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tearsJust survived a very busy, emotional, tension packed weekend. I don’t usually breathe a sigh of relief when Monday comes. In fact, it’s often the other way around – the sigh of relief when Saturday comes. But this weekend started on Friday when my granddaughters headed off to WSU to try out for the Crimson Girls Dance Team.

First you need to know they have been dancing competitively since they were three and they are amazing. Bethany graduated last year and has one year of local college under her belt. Bailey graduates this year.

The competition for a place on the team began Friday afternoon and for the next three days there were performances and cuts, performances and cuts. My cell phone was popping with text messages as their mother kept me updated. With each successful round, the competition got tighter and the tension magnified and my prayers became more frequent and more fervent.

I didn’t pray that they would make the team. I prayed that God’s plan for them would win out. I wanted Him to be in charge of their destiny. What I did pray was that they would either both make the team or neither make the team. I knew a split would be very difficult to deal with.

On Sunday, it was down to the wire. As I kept up my busy pace of setting up for worship. leading the team through our practice, helping to prepare for the barbecue being held after the service and just touching base with my church family as they arrived, I kept the phone close and waited for that vibration signaling news.

And it came – Bethany was officially welcomed onto the team. Bailey was not. Excitement on the one side, devastation on the other. Tears of joy, tears of sadness. My heart swelling with pride for one and breaking for the other.

As I got in my car after the barbecue, still trying to understand the results, I saw my memory verse for the week on my console. Psalm 56:8-9 You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in Your bottle. You record them in Your book. This I know, God is on my side.”

I thought I understood the verse but I realized God had just taken me deeper into His word. He does know every hurt and rejection we suffer, He feels every pain, He understands every grief. He hurts when we hurt. Our struggles are precious to Him. But in the end, in spite of how much we are going to suffer from the tragedies of this life – because He is on our side, He will not allow a result that leads us into danger or is not going to work for our ultimate good. Tears and disappointment today will keep us from the tragedy around the corner.

Someday we will meet Him and in His arms will be that precious jar of tears He collected. We will be enlightened and we will see that what seemed a muddy mess of hurt and weeping was truly one more step leading us down the path that got us closer and closer to our goal.

I’ve often wondered what He will do with that bottle of our tears when we finally reach heaven. I have this vision of Him dropping the jar and as it shatters, He and I will both be soaked with splashes of incredible joy. We will know the truth of His Word, “Consider it pure joy when you meet trials of various kinds…” James 1:2

For Bailey, the light won’t dawn today or tomorrow. But my most fervent prayer is that she will grow spiritually every day until she sees the beauty of every Word written between Genesis and Revelation; that His truth will come alive for her; that she will one day look back on this disappointment and be able to smile and say, “Thank you, God, for protecting me in that moment and lovingly moving me further down the path toward you.” In the meantime, not one of her tears will be wasted. The minute they are shed, He scoops them up and stores them close to His incredible heart.

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51HG9Gv9bIL._SX385_BO1,204,203,200_[1]I belong to a book review group through B&H Bloggers and am able to acquire books to read at no charge and post reviews. When I saw the topic of the book Cherish by Vicki Courtney, I thought of my young granddaughters and was led to check it out. So glad I did.

What a wonderful down to earth and easy to read yet deep book on cultivating relationships for teen girls. Courtney addresses relationships with friends, family, self, guys and God in such a simple straightforward way. Courtney poses the question “instead of just surviving relationships, why not cherish them?”

In the opening chapter she addresses what makes up a good friend (someone who doesn’t ditch you on your worst days, keeps a secret when she should, makes right choices and helps point you to God) and then turns right around and poses the question, What about You? The reader is encouraged to take a moment and examine how they measure up to those four points. I love how she addresses Friendship Fixers – ways to strengthen yourself as a friend and so much more in this chapter from when it’s time to end a friendship, how to survive girl drama, gossip, how to balance out relationships with Christian and non-Christian friends, and my favorite – how to be a real friend in a digital world. Courtney dedicates the final part of the chapter to how to recognize when a friend needs help and when it’s critical that you talk to an adult about a friend’s issues.

Throughout each chapter she splashes scripture and quick quizzes that just really make the book personal. The scriptures are presented in such a way as to not be preachy but to bring that “wow” reaction for how there is a Word from God on every topic.

