Thursday, July 30, 2015

Blessing by default

My family received a blessing by default today. How do you get a blessing by default you ask? Well, its when someone you love gets a blessing and it just blesses you because it blesses them. Make sense? Are you following me here? Pay attention. 

My stepson is the one who got some great news today. A blessing. An opportunity for his future. You see, he is 16 years old and very much a teenage boy. He loves being busy as much as he loves sleeping. He loves being active in sports, at the gym or in the pool. Not to mention he loves looking at himself in the mirror to see the latest progress of his fitness quest... and sometimes we just have to shake our heads and silently giggle while watching him do so. 

He loves music and sneakers and seems to just know everything about being 'hip' in the world today. In fact, he probably would fill me in on the word that is used today instead of the outdated word 'hip.' 

And lucky for us, he still gives us the opportunity to spend time with him. (In other words, we are past the point where he thinks we are so un-cool that he avoids us like the plague). He is quiet until he is comfortable... then he has a personality similar to that of a class clown. He is witty and fun. He knows how to make people laugh. Yet, he also has a quieter side... a side that many people don't see too often. It is as almost if he knows when someone is maybe feeling down or feeling like they don't belong... he reaches out to them and tries to lift their spirits. I've witnessed this a lot. He has even done it to me. (I secretly pray that this blossoms into an outward trait that he allows more people to witness and learn from). 

I say all of this because, despite all of these beautiful characteristics, he is still a teenage boy who struggles just as any other teenager. We have all experienced life differently and have all learned how to handle difficult situations in different manners, at different times. He has struggled in school - not academically, as he is very bright - but with handling certain interactions. After dealings with the schools and teachers and counselors over the last few years, solely struggling to obtain their support, he ended this last school year on an upward swing. He is proud. And so are we. 

He is starting high school this year and applied for a school that has a Marines JROTC program in our area - the only one of its kind here....and he REALLY wanted to get in, but they are selective due to limited availability. This is a program that would teach him leadership skills, discipline, team building, motivation, loyalty, citizenship... the list goes on and on. There are missions and physical endurance tests, competitions, etc. It is all lead by marines or former marines. It is a step in a positive direction for a young man like him. And he WANTS to be a part of it, which makes it even sweeter.

We have been praying and hoping that he would get accepted. That this is something that could prepare him for success, rather than failure. It can lift him up, keep him focused, positive, and have his eyes toward something bright, rather than to follow peers toward a dark path. And who knows? Maybe he can help some of his struggling friends turn over a new leaf, too, along the way!

Ready for the blessing? We found out today that he got in!! I know to some of you it may seem menial, but the struggles and heartache we have been through over the last few years seem to be washed away knowing he has this opportunity. 
I call this a blessing because that is what it is. And if I tell you how this happened, it is evident it was all part of a plan. And since we don't make our own plans, there was some divine interaction. See, his school in our district doesn't have a very good reputation, so we enrolled him in a charter school so he had a better chance of success. He was all set ... even deciding that he wanted to try out for football. The ordeal we have been through to get all of the necessary physical records, shot records, physician signed forms to get approved to even attend the tryouts has been such a chore. So much so that  we just have to laugh... like, this is ridiculous! Despite feeling disappointed, while at dinner the other night my stepson said "maybe God just doesn't want me to play football because I could injure an ankle or something..." and shrugged his shoulders. 

Then, out of the blue last week... long after schools have chosen their students for special 'choice' programs... we get an envelope with one single sheet of paper in it... advising us that they have a brand new Marine Corps JROTC, as well as an application to complete. One sheet. No other information. We did some research on the program and he was ecstatic. So, we completed the application. When we tried to submit it to the school... the contact information on the application to submit it was not even correct!!! We had to jump through hoops to even get the school to just receive the application!

Honestly, this whole mishap thing has been going on for weeks... and I say we have been dealing with it, but really, my partner has been working her butt off... smacking her forehead on the steering wheel a few times wondering why the process was just so difficult!

Then, we got our answer... he wasn't supposed to go to that charter school and play football after all. Glad we checked the mail! Remember, this girl does not believe in coincidences!

Just a reminder that even when we try to move our life in one direction on our own, its not our plan that matters. God always has a way of re-directing us.  "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11

Friday, July 24, 2015

MY moment. Finally.

I just have a short little something important I want to share today. 

I have spent a lot of time around people who are busting at the seams with faith... and I admire how they feel it. I have faith, but I have never been moved like some people I know. I see people full of such emotion and talk with such confidence about their faith and about God... and I have always felt a little, well, not so "full," I guess. Not quite sure how to describe it... but its almost like their book had a chapter mine didn't! 

