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..."




Monday, November 14, 2016

Reach out

Sometimes I forget why I chose to do what I do. I made a huge change in my life recently, trying to transition into writing full-time. In order to do that, I have had to learn a great deal. I have spent so much time researching, reading, searching, writing, reviewing, posting, etc. that I sometimes have to stop and remind myself that it is for God that I write. I mean, it is for him that I am even able to write! I started this goal with him in mind -- build an audience, create a platform, share God's word. When I start to feel a little off, I begin to find that I have lost my focus; I have started to look too much into how to succeed as a writer, rather than looking at God and succeeding as his disciple. 

I am sure I am not the only one who finds herself in this situation. I know many of you believe in God (if you don't, we need to talk) and have God in the forefront of your mind. Do you ever forget to focus on the real reason you are here? Do you get caught up in the business of human existence rather than preparation for your eternal existence? 

Let your eyes look straight ahead, And your eyelids look right before you. Ponder the path of your feet, And let all your ways be established. - Proverbs 4:25-26 (NKJV)

The most simple answer to combat this would be to never lose focus -- never lose sight of God. But he created us as humans and, well, we are quite a bit faulty. We are going to lose focus and we are going to mess up (thankfully, he is so forgiving!) So the 2nd best thing to do would be to make sure you remain in touch with yourself and you will know when you are not feeling right. When things just seem to be out of whack, your attention is hard to find, or you feel a bit off balance -- that is when you know you need to reconnect and find God. Ignoring these feelings will only push you further and further away from him. 

Today is one of those days for me. I am taking some time to think, to talk to God, and to get back on my track. I know that he is still there, he is just waiting for me to push my door back open. I need him to continue my climb in life.

He is waiting for you, too. Seek him first.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

He is so much bigger

As of the time I am writing this blog, it is election day and the polls are still open. I have an idea of the outcome, but I cannot predict a winner. I cannot even really say with confidence that we will know who that winner is tonight... I have a feeling that is not going to be so easy this time around. I did, however, cast my vote early and I do have my eye on a particular candidate. 

In all honesty, I have gotten more involved with my emotions personally than I ever have in an election. Perhaps it is because its outcome could intimately affect me and my family in ways that it may not affect yours. Or perhaps it is because I get frustrated at those around me casting votes based on the sex or race of a candidate or because they are followers rather than free-thinkers. 

Voting is not to be taken lightly. The outcome can have real affects on real people. 

I wanted to tell people (and I think I actually did tell a few) "if you don't know who you are voting for or you don't care, then think of me. Think of Tina. Think of my family. Protect us." And I found myself getting upset because it didn't seem to matter. This was something so real and close to home to me and I didn't understand how those who love me didn't care. (And, yes, I know... it is not all about me).

Then, I stopped and listened. I calmed my fears and came to this reality -- It doesn't matter. Really, it doesn't. No, sir. Why on earth have I been letting myself get so emotionally involved and upset in a political election!? See, the government may control the speed I can legally drive or the amount of taxes I pay, but they do not control me. I abide by the government's laws, but only because God wants me to. He is the ultimate, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. 

"The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good." - Proverbs 15:3 (NIV). He sees it all and he knows the wicked from the good. Am I going to remain caught up in politics? Or am I going to remain focused on God? Am I going to worry about who may or may not affect me here on earth? Or am I going to trust that God has a plan for anything and everything that I may encounter? Am I going to show all that is good to God? Or am I going to fall victim to the wicked ways of our self-absorbed society? 

Trump or Hillary may end up being declared the next President of the United States by the time this blog posts and my family is still going to be intact. We will get by and we will do what we need to do to take care of our rights in any way that we can. God has been so good to us and has protected us, provided for us, and guided us this far...and he surely isn't going anywhere! 

Even those who don't realize that God is watching over them, have his protection. All the hate that has been breeding because of this election is not pulling us toward God, but dragging us further away. Hebrew 12:2(MSG) reminds us to, "Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed - that exhilarating finish in and with God - he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he's there, in the place of honor, right alongside God."

LIFE IS SO MUCH MORE THAN ELECTION DAY. No matter who is elected to lead our country, we will still have love, each other, the moon, the sun, the wildflowers, and God. That does not change.