On her chapter for family relationships she starts off with a bang, addressing the trust issue. Her nine points are perfect – everything a parent would tell a teen and find it falling on deaf ears. Courtney doesn’t lecture, just lists the facts that make sense (follow the rules, associate with people of good character, admit mistakes, etc.)The 25 things that will make your parents smile are great. and the section E is for Embarrassing – yep, sometimes we embarrass our kids! Courtney balances respect for parents with sitting down and having a conversation about how the parent can avoid embarrassing you again in the same manner.

She talks about divorce and unsafe home situations, getting along with siblings and blended families and even dealing with non-Christian parents when you’ve become one.

The chapter on self is beautifully done, reminding the reader how to find God’s truth about beauty and value in a world that’s a bit twisted in these areas. She even gives a great chart on what other religions believe so a teen can understand the differences. So much more in this chapter that is pertinent and appropriate for what teens face every day right down to coping with the death of a friend or loved one.

The chapter on relationships with guys starts with a bang by listing the actual responses from boys when asked: Describe the perfect girl, What do girls do that send you running, and Why do some guys act like they like you one day and ignore you the next. (My favorite response to that last one, “I think you are overanalyzing this – we are really very simple.” Spot on – we as females tend to deeply overanalyze, they as males tend to be pretty on the surface with things.) The reader will find real answers to why it’s important to dress appropriately, what sexual purity really means, why we date and questions to ask before you date a guy. I loved that Courtney covered abuse in a relationship and lies about sex because our girls, in their need to be popular and be loved, are so vulnerable to the dangers.

Finally, in the chapter addressing the relationship with God, the author makes it clear it’s not just about streets of gold and angel wings. She lays out the plan for a personal, close relationship with the One who can truly guard and guide the young girls journey through this life.

The book is contemporary and frank, beautifully written and easy to read. I am passing on my copy to my granddaughters who are just entering their teens and praying that they will glean from this insights that will ground them in a well rounded, satisfying relationships.

I would recommend the book to any parent, grandparent, or friend of teen girls. It would make a wonderful gift. And handing it off to a young girl would be an expression of love, show that you care, you understand the challenges in the world today, and you want the best for her.

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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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imagesCAYQ3DZ0Any idea how Black Friday got it’s name?  Actually, it was first called Black Friday in 1966 by police because of the chaos, traffic jams and acts of violence associated with the day. It has become a very profitable day for retailers and certainly, a profitable day for bargain shoppers if you are willing to get up early, stand in line, fight the crowds and push and shove your way to the best buys of the day.

Are you a Black Friday shopper?  Then I’d like to bring to your mind a little scripture in Mark’s gospel (8:36) that goes like this, “For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”  The message Bible puts it this way, “What good would it do to get everything you want and lose the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?”

In the me-version paraphrase, “Is that piece of electronic equipment or that great buy on name brand boots worth compromising your entire Christian list of principles?”

I heard on the news today that the Greater Sacramento Chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation is set to unveil 55 billboards touting atheism this Christmas season.  Frightening!

But even more frightening, the billboard Christian shoppers will be displaying on Black Friday if we fall into the trap of losing who we really are to the lure of being first, gaining a material advantage over displaying Christ, and worst of all – setting a poor, long lasting example for our children, friends and whoever else might be observing our actions.

Here are my Black Friday tips to assure that your billboard flashes a message of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness and self control. (Gal 5:22-23)

  1. Don’t leave the house on Black Friday if you think you won’t be able to display the Christ you want others to see.
  2. If you do go, at some point in the day, let someone go ahead of you in line and wish them a Merry Christmas (not a Happy Holiday or Seasons Greetings). This will shock some, bless some and make you feel great.
  3. Smile at everyone.  Smile at the young mother with few funds and a deep desire to make her children’s Christmas special. Smile at the elderly gentleman who can’t move as fast as everyone else. Smile at the husband who doesn’t have a clue and is just going where his wife points. Smile especially at the retail clerk who has answered the same question sixteen thousand times without gritting his teeth. Yes, even smile at the cranky woman who wants to argue and complain to everyone around her.
  4. Hold a door, give up a parking place, pick up a dropped package, do something nice at least once every half hour to remind yourself who you are and what you are trying to convey.
  5. Hum along with the Christmas music blaring throughout the mall.  You will be surprised how it will lift your spirit and take your mind off the inconvenience of the crowds.
  6. Look like Jesus to the weary, hungry crowd. People aren’t always looking for bargains. They are all too often looking for kindness, compassion, gentleness and hope. God’s gift is that with his empowerment you can be all of those things even on Black Friday!
  7. Arm yourself with the full armor. You will need it on this day more than you’ve ever needed it before.  Remember them?  Truth (when the harried clerk gives too much change back),  righteousness (the first shall be last kind of mentality in the midst of the shoving), the Gospel of peace (when everything around you is chaos),  faith (that God has a better plan when you miss out on the big deal of the day that you got up early and stood in line for), salvation (nothing is worth losing your salvation over) and the sword of the Spirit (the one you wield when you’ve been stabbed in the back, stomped into a corner, shoved out of the way and shoutedat).

