Putting away Christmas

Every year it’s the same. After a big day of too much food and lots of presents, we wade through the torn wrapping paper and mutilated bows, gathering up our loot and putting it away. We examine the gifts again, trying things on, looking for the right spots to display them. Sometimes the presents are much-loved and will be used daily; other times, small stocking stuffers (or well-meaning gifts that simply missed the mark) may be shoved into drawers and baskets, not to be unearthed until months later, if and when you decide to deep clean your room. That’s one way to know you have more than you need: you can put away the gifts and completely forget about them.

As I was gathering up the debris left over from the big day, I realized that I don’t want to put away Christmas this year. Don’t get me wrong. I’m already tired of the tree and the garland and the wreaths. I’ll be happy to see those go, whenever I muster up the energy to pack them away. But all through December, as I put up the decorations and made lists and ran into yet another store, I tried so hard to keep the focus on the reason for the season. I enjoyed talking about Him, wishing people a Merry Christmas, sending cards mentioning the birth of our Saviour. We all do things out of the ordinary — we attend candlelight services, do nice things for people, and actually succeed in remembering what it’s all about. But what happens when Christmas is over? Do we take all that we discovered and thought and said and shove it into a closet? Or do we keep it out? Do we keep talking about Jesus, about the miracle of His birth? Do we continue to do charitable acts, reaching out to feed and clothe and help those in need? We celebrate Christmas as a season, but it’s a celebration that should last all year long. The gifts He has given are meant to be used daily, to be kept out for easy access. They’re meant to be celebrated and shared.

So I challenge you this year, as we pack up the ornaments and gift wrap and trees: let’s take stock of all He has given us, and let’s remember to use it. Enjoy it. Love it. Let’s greet people with smiles and laughter. Let’s find reasons to get together with friends and family. Let’s think about what it means that a baby, an amazing and one-of-a-kind child, came to live among us. Let’s think about what it means that He still lives, and that He loves, and that He calls us His own. Let’s think about Jesus — all 365 days of the year.

O come let us adore Him


It’s that time of year when Christmas carols are blaring over speakers everywhere you go. One line that sticks in my head every time is “O come let us adore Him.” It sounds so easy. It is so easy. So why don’t we do it? We don’t have to travel as the wise men did, with caravans of people and supplies for hundreds of miles, for months of our lives, to deliver a costly gift to the Messiah. We don’t have to beg to be allowed into His throne room, and we don’t have to follow a star to find His lowly manger. We don’t even have to move. Not a single inch. He — the Christ child, the sacrificial Lamb of God, the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace — He deigns to come to us. But He wants to be adored. He wants us to show Him how much it means to us that He dwells among us. So this year at Christmas, especially, let’s show Him. Let’s reach out in love to every person we encounter. Let’s offer gifts of ourselves, our time, our sacrifice, our thoughtfulness — to help others, not burden ourselves with more debt to buy people things they don’t really need. Let’s remember the One for whom the holiday is named, and let’s use His name — kindly and gently, not belligerently — wherever we go. Let’s make sure that, with every action, every conversation, every thought, and every gesture, we adore Him. Let’s make sure He sees how much we love Him. And let’s make sure others who are around us remember — because of us — that the holiday we celebrate is Christmas, and the One we adore is Jesus.

Finding our way there


I remember, shortly after turning 16, driving to Indianapolis for the first time on my own. I’d been there a thousand times with my mom — granted, I’d always trusted my parents to navigate while I sat in the passenger seat with my nose buried in a book — but how hard could it be? You get in the car, head in that general direction, and in about 45 minutes, voilá! We’d be there. Easy.

Well, on my first solo trip, I managed to find my favorite mall easily enough, but getting back home was another story. It didn’t make sense to me that I’d have to take a road marked “Peoria, IL” to get to Ladoga, IN. I drove for a while, and I knew I was in the wrong place, but I didn’t know where the right place was. This was before cell phones and GPS. We couldn’t count on someone else to guide us. We had to find the way on our own. (Or, like I did, stop at a pay phone and call for help.)

Sometimes I find myself along for the ride at church. Yeah, of course I can find that sweet spot in worship when I’m in a roomful of people who are all headed to the same place. I can do my own thing, look up every once in a while and notice the landmarks, and coast along until we arrive at the throne. But what happens when I’m on my own? Can I get there myself? Do I know how to find God when I’m the one doing the driving? Can I find Him using my own directions, or do I prefer to ride in the passenger seat, trusting that our pastors or worship leaders will get us to our destination? It’s easy to believe that we can do it ourselves…until we try it. And then we discover that it’s harder than it looks. So worth it, so worth the effort and time and focus and concentration it takes — absolutely. But harder than we thought. The good news? Once we’ve been there once, the next time is easier, and before long, getting there is second nature.

Ready to play

There is a boy on my son’s basketball team who, you can tell, has played for years, even though he’s just nine. He’s tall and fast and has great control. His dad coaches the team, and what struck me the most during the last game was the way Cameron listened to his dad as he played. The coach would say slow down, and Cameron instantly, with absolute control, slowed down. His dad would tell him to pass and he would look for the open guy. When his father told him to take the ball to the basket, Cam looked for his opportunity and wove through the opponents to make a perfect lay-up. His dad wasn’t screaming or criticizing. He was calmly, encouragingly helping his son see what was happening — pointing out opportunities and teaching him the thought process so that later, when his dad isn’t there, he’ll know what to do on his own.

I’m sure, like all of us, Cameron has his times of not wanting to listen. But you wouldn’t know it to watch him play. Here’s the thing: in order for Cameron to be so good, he had to practice. A lot. He may have been given certain inherent abilities, but he hasn’t neglected them. He works at it. You can see it in the control he shows. He can dribble right-handed or left-handed. He can run with the ball or pass or shoot. But, when he’s on the court, at least, he trusts his dad. He knows he’ll lead him in the right direction, so he uses his abilities as he is told. He has an obedient spirit.

I thought, oh, if we could listen to our Heavenly Father like that. To trust that He can see the big picture. To remember that He wrote the playbook and He knows all about our opponents. He gave us talents, and we need to spend time honing our skills, but then, when it’s time, we have to be ready to go. We have to tune in to His voice and block out all the others who are screaming suggestions or criticism or simply trying to distract us. We need to walk proudly onto the court and say, OK, Daddy, I’m ready to play.

Glorious, glorious fall

I’ve always loved fall. Maybe it’s because, as a redhead, those rich ambers and rusts and oranges and browns and greens are the colors I like to wear (and the accompanying cool air means it’s time to break out my jean jacket). Maybe it’s the way the light changes color this time of year, washing the world in its golden glow, shining through the patterns of colorful leaves, breathtaking in its beauty. Or maybe it’s because the colors are so vivid that they make my very soul ache.

My soul rejoices in the overwhelming coloration and the subtle variations of hue all around me. Do you realize that our Creator made this just for us? The endless splashes of color cloaking the trees, the grains, the ground as far as the eye can see. The almost unbearable richness of the saturation of color. The way the color seems almost alive as it shimmies in the wind and the landscape transforms almost before our eyes. The exuberance and extravagance of it leaves me breathless.

