Sunday, January 8, 2017

When We Love Out Loud~

I was so blessed to be able to spend the last three weeks visiting my sister and her family. While together, we celebrated my birthday on December 19, Christmas, New Year's Eve, and cried my way through my husband's birthday on January 5th. Every day with her was precious and so good for my healing heart.

Imagine my surprise,
while visiting my sister,
to hear her doorbell ring,
only to see my sister go to her front porch,
pick up a package
and then bring it to me.


"For me?" I asked.    


She just smiled.


I opened the package and inside was this beautiful cup.


"Thank you, Laura."
I said to my sister.


"Oh, it's not from me, "
she quickly shot back.


"What?
Who else could it be from?" I asked.


"Look in the box, " she suggested.
"Maybe there's a note."

And, there was.

It was from a dear friend who has faithfully been walking beside me as I try to find my way through this season of grief and a new life without my husband.

"How did she know your address?" I asked my sister.

"She sent me a message request on Facebook."

Tears filled the corner of my eyes.
To think this friend would go above and beyond to seek out my sister,
to get the address of where I would be for my birthday and Christmas,
and send me a reminder
that she was still thinking about me,
still praying for me,
still walking with me.
I was beyond undone by her kindness.

Fast forward a few days later - same scenario - only this time we were at the group mailboxes in my sister's subdivision. Out came another package and again, my sister smiled and handed it to me.

This time, this special friend had sent a beautiful bracelet reminding me
I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.
Again, I was completely undone by her gesture -
by the way she over and over again chooses to live her faith,
live her love for God and others out loud,
so beautifully, so extravagantly.

While I love both the cup and the bracelet,
I cannot begin to tell you how much I love her heart or
how much I love our precious Heavenly Father for the gift of her in my life.

It is my prayer this year that I will love like she does.

It is a big prayer, no doubt,
because the way she loves is without limits,
without bounds,
but isn't that the way God has called each of us to love?

And, when we do,
when we love like Jen does,
the love of God is seen, felt, and experienced in undeniable ways.

When we love like Jesus,
others feel His love.
And, take it from a heart that knows,
there is no other feeling like it in this entire world.







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Thursday, January 5, 2017

A Tuxedo? Absolutely!

Did you see it?

Scrolling through Facebook a couple of days ago,
I ran across an article with a photo of a young man in a suit.

The snippet attached shared with the readers the special occasion that
(in this young man's eyes)
called for such formal attire
and had him looking his best.

His sister was having a baby,
and soon he would be welcoming his brand new niece into a brand new world.

According to this soon to be uncle,
"First impressions matter."

I had to smile.

And while first impressions definitely matter,
I couldn't help thinking the formal attire fit perfectly for this occasion,
but for an entirely different reason.

A new life -
what event could be more worthy of a tuxedo,
than that?

This is why I think my husband thought birthdays were so very special.

In our home,
birthdays automatically called for a day off.
Just like planning a vacation,
requests for these days off were submitted well in advance
so nothing,
not even our jobs,
would stand in the way of celebrating
the workmanship of God
by celebrating the life He had so meticulously created.

Balloons all over the house,
not one cake, but sometimes two,
not just a special dinner, but an entire day of
thanking God,
rejoicing in the gift of the one created,
a full-blown celebration.

And, today is his.

And, this has me missing him so very much.

But, it also has me overflowing with so much thanks:

- thanks to God for creating my man
- thanks to God for saving my man for me
- thanks to God for the blessings of having been his Mrs.
- thanks to God for all this man added to this world
- thanks to God for the blessing of sharing in his life

and thanks that while I am missing my man today,
I never missed an opportunity to celebrate God's creation of him.

Birthdays -
they aren't just another day of the week or month.

They. Are. Special.

They are worthy of celebration,
worthy of tuxedos,
worthy of stopping what we are doing
and giving thanks
and celebrating
in the most extraordinary ways.

And,
you do know,
right -
that extraordinary doesn't necessarily have to mean expensive?

It doesn't cost anything to make someone feel loved and appreciated.

Words of affirmation, affection, "I love you", "I thank God for you" - free.
Hugs and kisses - free.
Time spent together - free.
Prayers of thanks - free.
Handwritten notes tucked into places all over the house to be discovered at just the right time - free.

Today,
my heart longs for nothing more
than to be able to spend this day with my man.
Instead,
I am cherishing the memories of birthdays past
and finding joy in the moments spent together.