And when you get home, pour yourself a hot cup of tea or chocolate. Sit down by the fire. Close our eyes and thank God that with His hand in yours you navigated Black Friday in a manner He would be proud of.

God bless you all this Thanksgiving week!

His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’  Matthew 25:21

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MP900390059[1]This past week I witnessed some beautiful examples of generosity and compassion, the kind that honestly bring tears to your eyes.

It started with my eight year old granddaughter who went to great lengths to surprise her mom with breakfast in bed, a first for my daughter. Brinkley’s teacher started it all with a list of seven suggestions for ways her class could honor their mothers. Brinkley chose the breakfast one and then plotted for several days to make it happen.  She shared her idea with me the day before and asked advice on what she should make. She questioned her mom the night before, prefacing her questions with “I really don’t know why I’m asking this but ….”  And then this precious little one who is a bear to get up in the morning set her alarm and jumped out of bed at 7:20, fixed peanut butter and jelly toast and juice and woke her mom with the surprise.

A generous act was exampled again by my sister who has taken to visiting an elderly woman in a nursing home – not a relative – and feeding her because she has gotten too shaky to feed herself.

It continued with my precious friend Bev who fights for the rights of her mother in law, who has dementia and can’t fight for herself. Bev visits often even though her mother in law usually doesn’t know her and the visit always leaves her sad and depressed. She works hard to encourage this woman’s sons to do the same. She makes sure her mother in law’s care is the best available and sorts through paperwork, deals with agencies and battles constantly taking care of every detail this kind of dedication requires.

And then I got a call from my daughter who took on two foster boys several years ago and has poured her heart and soul into providing an environment conducive to repairing the damage done to them in their early years. As in most foster situations, there is very little payback and not always much progress.  This past week she went through an especially difficult trial with the oldest boy – one that certainly would have justified a last straw reaction. Instead, my daughter’s compassion for this young man who has gone out of his way to make her life miserable broke my heart.

When I looked at the situation I saw an out of control teenager who has had every opportunity to turn his life around.

My daughter sees a broken child inside a teenage body, a child who is still redeemable, a child who makes really bad decisions and needs someone like my daughter and her husband to rescue him, guide him and keep pushing him in the right direction because he hasn’t figured out yet how to turn his life around. He can’t take advantage of the opportunities because the damage blinds him to them.

Today in my studies I came across this scripture in Revelation:   Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it. (Rev 2:17)

I love that Jesus has a new name picked out for each one of us and that it is specific, descriptive and private – just between him and me. I’ve wondered what name that might be but I have a feeling it will be based on the characteristic in my life that was most Godly and touched the heart of Jesus.

For people like the ones in my story above, I suspect their clear stone will have a name like Generosityor Kindness,  Unselfish or Compassionate Caretaker. Maybe one will have the name Mother spelled a new way to apply to one who has opened her heart to a child not her own. One might have the name Daughter in a hue that says not by birth but by love. There might even be one that says Child with a little drawing of  peanut butter and jelly toast.

What will my name be? Or yours? I think it bears pondering. I think my life calls for some examining to see what stands out. Is it something I want carved on my clear stone for all eternity? If not, I had better start doing something about that right now. How about you?

Psalms 19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

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 MM900254494[1]We got our miracle this past week when my granddaughter’s test results were negative for cancer. It wasn’t what the doctors expected and I’m ashamed to say it wasn’t what I expected.

I’m ashamed that I was prepared for the worst instead of claiming the best. A legion of prayer warriors was beseeching God on our behalf. I myself  spent hours and hours in fervent prayer.

And – we prayed specifically for a miracle. But when it came – my reaction was disappointing. I didn’t immediately jump for joy. Instead, I wondered how that could be. If four biopsies came back abnormal, how could a fifth test come back negative? What if they made a mistake? What if they missed something? Should we get another opinion? Should we trust the results?

