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Posts Tagged ‘Joy’

As autumn sweeps over the valley I call home I can’t help but marvel at the beauty and wonder that in all actuality signals the death of summer and warns us that winter is just around the corner. I am a warm weather lover. I don’t shed my jacket until the air hits at least 75 degrees, 80 is better and 85 is perfect. I want to be out in it, inhaling sunshine. But as soon as that pre-winter chill hits, I’m the sit by the fire and read girl, a quilt over my legs and a hot beverage in my hand.

Still – autumn captures me. I love russet maples. I love the sight of trees that rain down gold and yellow. I love the sound of leaves crunching beneath my feet and I smile when one lands lightly on my hair or floats past close enough to brush my cheek. Logically I know they are dying. But spiritually, I sense them dancing.

They have accomplished their mission in life, to bud and unfurl and shine lush green, giving shelter to birds and squirrels and frisky house cats. They have dressed the branches in a vibrant veil of life and given the breeze something to tickle. They’ve provided shade for the summer lover, a cool spot to sit and watch bees and butterflies do their thing.

And now that their virile days are over, they don’t go out without making a statement. Oh no – nothing quiet about their golden age. They transform. They get out their catchiest outfits, they wear red, they laugh in rusty tones, they twirl and float and settle soft.
They know the secret. They know that while others might see their purpose at an end, they have much more to offer. Children will love to jump and play in them, friends will enjoy walking through them, couples will grasp hands for warmth and share special moments taking in the beauty they add to the landscape.

Winter will come, snow will cover them until the world forgets they were ever there. But they will still be doing their work, mulching the earth to provide nourishment for the new growth that comes with the spring.

Never forget that like the leaves, God has a purpose and a plan for us at every age. Our mission is to listen, follow His leading, and embrace our value in our current season. Don’t lament the fertile green we once wore when you can dress in a ball gown of autumn colors. Don’t regret the day you find you must rest at the root of the tree when you can treasure the memory of the journey that brought you there and the rich heritage you leave for the new growth that is nourished by it.

“And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, Until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to all who are to come” . Psalm 71:18

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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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OGIO-motorcycle-rides[1]First motorcycle outing of the year on Saturday and it was glorious. We managed to sandwich the ride in between rainstorms. The sun was out in full force, warming the air to a brisk 50 degrees when we took off. Of course, I had my miracle jacket on high so I was toasty. Bald eagles, deer and mountain sheep were all out in force taking advantage of the weather just like us.

After the long winter break, I kind of have to get back in biker mode and it takes a while. Remembering all the parts and pieces of being comfortable – the silk scarf, the hair pulled back and secured so it doesn’t tangle in the wind, the right gloves for the cool weather, the leathers and of course, the connector cord for my heated jacket.

But the biggest “Oh yeah” for me is the sense of power that radiates from that huge hunk of chrome and metal. The bike roars to life and I find myself grabbing tightly to my guy, taking a big breath and anticipating the soaring sensation that will come as we hit the highway.

And then there’s that lung-filling fresh air after being huddled inside all winter. The great feel of sunshine on my cheeks. Sky so blue it hurts your eyes. And the hope and promise singing from the trees that are covered with spring buds ready to burst into leafy glory. The peach fuzz covering of green on the hills that have been soaking up the rain. The rush of the river pushing at its banks, swollen from the spring thaw.

And so precious, sipping coffee and eating fresh baked pastries with my husband at the old bakery that is a favorite stop of ours. It’s rare, this relaxing, quiet time together – actually having a real conversation, uninterrupted by phones, grandkids, jobs, errands, and the over-zealous dog.

Sometimes I chaff at having to devote every good-weather Saturday to time on the motorcycle. There are many other things I love to do and can only fit into a Saturday. But I have to admit that once we’re on the road, I forget to wish I was elsewhere because I’m so loving being where I am.

Isn’t that just the way in this crazy busy life of ours? Our list is long, our time short. We have to double and triple book to get it all in and half the time we are too exhausted to actually enjoy ourselves. We don’t prioritize according to what we need, we scramble our schedules because of what we want.

Much as I hate to admit it, I need those kicked back Saturdays on the back of the bike, breathing deep, taking in the sights, and being close to my life partner. It brings balance and sanity to my otherwise topsy turvy world.

Life balance is key if we are to negotiate the journey from birth to death with any kind of success and satisfaction. And balance is not what the enemy wants for us. He will always introduce too many choices to keep us from being focused. He will paint unrealistic pictures of the things we desire and then try to convince us we deserve them, we need them, and we should go for them to the detriment of more important, less glittering activities.

Just as that first few minutes on the bike remind me of the power and pure enjoyment I will soon experience, the first few minutes in God’s word reminds of the same thing. His word is rich, bursting with wise instruction, filled with peace and hope. It is solid and sure, and satisfying to my mind, my heart and my soul.

I need those times of breathing deep and drawing close to the One who gives me breath.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Or as the message translation puts it, “I have told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”

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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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MP900070786[1]Like many other areas this time of year, we are battling wildfires which thrive on vegetation dried out by the hot summer sun. Two large fires, one to the south and one to the north have painted our skies with a hazy smoke cover.

The strong smell of burning timber and the fine film of ash that settles everywhere are clear evidence that those fires continue to rage and a barrage of firefighters fight to save homes and control the burn.

Ash is certainly a symptom of troubled times. The Bible refers to ashes as a symbol of repentance and grief. Men dressed in sackcloth and ashes when crying out to God as an outward sign of their humility and sincerity in their need for mercy.

For the last few evenings I’ve walked out on my deck to watch the sunset. It has been overwhelmingly beautiful, the smoky haze creating vivid reds and pinks as the sun sinks behind the hills.

I am reminded over and over of the phrase “Beauty for Ashes” when evening falls and I’m surrounded by the artistry of God where light through ashes creates a priceless masterpiece.

God always uses the tough and tragic times in our life to move us to a place of beauty if we let Him. Job suffered greatly and was restored to a point far beyond his losses. Moses was exiled from his beloved home only to return as the Deliverer of people. Joseph’s story is a classic tale of beauty for ashes.

The common threads between these stories, and many others, are acceptance, obedience and unwavering faith. God always wants to bring us to a better place but He needs our cooperation.

If the sun refused to shine because the smoke blocked its rays, none of these gorgeous sunsets would occur. If I refuse to trust and do what I am called to do because tears are the order of the day, I will never experience God’s great mercy that picks me up, sets me on my feet again and allows me a vision of my future made more brilliant because it’s been washed by those tears.

I’m thanking Him today for this reminder, handed to me as I stand on my deck on a soft summer evening, watching the miracle of ashes for beauty.

Is 61:3 :…and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness  instead of mourning, and a garment of praise  instead of a spirit of despair.”

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