Remember what is important and, tomorrow, re-build any bridges that may have been torn down over an election that we could never control in the first place. God is good. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Day ONE

Today is the first day of the rest of your life. It begins now. Everything that you did five years ago, last week, or even 30 seconds go does not count. All of who you were does not have to be who you are. When was the last time you considered that? 

We always try to be someone we are not. We are always trying to keep up with the Jones'. We put on a smile when we are sad. We act as though our lives are perfect when we know deep down that nothing is perfect. Social media has opened a platform for us to portray an unrealistic image of our lives. Our fake portrayal can even lead to someone else feeling inferior because their life doesn't match up to our perfect fake life. What happened to being real? When did real become not good enough? 

Many, many of us never accept that fact that it is just fine to be who we are; to be who we were made to be. We even try beating ourselves up for our past mistakes. Ecclesiastes 7:20 says, "Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins." We have all done wrong, we have all messed up -- you are not alone. 

Let go of your ties to old friends who you know drag you down. Let go of old habits. Let go of the self-destructive behavior that your past taught you to be so good at. Let go of the guilt. Let go of the hurt. Let go of the pain. Let go of the fake perfection.

You are forgiven for all of that. Completely forgiven. Jesus died for you. And for me. For all of us, really. He died so that we could be free. He took your sins, my sins, the sins of our family, of our friends, of our great aunt Hilda, and even the neighbor's dog. He took them all. And in return, He gave us freedom. 

Now is your chance to start over. 

Now is your chance to find your freedom. 

Now is your chance to do things whole, good, and right. 

Now is your chance to be the person God created you to be. Find the REAL you.

A new day is dawning on the horizon. 
Your day. 
Make something of it. 

DO SOMETHING. 

You have more power than you know. You could let go of everything holding you back and make a huge impact on the world. And, if not the world, then on one person. Even one person. That is enough, isn't it?  

But you cannot move forward until you find the freedom to do so. 

All you have to do is talk to God. Let him know you are ready. Let him know that you are tired of everything that has kept you from him and is still keeping you from him and you are ready to live for him. Ask for forgiveness. Ask for his guidance so that you may travel on the path he laid out for you, rather than your own. 

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" 1 John 1:9

Go on, you can do it. There is no better day than today and no better time than right now. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

Buffalo-sized faith

Have faith. Seems easy to say, right? A co-worker tells you about a problem going on with her family, you tell her "just have faith." Your neighbor lost his job, you tell him, "just have faith." Your best friend thinks her husband is stepping out, you tell her, "just have faith." But what does that mean? How is that comforting for someone? I mean, we say it in moments when people are feeling some awful feelings. How is faith going to help? 

Well...Faith can be defined as having complete trust or confidence in someone or something. As in, placing your trust in God that he knows what he is doing with your life.

Just have faith...


Faith is one of those things you either have or you don't. You cant have more or less faith. If you have faith, then you have faith. See, Jesus said, "...I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it would move. Nothing would be impossible." Matthew 17:20 (NLT) One does not need more faith to do anything. God did not say you need faith as big as a buffalo. No, if you have the tiniest bit, you can move mountains. And, you either have it or you don't. 

Here is something that I have been contemplating lately. If you believe in God, then do you automatically have faith? In other words, do you "get faith" somehow? Or does it come with your belief? For instance, do I have the power to move mountains with a tiny ounce of faith, as long as I believe that God has given me the strength so that I can move them? Feel free to comment below as I'd really like to hear what you have to say. 

"The Lord answered, "If you had faith even as small 
as a mustard seed, you could say to the mulberry tree,
 'May you be uprooted and thrown into the sea,' and it would obey you!" 
- Luke 17:6 (NLT)




Friday, October 21, 2016

I am ready

Every one of us has a story. We all have been through things that have paved out a part of our path thus far. We have been told over and over that everything happens for a reason and God has a plan for all things that happen. Though, sometimes things are so difficult that we have a hard time seeing through the shadows in order to find the light. Some of us may never even find it. 

