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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Cindy Swanson


Cindy Swanson is a radio personality, voice-over artist, speaker, and aspiring writer. Cindy is the morning show co-host on 101QFL (www.101qfl.com) in Rockford, Illinois, and does the morning news for both 101QFL and Radio 91 (www.radio91.com). She hosts a weekly interview show called “Weekend Rockford,” in which she’s happy to interview many of the movers and shakers in the evangelical world, as well as many of her favorite Christian authors. Cindy also enjoys speaking to women’s groups.

Cindy is married to a Christian school administrator, and they have three grown children. She also became a grandma in 2007, to “the most adorable little boy in the world.”

Growing up as a missionary and pastor’s kid gave Cindy a unique perspective on the world. She lived in Beirut, Lebanon and attended a British school there as a child.

Cindy has been blogging since 2003 at Notes in the Key of Life, (http://cindyswanslife.blogspot.com) which she describes as a warm, personal look at faith, fiction, family issues and entertainment.

Cindy is an avid reader, especially of Christian fiction, and enjoys travel, music, and spending time with her family. Finding out she has Type 2 diabetes in 2007 has motivated her for the first time to really get serious about her quest for fitness, and regular exercise is now a big part of her life.

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God's Best China

“In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work”. 2 Timothy 2:20-21

My mother-in-law can cook like nobody’s business and one of her specialties is good ‘ole southern potato salad. She has this special Strawberry Bowl that the potato salad goes in. Always.

Point being, special occasions warrant special dishes and spiritually speaking, you are God’s best china. The thing we always don’t understand is why God seems to overlook us for periods of time while someone else is being “used” on a regular basis. The same way we pull out a round cakestand for a carrot cake or a platter for the turkey, God will use us when we are the perfect fit. We all have our set of issues God has used to shape the women we have become. It is not enough, girls, to keep all that grace to ourselves. When He chooses to pull us out, we have to be prepared.

The same concept can be found in the life of Moses. Consider Stephen's testimony in Acts 7:20, "At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child." The time Moses was referring to was the fulfillment of the 400 years of Israelite bondage in Egypt God had revealed to Abraham. The Greek word for 'time' used here signifies a set time in which a specific task must be accomplished. Moses was not just one of a generation that happened to suit God's purpose. He was placed on purpose to be God's chosen deliverer however reluctant Moses may have initially been.

See another fascinating example. The Hebrew equivalent of this same 'time' word gives the definition of "the appropriate time for an unrecurring incident." The Hebrew word is "Eth". Do you see whose name you can make out of that word? Esther. "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 royal position for such a time as this?" Esther 4:14

Both of these examples show people who experienced waiting and questioned why they were placed in the positions they were in. Be sure to notice that in both these instances, just as in our own, there are unrecurring events that will be placed before us that will require a resolved 'yes'. Yes, Lord, I'll obey you even if the future is uncertain. Yes, Lord, You can trust me with your Name. It is when we are willing to disappear into Him that He is made all the more visible to the world around us.

Our God given tasks may begin as something which appears small. God knows when our faith has been built enough to trust us with opportunities for greater impact. He is always able, but just like Moses and Esther, there is a period of preparation He graciously gives us before we are led into the Red Sea or the King's Court. Be found faithful in looking for those opportunities to be the china He pulls out of the cabinet.

In response, how is God using you lately? Are you in a preparation period? If you don’t feel God is at work in you, will you commit to look for the opportunity? Will you ask Him to reveal how your circumstances are shaping you for His fame? If you will, I can promise He will not leave you on the shelf.


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Elaine Bateman



Her love for missions began in earnest as a young woman traveling with her parents as each shared the Gospel of Good News of Jesus Christ with the indigenous mountain peoples of her homeland. She has done a remarkable job raising her large unique blended family of 16, homeschooling most of her children to high school age, working with the homeless in large southern U.S. cities and as a featured women's conference speaker. Elaine has used her language skills for the Learning Company and their well known, "Learn to Speak Spanish" teaching series. She often quips about her being recognized by millions of people who can't recall where they have seen her before! Her writings on motherhood in the Christian family has been published in Successful Stepfamily Magazine. Her life story and issues related to women's health has gained her exposure in other public mediums such as Family Circle Magazine, USA Television Network and as a weekly women's health blogger. Her husband Cody describes Elaine as the epitome' of motherhood and wife, a truly "Proverbs 31" woman.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

So how do you feel today?

I'm hooked on a feeling.” just like BJ Thomas sang back in 1969. Our feelings are a very important part of who we are. We make decisions based on how we feel, or change our mind because we “had a bad feeling.” As you read blogs, even this post you are judging what I am saying with your current feelings and life experiences. You are determining how you “feel” about what I am saying.

Feelings are a gift from God; they allow us to feel empathy for another person. Feelings cause us to reach out and help, they are the seeds to falling in love, and feelings can be a very powerful force. But feelings should have a proper place in all things. Anyone that knows me personally knows this is a post I am preaching to myself. For some reason when God made me, he gave me an extra dose of “feelings.” My husband is often frustrated that someone else could go through something, but I share the feelings. This is for difficult times, and for times of great rejoicing. I live on a rollercoaster of feelings; I think God uses it in a good way. On the other hand, the Lord has, and continues to work with me, showing me where these strong feelings are good and where they need to be put into perspective.

Often times we (women especially) have the tendency to study or read something then weigh what we just read on impressions and feelings, then we turn these impressions into fact.

“ We let subjective impressions determine what we’ll accept as object facts.”

~C.J. Mahaney

Many of us are just programmed this way, our society contributes to this way of thinking. You hear terms like, how does it make you feel, follow your heart, if it makes you feel good then it must be right. This would be fine if our feelings were based on fact, but they are not. Our feelings betray us, lead us astray.

When it comes to studying God’s word and living a Godly life we need to place our feelings in their proper perspective. We don’t ignore our feelings, they are valid, but they have their proper place (David in the bible is an example of this, he stood on truth but had strong feelings). First we need the foundation of truth, truth is fact, truth is unwavering, unlike our feelings. If you are studying God’s word and reading the bible, your first question should not be, how do I feel about this? You should first ask yourself, do I believe this or not?

So how can you develop this in your life? I have learned how to talk to myself instead of listen to myself. When I was listening to myself I found I did not have very nice things to say, I complained, and God felt distant. When I am in the heart of battle and life is coming hard and my emotions are all over the place. I find my rock in unwavering truth.

Christ died for me.

God promised to never leave nor forsake me.

Jesus loves me.

I take verses and speak them out loud; I say them over and over. I speak the truth and let myself hear it, in return I feel Christ drawing nearer and it is on solid ground I stand (where there is no sinking sand). Then the feelings will build and strong affection for Christ increases, and then your emotions can carry you away in praising God. Our feelings are important, it is just not where we should begin when following Christ.


Update: The above post was written early in the day. I hate to say this but God likes to make me live through object lessons. And he is making me "live" what I just preached. Someone very close to me tonight miscarried (in the process of). This was not a normal miscarry either, this person believe she would never carry child and then found herself pregnant. It was like giving hope to believe, so many years after you released that hope. And if I am very honest, this pain I am FEELING, could lead me down a dark path, one it would take a lot to come back from. Right now I am broken, I am crying out to God, and I am standing at the cross road. One path God is asking me....are you going to let your pain and feelings direct you? The other path God is asking, are you going to walk with me and BELIEVE me despite the strong emotions you are feeling right now. I am sorry to be so raw here, but it was to much of a coincidence that I wrote this right before I got very painful news. I am here to say, despite the deep pain I am feeling right now and the tears streaming down my face I chose to believe God. And I will continue to believe and trust God.



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Laura


Laura is a 30-year-old stay-at-home mom to a busy toddler daughter and is expecting her second child in May. Reared in New York and Pennsylvania, she's a northerner at heart, but went to college in the Midwest where she met her husband. Because he's now a US diplomat, their family lives in Qatar, a small Middle Eastern country in the Gulf, and they worship at the local Anglican church. Laura holds a masters in theological studies from an Anglican seminary, and enjoys reading, writing, singing, playing the piano, and playing with her daughter. You can read more about her daily adventures in life with Christ at her blog, My Quotidian Mysteries ( http://myquotidianmysteries.blogspot.com).