And my words to you -
this year,
in 2017,
this:
purpose to go above and beyond to celebrate those in your life.

Break out the tuxedo,
take off a day from work,
pull out all the stops
and celebrate life.

Time is precious.

 A love in your life - even more precious.

And,
you never know when,
you will no longer have either.









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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Don't Just Hear, Listen~

Why is it,
when we have clearly heard the voice of reason,
we foolishly choose not to listen?

Sometimes,
turning a deaf-ear to wisdom
isn't particularly costly.
Sometimes, it is.

This morning,
standing at my sister's dining room window,
my camera in hand,
my usual southwest desert eyes
now farther north and feasting on a winter scene,
I heard the voice of reason.

Taking one photo after another,
all the while trying to capture the beauty on the other side of the glass,
I frowned when my camera beeped,
posted the words "exhausted battery" in my view finder,
and powered off.

Wanting to use up every last bit of my battery,
I turned my camera back on again.
I had learned while taking other photos
on other days
of other things,
that there are always a few more photos that can be taken on an "exhausted" battery.

But,
only a few.
And, you never quite know when your few is up.

As I turned the camera on,
gambling on the remaining life of the current batteries
instead of replacing them with new,
I heard the voice of reason
in words my husband always told me
each and every time
I took this chance.

"Beautiful, just replace the batteries.  You are only going to get one or two more photos from those already in your camera. What if you end up missing a photo opportunity because at the very moment you decide to take an amazing photo your camera powers off? Why take that chance? Replace your batteries, Beautiful."

Standing at the window,
the snowy scene in front of me
and the wisdom of my husband behind me,
pecking me on my shoulder,
I smiled.

"I know, Handsome.  I know.  And, you're right. But, I don't want to waste one bit of these batteries. Just a few more photos and I'll change them."

Snapping a photo or two,
I put my camera down and just gazed outside.
And, that's when I saw it.
There, sitting on the fence,
a beautiful, fluffy tailed squirrel.

Quickly, I picked up my camera,
aimed at this amazing photo opportunity right before me
and  . . .
yep, you guessed it.

My camera powered off.
And then,
before I could even think about putting new batteries in,
my amazing photo opportunity wandered off.

And,
I only had me to blame.

I wish I could say this only happens when I have my camera in hand,
but sadly, that's not the case.

More than my Handsome Honey spoke his wise words to me,
my precious Heavenly Father is always and forever speaking words of wisdom into my life.

Through the pages of His Holy Word,
through the prompting of His Spirit,
through the counsel of Godly friends and family members,
through the lyrics of a song of praise and worship -
all day long,
the voice of reason from my Heavenly Father is clearly heard.

And yet,
I don't always listen.
I don't always heed His counsel.
I don't always obey.

Call me a slow learner.
Call me stubborn and proud.
Call me foolish.

All apply.

And this morning,
as I watched the squirrel make his way down the fence and over into another yard,
I asked my Heavenly Father to help me not simply be content to hear,
but to be intentional to listen.

Missing a photo of a squirrel is no big deal.
Yes, I was disappointed.
Yes, I wished I had changed my batteries.
But, in the big picture of life,
my turning a deaf-ear didn't have huge consequences.

And,
it was in this precious moment,
I realized anew
how gracious and kind my Heavenly Father is -
to teach me this lesson,
once again,
through a matter as tiny and as insignificant as this.

"My precious child",
in my spirit I heard Him speaking,
"heed the lesson I have for you this day.
When My voice of reason speaks,
listen.
Obey.
Right then.
Every time."

And, I heard my spirit answering back.
"Yes, my precious Father.
You are always so faithful to speak.
Help me to not only hear,
but to be faithful to listen."

Still communing with my Father,
I removed the old batteries from my camera
and replaced them with new.
Then, I turned my gaze back out to the winter wonderland before me.

And, who do you suppose I saw?



Isn't that just like God?

Yes, indeed.
Oh, how He loves.






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Sunday, January 1, 2017

A New Year's Prayer









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Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Look Back (The Most Read and Shared Posts of 2016)

When the clock strikes midnight
and a brand new year begins,
we have absolutely no idea 
what the next twelve months will hold.

But, God does.

While life events may catch us by surprise,
they never surprise our Heavenly Father.

As 2016 comes to an end, 
I decided to let this past year speak for itself.
Instead of writing about stepping out into 2017,
I wanted instead to focus on God's faithfulness in 2016.