It took a few hours for me to truly believe that God had answered our prayers exactly as we’d requested. What originally was bad news had been flipped around by the Hand of God. Why was that so hard for me to grasp?

Our pastor has been preaching a series on the Lord’s prayer and just this past week I noted and underlined a statement he made.  He said, “People who pray mighty God centered prayers live a mighty God centered life.”

I’m trying to live a mighty God centered life. I believe in the power of prayer. So why is it so hard for me to accept a miracle when it happens?

I think it has to do with a world that pelts us daily with horror and violence, immorality and disappointment, bad news heaped on bad news.  Seldom do you come across an uplifting, positive piece of reporting. Each day when we turn on the TV or open the newspaper we are programmed to prepare for the worst.

If we would only open the Bible first we’d see a different story. Bad things happened in Biblical times but they were never the headline.  The headlines are always the redemption, the promises of God, the restoration, the forgiveness, the love – always the love.

Imagin the difference if we all started our day expecting the best instead of preparing for the worst.

What if we read this:   By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1:79

Before we read this:  Another School Shooting

Or this:  my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence. 4 I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. 2Samuel 22:3-4

Before we read this:  Another Terrorist Attack

Or this:  The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17

Before we read this:  Suicides on the Rise

If we could just concentrate on the best God has for us we could put in better perspective the worst the world has for us. In order for our mighty God centered lives to be mighty and God centered, we’d best be delving into the good news that never changes. And when we pray those mighty God centered prayers, we’d best get ready for mighty God centered results.

You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples Psalm 77:14

I believe in miracles. I believe my family just experienced one. And I believe it is a direct result of the powerful prayers sent up to a mighty God by family, friends, my Bible study ladies, my church, my pastor, and my own desperate heart. In all humility, greatfulness and overwhelming joy I shout, “Thank You, God!”

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MB900316860[1]Sometimes it’s hard to figure out if your life is one of peace interrupted now and then by crisis or one of crisis interrupted now and then with peace.

Our family is certainly in the middle of crisis at the moment with a granddaughter facing surgery and our fear of test results. As any medical situation, this has been going on for what seems like forever but is actually about two months. Appointments, tests, test results, more appointments – it’s endless and frays the nerves to the breaking point.  

When someone you love is suffering, you suffer. But what about when it is not necessarily someone you love?

 In the midst of our overwhelming crisis comes the Boston Marathon bombing. People I’ve never heard of dead and horribly injured. Families shocked and grieving. Friends trying to make sense of a nightmare.

And then just a few days later an explosion in Texas causing widespread devastation with the same result – death, destruction, pain, anguish, grief.

When you are mired in your own personal heartache it’s hard to read the stories. My brain wants to say that in the large scheme of things my problems are small. My heart speaks louder crying out “But this is my grandchild, not a stranger.”

And yet, I don’t ever want to become calloused when it comes to feeling compassion and heartbreak for God’s people.

The prophet Jeremiah actually prayed for a greater capacity to grieve.  “Oh, that my head were waters, And my eyes a fountain of tears, That I might weep day and night For the slain of the daughter of my people!” Jer 9:1

It’s not like Jeremiah didn’t have enough to cause him grief. He was the ultimate misunderstood, mistreated and unappreciated prophet. Yet he longed for a much larger resource to provide the tears he wanted to shed for God’s people.

Psalm 35:13-14 says “But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled my soul with fasting; And my prayer kept returning to my bosom. I went about as though it were my friend or brother; I bowed down mourning, as one who sorrows for a mother.”

I love that – I went about as though it were my friend or brother. My pastor’s wife shared with me yesterday how they just received news that their very good friends have lost a son.  She said their shock and grief goes so deep “We feel as if we have lost our own son.”

If only we all had the kind of love for mankind that caused us to grieve in a manner where an onlooker would think we’d lost a loved one or a close friend.

Because when we are that tender to the hurts and needs of those around us we are stifled in our ability to hurt those around us. Imagine a world where people could only act out in tenderness, a community of kind, generous souls unable to be anything but loving because the sight of a hurting human brings them to their knees.

I would love to close my own life by repeating Job’s statement to God as I enter His presence.  “Have I not wept for the one whose life is hard? Was not my soul grieved for the needy?” Job 30:25

Let’s inscribe that on the walls of our hearts and live the legacy.

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