Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Real Deal~

My grandma, born and raised in the deep South, was a spunky lady, to say the least. She had a dry, witty sense of humor and was famous for her one-liners. While her words always brought a laugh, they also revealed her wisdom. Long after the laughter faded, her words resonated in my heart.

As a young, single woman in my early twenties, I often traveled by myself. I thought nothing of getting in my car and driving seven hours North to see my parents, or ten hours East to spend time with my sister. My parents, however, worried about my safety. Time after time, they cautioned me of the dangers of traveling alone. One time, this familiar topic of conversation came up while we were visiting my grandma.

"I don't know why she insists on traveling by herself," my mother said, as I sat right beside her on my Grandma's couch. "I keep telling her to get a man's hat and place it in her back window. That way, it would at least look like a man was traveling with her. For all they know, he could simply be taking a nap in the backseat!"

Without skipping a beat, my Grandma leaned forward, looked directly at me and remarked, "Forget about the hat, honey. Get a man!" Laughter spilled into the room. Then Grandma continued. "Who wants a silly ole hat when you can have the real deal?!"

And of course, for all practical purposes, Grandma was right! I understood my mother's reasoning and felt her love for me in this odd request, but I had to agree with my Grandma. What good would a hat do? It was, after all, just a hat. At a quick glance, it might give the appearance that a man was along for the ride, but appearances and reality are two totally different things! Could a hat change a flat tire for me? Could a hat take the wheel and drive for me if I got tired and needed a break from the driver's seat? Could a hat protect me from a would be assailant? No, the hat was merely for show and would only provide a false sense of security. I didn't need a hat, I needed a man!

As ridiculous as I found my mother's idea to be, I couldn't deny the joke was on me when it came to my spiritual life.

 I had grown up in a Christian home and had attended church from a young age. I knew all about God, the Bible, and what it meant to look like a Christian. In fact, anyone who spotted me cruising through life would have been sure to notice my Bible, my Christian lingo and my Christian ways. But, if they would have gotten close enough to peer into the backseat of my heart, they would have discovered all these were just for show. I was traveling life alone. I had religion, but what I needed was the man, Christ Jesus.



It wasn't until my earlier thirties that I traded in my religious facade for a true, vibrant, living and breathing relationship with the Lord. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God became real to me for the first time in my life. Now, my Bible is no longer on display for all to see, but instead, it's words are hidden in my heart, guiding, leading and transforming me little by little, day by day. The words I speak are no longer spoken to impress others with my spirituality, but rather to impress upon others the beauty and freedom that can be found in a relationship with Jesus. I pray each day God will take the wheel of my life and live in and through me.

I am no longer satisfied with religion.
I am no longer content to live a life "just for show", and why should I be?

Think about it.    

Can religion forgive my sins?

Can religion create a new heart in me?

Can religion live in and through me?

Can religion feel my hurt, understand my fears, or speak to my heart?

No, only Jesus can.

Why would I want to settle for anything less than Jesus?...and why should you?


-------------

Oh, by the way, in case you are wondering, I took my Grandma's advice and got a man. Now, I not only have Christ in my life, but a wonderful husband, too! No more traveling alone for this girl! From now on, it's the three of us sharing every single moment of this amazing ride called life!









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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Fighting Your Way Back Up~

"That's why I hate living in this world sometimes!"

The words tumbled out, wrapped around the tears gushing from my heart.

We stood at the front door, my husband and I.  There, on the front porch, a baby hummingbird, lying on its back, lifeless. We had heard it hit; the sound of the impact propelling us to the door.

There, on the welcome mat, yet another vivid, unwanted, unwelcome, reminder of sin.

Death.

It had been a week chock-full of reminders.

Funerals.
Diagnoses.
Prayer requests.
Broken hearts.


And now, this.


I had had enough.


Enough of dying.
Enough of crying.
Enough of this world.



"It's just part of living in this world, honey.  You can't let it get to you like this."

Get to me?
It had already got me.
Hook, line and sinker. And sink, I did.