The leaves outside show what happens on the inside when God finds us. What once seemed pretty to us — the lush, uniform greenery of summer, the whiteness of the light — pales next to this transformation. When we are in the process of dying out to our old selves, of dying out to what the world would offer, we’ve never before been so beautiful to the Lord. The exquisite radiance of the leaves isn’t seen until they start to die. Do you know why it’s so beautiful? Because, instead of the end, it signals a renewal. This death must take place to allow for hope and expectancy and the ripeness of a new life — a life full of potential and joy. The leaves remind us that He is faithful in His promises. That He will change us, that we will be transformed into the beautiful things he meant us to be. That even in death we are not forsaken. That we are on this earth to bring beauty into the lives of others. That we can only be at our richest, most vivid, most joyful selves when we stop clinging to what used to sustain us. When we embrace the changes that are happening. When we let go of the security to which we cling and float on the very breath of God.

Pure worship


No words to describe how deeply this song moves me, just lots and lots of tears.
Watch video - Kari Jobe, The More I Seek You

Membership in that exclusive club

Wanted: someone to join this exclusive club I’m in. You don’t have to be perfect; you just have to pretend you are. You must attend at least one weekly meeting, usually on Sunday morning, and buy a new wardrobe so you look the part. You don’t have to change your life, just be good during the meetings. You can talk about other people (use the code phrase “I think we should pray for so-and-so because she’s ____”). You can be closed-minded and judgmental, because of course you must be better than they are because you’re in the club and they’re not. It’s a great club because it comes with its own music and terminology and guidebook, which you don’t have to follow but you do have to tell others to follow. And we can divert attention from our own failings by quoting “well-meaning” pieces of wisdom from this really great book we have to help “others”. Warning, though: if you mess up, we’ll throw you out on your hiney.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want any part of a club like this, a club in which people are insincere, in which they are hypocritical, in which they exclude others not just like them.

So how do I say this without coming across like a member of the aforementioned club: Many Christians are like this. They’d be horrified to hear you suggest such a thing, and the ones who need to hear it will deny that they’re part of that group, but their lives tell a different story. I’ve run into so many people who have told me stories of appalling, stupid, and hurtful things people have done to them and then said, “If that’s Christianity, I don’t want any part of it.” That’s the thing, though: it’s NOT Christianity, or at least not what it’s supposed to be. How many people are turned off by what they think are “club” rules and requirements? How many people won’t show up at events because we’ve said to them, directly or indirectly, that they don’t belong? And how many don’t want to learn more because they’ve seen the way we live and treat people and they don’t want to be like us? Ouch.

Have I done every one of these things at some point during my “membership”? I’m sure of it. But when I do, nobody wants to come with me to the meetings and nobody is inspired to change. Help me, Lord. I want to live authentically. I want to follow the rules, not just tell others what to do. I want to belong, yes, but I also want to be the one who brought in the most new members. I don’t want to just carry a membership card. I want to be transformed. I don’t want to cause anyone to stumble, or turn anyone away. I want to be on the inside what I am on the surface. I want people to look at me and see not just a follower, but through me, see the One who started it all. I want to help and pray and take care of people, not condemn them for their actions or values or the situations that brought them to my attention. I want to accept them, even if they have different beliefs and morals. I want to love them. I want to be everything Christians are called to be. Authentically, sincerely, eternally.

NOTE TO MY READERS (all three of you): This is an issue that has been troubling me for some time. I would love your responses to these questions. Not that this is an easy task, but is living authentically enough? Without being judgmental ourselves, what can we as Christians do to change the perceptions non-Christians have about our religion? How do we show people what Christianity is supposed to be about? How do we convince them that many of those who shout the loudest that they are Christians really do not live by the true principles of their faith (especially since we all mess up and none of us are perfect)?

miracle

mir-uh-kuhl

-n o u n
1 . an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.
2. such an effect or event manifesting or considered as a work of God.
3. a wonder; marvel.
4. a wonderful or surpassing example of some quality.
5. my mother’s test results*

*Against all odds, there is no sign of cancer anywhere in her body and she’s only halfway through the prescribed chemo regimen, the one that wasn’t supposed to be as effective this time. I don’t know why God answers some prayers for healing and not others, and I know it’s not a matter of how many people pray or how heartfelt their prayers are or how righteous are those who are praying. But I do know that I am grateful, overwhelmed, and excited to see what can only be a miracle. God is so good. Again. Still. Always.

Sifted


I may not choose to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, but much of that time is spent baking. I love sweets, especially homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. I know how to read a recipe, and I know the basics of baking, but I tend to be impatient, wanting to cut corners whenever possible. For instance, I know you’re supposed to sift the flour, letting it fall in little puffs of white softness that pile up in the center and slope down on the sides, then level it with the back of a butter knife for a perfect cup of flour. I know that it’s supposed to make the finished product lighter, fluffier – and it’s the only way to guarantee perfect proportions. But years ago I finally threw away my sifter, tired of it getting in the way when I tried to close my over-cluttered kitchen drawer. Why? Because I never used it. I discovered that if I scoop the flour into a measuring cup and run a knife through it to kind of loosen it up — fluff it up a little — it will still work. I may not win baking contests, and occasionally things don’t turn out as well as I hoped, but it works OK. In my harried mind, sifting seems like an extra, unnecessary step. If I skip it, I can finish faster and make less of a mess.

God, the master chef and Creator of all, never skips the important steps. He sifts our hearts. He filters out the lumps and impurities. He understands the difference between pretty good and perfect. He doesn’t want to take a chance that we’ll fall flat, that something will end up in the finished product that doesn’t belong there. And the mess? We may worry that something important will get thrown out or that the mess will be too big to clean up. But He knows that what is lost along the way is never as good as what remains, so He doesn’t let that get in the way. It’s just part of the process. And because of it, after God sifts our hearts and our lives, we end up with a certain lightness of spirit, a delicate but consistent texture, and maybe even a little taste of heaven.

Cleaning out my Inbox


I spent some time this weekend emptying out my e-mail Inbox. It contained 63 messages. That may not sound bad — I know some of you have thousands of messages in your Inboxes — but yesterday alone I received 92, so if I don’t deal with them regularly, they quickly get out of hand.

My rule is this: when I have more than 20 messages sitting in my Inbox, it’s time to file. Otherwise, it’s just too overwhelming. I use my Inbox like a to-do list (if it’s in there, I still need to do it.) When I’ve dealt with an e-mail (either responded to it, handled the request, or added the item to my written to-do list), then I file it. I have about 100 folders in my e-mail program — covering my kids and their activities, each of my clients, Bible study and prayer requests, bills, personal items, jewelry, writing, and my blog. But inside all those folders I’ve saved over 35,000 individual messages. I don’t need them all anymore, but I it takes too long to sort through them, so I let them remain. They’re like electronic clutter, but at least they’re out of sight and out of mind.

Our lives are so busy, and many of us are inundated with hundreds of items on our to-do lists every week. We have work to do, household chores piling up, dirty laundry, bills to pay, prescriptions to refill, birthday cards to send, gifts to buy, errands to run, phone calls to make. Sometimes it’s too much.