When bad things happen to us on our journey, I truly believe that our body is so magnificent that it has a built in mechanism that blocks things until you are ready to face them... like, maybe we still need tools that God hasn't lead us to yet, who knows. Whatever the reason, it happened to me. See, for the longest time I was missing a couple years of my life. I knew what years they were, I knew what happened in them, but I couldn't remember exact details...until recently. Over the last couple of months I have been bombarded with memories that I had locked up so deeply in my being. 

Before I go any further, please know that this post is going to be a bit different than normal. And it is going to get a bit personal. Well, ok, A LOT personal. This is my journey for a reason. And now I am being compelled to share, little by little. A few details some of you may already know, but most are stories that I have never told a soul. Until now.

Just shy of a decade ago I found myself in a relationship that consumed me. It started as any normal relationship would... but I was ingested so quickly that I couldn't settle my focus on the things that I had spent my life nourishing -- my relationships with friends & family, my education, my skills. Little did I know that giving up control over those things was only the beginning... 

Life was a whirlwind. Crazy nights, parties, spontaneous adventures. Almost all of these included large amounts of alcohol. Alcohol affects each person differently. Some get giddy, others get sloppy, some get emotional, and the worst ones get angry. My relationship in drunk terms made a giddy person and an angry person. Lets just say I was not the angry one. 

In a span of 2.5 years I learned the following: 

- what it means to relinquish control. 
- how quickly a laugh can turn into a cry. 
- how belittling feels. 
- how it feels to be lifted off the ground by your hair. 
- what its like to look in the mirror and hate what you see and what you stand for.
- what lonely feels like. 
- what broken looks like. 
- how painful words are. 
- how clenching a jaw really hard can somehow lessen the blow of a fist. 
- how hearing something over and over sinks into the fibers that make you. 
- how it feels to hear the hurt of loved ones.
- how ashamed feels. 

I stumbled across a blog the other day looking for posts of things we discover that we do well. I decided to take a step and submit a guest post. I said that I leave well. And I mean that. I do leave well. You know why? Because it took a couple of years, a lot of pain, 1300 miles, and an ounce of strength, but I successfully left and started over. 

It isn't easy for those on the outside of me to understand. I couldn't let those closest to me know what I was going through because it was not as easy as, "just leave." Maybe it was... But not when you are broken down so much that you are unrecognizable to your own self. After all, if you don't know who you are anymore, how can you remember how strong you were or what you used to be capable of? It was easier to keep this all in. Hearing the hurt or judgments of loved ones may have taken me too deep. I knew well enough to know that I couldn't handle that.

I did not write this for pity or for your personal opinions on my life or my decisions. I am writing this from a place of joy. I have come a long way from the person that I was back then. And from the bottom of my heart I believe that if I had not gone through the things that I did, then I would not be who I am today -- no matter how cliche that sounds. 

I have discovered that when I felt so alone, I wasn't. I had God the whole time. I just wish I would've known him then like I do now... though I may not have been so easily broken down and re-molded in the way he needed me to be, right? I'm ok now. I am more than ok. I'm good. I am happy, I am loved, and I am stronger still today than I was yesterday. And I have forgiven - and found forgiveness - on so many levels.

Whatever journey you face in life, know that it builds you up for what is to come. God prepares you for what he has in store for you. I am ready. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. - Romans 5:3-5 (NIV)

You can check out the guest post here:The secret to leaving well
Make sure to check out all of the other blogs at: ilovedevotionals.com It is an awesome and inspirational blog. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Amazing

So I am sitting in Barnes and Noble... mostly for distraction. I find it easier to write when I am not at home where I tend to think of all of the things that I should be doing rather than what I want to do and, well, the writing never makes it out of my head. Anyways... next to me there is a shelf of calendars and planners. Lots of colors, lots to choose from... but one keeps jumping out at me. The cover holds the phrase, "DO SOMETHING AMAZING today." It really got me thinking...


Do we really need a calendar to remind us to do something amazing? Don't we all love doing amazing things? Unless you are ill, a pessimist, or a serious Debbie Downer, I would assume you do. I mean, the feelings we get when we do something amazing should be reason enough, let alone the memories we make. 

