Archive for July, 2012

I love Anne Voskamp’s book titled One Thousand Gifts (http://onethousandgifts.com)  because it beautifully reminds us not to take for granted the small things of life that give us golden moments and carry us through every hour of every day.  She speaks of things like rainbows reflected in soap bubbles and a child’s unexpected laughter, things that happen quickly and are just as quickly missed if we aren’t careful.

God calls us to a life of continual thankfulness.  Yet the world throws so many negatives our way it is difficult to stay in the grateful ring.  We are so busy we never pause to see the minute by minute abundance of God’s goodness.  Or we are so programmed to look for big things we bypass small things.

Giving thanks for small things is really telling God we are satisfied.  We aren’t asking for more. We are accepting that each tiny gladness is more than we deserve and therefore enough. 

I believe God may have given us zucchini as the perfect illustration of this concept.

Hold one single zucchini seed in your hand.  Lift it up to God and declare it to be enough.  Plant the seed and what happens?  Abundance.  A harvest large enough to feed your family with plenty left over to share.  Have you ever known anyone to grow “just enough” zucchini?  It’s impossible.  Zucchini produces more product from a single seed than any other vegetable I know.

I still remember the first time my mom planted a garden when I was about ten years old.  She put in a few tomato bushes, a few radishes, a few carrots and a row of zucchini not realizing a row of zucchini could feed the world.

She harvested and harvested and harvested zucchini.  She cooked it, baked with it, and froze it.  She gave it away to our friends and relatives until they refused to take any more.  She found an old wheelbarrow, filled it and parked it at the end of the driveway with a sign that said “Help Yourself”.  People did but the wheelbarrow never emptied.

That row of zucchini was like the never ending pot of porridge.  Every day mom picked it clean and everyday there was more to pick.  It wasn’t until we got our first hard frost that we were finally able to store the wheelbarrow for the winter.

God’s blessings are like the zucchini seed.  If we will take the time to see them and thank him for them, they will multiply until we have to share them with others.  Every time we pick the blessing bush clean, more blessings appear.  That’s how God planned it.  That’s how God likes it.  And that’s why God instructed His children in the way of thankfulness.

 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

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Our family loves to have ‘family dinners’ on random Sunday evenings when our schedules come together.  We gather at one house, everyone brings something and for a couple of hours we catch up with each other while the cousins run around playing.  My daughter and daughter-in-law are wannabe chefs so the food is always amazing.  Just  this past Sunday we had one and added to the mix were five extra teens invited by the two oldest granddaughters.

It was a mix of boys and girls, some were church friends and some were school friends.  They hung out in the yard with music blasting while they alternated between baseball, croquet, a lot of flirting and a little talking.

When you looked out the window you were struck by one odd sight – the seven year old right in the middle of things.  Yep, in her mind, Brinkley fit right in.  No way was she going to miss her turn at bat or swing of the croquet mallot.  When they took a break, circled up the lawn chairs and kicked back for a chat, she was right there taking part in the conversation.

I was chuckling to myself later thinking about how she wasn’t intimidated to be one of the group.  She didn’t think about being seven.  She didn’t think about the fact that the guests were her sisters’ friends, not hers.  She didn’t care if the conversation was over her head some of the time.  She was immersing herself in a ‘grown up’ world and taking it all in.

By the time Brinkley gets to her teen years, she’ll be well rehearsed thanks to her big sisters.

There’s a lesson there for all of us.  If we want to be more educated in any area, we need to surround ourselves with people who are already more mature in that same area.  What a great thought for Christians.  Start hanging out with the ones who have done their homework and your homework becomes a whole lot easier.

Often we’re embarrassed or too insecure to seek the company of people who have walked their walk a lot longer that we have.  We avoid Bible studies because we don’t want to look like fools when we can’t find the book of Jeremiah or Titus.  We don’t get involved in spiritual discussions because we don’t have scriptures that fall off our tongue at a moment’s notice. We never pray out loud because we don’t feel eloquent or fluent.