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Blessed to Be a Blessing

"Now the LORD said to Abram, 'Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'" ~ Genesis 12:1-3 (ESV)
Do you ever wonder if you are following His plan for your life? The daily choices you make? I do--constantly.

As some of you might know, I worked in a church office until last year. I prayed for a very long time before I put in my letter of resignation. My best friend at the time asked me if I knew what I was doing. "How can you give up a position in a Christian environment?" she asked.

To be honest, I wasn't sure what I was doing. I trusted the Lord that it was time for me to move on--to go back into the world to be His tool. Was I afraid? No doubt about it. But I was confident that He would guide me to the right place. The time I worked/served at the church was my 'training ground'. To be in His Word on a daily basis--to encourage fellow Christians. He prepared me to stand firm in the dark and angry world.
"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." 1 Corinthians 15:57-58 (ESV)
My first question was "Lord, what do you want me do on a daily basis. You know I am not good at witnessing!"...I trusted that He would somehow reveal what His plan was for me. Over the past year I have learned to be His hands and feet. I pray for my coworkers. Every day He puts a different person on my heart. As I pray for them daily, He helps me to see their needs. Praying for a safe pregnancy, for safe travel, for good test results...

As I pray for my coworkers, I see more and more of their needs--their need for Jesus...No, I don't stand in the lunch room with Bible in hand and proclaim that the end is near. I am still taking baby-steps--testing the water as some might say. He will give me the green light when someone is ready to hear the Gospel. I just have to trust and believe that He is my source of strength.

Do I miss the 'safe' environment? You bet! Who wouldn't miss praying with fellow Christians before you start your workday? One thing I know for sure, is that since the Lord has blessed me, I want to be a blessing to others.

Lord of Heaven and Earth. You are my strength and my portion. Lord, I am asking for Your help to become a blessing to others. I am trusting in Your lead and guidance. In the precious name of Jesus I pray ~ Amen.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Power of Life

I tiptoed my way toward the teddy bear crib hoping to steal one last look before going to sleep. Crumpled up in his bed like a kitten slept the little man who was placed in my care. This baby, though only a few months old had already been through the valley of the shadow of death, but by the grace of God he lives—by the stripes of our Savior he’s healed. With such a marvelous glory before me I couldn’t help but to brush his cheek with my hand before leaving.

Standing outside in the hall, I looked down at the palm of my hand, still feeling his warmth. This hand was a familiar one that I had seen somewhere before—adorned with a simple wedding band, marked with a touch of arthritis, and clothed with lines and creases liken to roads of years traveled—what I recognized were the hands of a mother.

A vintage suitcase marked with stamps collected through journeys, my hands have traveled to far away places. Now bursting with riches they can hardly contain, these hands hold a treasure of memories locked deep inside.

They held my own mother’s arms that pulled up my trousers, while I felt the warmth of her breath on my neck. They curiously turned the handle to peer at my father while he undressed for the shower—yes, the same hand that stifled a giggle as I ran from his voice. They held their first cup of milk careful to not spill a drop, and later their first glass of Coke as the bubbles jumped from the cup.

My hands have waved high in the air, hoping that one would be seen and be heard. They’ve held the hands of fair maidens in the kingdom of friendship. They held the hand of new love, and took another in marriage. They’ve placed coins in the hands of the poor, and received coin when times have been rough. They’ve felt the coldness of death and the warmth of a newborn’s first grasp. They’ve reached out in the dark to give and get love.

They’ve pushed the back of a swing that soared through the air, and tied the laces on skates making sure that each leg was tight. They’ve learned to hold on and let go.

Then I see a different pair of hands, but unlike mine, they’ve been scarred from the journey. These hands have held his mothers arms as he felt the warmth of her breath on his neck. They’ve been used to stifle a giggle and place coins in the hand of the poor. They’ve held hands of royal princes in the kingdom of God. They’ve reached out in the dark to give love, and bring life. They felt the coldness of death and the power of life. These hands are familiar ones that I can only imagine to see—the hands of a Savior—my Jesus.

My little man, Graham is seven years old now. Living and breathing against all the odds. I have seen him so near to death that a team of doctors rushed to his crib late at night, and the same child so near to the glory of God that his face reflected the light.

Herein lies the power of life—the hands of a savior—my Jesus.

“But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5

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Choose You This Day

"Oh, I just can’t decide! What are you having?"

"I just don’t know! It all looks so good!"

"It’s just can’t make up my mind…"

That's typical over-the-menu conversation at any lunch date with women. We agonize over what to choose, from the right salad to the right shoes. We ask one another's opinions on just about everything. We want input on our choices, and affirmation once they are made, whether it’s a haircut or home decor. We are creatures of choice. It's been that way since the first woman was fashioned by the Divine hands that chose to create us in His image. Part of that indelible image is "choice-maker."

I'm sure some variation of the above "lunch discussion" happened in the Garden of Eden. It must have "all looked so good!" How could they decide? They had the ultimate salad ingredients, that’s for sure! One day, though, the simple decision of "what’s for lunch?" became a destiny-defining choice. I wonder if the forbidden tree had ever been an issue before then. Aside from knowing it was off limits, they had such a bountiful buffet before them daily that it's quite possible they hardly even considered it. But the enemy was able to persuade Eve that its fruit was a valid, even desirable, choice. And what she chose has affected us all.


"Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before... either into a creature that is in harmony with God, ...or into one that is in a state of war with God. Each of us at each moment is progresing to the one state or the other."
~ C.S. Lewis ~
Mere Christianity



"But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve... But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." Joshua 24:15

By nature, we are now creatures born into a “state of war” with God. But, by God’s grace, through Jesus Christ we can choose a path of harmony with God the Father, in tune with His perfect will. (John 14:6) So, the first choice is to decide whom you will serve: yourself, the world, God, or another person. Subsequent choices move you either closer or farther away from that chosen master. I can’t say "I will serve the Lord" and then make daily choices that move me closer to another master (and still be truly serving Him). The word "choose" in the above verse is the most common Old Testament word used to mean "to choose," "elect," or "decide for." My Hebrew lexicon says that this word, bahar, "always involves a careful, well thought-out choice." Further down in the explanation it says, "serviceability rather than simple arbitrariness is at the heart of the choosing."

Serviceability. "...choose for yourselves... whom you will serve." Our choices not only indicate who we serve, but our choices themselves serve the master by advancing his or her purposes. If I have chosen to serve God, when faced with subsequent choices I must ask myself: Will this choice serve to bring me closer to God or further from Him? Will it advance His kingdom? make me more like Christ? help me model Christ for another person?

Not that we should all live with deer-in-the-headlights expressions on our faces, while in a perpetual state of "analysis paralysis" over our choices of flip flops or pizza toppings. But just as Eve's choice had ramifications far beyond that moment in time, our daily choices do as well. How I choose to dress reflects my reverence for God. How I choose to spend resources reflects (and directs) my priorities. What I choose to eat reflects how I view my body, God’s temple. We don't need to be full of angst over each and every decision, for our loving God has not called us to a life filled with anxiety, nor has He saved us because of our works. But He has called us to a life of holiness, of being set apart for Him. He does desire us to live "in harmony" with Him rather than "at war" with Him.

By God's grace, we have the profound privilege of looking at the Garden of Eden from this side of the cross. We have the opportunity to respond to Christ's invitation and to receive the gift of salvation and the accompanying indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit to guide us in our choice-making each day. It is only by doing this that we literally "have it in us" to make the right choices. If you have not yet responded and "chosen this day" to serve Jesus Christ, I encourage you to go here. This world offers many choices of "masters," but only one choice, Jesus Christ, leads to life.

"Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart." Psalm 37:4

If I delight in God, my desires will naturally (no, supernaturally) begin to line up with His. His desires will become my desires. God will change my "wanter." My "wanter" directs my "decider." The result will be choices that glorify God and bring me, with ever-increasing glory, more into conformity with the image of Jesus, who sits at the right hand of the Father in perfect harmony with Him.