The term "amazing" when describing something is subjective and each person determines what he or she constitutes as amazing. But, regardless, when we do something amazing, it is the act of doing something that makes it amazing. Sure, a trail could be amazing, but taking a break from your day to go for a long walk on that trail is what truly makes it amazing. If we never take the trail... then, really, how amazing is it?

So if we enjoy certain things so much, why don't we push all the boring, monotonous activities into the gutter with the garbage? Why are you going to be so busy with pointless things that you need to spend money on a calendar that will remind you to do something that makes you feel good? We live in a world that is so incredibly distracted, constantly stimulated by things that having quiet time is a rarity. And, even then, many of us are taught to "schedule me time" when planning our days. Really... we have to remind ourselves to take time for ourselves. Crazy, right? 

You are smart so lets just think about this for a minute - put it into perspective - shall we?... we spend our time working, running errands, taking care of kids, cleaning, cooking, checking social media, texting, emailing, commuting... filling up our calendars with what we feel are "needs" and "responsibilities" all the while hoping we have time to schedule in "me" time for a couple of minutes before the end of the day... Its no wonder why we need to be reminded to do something amazing!! 

I've never given it this much thought, but this just doesn't seem right. Since we are talking about amazing things... God is amazing. He created an amazing world. We should be enjoying it -- we should be doing amazing work, sharing amazing love, passing on an amazing message of amazing grace, and reminding each other of amazing sacrifice

Taking a break from the life you made for yourself and transporting yourself into the life he gave you... with eyes to see amazing in the ordinary, hands to rebuild the broken, a heart to hold the vulnerable, and a mind to put it all together in the most beneficial way. THAT is amazing. 

Doing "something amazing today" can be something small... you don't have to try to churn huge miracles every single day. That is not what its all about. You just need to not waste this amazing world that your amazing God created. Overflow your heart... 

"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen." - 2 Corinthians 13:14

Here is your reminder -- DO SOMETHING AMAZING TODAY! 


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Love, Love, Love...

The Beatles sang to us, "All you need is love..." and love really is all we need. Well, God, too. We most certainly need him. But God is love, right? ("...God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in them." - 1 John 4:16) The nerd in me just needs to translate that to: If God = Love and if All you need is Love. Then really, ALL YOU NEED IS GOD! You like that, don't you? ha! 

Anyways, moving on. Love... We say that word a lot. Sometimes we mean it, sometimes perhaps we don't, but it is the right thing to say. But is love really just a word? Is it a feeling? Is it an action? 

Of course love is a word, but it is not just a word. It is so much more than that. And yes, it is a feeling. We have loved parents and family members. We have had our first crushes, our first boyfriend/girlfriend, possibly a spouse, kids, pets. We know the feelings that we associate with love because we have felt them. 

But, still, love is greater than that. 

Love is something that we do. We act out love. Let's take a lesson from the big guy, shall we? 1 John 4:9-11 (NIV) says, "This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love; not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." He doesn't simply love us. He intensely cares for, shares and gives to us. One of the most basic principles in Christianity - humility and serving others; selfless devotion to all of our brothers and sisters in Christ. THAT, my friend, is what love is. 

Think about this for a minute: 

You love tootsie pops. You get so excited at the thought of them, placing a Halloween size bag in your shopping cart at the grocery store. As soon as you get to your car, you bust open the bag, pick out your favorite color, yank off the wrapper and stick that sucker in your mouth. Again, you love tootsie pops.  

You had a terrible day at work. The manager that has always seemed to have it out for you caught an honest mistake you made. Instead of discussing it with you, he fired you. Your spouse was laid off from her job a few weeks ago. You head home that day discouraged and a bit upset with the manager for the way he handled the situation. The next weekend you are driving on the highway and see this same manager pulled over with his car hood up. Standing with his hands on either side of his waist, his head down, it is clear that he doesn't know what to do. You push aside any ill feeling you have for this man and you pull over to help. 

I know these are simple examples, but which is the type of love God represents? You already know the answer. Swallowing our pride, remaining humble and willing to serve anyone you see in need represent the true meaning of LOVE. 

To truly love God, we must love each other -- those we like, those we don't and those we don't even know. Go on, spread the love. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Dance, I say

What happens when we receive a gift from God and we don't acknowledge it? What if God were to waltz into your kitchen and cook up a delightful feast and you decide not to eat it? By rejecting his food, are you rejecting God? Oh yes, I believe so. 