God knows how easily overwhelmed we are. And I think that’s why He chose to simplify the Ten Commandments. Our brains are too full at times to hold onto even ten things. He made it simple by breaking it down to just two. Jesus tells us Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). It’s not always easy to do those things, but it’s simple enough to remember them. I think there might even be enough room in my poor overloaded brain for these two important rules. And if I can manage to follow them, I know that everything else in my life will fall right into place.

Through the sunroof

The gigantic tree by my back door looks like it will uproot my back porch if the wind ever blows too strongly. The trunk butts right up to the house, but the huge old tree grew up and out at an angle, its branches extending to form a leafy canopy over my driveway. Never one to be practical, I have a white car that is beautiful when it happens to be clean but otherwise serves as a large, blank, inviting canvas for the birds and squirrels that cavort above it.

As I walked to my car the other day, I was grumbling to myself about the nasty trail of multicolored droppings all over my car. I was also annoyed because my allergies were bothering me. Feeling sorry for myself, I sat in the driver’s seat, grabbed the bottle of eye drops I’d left in the center console, and tilted my head back to administer the drops. Even though I have a sunroof, I don’t use it much. The wind messes up my long hair, which gets pulled up and out of the opening, and the sun shines through and glints in my eyes, so I usually keep the roof closed tight. But on this particular day, the sliding panel was open, leaving only the clear glass above me, which had somehow not been hit by the little birdy bombs that splattered the rest of my car. The view was gorgeous. The patterns of the lush green leafy covering shimmied in the wind against the clear, cloudless, bright blue sky. The beautiful fall day took my breath away, and I stopped, momentarily overtaken with awe by the sight above me.

I had to laugh at the irony. I tend to be so busy looking at the excrement in my life that I forget to notice the beauty. I have to remember to keep looking up. At the beauty of this earth. At the blessings in this life. And at the One who gave all this to me to enjoy.

Shine on

You’ve seen this scene a thousand times, at least if you watch science fiction movies. Someone, usually the hero, opens a door (or walks out of the space ship or away from the fire...) and walks towards you, into the dark and out of the light, unscathed. Our hearts cheer with gladness that the hero has survived. The light behind him is bright — extraordinarily bright beams and rays of light, radiating outward, silhouetting him in the foreground. He is dark, with light glinting and shining around him. The shadow he casts is huge, a long, extended shadow in front of him, further accentuating him as he walks forward.

Here’s my question: What if I am that figure, standing in the doorway between God and the nonbeliever? In this case, the hero is the One who lights the way, not the one walking in that brightness. Does His light shine through me into the darkness? Or do I stop some of it? How do I become so transparent that I do not block any of God’s light? What does that look like, that I might decrease and allow Him to increase in such a way that I don’t get in the way? I know we’ll never be able to become completely invisible, and we’ll always leave some sort of shadow. God allows us to be the vessels that transmit His light, and I think He wants us to use our own talents and personalities to shape the message we are sharing. We will — and should — make an imprint on it. But I want the shadow people see when they look into my life to be God-shaped. I don’t want to let my own failings and inadequacies block His light. I want to transmit it. I want to let God shine, as He should. As He does. Shine brightly through me. Because that’s what people want to see — the true hero, not me.

There’s only one way I know to do this. Romans 13:12 tells us, “So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” If we clothe ourselves in His word and wrap ourselves in His actions, the world will see Him in spite of ourselves.

Am I who I think I am?

“What kind of writing do you do?” she asks. She looks like a writer, with her hand-crafted glass necklace and her funky glasses. Quirky but interesting. Yeah, she’s legit. I’m at a writing workshop, fascinated by the guessing game I’ve played all morning. Who’s real? Who truly belongs here? Are there any other imposters?

I stammer, eventually deciding on, “I do copywriting, but primarily write non-fiction.” She nods acceptance.

Is it really that easy? And is it true? Am I a writer? Woven through every conversation at this workshop are polite questions designed to suss out how serious each person is about their craft. Can they sell it? Are they any good? But more importantly, will they see through me? Can I legitimately call myself a “writer”? Saying I’m a designer is easy. I have a framed diploma announcing my BFA in Graphic Design. But can I be a writer simply on my own say-so, simply because I know in my heart that I am?

The same could be asked about Christianity. It’s easy enough to profess one’s allegiance to Christ in a small circle of women gathered for Bible study. But what conclusion will someone draw from watching me, hearing me talk about my work, my family, and my life? And much more importantly, what conclusion does God draw from my life, from my private thoughts and behaviors? Am I truly who I profess to be? If I am, I won’t need to announce it in order for it to be true.

Bringing the fish


God does bizarre things. He solves problems in ways that sometimes seem convoluted, confusing, and down-to-the-last-second crazy. The answer rarely comes in the straightforward way we’d imagined, yet it comes. Stories of these miraculous solutions abound — the check (or tax refund or bonus or raise) arrives the day the bill you thought you couldn’t pay is due. Doctors mention scary words like aneurysm and cancer and inoperable — so we do the tests and pray and suddenly, although the doctors can’t explain it, the condition is gone or the symptoms weren’t what they seemed. We lose a job and panic, worried about how to provide for our families, but then another, better opportunity presents itself and we wonder why we didn’t leave the old job sooner. He always delivers — somehow, some way.

For years I have read the Bible stories about the fishes and the loaves. Jesus fed 4,000 people with seven loaves and a few fishes, and then fed 5,000 from five loaves and two fishes. He’s not limited in His ability to provide, nor is the percentage of increase the same each time. But whatever it is, whatever He does, it’s always enough — and usually it comes with leftovers, too. Because we’ve read these stories in the Bible, and witnessed the way God has provided in our lives, no one has to convince us it’s possible. We know.

Sometimes, though, we overlook one fact. Someone had to provide the fish.

Sure, He can create something from nothing, and there are plenty of times that He does. But, more often, I think, God works with what we bring to Him. We must stretch our hands forth with our offering, literally or symbolically. We must plant a seed of giving with our tithe and offering money. We must put our own egos and desires aside in order to make room for His presence. We must offer Him our whole selves — bodies, heart, mind and soul — and mean it when we ask Him to use us. God will multiply. He will create. He will increase — when you give him what you have to start with. Don’t ever fall into the enemy’s trap of believing what you have is not enough, that God won’t come through because of your failings and weaknesses. Stand tall, and speak out loud: “Lord, I may not have much, but I come to you with the fish. Multiply it. Do your thing. I believe.”

Laying ourselves at the altar


When my daughter Anna was a toddler, if she hurt herself, she would lay the damaged appendage on a pillow. It didn’t matter if it was a bruised shin, a rash on her arm, or a stubbed toe. Propping whatever was sore on a soft, fluffy pillow — sometimes with a fuzzy, warm blanket over the pillow for extra emphasis — immediately made it feel better. Whatever hurt would get better, as long as it was lovingly cushioned and gently propped on something soft.

