Sunday, August 20, 2017

Well Running Dry

"...but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life."  John 4:14 (NIV)

Summer can certainly be a time of dryness.  Our other three seasons provide ways for our lawns and gardens to receive water, but the summer can be difficult for constant water.  I noticed this about a week ago when parts of our lawn were getting a bit parched.  The green was turning to brown and was very dry.  I even noticed the sign on a local fire department sharing that there was a high risk of fire.  Sure enough, a few days later, black clouds formed overhead and the heavens opened, providing some much needed relief and lots of rain.

The same thing happened to me, personally, last week.  The days were getting more and more difficult with many different situations.  By last Friday, I was parched.  I felt as if I didn't have an ounce of energy left in me.  I woke up dragging and couldn't seem to gain any relief as the day continued.  I was picturing myself in a desert with no water in sight.  To say I was frustrated was an understatement.

This can happen to all of us.  We get so caught up on getting things done, running through our chore list, making sure all the t's are crossed and i's are dotted that we forget that we need to stop to quench our thirst.  We find the items that need to get accomplished take precedent over what is truly important and what truly needs to get done - replenishing our souls.  I am very guilty of this when times get tough - I put aside what needs to get done for my soul for what needs to get done on a list.

I prayed to my Lord, looking for relief.  Just as he provided the black clouds overhead, He also provided for me.  There, in front of me, was our verse for today - one that I keep written on a small piece of paper for "just when I need some help".  God guided my eyes to this verse, helping to remind me that I will never thirst, as long as I go to God's Word for relief.  With that Word, my "today" life was restored and I was reminded that my "eternal" life was in good hands, God's hands.

I encourage all of us to focus on our souls just as much as we focus on the "list" of this world.  In doing so, the words of our Lord will fill our hearts, our minds and our souls - providing the relief we so deeply need.  God wants our eyes to be focused on Him for restoration, not the items of this world.  When we do that, we understand with more clarity that Simple Faith brings us the peace we need in this world, the peace that calms our souls and re-energizes our lives.  

Please, spend time each day in the living water of Jesus.  Let's commit to sharing time with Him who so graciously gave of Himself for us.  When we fill ourselves up with this living water, we will never be parched, and our faith will grow just as a plant who receives water during the summer.

Dearest Jesus, just as you were there for the woman at the well, I ask that you continue to be here for me.  Help me to never be thirsty as long as I immerse myself in Your Word.  Grant me the peace for my soul and the energy of your love to help grow not only me, but those around me.  In your loving name I pray.  Amen!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sweetness on the Inside

"Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine cloths.  Rather it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.  1 Peter 3:3-4

The simple task of husking corn.  Nothing elegant.  Just sitting on the back stoop and making sure I get all the silk off of the ear of corn before cooking them.  Yet, as I was doing that, it struck a thought with me.  On the outside, corn is pretty much the same.  Taller stalks, silk coming out of the top.  If you look at the outside of corn, you would say they are all very similar.  As you begin husking the corn, the individuality of the corn starts to shine through.  Some may be all yellow with large kernels.  Some may be yellow and white with smaller kernels.  Typically, regardless of what you see as you peel the husk back, you find great sweetness.  As you bite into an ear of corn, it's hard not to smile with delight as those kernels pop in your mouth, so sweet.  Sure, sometimes we see an ear that is not mature or has been chewed by insects, but most of the time, it is good.

It made me think, if we were to peel back the husk of our neighbors, friends, and families, what would we find?  Do we find people who are full of kindness and sweetness?  Do we find people that are fully mature or haven't fully matured yet?  Do we find people who may have been chewed up by the bitterness of their situations?  What is on the outside of people may not be what is on the inside of people.  The elaborate lifestyles or personas may not mirror what is on the inside of people.  As when we open up an ear of corn that is not "sweet", we are disappointed.  When we get to know the "inside of people" and realize they may not be "sweet", we are also disappointed.  Can we change them?  You know the answer to that.

As always, it is important to start with the sole person that you can change, YOURSELF!  As you peel back your own husk, what are people finding?  What are you finding?  Is there a person who is mature and full of sweetness and delight?  Or is there a person who is not mature, eaten up by the bitterness of past mistakes and not forgiving others.  We may share with others that we work hard to live the life that Jesus has asked us to live.  I know I try to do that.  Yet, if I'm going to be truthful, I often fall short.

On the inside, I am not always sweet (hey, just ask my family!).  I may try to be mature, but often my responses, both inside and outside, aren't always that of a mature woman.  I can get cranky and bitter and the anxiousness that I feel can many times be revealed in my emotions - the inside stuff.!  Can you relate?  I try to ensure that the sweetness and goodness that God wants me to share is there every day.  Yet, there are some days when that just doesn't happen.  So what's a girl to do?

We go to the word of God.  There, and only there, can I find true redemption for the behavior that may not be the sweetness I want on the inside.  When I ask my Savior for forgiveness and begin the healing, peace enters my heart and sweetness returns.  The simple faith of knowing God can make me sweet is such a rich blessing.  Through His goodness and His love, I know that peace and happiness will return.  That is a guarantee.  

I challenge us.  What are people seeing when they "husk" us?  Are they seeing the sweet love of Jesus or a person that has been chewing on bitterness?  We can change ourselves to grow more sweet on the inside.  We can live in the words of Jesus and have simple faith that through his love our sweetness will grow.  The next time you husk that ear of corn, take a look on the inside for the sweetness that we know only Jesus can give us.

Dearest Jesus, we ask that you help us to self-reflect what is in our hearts.  May we find the sweetness and goodness that we can share with others.  If we find bitterness Lord, we ask that you change our hearts and fill us up with the words of saving grace that only YOU can provide.  In your saving name we pray.  Amen."

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Test of Patience

Then he said, "Listen now, O house of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well?  Isaiah 7:13

I want to believe that in my old age I have gotten wiser and my ability to be patient has gotten better.  To be honest, I'm not sure I'm succeeding in either!  This past weekend brought to life the part of the verse above "...try the patience of men".  It started off well,;I had a half day on Friday and I was going to get my car inspected.  