Christine at Fruit in Season is our host for this week's In Other Words. If you would like to read other perspectives on this week's quote, or perhaps add your own, head on over. Thanks, Christine, for hosting us this week, and for this thought-provoking quote.

I'm praying for all of us and the choices we will make this day.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

How's your advertising?

I live in the Buckeye State. Not only do I live in the Buckeye State, but I live in the center of the state, in the midst of Ohio State country, and the Buckeyes from OSU rule the land. If you've never seen a buckeye, you're not missing much. These little things are basically nuts, or maybe they're a fruit, who knows. But when you're talking about them in regard to football people around here just go crazy. Jason and I, being a transplanted Floridian and transplanted Northerner, respectively, don't quite understand this feeling. It is pretty overwhelming to live right in the thick of it!

So, needless to say, if your business has the word "Buckeye" in it, you've got a pretty good chance of being successful simply because you're in the right neighborhood for it. There are two pages in the phone book dedicated to companies with "Buckeye" in the name. If you were to take the name "Buckeye Plumbing" to San Francisco, it wouldn't have any elevated chance of tapping in to some undercurrent of mania that it would here in Ohio. It is knowing your target audience that matters; you need to advertise appropriately.

Jesus knew just who his target audience was. Did you ever stop to think of what Jesus would have been like had his primary audience been the Pharisees and the lawmakers of the day? Would he have dressed in expensive robes, spoken in theologically intellectual terms, and been seen in all the important places in order to get through to them? If he were a good businessman, he sure would have. He would have changed them from the inside out.

What if his target audience was the army of the Roman empire? Would he have showed brute strength to get their attention, and bravely fought alongside them to contribute his military prowess? To get his message across, of course he would have. He would have met them where they were. That's what he taught his disciples- and Paul and Peter especially learned this well.

Instead, however, Jesus took his message of hope and salvation to the sinners and outcasts. After all, it's the sick that need a doctor, not the healthy, as Jesus himself said. His audience was filled with the everyday ragamuffins who didn't have the clout, wealth, pride and position necessary to demand attention from those in power. He spoke in stories, parables that resonated with the people with whom he spent his time. He shared meals with them, mourned with them, laughed with them, basically lived an everyday life with them, so that they would relate to him and understand that he was one of them- a leader, to be sure, but still one of them. He lived without material possessions to minister to those that had nothing.

Jesus knew how to advertise his product. And he was that product.

So today, in my life, do I know my audience? When I am living out the gospel and witnessing to those around me, can they relate to me? If I'm with moms, do I show that I'm down in the trenches too, slugging it out day by day while keeping my knees to the carpet and my eyes on the cross? If I'm with students at the college where my husband works, do I show them that I remember what it's like to be busy college kids trying to find my way in the world? Do I point them toward the one that can give them lasting peace and contentment as they struggle in a world that values them only for what they can do and not who they are?

Godly advertising is about being yourself, but being the self that the people around you can understand.

As we live side by side with the people in our lives, it's important to know how to advertise Jesus to those around us. We never should change our tune but it's important to change the instruments every once in a while. Meet them where they are. Speak their language.

And if that means talking about the Buckeyes to witness to your neighbors? So be it.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Friendship, Food and Fun

I got the email yesterday. A member of my prayer group was inviting us over for a "girls night" at her place. Food and fun. Which aren't always two different things. I said, "Yes." Of course. They're my friends, the ladies in the prayer group. And it's been a while since we got together for anything besides, well, prayer.

When last night rolled around, however, I decided to blow it off. I was tired, not feeling well, and in pain. I didn't even call her. I told my husband I wasn't going, went into the master and starting running bath water. The plan was a long, candle-light soak, a cup of hot tea, and the next chapter of my current book. I don't know about you, but, to me, that sounds like the perfect way to end a really crazy week.

That's when my cell phone rang. The "Where are you?" call. I made my excuses, hung up, and started lighting candles.

Then the land line rang. It was another friend, the Militant Mama in our group. She's from up north and very persuasive. She was a high-level sales person for Yellow Pages in a previous life and I can never tell her no. Ten minutes later she was in my driveway honking for me.

Ten minutes after that, I was in my friend's kitchen laughing with the ladies I have committed to praying with and for. The ones who hold me accountable and don't let me withdraw to pout when I step into one of life's valleys. The ones who cheer me as I approach my mountain tops. The ones God placed in my life to encourage me and to spur me on. The ones I can always be myself with and say exactly what I'm thinking and exactly how I'm feeling without worrying about them throwing brimstone at me for being a sinner because they realize they're sinners, too. Those friends.

It's so incredibly easy to say, "I'm too tired." Too tired to be with them. Too tired to invite them over. Too tired to go out with them or meet with them or call them or drop them a note. It's just so easy to blow them off.

Except for the Militant Mama. She's on me like a flea on a dog, you know?

God puts people into our lives that He intends to encourage us, to hold us accountable, to be there for us, to laugh with us and hug us and pray with us and fuss at us when we get out of line. That's what He intended when he said,
Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father,
and do not go to your brother's house when disaster strikes you— better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away. Proverbs 28:10
Because that neighbor nearby is there to be in our lives - to speak into our lives.

Do we submit to His will for us in these relationships? Do we acknowledge that those people are not in our lives by accident? That there's a reason? That He set it all up because He wants us to be in fellowship with these people, to grow with and learn from them? To be there for them? Even when we'd rather just stay home?

It is good for us make time every once in a while to get goofy with the girls. To be sisters that gather just to laugh and share stories and find out more about each other.

You know, I've been praying with these women for almost five years and they didn't know I was Cajun? Maybe that's why He had me go last night - so they could know I'm Cajun. The looks on their faces were priceless. I loved our crawfish discussion. And the way they pronounced Tchoupitoulas! I thought I was going to bust a gut laughing.

Seriously, when we have relationships that keep Jesus at the center, we grow closer to Him as we grow closer to each other. If you don't have the type of relationships in your life that bring you closer to God, please stop right now and pray that He changes that for you. But just know that He may insist Jesus become your best friend, first.

He had a much better time planned for me last evening than I had planned for myself.


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The Price of Privilege



I never remember my dad reading the newspaper as a child. It wasn't until I was older (and could stay up later) that I would see my dad lay down on the couch to read the paper. Why is this significant to me? Well, for me it symbolizes the importance that my dad placed on spending time with me and my brother.

My dad was home every day at 5:30 for dinner. Afterward, he quickly changed clothes and spent time with us (playing, reading, doing family devotions) until bedtime. I was blessed to grow up knowing that I was important enough to be a priority for my dad. He would have rather played with me than read his paper or watch TV.

My mom also made purposeful decisions to invest in her children. She has shared with me how she specifically chose to be a teacher so that she could maximize time spent with us in the afternoon and summers. I will forever cherish the many summer adventures that we shared.

In addition, my parents really included us in their activities, whether through their work or church activities. My brother and I had the opportunity to walk beside them and learn. This is how God designed parenthood and child training--through relationship and connecting.

You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between you eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise. --Deuteronomy 11:18-19
As I look around our world, I am rather alarmed at the lack of priority placed on parenthood and family. I recently read a book called The Price of Privilege by Madeline Levine, a clinical psychologist. She pointed out some very interesting developments in the demographics of her clientele. More and more, her "typical" teen client comes from wealthy and upper middle class families. These teens have been given everything, and many are very gifted and intelligent. They should be happy, right?

As a society, we must understand that children do not need "stuff" - they need their parents. Rather than a new ball glove, they want their dads to watch them play. Instead of gadgets, they want time with their parents. Because they are disconnected and depressed, many teens are turning to alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, and cutting to mask their pain. This is becoming the price of privilege in our country, driven by materialism and the pressure to achieve.

In a country where the large majority of people are more "privileged" than the rest of the world, we must continually work to keep the proper perspective on money and material possessions. I do not want my children to ever doubt that they are more important than the "stuff." To me, the price of privilege is too high to pay.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Nothing on the Agenda but Spending Time with Our Father

As soon as Spring flirts with us each year, kids fall for her charms and begin wearing flip-flops and shorts to school. Even if chilly mornings make goose bumps pop up on tender, winter skin, it’s spring--and you’ve gotta dress like it’s spring!

