Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Preach without words

Did you brush your teeth?

Because I am your mother, that's why.

Were you born in a barn? Shut the door! 

Always wear clean underwear in case you get in an accident.

Im going to change my name from Mom.

Use good judgment.

You are who you hang out with.

Yep. Right there, that last one. There are other versions, too. For instance - "a man is known by the company he keeps" or Booker T Washington's "Associate yourself with people of good quality, for it is better to be alone than in bad company." And, last but not least, the possibility of falling into the trap of being "guilty by association."

In case you didn't know, I am going to share a little secret with you: Moms are always right and all of their sayings are going to come back to haunt you one day. You may have brushed it off when you were a kid, but I am sure at least once in life so far you have had to suddenly stop to catch your breath as you picture your mom's face and say, "holy cow, she was right!" And if this hasn't happened to you yet, it will...just wait.

Let's take a minute to talk about those folks you associate with. Have you taken your mom's advice about who you spend time with? We change and grow as we navigate through life. So what happens if you wake up one day and find out that who you associate with doesn't really fit your mold anymore? Do you just walk away? And if you cant walk away for one reason or another... Do you just allow yourself to continue to associate with those your mother warned you about? 

At some point you may find yourself in this sticky situation. We cannot always just walk away from associations... life is just not that easy. For instance, if you do not agree with your co-workers or the mother of your child's best friend, you cannot just forget they exist! Maybe you sit on a board and have to associate with a group of people each week that you may find "different." You cannot just walk away. So the question becomes - how do you handle these situations? How do you hold steadfast to your Christian beliefs and positive nature when surround by those who try to sway you or bring you down? 

1 Corinthians 15:33 (NIV) says, "Do not be misled: 'Bad company corrupts good character.'" And if your eyes are not opened, this can happen. (I think that is what your mom was always getting at.) But we don't always have to be misled by "bad company." We could place a spin on this...  

Instead of choosing to separate our associates/friends as "good and bad" and "us and them," what if we choose to let God use us in this situation? Instead of distancing ourselves for fear that we will become "guilty by association," what if we share God's love? 

Because I have personally struggled with this and have asked God for his guidance, my eyes have been opened when reading lately. I have found that I just absolutely love Hebrews 12:1 (NLT): 

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us."

In my head, I am picturing myself running with all that energy I have, jumping over hurdles, barreling toward the finish line, not letting ANYTHING get in my way. (ok, maybe this is because I have been watching the Olympics a lot lately). But, really - it reminds me that even if I am surrounded by people that I disagree with, I am also surrounded by many winners. I am following in the footsteps of Jesus - the greatest winner! I am holding on to joy and looking for victory. I will not be held back by those who choose a different path! 

I will not fall victim to the sins of this world due to the company I keep. Instead, I will be a carrier of light to lead them from darkness.

You may not always be in a position to get all "preachy" with your friends/associates, but the manner in which you lead your life is an example. You can preach without using a single word. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

He opened his eyes.

Do you ever feel like you are not worthy enough -- or qualified -- to do something? I feel like that sometimes when it comes to spreading God's word and sharing in my writing. I mean, think about it -- its GOD's word. You cannot really get any BIGGER or more important than that! Every now and then I wonder - who am I to think that I can take on such a task? After all, I do not claim to be a scholar when it comes to the Bible. Heck, my family didn't even really go to church while I was growing up! So how can my amateur musings have any impact on anyone? 

Now, let me tell you what I discovered the other day. Have you met Paul (aka Saul)? Paul holds a huge place in the Bible, turning many people to Christ, both in Biblical times and still today through his writings in the New Testament. But before he began down that path, Paul fought against Christians! Acts 9:1 (NIV) says he "...was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples." Jesus spoke to Paul and questioned his actions. It was at that time he made him blind -- for 3 days! Then the Lord sent Ananias to Paul and had him place his hands over his eyes. He told Paul..."the Lord - Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here - has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit." Acts 9:17. He opened his eyes.

He once was blind and now he can see. He once persecuted Jesus and his followers and now he has become one! The true work of the Holy Spirit!