And, after all,
doesn't that seem fitting?

It is in looking back
that we find the courage to step forward.

It is remembering God's faithfulness then
that reminds us He will be faithful 
today,
and tomorrow,
and the day after tomorrow.

So, here you have it: 
the most read and shared posts of 2016.

























































































Thank you, my precious Abba Daddy, 
for 2016 and Your undeniable presence through every single moment of every single day.

Thank you,
that as we step through the door of 2017, 
You go with us,
ever walking 
beside us,
before us,
behind us,
within us.








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Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Most Unlikely Place~

Sometimes, the message of Christmas shows up in the most unlikely place.

A young virgin.

A stable.

A Facebook news-feed.

Several Decembers ago, I decided to hop on my computer and check Facebook one more time before heading to bed, before sweet dreams took over.

My younger sister was spending the weekend in New York City, taking in all the city and Christmas there had to offer. Me, I was "seeing the sights" through each post, (plus, keeping tabs on her in the big city - it's what big sisters do, right?! - no matter the fact that my sister was 38 at the time!)

It was hoping to discover where she was now that had me booting up and logging on.

Sure enough, she had left another post and another photo. Oddly enough (or maybe not odd at all) it was smack dab in the middle of these other three posts.

Anita:
Tears of sadness tonight. Breast cancer has taken the life of a dear friend. I sure do look forward to that day when all suffering ends. To those of you who knew Sheryl, she passed away at 6:30 tonight.

Shelly: 
"God's strength is fully revealed when our strength is fully depleted." ~LizCurtisHiggs

Laura:
Such a lovely sight! I love NYC! 


Danette:
My aunt Carmen lost her battle with cancer today. Prayers for the family are welcome. Rest peacefully Carmen. I love you.

Yes, sometimes, the message of Christmas is torn from the manager, hand-delivered, unwrapped and placed right in the lap of your heart when you least expect it, but need it the most.

As I read through each post, I thought of the baby born on that blessed night. Jesus, bundled in swaddling clothes, innocent, pure, all-God, yet all baby, oddly enough (or maybe not odd at all) hand delivered by Almighty God, through a young virgin, and placed smack dab in the middle of our world.

In the middle of our suffering.

In the middle of our sin.

In the middle of our weakness.

As my eyes stared at my computer screen, my heart found itself gazing upon the very heart of God.

This is why the herald angels sang.
This is why "we three kings" traveled afar.
This is why the little town of Bethlehem is still visited today.
This is why the night of this baby's birth, unlike any other night, was silent and holy.

Immanuel.

God is with us.

Not in some far away Heaven.
Not hidden from view, out of ear shot, untouched or unbothered.
Not there, but here.

Jesus came straight from Heaven,
into our sin-marred, heart-breaking, pain-inflicting world
so that through
His immaculate conception,
His lowly birth,
His spotless life,
His sacrificial death,
you and I,
in the midst of all this earthliness,
can taste and know the sweetness of Heaven,
that is found in only in God
and only when God is with us.

Hope.
Peace.
Strength.
Joy.
Love.
Salvation.
Everlasting life.

This is the message of Christmas to be lived out in our hearts all year long.

God with us when the diagnosis is cancer.
God with us when our tears fall beside the freshly dug grave of a loved one.
God with us when our strength is gone.
God with us when the world turns against us.
God with us when we stand and gaze at the lights of Christmas.

God with us here, now, forever.

As I re-read the posts left behind by those I love,
I pictured Anita and Danette
     wiping away tears,
                      longing for Heaven,
                                 comforted by the blessed hope we have in Christ.

I pictured Shelly
             sitting up a little taller,
                                 her courage and faith a little stronger,
                                                        strengthened by the power we have in Christ.

I pictured my beautiful sister, Laura,
                smiling with delight,
                              her eyes seeing the sparkle of Christmas shining radiant and bright
                                            against the darkness of night,
                                                          overwhelmed by the joy-filled light we have in Christ.

And, I pictured God,
               wiping a tear,
                               sitting up a little taller,
                                         smiling with delight,
                                                   looking down on His own son lying in a manger,
                                                             defined by ALL we have in Christ.


This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. 
And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; 
by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. 
God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger,
 telling the world how bad it was. 
He came to help, to put the world right again.
 ~John 3:16-17 (MSG)


Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. 
If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, 
because you will have the light that leads to life.”
~John 8:12 (NLT)



Yes, sometimes, the perfectly perfect message of Christmas shows up in the most unlikely place -
the human heart.