I went.  It failed.  I was appalled.  The car is in great condition.  Yet, the paint was chipping off my plates, so they needed to be replaced.  Oh, and I need two tires in the rear of the car.  WOW - not what I was expecting.  Well, I had the 1/2 day off, so off to Town Hall I went for new plates.  Yep, wrong spot, needed to go to Dept of Motor Vehicles (a 1/2 hour away).  I'm not sure how your Dept of Motor Vehicles works.  Let's just say that ours is a test of patience.  I was glad that my husband joined me for some "quality" time and off we went.  Two hours later, I had two new plates.

Off to the tire store we go.  Got there just as it was closing.  They didn't have my tires in stock.  All could be resolved on Saturday, though.  Saturday at 10:30, the car was dropped off.  By that time I had already completed the normal Saturday chores, so, after making some meatballs and doing a couple of other things, I thought I deserved a pedicure.  I called for a 12:15 appointment.  By 12:17 my toes had dipped in the water.  Someone didn't come over to start my pedicure until 12:55.  Yep - another test of patience.  Didn't they already know what kind of weekend I was having?  I did finally get my toes painted and just in time, my husband called to tell me my car was ready.

Yea, pick up the car, go back to where I had it inspected for a "re-inspect".  I get there, they can't take me for 1.5 hours.  Really?  Are you kidding?  I did what they asked and all they have to do is put on an inspection sticker.  Nope, that was the deal.  Fine.  I went home, did a few more things around the house, and was off to get my sticker 1.5 hours later.  Got there and the guy came out.  "Not sure we will be able to do it today?"  Are you kidding?  While I was gone, two other people came and dropped off their cars, so they got a "spot" in front of me.  

That was it!  My patience, that I tried so hard to keep all day long, was gone.  This was going to be a relaxing, filled with family time, type of weekend.  No, we didn't have any specific plans, just to "be" with each other.  It had turned into a test of patience.  I don't lose my patience often, but when I do, I can be a bit indignant.  My voice was raising and I needed to talk to the technician, the asst. manager and the manager.  Yes, EVERYONE needed to hear my pain.  I was mad.  They can see I have new plates, and the tires are new!!!

That went well for me, until the manager checked and said, "Yes, you have two new tires, but they are on the FRONT!!  The back ones are still bad."  Are you kidding me?  Really?  After a "wonderful"call to my husband, I was on my way back to the tire place.  Meanwhile he called there and found out they had closed.  Done.  All this work and I still won't have my car inspected this weekend.  

As I was driving to dinner with my family, in a car that had yet to be inspected, I started chatting with my best friend, God.  "Really God, all of this and nothing?  My patience is being tested beyond belief.  What are you trying to tell me?"  I realized, He was sharing much with me.  
  • Maybe my patience wasn't as good as I thought.  I obviously have some work to do in this area and ensuring I don't take out my frustrations on others.
  • Check and re-check.  There are many times throughout this scenario I could have checked something to ensure it would be smooth - like checking to make sure the new tires were on the back!
  • Be in the moment.  As my husband and I left the Dept of Motor Vehicles on Friday, we laughed that although we waited two hours, we were together.  We laughed and chatted during that time.  Maybe God wanted that for us.  While I waited for my toes, I was sitting in a wonderful massage chair.  
  • Deal with the deck.  Just deal with the cards you have been given.  Maybe the "cards" I had this weekend weren't a winning hand, but I got to play.  I was here, among family, enjoying some rainy days with them.
Yet, all of this made me think of how patient God has to be with me.  With all the sins I commit, the lack of initiative to share His word, the times when I don't do HIS will, He is still patient with me.  He still loves me.  He still embraces me in His wonderful arms.  He NEVER takes away my eternal life.  Now THAT is patience.  For as much as we try to endure in situations that don't go perfectly (a crying child in a grocery store, a friend/family member who lashes out, best laid plans going array), our Heavenly Father has endured so much more, and we still come out on the winning side.  

So, the next time our patience is tested, remember.  God's patience is tested every day, and He still loves us.  When our patience is being tested, let's check and re-check our behavior.  Be in the moment, is there something good that can come of this?  After all that, we just need to deal the cards we've been given.  With God on our side we will always come out with a winning hand!!

Dearest Lord, how our patience runs thin sometimes!  With the day to day frustrations, our patience to handle situations can be difficult.  Let us remember that when those times arise, you are there with us.  Provide us with the patience we need and may we show our Christian hearts in the process.  Your patience of us is immeasurable.  Thank you for always loving us and never leaving us.  In your name I pray.  Amen.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Pictures of Love

I don't know about you, but I find it difficult to listen to the news.  To be honest, I typically don't turn on the TV unless it is on the HGTV channel (and Juan can share just how much HE enjoys THAT)!  The radio in my car either listens to devotions or music.  So, you can see, I am probably not the person you want to reach out to on current events.  Why?  I find that my newsworthy moments are usually right in front of me.  This week was no exception.  I received special blessings this week. 

The funny part is, of all the blessings that I received, those people that gave me the greatest blessings probably didn't even realize it.  I think that's the best part when we receive blessings.  It's the ones that sneak up on us that make us have "newsworthy moments".  This week's newsworthy moments showed up as wonderful pictures of love.  How did that happen?  Please let me share.

Monday morning, I watched a dad send his son off to his first naval duty.  The last few months were filled with boot camp and learning.  Now, the real work begins.  With tears in their eyes, love was shared with very few words.  Love was shared through hugs, through smiles, through pats on the back, and through tears.  It was a beautiful picture of love between a father and his son.

Fast forward a few days as I watched a number of wonderful people set up for a baby shower that they were giving for their supervisor.  The beautiful decorations, the aroma of wonderful food and the gifts that were overflowing were all performed with hands of love.  I watch this supervisor on many days reach out to her associates with care and humility.  Now, the love was returned.  It was another beautiful picture between work associates and supervisor - so unique.

The next day I was walking out of work with a woman who was filled with joy.  May I preface that she typically is a happy person, but as we continued to chat, you could see her radiant face just shine.  She spoke about how the cancer that had plagued her husband has started to retreat.  The treatments are working and there is much hope for their future.  As we discussed how wonderful prayer is, I saw how blessed she felt.  Although in this case, the other person wasn't there, I could see the picture of love that this woman has for her husband.  I pray that their future is filled with happiness and good health.