Well I am here to tell you that I had MY moment two nights ago. 

I was driving home after having dinner with my mom when a song came on the radio. Now, I have heard this song many, many times. But apparently I would just sing along without really hearing the lyrics.  (Or maybe it just wasn't my time to hear them). Because something happened that night. I got hit with such emotion that I could hardly maintain control of my car. 

I have heard this song so m any times before, so I never would have expected this overflow of emotion...

Just take a look at these lyrics (You Love Me Anyway by Sidewalk Prophets), especially the second half: 

A question was raised
As my conscience fell
A silly, little lie
It didn’t mean much
But it lingers still
In the corner of my mind

Still you call me to walk
On the edge of this world
To spread my dreams and fly
But the future's so far
My heart is so frail
I think I'd rather stay inside

But You love me anyway
It's like nothing in life that I've ever known
You love me anyway
Oh Lord, how You love me
How You love me

It took more than my strength
To simply be still
To seek but never find
All the reasons we change
The reasons I doubt
And why do loved ones have to die?

I am the thorn in Your crown
But You love me anyway
I am the sweat from Your brow
But You love me anyway
I am the nail in Your wrist
But You love me anyway
I am Judas' kiss
But You love me anyway

See now, I am the man that called out from the crowd
For Your blood to be spilled on this earth shaking ground
Yes then, I turned away with this smile on my face
With this sin in my heart tried to bury Your grace
And then alone in the night, I still called out for You
So ashamed of my life, my life, my life

You love me, You love me
You love me, You love me
How You love me
How You love me

I can honestly tell you that I must have some deep down shame somewhere that I didn’t know I had. Something that must have been keeping me from feeling like God could truly love me or that I was worthy of His love. But this particular night, the words, “But you loved me anyway…” hit me hard. And I have felt such an immense change inside myself that I cannot even explain. I will be cliché and say that it feels exactly like a huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders.

All from a song I have heard a hundred times before.

I told ya this blog would be short and sweet. Thanks for letting me share! Now…. take a minute and listen to the song that I feel just changed my life!

No copyright is claimed in the above song lyrics and YouTube video and to the extent that material may appear to be infringed, I assert that such alleged infringement is permissible under fair use principles in U.S. copyright laws. If you believe material has been used in an unauthorized manner, please contact the poster. Music and lyrics belong to Sidewalk Prophets. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Go find a mirror.

I read something the other day that resonated with me. Maybe its because of a few things that I am struggling with internally or maybe its just a simple, powerful verse. Either way, it has stayed with me and I knew it would be great to share. (In more version than one!)

Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love. - 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (NLT)

Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.  - 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (NKJV)

Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. Let all your things be done with charity. - 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (KJV)

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love. - 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (NIV)

Ok, it looks fairly straightforward, right? I mean, a mixture of simple statements telling you how to behave and how to face life. So, I guess the question is.... do you? Yes, that is ME asking YOU that if you take a close, hard look in the mirror, would you see a watchful, courageous, strong-faithed, unconditionally loving person? Or would you see a broken being who needs a fight song; an anthem, so-to-speak? I bet if we are all HONEST, it will be the latter. (you know darn well there is no such thing as human perfection). 
Maybe this verse could be your anthem. You know, your "I'm going to be stronger and more confident than I was a few minutes ago" anthem. Let's see... 

Being on guard or watchful. For what? Of what? Well for starters, when you have strong beliefs, getting tempted, debated or tricked is always a possiblity. Believe it or not, there is always someone, something or maybe some spiritual being just waiting for you to let your guard down so that they may tear you down. If they succeed, it only takes a moment for you to lose sight of what is important and succumb to actions you may later regret. Don't give just anyone an opportunity to cross your fence.

That goes hand-in-hand with standing "firm in the faith." If you hold on to your faith, you know where you came from and where you are going. You know who you answer to and who should ignore. You have guidance. Be still and listen for it. Follow it.    

In that mirror, are you courageous? Are you brave? I know some days I feel more courageous and brave than others. It can even change by the moment! ...

I could be heading to a meeting with a group of strangers and my very introverted self will be beaming with positivity - carrying a full load of courage and a smile from ear to ear. In my head, I may even be skipping and singing, "I'm walking on sunshine, whoa oh, And don't it feel good?! Yeah!"  But, then... it happens... I walk into the room and -  GULP! - <courage exits, stage right> Now what?! Sigh. This is usually when I give a soft "Hi!" and find myself a quiet place to sit and think about where my courage went and how to get it back.  I pray on this, A LOT!