Down,

down,

down,
landing heart first in a spiritual funk.

Have you ever been there?

Surrounded by one heartache after another, it becomes difficult to see The One whose heart aches for all mankind. Swallowed up in tears and sorrow, it is easy to lose sight of The One who swallowed up death, the man Jesus, the Man of Sorrows.

I struggled to find my footing, yet the quicksand of despair kept pulling me down. I reached for scriptures to grab onto in hopes of pulling myself free, yet hopelessness kept the hope I needed out of my reach.

I knew I was lost, but I couldn't find my way out.
I knew where to run, but I couldn't find my way back home.
I knew The One I needed, and yet, I couldn't find God anywhere.

The rest of that day.

The next day.

The day after that.

A week and a half later.

Time marched on leaving me stuck in my funk,
faltering in my faith,
drowning in the darkness of an immense shadow that hid God's face.

Until, the day of yet another funeral.

Standing in a crowded room, I spotted her - the great granddaughter of the precious lady who had died. And, she spotted me. Without thinking, I started making my way to her, as she weaved her way through one person after another in her quest to reach me.

We met in the middle.

I knelt down in front of her. She buried her head in my neck and we held each other - this six year old and I, locked in sorrow.

"I love you."

It was all I could say.

"I love you more," came her reply.

With that, we looked at each other and smiled.

"I don't know," I said with a grin.  "I love you more than more."

"I love you most," she said, as she hugged me even tighter, leaving no room for debate.

Then, looking me in the eye, she whispered, "She's ok now.  She's not here, but she's ok now, isn't she?"

I nodded my head "yes".

And, as I did, I felt it hit; the impact of this truth propelling me straight to the door of God's heart.

Here, amongst the wages of sin and the very sting of death, was a vivid, desperately needed, more- than-welcome reminder of the gift of our God.

No more sickness. No more sorrow. No more tears.

Eternal life,
in and through,
Christ Jesus our Lord.

As I hugged this precious girl once more, I found my footing. Standing to my feet, I felt the firm foundation of my faith holding me up once again.

Wiping my tears, I felt God's love wash over me as I saw once again His face - the face of grace.
Grace willing to die that we might forever live in His presence.

I looked heavenward and smiled.

I had found my way back home.








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Monday, August 24, 2015

Serving Up Hope~

One morning I found myself ordering a cup of coffee for me and serving up some hope for the barista taking my order.

The conversation had started simple enough with a traditional, "Good Morning, How are you?
His answer, however, was anything but the usual "Fine. How are you?"

"I honestly don't know." He said.  "Getting out of bed every morning is getting harder and harder to do.  There just doesn't seem to be anything to get up for. Would you like that cafĂ© au lait with non-fat or skim?"

"Non-fat will be perfect".

While he turned his back and began his job of whipping me up a hot drink, I turned my heart upward and began my job of interceding and bringing this young man before the throne of grace.

"Here you go, ma'am. Is there anything else I can get for you."

"No, but I have something I'd like to give you."

Then, as I opened my mouth, God was faithful to speak.

"The next birthday I celebrate will find me saying goodbye to my 40's and hello to 50. Sadly, for most of my life, I felt just like you.  The thought of getting up and going out into a new day wasn't very appealing.  Fear, insecurity and hopelessness were my constant companions and life was a struggle; something to survive, to get through."

He nodded his head, and put down the towel in his hand.

It was obvious God had his attention.

"I know exactly what you mean.  I don't know," he said as he shook his head, "there just has to be more to life than this.  This can't be all there is."

"You're right,"  I smiled.  "There is more to life than this.....SO much more. Want to know what changed everything around for me?"

His mouth didn't respond, but his eyes did.

"God".

He shifted his weight from one leg to another and I could tell this wasn't the answer he was hoping for, and yet I knew it was the only answer that would ever offer him hope.

"God changed everything for me.  When I began to seek Him, He showed up and he has totally changed my outlook and my inlook.  He's given me hope.  He's given me a reason to get up each morning.  He's made life worth living."