Here is what got me: Paul was a new Christian, but he immediately began to preach. All he started with was by sharing that "...Jesus is the Son of God." Acts 9:20 (NIV). Those 6 words are powerful. He didn't have to know the intricacies. He just needed to know - and BELIEVE - that Jesus is the Son of God. Once he began sharing, God built the fire up in him as he "...grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah." Acts 9:22 (NIV). Paul went on to impact people in many different areas by letting God lead him. 

Let me leave you with this -- Paul proves that it doesn't matter who you are, where you came from, what you have or haven't done in life. If you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, then you know that you are called according to God's purpose. Remember, "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Ephesians 2:10 (NIV) He will give you everything you need to pursue your gift, even when you feel incapable, unqualified or unworthy. Start with what you know and HAVE FAITH. He will carry you through.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Love on Purpose

The other morning while driving to work I was, as usual, listening to K-LOVE. While I would like to set off on a whole rant of why you should also be listening to K-LOVE, I wont. Though, you should definitely check out their site and see if they broadcast in your area (yes, they broadcast nationally.) Anyways, back to the point I was beginning to make... a guy called into the radio station and said that he was struggling with all the killing and hurt taking place in our world today. He went on to say that he has started to do something about it. It is this: Every time the media gets filled with something bad that has happened, he makes a point to do something good. He used the example of mowing his lawn and then deciding to just mow his neighbor's lawn, too. Or picking up the tab for someone's dinner. 

I began thinking about how his call may have impacted all the listeners. You know, sort of putting even an inkling of an idea in heads. Imagine if each listener started doing the same? K-LOVE has a very large following. 

But, then... what if, instead of just doing 1 act of kindness for each "bad story" we hear ... what if we do an act of kindness for each individual that fell victim to the hate? For example, 3 acts of kindness - one for Montrell Jackson, one for Brad Garagola, and one for Matthew Gerald -- the 3 officers killed in Baton Rouge last week. 1 act of kindness for Philando Castile, killed by police in St Paul during a traffic stop. See what I mean? 

Purposefully doing something in honor of the victim, despite any and all differences. A life taken, whether right or wrong, is just that -- a life taken.  

If we choose to acknowledge the hate by turning a blind eye, we are not helping the growing situation, we are fueling it. God wants us to love each and every person -- unconditionally. 1 John 4:7 (NIV) says "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God."  He didn't put any stipulation on who we are to love, other than "one another." 

In fact, we are to "Get rid of all the bitterness, rage and anger..." according to Ephesians 4:31. It does nothing but breed hate. And hate, my friends, is no bueno. 

I mean, imagine if just you and 2 friends did this. Your acts of kindness will impact all of those involved. Those negative feelings that hate has tried to grow will be counteracted by the positive charge of your act of love. The more acts of love, the more fires of rage that get extinguished. Its an old concept, yes... but it doesn't work if we don't make it work! It doesn't need to start with hundreds -- only one. You, me, that guy sitting across from you right now, your neighbor's cousin's uncle's mother's great Aunt Sally. Just one person can make the difference. 

Let's make love an action and purposefully act out LOVE!! Pinky promise? 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Bold. Are you?

1. (of a person, action or idea) showing an ability to take risks; confident and courageous.
          Synonyms: daring, intrepid, brave, courageous, valiant, valorous, fearless, dauntless.

Would you consider yourself daring? brave? courageous? fearless? BOLD? And if you do, what kind of BOLD are you? Are you a bright, fluorescent, neon BOLD? Or maybe a light lavender BOLD?

And what could make you consider yourself BOLD? Maybe you are someone who likes to take risks. Maybe you like to wear palm tree capris with a bright coral shirt. Maybe you are the first one to speak up when a situation arises with your friends or family. Maybe you have taken a stand and fought for a cause. 

Whatever your reason, I have the ultimate BOLD move for you. Do you think you are ready? Picture this: 

It is Friday night. You have had a long week with the ups and downs of life. You came home, threw off your clothes and put on your PJs. Pizza has been ordered. You are now ready to plop down on the couch and catch up on all your shows you DVR'd through the busy week. As you are about halfway through the latest episode of The Big Bang Theory, you hear something. You aren't sure that you really heard what you heard. It was faint, but you think to yourself...Did I really just hear God tell me to get up now and follow him? What do you do? How BOLD are you in that moment? Do you get up or shake your head and turn your focus back to your TV, brushing it off as delirium from a crazy week? 