One day, Anna was running a fever. I left her in the living room watching TV, and when I went in to check on her, I wanted to laugh and cry all at once. She had taken all the pillows from the couch and laid them, end to end, on the floor. Then she stretched her little feverish body out on top of them, her entire body cushioned by the pillows. Every part of her hurt, therefore her whole body needed to be cradled. Because of the relief she found there, she was now sound asleep.

Sometimes we need the same thing. We come to the altar and kneel, offering ourselves for His service, for His use — well, at least we offer parts of ourselves. As adults, with our own hurts and bruises, we hold things back. I want to be used by You, God, we might say, but secretly we’re hoping not to be asked to step outside our comfort zones. We want to help – until we feel the nudge to help someone we don’t know and we feel awkward walking up to them. Or we want to give, but only give our money, holding selfishly onto our time. But maybe it’s time we let God get hold of all our parts. It’s time to lay them all on His merciful altar, cushioned by His grace. So that He can get hold of all of us, and use us as He sees fit.

Writing Prompt

In response to the following "Drops of Inspiration" writing prompt posted on Internet Cafe (http://www.internetcafedevotions.com/2009/08/august-drops-of-inspiration-writing.html):

Sometimes your medicine bottle has on it, “shake well before using.” That is what God has to do with some of His people. He has to shake them well before they are ever usable.

-Vance Havner

I think anyone who has come to the Lord as an adult, letting Him into her life, understands the idea of being shaken up. In a sense, we expect that. We are so different on the inside – in our thoughts, feelings, outlook – that once we have “found” God we assume it will have to shake up our lives. If things stayed the same, what would be the point?

But sometimes God shakes up an entire church. That’s when it can become especially painful. We don’t always know the reason, and we can’t always know if He’s the one doing the shaking. But we do know that all things work together for the glory of God. So that’s when we need to remember something that is true of medicine. Medicine is good — if it’s the right medicine, prescribed correctly, and taken in the right amounts. When things happen that threaten the temporary peace, when people’s feelings are hurt and we don’t understand why things are happening, all we can do is trust the Great Physician. And pray that our doctors are properly connected to the source, that they know the right medicine for the specific ailments, and that those who need it take the correct amounts (properly shaken, of course). Sometimes, the medicine tastes bitter. Sometimes it has yucky side effects. But if we continue on the course prescribed for us, in no time at all things start to look better. And soon, we’re back to normal, not really remembering how miserable it was to be sick.

Writing for Him

As much as I’ve talked about writing, I haven’t written much this summer. I’ve been busy, as most of you are, too. I am the queen of organizing and multitasking, but my natural abilities seem to be impaired. Is it the three kids needing to be in different places several different times every day? Is it “working mom” guilt — if I were a good mom, I’d go to the pool with them/make signs for the lemonade stand/stop resenting the interruptions? Is it the stress of trying to be available and proactive to my clients when I’m really planning activities, running to the store, packing for short weekend trips, or breaking up sibling disagreements? Those factors certainly contribute to the situation, but I think my lack of writing is directly linked to the lack of solitude. When others are around all the time, I don’t stop and relax. I don’t pray like I should. I don’t focus on the quiet but extremely important pursuits.

Someone asked me once why I didn’t study writing in college. It’s because I didn’t have anything to say. I had opinions, but I didn’t have confidence that anyone would be interested in my thoughts. It wasn’t until I opened my heart to the Lord that I thought my words could matter to anyone else. It wasn’t until He inspired me that I wanted to share my soul with the world. When I’m walking with God, I find myself with much to say. He continually reveals things to me. It’s as though my eyes are wide open, the veil has been lifted, and I can see more clearly. Colors are more vivid. Sounds are more vibrant. Every activity, every observation, every experience imparts a spiritual lesson. I don’t have to search for them. They’re right there, practically written for me.

So I guess this lack of inspiration is proof of a painful reality. My relationship with God right now isn’t what it should be. I’m recycling my writing, foraging through old notes and files for something I can use again. When no words are coming out, there must be no words going in. When words aren’t going in, it’s because I’m not listening. When I’m not listening, it’s because I’m too busy. I’ve chosen to live in the secular world and not dwell in the secret place of the most High. I’m doing it on my own and without Him.

For me, writing is an act of faith. A hope and a belief that God will step in. If I offer myself as a vessel, He will speak, He will encourage, and He will inspire. He will have something to say, and I get to be a part of it. So I sit down to write tonight, knowing it’s the first step towards rebuilding the relationship I know I can have with Him. Knowing that even if I have nothing to say when I start, He will find the good and show it to me. Even in my weakness — especially in my weakness — He will shine. To God be the glory. Forever.

Queen Anne's Lace

I remember summer days in the country as a child. Long, sticky, hot, boring days. Time crawled by so slowly. Sometimes, when I was out of books to read, I would wander around outside and pick Queen Anne’s Lace from the edges of the fields around our house. Frilly, delicate, lacy blossoms, too pretty for me to believe it’s really a weed. Occasionally, I would take some inside, cut the long stems short, and place them in a little green ceramic pitcher of my mom’s. After adding drops of food coloring to the water, I would wait.

The hungry plant would soak up that water, slowly climbing up the tall stalks and seeping into the tiny white flowers, spreading across the face of the blooms, eventually changing them to a pretty pink or blue or green.

God works on us that way. We might look OK on the outside to start with, but we’re so thirsty on the inside. When we immerse ourselves in God – His presence, His church, His Word, His people – we start to be changed. From the inside out. Most people don’t see it at first and may think nothing is happening. But if they wait long enough, they will see the glorious burst of color spreading throughout our lives, changing us forever, coloring our world.

A miracle-working God

Flipping through my journal, found this entry from July 20, '08. Mom was in chemo and had been diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer the month before. We didn't really know what would happen, and, frankly, the prognosis didn't look good. This is what I wrote:

Today, up in the choir loft while we were singing, I had my eyes closed, praying. Sandee was standing beside me. Suddenly I felt her hand pressing into my back and I heard her praying. I had to focus on blocking out what was going on around us, had to not worry how I looked and if anybody noticed and wondered what we were praying about. The truth is, I didn't know. Then she placed her other hand on my stomach and kept praying, crying...

Sandee told me later that God told her to touch my back — right there — and pray. She argued with Him but it was clear — DO IT. She thinks maybe it had to do with my mom. Mom goes in Tuesday for new scans and gets the results Thursday. Maybe God healed her — erased new growth, or progressed the amount of healing from the chemo, or something. Maybe He healed her; maybe He took care of some immediate pain or problem. I don't know. But how sweet of Him to use Sandee — and allow me to be a part of it — since I seem to be having such a hard time really praying right now.

I write this down tonight in the hope that I will someday look back at this and know this was a time of healing. Maybe complete, maybe partial. I don't care. I just want to see evidence of God in here, in this. I want to find hope and moments of rejoicing. I want to glory in the gracious, merciful healing powers of our Lord. I want my mommy to be OK.

A year later, I rejoice in Mom's continued health. God is so good. I'm so thankful that He urges me to write things down so I can look back later and know without a doubt what I was thining, what I prayed, and see the many miracles He brings into my life. They're there; we just don't always notice them.

