Praise the Lord, your God.’ So they all praised the Lord, the God of their fathers; they bowed down, prostrating themselves before the Lord and the king.” 1 Chronicles 29:20

Snuggle Up Buttercup…

The angel dog has developed a new habit. Any time he jumps on our bed, he noses his way into and behind our pillows. Often when he gets fixed just right, he will nap there even if I leave the room. I took this picture today when I came back into our bedroom. He looks so sweet. Yes, I do believe he is the cutest dog in the whole world!

I think that I need to get into the habit of being still in the comfort of my Father’s lap. Wouldn’t it be fabulous to get nestled in just right and just relax in the comfort of His presence? Not feel like I have to jump up and jump to that next thing on my endless “to do” list?

One of my sweet Sunday School girls reminded me of this very thing last night. She has been feeling disconnected from God and has found herself wondering, “why”? I think we all experience times in our lives where we feel much the same. Then, she shared with me that she received a text, out of the blue, from a friend. This text came a little after midnight after an evening of truly crying out to Him. The text talked about the story of Mary and Martha and reminded her (and me) that the busyness of life can keep us from finding rest and learning from Jesus just by getting still with Him, nestling in and chilling out. Busyness can distract us from His presence as we scurry to be enough, do enough, give enough, help enough. Our need to “do” can often leave us feeling disconnected and frustrated. She clearly knew that this text and it’s perfect timing was God speaking to her.

And just in true God fashion, I found myself at a funeral this afternoon where the Pastor reminded us how important it is to slow down and notice each other. You see, this sweet lady we were celebrating lived 87 years loving on her family and friends, often dropping everything to sit and listen. She lived in the present.

So yes, I think I will establish a new habit, just like the angel dog. I will nose up onto my Savior’s lap and relax for a while. This snuggle time will give me exactly what I need. From being in His presence, I will be able to stay in the present.

Be joyful!

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.
Ephesians 3:12 NLT

Dream Small…

Dream small!
Don’t buy the lie you’ve gotta do it all.
Just let Jesus use you where you are.
One day at a time.
Live well!
Loving God and others as yourself.
Find little ways where only you can help.
With His great love.
A tiny rock can make a giant fall.
Dream small!”

These lyrics by Josh Wilson have really left me pondering. I love the message: simple obedience in our daily walk can add up to a lifetime of huge changes in our world for Christ. Missionary William Carey said, “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.” More often than not, those great attempts by us allow God to do monumental, remarkable, life changing things!

Recently, there has been a very disfigured young man who has begun working out at our gym. He obviously is battling a type of disorder, which limits his mobility as well. His workout buddy is another man who based on appearance alone might be considered a rough and tough dude. He has lots of tattoos including several on his face. He used to work out by himself at the gym and he always kept to himself.

But, over the last month, he meets the disfigured young man and works out with him. He is gentle and caring to this young man. He even helps him with his ear buds and fixing the weights on the equipment. They both still very much keep to themselves; but, the message this man has taught me has made a lasting impression. We are called to make a difference in our community and serve others like Christ. Quietly. Obediently. Without public recognition.

We live in a world where everyone is looking for their 15 minutes of fame. Everyone wants that reality television, youtube or vine notariety. Even our service to God can fall into this trap. We look for the big moments where we can make a big splash. We even boast about what we are doing for God on social media, shifting the focus from God working through us to me, myself and I.

Yet, this rough looking man reminds me through his kindness how important it is that we attempt small acts of obedience everyday. And that we should never judge a book by its cover. Go visit that friend in the hospital; teach that Sunday school class; send that text of encouragement to your friend who is struggling; celebrate birthdays; volunteer with a child in need; listen to your teenage daughter when a boy breaks her heart; bake that pie for a friend after surgery; stop and pray for those in need; mow your yard; do the laundry; the list of small acts of kindness and obedience goes on and on.

Keep loving, keep serving,
Keep listening, keep learning,
Keep praying, keep hoping,
Keep seeking, keep searching,
Out of these small things and watch them grow bigger.
The God who does all things makes oceans…from river.” (Josh Wilson, Dream Small)

Yes, dream small and serve God through the mundane, every day tasks of life. Before you know it, He will reveal that these dreams were never small. They are all part of His story, His dreams, His plans, His glory. And trust me, it doesn’t get much bigger or better than that!

Be joyful!

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:1‭-‬4‭, ‬6 NIV