Each of these "newsworthy moments" were brought to me by God himself, not by any national news channel.  These wonderful people had no idea how their moments were going to impact me.  Yet, God knew.  During a week when I was exposed to many relationships that didn't seem to be working, God blessed me with pictures of love that were all around me.  Those moments were far greater than any news that could have been shared.  For in those pictures of love, I saw God.  I saw Him through people who had no idea how their moments were impacting me.

Isn't that the wonder of God?  That He can give us those moments just when we need them.  He does know exactly what we need when we need it.  He blesses us richly through pictures of love.  I'm sure all of you have experienced pictures of love lately.  They are all around us.  Those pictures can be in so many places; a person holding another's hand in prayer, a grandchild helping a grandparent to walk, a smile that brings peace to our hearts.  Have your eyes take another look around you for those pictures of love.  They are there - and they will be a blessing for you I am sure.

Dearest God, we thank you for the pictures of love you give us every day.  When our faith in our fellow human beings wears thin, we know that you will provide.  Open our eyes and our hearts to see these pictures you give to us.  May we cherish them in our hearts and may our souls find the peace that comes with such love.  God, may we also be the picture of love to others.  May our words and actions be that "newsworthy moment" to those around us.  In your name we pray, Amen."

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Hard Working Hands

"In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

I was about to start typing today on another subject as I looked down at my hands.  Oh my, the wrinkles were starting to show.  Yes, there are other parts of my body that ache and remind me that I am not a spring chicken anymore.  Yet, my hands seemed to show my age today.

I thought about my hands for a long time.  What they have seen over the years.  My hands learned how to take shorthand while I was in high school.  They learned how to type (yes, on an old typewriter).  My hands played piano on my parent's baby grand.  As I entered adulthood, they took exams in college and applied for new jobs.  They adorn a wedding ring and hold my husband's hand with love.  They have also tended to a garden rich in vegetables.  Hands have a way of serving us when we least expect it. My hands have served me well.

Yes, there have been many other things my hands have done.  They have stroked foreheads of others that were in pain.  My hands have also held others' hands in support and grabbed tissues for many tears (mine and others).  They have rubbed feet that were aching and have changed many diapers. My hands have been lifted up to God in joy and have been folded in prayer.  Hands have a way of serving others when we least expect it.  My hands have served others.

Can we serve others better with our hands and hard work?  As we go through our days, see how we might be able to serve someone else with our hands.  Maybe we can make a meal for someone home bound.  Perhaps we can do yard work for others or hold their hands in support.  I truly believe the greatest way we can serve others with our hands is to have them folded in prayer.  There is always someone we can lift up to God in prayer.

Have our hands served in the way Jesus has served us?  When I think of hands, I can't help but think of Jesus' pierced hands on the cross.  Reflect on how many hands he held in his life on earth, how many times His hands touched others in healing, how many times they were folded in prayer.  Jesus' hands are truly hands of a servant and are a wonderful example of the hard work our hands can see.  

Take a look at your hands.  Think about the things your hands have done over the years.  What joys have they embraced?  What tears of sorrow they have wiped away.  What prayers they have lifted to our Heavenly Father.  I'm sure when you reflect upon your hands you will also see that they have served us and others well.  Continue the hard work of your hands, for as Jesus says, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."  Here are to the blessings of hard-working hands!!

Dearest Jesus, your hands are certainly the shining example of hard-working hands.  May we reflect upon the good works your hands have done and all that they have given us.  May we take that example and use it to drive us to have hard-working hands for others, for we know the blessings that can be received.  Into your hands we give our lives, Amen!"

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Shining Star

"Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever."  Daniel 12:3 (NIV)

One of my favorite memories as a child was when my dad would take us outside at night and we would look to the heavens.  He taught us how to find the Big Dipper and how to appreciate the wonder of the nighttime sky.  I remember looking up into the sky and thinking that those stars were shining just for me.  The other evening, I had that same feeling.  I looked up to the sky and saw stars that were flickering and those that shined brightly.

That moment made me reflect on the type of star "I" am.  Am I a star that flickers or do I shine brightly?  There are many references in the Bible that compare our Christian behavior to that of a bright star.  I want to be the star that shines brightly among the heavens, but I have to admit that many times, I am a flickering star.  

Each day I wake up with the determination that my light will shine brightly for my Savior, Jesus.  Yet, by the end of the day, my greatest determinations fall short.   There are opportunities for me to say more about Jesus than I do.  There are moments for prayer that I miss.  There are times for repentance that I gloss over.  Yes, although I want my star to shine, it many times flickers.  Can you relate?  Do you have moments that go from shining star to flickering star?  What are we to do?

We begin at the place where we shine brightest, in the word of God.  May we turn to God's word to find out how we can become like "those who are wise will shine like the brightness of heaven."  When we find ourselves in God's word, we fully understand the greatness of God's love, His divine Holy Spirit, and the forgiveness that Jesus provides.  Deeply immersing ourselves in the richness of God's word will create a shining star in us so great that it won't have time to flicker.  

We can also worship with each other in grand fellowship.  Sharing our gaps with each other and building each other up can send us into the world with great brightness.  Let us not forget the power of prayer.  Talking to Jesus can send my heart soaring - knowing that He is listening just to me!!  Can't help but be excited when I know I have his total attention (and He has MY attention).  Together, we ignite a shining star so bright it's hard to flicker.

So when we feel like our star isn't shining as brightly as it could, help us to dive into the Word, link arms in fellowship and fold hands in prayer.  When we pursue the immense power of God and His love, our star won't flicker and fade.  It will persevere and grow stronger in light.  Remember, "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine; Let it Shine, Let it Shine, Let it Shine."