And when it does,
a life is reborn -
a life that is not bound by time and space,
a life that is not limited to here and now,
a life that is not without help, not without spiritual healing, not without hope.

When the Christ of Christmas is hand-delivered,
unwrapped,
and given residency in the heart of a human,
God. is. with. us.

Now.

Forever.

Always.

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 
The light shines in the darkness, 
and the darkness has not overcome it.
~John 1:4-5 (NIV)








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Thursday, December 22, 2016

When Friends Pray~

Happy birthday, sweet friend.
I've had a long and exhausting day and wanted to touch base with you all day...though I just realized a few minutes ago from Facebook that it was your birthday.  Which is just crazy weird because I woke up this morning around 5:45, which is about an hour and a half before I usually get up.  Gabe's monitor was beeping all the way out in the kitchen because of a low battery and after I got up to shut if off, I had you on my mind all morning and couldn't sleep.

I laid back down as soon as I fixed the beeping monitor, but tossed and turned and couldn't sleep, and just prayed for you for a while because for some reason, God put it on my heart. I guess what was about 3:45 am for you, so you were probably fast asleep! But for some reason I had this urge to pray for you and reach out to you today, and now as I realize it's your birthday, it was probably God reminding me to thank you for being you, and reminding me how blessed I am that our paths crossed some 4 years ago!

I hope you're enjoying your birthday and I'm also praying that it's been bearable, as I know it's the first without your sweet man celebrating with you.

I love you, lady!  Happy Birthday! I'm so thankful for you. 


Oh beautiful friend,
First, before anything, I have to apologize for not taking full advantage of the opportunity to see you while you were visiting here a few weeks ago. I really wanted to see you, but my heart and I have been in some major wrestling matches the past month or so. Please forgive me.  I know your beautiful heart understood and that you were more than willing to give me space, but still - I want you to know how very sorry I am. I also hope you know just how precious you are to me and how much I treasure you and your friendship. You are so dear to my heart. Love you, friend.

When I read your message, my heart was overwhelmed. To think God would speak my name to your heart in the early morning hours, to know you spent some of that early morning time praying specifically and especially for me - it touched my heart in ways I can't even express.

I am so thankful you shared this with me because my birthday was not a day I was looking forward to. My sweet man made every birthday extra special and since my last birthday was only a month and a half or so from when I lost him, it is one of the my most recent, precious memories. Also, having a birthday without him - just another reminder of the reality of his death. (This is what my heart and I wrestle with most.)  And yet, the actual day of my birthday - after you had prayed for me - I awoke with such a peace in my heart. Unbelievable, unexplainable peace. And what was so beautiful - this peace surrounded me all. day. long.  I didn't shed one tear the entire day - and that is saying a lot because tears come every day, several times a day, especially lately. 

Now, I know why. Now, I know it was your prayers that carried me through the day. To know God loves me so much He would speak my name to you, to know you love me so much you would answer the call and pray - *tears even now as I type* - this is too precious for words. Thank you, precious friend. I am the one so very thankful, the one so very blessed, the one eternally grateful that God had our lives intersect 4 years ago. Only our gracious Abba Daddy could orchestrate all of that.

Merry Christmas, sweet friend. May it be happy and blessed and may the happiness and blessings follow you right on through 2017. Love you! Big hug to you.









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Friday, December 9, 2016

Whatever Is Right~

"What am I supposed to do with this?"

He stood there, his arms folded across his chest, a look of "I don't know" on his face.

"What am I supposed to do with this?  I've served here seven years. I lose my husband and now I have to sign this paper or I'm terminated immediately? Seven years.  Don't I deserve more than this? What am I supposed to do with this?"

Still, he stood there, his arms folded across his chest, a look of "I don't know" on his face.

And as much as I hate to admit it, I have been wrestling with this even still, even now,
two months later.

Until tonight -
Until God showed me this:

For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, "You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you." So they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, "Why have you been standing here idle all day". They said to him, "Because no one hired us." He said to them, "You also go into the vineyard and whatever is right you will receive."

So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, "Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first." And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius.

And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying "These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day." But he answered one of them and said, "Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is is not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?" So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen."
~Matthew 20:1-16

Even though the men who had worked all day
received the exact sum they had agreed upon before entering the field,
a denarius,
somehow,
they felt as though they deserved more.