Don't give up on the brink of a miracle

It never fails. I always pick the wrong line. I get behind the person whose item is missing a price sticker, or their debit card is declined, or the cashier needs a manager to ring in a coupon, or one of the eggs is broken and we have to wait for a stock boy to answer the page and get another carton. Or maybe it’s lunchtime and my cashier needs to count the drawer and cash out. The reasons are different every time, but the end result is the same: I wait there, fuming, as long as I can stand it, watching others fly by me out of the store, and finally I hop over to the other lane. Without fail, the moment after I do so, the problems are resolved. From that point on, the first line moves quickly and everyone sails smoothly through, while I stand at the back of the other line, which now has problems of its own. Then I kick myself for my lack of patience.

Sometimes I find myself giving up to soon in my spiritual life, too. A few months ago, we thought our house was going to sell. It had been on the market for almost two years, and we had an offer. I was sure God had answered my prayers. But then we went to our lowest number, and the buyer was at her highest number, and there was still a big gap in the middle. I was crushed. I couldn’t believe God hadn’t come through for me. I’d been faithful and patient. I’d trusted Him, and believed in His timing. I was devastated when I found out it wasn’t going to happen. I had believed so strongly that He had answered, that there was an end in sight, and then — nada. I was crushed, angry, and depressed.

Turns out, several days later, through a bunch of crazy circumstances, the house deal went through after all. I looked at circumstances and thought God had said no. He didn’t. It just didn’t happen the way I pictured it—in effect, I switched lines too soon. My impatience caused me to lose faith. I failed to remember that God’s ways are above our ways. He sees things we can’t even begin to imagine and achieves results we can’t fathom. So next time I’m about to cut my losses and jump on over to the next thing, I need to remember. No matter how impossible a situation seems, until God clearly tells us no, we need to keep the faith. We need to wait with expectation for the craziest, most innovative, unusual answers. Because if we can stay in the right place, the most amazing things will be waiting when we get to the front of the line.

Ever feel like an imposter?

(You don’t have to admit it out loud, but...) Have you ever been inside a bar when you were underage? Did you feel like everyone was looking at you, convinced they all knew you had no business being in there? Or you’ve taken a friend’s child to an activity and signed the parent permission slip, knowing your friend would approve, but afraid someone in charge is going to know you’re not who you say you are? Or sat in on a group meeting or some kind of class with a friend, because you were there, even though you weren’t registered?

We all have times – even fairly legitimate times – in which we pretend to be someone or something we’re not. But is it possible that sometimes we’re the ones who are deceived? If we’re not careful, Christianity can become more about membership in “the club” than it is a way of life. We know the language – we mastered the secret handshake, talk like insiders, know how to look the part, carry our Bibles and tell people about our Bible studies and prayer groups. We go to church and know when to raise our hands, when to bow our knees. But is it all a sham? Is it just surface Christianity? Are we in a really great fraternity – belonging to a group of people we like, surviving initiation, attending the meetings – or are we in it because of God? Have we been changed on the inside, or are we just wearing a uniform? Can people tell we’re followers of Christ, shining our light, directing others to the One we are here to serve? Or do we have to talk about our pious acts to convince people we are Christians? We shouldn’t need external accessories like cross pendants and tote bags covered with Scriptures to declare to others who we are. Those things aren’t bad – not at all. What’s bad is when nobody would know we were Christians if we didn’t have those things. Our faith isn’t about being in the “in crowd.” Instead, it should define who we are and how we live. Our identities should radiate from within, from a quiet assurance that we are who HE says we are. It doesn’t matter who the rest of the world thinks we are. It matters what He thinks. We have to remember that we are King’s kids. Heirs, sons of God, the Beloved. We are His. No questions asked. Simply because He said so.

Celebrating!

Mom had scans done this week... still cancer-free! So very thankful, so thrilled. Worst part? This means my dad and husband were right. They were convinced everything was fine!

I'm his favorite

I have one younger sister. Our dad, who loves us completely and totally and with an unconditional love, has a standing joke when we call: “Is this the pretty one or the smart one?” After all these years, it still makes us laugh, and depending on how we feel that day, we give him a different answer every time. We know he thinks we’re both. My dad has found a way to always let each of us know we’re special to him. If you would ask my sister, she’d claim she’s his favorite. So would I.

One night at church, someone testified and said, “Don’t you ever, sometimes, just for that moment, know that you are God’s favorite?” At the time, I was stumped, because I couldn’t imagine feeling that way, feeling as though I was that special to Him. I wasn’t important enough. I didn’t know Him well enough. But the thing is, we are that special to Him. He would do anything for us. When He prayed that this cup would pass from Him, when He suffered the agony of the beatings, when He carried His cross, and when He hung on it, dying, He was saying, “I love you the best. I would do this just for you, even if you were the only one on earth. You, my child, are my favorite.”

Watching the show

Have you ever noticed, when you’re buying a new car, how many of those exact models you see everywhere you go? You wonder when that car got to be so popular. It must be a new thing, we reason, or else we would have noticed them before. When you are picking out names for your soon-to-arrive baby, all of a sudden you will hear numerous mothers calling out to their toddlers, who all seem to have been given the exact “unique” name you wanted for your child. We are constantly surrounded by things that we don’t notice, but once we start paying attention, we’re amazed by what we find.

I’ve noticed the same thing in everyday life. When I’m mad at my husband, or frustrated with a client, or late paying my bills, it’s easy to let those events color everything else that happens all day. When this happens, my thoughts are on the injustice of what someone said, or the blatant way someone is spending money I don’t have to spend, or the fact that my husband still hasn’t responded to a question I posed him two hours earlier. I will not allow myself to enjoy anything else because I’m consumed by my anger, and the day is ruined (for me and for everyone nearby).

Or I can let go and look for the good. I can remind myself to notice how much I’ve been blessed by the other projects a client has sent, or be thankful that my friend’s finances are in good shape right now, or realize how lucky I am to have a husband who will pick up the kids from all their activities and not complain. Both sides are always there; it all depends on what I’m looking for.

A friend once told me that Satan continually shoots arrows at us, flaming arrows of greed and hatred and hypocrisy and sinful thoughts. She found that for a while, she was reaching up and grabbing hold of those arrows, gnawing on them, letting those thoughts fester and torment her mind. She wasn’t able to forget the trial she was in; it was always right there. But one day she realized she didn’t have to reach up and grab hold of those darts. The enemy could shoot all the darts at her that he wanted, because she was going to let them go on past. She wouldn’t catch them, she wouldn’t gnaw on them, she wouldn’t listen. She wasn’t going to take his bait any longer. I’m with her. I’m going to choose what thoughts I hold onto. And, rather than hold on to the darts, I’ll enjoy the show as I let the fireworks go right on by.