Heavenly Father, so many times I want to be the Shining Star for you.  Yet, I know my thoughts and deeds fall short to a small flickering star.  Please guide me to gain the light that only YOU can give to me.  Fill me up, Jesus, so my star shines brighter than ever before - each and every day.  Provide to me your everlasting love.  In your glorious name I pray, Amen!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

What I Deserve

I try to go through life living it in a way that is deserving of God's love.  I try to treat people with respect and love.  I try to give more than I sometimes have, both in energy, time and possessions.  I try to love and be kind regardless of the circumstances.  I try . . . .  I typically feel that I do my very best and that is what God asks of me, until I read this verse this past week.

I've read this verse before, so why did it home for me this time?  Maybe it was the circumstances during the week, the people I met and the situations I was in.  Maybe it was my frame of mind.  Maybe it was the condition of my heart.  Quite frankly, it didn't matter WHY as much as it matters NOW.  Whatever the reason for this to touch my heart, God wanted me to see this in a different light.  And It Worked!!

I don't know about you, but I have taken how I handle my life, my conduct and my thoughts, as though God was okay with my daily activities.  Yet, this verse, at this time, made me realize the important thought, "Am I REALLY trying?"  Am I really having the thoughts that God wants me to have?  Am I really conducting myself in the manner that He chooses?  The most important thought, "Can I do better?"  Before last week, I might have said, "I do pretty well".  After evaluating myself, as God asks us to do, I can truthfully say, "I Can Do Better"!  What does better look like?  For me, it was in a variety of areas:
  • Words - the words that came out of my mouth were not always words of encouragement or love.  Sometimes, the bitterness of sarcasm came out.  Sometimes, it was the chastising words of criticism.  Sometimes, the words that were spoken were said without a lot of thought, and could cause heartache.  My words can be better.
  • Thoughts - the thoughts that run through my mind aren't always nice.  I used to tell myself, "At least those thoughts didn't come out of my mouth", but we all know that God doesn't see it that way.  My thoughts could lead to a negative change in my behavior and in my actions.  My thoughts could be better.
  • Deeds - the actions I take aren't always selfless.   Many times, my actions can be selfish - because it is what "I" want the way "I" want it.  I can try to justify those actions as "I know best", but do I?  Could my actions be driving people away versus inviting them in?  My deeds could be better.
Yes, the bottom line is that I could be better.  With self reflection, I realized that my words, thoughts, and deeds were not necessarily always pleasing to God.  I might have felt as if I deserved more, but in turn, God was truly giving me what I deserved.  A sight of self reflection, although truthful and difficult at times, is the sight that God wants us to have.  In the sight of self reflection comes the richest gift and what we so deeply deserve, God's forgiveness.

I may try, and I can do better, but the bottom line is that I will never reach God's expectations.  I will never be that person He may want me to be.  Yet, he loves me so much, that He is willing to look past all my flaws, all my hopeless attempts or even my lack of attempts, to say to me, "Susan, I love you.  Your hard work and belief in me will continue to yield a home in heaven."  I don't know about you, but I need to hear those words.  I need to know He will always be there for me. 

My deeds may not always be rewarded the way I think they should be rewarded.  Yet, I do believe that with some self-reflection and attempts to do better, God will give me the greatest reward - a place with Him in heaven.  Therefore, I will continue to strive to be better and live with His promise of forgiveness and love.   Care to join me?

Heavenly Father, thank you so much for the words of the Bible that help us to reflect on the person you want me to be.  Help me to continue to work on being better, in my thoughts, words and deeds.  When I falter, I ask for your forgiveness.  Remind me that your grace, mercy and love will always be with me.  In your gracious name I pray.  Amen."

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Enduring Love

"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever." 
1 Chronicles 16:34 (NIV)

Love let me down.  When you get married, you expect it to last a lifetime, at least I did.  So with high expectations and a vision of my future at the age of 24, I got married.  It wasn't everything I had hoped for.  Yes, there were good times, but there were very difficult times.  Thirteen years later, love was no more.  I blamed me.  I blamed him.  I questioned God - A LOT.  I couldn't understand why God would let that happen, why he would let me suffer and let my family suffer - A LOT.  It didn't seem right, and it certainly didn't seem fair.

Divorce can be difficult, and stressful, and just down right miserable.  It was truly one of the most horrible times in my life.  Yet, it's not just the love of a spouse going wrong that can be difficult.  Maybe it is the love of a child or of a parent that has let you down.  Maybe it is the love of a friend.  All of these scenarios can cause us to question love.  I know that when I started questioning why love was eluding me, I turned my questions to God.  

I wasn't questioning God in a doubtful way, just a "I don't understand your plan" way.  I didn't doubt that He had a plan for me, but I wasn't quite getting it.  I used the time when love seemed far away to ask God what I was supposed to learn from all of this.  In doing so, I grew closer to God.  I may not have been getting answers to my "love dilemma", but I was getting answers about me.  I began to see where my gaps were, and where I needed to gain strength.  My strength needed to come from God, not from man.  My love needed to come from God, not from man.  When I realized this, my eyes were opened.

Think about this for a few minutes with me.  Undoubtedly, God has provided you an opportunity at some time in your life to evaluate earthly love.  Those times can be seen as difficult and heart wrenching times, but usually these times are in our paths for a reason.  They are, what I like to call, learning moments.  We don't see them as learning moments at the time, yet, months or years down the road, God helps us to yield learning moments.  Look back upon your life, where gaps of love may have occurred.  Chances are, you have grown in those moments.  Maybe you are in one of those moments now.  How do you fill that gap?

With the only love that will endure forever, God's love.  God's love is there regardless of when earthly love may have let you down.  God's love fills the gaps.  God's love blankets you every day.  God's love is with you to eternity.  God's love is constant, good, and right.  God's love will never let you down.  While you are working through your learning moments, lean on the love that will always be with you, God's love.

After love let me down, God provided me with the greatest blessing, a love that I could have never imagined could be.  God sent me my husband Juan.  Twelve years ago today, we blended our families and our love under God's watchful eye.  God has blessed us every day.  Yes, there have been times when life provided challenges.  Yet, our love was not challenged - it is good, right and strong.  I believe God took my learning moment and turned it into a wonderful gift.  I now can appreciate a marriage full of love and joy.  Take your learning moments, the time when love may have let you down.  Know that you have the love of a Heavenly Father who is with you always.  He will provide for you exactly what you need - remember - He knows the plan.

