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

Stars…

Recently, I had the opportunity to lay and look at the stars at night. It was at the close of a much needed beach day with a dear friend. We spent the day soaking up the sun, splashing in the waves, swimming in the pool and giggling endlessly. (The angel dog had a blast that day too. Although, he was less than thrilled with my friend’s big black lab who was also along for the ride.)

We ended the day on the porch of my friend’s beach condo just before midnight, laying on loungers soaking up the expansive display of stars twinkling over head. WOW! I can’t remember the last time that I took the time to take in the glory of the night sky. We were blaring praise and worship music, singing to our Father in heaven without a care in the world. It was fabulous!

It occurred to me that I have forgotten, in the chaos of my own life, the importance of simple pleasures. We have a front row seat to a creation that is stunning. Yet, we rarely get our eyes off of our phones long enough to realize it. Our God, the Maker, is crying out to us through His creation to pay attention! His presence is all around us! His radiance sparkled through every star that night. I felt like I was wrapped up in His Glory.

Look up my dear friends! Get rid of the distractions and take some time to look at the stars. I noticed that evening that my struggles and my ego became miraculously smaller. Praise God! He is greater than me!

Be joyful!

He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit. Psalm 147:4‭-‬5 NIV

Life changes on a dime.

Last Friday morning, a beautiful woman and friend had a stroke around 7:00 a.m. Her son found her later that afternoon and called 911. Her daughter was my childhood best friend. The plan for that day was to go to the movies together, a mother/daughter afternoon indulgence. Yet, two days later, that sweet family made the decision to take their mother off of life support, sending her to glory. She was an amazing woman who loved to laugh, spend time with her family and cherished her friends. She was beautiful and a huge role model for me. Life changes on a dime.

Yesterday, some girlfriends and I went to visit a mutual friend in the hospital. She has been battling for her life….heart surgery, a collapsed lung, staph infection, and a whole lot of pain. It truly has been one thing after another for my sister in Christ. I was pleased to see her looking better than a couple of days ago, sitting up and talking. We spent about thirty minutes with her and the conversation was rich and full of love for one another. We prayed together before we left and I felt like things were beginning to turn around for my friend. This morning at 6:17, I received a text from her husband asking for prayer. You see, she has bleeding on the brain which caused a seizure. My lovely friend is now on a ventilator. Life changes on a dime.

Our time here on earth is fleeting and our days are numbered. Life is precious. We should treat each and every day as a gift from our heavenly Father. Take time to tell those around you how much you love them. Notice the beauty God has placed in your life. Take time to listen to the people who you encounter every day. Each morning that we wake up with breath in our lungs is another opportunity to show generosity, kindness, love, forgiveness and grace. Don’t hold back: laugh, dance, give the benefit of the doubt, be slow to anger, get rid of grudges, forgive and give thanks! Embrace life with complete abandonment, filled with hope and faith! Because life changes on a dime. And because our Father in heaven is good. He is faithful. He is trustworthy. His ways are right. And He is love.

Be joyful!

So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures. James 1:16-18

Sunflowers…

Sunflowers are my favorite flower. I noticed last week that they planted enormous sunflowers in one section of our downtown square. They were huge! I loved driving past and seeing how their sweet faces were turned toward the sun, stretching their necks to get as much light as they could.

This morning when I drove past, those once outstretched necks were now hanging with their faces completely downcast. You see, it is now time for them to sow their seeds. Their heads are bowed to allow the seeds to drop to the ground below them. The cycle of life for those lovely flowers, preparing for rebirth and regrowth.

What a lesson for us! We should also stand tall and turn our faces to the Son and let His light pour into our lives. We should reach our sweet necks out as far as possible and take in as much of that light as we can hold, allow it to fill our hearts and souls with all of its nourishment. Then, when it is time to sow His seeds, we need to bow our heads in prayer and bow our knees in servitude, allowing His seeds to fall, scatter and flourish. The seeds we sow here can also bring God’s light and life to those around us.

Today, let the sunflowers around you remind you to be His Sonflower.

Be joyful!

Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Mark 4:26 NLT