What is it about us humans that always makes us think we know what we deserve?

As I read this story
what captured my heart was not the obvious.
I didn't ponder
the disgruntled workers who had toiled all day,
or the seemingly "unfair" wages given in comparison to hours worked.

What tumbled round and round in my heart was what the landowner said to the
workers hired at the third, the sixth, the ninth, and the eleventh hour.

"You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you."

Unlike those first hired,
these workers stepped into the field
without a clue as to how much they would be receiving for their labor.

They had no idea.

They were simply happy this man had offered them work
and that they had the opportunity to earn something, anything.
Period.

And the part that completely took over my thoughts was this:
These men trusted the landowner.
With no official contract,
with no handshake or deal made,
they trusted whatever was right would be given to them.

So often, we think we know what we deserve.
We think we know what we should be given.

And yet,
here in this parable,
the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart a most beautiful truth:
God doesn't want to give us what we think we deserve,
God wants to give us whatever is right.

The men hired at the third, sixth, ninth, and eleventh hours
could have insisted they knew what their wages would be
before they ever took one step into the vineyard.

They could have asked to receive the equivalent pay
of those already in the field,
based on the hours they worked.

"If you are paying full day workers a whole denarius,
then we who are only working half a day,
will work for half a denarius."

But, they didn't.
They were willing to work and then receive
whatever the landowner thought was "right" to give them.

And, how incredibly generous this landowner was.

Everyone - no matter how long they worked - received a denarius.

The landowner gave them not what they might have felt they deserved,
but what he felt was right to give them.

And what he gave those who trusted him enough to go,
no questions asked,
no dotted line signed,
no handshake exchanged,
was more than they ever imagined.

"What am I supposed to do with this?  I've served here seven years. I lose my husband and now I have to sign this paper or I'm terminated immediately? Seven years.  Don't I deserve more than this? What am I supposed to do with this?"

As I thought back to that day,
back to this conversation,
back to this moment of wanting what I thought I deserved,
I heard God speak to my heart.

"My precious child, 
You are hurt because you don't feel you got what you deserved,
but, don't you see?
Don't you know the heart of Your Father?
I don't want to give you what you think you deserve,
I want to give you whatever is right."

And, then last,
but certainly not least,
there is that last phrase in this parable:
For many are called, but few chosen.

At the start of the day, the landowner had gone out to hire laborers.
No doubt, many men knew the landowner would need workers.
No doubt, many men were probably waiting for the landowner bright and early.
They knew there was work to be done and they were there to answer the call.

These men were called.

Later, though, 
through out the day,
the landowner saw men in the marketplace, standing idle.
When he asked them why they were just standing around doing nothing
they replied, "No one would hire us."

These were the ones who were chosen.

This landowner purposely and personally approached them 
and chose them to work in his field.

The landowner purposely and personally invited them into his field
and longed to give them whatever was right.

Again, as I thought back to that day,
back to that conversation,
back to that moment of wanting what I thought I deserved,
of feeling I should still be where I had been called to work,
I heard God speak to my heart.

"My precious child, 
You are hurt because you feel rejected,
you feel not wanted,
you feel like the workers who replied "No one would hire us",
but, don't you see?
Don't you know the heart of Your Father?
It is I.
I AM inviting you into my field now.
I AM choosing you."

What is it about us humans 
that makes us think we know what we deserve?

What is it about us humans 
that makes us long for the "contractual security" that man can give 
when God, Himself, 
if we will simply trust Him 
no questions asked,
no dotted lines signed,
no handshakes exchanged,
longs to give us whatever is right,
longs to give us so much more?

What is it about us humans 
that makes us long to stay where we are called
when we have been given the opportunity to go where we have been chosen?

The landowner was more than generous, more than kind-hearted, more than deserved.

Our God - 
there is not limit to His generosity, His kindness, His GRACE.

Yes, grace,
That's what this story is about, you know.
God's grace.

Grace that gives more than we deserve.
Grace that doesn't simply call us,
but grace that purposely and personally chooses us.

What is it about us humans that makes it so hard for us to 
receive of His grace?

Up until just a bit ago,
I had been wrestling with
"What am I supposed to do with this?"

But not here,
not tonight,
not now,
not after God showed me this.

What am I supposed to do with this?
Nothing.

Grace,
God's amazing grace,
already took care of it.









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