Dearest God, thank you for providing us with a love that endures forever.  When earthly love may let us down, help us to learn from those moments.  May we turn to you and your love to bring us up and move us forward.  You love us, God, far more than we can love ourselves or each other.  Help us to always remember that.  In your gracious name we pray, Amen."

Sunday, June 25, 2017

It Was Time

"The Lord replied, 'My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.'"
Exodus 33:14 (NIV)

It was time; my husband and I just stopped.  Continuing to move forward would have resulted in turmoil on many different levels.  Closed eyes, deep breaths, limp limbs - it was what was needed.  It was time to rest.  

As you know, I am a planner.  Many times it can be used for good results.  Other times, it can be detrimental.  My mind and my actions keep me moving - and in turn for my wonderful husband, he keeps step with me.  Maybe we aren't sharing the same projects, but we will find projects to do all the same.  The last six months, after our return from our Costa Rican vacation, have been exhausting.  Working full time plus jobs, and Juan changing jobs, is enough on its own.  Add some family responsibilities along with the usual chores, well that's some more.  The topping on the cake has been the numerous projects we have taken on, renovating our bathroom by ourselves, lots of painting, new flooring, etc.  Well, you can picture it.

I'm sure you can picture it because you have been there as well.  Constant movement, constant responsibilities, constant pressure - with no time for rest.  Moving from one project to one responsibility to another project - it all can be very exhausting.  Add into the mix all of the things to "think about" while this is going on, and neither mind or body can rest.  We think that is the best thing for all of us.  Keep ourselves busy.  Get stuff done.  Yet, that can hurt, both mind and body.  God didn't design us for constant pressure - God designed us to get rest.

There are so many examples of this when we read the Bible.  Of course, the obvious, that God himself rested on the seventh day after Creation.  There are also other times, as we read through stories in the Bible where people rested, under trees, with family, after battle.  So what makes us think we are any better than them?  Our verse for today is clear that when we rest, God is still with us.  When I think of our Heavenly Father, I see Him with me when I am doing something - worshiping, praying, working, serving, etc.  I typically don't see Him with me when I'm resting.

God wants us to rest.  God wants us to get rejuvenated and prepare ourselves for further service to Him and others.  Future service can only come when our minds are clear and our bodies are fresh.  Resting can be hard.  That seems like an anomaly, but it is true - at least for me.  To sit and do nothing, clear my mind and body, can be difficult - at first.  Yet, when I give myself time to do this, it is completely restful.  Today, when I rested, I thought of God saying, "That a girl!"  He's with me, even as I rest.

Take time this summer to rest.  Put the projects aside for a little while.  Leave the problem solving for another day.  Enjoy this world God gave us.  Sit on your front porch (as I did this afternoon), your balcony, your back stoop, your favorite couch cushion.  Gain a day for rest - with your family, by yourself - just rest.  Know that God WANTS this for you, for me, for us.  Rest, and know God is with you.

"Dearest God, we thank you for giving us words that help us understand that we need to rest.  The constant pressures of this life can lead to constant movement, constant thinking and constant stress.  Help us and be with us, God, as we purposefully take time to rest.  Restore us, strengthen us, and enliven us through this rest so we may continue to share glory to you.  In your name we pray, Amen."

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Words of Truthful Instruction

"Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love."
Lamentations 3:32 (NIV)

We all know how powerful words can impact us.   Words can cut us deeper and have greater wounds than any knife.  Words can also build us up so we feel we are flying on a cloud.  During the past few weeks, I've spent a great deal of time thinking about the impact of words.  As I listen to people discuss situations, both at home and at work, I think about the meaning behind the words that are being shared.  During my time of reflection, I thought about what types of words I was hearing - and many of them felt as if they were words of instruction

This reflection took me to my dad.  He was a great man filled with joy, love, and faith.  His words, whether written or spoken, were always truthful.  Sometimes they were meant for comfort.  Sometimes they were meant for instruction. Yet, always they were filled with the truth.  As we were growing up, many times the truthful instruction could be painful.  My parents were more strict than others.  Each time I embarked on asking to do something that was out of our family's scope, it was met with the same answer - NO.  After being disappointed by not being able to do what others were doing, I just stopped asking.  It wasn't worth the disappointment.  

Of course, there were also the times when Daddy had no problem sharing truthful instruction, especially if I did something wrong.  That always was met with a "louder" voice, ensuring I received the message.  You get the point.  Again, it would make me sad, partly because I disappointed my dad, the other part because the "loud voice" was never a good thing.

Then, I found our verse for today.  Certainly as I grew older, I realized that when my dad would come to me with truthful instruction, it was because he cared.  That level of caring and love comes with a level passion.  Daddy didn't want me to make mistakes like he did.  Daddy wanted my life to be good and faith driven.  His purpose in doing that was his unfailing love.  No matter how bad the deed, he was still there.  His love was in His words and deeds.

Sounds a bit like our Heavenly Father, doesn't it?  Through His word, He provides us truthful instruction - ensuring that our lives are guided to the path and journey HE wants us to be on.  Yes, sometimes, the path we want to take is not the path God has planned for us.  Many times, that is when His words may seem louder than usual.  Yet, He does this not to make us feel guilty for our sins - remember Jesus took those all away for us.  He does that to help us hear the instruction He has for us.  Let's face it - somebody needs to tell us the truth and NOBODY does that better than Jesus!!

Words of truthful instruction, regardless of where they come from, can make us "grieve", feel bad, or even get angry.  Yet, let us take time when we get those words and maybe, just maybe, we can see that the instruction is coming from a place of unfailing love by the person sharing those words with us. That type of instruction is always a gift.  

"Heavenly Father, I ask that you help me to truly listen when you share words of truthful instruction.  Let me be reminded that they come from a place of love and caring, and that those words are for my benefit.  Take the guilt and anger away and replace it with reflection and hope.  In your gracious name I pray, Amen."