"I don't know".  He was shaking his head again and rubbing his forehead. "There is just so much sadness and heartache. It seems like everywhere, lives are falling apart.  Where is the good in that?"

"The world is full of pain and sorrow, but that's exactly why Jesus came. He came to heal a broken world.  And while the brokenness in this earthly world will always be, God has come to dwell among us, sending His Holy Spirit to live within us to fill us with peace, joy, love and hope in the midst of the chaos and the brokenness.  With Christ, we are never alone.  He is with us, and he will help us, and believe me, He makes ALL the difference."

A customer drove up behind me and I knew this conversation was near an end.

{Photo Credit}
"I've lived life both ways -
with God, and without.
For me, life with God has been
so much better and so much more.

If you don't have hope,
you don't have anything,
But, if you have hope,
hope in Christ,
you have it all.
And, speaking from experience,
I know hope in Christ does not disappoint.
He'll never let you down."


I put my car in gear and gave him one last smile.  

"Thanks for the coffee."

He smiled back, nodded is head, and said "Hope, huh?"

"Gotta have it,"  I said, as I slowly started to drive away, "and God is the perfect place to find it."







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Friday, August 21, 2015

This Time, It Hurt~

It's happened to me before, but this time, it hurt.  It really hurt.

Maybe it's happened to you, too.

As I was combing my hair, brushing my teeth, applying mascara and preparing for my day, I was also singing along with the songs playing on my favorite Christian radio station.  For me, singing along is a natural part of my morning routine.

Since I know most of the songs by heart, the words roll off my tongue as easily as toothpaste glides onto my toothbrush.  Admittedly, sometimes, neither are given much thought.

But, there was that one line.

As soon as I sang the words, I heard them echoing back, reverberating off  the callouses of my heart.

Father, break my heart for what breaks yours.*

Minutes later, I head out the door and into the world. Soon, I am lost in the busyness of my day.  Projects, deadlines, and to-do lists keep my mind occupied.

Until, later that afternoon.

Once again,  I find myself mindlessly singing along to the radio, and once again, the Lord taps me on the shoulder of my heart with that one line.

Father, break my heart for what breaks yours.

Work done for the day, I close the door to my office and head to the supermarket to pick up a few items for dinner.

And that's when it happens.

It's as though the Lord has removed the blinders from my eyes and for the first time,
I see people.

Not the clothes they are wearing,
or the items in their shopping cart,
or the way they are between me and the item I am trying to reach on the shelf behind them,

but,
her,
and him,
and them.

I see a mother who is trying to keep her eye on five small children; eyes that are framed with black circles and lines of worry and fatigue.

I see a teenager hiding the insecurity of his heart behind long strands of hair; a curtain over his eyes, covering the windows to his soul.

I see an elderly lady struggling to keep her footing; the foundation of her youth, deteriorating with the passing of time, is leaving her unsteady, unsure and uncomfortably insecure.

I see a young, professional-looking couple strolling side by side, smiling and nodding in gestures that imply "yes, some of that" or "no, not today"; their awkward silence announcing to all that "I love you" often goes unsaid, too.

I see a small young boy following  behind his father as they turn left down the aisle that leads to the liquor department;  his fearful eyes can already see where this fateful turn will lead once they are home, behind closed doors.

And, right there -

in the middle of the aisle,
in the middle of these people,
in the middle of my selfish, self-absorbed heart,

 I hear that one line.

Father, break my heart for what breaks yours.

And, my heart breaks.

IMG_1009
{Photo Credit}
My Heavenly Father has been faithful to answer the prayer I have sang to Him through out my day.


And, this time......

                   
                     this time,


it hurt.




* Matthew West, My Own Little World










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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

As Little as a Comma~

What's keeping you from fulfilling God's call on your life?

If you take a moment and do some looking around in your own life,
I think you will discover it doesn't take much.

It doesn't take much to keep us stuck,
to keep us idling in neutral,
to keep us doing nothing at all.