Quiet observations from MoonDance Cafe

I sit here, quietly typing on this soft keyboard. These two women, women who meet here faithfully every Tuesday, are laughing. I love sitting near them, feeling like a voyeur, trying not to eavesdrop but catching fragments of their conversations. They pray, then they take turns reciting from memory all the carefully-copied scriptures they’re learning. Page after page of neatly-handwritten verses fill binders. One closes her eyes and starts speaking, while the other follows along, word for word, mouthing the verses alongside her friend. Their conversation rarely strays. I know. I sit by them most weeks, half listening, half writing or reading or talking to friends. But always aware. I feel the Word of God washing over me. We are cleansed by the hearing of the word, and as they recite God’s promises, I feel a peace settle around me. I thank God for their faithfulness, for their discipline, for their devotion, for their diligence. They work hard at this, and they take it seriously. It’s not like if I met with my friends to do it. We would talk. Catch up on all kinds of things, get distracted, make fun of each other’s mistakes. I’d probably not get around to memorizing my verses, and I’d be cramming at the last minute. But I pray that God will bless these women, even more, because surely they are already blessed for all this. The words hover in the atmosphere, weighty, present. The Spirit lingers in the trail of the words, rejoicing in their faith, staying near to see what they’ll quote next. They love their God, and they love His word, and I love hearing bits and pieces of the Word floating all around me. This wholesome gladness makes my spirit sing.

My dad's hands

My dad is an artist, and I’ve always loved his hands. Large, strong, capable – but so gentle. Soft but not frail. So very able. Talent hidden in those hands, the ability to make something surprisingly beautiful. My dad worked with his dad as a cabinetmaker, and he is skilled at carpentry, at making things solid and beautiful at the same time. But when he sits down with a brush, he is amazing. He’s got such a delicate touch – he can effortlessly, in a couple strokes, invoke the sagging roofline of a barn in the snow, bring out depth and color in the shadows of a hollyhock, or carve ruts in a dirt lane. With years of experience and loads of innate talent, my dad makes it look so easy. When people ask how long it took to paint a panting, he’ll reply, “3 hours and 30 years.” He worked hard and spent years developing his skills, and now it comes easily to him. It’s not that easy for most of the rest of us.

I’ve always thought my dad’s hands must be a lot like God’s. Big enough to hold my hand and make me feel protected, and at the same time capable of such gentleness. But when God works, it doesn’t just look effortless on his part, it really is. It’s more than a well-honed skill. He creates with just a touch, just a word, just a thought. And then He tries to involve us. It’s like when we teach our kids that success doesn’t come without effort and monetary gain doesn’t come without work. We want them to understand the value of what they have. So even though it’s not hard for God to grant our desires, He may ask us to do some work to get what we need. Not in exchange for His blessing, and not as a form of payment, but simply so we understand the worth of what He’s given us.

I’ll take what’s behind door #3!

Do you remember all those old game shows? A contestant would finally make it to the last round of the show and would stand there, a nervous wreck, jumping up and down, trying to decide whether to choose door #1, door #2, or door #3. Which one has the car? Which is the European vacation? Which is a new living room complete with a pool table? The thing is, no matter what the curtain or door revealed, it was good. The prize was fun, extravagant, and nearly always something the contestant wanted. And it was usually something they could not have afforded on their own.

Yesterday I was talking with a friend about baptism. Her son is hesitant, not sure how much of Christianity he believes. I asked, does he believe in Jesus? If the answer is yes, it should be simple. Baptism isn’t like a final exam, something you do to prove your knowledge. You don’t need to have experience, you don’t need to study, you don’t need to prove you’ve reached a certain level or that you’re worthy. You just have to get to the point where you’re standing in front of the doors wanting to know what He has in store for you. You have no idea what’s behind the doors, but you trust that He wouldn’t offer you something bad. You may be a little scared. It might not be exactly the same as what your friend found. It might be safe, or it might be a little risky. But you understand that until the door is opened, you won’t know for sure what it is, how it makes you feel, or how it will change your life. You just know that it will be good. So take a deep breath and pick one. Because opening that door is the only way to know what is waiting for you. Your very own, personal, made-just-for-you grand prize.

Wearing a wig

When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, one of the things that was difficult for her was going out in public knowing people were looking at her. She was afraid people would be watching her to see if she had lost her hair, if she had on a wig, if she was losing weight, if she looked sick yet... And people may have been watching, but the good news is she looked great through it all. It’s been several months, and my mom is healthy (thank you, Lord!). People are curious, though. Today I saw an acquaintance of hers, and she said she’d seen my mom the other day, “But how is she?”

“Great,” I replied, and started thinking.

Typically, when we look at people on the outside, ourselves included, and we see nothing unusual, we decide everything must be fine. And that’s how we want it. We don’t want people watching us, looking for signs that our health is failing. We don’t want the stigma of being labeled with a disease. If no one knows it’s there, we don’t have to talk about it. But at the same time, no one can help us treat it.

With my mom, since people know something is (or might be) “wrong,” they wonder. They can’t tell by appearances, so they ask. But how many of us have something painful on the inside that no one ever sees, that no one knows to ask about? We might be eaten up by guilt, or fear, or regret, or sorrow. Most of what hurts us can’t be seen on the outside. Thank God He knows our hearts, that He can see what the world misses. That He knows to talk to us, and soothe, and touch, and heal, even when others don’t know we need help. We’re good at covering; we hide our “illnesses” better than a great wig with perfect highlights and a cute cut hides a bald head. So maybe it’s time to bare all before the Lord, and let Him do His thing.

Looking for more

I was working on some ad concepts the other day, and, not satisfied with the ideas I had, I ran them by a friend, sort of talking them through to figure out what I was doing. She looked at me and said, “I tried on hundreds of wedding dresses but ended up buying the second one I tried. You’re a lot like that, too, aren’t you? I think these are already finished; you just don’t know it yet.”

I laughed, but the comment has been on my mind ever since. Why do we do that? We find what we want and don’t want to settle, or don’t want to commit, or think it was too easy, and so we waste countless hours re-examining things, looking for something marginally better. I think sometimes we do this with God, too. When we first discover Him, we have something good, but we think it’s supposed to be better — we’re supposed to be more disciplined, or pray more, or read the Bible more, or hear from Him more — so instead of reveling in what we have, we keep looking for more. We are afraid of the ways in which our relationship with Him is lacking, so we explore and examine it and criticize it. But finally, if we’re lucky, we recognize what an amazing thing we had. And when we go back to Him, we find He’s been there waiting for us all along.

Baking up delight

I don’t know what it is that makes it so fun to them, but kids seem to love to bake. For years, my children have come wandering in to my office holding boxes of cake mix or brownies, wanting to make something. I don’t think it’s just that they’re hungry for sweets; it’s the process they enjoy. Working alongside me, cracking eggs, pouring oil, the powdery cloud of flour that rises when you pour the mix into the bowl and start stirring, the delight when you turn on the oven light and see what’s happening. And the absolute joy when you pull the pan out of the oven and find it’s no longer a gloppy, runny mixture of messy ingredients, but a firm, golden, spongy cake.