God wants us to be happy. He wants us to feel. He wants us to find joy in the gifts he gives us. Sometimes we may want all of these things, too, but we are afraid of the stares, comments and ridicule we may receive from those around us. Sometimes it is hard to be the first to step outside of the norm. 

I was recently reading Matthew 11:17, We played the flute for you, and you did not dance... " and, in the process of my studies, I had listened to a short sermon on it. Pastors Kris Langham and Jonathan Ferguson from Through the Word likened this to a school dance. Do you remember yours? 

Anticipation builds as kids wait weeks for the dance. Days are filled with finding a date, shopping for just the right dress/matching suit, gossiping over who is wearing what and who is going with whom. Then, at last, the day of the dance finally arrives -- the gym is transformed into a fairy-tale setting, the DJ is ready to start blaring his tunes, and the magical moments of memories begin. Except, well, no one is brave enough to step out on the dance floor first! All the kids, decked out in their best school dance attire, stand along the wall, just holding it up.

Why do you think that is? I guess it could vary for each, but I think it all boils down to a lack of confidence -- in ourselves, in our faith. 

See, God gave us music and he wants us to dance. But we focus too much of our time worrying about what everyone else will think that we don't dance. Maybe - in grown up life - it isn't that we are necessarily worried what everyone else will think, but rather we are too busy worrying in general. We spend a lot of time worrying and stressing about our jobs, bills, kids, etc., and not enough time enjoying the precious gifts we receive from our dear God. After all, God has everything taken care of already -- what are you worrying for? (I know, I know... that is a whole different blog for an entirely different day) 
Have faith that you are who God made you to be and have faith that He will provide for your every need. And since you have that covered, take a moment today and make God smile -- turn on some music and dance! Let go and just be!

Monday, September 19, 2016

He gives and He takes away

He was just another man in the park. He was hunched over on a bench staring out into the Intracoastal. He watched people as they walked by -- smiling, nodding. He saw a woman with a dog and held out his hand to show the dog he meant no harm. He was quiet, otherwise. He read his books. Book after book, he read. He even claims to have read the bible several times, cover to cover. He didn’t bother anyone. Even on nights when he was able to collect enough money to buy some beer. He still didn’t bother anyone. He drank his beer on his bench, watching the boats come and go, carrying people of lives different than his. He gets a bag of food and some room temperature bottles of water on this hot day. He smiles and throws his hands up to the sky, “Thank you God you answered my prayers!”

He is the least of these.

His eyes are bright blue. Piercing blue. His hair white with traces of blond and his skin a dark shade of tan. He has been living on the streets for a couple of years now. He had a home. A nice one. He had a job, too. In fact, it wasn’t just any job – he owned the company. He even had a wife and a dog. And then one day his wife got sick. He spent every last dime he had – literally -  to get her the treatment she needed to save her life. He adored her so much that he let her carry his heart in her hands. It wasn’t long until the treatment failed and she lost her battle. He buried her, still holding his heart. A few months later his dog went home to be with her. A broken - and broke - man in an empty house, he turned to anything he could in order to numb his pain. Do you blame him?


He is the least of these. 

She has never told me how she got there, she is just always there. She has made a home on the streets and those who come and go are her family. She organizes, shares, looks out for everyone she meets. She has good intentions, always. But her addiction is hard to fight so she gets sidetracked easily. She was going to get baptized once. She was excited. She told us all about it - when, where, what she was going to wear. We told her we would be there for her... to support her decision. She never showed up. "She isn't feeling well," that is what we were told. We later learn that a man she keeps company with is quite controlling and possibly abusive. She loves him. She wont leave him. Her vicious cycle continues.

She is the least of these. 

She had always wanted to be a nurse. She wanted to help people and knew that she would be good at it. Instead of pursuing her career, she dedicated her life to her family and keeping her home filled with joy, laughter and support. She nurtured her loved ones with every fiber of her being, never disappointing her husband or their children. The day she lost him, though, she lost a piece of herself. With the kids grown, she had no one left to look after. She didn't have long trying to find her new place in the world before her health began failing. She felt helpless and alone for the first time. Who was she going to lean on? Who would be there for her? 