Sometimes, the thing that is holding us back can be as little as a comma, or a semi-colon, or a run-on sentence. At least, that's the way it has been in my life.

A writer I am not.
A master of grammar I am not.
A whiz at punctuation, capitalization, (and any other "ation" that comes in to play when one chooses to write), I am not.

And yet, I can't deny I hear God calling me to write.
And yet, I can't shake the urge to take words swirling around in my heart and birth them on paper.
And yet, I can't NOT sit at my keyboard and share what God is sharing with me.

And yet, I often don't.
Because, I know what I am not.

Which brings me to my precious friend, Ruthie.

When my posts would be few and far between,
I would receive an email from her that simply said "Keep writing. I'm still reading."

One time, I shared with her the crippling, paralyzing fear of my heart.

 I have a deep desire to write...but I know I am far from being a "writer". Sometimes, (most times if I'm totally honest) I feel so inadequate to write for God. I have no formal training, I have a limited vocabulary, and I feel I have so very much to learn of and about God. Who am I to tell others? And yet, I feel the tug of God in my heart......write this down....share this with others...tell of my goodness....declare my glory."

It is her words, written in an email back to me, that keep me pursuing this call of God on my life.
  
Have you ever heard of God using ordinary people to do extraordinary things? Have you ever heard of the phrase Use Your Gift? Well, that's you my dear. Don't fret about not being formally trained. You would never know it! When someone reads something that touches their heart, I promise you, they don't say, "Now I would feel this so much more if I knew Stacy had a journalism degree or took night classes at the local college." Pleeeaaasssee. You're a fantastic writer. Your words move me. I too feel closer to God when reading YOUR blog. Give thanks to Him every day that He gifted you with an ability to write and a desire to express yourself for Him. 

So, I ask YOU again.
What's keeping you from fulfilling God's call on your life?

And, I ask you this.
Are you willing to let it keep you from being what God created you to be?
Are you willing to let it keep you from doing what God created you to do?
Are you willing to let it keep you stuck, idling in neutral, doing nothing at all?

{Photo Credit}


Taking a class in grammar,
joining a writers group,
studying the art of writing,
hiring an editor, (ok, this probably isn't an option,  . . . yet) -
these are all things I can and should do to master the craft of writing and be the best I can be.

Listening to the Holy Spirit,
being obedient to His promptings,
sharing the words He places on my heart,
pushing past my fear of "not right" and continuing to write, -
these are all things I can and should do to fulfill God's call on my life.

What about YOU?

If you don't mind,
I think I will step out of the way,
and leave you and God alone to talk about it.









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Sunday, August 16, 2015

When Satan Tries to Pull Your Rope~

Have you ever played it? Tug-o-war with Satan?

For me, this game of spiritual tug-of-war has been being played out in my life for as long as I can remember. (You, too?) Because you see, sometimes, I have trouble differentiating between my "who" and my "do".  (You, too?)

I am a pleaser, wanting to please others, so they in turn will be pleased with who I am.

I am a do-er, doing whatever I think is expected of me in a way that I think it is expected to be done, so that people will be pleased, and in turn be pleased with who I am.  Talk about pressure!

On and on this game of tug-o-war keeps finding me tied up in knots, often convinced that somehow my worth and my value are determined by what I do, not by who I am.

And silly me, I keep holding on to this proverbial rope, allowing it to pull on me and tug on me and toss me every which way but loose!

Until recently, that is. Now, don't get me wrong. I would love to be able to tell you I have finally won this battle once and for all, and that the "who" part of me was officially declared the winner. Sadly, the game is still being played out, but I am happy to report the "who" side is most definitely gaining ground, getting closer and closer to the red flag of victory.

I have known about Christ my entire life. But, through the power of the Holy Spirit, I am discovering more and more about the beauty, power, and freedom of "Christ in me". I have always felt that who I am wasn't good enough. No matter what I did or what I didn't do, I was still just me - and me just never quite measured up. I knew all about God and could even quote scripture, chapter and verse, but I didn't know the author of this book, the very author of my life. Talk about being lost and not even knowing it. I just thought there was something wrong with me.