Apparently, my eighth-grader, Kristin, has been the only girl in her entire school, school district, or in Indiana who has still been wearing (you won’t believe this) jeans to school. This “fact” was exacerbated by the “fact” that she could no longer fit into anything that was discarded all over her bed, floor, dressers, closet, or ceiling fan.

It’s true that middle schoolers, like toddlers, can grow a lot in one year, so we went shopping for a few items. We looked for styles we could both approve of, but the plethora of microscopic, miniscule, dinky, veritably undetectable wee shorts and skirts was not acceptable to either of us. But that’s a whole ‘nother post!

Nevertheless, we made a couple of purchases. Kristin was excited about her new clothes. In fact, she expressed appreciation several times. All in all, the excursion was turning out to be a great mom/daughter bonding time.

But then something drained Kristin’s spirit and zapped her stamina in a matter of minutes: I began looking at a few things for myself.

Her countenance dropped. Her knees buckled. Her eyes actually got bloodshot. She dragged her feet and leaned on clothes racks for support. She wasn’t complaining, rude or misbehaving; she had simply gotten what she came for, and suddenly, the party was over.

Later at home, we were laughing about her descent into listlessness when she remarked that what she did is similar to the way we relate to God sometimes. That is, when we need or want something, we ask, and a lot of times we get what we want. Sadly, as soon as we feel relief from worry, or the storm has passed, or the wish has been granted, we grow tired of praying. We’re not unappreciative or rude to God; we probably even say “thank you,” just as Kristin did. However, we just don’t sense the same urgency or even remember to talk to him like we did when we were holding out our hands.

Galatians 3:25-27 reminds us: “By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ's life, the fulfillment of God's original promise.” [The Message]

I am reminded that I’m in a relationship with God, my Father, who is interested in who I am on the inside. I love him, and I want to make sure that I participate in our relationship every day in ways that don’t involve asking for something. Whether in earthly relationships or in the one with our Father, there is joy in just spending time with someone we love.

Today, may we dress ourselves in an “adult faith wardrobe,” giving thanks to our Provider but also seeking Father/Daughter bonding time without an agenda. May we adore him and fully appreciate that because of Christ, we enjoy a direct relationship with the pre-existent, co-eternal, omnipotent God, who, inexplicably, desires to meet with us at any time, every day. What grace!

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Say Your Prayers

"Courage is fear that has said its prayers." – Dorothy Bernard

This quote makes me believe that for courage to be present, fear must exist.

But when fear covers its head with a shroud of prayer, God's hand is released, whether visible or not, to do a greater work.

“Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
He rises to show His compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice,
Blessed are all who wait for him!

O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious He will be when you cry for help! As soon as He hears, He will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your Teacher will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see Him. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”
(Isaiah 30:18-21)

As soon as He hears, He will answer you. An astounding promise! Our only pitfall is expecting that answer to be a resounding, “Yes!”, or other such clear-cut replies. And when we find that our fleece remains wet with the dew, and we are afraid to talk Him down from fifty faithful to ten, while the hands on the clock stubbornly tick-tock forward, the hope wanes. "A sign!" we beg. "A sign!"

And fear takes over.

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

Do you see, dear reader? It does not say, “So that we may obtain exactly what we are asking for!” Receiving mercy and finding grace. Just what we needed.

And lest that little voice is whispering into your ear right now, “Prayer is so trite!”, please remember that it is everything. Paul begged for it – “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” (Ephesians 6:19-20) Twice, he asks the church to pray against his fear! Twice!

And directly preceding Paul's request is this:

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints."
(Ephesians 6:10-18)

If armor and weapons are our defense, then the linen undergarment, prayer, prevents the chafing that comes from throwing on our armor without a proper covering. Every situation, every decision, every fear demands the covering of prayer. It is the alpha and the omega of our circumstances; beginning with fear and petition, ending in thanksgiving.

Go ahead; let fear drive you to your knees. But while you're down there, say your prayers.

Courage awaits.


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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Wholeness of God

Unseasonably warm weather has been the norm this spring where I live in Southwest California. The last few weeks have held a hint of summer days spent at the beach and weekend barbeques. My apologies to everyone who is currently buried under snow drifts taller than your SUV. Stay with me and dream a bit.

While enjoying the supreme temperatures on Saturday night at our first seasonal outdoor barbeque, I started thinking about the fun ahead at future cookouts. Which naturally lead me to ponder what I might bring along to the next get-together. Of course, then I thought of watermelon, that lead to seeds and on to my daughter who has probably never eaten a watermelon with seeds, and finally, stay with me here, I arrived at the Wholeness of God.

No wonder our husbands shake their heads and contemplate, “How did she come up with that?” (Am I alone here?)

During this visit to the various parts of my brain, I stumbled over the seeds. My daughter has been raised eating seedless watermelon. It is likely she hasn't enjoyed the fun of digging through the juicy, red fruit searching for a seed to spit at her older, grown-up brother. Seed fights and eating melon to the rind expired as seedless melons flooded the grocery stores. She will never delight in an errant vine growing in the grass or holding a slice as it drips from her elbow. For this generation, watermelon is served in precisely cut squares or in fantastic fruit bowls as melons balls.

I somehow feel sad about this lost experience. Seeded watermelon is fun. The sweet heart of the melon is the prize. The seeds are work to separate out but they offer laughs and somewhat mischievous opportunities. Thinking about the sweet, delectable heart of the watermelon made me think about God’s heart. (The brain is firing again.)

It is God’s heart where we find complete security, purpose, forgiveness and love. In His heart we are made whole. It is where we always want to dwell and never leave. But, God is much more than heart. God is Holy. Sometimes I find myself completely wrapped up in God’s heart but ignoring the wholeness of God.

The holiness of God:

He freely forgives. He deserves our respect.
He bestows mercy richly. He is worthy of honor.
His grace abounds. He merits joyful gratitude.
He protects avidly. We owe Him priority.
He loves purely. He warrants our adoration.
He blesses abundantly. Our responsibility is due.

I cannot pick and choose only the sweet parts of God. To love God is to love His holiness, His wholeness and embrace all of Him. Resting securely in His love I am able to dig deep through His heart and search for those seeds of wisdom, the whole of God. There I discover His majesty, sovereignty, eminence, and limitless facets of His character.

From this day forward when I see a watermelon, I will be reminded of the holiness of God. I will rejoice in His love. I will reverence His name. It is my fervent prayer that you will too. In fact, (brain going again) I think I will head to the market and search for a seeded watermelon to share with my daughter.


Be blessed with His profound nobleness today!

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"You Can't Have Her!"

I have a confession to make: I am a Lord of the Rings nerd. I counted today and in the land of Girlfriendom - after I considered every woman I know - I have exactly zero friends who share my affinity for all things Middle Earth. My love for this magical land leads me to hope, but never dare pray, that Heaven will be something like the Elven city of Rivendell. My perfect eternity consists of worshiping throughout the ages on regal white horseback like the elf princess, Arwen. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have told you that. But now you are convinced of the nerd part, yes?

Even if you do not share my love for this mythical place, you simply must force yourself to watch these films and ask God to reveal all of the spiritual imagery. One such scene has captured my heart this week as I’ve been preparing a series of lessons for a women’s retreat.

In the trilogy, there is a niece to the King of Rohan named Eowyn. She is described as fearless, high-hearted (love that word), and skilled with a sword but is forbidden to participate in warfare because she is a woman. A great battle is looming and, determined to defend mankind, she disguises herself in armour and rides into the fight.

In the climax of the battle, Eowyn’s uncle, Good King Theoden, is struck down by the Evil Witch King and is about to be devoured by the flying beast he rides. Just in time, Eowyn takes her stand between Good and Evil and proclaims, “You can not have him!” Evil boastfully replies, “No man can kill me.” As she reveals her womanly identity Eowyn surprises Evil by exclaiming, “I am no man!” She strikes the Witch King and destroys him…something no man in the entire army could have done. If she had stayed locked away in the city, no doubt the outcome would have been much different. I get the Girl Power Goosebumps every time I think about it! (Be rest assured I am no feminist, but that is for another post.)