I don't necessarily believe that is the exact meaning of courageous and bravery that Paul was referring to. But its the day to day courage I need. Im sure it has more to do with standing up to those who are against us. Sticking out like a chicken in a dog show and not bowing down when a challenge arises. Fighting battles without caving in. This, in turn, is also why we need to stay strong. After all, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" Romans 8:31.  He gives us all of the strength that we need. 

Lastly... love (and charity). Selfless giving. the kind of love and charity you don't encounter every day. Its rare. Many of us have good intentions. We don't like to see people cry or hurting, suffering or in need. But it is so much easier to turn our backs and continue moving forward in our lives, worrying solely about ourselves and those close to us, than it is to stop and give up our time, energy and resources to help someone else. Maybe we even think that because we thought about it, that is enough. Maybe we think that if we stray from the "in" crowd and immerse ourselves in a crowd that needs a hand, or a bit of faith, that we will be looked upon differently. Whatever our reason is, it isn't good enough. BOOM! How'd ya like them apples, sweet cheeks? Let me repeat: Your reason is not good enough! We are all already different and that money, time and energy you have is what God gave you to do His work, not your own. Thoughts are NOT actions. Get up and make a difference. Give your heart. Give until you cant give any more. Then give some more.

This. Life. Is. Not. About. You.
Remember that. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Hang up and try your call again

You decide to call your best friend. You dial the number and put the phone up to your ear, patiently waiting to hear the sound of ringing.... and knowing that your friend will be on the other end of the line soon. But, the ringing never happens. Instead, you hear a loud chiming noise that causes you to pull the phone away from your ear and form your face into a dramatic perplexed look. Why on earth did you get the operator instead of your friend? 

"The telephone number you are calling has been disconnected. Please check the number you are calling and dial again. Goodbye." 

But wait! What?! Don't hang up! I want my friend! What do you mean its disconnected!? Where did my friend go?! Why would she do that without telling me?! And how do you just tell someone that a number is disconnected and then say goodbye?! Its like telling me my friend disappeared with no explanation! Sigh. What to do? 

Do you ever feel this way? Like you are disconnected to something or someone? From your family, your friends, your job, your life, God? D - All of the above? I think we all do at some point, whether emotionally or spiritually.  

In fact, I seem to have a few days every month or two when I feel this way. Including now. It doesn't last long, but I think it happens when I have a lot of things on my plate - juggling different tasks and people. Its hard to concentrate and focus and I seem to place God on the back burner, as much as I hate to admit that.  
The important thing is that I know I am not the only one who feels this way from time to time. Come on, you know you have felt this way. Yes, you. The one reading this who is shaking his head feeling pity for my disconnect. Or, maybe the one who is shaking her head in agreement because she is feeling lost a lonely now, too. 

Whether you are out of touch now, have been in the past, or may be in the future, Ive learned some tips that I try to follow myself. 

Time for yourself. This is important. Make sure that you are not letting the actions of your day take up all the minutes of your day. Whether its time for yourself to read a book, watch a movie, take a long hot bath... you need to make time. If you are a list maker, add it to your list. If you go by a strict schedule, pencil 'me time' in. If you are like me and you try to plan but life never goes as planned, put a reminder in your phone to continuously ding every 9 minutes until you STOP and do something for yourself. Sometimes just taking a few minutes to step away can allow your mind to re-focus. 

Talk to your spouse, family or friend. Let them know how you are feeling. Perhaps there is something they can say to make you feel a little less disconnected. Or maybe a long hug and a laugh can give you what you need. And, sometimes, just feeling the connection to a loved one is enough to bring you right back to your happy place!  

Pray on it. (This probably should have been numero uno on the list. But, hey, lets just say I saved the best for last.) God can work miracles. And if you are feeling disconnected, hopeless, overwhelmed. yadda yadda yadda.... chances are He can help. 

I don't know about you, but when I am feeling disconnected, I tend to turn inwards. I don't talk too much to others, and that includes God. We get a little lost in our thoughts and in our selves. God knows what we are thinking, so when we are lost in our thoughts and they aren't focused on Him, well, that could be our first problem, don't ya think? So, Pray. Talk to God. Let Him know what is going on and ask for mercy. You can share anything you want with Him. The more you talk, the more you pray, the more connected you will feel. I promise.