And there was.

I was a sinner in need of a savior. I was searching for my identity in the approval and acceptance of others, when the whole of who I am is found only in Christ. I am made in HIS image. I have been adopted into HIS family. I am HIS daughter. My identity will never be found in what I do; it will only be found in whose I am - a child of the great I AM. What a revelation!

And yet, even on this side of this spiritual revelation, I still find myself playing Satan's game. At times, the battle is intense. He is trying his best to keep this game of tug-o-war raging on. He knows when I finally grasp the freedom that is mine in resting in WHO I AM, the game will be finished. He knows once I realize it's not about me, but all about Jesus, I will be done playing this works-oriented, legalistic game once and for all.

Tug of War
{Photo Credit}


What about you?


Has Satan roped you into playing this game, too?


Do you feel as though you can never have a relationship with God or be loved by the Author of love itself because you will never be good enough?


Are you tied up in knots trying to please everyone
and do everything,
only to fail miserably,
time and time again?


When you look into your heart,
can you tell where your "do" stops
and your "who" begins?


Like me,
are you in the midst of an identity crisis?

If so, may I remind you of the truth that is setting me free each and every day?


There will never be anything you or I can do to earn God's love.  
He loves us simply because He loves us. 
Grace! Marvelous grace!

I am ready to let go of this rope.

I want my life to become so hidden in Christ that the only WHO people see in me is the reflection of Christ living in and through me. I am tired of playing Satan's game and more than ready to be declared more than a conqueror through Christ who loves me.

How about you?

Haven't you allowed that rope to blister your heart and hold you back long enough?

It's time to let go.

It's time to grab onto God's grace and discover who we are in Christ.








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Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Very Timing of Our God~

The timing couldn't have been better.

But, wait.  I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let's back up to the beginning.  Months and months ago.  A few weeks before Christmas, to be exact.

Seated in children's church, caring hearts who were missing one of their friends, were making handmade Christmas cards with this absent friend in mind.

Lovingly each child picked out the "perfect" color of construction paper, the "perfect" stickers, and the "perfect" pictures from recycled Christmas cards to create their own work of love.

As they cut, glued, and created, we thought (and talked) about our missing friend -
how spending Christmas away from his family and friends would be so very hard to do,
how being alone in a strange place would certainly be very strange (and kind of scary)
how having to stay at a far away place by yourself would make you feel so very far away,
how missing people you know while being with people you didn't might make you feel so very lonely,
and
how being reminded others were thinking about you and praying for you would be so very wonderful.

It was all of these"verys" that kept each child feverishly working away,
designing the perfect Christmas card for their friend.

Soon, our labor of love was finished. Cards were either lovingly placed inside a huge envelope or positioned on a nearby table to allow the glue to dry. On Monday morning, I gathered all the cards, packed them all together in the envelope and headed to the post office.  Mission accomplished.

Or, so I thought.

Which brings us back to the weekend months and months later when this happened.

As we stood in Children's church singing praises to our God, one little girl just happened to spot her Christmas card.  Instead of placing it on the table with all the others, she had placed hers on a far away bookcase at the opposite end of the room. When I had gathered all the cards, I had missed hers.

And now, there it sat.

"Oh no!  Look!  It's my card!  It's still here and Christmas is long over and I didn't get to give it to my friend."

Tears started to fill her eyes, and my eyes were quickly following suit.

"Oh, honey.  I'm so sorry.  I didn't see your card there.  I didn't know you had placed in on the bookshelf to dry.  I'm so sorry I didn't mail it with the others."

With all the mercy and grace she could muster up, she looked up at me with tear-filled eyes and said,  "That's ok, Ms. Stacy."

But, in my heart (and in hers, too, I'm sure), it didn't feel ok.

But God, in His impeccable timing, had already gone before us.

There in our very midst, worshipping and singing songs of praise with us that very morning, was the very one for whom this card was created.  He was back home.  He was back with us.  He was in this very room for the first time in a long time.