Actually, the fastest way to get there is by osmosis.  Let the people we admire in their spiritual maturity rub off on us.  Watch, listen, elbow your way into the mix.  Maybe you can’t hit the ball as hard as they can today but with practice and observation you’ll get there.  The conversation may be over your head right now but the next time it will make more sense.

And don’t forget, everyone has something to bring to the party.  Brinkley loved the older points of view and the more mature topics.  The teens loved Brinkley’s cuteness and little girl outlook.  Mature Christians love the enthusiasm and freshness of baby Christians and baby Christians thrive on the experience of mature Christians.  And all together – we are the body of Christ.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 1 Cor 12:27

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I’ve had to reprocess my thoughts on compassion lately due to some driven-home messages God has subtly planted in my brain as well as my heart.  My top definition for compassion has always been feeling sorry for someone.  Over the years I’ve learned that means putting yourself in their shoes, feeling their pain, and reaching out in love to offer comfort.  I believe those points are accurate.

What was brought home to me recently is the lesson on extending compassion when I don’t feel compassionate.  Kind of like loving your enemy when you don’t.  It’s easy to be compassionate toward a hungry child, a weeping mother, a struggling father.  It’s simple to offer a cup of cold water or a warm hug.

What isn’t so easy is putting an arm around the one who keeps striking out at you and has actually done some pretty serious damage.  I’ve experienced a situation recently in which people who once loved us and would do anything to build us up turned and began to try to destroy us.  Christian people using very unchristian methods and saying very unchristian things. 

I worked through the anger.  I came to the acceptance of letting it go and moving on.  I vowed not to talk about it or allow myself to get dragged into it in any way shape or form.  I moved on.  I began to embrace the beautiful things God was doing in spite of them.  I even thanked God for the time of testing and strengthening. 

But I did not have compassion on them.  This morning I read the 13th chapter of 2 Kings.  The chapter begins with the story of King Jehoahaz who “reigned seventeen years.  He did evil in the eyes of the Lord by following the sins of Jeroboam, son of Nebat.”  By verse 4 Jehoahaz has seen the error of his ways and sot God’s favor.  God gave it and the people escaped from the power of the King of Aram.  But the people “did not turn away from the sins of the house of Jeroboam.”  The story goes on to tell of Jehoash who became king and reigned sixteen years.  “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” 

Finally, in verse 23, about the time you expect God to smite the people for their years of bad behavior it says “the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion and showed concern for them because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Now that’s compassion.  Godly concern from a God who had been denied, ignored, and sinned against time and time again.  All because of His covenant with their ancestors. 

Did I not make a covenant with my Lord when I asked him to live in me?  Do I not seek Christlikeness?  There is a kind of love only Christ can put in my heart that transcends any evil done against me.  God’s heart is broken over every kind of ache or brokenness His children suffer.  He does not have levels of compassion.  It is poured out in equal doses to everyone. 

Today the people in Denver are in pain and mourning a great tragedy in a movie theater and I am moved to tears though I don’t know any of them personally.  Today also, people I do know personally are in pain and striking out in anger, hurt and bitterness.  God’s tears flow at the same rate for the broken people in both situations. 

That is a depth of compassion I am only beginning to explore.  My deep felt prayer is that God will pierce my heart today and everyday with a shard of that level of compassion for the people I would love to hate but know I am called to love.

 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Colossians 3:12

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Wow – I was hit with a huge case of writer’s block yesterday morning as I got ready to post a new blog.  I panicked.  Maybe it was the previous five days of VBS and having to be energetic and creative every day for a crowd of 3 to 12 year olds.  Maybe it was arriving at work and discovering the storm over the weekend had taken out 8 trees and flooded several areas on our campus.  Maybe it was catching my husband drinking directly from the ice tea container.  Maybe it was just the Monday blahs. 

I began to stress about it by 2:00 p.m and panic about it around 4:00 p.m.  I did rough something out but I scrapped it because it was not upbeat enough. 

When my husband suggested an evening motorcycle ride with a stop for dinner I thought, “Perfect.”  The fresh air always stimulates the brain and I was sure I’d return with a plethora of blog ideas.  I didn’t.

