Friday, May 26, 2017

Quench your thirst

In my mind, I keep coming back to this location, location, location thing.

I always used to get irritated when people would come to Florida to visit and harp on me about not having a killer tan -- as if I had all the time in the world to sit at the beach! But those who visit -- that is what they do -- visit the beach! They come into town, get a tan, and head on home to show it off.

When you live here, it is a different story. You have your daily routine that includes work, appointments, shopping, cooking, cleaning, etc. A trip to the beach has to be weaseled in. And, even then, it seems like something needs to get put on the back burner.

When you manage to squeeze it in and arrive at the beach, you can start to relax once you are able to let everything go that could've/should've/would've been done had you not decided to head east. The smell of the salty air, the crashing of the waves, the sand between your toes, and the smiles on everyone's faces... why don't we do this more often? A few hours later and we are convinced that someway, somehow we are going to make relaxing days at the beach a priority. After all, we need these moments of solitude to grow closer to God or to re-center our focus. A beach is a perfect place for this.

Unfortunately, those well-intended beach days never happen.

The funny thing is that it isn't about being in a particular location, or a quiet spot, in order to find that solace we so desperately need. We just think it is.

In a house of screaming kids, TV's blaring, teenagers talking on speaker phone, etc. you may think -- sure, how can I find a quiet moment amongst all of this? And you will convince yourself that the only quiet time you can find is when you have time to escape for a long weekend to a sleepy beach town, a stay at a vineyard, or just a few nights at a remote B&B. This is usually followed up with -- and how would I ever be able to escape to that?! I've got the kids, a dog, my job, etc.  It's hopeless!

Take a long weekend and visit a quiet place. It's a lot different than moving there because guess what? When you move to that quiet, sleepy beach town, you are taking those kids, that dog, a job...

My point is that you can go anywhere in the world looking for solitude, looking for peace, looking for perfection, but you aren't going to find it. Really, you aren't...trust me. Those things are not in any place. Ok, so maybe temporarily, but that is just a facade. 

The real thing isn't anywhere but inside you. So where ever you are, that is where you can find peace, quiet, tranquility -- all those calming feelings. BUT, there is a catch. Believe me, you are great and all, but if you don't have God in your heart or you don't have a relationship with him, then you will search forever for those lovely feelings and never find them. That's right -- without God, trying to find peace is like walking through the desert and only seeing mirages, but never any water. 

"And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive that you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened." - Luke 11:9-10 (NLT) 

So, use your vacations to enjoy time with your loved ones. Don't use them as a way to find the quiet you already have inside you. And, make your relationship with God a priority -- everything else will fall into place, I promise you. Last but certainly not least -- If you aren't sure how to start a relationship with God, please reach out to me: shell@shellblan.com 


Saturday, April 22, 2017

If today is your last...

Have you ever really thought about the fact that we may not be here next week? Tomorrow? By 9:00 pm tonight? We don't know when we are going to get called home -- we just know that we will one day. It is inevitable. 

And then there are those who sorta get a heads up... say you fall ill and your doctor tells you that you only have a small window of human life left in you. Or, maybe you hear a small voice or get a feeling that your time to head home is coming... 

Think about it: You hear the words, "Good morning, <insert your name>, today is your last day to live on earth." What would you do? How would you react? 

Something tells me some folks may begin rushing around in a panic trying to quickly pack everything into 24-hours that they didn't take the time to do before now. All those things on the bucket list -- the sky diving, the traveling, seeing your favorite football team play live, trying to finish the kitchen sink ice cream challenge, singing a solo at church -- you never did get around to them. You thought there would always be tomorrow. Now, you are in a panic. How can you possibly have time to finish the list? You realize that there are all these things you wanted to do and never did because you put them off. 

Other folks may call family members and want to spend their last hours feeling love and sharing memories before they head home to Jesus. Warm embraces and many tears. Yet, many laughs and comforted hearts, too. 

Then you have your folks who are just in shock. They just sit there. Maybe they watch the second hand move around the clock while stuck in a blank stare. Maybe they play with the zipper on their jacket and get lost in thought. Maybe their legs feel like lead and they cannot move them no matter how much they want to frantically run away.

It doesn't matter which you reaction you have -- you can still find yourself being slapped in the face that, above all of the menial things, you never took the time to get closer to God. Because there is a huge difference between knowing of God and actually knowing God. 

So, if today is your last... what would you do? Would you run about in a sort of panic or would you fall to your knees and pray for mercy? 

Truth is, we don't know when our last day is. We don't receive an e-vite in our e-mail asking us to add the event in Outlook. No, we don't.

Let your knees find the ground today. "...for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night." - 1 Thessalonians 5:2 (NIV)

Friday, March 10, 2017

Do you know her?

Sin is selfish.
Let me say that again: SIN. IS. SELFISH.

Have you ever given it any thought? Your choices, your sin -- that is between you and God, right? After all, who can be affected by your sinful desires other than you?

Do you remember the story of King David and Bathsheba? Maybe you do, Maybe you have never heard it. Either way, I am going to tell it to you ... 