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Unsung Hero - Abigail

"Then David accepted from her hand what she had brought him and said, "Go home in peace.  I have heard your words and granted your request."  1 Samuel 25:35 (NIV)

"Keep the peace"!  How many times have we heard those words throughout our lifetime.  They can range in context anywhere from two siblings quarreling to armies battling.  I think as adults, we often do many things to try to "keep the peace".  Most people prefer harmony versus arguing.  What does keeping the peace look like?  Well, it could be one person putting aside their opinion of an argument so as not to let the argument continue.  It may be another person not bringing something up that could cause an argument.  Or it could be someone who intervenes to stop a battle from brewing.  

Hence we come upon Abigail.  Abigail's story is one of courage, yet humility.  She does something very brave to "keep the peace.  Her story involves her husband Nabal and King David (yes, the David and Goliath David).  David is now King and helped out Nabal's servants one time - ensuring their safety and well-being.  When David sent his servants to Nabal to ask the same of him, he answered with an emphatic, "NO" (very ungrateful guy).  As you can imagine, David, along with his many troops, didn't take this answer lightly and decided they were going to wreck havoc with Nabal. 

Along comes Abigail.  Nabal's servants went to Abigail.  They shared the goodness David had provided them and didn't believe Nabal was being fair.  They also shared that a battle was brewing.  Abigail gathered many provisions (wine, bread, sheep, grain, cakes, etc.) and she went behind Nabal's back to bring them to David and company - in order to keep the peace.  When she got to where David was, she offered a humble apology for her husband and gave him all the "goodies" she brought along.  It was then that David shared the words that are above - "Go Home in Peace."  

Abigail walked out in faith and courage to keep peace.  She didn't do it for the glory or the praise.  Remember, she did this behind her husband's back.  Abigail stepped out for peace.  How many times have we done the same?  As a parent, we may sometimes help our spouse to see things from our child's perspective to keep the peace.  As a child, we may help our parents see things from a sibling's perspective to keep the peace.  Outside of the home, it may also happen at work.  Helping to share information or feedback in order to help keep peace.  Typically, we don't do this expecting praise or thanks.  We step out in faith to keep the peace.

This type of stepping out is such a wonderful example of simple faith.  It takes faith in God that He will help the peace be lived out.  God was with Abigail as she approached David.  God is with us when we approach conflict.  He is there to help us keep the peace.  God granted David the words, "Go home in peace," to Abigail.  He says the same to you and me. "Go home in peace, Susan."  I don't know about you, but those words are truly the only praise I need to hear.

There is an ending to Abigail's story.  Upon her return home, her husband was in a drunken stupor.  So she waited until the morning and told him everything she had done.  As the Bible shares, "his heart failed him" and ten days later he died.  When David heard that, he asked Abigail to become his bride - and she did.  Isn't that the same for us?  When we are able to try and keep the peace, God blesses us.  It could be with the peace that we were hoping for.  It could be with greater understanding of the other party.  It could be with His love.  Chances are - keeping the peace can bring all three!  

The next time you think about "keeping the peace", remember our gal Abigail and the courage and humility she showed, and the grace that was granted to her.  Simple faith can bring simple peace.

"Heavenly Father, we thank you for the example of Abigail.  As she showed us, simple faith in you and courage to step out helped to keep the peace and saved many lives.  Help us to be like Abigail, keeping the peace, and may your love shine upon us.  In you peaceful name we pray, Amen!"

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Unsung Hero - Naaman

Doubt - it's a confusing feeling.  Think about the last time you doubted a situation, doubted a person, doubted intentions.  The insecurity and loss of self assurance is profound.  As much as I hate to admit it, there have been many times in my life when I have doubted.  I have doubted one's love for me.  I have doubted the work that I have done.  I have doubted my level of faith.  And yes, I have doubted my Lord.  I am not proud of those moments of doubt, but they are a part of my sinful nature.

Today, we read about Naaman.  Naaman was a soldier servant to a king.  Naaman had leprosy and was told by his servant girl that he should go to a prophet of the Lord for healing.  With permission of his king, he went.  Naaman's expectation was that the prophet would come out of his house and with "a magic wand" sort of event, he would be healed.  That is not what Elisha (the prophet) did.  Elisha told Naaman to go to the Jordan and dip himself in the water seven times - and by those actions he would be healed.  Naaman was disappointed with the words of Elisha and headed back home, not dipping himself.  Naaman doubted what Elisha told him.

Naaman's servants convinced him that he had "nothing to lose" by going to the Jordan.  So Naaman went, and as you would expect, was healed.  With humility, Naaman went back to Elisha said said the words that are stated above, "Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel."  Naaman teaches us much in this small story.

As I've shared, there are times when we doubt things in our lives.  When those times arise, just like Naaman, I tend to figure out how I can take things into my own hands.  When the doubt involves lack of recognition (whether in emotion or work), I can fall into self-pity.   When the doubt settles into prayers that are unanswered, I can fall into a lack of praying and focus on what "I" need to do to fix things.  As you can imagine, my ways are never the right ways.  

What Naaman teaches us is to never doubt what God can give us - for His intentions are always right and true.  It may not happen in the way "I" intend it to happen, but it happens in God's correct and right way.  If we should doubt, let us come back to our God with humility and thankfulness.  How grateful we are that God forgives our sinful nature of doubt and brings us back to His righteousness.  Lift your doubt to God - He will bring you healing!

"Heavenly Father, thank you for the example of Naaman.  As I see how doubt can be rooted in may different situations, help me to always turn to you, God.  By your strength, by your direction, and by your love, lift my doubt and bring me to eternal healing in you.  In your gracious name I pray, Amen!"

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Unsung Hero - Andrew

"The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah" (that is Christ)."  John 1:41 (NIV)

The white tombstones.  The red, white and blue flags.  All lined up in a row.  There is something about the picture above that has always brought the words Unsung Heroes to my mind.  Each Memorial Day, it is hard not to be grateful for the thousands of men and women who have unselfishly given their lives to let us have the freedoms we have in the United States.  Yes, I agree, every day should be Memorial Day.  Yet, this last Monday of May has always brought reflection, and thanks, to the many who have died so we could have the freedoms we enjoy.

It made me think about the unsung heroes in the Bible.  There are so many who have given unselfishly of themselves in honor of God.  I thought it would be fun to explore some of these unsung heroes during the next 4-5 weeks.  I am certain that there are hundreds, but let's take a look into a few.

