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Earlier this week I sat in my office looking out at a landscape shrouded in heavy7223162 mist. With fresh snow covering the ground and laying like heavy lace on the trees, I have to say the view was breathtaking. It hadn’t made for a fun drive to work, but it certainly gave a soft, gentle, peaceful presence to the landscape.

The impression a misty view gives is one of perfection – no scars, no sharp edges, no dirt or stains. Unpleasantness is hidden by a gauzy veil. But the truth behind that mist is reality. Once it clears, all of those blemishes will be exposed again.

It’s a good lesson in the struggle we have comparing ourselves to others. People can look flawless – but they never are.  Families can appear to be conflict free.  They seldom are.  Other journeys can look pothole free, but believe me, curves and bumps and roadblocks are part of everyone’s life drive.

God has a specific plan for each and every one of his children, all different and unique. He doesn’t want us to be the image of someone else. That would be like an artist creating works of art that never vary in color, shape or design. Part of our uniqueness comes from the battles we survive and the challenges we overcome.

No offense meant here, but there is a reason antiques are appreciated.  They show wear and tear, host a history of everyday life, and remind us of the passing of time.  It’s no different with God’s children. We are marked by the years and the journey.

I was touched by a point Beth Moore made in the final video our ladies group watched last night in our Esther bible study. Beth pointed out how society tends to look at an elderly woman and say “She was beautiful in her time” but God’s word says “He makes everything beautiful in His time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)  In other words, the passing of time and the events that mark that passing are what create the beauty of a life.

Queen Esther’s early life was all about looking good.  She had to catch the eye of the king and the story makes it clear that this took a lot of primping and preening. And it worked. The misty veil of preparation covered every flaw on the outside until she was perfection to the eye.

It took the life events Esther conquered over the years of her reign to bring beauty to the core of who she was.  Her later life was marked by courage and leadership and obedience to the call of God. We admired her in the beginning but we loved and respected her in the end.

Our struggles are not meant to be hidden by a false covering of perfection. They are meant to be honestly shared in an effort to help others travel the same difficult path.  I don’t mean that we have to spill every dirty detail of our failures and poor decisions.  What I do mean is when a young mother is at the end of her patience with fussy toddlers, lack of sleep and a role that she doesn’t feel she can possibly live up to, we can risk sharing the day we locked ourselves in the bathroom and screamed into a towel to keep from harming the child who pushed us over the edge.  When a woman cries out her pain from a marriage that seems doomed to fail, we can admit that the strong partnership we have today saw it’s own seemingly hopeless moments along the way.

No one sees the whole picture of a life from the outside until it’s over and the bits and pieces are remembered and pooled together to make a completed work. The important thing is to remember – we are unique and God has a specific path for us to travel. Some have more hills than others so God gives them more stamina.  Some have deeper valleys, more roadblocks, sharper turns or rougher terrain.  In every situation, God has the roadside assistance ready to respond.

It’s nice to have days when there’s enough mist (or heavy fog for some of us) to cover the blemishes and give us that soft glow of perfection.  I love it when my mascara goes on well, my outfit coordinates beautifully and there’s not a hair out of place. Those days are treasured because they are rare.

But the more precious and meaningful days  are those when someone sees our soul of overcoming struggles which left their mark, of fighting battles that left us scarred but still standing, of meeting challenges that found us exhausted but exultant in our victory.

“He makes everything beautiful in His time” is the promise.  Our prayer every morning should be, “Lord, today lead me down the path that widens the crevice to allow Your light living in me to escape and bring beauty to the world.”

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Cor 10:31

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Well, it’s over. The dHand of Goday we shopped for, planned for, cooked for, and pushed ourselves to the limit for – Christmas. How was it for you? Did it turn out to be the warm, wonderful, Kodak moment  you anticipated? I didn’t think so. Seems you have to be starring in a family sitcom to come even close to holiday perfection.

Example: My friend who was all prepared for the day with grandchildren plowing through gift wrap. Instead, they spent the day racing  over a snowy mountain pass to meet up with their littlest baby granddaughter who had been airlifted to a children’s hospital. (The baby is improving but it was a close call.)