She is the least of these. 

They live in a run-down single room efficiency. With barely enough money to make ends meet, he works hard to provide as best as they can for his young bride and their newborn baby boy. He leaves home for work before the sun rises while she keeps herself busy making their tiny space a home. She sews bright curtains for their 2 tiny windows out of scrap fabric, she uses her talents to paint a mural on the far wall to make the room shine brightly. Her favorite day of the week is Friday. This is when she gathers up as much extra food as they can spare and puts bags together for some neighborhood kids. Sometimes its a couple of pb&j sandwiches, a couple pieces of fruit or some crackers. Other times she will find a sale on bologna and cheese. Yet at other times, its just fruit and crackers. This food allows these kids to eat over the weekend since they are not at school to receive a meal. Yes, she has so little, but gives so much. 

She is the least of these. And she helps the least of these. 

So who are the "least of these," you ask? They are the faces of God. They are the hungry, the thirsty, the helpless and the hurting... "Then these righteous ones will reply, 'Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will say, 'I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'" Matthew 25:37-40 (NLT)

God works through us. He expects us to do as he would. His love in us shines brighter each time we help those who need us. It is a very important part of what it means to be a Christian. Do you honestly think you encounter people in life by accident or coincidence? No, no, friend. There is a reason."With every bone in my body I will praise him: "Lord, who can compare with you? Who else rescues the helpless from the strong? Who else protects the helpless and poor from those who rob them?" - Psalm 35:10 (NLT) 

Turning away from someone because they may not be at the same place in life as you is going against God. We have all been given many blessings and skills. I sometimes think that God gives us these things just to see what we will do with them. Opportunities, money, gifts -- They aren't ours. Therefore, what you have... give it away. You may be surprised at just how you full you feel when you do. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Don't just smack the hurdle - jump it!

What does it mean to forgive? Let's get technical  for a moment, shall we? 

Forgive: "verb stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong): to stop blaming (someone): to stop feeling anger about (something): to forgive someone for (something wrong)..." (Merriam-Webster)

Easier said than done, right? I'll be honest, I don't really have a hard time forgiving folks...for most things. After all, I have done my fair share of crap over the years and I am thankful for the forgiveness I have received from those around me. Besides, who wants to hold on to anger and grudges? -- those aren't any fun! 

But what about something BIG? What if it is more than just forgiving your sister for sneaking something to wear from your closet? What if someone has physically hurt you? What if someone has seriously done wrong to someone you love? What if the actions of this person has caused your life to be different than what you had dreamed of? (whoa, hold up... side thought -- do we really give people that much power?!)

Forgiveness is hard when referring to something severe. Sometimes we try to ignore it rather than face it head on -- i.e. it seems easier to knock the hurdles down (aggressively) than to jump over them. This has been weighing on my heart recently and, because of that, I have been doing a lot of reading, thinking/reflecting and, well... God has got to be tired of hearing me blab! But, really... I know I am not the only one that struggles with this so I feel compelled to share. 

If I asked you who was the single most important person to you, you would likely say God, right? You win an award, you thank God. You sit down to a nice meal, you thank God. You get your broken AC fixed in the middle of summer, you thank God. So I think it is safe to say that his opinion is pretty darn important, right?? Well... let me just tell you what He says... "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48 NKJV).

But...but... but... we aren't perfect, are we? We can't be perfect! We are sinners! We make mistakes! We are HUMAN! Yes, indeed, you sure are. 

"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matthew 6:14-15) 

God forgives us. 

It doesn't matter what sins or wrongs we have committed because ultimately, with repentance, we are forgiven. That is why Jesus died on that cross -- for our imperfections. So those who have wronged you, they deserve forgiveness, too, since Jesus died for all the "whosoevers" in the world -- not just for you.

Maybe you don't think that person deserves it. Maybe they didn't learn their lesson and will do the same thing again next week and next month and 3 years from now. Maybe a piece of your heart is broken due to the pain or heartache. But it just isn't a place to stick your nose. The actions of that person will be something that God will work out with him/her. Not you. No way Jose, think again. That is not why you are here.  