Today, I would like to focus on Andrew.  We don't hear a lot about him.  Yes, we know he was a disciple, but Andrew tended to take a backseat to his brother, Peter.  We read much about Peter and know at times he was a pivotal disciple.  Yet, Peter would have never have known Jesus if it wasn't for Andrew.  As our Bible verse shares, the FIRST thing that Andrew did was tell his brother, Simon Peter, that Jesus was there.  

Andrew was known as the one who brought people to Jesus.  He brought Simon Peter.  He brought the little boy who had the bread and fish to Jesus to feed the thousands.  Many times throughout the Bible he is referred to as Peter's brother, typically not referred to as just Andrew.  It seems as if Peter got the "limelight" and Andrew was in the background.  Yet, he brought many to Jesus and was more interested in saving lives than the notoriety.  

Remember, when we believe that we don't have what it takes to bring people to Jesus, let us be like Andrew.  He stood out in faith and just told people.  He shared the good news and brought the necessary people to Jesus to do outstanding things.  Yes, Peter may have been a primary figure in Christianity, but he never would have been without Andrew.  We all have Andrew moments - when we can bring those to Jesus.  We never know what those good people will do.  On this Memorial Day, please remember the unsung heroes of our military.  Also, remember Andrew - an unsung hero of the Bible.

"Dearest Jesus, please be with all the families that have lost loved ones who died in service to our country.  Those men and women fought for our freedoms, that we might be able to say your name proudly today.  We also want to thank you for the great examples we have of unsung heroes in the Bible.  Let us be like Andrew, bringing people to Jesus so that they can do mighty things.  In your name we pray.  Amen!"

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Solar Faith

Image result for solar panels
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."  John 1:1 (NIV)

Everywhere I look these days, I see solar panels.  They may be on a house or on a company building, but they seem to be everywhere I look.  I went to Home Depot yesterday and there was a company selling them.  I thought about these panels, what they are meant to do, and how they service us today.

As you are probably aware, they help to generate energy.  The panels attract the light and they store it in batteries until you need to use the energy.  Actually, it's a pretty neat idea.  It's unbelievable what the sun can do for us, but better yet, that there is a way to store the energy from the sun to a time and place when your family or company needs the energy.

It made me think about God's word.  No really, stay with me on this one.  I thought about how the intent of these panels was to collect the sun's energy every day and store it until it is needed.  Let's think about the incredible power and energy of God's word.  When I read God's word, there is an energy that fills me up - it helps me to see things differently and provides me the energy to do what needs to get done.  It may be rising up from a difficult situation, gaining strength when I am weak, or putting love back into a broken heart.  Whatever is on my plate or in my heart, God's word gives me the energy to get things done.

If we steep ourselves into God's word, read it every day, we are doing what the solar panels are doing. We are storing up the energy that comes from God's word so it is available when we need it.  There have been days when my morning time with God can't happen.  Yet, when I'm driving to work, I remember something that I read from that great book or how it impacted my life and a smile passes over my lips and warmth drips into my heart.  Our Dear Lord is good, so good, each and every day.  When we read His word, and let it fill our hearts, we KNOW He will be there for us.  Simple Faith. 

It can be hard to find time to open our Bibles every day.  Yet, when we do, see it as Solar Faith, Simple Faith.  Get filled up with His Word, tuck those words away like stored energy, and bring it out and use it when your energy is low.  The words of God have been selected just for us.  For you, for me, and even for those who have yet to experience the love of Jesus.  Those words are for our hearts.  I pray that you find solar faith, simple faith.

"Heavenly Father, we thank you for The Word you have given to us.  We know the power that those words have in our lives.  Help us to continue to steep ourselves in your word, knowing that there will be days when we will need to call upon those words for energy in our lives.  Also, please guide actions in our days so that we might be able to share your word with others.  In your name we graciously pray.  Amen."

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Silent Friendship

"Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights.  No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was."  Job 2:13 (NIV)

Happy Mother's Day to everyone out there!  This Mother's Day, I am in Chicago preparing for a workshop I will be attending.  It was a bit odd not being able to see my mom and children this day, but that certainly didn't take my thoughts away from the day at hand.

As always, I have a story to share.  The other day, I was speaking to someone about what she could do for a friend of hers that was battling cancer.  I thought back on those days with many differing opinions.  There is a part of me that is very grateful for all the wonderful ways God blessed me through friends and family during that time.  Yet, I thought about a different way that was just as impactful, "Silent Friendship".  At first the person looked at me with an odd expression - of course I asked to explain.  

Sometimes, when the trials and tribulations of the day come knocking upon our door, many around us want to provide advice and counsel.  Nobody does this with malicious intent.  People like to help, and I can certainly relate.  Yet, some of the most profound times when I have needed help have come with someone just sitting by my side.  It's okay not to have words to say - many times we aren't supposed to say anything - especially when things are at their lowest.  Reflect above.  Job had absolutely nothing left in his life - NOTHING.  Yet, his friends came by and sat next to him - just "being".  They did that for SEVEN days - just sitting and letting Job know they were there for him.

The same happens today.  When trials hit us, many times as friends, we just don't know what to say.  Yes, even I struggle with the right words.  Yet, I don't think that's what God wants us to give each other all the time.  He just wants us to be there for each other - just like He is always there for us.  He knows our thoughts, he understands - yes he even gives us hugs and holds our hands - as our friends do for us.  Silent Friendship can be golden.

On this note, I have many wonderful people who have done this for me over the years - just were "being" with me.  One has been my mom.  When I was sick and days were tough - she just came over and was there for me.  That was EXACTLY what I needed.  Maybe she made a silent cup of tea.  Maybe she just sat and read her book - and just let me read mine.  Much was said in those days of no conversation.  The beautiful flowers in the picture are roses my mom gave me for Mother's Day.  Here's to you, Mom - and our silent friendship.

The next time you find yourself wanting to DO something or SAY something to a friend, contemplate that the greatest you may give them is just you "being".  God fills in for the conversation that isn't said.  Let him do what he does best - and may we do what we do best.  For all the mothers out there, I pray that you were blessed with a special day.  Let's face it, as moms, every day is a special one.