I am radically goal oriented and when I started my blog I made a commitment to post every Monday and every Friday.  If I couldn’t come up with something before midnight I would officially have failed.  I racked my brain, thumbed through magazines, brainstormed and prayed.  Nothing.

I woke twice in the night stressing about my failure.  I begged God to give me inspiration.  I actually had a minor panic attack about 3:00 a.m. thinking maybe my creative juices had run out forever and I’ll never have another idea or bright thought again.

I woke this morning with the blog on my mind and I still hadn’t come up with anything.  So here I am writing about not being able to write.  That’s really pulling from the bottom of the barrel.  It’s like turning on the oven when the power has gone off or singing about not being able to sing.  It’s like shopping when all the stores are closed.  Very unsatisfying and very unproductive.

Here’s what I’m doing about it so I won’t be in this position come Friday:

  • Trying not to panic
  • Thinking of other irritating things my spouse does besides drink right from the container.  (I only add this because I realize I could fill a blog with my list.)
  • Listening to every conversation wherever I go to try and net a fragment of an idea (if you are within hearing distance – watch out!)
  • Looking around everywhere I go for beauty or funny or poignant – any of which could trigger an idea
  • Giving it to God (picking it up again, giving it to God, picking it up again, etc)
  • Believing this is only a temporary lull in my otherwise cacophony filled brain
  • Reading back over past writings to remind myself I do have a gift
  • Praying
  • Repeating Matthew 6:27 (Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?) and inserting the words “or a single word to your blog”

So – if you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.  I can honestly say I do not ever remember being hit by writer’s block before so I’m a novice at recovering.

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We are in our third day of Vacation Bible School and I am reminded again of the sheer joy and enthusiasm children have for a positive message and upbeat music.  I love watching little eyes open wide as they hear a Bible story and little bodies wiggle and shake to the beat while singing catchy songs about God’s love.

Ask a question or ask for a personal story in an adult group and it’s like pulling teeth to get a response.  Ask the same thing of children and they can come up with an example or a relevant experience for any topic in seconds.  (Well, maybe not always that relevant but that doesn’t stop them.)  They are so primed to hear, learn and believe.

Last night on the way home in the car I was playing the cd from VBS and I saw my granddaughter, Brinkley, plugging her ears and looking distressed.  I turned down the music and asked what the problem was and she responded, “I don’t want to ruin the surprise.”  The explanation was some of the songs on the cd we hadn’t yet used at VBS and she wanted them to newly experience them with all of the rest of the kids when when we did play them.  She wanted them to be fresh.

Don’t you sometimes long for the time when God’s word was fresh and new and stirred the kind of excitement that made you wiggle all over?  And don’t you wish you still had that childlike acceptance of His promises and assurances?  No doubts, no analyzing, no hesitancy?

What would it take to go back?  Here are my ideas.  I’d love to hear yours.

1)     Get small.  The best thing about kids is they are humble.  They don’t think they know everything and they aren’t afraid to admit it.  They are kids and are fully willing to accept that fact.  They aren’t afraid someone else will think they’re weird or a nerd if they sing loud, move to the beat, clap their hands or laugh when they feel like it.  If we could only let go of our adult when it comes to God things and let Him thrill us and give us wide open eyes experiences.  If we could only stop trying to impress and instead be transparent and open to delight like a child.

2)    Get fun-focused.  The next best thing about kids is they think everything should be fun.  If it’s not fun to start with they will make it fun.  They laugh at serious things.  They dance when decorum is called for. They love hand motions, facial expressions and drama.  Ever thought of getting a scripture memorized by adding hand motions, dance steps or facial expressions to help cement it in your brain?  You might try it.  I’ve learned more scripture by helping with events like VBS thanI have sitting and reading it over and over in an adult manner!

3)    Get bold.  I have two or three kids at VBS who raise their hand the minute a question is asked.  They don’t know the answers but they know a response is called for so they respond.  They take a stab at it and they get recognized for it.  I always call on them because I want to encourage them to keep trying.  Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there even if you aren’t sure of the answer.  Once in a while you hit it and those are treasured moments. Other times, you recognize what you don’t know and you listen better.