Ok, ok. I know... that's not how it really works. Though, we have read in the Bible that Jesus told his disciples something similar. In Luke 9:23 (NKJV), Jesus says... "...If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow Me." But what does that really mean? 

I'm sure we have all heard the phrase, "well that's the cross I have to bear," when referring to hardships in life. But, I have read that the cross, in Biblical times, symbolizes death. I know what you are thinking ... "So Shell, we are supposed to pick up 'death' daily?" No. its symbolic. See, we were made by God. We were made with a purpose. God has a plan for each and everyone of us. Jeremiah 29:11 tells us that -- "For I know the plans," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." 

Knowing that, what do we still do? Right... we make plans. We decide our career path in life, we decide who we want to marry, how we want to spend our free time, etc. Do we always seek God in the things that we do? Unlikely. 

By picking up the cross (death), we are being told to put our plans to death and follow HIS will. HIS way. HIS purpose for our life. With that in mind, lets read the verse again:

 "...If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow Me."

So ... if you want to give your life to Christ, you will follow Him by denying yourself and taking up the cross (killing the plans that you selfishly made for yourself and follow His plans for you). And -- don't leave out the word daily.

Every single day, when you wake, you are to thank God for your new day and then give your life over to him -- let him guide you and use you for HIS purpose. Live each day for HIM. Let him shine a light so bright in you that all of your friends will need to wear sunglasses!

That, my friends, is the true definition of the word BOLD. It is taking a risk, giving up your life, being brave and courageous -- for Jesus. It is not being stuck in the worldly ways, but doing all things through Him. 

Let me ask you again... Are you BOLD?

Remember... "And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple." - Luke 14:27 (NKJV)

Monday, June 13, 2016

LOVE trumps HATE

I am sure that by now everyone has heard of the tragedy in Orlando. It is on every news station and all over social media. You know, the news about the coward who went into the gay nightclub, Pulse, and killed 49 people, injuring another 53. I have been dealing with such an array of emotions since hearing about what happened. (Many emotions I cannot even quite put into words yet.) Even though I did not know any victim personally, I feel a strong connection to that group deep down in my being. I know I am not the only one, though,  as it isn't just focused on a "group," but on humans, individuals, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, etc. 

See, Tina - my wife - and I were enjoying a quick getaway for the weekend. Since we don't break away that often, we joked that we should be adventurous and search for a club to go to... mingle, listen to music, relax. We would have chosen a gay club. Why? Because that is where we could be ourselves. Our guard could be let down. We wouldn't have to deal with the opinion of others, the hate, the discrimination, etc. because we would be among those who feel as we do and who have faced the same challenges we have. It's safe. Little did we know that God had placed a beautiful Inn in the heart of a beautiful city with so many awesome distractions in our path so that we did not give another passing thought to finding that club to go to.

It took a total of about 5 hours after learning about this horror for the reality to hit us before we were both in tears... in the middle of China Panda, at that.

Pulse was on the list of clubs Tina had initially looked up for us to possibly go to on Saturday. The likelihood of us actually going was beyond slim, but the what ifs that filled our head was too much to think about.  

Because this was a "gay" club, the victims were likely being carefree, enjoying themselves -- guard down -- accepting everyone, including their killer, into their vibe. It hurts my heart so bad to think of this. 

Since the news of this tragedy has surfaced, various groups, churches, and individuals have voiced opinions. Some of the comments are not even worth repeating. But, what has sparked my attention is the amount of churches that have been posting on social media -- asking folks to pray and support the victims and their families. Churches that I know personally do not "accept" members of the LGBT community. Churches that have told me "you can attend, but you cannot serve." 

I will admit that, at first, I was angry. Who are these people to pretend to act like they care about the very same people they turn away and wouldn't welcome? I felt like they were doing right on the surface without sharing true colors. But then I realized something: Maybe this can be a turning point. Maybe this horrendous tragedy wouldn't be worthless. Maybe something good could come from this. Maybe lessons on acceptance and love can be born. Maybe those folks who say "you can attend, but you cannot serve" will realize that we are all the same. We are all children of the same God. We all were born from dust and we will all return to dust. 