Listen to Jesus say:

“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no on can snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” John 10:28-30

Hear Christ Jesus say to Satan today, “You can not have her!


Oh that we would wrap our minds around that thought! That we could let the truth sink marrow deep that we are sealed and protected by Christ’s own blood and nothing, no person, no situation can take those who believe on His Name from His hand. He stands between you and the evil one. “Over my dead body,” Jesus says. But wait. Satan tried that too – only the grave could not hold Him who holds the keys to death and destruction.

In our relationships, we are called to stand in that place of protection for our wounded sisters. Even now, God is growing in me a supernatural love for both women I know and those I’ve never met. I desire more than anything to stand, with the Lord at my side, between you and Satan and proclaim, “you can’t have her! I know what she has been through. I’ve done this one before. Get up sweetheart, we are going home.” Satan may laugh. However, just like Eowyn, you or I may be the only one suited to turn that smurk into a howl of defeat when he realizes we were just the ones pre-designed to win this battle. God knows what it will take to disarm Satan and when our lifesong will be most fitting to minister in a specific circumstance. All He asks of us is our ‘yes’. One thing is certain, if we stay safe behind the walls we may remain unscathed, but the warfare will continue and many will be left stranded on the battlefield.

What does standing for woman-kind look like practically?

* You have a co-worker who is going through a rocky time in marriage. You've been there and the Lord restored your relationship. Will you be willing to involve yourself enough to share the source of your healing?

* A young mother at church has suffered a miscarriage. You remember the pain of your own quite well. Will you send her a note to tell of your own experience so she'll know her grief is understood and justified?

* Your daughter is not born again. She has continuously let you know the subject is off limits. Will you rise up against Satan and proclaim, "You can not have her!" Will you continue exploring creative ways of sharing the Gospel at all costs?

Praise God, we know the One who wins the war, but there remain many battles to be fought between now and then. Will you join me in holy indignation against the enemy on behalf of the sisterhood? This army comes in the name of the Living God and our Father is greater than all. Satan - Beware!

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Monday, March 19, 2007

What age group are you?

The object of the game is to score by maneuvering the ball into the opposing goal; only the goalkeepers may use their hands or arms to propel the ball in general play. The team that scores the most goals by the end of the match wins. While sitting on the sidelines watching my boys run up and down the field, with the sole goal of scoring the most goals, I realized how much the game of soccer is similar to being a Christian (hey I am a Mom of boys this is where I get my spiritual inspirations).

When my boys began playing soccer they were in the 4 and 5 age group. Parents would crowd around the outside perimeter cheering their kid on, too excited to sit. You hear things like, “just kick the ball; don’t worry if you are running the wrong way; you are doing a great job; look at my child isn’t she/he the best!” The kids love the attention from the parents and love to have one chance to make contact with the ball. As Christians we are the same when a person is a new Christian, we cheer them on and they hear phrases like, “Jesus loves you; you are doing a great job learning about God; don’t beat yourself up we all make mistakes.” The new Christian walks away encouraged and uplifted.

A few years later my sons entered into the 8 & 9 year olds age group in soccer. Here the parents have their lawn chairs; they have been here and done that for the last several years. There is still much cheering, for parents know they are still working on coordination, but by now they should have the rules of the game down. You hear comments like, “Oh I can’t believe he/she just did that! Come on you know better than that; Beat that team!” There is laughing while making these comments, because there is still a good time to be had by all, but the kids know by now they are being laughed at. The same is true of believers towards each other, when they know a person has been a Christians for awhile. Comment like these may be heard: “They should have known better than that; what were they thinking? Don’t worry God will forgive you once again.” Sometimes an attitude of “Look at me I have all the right tools and I attend church more” is displayed by the one who has not tripped up. The seasoned Christian who did fall does not feel as encouraged or supported, and is left a little bewildered. Where is the support when I stumble and fall?

Then we enter the 12-14 age group in soccer. For parents this becomes serious stuff, competition is tuff, and they are out for blood. You may hear things like, “Knock that person down! You are better than him, come on. I cannot believe you just missed that goal.” As a parent you feel the pressure; it is no longer cute seeing them run up and down, you are there so your child can kick some serious soccer booty (am I allowed to say that here?) Sometimes as Christians we can lose sight that we treat seasoned Christians the same way. We have such high expectations.

What happens when we see a Christian to whom we have admired and looked up to, fall into sin. We can come back with comments like, “they knew better; what were they thinking? How in the world did they think they could get away with that? I would have never done that! Here I thought of them as a role model, now what!” In reality what these Christians need are the parents of the 4 & 5 year olds cheering them on, encouraging them.

When you see a Christian fall, what is your first reaction? Is it love, or is it a thought of “what were they thinking?” Christ has nothing but love for people who had fallen into sin. In fact, I believe Christ’s heart is tendered towards the one who has fallen into sin.

I John 2:1 states, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

So as a fellow Christian, if we see another stumble or fall we should be there telling them, not to despair. Jesus is righteous and he makes a case for you in heaven, not on the basis of your perfection (or because you should have known better) but because of his death and resurrection.

Despite the fact my oldest son is now in the 12 to 14 age group in soccer, I think I will still cheer him on just like I did when he was 5 years old. Something tells me life is hard enough; having a screaming Mom encouraging him no matter the outcome of the game, will have more of an impact in the long run. Just like encouraging fellow Christians, especially if you see them stumble, will have a bigger impact on their Christian walk.


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Saturday, March 17, 2007

God of Peace

CWO welcomes guest blogger Cindy Kroske who joins us today...

As we prepared lunch, I listened to a TV show. Alan Thicke narrated a story about “Winkie” an abused elephant.

Something in my mind triggered a remembrance…...

I Googled and discovered I’d once read all about Winkie.

Her younger years were filled with abuse so she became a dangerous animal,
but an elephant sanctuary gave her a second chance.

All was well until Winkie awoke one morning this past summer with one eye horribly swollen. It appeared insects, maybe even fire ants, had bitten during the night.

The founder of the sanctuary treated it, and released her to go outside. Later, as her handler, Joanna Burke, glanced at the swollen eye, Winkie freaked – evidently fearing she would be harmed.

With her massive head, the 7600 pound animal knocked the tiny 36-year-old handler to the ground, and crushed her to death.

The founder of the sanctuary rushed to her aid, but was knocked aside, his ankle broken. He later said it was all over in just 45 seconds.

I was stunned to think that Winkie would take the life of her precious handler. It’s hard to understand tragedy of such proportion.

Then I read on their website, http://www.elephants.com, “Although there is no question about what Winkie did, there are many questions as to why. All the information we can gather points to past trauma so intense, so debilitating, that Winkie has and very likely never will recover from it. Such trauma can invoke irreversible damage to the brain, causing Winkie to act out in ways beyond her control.”

A friend reminded me that an elephant never forgets!

You know – we humans don’t forget past trauma, either. I think it is firmly etched on our brains.

We all carry scars from our past--physical, emotional, mental and sometimes spiritual.

Oh, we find ways to cope, to move on with life--but deep in the recesses of our minds, we know it’s there.

My mother’s sister was 3 when she died after 4 days of the croup.

I once naively asked my grandmother how she recovered from such sorrow.

She replied that you never get over it. You carry it with you the rest of your life,
but you learn to cope, to move forward, and to remember the good.

I think my “Gaga” put Philippians 4:6-9 into play in her life. The New American Standard Bible says it this way, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

“The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

In Him... Cindy Kroske


Cindy is a homeschooling mom of 4, who runs her own health specialty store – My Favorite Things - with her husband, Mark. When she’s not busy teaching whole grain milling, and writing her newsletter “The Forum”, she stays busy with her kids and their menagerie of a horse, dogs, cats, gerbils, a ring necked dove, a ferret, and a Beta-fish! You’re welcome to visit their websites at www.My-FavoriteThings.com and www.GNLDfavorites.com

An Invitation

I have to admit, I do not like clothes shopping. Don’t get me wrong, I like to wear stylish clothing, but I also like to be comfortable in them. We have a clothing policy in the office: “Business Casual”. Which is great, IF the stores would carry “Business Casual” clothing…My husband keeps telling me that I am just too picky. Well, maybe I am.