4)    Get trusting.  Kids have experienced grief, disappointment, anger, pain, and broken hearts – just like adults.  We tend to disregard the seriousness of those events because they involve not getting invited to a party, not getting to have a dog when you’ve begged and begged and begged, or stubbing a toe and wanting to show off your scar.  So far I haven’t had a child share in class that they don’t believe God loves them because of their painful situation.  They trust that they are lovable and they believe God loves them if you tell them so.  The next time you are in pain or turmoil and a Christian friend tells you God loves you, chose to believe with the untainted trust of a child.  It’s true.  You know it’s true.  Just because you’ve heard it a million times doesn’t make it any less true or any less wonderful.  Let the words make you want to wiggle and shout every time you hear them.

My last piece of advice – get involved with children who are learning about God.  When you do, consider them the teachers and you the student.  Watch, participate, get silly, get open.  The greatest lesson you may learn is immaturity when it comes to accepting what the Bible says.

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Mark 10:14

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We had quite the storm blow through last night.  Of course compared to some of the weather patterns across the nation it was pretty small scale.  But to us it was definitely noteworthy.

My little granddaughter, Brinkley, was over for the evening and we were engaged in a game of Snap (rules being made up as we went along as usual) when my granddaughter, Bailey, called and told us to look outside.  We ran out on the front porch and were treated to a magnificent lightening show over the range of hills several miles from us.  It was close enough to have entertainment value but far enough away to not concern us greatly. 

We watched for a few minutes but given that the temperature was over 100 degrees we soon tired of the activity and returned to our air conditioned living room.  We had hardly gotten back into the game when we heard thunder that rocked house followed by the sound of high winds.  With Brinkley clutching my hand, we stepped back outside. The first thing we noticed was our willow tree looking like it was about to topple over and a dust storm making it difficult to see anything else.  The lights flickered, we lost power, it came back on and then we lost it again- not for long, but long enough to play a quick hand of Snap by candlelight which was great fun for Brinkley.

The storm lasted a couple of hours and then died out as fast as it had come.  Other than a lot of debris in the front yard from the wind and a search for the garbage cans, we were left pretty much untouched.

However, on my way to work this morning I saw several downed trees.  When I got to work and read the paper I found that two homes had burned about 15 miles away, the cause listed as lightening.  About 70 miles away a 20 unit apartment complex burned, the fire also triggered by lightening.

I pondered how shallow my thoughts were once I realized there had been no damage to my home or my family.  It’s easy to close yourself into your own little world and let the tragedies outside be nothing more than news stories – down the block, across town, across the nation, on the other side of the world.   All the time I see the stories and I am embarrassed to say they don’t always cause me much concern.  What a selfish way to live.  Especially when you think about how easy it is to get involved just by offering a prayer for the situation.

So, here’s my challenge.  When you are suffering from summer heat, offer a prayer for those who are suffering without air conditioning or without even a home.  When you thank God forbeing spared damage from the storm, stop and pray for those who weren’t.  Whenyou feel the grip of a little one’s frightened hand, pray for the child who has no one to comfort her.  Just as we use everyday things to remind us of God’s goodness, use the same to remind us of the world’s harshness.  Whatever you do, keep your heart soft and compassionate.  That’s what Jesus did.

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united  with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,”  Phil 2:1-3

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I have been complaining about the weather since the first promise of spring peeked its head around a tiny green sprout in my garden.  I’m cold most of the time so warm weather is my friend.  To me, spring is the first sign that I will soon stop shivering and huddling under a fleece blanket wherever I go.

The problem with spring is that it is only a distant hint of warmer weather.  The first tempting day of sunshine is followed by rain, wind, more wind and cool temps.  (To me cool is anything under 75 degrees.)  We start riding the motorcycle once the snow is gone and it’s a science for me to dress with enough layers.  I’m usually in an undershirt, shirt, shirt over that shirt, sweatshirt, wool sweater and leather coat.  I peel like an onion as the temperature rises.