Disclaimer: The above won't dissolve disconnected feelings for forever. But, when I am down, these are just a few ideas that help. I thought maybe they can help you, too. I cannot guarantee they will work, just as you cannot guarantee you will use them. 

If nothing else, when you are not feeling like yourself, let this be your mantra until ya get back to where you belong: 

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow - not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below - indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

In other words... HE has got your back, baby. You are in good hands. Now, go smile and plug yourself back in!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Hearts cannot hide

Hey! Check out these awesome pics!

Check out this donkey! Cute, eh?

Or how about this hot rod... I have a secret love for mustangs! Do you like this yellow one? I sure do. 

Lets see... what else can I share with you today? Hmm. Oh! I know! I took a picture outside this morning - so sunny and BEAUTIFUL, don't you think? 
Don't adjust your screen. Don't think I am crazy. And quit scratching your head! You know that really was a cow and not a donkey, right? Good. Just checking. That means that you likely didn't fall for the orange Gremlin being a yellow mustang and the rainy day being a beautiful sunny day, right? Good. We are making progress, folks!
If you tell your family or friends that you have a part-time job as a roadie for the Newsboys or that you are actually famous in Italy for your piano compositions, will they believe you? Probably not. And why? Because they know you and they are close to you. 

"What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say" - Ralph Waldo Emerson. 

Here is another example - You tell God that you are willing to succumb to His greatness and follow His will for your life. You tell Him you are going to come to church one day, but that its just so hard because you work so many hours and you cannot work less hours, of course, because then you can't pay your bills, right? Sigh. Life is hard, I know - You want to worship God, but you have to work to make money in order to support yourself.  So... um, uh, did you just put money before God? oh, goodness, I think you did. And to think He has even told you that He always provides! Or maybe you were too busy focusing on money that you missed that part!

It doesn't have to be money, it could be anything -- sleep, attention/acknowledgment, cars, sex, a loved one, a hobby, or any <insert superb noun (or verb, for that matter) of choice> that we focus our attention on rather than Him. FORSAKE ALL THINGS FALSE.

You may think you are fooling someone, but GOD SEES EVERYTHING. And I mean EVERYTHING! He knows you better than your friends and family. You tell Him you want Him to be there for you, to look out for your loved ones, to help you with this, to give you that. But where is your heart? 

Joshua told the Israelites that they had an important decision to make -- whether they wanted to serve God or serve their idols. Serving both is a hypocrisy! In Isaiah 29:13 we learn - "The Lord says: These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." 

Remember this: He is watching you... and He knows where your heart is even if you try to hide it with your words. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Promises for fools

Verbal promises, signed promises, handshakes, pinky swears... Do you take promises seriously or do you have great intentions, but not always follow through? Personally, I have wonderful intentions with promises, but it doesn't always go as planned. 

Promises can be made for all sorts of things - to pay back borrowed money, to stop an addiction, a promise to a child of play time, a promise to attend a meeting, a promise of support and love to a spouse. And, of course, there is always a promise to God. 

Ecclesiastes 5:4-5 says, "When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it." Well, guess what, folks? I think I am a fool. I made a promise to God and I did not fulfill it. YET. 

Well, wait. Does that make me a fool, then? If I intend on fulfilling it, but I haven't yet? Sigh... I should have known better than to try to make a deal with the big guy!

Several months ago I had made a promise to God that I was going to take better care of myself, physically and mentally. I intended to eat better, exercise, not forget to take my vitamins, and make sure I had a few minutes each day for reflection. But, let me explain what happened. See, the wagon I was riding in was on this really bumpy, unpaved road with SO many incredible sights to see and, well, I had taken my seat belt off for just a moment and, well... I fell off the wagon. There, I said it. I just fell off. Sigh... Some of my loved ones are still strapped in and doing well. But, I just finished brushing the dirt off my clothes and bandaging my injuries. A fall like that is rough, especially when your ride was so good!

I know it may sound vain or superficial... to make a promise to God about being healthy. I mean, there are so many bigger things in the world I could vow to do, right? I know, I know. But this is why I did what I did. I felt bad. I felt like I have failed God in some odd way by not taking care of all that He has given me... including myself. 

So here is the plan... 

Step 1. Talk to God and re-iterate my promise and ask for forgiveness for not following through the first time. 

Step 2. Tell my friends and family so that I am always being held accountable (even when I actually think I am hiding from the man upstairs... shhh... )

Step 3.  Like the wise words of the group 2 Hyped Brothers & a Dog - "Act like a tennis shoe, a just DO IT!" Fulfill the vow. 