Last week I tried again to find a comfortable skirt with a matching t-shirt. The skirt was not the problem, but the t-shirt. The t-shirt looked really nice, with a little sequence; the perfect color to match the skirt. Off to the dressing room I went. I tried on the t-shirt first, since I knew that the skirt would fit and had the right length for the office.

Let me tell you. The t-shirt was off in seconds. There was too much revealed for my taste. I could almost see my belly-button when bending over…Yeah – way too much revealed--definitely not appropriate for the office. Come to think off it, I would have a problem wearing it even on my days off…

As I was leaving the store without a new spring-outfit, the following Scripture passage came to mind:
‘Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.’
~ Matthew 22:4-10 (ESV)

At one point in my life I took off the beautiful wedding garments God gave me to wear. I thought that they were not ‘stylish’ enough, nor comfortable. He reminded me that without them I was not welcomed. I am glad that He offered them to me again. The best part—they fit perfectly and are the most comfortable cloths I will ever find…

How about you? Did you take off the beautiful garments He has offered you? Do you think they no longer fit you? Let me assure you. They will always fit and it is never too late to put them back on…

Oh, you have never tried them on? If you are ready today, please click on the Ready button in the sidebar. I pray you do.

Lord of heaven and earth. Thank You for offering the beautiful wedding feast garments. They are always a perfect fit. I am thankful that You freely offer them to all who are willing to receive them. I pray that some will try them on for the first time today. I pray in the precious name of Jesus ~ Amen

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Aroma

I was a foolish young bride who listened to the un-wise counsel of those who advised, “Hide your dishes in the oven, away from your guests.”

I had just finished spreading the dough for our pizza when the doorbell rang. Michael got up to answer while I tidied up the kitchen. Grabbing all of the dishes I could find, I threw them into the oven (ditsy Little Darlene!). It seemed like a good idea at the time since my cupboards were sparking clean in less than 40 seconds flat.

“Hello,” I smiled as our guests walked into the room, “dinner will be ready in about 20 minutes.”

Enjoying the company in my kitchen, I finished layering the pizza, while my darling groom poured some drinks for the guests. “Done,” I announced, setting the oven to heat at 425, “let’s go sit down in the other room.”

About 10 minutes later, our guests were standing outside on the back steps gasping for air while my husband did damage control in the kitchen. Every few seconds a melted bowl or two flew by my red face landing in the grass of our postage stamp yard.

Thus marked the early years of marriage. My mom on the other hand--married for over forty years--usually has the smell of a pie in the oven or a roast that greets us the moment we walk in the door.

Our lives are much the same as these ovens, as we live out our sacrifice each day—one with a stench in the stove, and the other a sweet aroma to her Lord. We can pretend that we’re this, or we’re that, but the aroma of our life is unmistakable to God.

Abel wanting to be washed clean brought a sin offering to God from his flock, while his brother Cain on the other hand brought a tithe offering of the fruit from his gardens (Genesis 4:1-5). In essence, Cain was hiding his “dirty dishes” in the oven rather than taking them to the Lord to be washed as a symbol of his faith in the coming atonement. The Bible says that God had no respect for Cain or his offering.

When we live a life that is pleasing to Him as Abel did, we show faith in the atonement of Christ, becoming that sweet aroma that He talks about in 1 Corinthians 2:15: "For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish."

Mmmm… Something smells good…

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Custom Framing

Ah, spring cleaning! From the various blogs I frequent, I gather that some of us are in various stages of beginning that annual endeavor which, for many, seems to usher in spring breezes and chase the last of the winter "blahs" away. Even those still buried under snow piles outside may be working through the clutter piles inside, clearing the way for the spring sunbeams.

This year my spring cleaning is serving a dual purpose, as we have decided to put our house on the market. This is not just a time of cleaning and straightening, but also of purging and staging. I am seeing my home with new eyes! One of the selling tips I read recently was to clear as many horizontal spaces as possible. This has been a huge challenge for me, as my home has many, many horizontal spaces, and they are quite, um, cluttered. Not just with knicknacks, but also with pictures. As I have been packing away some of what makes our house personal, I have been lovingly wrapping and boxing up my many framed photos.

I have loved looking at each picture and being transported momentarily back to the time and place where it was taken, my thoughts reflecting on the faces of those who mean so much to me. I have also enjoyed looking at each of the frames. You see, I love collecting fun, unique frames. The first place I head in a discount store is usually to the frame section. Often the frames I buy reflect the type of photo I’m going to put in them; whimsical ones for pictures of the kids or classy, gold ones for wedding photos. For some of our travel photos or pictures of missionary friends I have found frames that have an international flair from a certain country. Our beach pictures are framed with seashells. Some frames reflect the theme or decor of the room in which they are placed. My frames are as different as the photos they contain.

Wouldn't it be strange if I had all those frames displayed around my home, but without pictures inside them? If I simply bought the frame for the frame's sake, and didn’t use it for the purpose it was intended- to frame something? Or wouldn't it be odd if the people who came over to my home looked at all of my frames and commented on them, but took no notice of the pictures?

Each of us, if we are in Christ, is a frame. We are here as a platform for which to draw attention to God, to glorify Him. We are all as different as the frames in my home- some of us are whimsical, some are classy, some are "talking frames" (have you seen those?) some of us have an international flair. (Some days I feel like one of my discount store frames-- "half off!") Each of us has been sovereignly chosen and placed in our given locations to showcase God, to glorify Him. To try to draw attention to ourselves would be like a frame trying to detract from the photo. To be devoid of drawing attention to God's glory in our lives would be like a frame sitting on a shelf with no photo, not fulfilling its purpose.

Picture frames have it easy, though. They just have to sit there. How do we, as "living frames" show off, or glorify, God? I once heard someone quote a simple definition that Charles Ryrie gave on what it means to glorify God: "Glorifying God is anything that makes God seen." This really helped me to understand what it means to bring glory to Him. What are some things we can do to make God seen?

Praise and worship. "Ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name; worship the LORD in the splendor of His holiness." (Psalm 29:2)
"He who sacrifices thank offerings honors Me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God." (Psalm 50:23)
There are many ways to incorporate praise into our days, and a life of praise always keeps the focus where it should be.

Doing good works and serving others. "In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16) God is good, kind, and holy. Our good, kind, and holy actions show others what God is like.

Any activity, done in a God-honoring way. "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." (1 Cor. 10:31) Even the most simple, ordinary things can be done in a way that glorifies God, or makes Him seen. (In fact, a good indicator that I might not need to engage in a certain activity is if it cannot be done to the glory of God.)

There is freedom in being the frame. We are free from being the focus. If it's not about me, it’s not up to me. (Whew!) What an honor it is to be a lovingly crafted vessel for showing off God to a world so desperately in need of Him. There is rest in knowing that wherever we are, we've been sovereignly placed where we are for that very purpose. (We're never "just sitting on a shelf!")
Whatever our designs, we’ve been given a wonderful calling and a holy purpose. Let's "make God seen" today!


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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A lesson on prayer...


I sat quietly by her isolette as the machines offered their beeps and whooshes. I breathed in the medicinal scents and breathed out prayers. I sang to her, touched her little feet, and just waited. The waiting was long- two-and-a-half months- but each day brought us closer to her homecoming. I watched as other babies came and went, and other parents cried and laughed, all the while treasuring even the slightest interaction with my little one-and-a-half pounder. Her hand barely covered my fingernail; her cry was a kittenish one; her fully-opened diaper was the size of a postcard; her chances for overcoming the dozens of hurdles in her path were slim.

But we waited.
Prayer is the burden of a sigh, the falling of a tear, the upward glancing of an eye, when none but God is near.

There were many times I couldn't pray. I was weary, emotionally raw and too much in pain from my csection to think straight. I felt buoyed up by the prayers of friends and family, but at some deep level I wondered what those prayers meant.