Example: The lady who posted on facebook that her son decided to spend a couple of hours jeeping in the fresh snow before the big dinner. Instead, they spent 8 hours digging him out of a snowdrift. Dinner ruined and everyone pretty much too exhausted to open packages once they finally got home.

Example: My friend who prepared for a beautiful dinner to share with her  son who never made it over the snowy pass to join her. She picked up her husband from the nursing facility to spend Christmas day at home and discovered he’d been taken off his mental health meds by some clause in the infamous Obamacare program. A simple trip home for the day turned into a battle. But they made it and after getting him settled, she put the glaze on the ham and placed it in a 425 degree oven to finish a few more minutes of baking, took the twice baked potatoes out of the refrigerator and set them on the stove – on the burner she’d forgotten to turn off. Luckily her back was turned when the glass casserole dish exploded, spraying glass and potatoes all over the kitchen, melting big holes in the flooring, and making an unbelievable mess. And in the time it took her to clean up the mess the ham baked to a hard, dry ball of pork. I will spare you the ordeal of getting the husband back into the car to return to the care center.

My own day pales in comparison. All we had to do was babysit the dog who had major surgery on Christmas Eve due to a dog fight. Oh, I’ve had my share of Christmas days that would go down in history. Like the one where the dog shattered every ornament on my beautiful Victorian decorated tree, the year we spent the day at the hospital because of my little daughter’s inflamed appendix, the one where I forgot to put sugar in the pumpkin pies, or the one where all the needles fell off my tree by Christmas eve and my husband cut off the dry branches and wrapped the string of lights around the dry trunk. I could go on but I won’t.

Here’s the thing – there’s the Christmas day family gathering you see in pictures all aglow with candles, a clean house, a golden basted turkey and everyone down to the youngest child with head bowed patiently giving thanks before the gift exchange. And then there’s the one that happens at your house. If you’re lucky it’s just a little loud and messy and no one gets hurt.

When will we finally get it?  Only one thing makes a perfect Christmas – the birth of a perfect Savior. Everything else pales in comparison.

Because He came, the tragedy of sitting at the bedside of a dying loved one on a day that should be filled with fun and laughter is made bearable. Because He came, a ruined meal is just that – a ruined meal not a catastrophe. Because He came, relationships are reconciled and forgiveness happens and lives are restored and we more than survive this challenging, stress filled life.

So as you prepare for the new year – make your resolutions and set your goals, plan the diet and write out the carefully executed schedule – remember this. Just as there is no perfect holiday gathering, there is no perfect life on earth. Your year will not go as planned and that’s a promise you can stand on. Trials and triumphs, smooth sailing and tsunami sized waves, laughter and tears, losses and wins – they will come.  Only a few things are guaranteed to stay solid and sure.

The love of God. The sacrifice of a Savior. And the fact that on every new page of every day in 2016 He will be present. He will share the good times, carry you through the tough times, redirect your path when it takes a wrong turn, calm your fears and hold you close when you can’t seem to face another day.

“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deut. 31:8

 

 

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FerventWhat a great book with real, practical, helpful thoughts on making your prayer time powerful. In Fervent, Priscilla highlights ten strategies to focus on as we spend time in prayer. They are key to opening our hearts and minds to the true power in prayer.

I loved that strategy #1, right out of the gate, was to pray for renewed passion for prayer. Priscilla says “Fervent prayer is fueled by passion.” So very true but we get complacent, even lazy in our prayer life because the passion dims. We treat prayer time like a task to check off our to do list instead of the great privilege of coming before God and having a conversation.

Each strategy chapter includes Priscilla’s thoughts on why the strategy topic is key, a down to earth story illustrations from her life or the life of others to prove her point, and a host of scriptures that support the chapter. In fact, scripture is abundant throughout the book tying every thought back to God’s word. This is truly one of the author’s strengths.

I felt one especially “nailed-it” point she brought out in her chapter on “Our Hurts” was to point out that the bible tells us not just to forgive but to offer comfort to those that hurt us. What a challenge and yet, when acted upon, what a huge place of grace.

