Monday, March 23, 2009

Eyes Wide Open

Plans for a peaceful end to a relaxing day came to a screeching halt when my husband came to a sudden stop while driving up our driveway. There in plain sight, soaking up the heat from our concrete drive, was a snake. If I had been the one behind the wheel, not only would forward progress have stopped, but backward progress would have started immediately!

Our new guest, although uninvited, had obviously seen the "Mi Casa es Su Casa" plaque above our front door and had decided to take us up on the offer. Actually, we have no such sign, but I don't think that bothered this slithery creature. It was just a matter of time before it would be hanging up a sign of it's own; one that would read, "Home sweet Home." Needless to say, we were not excited about this new addition.

My husband, Steve, bravely and cautiously stepped out of our vehicle and walked toward the front of our car. I chose to let my eyes do the walking for me, while the rest of my body stayed belted in the passenger seat, safe and secure. Expecting to meet this guest face to face, my husband was surprised to discover it had made tracks and was now on the move. Out of the corner of his eye, Steve caught a glimpse of the tail end of this serpent as it slipped into the nearby bushes. The snake vanished quickly, taking our peace of mind with it.

For the rest of the summer, life as normal could not be found at our home as long as our new visitor kept eluding us. Now, each time we stepped outdoors, this creature was the first and oftentimes, the only thing on our mind. It was out there. We knew it. We just didn't know where it would show up next. We had been surprised by this creature once and didn't want to be caught unaware a second time.

Taking out the garbage, which "pre-snake" was a nice excuse to venture outside, had now turned into a mad dash out and a mad dash back in. No time to stop and smell the roses when our new guest might be somewhere tiptoeing through the tulips! Nights of sitting out on our patio gazing at the stars were replaced with nights of sitting on our couch watching TV and staring at "stars" far less inspiring. Our garage door, which we usually left slightly ajar during the hot days of summer, was now locked down tighter than Fort Knox. Each time life took us outside the safety of our home, our eyes would quickly begin their job of meticulously scouring the yard for any sign of the snake. Thankfully, we never did see our yard guest again.

From the way we were acting, you would have thought we had never seen a snake before. Snakes, however, are not an oddity where we live. Here, in the southwestern part of New Mexico, they are almost as common as a cactus or a tumbleweed. What WAS odd was our total complacency toward this known danger prior to our snake siting.

Living with a new heightened level of security that summer got me thinking. Like the snake, Satan is a known danger in my life. The Bible warns I need to always be on guard so this enemy of my soul will not catch me unaware. Yet, how easily I let my guard down, forgetting this original serpent can show up at any time and any place in my Christian walk. How often I leave myself vulnerable for attack by neglecting to fortify my heart with God's words of hope and promise. How carelessly I step out into my life without first focusing my eyes on my Saviour and scouring my heart and life for signs of spiritual danger. Foolishly, I allow myself to become complacent, living my life totally oblivious to Satan, who is a constant threat to my very existence, both now and for all eternity!

Yes, the snake who sought to take up residence in our yard that summer and the serpent who is constantly looking for any opportunity to move into my heart are very similar indeed. However, despite their obvious similarities, there remains one striking difference. The snake meant no intentional harm. Satan does. Even more reason for me to be sober, and be vigilant and to keep my eyes wide open!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I AM

What did the Lord call you to do today? Are you feeling as though the task is much greater than your ability to accomplish it? If so, be encouraged, my friend. God will never ask of you what He is not wiling or able to do through you. Simply trust in Him, allow Him to work out His plan, and through you, the world will see the great I AM. This is the theme of the following song by one of my all time favorite Christian artists, Ginny Owens.... and my thought for you today.