There were prayers for Madalyn's healing. What if she didn't survive?

There were prayers for my strength. Why did I feel as if I couldn't get out of bed?

There were prayers for each milestone to be met. What if she didn't meet any?

I was painfully aware of the fact that I would not allow myself to think beyond each day. I didn't want to look forward to birthday parties that would never happen, hugs I might not receive, pony tails I wouldn't be able to put in her hair, if...if...

I found myself asking my mom this question as she cared for me,

"What if she doesn't make it through unscathed; will you love her just as much?"

I was so in love with this little skin-and-bones miracle and I was petrified that others wouldn't see her as I did, or even worse, that if something were to happen, even I wouldn't love her as I should. Only when I finally heard God amidst my fear did I relax into mothering this child:

As I love you with your weaknesses and shortcomings, so will you love her, no matter what.
When we try to express communion with God in words, our minds quickly come up short. But, in the depths of our being, through the Holy Spirit, Christ is praying far more than we imagine.

Brother Roger of Taize

That was the moment I learned the true value of prayer. I didn't need a "yes" to my requests, I simply needed to know they were heard. I didn't need Madalyn to be perfect, I simply needed to know that God was in her imperfections. I didn't didn't even need her to survive to understand that prayer was about me and God and how I let Him be my peace. The lessons I learned amidst the machines as I sat near my tiny daughter forever changed my view of God, prayer and unconditional love.

As I look at my petite 4-year-old, I remember all that I felt. She did come through unscathed, nothing short of a miracle, but what I see now is that the real miracle was within me- my acceptance, my letting go, my peace. She is who God made her to be, and part of her purpose here was to teach her mom the most precious of lessons.


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Pulling Weeds in Jesus' Name

Signs of spring are exploding in my part of the world right now. Out in my garden, the crocuses are spent, the daffodils have been up for a while, the quince bushes are thickly covered in orange, and new plants are poking up through the soil all around my house. Along with the weeds. Many weeds. Yes, it's spring now. And I have a lot of yard work to do.

Around my neighborhood, I see everyone's landscaping responding in like manner to these warmer days. My neighbors themselves are no exception as spring calls them outdoors. Short-sleeved kids are out on their bikes. Convertible tops are down as folks drive by. Lawn mowers are cranking up, droning along our street and in the distance.

Probably the most obvious sign of spring around my hacienda, however, is the noticeable increase in the numbers of walkers. It's time to get in shape, after all. Time to shed an extra dress size and tighten the belt a notch, I suppose. Swim suit season surely doth approach and nobody wants to get caught hanging on to that extra layer of winter hugging their midsection.

So, they power walk by my house alone or with their dogs, pushing strollers or followed by kids on bikes, with a spouse or a friend. If I'm out, they wave. And I wave back. As I pull weeds.

I recently heard about a group of silver-haired ladies who were on a mission to walk the neighborhoods of their whole city - one of the least churched cities in America, my sister's city, so I'm working from second-hand experience here. This army of grandma warriors walk different streets in their city each day armed with helmets, shields and swords of the spirit, praying for each house as they pass by. They pray, without knowing who lives in each home, for the residents therein; praying that if they do not know Jesus, they would be led straight to Him. Somehow. In a city with more dogs than Christians.

I don't know about y'all, but it's been my experience that hell itself is no match for a spirit-filled grandma! And to have a group of them decked out in the full armor of God, Ephesians 6 style, is a force to be reckoned with indeed. Unbelievers, beware!

On this side of heaven I may never know the full results of this ambulatory prayer team. But I do know there has been a rapid growth in the number of people attending evangelical Bible-believing churches in that city. One such church just opened a few weeks ago and had almost 700 people attend services there two Sundays past. After a few weeks. That's just......crazy! The church still has no offices, no child care, no Sunday Schools or youth programs, no permanent staff to speak of, other than the pastor. The building isn't even finished yet and they're already having to move to two services! Obviously, something is going on there. And that's just one church! There are others popping up with similar stories in that city. And people are meeting Jesus. Maybe some-(silver-haired)-body's prayers are being answered? Maybe?

When I think about what I want for myself - me, personally - my ultimate goal is to live my life according to God's will and get out alive. I want to get to heaven. And take as many people with me as I can. That pretty much sums it up.

When I think about my logistical neighbors and who they are - the power-walkers, the lawn rangers, the dirt diggers, their kids - I wonder if I truly want the same for them - if I truly take Christ's words to heart: "Love you neighbor as yourself." Do I want the same thing for them that I want for myself: heaven? Do I throw on my armor and attack my neighborhood in Jesus' name through prayer? Do I have a heart to see the unchurched, the lost in my community know my friend and savior, Jesus Christ?

I won't be power walking this spring, but maybe I can start by praying for those who walk or drive by my home as I take a stand against the devil's schemes with my fingers stuck in God's dirt, the belt of truth around my midsection, the breastplate of righteousness covering my grimy t-shirt, the gospel of peace over my beat-up gardening shoes, the helmet of salvation atop my ragged straw hat, the shield of faith and sword of the spirit in my gardening-gloved grasp.

While I pull weeds in Jesus' name.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Spend Yourself

I am selfish. It is a reality that I am not proud of, but one I seek strength to overcome every day. Our society only feeds this natural, sinful inclination by encouraging us to focus on ourselves in about every way, ironically leading to continued emptiness and seeking of fulfillment through self-gratification. It is a vicious cycle. The irony is that to break the cycle, God calls us to look outward in service rather than being so focused on ourselves.

Several years ago, my brother spent a week serving at the Kalighat Home for the Dying in Calcutta, India--a hospital founded by Mother Teresa to give the dying, poor of Calcutta a place to be cared for. It was here that my brother would share that he learned what true service was. My brother was assigned a man to serve that week while he was there - feeding him, bathing him, and changing his diaper. The most precious time was spent, though, holding this man's hand and just being with him. Even though they did not speak the same language, the presence of Christ's love speaks powerfully. My brother had the special opportunity to serve "the least of these."

Most of us will never have an experience like that, but we are called to serve others where God has placed us. This service is not required for our salvation, but is the pouring out that results from a heart that has been transformed by the grace extended us.
For grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
Not only have I been challenged recently in my calling to good works, my husband and I are trying to look at more specific ways that our children and our family can serve. Children love to help and "be in on the action," so what better way to teach them to be selfless and kind than to be involved in regular, purposeful service to others.

So I challenge myself and you to look outward at how God might be calling you to serve others. We might not have money or resources, but we certainly have time, talents, and gifts that God has given us to be poured out to serve and bring glory to Him. We can "spend ourselves" in service.

So spend yourself:
  • Rocking a newborn baby for a few hours, so the new mom at your church can get a much-needed nap or run to the bookstore by herself.
  • Doing yard work for the elderly in your church or community.
  • Reading books to children or tutoring at a local community center.
  • Sending notes of encouragement.
  • Delivering meals to shut-ins.
  • Re-organizing the shelves at the food bank with your kids.
  • Giving manicures at a nursing home.
  • Inviting the little boy without a father on a fishing trip with your husband and son, for some "guy" time.

What are some creative ways you have found to serve others?

In Him . . . Kelly

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Springing Forward

Today, my state, Indiana, joins the rest of you in scoring some extra daylight. For reasons unclear to 99% of us Hoosiers, we have stubbornly bucked Daylight Saving Time until this year. As a result, we've never been sure exactly what time it is within Indiana because we've been enjoying three time zones! Regardless, if you want to honk off a Hoosier, especially a farmer, ask him how he feels about DST. And then take a few steps back.

Personally, I like the idea of springing forward. the Christian life emphasizes forward momentum, "forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead," as in Philippians 3:13, and finishing the race, as in 2 Timothy 4:7. We never want to stagnate, and daily we search hopefully for signs that we are becoming more and more like Christ.

Sometimes, though, instead of a healthy forward momentum, I feel I'm living in three time zones. That is, I fill my days with lists of tasks, responsibilities and service, and at the end of the day, I realize how little time I've engaged the Lord. Do I really believe that God is more concerned about who I am than what I do?