I also liked the way Priscilla began each chapter with a thought on “If I were the enemy I would ..” It made so much sense seeing it in writing that satan will attack the areas most likely to interfere with your ability to be completely focused in prayer.

I received this book from the Lifeway bloggers group in order to offer a review. I’m so blessed that this is the book I had opportunity to read and comment on. It was truly prayer-life changing and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to discover the power in fervent prayer. Some of my favorite women will find this book in their Christmas stockings for sure!

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Here’s imagesXTVDN01Vhow it went for me last night. It was only Wednesday evening and it had already been a long week with lots of stress and busyness. I finished a full day at work, came home and fixed dinner, started a load of laundry, visited a sick grandchild and spent almost two hours helping another grandchild with literature homework. I was ready for a break.

But before I sat down I slipped into the kitchen to clean and put some dishes in to soak. Squirting a little dish soap into the sink I turned on the hot water and while it filled, I poured a cup of coffee and carried it into the living room, setting it on the table by the puzzle I’d started a few days ago. And then I was distracted searching for an elusive piece. So I sat down and before I knew it I was involved in the puzzle, sipping my coffee and letting my overtaxed mind settle.

It was nice – the flickering light of the pellet stove, the quiet broken only by the gentle drip of rain on that mild autumn evening. I listened to the rain and shuffled puzzle pieces for at least a half hour. I don’t know what it was that kicked my brain into full gear and brought the sudden realization that it wasn’t rain I was hearing. It was the water I’d started in the kitchen sink overflowing on to the floor!

I jumped up, ran into the kitchen and nearly killed myself as I hit the wet floor. I am not exaggerating when I say there was a veritable flood! I could not believe it had taken me that long to realize what was happening. I could also not believe my husband had been sitting at his computer at the other end of the room and had not noticed the disaster.

Not only was the floor flooded but several cabinet drawers had filled and everything on the countertops was sitting in water. All the linens were wet, the rugs were sopping, the water was dripping down into the basement, and – well just know it was a complete catastrophe.

For the next two hours as we mopped up, soaked up, wrung out and emptied out – I kept berating myself for letting that water run as long as I did. Why hadn’t I taken care of it immediately? Why had I even walked out of the kitchen without turning it off? Why had I let myself be deluded by the subtle sound, thinking it was a gentle rain and wouldn’t harm anything? I was thankful I’d finally come to my senses and put a stop to things, but I berated myself over and over that I hadn’t done it sooner.

It was a good though messy lesson. Too often I let things go on when they need to be shut off. I lull myself into thinking they aren’t going to do damage, or delude myself into thinking it’s just a gentle rain not a torrential storm. I get so caught up in other things I don’t pay attention to the subtle reminders that something is amiss – until the ark starts to float in a sea of trouble.

Which is what started my stressful week in the first place – having to turn off a flood that was overflowing far too wide and deep. Just like in my kitchen, I may have finally turned off the water, but that didn’t decrease the big mess that had to be cleaned up.

God, cleanse me of complacency. Make me bold when it comes to defending You, Your holiness, Your direction. Even when I know it won’t be popular, don’t let me stifle my actions when they are clearly called for and Biblical.

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 1 Cor 16:13

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We hear the word ‘glory’ so often it sometimes becomes a bit hard to define in the spiritual term. What is image[1]glory anyway? Can you truly see glory? And if you can – how would you describe it?

I love our motorcycle rides this time of year because the beauty in the landscape is just breathtaking. So all week I was looking forward to Saturday. Imagine my disappointment when I woke to fog and mist shrouding everything. However, this does not deter my husband in anyway so we leathered up. I always pray at the beginning of the ride for God to show me something amazing along the way. Yesterday I prayed especially for God to show me glory despite the fog and dark skies. (Honestly, I figured in order for Him to answer this prayer He would have no choice but to do away with the fog and give me sunshine and clear skies. How clever of me, right?)

We were just a few minutes on the road when the skies did open up to what promised to be a gorgeous day and I thought, now that’s glory – blue skies, sunshine and a wispy cloud now and then.