The other night when I was praying, I realized that’s what God does: He lets us help Him cook. He asks for our prayers even though He doesn’t need our opinions about how things should be done and He doesn’t require our assistance. He is perfectly capable of making decisions on His own, measuring out justice and mercy and grace, and doing it all without making a mess. But when we come to Him in prayer, He’s allowing us to be a part of the process. It’s easier for Him when we’re not there to get in the way. It’s faster when we’re not bumbling around in the middle. And it’s much neater when we’re not there to drop things or grab the wrong ingredients. But the delight on our faces when we see what comes out of the oven—when we see prayers answered and hearts healed and lives changed and love prevailing, when we know that we were privileged to be allowed to be a part of it, and that even though we weren’t necessary to the process, He loves us enough to want us working alongside Him—well, I think that’s why He does it.

Almost here

According to my mom, when I was little and anxiously awaiting someone’s arrival, I would stand at the window and say “I almost see them coming!” I wanted to see them so badly that I just knew they had to be coming — almost. They must be right on the other side of the hill. Almost there, and all I had to do was wait. And if I hoped hard enough, and stared at the horizon long enough, it would happen. Sooner rather than later.

As adults, we can lose that sense of expectation. We become jaded, less willing to believe that what we’re waiting for is just around the corner. We think there must have been an accident, that someone got hurt, that the car ran out of gas, that the person got lost, that we could never rely on them to leave on time so they’re not really just over the crest of the hill, but they’re probably still miles and miles away.

At the women’s conference I just attended, someone taught that God has already said the Amen to our miracles. “Amen” means “so be it,” and the Lord has declared the answer, has provided the end to that time of need or suffering or pain. The reason time periods are mentioned over and over in the Bible is to remind us that everything has a time. There is a finite season for each trial, so of course there is always an end.

What that tells me is this: my miracle is not lost. It is not derailed by any kind of trouble, and it is not late in coming. It is right where it is supposed to be, and it is on its way. My job right now is to watch for it. To sit at the window, looking ahead, expecting, knowing that my miracle is just past the crest of the hill, and if I wait right there, it WILL arrive. Right on time.

Celebrating!

Mom called a little while ago. She got a call with the results of her latest scans -- NO CHANGES. The cancer has not started growing. She is still in remission. Cancer-free! Thank you, Lord!!!

I'm not a sports fan

I’m not a huge sports fan, so when I go watch one of the kids’ teams play, I spend much of the time watching the spectators – the moms and dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles. There are no casual bystanders. No, they’re active observers. Focused entirely on the game. It’s not enough to scream at the top of their lungs and to clap and whistle. Oh, no. They sit on the edges of their seats, or jump up, and when the soccer ball approaches their child, the parent kicks. Hard. Falling out of the chair. When a tackle is imminent, the parents twist and contort to help keep their child out of reach. Watching them, you can see how badly they want to help. To see them succeed. To be the best and the fastest and the smartest.

I think our Heavenly Father does the same thing. God isn’t sitting up on His throne, quietly, calmly watching. No, He’s on the edge of His seat, jumping to His feet, eager and excited and encouraging. He wants us to do well so badly He can’t hold still. When we need to jump, He jumps. When we need to duck, He ducks. And when it’s apparent that we’re out of our league, that our opponents are stronger and faster and more skilled – then He does for us what we can’t do for our kids. He comes off the bench and rises up inside us. Then He runs, sprints, kicks, dodges – and scores. Within us. For us and through us. And then I realize I've been an avid spectator all along, one of His biggest fans, unbelievably proud to be on His team.

Think spring

My friend (and pastor) Peggy loves being outdoors, but only when it’s warm. I watch her all winter long, wrapped in warm coats and hats and gloves, frozen, longing for the temperature to rise and for things to bud and turn green. When it finally happens, when spring arrives, Peggy will spend hours outside, digging, pruning, planting, watering, nurturing. Making her yard beautiful even as she finds renewal in her soul.

And even though I’m not a much of an outdoor person, and even though I don’t like to work in my yard, I do understand. It’s discouraging when we look out the window, day after day, at gray, dripping, soggy skies, sodden ground, dirty snow. Sometimes during the winter we lose our sense of joy, letting outward circumstances cloud our perceptions. Our bodies and our minds respond to the drabness of the weather, and we close in on ourselves, shutting out the world.

But at some point during the winter, things start to change. They’re subtle clues we may not be consciously aware of — but suddenly it feels like spring is on its way. Out of nowhere, even if it’s still cold and gray, spring is on our minds. Our emotions become buoyant.

I think that the hope God promises feels a lot like spring. Something rises up inside and makes us feel as though life is full of possibilities. Our souls leap for joy when we see a flower bud appear seemingly out of nowhere. The very air feels different, refreshing instead of stale. Having been shut in for so long, wrapped in layers of warmth, our bodies pull us outside, into the air, exulting in the warmth and the potential and the promise of spring. The earth seems to be shouting that there are great things to come. We begin waiting with expectation, no longer dragging our feet or feeling like it will be months before there is any relief. We have hope. Promise. Possibility. Expectation. And with our renewed hope comes renewed faith, because faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. We don’t have to see it to know it’s on its way.

Unlimited potential

My son Bobby loves to play the piano. He picks out melodies of songs we sing at church, he embellishes with chords, he plays the same songs over and over and over. For Christmas, he got a keyboard. Whoa. Have you ever seen the look in a child’s eyes when he is suddenly handed a tool with practically unlimited potential? A kind of awe descends on him. All the power, all the possibilities, all the potential.... Wow. There are rhythms and different instruments and speeds and styles and volumes and melodies and background tracks. It’s overwhelming and exhilarating and it’s hard to know where to begin. So much to explore. Within moments of seeing his new keyboard, the excitement and anticipation took over, and now Bobby spends hours and hours experimenting every single day. What happens if he pushes this button? What if he plays this song with a jazzy drum beat in the background? Maybe a little faster? Louder? How many combinations are possible?

There was a time when I felt the same sense of awe about being a Christian. I was aware of the potential power of our prayers. I was expecting the interesting, amazing, and unbelievable. We have been given gifts of unlimited potential. We don’t really have any idea how much we could accomplish if only we focused, practiced, experimented, and opened our minds to the outrageous possibilities. Jesus told us we could lay hands on the sick to heal them. We can cast out spirits. We can do all things through Christ. And when we’re new to the faith, it seems easier to believe that. We try Him and see. But after we’ve been around the body of Christ for a while, it seems that many of us cease to be impressed by the power that is before us. Like a child on a piano, we’ve already played the songs we know – and with practice, we’ve gotten pretty good, so why try something new?

This is why. Because the Master can orchestrate things we can’t imagine on our own. He writes the brilliant compositions, and He’s given us all the instruments we need to perform them. We just need to allow Him to take the lead, and prepare to be amazed by the music.

Limited resources

I’m at a time in my life in which my finances are tight. My main client is having difficulties, and it’s been three months since I got my monthly retainer. I find myself going over my bills, prioritizing. If I only have so much money, I can only cover certain things. I have to look at the big picture, and try different combinations, and figure out which bills to pay from each check that comes in. I know, it’s simply basic budgeting. It’s what everyone has to do at some point in their lives. We make informed decisions, and then we do the best we can. Sometimes we’re fortunate and it’s not a challenge – there’s enough there to pay whatever comes in. And sometimes it’s like a gigantic, precariously balanced puzzle. Since I’m not independently wealthy, even when things are good, I’ll always be dealing with limited resources. There is never going to be enough for everything.