I Am

No Lord, he said, you've got the wrong guy
Simple conversation gets me tongue-tied
And you're telling me to speak with a maniac king
Or could it be I've lost my mind


Besides, I am weak, don't you want someone strong
To lead them out of Egypt when they've been there so long
And anyway, they won’t believe You ever spoke to me
It's not your problem, God replied
And the rest is history’


Cause there's a bigger picture you can't see
You don't have to change the world, just trust in Me
'Cause I am your creator, I am working out my plan
And through you I will show them, I Am


Now Lord, are you sure?
He's just a shepherd boy
Too small for battle gear with a giant to destroy
What on earth can he do with five stones and a sling
It's not your problem, God replied
'Cause I can do anything


There's a bigger picture you can't see
You don't have to change the world, just trust in me
'Cause I am your creator,
I am working out my plan
And through you, I will show them


I am the first, I am the last

I am the present and the past

I am tomorrow and today

I am the only way



Great Lord, she said, I'm just a simple girl
You say that I will bring your son into the world
How can I understand this thing You're gonna do
It's not your problem, God replied


'Cause, there's a bigger picture
And you don't have to change the world (oh no)
I'm your creator, I am working out my plan
And through you, I will show them


There's a bigger picture, you can't see
You don't have to change the world, just trust in me
’Cause I am your creator, I am working out my plan
And through you, I will show them, I Am

I AM

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Faith is the Key

(Note: This article first appeared in the June 2007 edition of P31 Woman. If you would like more information concerning this magazine or Proverbs 31 Ministries, visit them at their website: http://www.proverbs31.org )
Sally had done it now. With one step of her little black paw on the front door lock, she had locked herself inside the car, and worse of all, had locked me out. To make matters worse, the engine was still on, and now in this new found situation, my fear and anxiety had turned on, too! What a sight we must have been. An excited little puppy pouncing on the inside of the door, looking out the window at me, while I stood there, a helpless grown adult, looking in at her!

It had all started when I decided to stop and check my mail at the group of mailboxes located at the end of our cul-de-sac. It was mid-July. With temperatures over the 100 degree mark, I had opted to leave the car running with the air conditioner on. I hopped out of the car, with only the mailbox key in my hand. When I returned back to the car and reached for the door handle, Sally excitedly jumped up on the door to greet me and had inadvertently created a chasm as deep as the Grand Canyon between us. What could I do now?

Pray, of course, and pray I did. Instantly, the thought came to me. The key to unlock the door is right in your hand. But as quickly as this thought had come, doubts had come, too, rising to the forefront of my mind, drowning it out. That key will never fit in the lock for the car door. It's just a mailbox key. Why sometimes it's even a struggle to get it to fit in the mailbox lock. Open a car door? Nope, it will never work.

I decided to walk around the car and check the doors and windows. Maybe I would find one of the other three doors had been left unlocked. Perhaps a window might be opened just enough to aid me in solving this unfortunate dilemma. But, after checking each door and window at least twice, I was the one still standing outside the car, anxious, frantic and hot, while my puppy was the one on the inside, calm, cool, and collected.

Repeatedly, the same thought, The key to unlock the door is right in your hand, kept trying to push it's way through the crowd of doubt and self-reliance flooding my mind. Ridiculous. Absurd. It will never work. There has to be something else I can do. But what? What could I do? I kept trying to think of a way to get into my car, while stubbornly refusing to listen to His still small voice.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I decided to "give in" and try the mailbox key. After all, what would it hurt? I could at least try to use this key to open the door, couldn't I? So, slowly and almost reverently, I inserted the mailbox key into the keyhole........and it turned. The door lock popped up and the wall between Sally and I came tumbling down.

How I could have saved myself these past minutes of tension, frustration and sweat! The answer to my problem had come as soon as I had prayed. The Lord had been faithful to send help the moment I had needed it. I was the one who delayed. I was the one who hindered His assistance by my pride and a spirit of self-reliance. Truly, the key to unlock the door had been right in my hand the whole time.

How often we come face to face with locked doors in our lives. A rejection by a spouse. A pink slip from our employer. A rebellious child. A life threatening illness. We see no earthly way of unlocking this door, so we stand helplessly on the outside looking in. We plead with God to help us, and when his answer comes, we choose our own solutions which seem more logical, and more reasonable, only to find they are unsuccessful and futile. God whispers his direction and guidance time and time again. The key to unlock the door is right in your hand. And so it is. For God has given to each of us a measure of faith, and it is faith alone that is needed to unlock these doors in our lives.