For instance, I'm part of a "Read the Bible in a Year" campaign. I'm actually ahead of schedule, but that's because I've been galloping through Numbers like Seabiscuit out of the gate. Instead of speed reading, I should be researching why God included so many details and figures. I should slow down to ask, "Lord, what do You want to say to me today through Numbers?" But then, I'd have to actually slow down to listen.

In an effort to nurture relationships, I have lists of names to call or email, but sometimes, I find myself clock-watching after just a few minutes. Maybe I should just ask the Holy Spirit, "Show me who needs attention and love today." Once again, I'd have to stop and listen.

And then there are the yes/no demands on my time: the caller asking if I can help with a special school project; the bulk mailing at work that didn't get completed--should I work an extra hour? My daughter is asking if I can help her bake a new dessert; the clean laundry wrinkling in the basket even as I write this is pestering me--and what about tonight's dinner, my newspaper column, my little dog?

Do you feel guilty if you're not "doing," not constantly springing forward toward the next task?

I'll bet you know the scriptures as well as I do about being still and knowing He is God, about His yoke being easy and His burden light, and about how Jesus withdrew from crowds to pray. But it's hard to break the hold of what some have called "the tyranny of the oughts and shoulds," both internal and external. We so want to get this life "right."

If you are a compulsive "do-er," consider handing over your plans today to the Father by focusing on the two great commandments of Luke 10:27, loving God with your entire being and loving your neighbor as yourself.

This doesn't mean God won't ask anything of you; He says if you love Him, you'll obey His commands, which I also interpret to include those commands he speaks to you personally about your day. However, you don't have to busy in a God-pleasing activity to please God. You please him by treating Him as the highest significant other in your life.

Instead of making sure we're hitting the details of 20 nonessential tasks per day and planning tomorrow's superfluous 20, maybe we should focus on what God gives us for that day, or that hour, and do them with passion and excellence. And that may mean devoting an entire evening to helping your 5th grader create a solar system model--a great opportunity for intimate sharing between you, your child, and the One who molded the spheres and released them spinning. You can't top that for meaningful multi-tasking!

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Friday, March 9, 2007

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

“Are you ready to wash?”

Eliana giggles and eagerly begins handing me bath toys, her pudgy little fingers grasping the foam letters and passing them to me as I reach up and deposit them in a mesh bag. When I reach over to the pump that holds her baby wash, she giggles again and holds her arms close to her body, her hands beneath her chin. While I lather my hands together, she watches intently, and when I reach out for her, she is ready.

She offers her arm to me freely, curiously eyeing the bubbles as they drip into the water, her delighted eyes gazing into mine; so trusting, so innocent. She is not ashamed to be naked, nor is she embarrassed at her “filth”. All she knows is that it is time to be clean.

When I lay her on her back to rinse her hair in the water, she responds to my quiet, “Be still,” and relaxes her body into the warm soapy water. And when I wrap her in her fluffy towel, we linger and watch the water as it circles the drain, and finally washes away. “Bye-bye!” I whisper, eliciting yet another delighted giggle from my baby.

"It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, 'Lord, are you going to wash my feet?'

Jesus replied, 'You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.'
'No,' said Peter, 'you shall never wash my feet.'
Jesus answered, 'Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.'
'Then, Lord,' Simon Peter replied, 'not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!'"
(John 13:1-17)

To receive the full extent of His love, we must allow Him to wash us.

But.

I approach the basin timidly, covering myself in shame. I pull out of His grasp, resisting mentally, emotionally, and physically. I feel guilt and humiliation at the extent of my filth, and I’m even unsure that this washing will truly bring about the change He desires. I do not offer my arms freely. I disregard His gentle words, “Be still,” and continue to slip out of His grasp.

And the worst part? I’ll be back here again tomorrow, Lord, and I just can’t stand that. What is the point, if I’m only going to roll in my sin again?

Lather, rinse, repeat. Again and again and again. This is the part that holds me back from being cleansed – the fact that it is repeated daily. The defeat I feel when I’m back in that place again, kneeling next to the basin, eyeing the water and the towel that wait to wash me anew. Knowing it is a never ending, heartbreaking process.

But when I washed my baby girl, I did not think of the dirt she would accumulate the next day. I was concerned only with the task at hand. Clean the filth of this day, and this day only, from my beloved.

And so it is with our Father as well. Beloved, let me wash the sin of this day away. No, don’t remind me of yesterday. I don’t want to talk about tomorrow. Be still, and I will make this day new.

Later, as I dressed Eliana in her soft, fuzzy pajamas, I thought upon this passage –

"For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust." (Psalm 103:11-14)

It is not my job to keep track of my transgressions, not when they’ve been washed away, albeit daily, by the Man with the basin and the towel. He knows how I am formed, that I am merely dust, and dust needs washing. I needn’t be a squirming, squalling baby while He is in the process of washing away the grime of my sin.

And so I offer up my sin-laden body to Him. I look into His eyes, allowing delight to race over my countenance as He washes me clean. I shall trust in my heart that He will never remind me of my filth, nor will He dredge up the sin that He has removed and thrown away from me as far as the east is from the west.

I want to stand in the shelter of His arms, wrapped in His love, and watch my filth circling the drain, then washing away.

And...
...repeat.

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A Catfish and the Compassion of Jesus

I want to invite you to join me for coffee this morning at a small town diner. This is the same diner where my grandfather would meet all the old coots from town for a mean cup of coffee, a chat about the weather, and to share a yarn or two. I am sure every man in this small town has heard the story I am about to tell you.

My grandfather, Papa, was an accomplished fisherman. He could easily pull a trout from a lake, a roaring river, or even a skinny brook. Heck, I bet he pulled a few from the gutter out front. My papa could fish. I loved to go with him. We left at dawn with poles in hand and a bag of candy. This man knew how to bribe a grandkid.

My first fishing adventure was to a reservoir. I was nine years old and confident of my fishing ability until I saw the wiggly worm. Gross! Papa fixed my line and cast it from the shore. You guessed it. I caught the very first fish, a nine-pound catfish. Okay, I may be exaggerating. This is a fish story. I was nine. Nine is what I remember.

Papa whooped and clapped as he pulled the fat-cat from the line. I was beaming like a sunrise in summer. I loved this fish. It went without question; I would take it home and keep it as my pet.

Grandpa agreed. He filled a large pail and placed my “new pet” inside. Into the camper it went for the trip home. Mom protested our sudden acquisition of the wet pet. Papa was deaf to her complaints. He had a hearing problem, the selective type. We proceeded home with the bucket sloshing and spilling all over the camper floor. I was ear-to-ear teeth the entire ride.

Later that afternoon poor Whiskers died after my goofy brother dropped him on the patio. Whiskers went to catfish heaven (don’t try to convince me otherwise *grin*). My grandfather sensed my sadness over my lost pet and knew exactly what to do.

“Get ready for a fish funeral.” he smiled. “There won’t be a fish fry tonight!”

Calling the family together, he tenderly placed the stiff fish in a carrier he crafted out of an old coat hanger. Thus, the procession began. From tallest to smallest, we headed out behind the garage. I remember Mom following with her 16-millimeter home movie camera for posterity’s sake.

Gently, old Whiskers was laid to rest in a shallow earthen grave. I shed a tear.

As I remember this crazy catfish funeral, I smile. My grandfather’s compassion was a priceless gift to a small girl. I still carry it with me today.

Gifts of compassion we seldom forget.

Jesus took my prodigal years and redeemed them. Jesus said to me, “I love you” when I was alone and still defiant. Jesus walked faithfully beside me when I was a liar, even to myself. Jesus met me in the darkest pit and took the lash to save me. I still carry all of these gifts with me today.

Jesus. No one can take this gift away. No one can touch it. No one can change it. The compassion of Jesus will carry me home one day. Until then, I am compelled to share His compassion and love. I want to share Him with people in extravagant, impulsively, playful, and even outlandish ways. I want to love like a man who would bury a fish.

After the fish funeral while tucked in bed and fast asleep, the alley cats enjoyed a banquet. I was over the trauma by the next morning (you know kids)…..
All was right with the world.

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