But down the road a few miles the fog set in again and pretty soon all we could see was well – fog with a few shadowy tree outlines buried within. We decided to keep going hoping things would change. (I can smile when I say that because my trusty electric jacket was keeping me toasty despite the chill in the air.) As we started over Blewitt Pass things did change. There were places where the sun would break through for a few minutes and shine on the rich autumn landscape and I thought to myself, now that’s glory.

Then the fog would close in again. We came around one corner and though we were still in fog, there was one spot where a break allowed sunlight to come through like a spotlight. You could see the rays radiating down and where they touched on a patch of meadow the colors were enhanced in such a way they shimmered – green grass touched with moisture, red and gold trees surrounding the patch. But it was better than that – standing right in the middle of the scene was a soft eyed doe, just frozen there enjoying the beauty. And – it was even better than that because at her feet was a small pool of rainwater and her reflection was clear as day. And I thought – now that’s glory.

We moved on, the mist closed in again. But a few miles down the road the fog was gone and brilliant sunlight highlighted the amazing fall landscape of red and gold and green and yellow and every shade in between. And I thought – now that is really glory.

But coming around a corner there was a stand of trees that hadn’t even begun to turn. They were still green and lush as if they had ignored the change in the weather. Right in the middle of that stand of green was one small maple – every leaf the brightest yellow. Kissed by brilliant sunlight it was almost blinding. And I thought – that truly is glory.

The realization suddenly came to me that glory is not in a beautiful landscape or the sun or the moon or the stars – the glory is that God chooses to reveal Himself through these things. Glory is in the fact that with our common human eyes – we can see God in the things around us He created. All things move and breathe and shine and shimmer because of Him. We won’t see glory in all its fullness until we meet Him face to face. But in His mercy He gives us glimpses and tastes and touches along the way.

We live life in a fog of busyness, stress, pressure, grief, bitterness, fear, anger, troubling news headlines, soaring highs and plunging lows. The only way we will see glory day to day is to choose to see it. We must believe God is always just a mind shift away waiting to show us He is bigger and better, more powerful, life giving, battle winning, promise keeping and hope shining in the dark. He is the beauty around every bend in the road.

Even more amazing about God and His glory – not only do we get to see it, but we get to be it. Matthew 5:16 says “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

We are to be the small maple among the forest of evergreen, standing out and shining that blinding light of Christ in us to a lost, broken, dark and suffering world. What a gift! What a privilege! What an amazing God to come up with a plan like that.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

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imagesQARDRAR3Having just finished our first and very successful Community Outreach Harvest Party at church I’ve been contemplating all the parts and pieces, comments and participation that made up this event.

It was a ton of work. Planning meetings and prep and set up just about did me in. And then just keeping things running on the day of the event challenged us all.

It took a ton of prayer and faith. You never know how these things will go. You can invest a lot of time and money and see no result or you can plan for a few and end up with a bunch.

It took a ton of courage. My least favorite thing in the whole world (with the exception of peas and squash) is going door to door to hand out flyers. But – I did it and found it not nearly as intimidating as I thought it would be.

It took a ton of risk. We risked doing away with our regular Sunday morning church service to move out of the building into the parking lot to try to catch the attention of the neighbors. But just like in the stock market, sometimes risk pays off. And it did with this event. We had fun and made contact with several families we otherwise would not have.

The biggest lesson for me and I hope for others was – church isn’t all about a nice comfortable seat in a nice sterile sanctuary where you sit back and get fed. Just consider the early church and the effort it took to get it going.

In order for the first churches to get off the ground 2000 years ago, a ton of work went into the preparation. The disciples had to plan long journeys on foot, by boat and maybe on horseback. They had to map out the most efficient route and plan for finding provision and shelter along the way. A mission trip back then wasn’t jump on a plane and be on the mission field in a few hours. It took months, years even, just to get where they were going.