A few weeks later, my curiosity got the best of me. I kept wondering if God had truly worked a miracle in my behalf, or if that mailbox key was just similar enough to that of the car key that it had worked when tried. Once again, with the same reverence as before, I slowly approached my car and tried to insert the very same mailbox key into the lock. This time, to my surprise, it wouldn't even begin to go in the lock, much less unlock the door. But then again, why should it? That key, after all, is just a simple mailbox key whose only purpose is to allow me access to my mailbox so I can retrieve my mail. Nothing more. Nothing less. Faith is what unlocked my car door!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Purpose to Pray

Today, I am wearing one of my favorite pairs of shoes, my Miranda shoes. No, Miranda is not a famous designer of footwear, although she might grow up to be one someday. Miranda is a former student of mine, and the shoes, a constant reminder for me to pray for her. Let me explain.

Miranda was an excellent student and learning came easy for this energetic, independent 3rd grader. Easy in every subject except Math, that is. For some reason, Miranda struggled with mathematical concepts. The only thing that came easy for Miranda during Math class was frustration! So, at the first parent-teacher conference of the school year, I offered to tutor Miranda each day after school, at no cost to the family. Her mother willingly accepted my invitation, and the tutoring began.

The school year flew by quickly and I was proud of the progress Miranda had made. At an Educational Fair held the final week of school, I was approached by Miranda's grandmother. She gently squeezed my arm, smiled, and handed me an envelope. Then, she slipped into the crowd gathered in the gym to view the various projects and exhibits on display. That evening, I opened the envelope to find a beautiful, handwritten note thanking me for tutoring her precious granddaughter. To further show her appreciation, she had enclosed a check.

A few months later, while shopping at a local mall, I came across a pair of black shoes. I had been wanting to replace my old ones and these were just what I had been looking for. I tried them on and they fit perfectly. There was only one problem. Our budget was tight and I didn't have any extra money to spend on them. Then, I remembered Miranda and the generosity of her grandmother. Months earlier, when I had cashed her check, my husband had told me to tuck the money into a "hidden" place in my wallet so it would be there when I wanted to buy something special. Money in hand, I headed to the check out counter.

As I waited in line to purchase my shoes, I thanked God for the money I had received. Then, I smiled and prayed a special prayer just for Miranda. These shoes, in a round about way, had brought Miranda to my mind and a prayer for her to my lips! At that moment, I purposed in my heart to say a prayer for Miranda each and every time I put on my "Miranda shoes". I also purposed to pray for others in my life, every time I saw something that made me think of them.

How many times has something in your day made you think of a family member or a close friend? While driving to work you see a car that looks identical to the one your friend drives. While eating at a restaurant, your waitress has the same name as your Aunt. While watching the evening news, you hear the name of the town your friend lives in. Are these simply coincidences? I don't think so. God has given us the unique privilege and the awesome responsibility to pray for others.

So, this morning as I put on my Miranda shoes, I prayed for precious Miranda. A couple of days ago, when I received an email from a special friend, I prayed for her. This morning, when I saw a little girl who reminded me of my own sister at that young age, I prayed for her. Yesterday, while shopping for groceries, I saw a pregnant lady, and prayed for a friend of mine who is expecting a little one of her own.

How humbling and exciting to remember that our God can use ordinary things in our lives to do extraordinary things in the lives of others when we allow ourselves to be used by Him to pray for someone in need. Today, why not purpose in your heart to pray whenever God chooses to use you?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Big Mouths and Little Ears

For eighteen years, when I got out of bed in the morning and went to work, it was to a place where little hearts and minds looked up to me as "teacher". This was a title I always prized, and yet at times, felt so unworthy of. For with this title came the utmost responsibility to mold young lives not only for life in this world, but also for eternity.