Ephesians 4:2 reminds us to "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." Even when we are hurting and especially when we are angry, LOVE trumps HATE. Period. No matter the situation. 

A little girl gets a toy thrown at her by a little boy... she could throw it back or she could get up and hug him. A customer at work could be demanding and difficult... the employee could react harshly or remain pleasant and shower the customer with kindness. A man kills 50 people of a "different" lifestyle ... we could turn a blind eye as the victims were "not worthy" or were "sinners" or "deserved it" OR we could mourn the loss of the victims who died, pray for those struggling in the hospitals and thank God for those who escaped. As for the killer? Tina reminds us of what Jesus says as he is high up on the cross: Luke 23:34 (NIV) "Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing..."

I know its easier said than done, especially when you speak of something so harsh, cold-blooded, and disgusting. But, I will leave you with this: "Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs." Proverbs 10:12 (NIV). 
Do you really want to fight fire with fire? I am no genius, but I believe water is much more effective. 


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Two years

Its almost June 2016. That means it is almost 2 years since I've heard my dad's voice. Two years since I've heard his thinking on the other end of the phone, trying to keep me on the line longer (no matter how big of a hurry I was in.) Two years since I could reach out to him for his advice. And, two years of not feeling his strong hugs, always full of unconditional love. Sometimes thinking about him just gets the better of me. I get lost in thought...we were moving back to Florida and my dad was happy about that -- but he was supposed to be here when we got here! Things weren't supposed to happen the way that they did! Well, at least not in my version of the story.

Moving back, my heart was comforted knowing that I would have my new family in the same place as my parents. We would get to spend time with my mom and dad. Dad was supposed to be a dad to us girls, and a positive influence & role model for my stepson. He was supposed to be there with his simple, corny jokes when we needed to laugh or to listen and advise when the car was making a funny noise. He was going to call us to make sure we were safe at night. And, comfort us in knowing that mom was safe and cared for.  

I've been pretty silent with my grief, for the most part. Especially as time passes. In a discussion with my partner recently, I voiced how my heart is still not settled on how everything happened two years ago. Questioning whether or not we made the right decision in removing the life support so quickly. The "what-ifs?" play in my head so often that it sometimes causes me to break down.

Do you know what she said after I shared my thoughts? She said that God holds the time card. And if it was his time, it was his time... If it wasn't? There is no amount of machinery or decisions or doctors that could have changed that. He would have woke up. Boy do I admire her faith. As much as I want to keep saying, "but still... what if?" In all fairness, she is right. Deep down, I do believe that. 

At his bedside, I remember my Aunt Karen reading John 14:3 - "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am." So even though I am questioning all the things that cannot be undone, I can stop questioning where and how my dad is, for we know he is with God. And, ultimately, that is what matters, right? 

As we approach June and all of these significant dates - Father's Day, his birthday, the anniversary of his death - I am going to turn my heart and my eyes to God with prayers for peace and comfort. After all, Matthew 5:4 reminds us that "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." Two years later and I am still mourning -- I know you see me, God. But, do hear me?

My dad was one of my biggest supporters when it came to my writing and one of the biggest reasons I started this blog. And since he isn't here to read this when it posts, I'd like to think he is here with me, reading as I write -- here's to you, dad. I miss you more than you could possibly know. Not a day goes by that I don't think of you. I hear a song or a situation that reminds me of you. I wish you were here when I don't understand the many things you were so good at -- I mean, if you were here, I know our noisy washing machine wouldn't overtake all other noise in our house because you would know how to fix it. I miss you for mom's loss and hurt and all that she is having to learn in her new life on her own. I miss the most honest, perfect, handsome example of a man that you were and still are -- only now in my heart. With each day that passes, I hope I make you even a little bit as proud to have been my father, as I am to be your daughter. I love you with all my heart. P.S -- mom is doing great, you would be so proud of her! <3 <3 <3

Friday, May 20, 2016

The great debate

We all have rough days every now and then. And since we know that God is guiding us every single moment along the way, when something bad happens or a struggle arises, we know that He either put it in our path or, at the very least, knew it was coming. These moments can cause us to cry out to him, yes. And many times we say (or hear) the phrases "God is testing me" or "God is tempting me." But is he really? Does our all-forgiving God actually test us? Does he tempt us?