Besides money, I have plenty of other prayer concerns. My unsold house, which is contributing to our tight finances. My mom’s health, which is currently very good. My sister’s friend Teresa, who is being faced with a sudden, scary, serious diagnosis. My cousin, who was just diagnosed with breast cancer. Situations affecting my friends — conflict, hurt feelings, marriages that are strained, jobs that are iffy. There’s always something. Many somethings. Some more important than others, but they all weigh on us. It seems hopeless and overwhelming sometimes. Too much. Too, too much.

But here’s the thing. Our God is a big God. “Is there anything too hard for me?” he asks. No. But it gets even better. He didn’t tell us we had to pick just one thing to pray about. We don’t have to evaluate the situations, decide which is the most important, and give up on all the rest. We are not dealing with the finite, but with the infinite. He is the omniscient, omnipresent, all-powerful Creator. He can make something from nothing. He can form, design, mold, and invent. Even if our answer doesn’t exist yet, even if there doesn’t seem to be enough to go around. Our God is a big God. And His resources are unlimited.

You just never know

As a graphic designer, it is my job to develop marketing solutions that will meet a client’s needs. It’s more than simply communicating a message; it’s doing so in an innovative, unique, creative way. This week I got to be on the receiving end of the ultimate in creative thinking: one of God’s brainstorms. His ways are always above our ways.

Almost a year ago, I wrote a letter of complaint to a contractor that had worked on our house. We’d had problems with one of the employees, and our bill was much higher than the estimate. I wanted him to know the problems so he could correct them for future customers. I didn’t hear back from him, and except for feeling awkward when I’d seen him, I hadn’t thought much about it.

Earlier this week my main client filed bankruptcy, and I found out that the already-overdue checks for two months’ work were not on their way as I’d been told. Naturally I prayed. The next day, we had our ladies’ prayer group. And we also prayed, of course. For many things, but in particular, for my finances. The very next day, my mailman delivered an envelope from the contractor. Included with a letter explaining and apologizing for the situation was a check. A nice check. He had felt “the conviction of the Holy Spirit many times regarding this,” he wrote, and he wanted to make things right. He apologized repeatedly for taking so long to address the situation.

But here’s what that man did not know. He didn’t know that the money wasn’t important to us last year. We wouldn’t still have it. But now, today – THAT was the moment it was needed. The week in which I’d wondered where in the world I could find some extra money. The week in which I’d gone over and over my books, looking for any possibility of more income. The week in which I needed God to show me a solution that could only be from Him. The week in which I needed to be reminded that I can trust Him to provide.

This money – I didn’t make it happen. I didn’t find it. I didn’t expect it nor did I even know it was a possibility. But He already had an answer on its way to me before I asked. I had to laugh at our Lord’s ingenuity. And give thanks for the man who, by listening to the Holy Spirit, was part of this wonderful, unexpected solution. The kind of brilliant answer you wish you could claim as your own. Creativity at its best.

Snowbound

I look out my window at the snow softly piling up… overwhelmed with gratitude for my God, who created such gentle beauty. The snow keeps coming. The wind picks up, the visibility is diminished, the snow drifts into long glistening scallops, forming an unfamiliar landscape. People are in line at Wal-mart frantically buying milk and bread and eggs, certain that they’ll be snowed in by morning. I’m home, smiling every time I look out. Not because I love cold, and not because I want to be stuck at home, but because the weather is a tangible reminder to me of who is really in control.

Have you ever noticed that mankind has discovered amazing cures through medicine, that we have developed technology that will allow man to fly, that we are able to instantly transmit information across the world and explore the ocean depths and far reaches of space – yet we can’t control something as basic as the weather? We can’t even accurately predict it. Hurricanes, tornadoes, ice and sleet, hail – we are at their mercy. 12 hours of falling snow can trap us in our homes for days, stop transport of food and other supplies, close down businesses, bring our daily lives to a standstill. Every time I see another example of extreme weather, I give thanks. I humbly tell my God how much I love Him and how thankful I am that He is in control. The Mighty One who can command storms and move unseen winds is the same One who gently cradles me in His arms when I need comfort. He is the One who bottles up my tears, who woos me with His love. And He is the same One who has power and ability beyond anything I can fathom.

I think the weather serves to remind us that there are things mankind simply cannot do. We must rely on our Creator and trust in His power. So when you hear snow plows passing in the night, or get phone calls about school being canceled, relax in the knowledge that our God, our Creator, our King choreographed each flake of snow and directed the gusts of wind that sculpted them into impassable hills. He knows every detail of the weather, just as He cares about every detail of our lives. So wrap up in something warm, sit back, and watch God’s work with wonder and gratitude. (written Feb. '07)

All clear!

Mom had scans done this week to check and see if the cancer had returned, and the doctor said NO, IT HAS NOT! Her scan is clear and absolutely unchanged from the last scan she had on Oct. 29th. He even used the word miraculous, apparently, saying that her type of cancer rarely stays away this long. I think she's still in shock, but I'm busy praising God for this wonderful gift of health and time! Temporarily or permanently clear, it remains to be seen, but I know if my God can keep her healthy for these past two months, He can do it for the next two months. And the two, four, sixteen or even eighty months after that. Nothing is too big for Him, and nothing is too hard for Him. Even when we don't get the answers we think we want, it's certain that He still heard and answered. And as long as we allow Him to walk beside us, we can get through. But tonight I will sleep peacefully in His arms, thankful that my will aligned with His for this one very special request.

A clear view

I don’t know why I keep buying sunglasses, because I just can’t stand to wear them. I usually get a new pair when we go on vacation, but within seconds of putting them on I have to take them off. It drives me crazy not being able to see the true colors, not knowing how vivid the water is, or the skies, or the trees. Sometimes the colors are prettier through the glasses, but still, I don’t like feeling like my view has been distorted or altered in any way. It seems fake, false and, well, just not right.

Our pastor Nathan taught last week on how he doesn’t like substitutes — give him sugar instead of Sweet ‘n’ Low, Coke instead of Pepsi, cream instead of skim milk – he wants the real thing. It’s a different application, but I think this is similar to my sunglasses issues. He doesn’t want anything to come between him and the real thing. I think that’s why I don’t like to see anything but the true colors. Whether it is good or bad, I want to experience the reality of it. I want to see the nuances of shading, the gradations of tone and the play of light and shadow. I want to know what it really looks like. Every single detail.

And I want the same thing with my God. I want to see Him for who He is, know Him as the perfect, holy, never-changing God. And learn each and every one of the countless other aspects of Him, too. I want to see Him clearly, and see Him for myself. “For there is...one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.*” I don’t want to look through rose-colored glasses and then have a skewed perception, and I don’t want to look through someone else’s glasses and see what they see. I want to see Him myself. And I think He honors that. When we look for Him, look really hard, He lets us find Him. And, while He’s in the process of revealing those beautiful facets, those incredible details, those amazing sights, I think maybe He even turns up the intensity of the colors to become more beautiful than ever. Just for us.

*1 Timothy 2:5