One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant." 

So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.

David was told, “Uriah did not go home.” So he asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?”

Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”

Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.

In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”

So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died. - 2 Samuel 11:2-17 (NIV)

King David committed a sin. In fact, he committed many of them. And to cover up his sin... rather than repent... he let his sin... his selfish desires... affect the lives of so many people. King David slept with a married woman, Bathsheba committed adultery, Uriah ended up losing his life due to King David's setup, and the illegitimate child that was born between Bathsheba and King David died, and so on. 

Sin is selfish. 

How do your choices, your desires, and your decisions affect those around you? 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

I saw Jesus

I saw Jesus.

I met Jesus the other day. I was on my way home from work and had just taken my exit off the interstate. While sitting at the stoplight, I saw a man holding a sign that said, “Hungry, please help.” He looked to be in his 60’s or 70’s and was limping as if his right leg was damaged. His deep gray eyes, disheveled silver hair and leathery tan skin told me that he had been on the streets for a while and his story was long and hadn’t been easy.
I knew that I didn’t have anything in my car to feed him, but I did have a $5.00 bill. I rolled my window down, signaled for him and held my hand – and the money – out of the window. He came to me as quickly as his crippled leg would let him. Reaching for the money, he...

Friday, January 13, 2017

How much of yourself do you reveal?

What makes us so hesitant to be ourselves with others? Why do we close ourselves off, only showing what we want others to see? 

There are so many possible answers to these questions, but I think it all boils down to fear. Whether it is fear of being judged, laughed at, cheated, or even fear of being hurt. It is likely the basis of why we only open a few windows to our inner selves. 

This is especially true around strangers. 

Why?

It could stem back to how we were raised and it could also result from experiences we have had in life. Painful moments mold us as much - if not more - than joyful moments do. Without getting into too much of the intricacies, we will just say that all of our life experiences make us who we are -- and thus can reveal a lot about why we only show certain parts of ourselves. 

Let me tell you why this has been on my mind. See, I discovered this Christian writer's conference I would really like to go to. It is at a camp -- similar to a retreat. They have what they refer to as "hotel rooms" that come in single and double occupancy. When I attempted to book it, it looked as though the private rooms were sold out -- which leaves me with a double, should I choose to go. 

The very idea of sharing personal space with a complete stranger just doesn't sit well with me. At all. In fact, I'd love to go to this conference but the mere fact that I may be sleeping next to Jane Doe just, well -- let's just say it is enough for me to think ahead to booking early for the 2018 conference. 

This whole scenario has made me think -- why am I having such a hard time sharing a personal space with a stranger? What am I afraid of? (People have done this for years, I know)

I thought about Jesus and how he was, in a sense, homeless. He would stay with people as they welcomed him into their home. He embraced people. He loved people. Even people he didn't know. 

Jesus didn't put a wall up around himself to protect himself from strangers. Jesus spent time with people he didn't know without fear. In fact, Jesus even kept company with the outcasts and the undesirables -- the people you think would be feared the most. 

Jesus shared himself with everyone.

How did he let himself be comforted by strangers and be himself - Jesus - without worry? He lived breathed, and walked on the earth just as we have. So why wasn't he scarred or bruised from years of living. Why did he not feel the need to protect himself? (Duh.. he is Jesus).

Jesus knew that he wasn't alone. He knew his Father was with him and that his father would protect him. He knew not to fear -- for real. We quote verses from the bible and we talk about not fearing, but we do anyways. But, Jesus -- he didn't. He lived out the peace spoken in his words, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." - John 14:27 (NIV) 

Jesus knew he had nothing to fear. He knew there was a purpose and a plan for everyone he met. We should know this, too. "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." - Joshua 1:9

Thursday, December 29, 2016

What is love?

Love. 

We use this word freely when we speak. Statements like, "oh I just LOVE going to the movies." Or, "I am so in love with this delicious Thai food." So, I guess it could be the word to use when you really, REALLY like something since, well, love > like, right? But, what is love? How do you define it? Can you even define it? 

Two teenagers with their whole lives ahead of them spend hours each week together and are always in contact when they are apart (thanks to today's technology). They talk about the future, they talk about their hopes, their dreams, the family they one day want to have. They talk about getting married and how their life together would be -- how they would do things differently than their parents. They argue and fight as hormonal teenagers do, then they make up. He was her first kiss. They hold hands in the movies and he buys her a rose each week. Is it love? 

A dad is lying in his bed in the nursing home while his daughter reads to him. He never knows she is there, but she goes anyways. She reads his favorite books aloud to him and she decorates his room for every holiday. She kisses him when she arrives and again each time she leaves. Does he feel it? She believes so. She bought him new bright, fuzzy socks for Christmas last week. He opened them, smiled, and said he loved them. Then he asked her who she was. Fighting back her tears, she says, "Oh, dad, it's me -- your only daughter." He doesn't believe her. He never does. She faithfully comes back every day to visit, despite the pain in her heart. Is it love? 