"Heavenly Father, help us to know that sometimes silent friendship can be the greatest give we can give to each other.  Just "being" can lead us to feel you, God, among us.  And there is NO greater person to have among friends that YOU.  Please bless all those who need some silent friendship today."

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Art of God

"Yet you, Lord are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand."  Isaiah 64:8 (NIV)

I received a rare blessing today.  I am travelling on business to Charlotte, North Carolina.  I've never been here before and since I got in a few hours early, I thought I would select one "tourist" spot to visit.  There were many to chose from, but today I headed to the Mint Museum (pictured above).  I'm not sure why the GPS had this address plugged in.  I'm not a huge museum person.   I can't remember the last time I was in a museum.

I will walk through a museum, but I've rarely been able to truly appreciate the art.  I admire those individuals who can look at art and it inspires them - I've never been drawn to art that way.  Yet, today for some reason, my heart took me to the Mint Museum.  My experience was dramatically different.  I truly believe God wanted me to see something I hadn't seen before.

As I viewed the beautiful sculptures and paintings, the craft and design work, my eyes were drawn to the stories printed beside the art.  I read about these artists.  Some artists were from the 1800's.  Some were more recent.  Yet, each artist had a story - a reason to capture the world as they saw it.  All of the sudden, the art had meaning.  I found a new beauty in the art that I had not seen before.  As I walked through the rooms, so silent and quiet, it brought my heart to my Lord and the wonderful passage for today.

Just as the artists I read about today had a story to tell with their art, so our Lord has a story to tell through us.  He is the artist, we are His canvas.  He created us with His hands to be able to tell a story - HIS story.  Through our lives, He has worked us, through the joys and tribulations, to create a masterpiece - HIS masterpiece.  Imagine - being God's masterpiece.  The more I thought about this, the greater my heart was drawn to God.  I owe it to God to be the best piece of art I can be. 

If my life tells His story, then I want to ensure it is a great story.  I want to be the best piece of art I can be - so that He, the artist, is glorified.  That means making good choices, living in God's light - the artist's light.  It means reflecting His greatness to those who view me.  It means I need to work on becoming His masterpiece.  That may seem like a tall order.  Yet, there is GREAT news with this tall order - He will be there with us, to guide us, to help us, and to encourage us.  There is no better artist than our Lord.  Will you join me in becoming a great masterpiece?  

"Dearest God, I ask your help as I try to be the masterpiece that you have created.  As the artist, you have a vision of what I should be to the world.  I ask your help in making that possible.  Help me to reflect the art that you want the world to see.  May your grace and mercy help me to achieve this.  In your artist's name I pray, Amen."

Sunday, April 30, 2017

False Expectations

"But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.  Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked."  Luke 6:35 (NIV)

You've waited all week.  You have saved calories, ate that salad and drank that water - all in great anticipation of going out for dinner on Saturday night and having that slice of chocolate cake.  You get through dinner and order the cake, envisioning how wonderful it will taste.  You put your fork into it and savor it in your mouth and, BAM, it's not as great as you had expected.  All that work for something that didn't meet your expectations.  All that work for nothing!  Just for the reality check - "I" would ensure that cake was still gone!!

Maybe it is a different expectation.  Maybe your expectation is with a new job - wanting to get into a company that you had great expectations for - only to be let down by poor management and less than challenging opportunities.  Maybe your expectation is with a new appliance -  and learning that great new oven really DOESN'T have a self-cleaning feature.  Although all of these things can disappoint us, we can do something about the disappointment - look for a new job, purchase a different appliance, or, yes even go to a great bakery for a chocolate cake.

Yet, when it comes to our expectations in relationships, these disappointments can be more difficult to navigate.  We may enter a new dating relationship with high hopes of romance and chemistry.  As time moves on, the expectations you may have had that were initially being met seem to be drifting away.  We may have expectations of our parents or children, expecting that they will react in a certain fashion, only to be looking for a response that never comes.  The greatest disappointment may come from when we do something great for someone, and nothing comes back in return.  Whether that "good deed" has come through your time, energy, or material items (like money), when we have gone out of our way to do something and don't receive back a response, our expectations are shattered and we are disappointed (and yes, there have even been times when the disappointment can run into anger and rage).  Have you been there?  I have and the degree of hurt and disappointment can be overwhelming.

This past week, I was speaking to a co-worker about people's expectations - what they expect at work, in relationships and in life.  What we came to realize is that when we put ourselves out there, whether it is for people we know or don't know, we can have false expectations - expectations that are unrealistic.  It is one thing to have expectations on a great piece of cake or an awesome new job.  Yet, it is different to place outlandish expectations on others. 

As Jesus says in our verse today, our goal in life should be to do good - to those we know and those we do not know - and not to expect anything in return.  Do good and move on.  This is hard - at least I find it hard.  There have been occasions when I have done something for someone, and maybe all I was expecting was a thank you.  The thank you may never have come.  Have you been there?  Yet, if I were to have approached the situation with a "Jesus heart", there would have been no disappointment and only a happy soul.  Others have no need to reward us - but God will!  God gives us great reward for doing good - without our false expectations.  Living our lives the way God has instructed provides such greater blessing than anything we can expect in return.   

Jesus teaches us so much about who we are and who we can be.  I am sure I will continue to have expectations of things, people, and situations.  What I pray for is a heart that turns my reflection inward and not outward, to see the false expectations I may have set up.  When that happens, I also pray that a smile comes to my face and that a voice inside says, "Susan - you did it again."  May the love that Jesus has for me overcome all of my faults - and false expectations.

"Dearest Jesus, how many times I have entered situations with false expectations!  As I look to your word, I see very clearly that my mission should always be to do good - with only ONE expectation - knowing that at that moment, I am more closely aligned with YOUR expectations than anything else.  Help me to see, Jesus, that the one expectation I can always count on is your love.  In your gracious name I pray, Amen."

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Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope we can share how God's grace has been life changing and that SIMPLE FAITH, getting back to a life that is rooted in the basics, can truly set us free to achieve so much in our lives.