This week we finally hit 80 degrees.  I can actually go without a sweater and I love it.  Of course, our crazy climate doesn’t settle on comfortable and stay there.  Today its 85, tomorrow is predicted for 100, Sunday 101 and Monday 104!  By Sunday I’ll be complaining again.  Too hot.

It just seems like that’s our pattern, doesn’t it?  Very few days or events or situations are perfect.  Once in a while a golden one comes along and we are content.  Most of the time it’s too stressful, too peaceful, too quiet, too loud, too short, too long, too dark, too light, too many people, too lonely – you get the message.  Contentment is not as easy to achieve as it should be.

Adam and Eve struggled with it in the Garden.  Everything was perfect except for that one little tree that was off limits.  The Israelites wrote the book on discontentment.  They rejoiced in their escape until they met their first obstacle.  They were thankful for manna until they got tired of it.  They were committed to God until tempted to worship something else.  David thought he was content until he saw Bathsheba. 

If every day were perfect, God would not have had to instruct us to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess 5:19). If every day were perfect, He would not have had to tell us not to fear or be dismayed (Is 41:10).  In fact, if everything were perfect all the time at least half the Bible could be eliminated.

Instead, God gives us a scattering of absolutely wonderful, beautiful, shimmering moments interspersed among the day to day challenges so we can recognize what a gift they are.  Sandwiched between life’s stumbling blocks they are streams in the desert, nourishment to a bruised heart, sunlight reaching through the cloud cover.  But – without the desert, the bruising and the cloud cover, we’d never recognize the gift.

I’m challenging myself to strike two expressions from my vocabulary this year.  “It’s too cold” and “It’s too hot.”  I’m doing it to remind myself to be content in all things. 

All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast. Prov 15:15

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We just returned from a great week long motorcycle trip through Washington, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.  For the most part we traveled roads we’d gone over before but we did discover a couple of new routes.  That’s always fun when you can divert from the regular stretch and see something you haven’t seen before. 

We had one very unique experience.  Way out in the middle of Wyoming, where the land was flat and monotonous, the road straight as an arrow as far as you could see, and not even a jack rabbit in sight, we tipped a slight hill to find ourselves in the middle of a cattle drive.  About 500 Black Angus cows and calves were being herded down the highway.

A herd of cows, in case you didn’t know this, is a slow moving not very bright bunch of animals that moo a lot.  The other thing they do a lot of is – well, to put it gently – poop all over the road and each other.  The odor is not any more pleasing than the sight.

We had two choices.  Hang back moving at a snail’s pace or weave our way through the mass of black, very messy, very smelly cows.  We chose the latter.

You might think that cows would run away from a big, loud Harley Davidson but you’d be wrong.  Mostly they stopped in front of us and looked as if trying to decide if we were a foreign presence to be avoided or an odd looking relative worthy to be pooped on.  (It didn’t help that our bike is shiny black just like those cows.)

We weeded our way among them praying they’d part and make a path.  It was slow going and once or twice we had to come to a complete stop while we waited for one of them to decide whether to move out of the way or not.  An understatement would be to say it wasn’t the most pleasant adventure on our journey.

But – we made it through relatively unscathed, picked up speed, and laughed about it later.  It was one of those obstacles in life you’d choose to avoid if you could but in the end you do what you have to do to get past it. You just plow through.

A good example of just that came later on our trip when we stopped to visit friends in Idaho.  It was there we received the sad news that she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and would be starting treatment very soon.  Her comment was, “It isn’t something I’d choose to do but I don’t really have that choice.  It is what it is.”  She will be plowing into something she can’t avoid.  It won’t be pleasant but to get from here to there she’ll have to navigate her way through.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Christian life meant smooth sailing?  Unfortunately it doesn’t.  We face the same plowing though the yucky stuff that non Christians face.  Only we know the ultimate ending and we know the One who can get us there, up, over, under and through whatever stands in the way.  If I have to do it, I’m so thankful I don’t have to do it alone.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:32-33

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