A man is trying to provide for his family. He messed up really bad in his past which has made finding work one of the most difficult things he has ever had to do. He has recently enrolled in night classes to earn a degree. He hopes that his degree will somehow override his past mistakes. His family cant wait, though. So he gets up every morning before the sun and he goes to wait in front of the local Home Depot. He knows this is the spot where foremen come looking for day laborers. If he gets there early enough, he will get a spot on the truck -- which means his family will have food and shelter for another day. With all of his time away from them, he worries his kids are not going to know him like he knew his father. Is it love? 

A homeless man collects cans to recycle. He carries a large, clear garbage bag every day and scours the streets for aluminum. He doesn't have a place to live and he doesn't know where his next meal is coming from, but he knows he needs to keep collecting the cans so he pushes on. It is important. When his bag is full, he begins the 6 mile trek to the recycling center where he turns in his cans and receive his compensation. Today he made $16.48. He then walks the 6 mile trek back to his neighborhood. When he gets there, he rounds up other homeless people from all walks of life and they slowly make their way to Burger King. With today's funds, each person is blessed with two hamburgers and a small coffee. With tomorrows funds, he will buy several pairs of socks from the Dollar Tree. Sure, he could keep the money for himself, but how could that benefit anyone else? Is it love? 

Love takes on many forms. Its the love between a daughter and her father, the love between two teenagers with so much more to learn in life, it is a man trying to give a better life to his family, and it is a broken stranger taking care of other broken souls. 

Love is a hug. A look. A packed lunch on a rushed morning. Love is a beautiful word. Love is a good intention. Love is protection. Love is a smile. Love can take your breath away. Love can make you cry. Love can be unspoken. Love can be physical. Love can be a song.

Love is devotion. However you define love, it is amplified a thousand times greater by God. His love goes beyond love for your spouse, your parents, your siblings -- and even your love of Thai food. God's love is unconditional and it is for everyone. It is a love that surpasses any type of human love. God's love is so great that it is almost undefinable. 

So -- what is love?

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." - 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV).

"...God is love." - 1 John 4:8 (NIV)

LOVE... 4 little letters, immense meaning. 

Seek God. Seek Love. Fill your heart with a light of unconditional love 
and sweet devotion. 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Christmas perfection

Over the last few years, it seems like I have struggled every year around this time. Internally, I fight between what I have always known Christmas to be (and what the world tells me it is) and what my heart feels Christmas truly is. I get caught up in all of the commercialism, all of the gift-buying, all of the secret shopping and time away from loved ones. The constant search for Christmas perfection.


And then I fight within myself -- why am I doing this? Why can't I just stay home, bask in the glow of the Christmas tree lights, watch movies or play games with loved ones? Or why don't I spend my shopping time giving back, rather than buying for those who already have so much in comparison? Why do I spend money trying to make Christmas huge and magical when the actual idea of Christmas is already huge and magical?! I strive for Christmas perfection, but Christmas is perfect just the way it is. 

Our world is filled with sinners, including myself. We focus on our desires, rather than what is important. We want the biggest TV to watch the football game on, rather than just enjoying the time with family and friends -- while watching that football game. When we clean out our closet, we let others have first dibs on the best clothes, then take the leftovers to those in need. We go into the store and spend $279.00 on presents, then drop just a few remaining coins in the salvation army tin outside. 

Why do we do this? 

I shouldn't have to fight within myself. I know what is right, but I still can't help myself -- I still get swept away in the commercialism of today's Christmas. I am sure there are others out there that feel this way, too. 

I often imagine a simple Christmas. One filled with love and fellowship and celebration of the birth of Jesus. I'd like a Christmas where we forget all the hustle and bustle and just be. I find this hard to do because we all grow at different times and in different ways. We have all been taught all our lives what Christmas looks like -- so it is not an easy thing to change. Have you ever seen the Hallmark movie, Christmas in Canaan? It is one of my favorites to watch this time of year. In Canaan, they feel that everyone "deserves a little Christmas," even though they cannot afford to buy gifts. So they wrap up a picture cut out of a magazine, showing what they would give for Christmas if they could afford it. It is the thought and the story behind the picture that actually means more than the real item ever could. 

Jesus wasn't born anywhere fancy -- he came to us in a manger. Humble and simple. And all the while we strive for perfection -- the perfect tree, perfect gift, perfect feast, even the perfect ugly sweater! When the truth is, God made us perfect WITH our imperfections. We are perfect just the way we are and Christmas is perfect just as it is. We do not need to spend so much time, money, and energy striving for perfection. "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" - Matthew 5:48 (NIV)

We need to learn to just love -- it is the greatest gift -- and let everything else go. Besides, something tells me that if Jesus were standing here, he would shake his head at us for all of the hoopla over his birthday. "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" - Mark 10:45 (NIV)

I leave you with a new song I discovered this season, I Need a Silent Night by Amy Grant. 
"...December comes then disappears
Faster and faster every year
Did my own mother keep this pace
Or was the world a different place?
Where people stayed home wishing for snow
Watching three channels on their TV
Look at us now rushing around
Trying to buy Christmas peace..."