The startup churches took a ton of prayer and faith. After all, they were trying to change hundreds of years of tradition and belief, ritual and law. They were leaving loved ones behind, possibly to never see them again. They didn’t have a Bible to carry along with them to pull out scripture when they needed it. They were speaking the words that would become the Bible and they were praying they got it right.

To preach the word and start up new church cells took a ton of courage for sure. As evidenced in scripture, the disciples suffered much for spreading the gospel. They were beaten, imprisoned, spit on, mocked and even martyred. No doubt their families suffered as well by association.

And without doubt, risk was involved. What if no one listened? What if their friends and family turned against them? What if, what if, what if? They experienced the misinterpretation of what they had preached and had to go back and re-teach. They ministered in violent times – where the innocent were tried and convicted and crucified. Many of them had seen that firsthand!

The early church services were held on hillsides, beside sick beds, under open skies and hidden away in secret sanctuaries. They happened on stormy seas, on sandy beaches, and on crowded streets. Wherever the Word of God was offered – be it verbally or through a smile or a healing touch, by laughter and fellowshipping with the Godly men who made it their mission to teach, through soft words of comfort in tough times or shouts of joy in a baptismal stream – wherever, church happened.

The only place it probably didn’t happen back then was in cushioned chairs surrounded by painted walls and controlled temperatures.

Even though we didn’t have “church” as we have come to know it last Sunday, as my pastor said, “We were church – to the friends and neighbors who came and saw God’s people reaching out.”

Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. Luke 14:23

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images84YL6NK0I have been feeling the heaviness of responsibility for two weeks and it is pretty much all tied to the new Bible study I’m leading. I struggled with the decision to do Beth Moore’s Children of the Day (a study of 1st and 2nd Thessalonians). Don’t get me wrong, I love her studies, but they are intense and demand a lot of time if you are going to get the most out of them. I have such a mix in my group, from brand new Christians to seasoned believers, it’s hard to always know that the material I’ve selected will meet everyone’s needs.

All that said, I felt impressed to move forward with Children of the Day. We are only in the first session, but I’ve already had some amazing testimonies from my ladies. One of my favorites was this – “I’ve never ever committed to actually following through on all the lessons of a Bible study until now. So far I’ve done every one and I’m hooked.”

I’ve had three ladies tell me in separate, one on one conversations “This is exactly what I needed right now.” And one who said, “I’ve been looking for something to motivate and get me moving and this is it, I can tell.” And today I heard from one who just made a decision to join us that ‘she doesn’t know anything about the Bible.’

I’m excited but I’m nervous at the same time. With so many women expecting great things I worry that I’m not smart enough, strong enough, educated enough to be their leader. I’ve been having mini panic attacks and major anxiety over this. So today I pick up my current personal bible study on the book of Esther (also by Beth Moore) and there God meets me with just what I need. Again!

This morning’s lesson focused on Esther 4:12-14. Mordecai has requested that Esther approach the king on behalf of the Jews and Esther has responded with the fact that she is most definitely not the person to approach the king. He hasn’t been interested in her for the past month. She has obviously lost favor with him. And death comes to those who approach the king without an invitation. There must be someone better for the job.

I’m sure you remember Mordecai’s response. “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

God puts us in a time and place for a purpose. To back off when that purpose becomes apparent is to deny that God can and does use us, inadequate as we are, in mighty ways. With Esther, Mordecai assured her that God would still accomplish His purpose because to annihilate the Jews would go against all of His Old Testament promises. But Esther and her father’s family would not be moving forward in history if she didn’t accept this task.

With me, I recognized from this study that God didn’t have to use me to see that these ladies’ spiritual growth takes place. But for some mysterious reason, He has chosen to use me. And – if I refuse – I am the one who will suffer, not them. I am the one who will not experience the miracles and the wonder and the enlightenment that takes place when His plan collides with my ministry.

Am I still nervous? You bet. But I’m taking it on because He will be with me, and it’s His show. It may look like I’m center stage, but I’m not. And that’s a good thing. Because when His shadow covers my spot at the head of the table, I’m disabled and He’s enabled to do great things.

“For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.” Phil 2:13
Or as the Message Bible puts it:
“Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.”
Wow!

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