Ok, so there it is. Its out there. I have bored you with my blog on failed promises only to reignite my desire to fulfill the promise. Want to join me? What changes do you want to make? -- Quit a bad habit? Dedicate time for family? Join a group for a good cause? Give yourself reflection time each day? -- Even if the bible says only fools make vows to God and do not fulfill them, I dont think we always have to win on the first try. Good intentions and continuous effort, while asking God for strength, really isn't failing, is it? 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Do you have Skittles in your bubble?

WARNING: This post is solely my opinion. Its likely you will disagree - please know that you are entitled to.

Every morning when I wake up, I am bombarded with the news that is happening around the world. Bombings, hostages, sinkholes, mudslides, mass shootings, earthquakes, terror threats, etc. The list can go on and on. Scary, right? Of course! Who wouldn't shudder at the thought of living through a complete nightmare? Or maybe even not living through it at all?

Question: So what do we do? How do we protect our kids and loved ones? 

Society's Answer: Protect them. OVERprotect them. And then protect them some more. Place them in a fake bubble where green grass grows tall with wildflowers under sunny skies. A place where everyone is a winner, everyone is equal, and everyone is always happy. Oh, and did I mention it rains skittles?! 

OK! Reality Check: 

LIFE DOES NOT TAKE PLACE IN A BUBBLE. Let's repeat: LIFE DOES NOT TAKE PLACE IN A BUBBLE. We get knocked down, bruised and scraped, but we can dust ourselves off and get back up, too. We have highs and lows and good and evil. We have choices and decisions and can succumb to temptation. We win and we lose. 

And who would really want to live in a perfectly safe bubble anyways? Think of all that you would miss out on! How can you appreciate how great something is when you havent experienced how bad it could be? I mean, would you even know it was great? How are you going to feel love if a world is full of only good and no heartache? How are you going to learn about yourself? Your strengths? Your weaknesses? Your desires? 

May as well just paint the whole world a shade of bright, fuzzy, happy yellow because that is exactly where we are heading!

I learned not too long ago that kids dont even say the Pledge of Allegiance in school anymore. And forget about singing... "My country tis of thee, sweet land of Liberty, of thee I sing... " That has been thrown out, too. I knew there were some folks wanting it removed, but I had no idea that we actually buckled down and removed the morning ritual! And why? For what reason? Who was it really offending? And what does that one kid have to say about the accommodating change? 

And now, due to all of the issues around the confederate flag, the channel TV Land is discontinuing its showing of Dukes of Hazzard re-runs. Really? Because the General Lee displays a confederate flag? That show is a white, redneck classic! May as well cancel The Jeffersons, too... white folks could start some trouble about the black man moving on up into the "white mans" world. Total ridiculousness. 

Oh, and just this morning - a group is trying to have the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner revised to remove the line "bombs bursting in air." I mean, this totally makes sense -- because those bombs gave proof through the night that our flag was still there. You know, the flag that you dont want to pledge allegiance to anymore. 

Sure, go ahead. Erase history. Pretend it didnt happen. Wrap the present and future up in a nice little tight fitting box with a bow, sans rearview mirror, and pretend we just -- POOF -- arrived here "as is", no prior history, no damage, no successes or failures. Zap your memory. 

We spend so much time trying fix the world so as not to hurt or offend every  individual person that we are only hurting our future. Teaching children in little league games that there is no score - everyone is a winner - and then that kid grows up and the first time he fails at something... uh oh... what do I do? Ive never been in this situation before!

Just let me remind you.. Its GOD's job to protect us and look out for us when we fail. WE do not need to act like God and protect everyone. "The LORD upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down." - Psalms 145:14 WE. ARE. MEANT. TO. FAIL. In fact, I am not an expert, but I do believe that God sent Jesus here to live life as a human, knowing he was going to feel pain - and suffer!

So, let me ask again. 

Question: So what do we do? How do we protect our kids and loved ones? 

Answer: Love them. And let them live and experience ALL that God let's the world show them. Good AND bad, success AND failure. Let them know the hard times we have been through so they can learn, on their own, how to make the future brighter.

Im very liberal in my views and believe very strongly in equality and personal freedom. I do not believe in walking around in a sugarcoated, Willy Wonka-type world, forgetting about our history and the sacrifices that were made. We may not be where we all think we should be as a country, but we are a lot farther than we were... thanks to individuals who fought for something they believed in. Just as we work today to make changes for years to come, we want to progress, but not forget. You cannot get to where you want to go if you dont
remember where you were coming from. 

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