When I stood before my class, it was Jesus I wanted them to see. Yet so many times, I got in the way, or should I say, my big mouth did. I was made humbly aware of the tremendous influence I had on my students, each time I would hear words I'd spoken coming out of their mouths. Words of impatience. Words of condemnation. Words of disappointment. Words of hurt. It was quite obvious I had a big mouth and their little ears were listening!

The Bible tells us the tongue is the smallest member of the body, and yet the hardest to control. How true this is. Yet, knowing that the power of life and death are in the tongue, we so carelessly enter into conversation. We speak first and think second, if we bother to think at all. How we like Paul need to pray our words will always be seasoned with grace and will be edifying to all ears, especially little ones. Like David, our prayer should be that the Lord would set a guard before our mouths.

As Christians, we need to realize our words do not only condition the hearts of those who hear them, but also reveal for all to see, the spiritual condition of our own heart. An unhealthy mouth is merely a symptom of a spiritually unhealthy heart. It was Jesus himself who diagnosed this life-threatening illness in Matthew 12:34, "for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." Our words are a reflection of our heart and our only hope is found in a new heart. In Ezekiel 11:19, God promises to take our stony heart and replace it with a heart of flesh. A heart that is tender, compassionate and keenly aware of the words that flow forth from it.

As a teacher, and most importantly as a Christian, I need this new heart. I need to sit at the feet of Jesus each day learning anew His language of love. A language that speaks life to the hearer. Words of affirmation. Words of encouragement. Words of dignity and praise. Words of hope.

What were my words really saying to those precious little ones who had been entrusted to my care? What are your words saying to those in your sphere of influence? What kind of heart is touching theirs? If ever in doubt, we need simply to listen to our mouth and it will tell us. Remember, even if our own ears aren't listening to the words we are speaking, we can be certain, plenty of other ears are!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

God's Heart of Love

Yesterday morning, before I left for work, I lovingly placed a small, red plastic heart in the coffeemaker. Yes, you read that right.....the coffeemaker. I pulled out the container normally reserved for the filter and the coffee, and placed "my heart" there instead. As I walked away from the kitchen and headed out the door, I couldn't help but smile as I thought of the surprised look sure to be on my husband's face when he made coffee later that morning.

Before the coffeemaker, the red heart had been spotted when, one evening, I returned home from work to find a beautiful flowering potted plant sitting on our bathroom window sill. The heart was propped up against the purple pot, in plain sight for all to see.

Before the plant, the red heart had surprised my husband one morning when he bent down to pick up the newspaper. Both the heart and the morning news were waiting to greet him on the sidewalk leading to our home. Before this, I had discovered the heart in the refrigerator, atop a container of leftovers I had planned to take for my lunch that day.

The heart exchange is something my husband and I do on a regular basis. It was never discussed or planned, it just happened. We have been doing it for so long, I'm not sure how it actually got started, but it has yet to lose it's "magic". The heart is a symbol of our love for each other, and I'm not sure which is more rewarding - leaving the heart to be found, or discovering it!

As I tucked the heart into the coffeemaker, I thought about God and the beautiful and faithful way He, too, tucks reminders of His love into each of our days. Sometimes, God's love is seen in the obvious, like the beautiful flowering plant, showcasing His love for all to see. Other times, however, His heart may be tucked into the mundane, day to day places of our lives like the refrigerator or the coffeemaker.

In every situation, and in every place, God's love is waiting to be discovered. In a beautiful sunrise. In a baby's laugh. In a promotion. In a good meal. These are the obvious places. Yet God's love is also found in the not so obvious. In the dark of night. In the tears of suffering. In failure. In times of desperation.

In the refrigerator times of life, when all seems cold, and we are shaking with fear, God's love is there. In the coffeemaker times of life, when the stress and demands of day to day living cause us to percolate and steep in the heat of the battle, God's love is there. God's love is even waiting for us when we receive news that leaves us uncertain of the future. If we just look, we will see His heart.

Last night, with a wink and a smile, my husband informed me his morning coffee was the best he had ever had. That was my intention, to sweeten his day with a reminder of my love for him. Today, keep your eyes open for reminders of God's love for you, and this day just might turn out to be the best today you've ever had!