That brings me to this: The tempt vs. test debate. Have you heard of it? Well if you haven't, it is your lucky day. And, if you have... perhaps you can get some sort of small reminder from this post.

Before we more forward, lets take a closer look at Webster's meaning of the words test  and tempt.

Test: "a critical examination, observation, or evaluation..." or "... something...for measuring the skill, knowledge, intelligence, capacities or aptitudes of an individual or group."

Tempt: "to cause (someone) to do or want to do something even though it may be wrong, bad or unwise."

Even though we may intertwine these words sometimes, defining them shows a clear difference!

So... Does God test us?

When we were kids in school, teachers taught us for our benefit, didn't they?  They would give tests to see what we have learned - to see what our brains had retained, right? Well, God is our greatest teacher. He wants to know what we have learned, too. Except he focuses on our HEARTS. Deuteronomy 8:2 (NIV) says "Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands." Granted, we are not all led into the wilderness, but he doesn't have to send us there to find out what is in our hearts. He can do so by testing us at any given point on our journey.

We may be walking through life just as happy as a pig in mud when all of a sudden something happens that wipes our smile straight off our face... and sends us into a period of trial; a rough patch; to the bottom of a really tall mountain. What do you do? How do you handle it? Jeremiah 17:7 (NLT) says "Blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence." Maybe God wants to see if you turn to him and follow as you have been taught - "Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you... " Psalm 55:22 (NIV).

Or maybe he is testing your faith. Did you ever think about that? When he sends your life into what may feel like a downward spiral, are you still frowning? Or are you rejoicing because your faith in God is so strong that it overcomes any obstacle? James 1:2-4 (NIV) says, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."  Yes, I just said that - find joy in your trials. Uh-huh. Sounds odd, right? And hard. I know. But think about it this way -- You walk through life, happily spreading the word of God and all that He is, all that He has done, and all that He can do... and then, when you come to a difficult point, do you turn away from him? Do you get angry? Or do you open your eyes and realize that your faith is being tested, smile, "...show that your faith is genuine," 1Peter 1:7 (NLT), and move ahead? After all, if you truly believe God is the Almighty,  is your Creator and can move mountains and part waters -- then you would truly believe that he has your back in a time of need better than any friend or family member ever could. With God, you are golden, my friend -- no need to fret!

Now, what about temptation. Does God really tempt us? 

The definition above says that a temptation may entice us to do something  "even though it may be wrong, bad or unwise." Why would God do that? He doesn't. James 1:13 (NIV) says "When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone." Our God isn't like that. He wouldn't lead us to something that could harm us when he went to all the trouble to send his son here to be crucified for the forgiveness of our sins - only to tempt us to sin? Sounds a little foolish, don't ya think? My God, well, he just is not foolish. 

Yes, we are tempted. We ALL have at least one vice that tempts us. And God sees this. I mean, He sees everything. But did he lead you to that temptation? For example, does he pave the path for the alcoholic to walk right into a bottle of vodka? No. Satan may, of course. He may tempt us-- Try to entice us to commit sins. But God does not put these evil desires into the very hearts that he hopes to have filled with love!! 

Think about it -- even Jesus was tempted! Matthew 4:1 (NIV) tells us that "Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil." See those words? Tempted - by the devil. NOT GOD!

It is in times of temptation that we need to turn to God for strength to get us through -- to overcome temptation. After all, he didn't lead us to it, but he can save us from it... IF WE BELIEVE! 

Well, there you have it, folks. My version of the great debate. My God is an AWESOME God. He tests us to make sure we remember he is there and that our hearts are pure. And when we do succumb to temptation that leads us to sin, he is still ALWAYS there for us. We are human and we all mess up -- and how comforting is it to know that God is forgiving when we do?! 

I'm going to close with the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13)... We have all said this so many times. But today, look more carefully at the words: 

Our Father, which art in heaven, 
Hallowed by the Name. 
Thy Kingdom come. 
Thy will be done in earth, 
As it is in heaven. 
Give us this day our daily bread. 
And forgive us our trespasses, 
As we forgive them that trespass against us. 
And lead us not into temptation, 
But deliver us from evil
For thine is the kingdom, 
And the power, and the glory, 
For ever.