Paul tells us that God wants us to "...be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32) If someone is unkind to you, are you to be unkind to them? No. Love them. I'll say it again. Love them. Forgive them. Do good things for them. Be kind. Be patient. Set an example. Luke 6:27 says, "But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you." A lot of people hated Jesus. He loved them. He still does. 

I know some scars run deep and forgiveness is not something that can happen overnight. Boy, do I know. But it is something to work on - daily. Baby steps. Seek God and ask for him to guide you. He can show you ways to forgive. And, once that day comes, you will feel so incredibly free. I promise you. 

***UPDATE: It is funny how this seems to happen. Shortly after writing this blog and publishing it, I was checking out CNN online. I started reading a story called, "Real 'Fault In Our Stars' Couple Takes a Tragic Turn"  ...You will have to read the story, but as the girl is talking about God taking her home she says this: "Just love each other," she said. "If somebody makes you mad, just forgive them." A simple and pure statement from someone who is running out of time to forgive. Wait - Aren't we all running out of time?  

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Scratchy, Scratchy

You have 22 minutes until your kids will be home from school and you want to finish reading as much of your latest book as possible. You are relaxed, kindle clutched in your hands, you exhale and begin reading. You tell yourself, twenty-two minutes and no distractions. Then it happens. Just a little at first. A small persistent itch in the middle of your back. You know you do not have much time, so you try to remain focused on your book. Keep reading, it will go away. It doesnt stop. Now it is growing stronger and you find yourself unable to comprehend what you are reading. Gotta scratch! Gotta scratch!! Oh my goodness! Scraaaaatchhhh!!!!! You drop the kindle in your lap and head straight for the attack. Except there is only one problem: You cannot reach it. No matter which angle you try, the itch is just out of reach of your fingertips. Now you have to jump up, find the nearest corner in your house to slide your back on - back and forth - until it goes away. Those 22 minutes? Now you are down to about 8. 

Has this ever happened to you? Can you relate it to a similar situation? How many times have you had something that you wanted to do and, no matter how hard you tried or how meticulously you planned, something kept you from doing it? Proverbs 16:9 (NKJV) tells us that, "A man's heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps." Though, if you really think about it, sometimes it is as if we pull up our britches, put our thumbs in our ears, wiggle our fingers and stick our tongues out and tell God, "Thanks, but no thanks...I prefer to make my own route." I do not know what in the world makes us think we can tell God which way we want to go. Yet, we do. All the time.

Follow your wants and this is likely how life turns out... 

Perhaps a better suggestion would be to follow what Jesus said in Matthew 6:33 (NKJV), "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." See, Jesus says, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also," Matthew 6:21. Our treasures are our desires. They are our likely selfish wants in life. If our eyes are not focused on God and letting him direct our paths, then our hearts are following the wrong treasure. 

If you want to read and you get a persistent urge to do something else (i.e. scratch yourself) -- is that a coincidence? Is the itch merely just an itch? Or if, on the way to head out to a late night movie you suddenly get a strong urge to watch a movie with your kids at home instead. Do you think it is coincidence? Maybe some connection with your child that night is meant to come back to them later on in life? Maybe they would have missed that if you weren't there? You go to college to become a defense lawyer. You give up a huge chunk of your life to studying and finally finish. Your plan is to score a position with a big firm, making enough money to live a very, very comfortable life. Instead, you find yourself working in the Public Defender's office and your heart gets filled by the indigent folks you come in contact with. You cannot seem to quit. That very comfortable life came about, just with a different treasure than money. Coincidence? 

My point is, God always has us on a path. We may make our own route (or at least think that we are) but those are just simply short detours. After all, I am sure God knows some of us will meander a lot more than others. He is always there trying to pull us back. Some urges are extremely persistent and they don't go away until you address them. And, quite often, when you direct your attention to that urge, you may discover a greater peace at the end of that particular path. Was that God? I like to think so. 

This blog came about because of an extremely persistent urge. Perhaps it is meant for you. 

There are no coincidences in life. Listen for God. If you don't hear him, ask him to show you. Then be patient. 

"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 (NIV)