What, at first, seemed liked a missed opportunity now presented itself as the best opportunity of all:
being able to hand deliver her card,
being able to see the look of surprise on her friend's face,
being able to see the joy her card brought.

It didn't matter that the letters on this card spelled out "Merry Christmas".
It didn't matter that the construction paper was green and red.
It didn't matter that the pictures were of snowmen and presents.
It didn't matter that it was now summer.

"For me?  Thank you."

"Do you like it?"

"Very much" came his reply, as he looked at every single detail. "Very much."

I told you.
The timing couldn't have been better.


And so it is with you and me.

So many times in our life,
we think everything is
signed, sealed, and delivered,
a done deal,
a mission accomplished,
only to discover we have completely missed our opportunity altogether.

We glance around our life,
and suddenly we spot it-
a left behind dream,
an unopened promise,
a misplaced blessing,
and our heart wells up with tears.

But God, in His impeccable timing, has already gone before us.

We are confident 
that God is able 
to orchestrate everything 
to work toward something good and beautiful 
when we love Him 
and accept His invitation 
to live according to His plan. 
~ Romans 8:28 (Voice)

I don't know how.
I don't know when.
I don't know in what form or what fashion.
I don't know how your story or mine will come full circle.

But, I do know this.

If our God can arrange to have the very boy for whom a card was created arrive back in our very town, back in our very church, back in our very fellowship, the very day the card maker discovered it on the bookcase, He can arrange the very details of our life so that what, at first, seemed liked a missed opportunity will one day present itself as the very best opportunity of all.

It is all of these "verys" that keep me feverishly believing our God is working all things
for our good and His glory.


"For us, Father God?  Thank you."

"Do you like it?"

"Very much" will be our reply as we soak in every single detail. "Very much."











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Friday, August 14, 2015

On Fear, Crayons, and the REALity of it All~

"Joshua, it's ok, now. You can take your fingers out of your ears."

Several years ago, I was given the awesome privilege of serving as a Nanny for a wonderful young couple who had been blessed with three small boys. One son attended a Christian preschool in the mornings. One day, when I arrived around noon to pick him up, I walked in on this conversation between his teacher and one of his fellow classmates.

Noticing I had entered the room, the teacher shared with me that the school fire alarm had been malfunctioning, sounding numerous times over the course of the morning. It was obvious by the look on Joshua's face, and of course the fingers in his ears, that the alarm was getting to him.

"Joshua. Finish coloring your picture, Honey."

Joshua, who had no intention of using his fingers for anything other than preventing the loud, shrill sound of the alarm from penetrating his small ears again, just sat there.


"Really, it's ok, Buddy. I think the men have fixed the problem. I don't think we will hear it anymore today."

"But what if there's a fire?" he asked.

"Honey, the fire alarm isn't going off because there is a fire in our school. It's just not working right today. It's ok, though, because there are some men here fixing it. There is no fire. Our school is fine. "


"But what if there IS a fire?" he asked again.


"Well then, we will simply do what we did earlier today when the alarm went off and we practiced our safety drill. We will go outside where we will be safe. It's ok, Joshua. There is nothing to worry about. Finish your picture, Sweetheart."


Still, Joshua sat totally immobilized by the fear which had gripped his heart.


"I don't want to die in the fire!!!" he finally screamed.

Walking over to Joshua and gently taking his fingers out of his ears, the teacher knelt down beside this scared little three year old and looked him right in the eye.


"Don't worry, Joshua. I'm right here. I promise I won't let anything happen to you. I'll take care of you, Joshua. I promise. Teacher is right here with you."


For the first time since I had entered the room, a look of peace flooded Joshua's face. It was ok. He didn't need to worry. Teacher was here and she would take care of him. He was safe because she was right here with him. Joshua reached for his blue crayon. Soon, he was back to work coloring his picture and sharing in conversation and laughter with his classmates.

As I'd witnessed this scene, I'd realized I am a lot like Joshua. I have a tendency to let the cares and worries of this world grip my heart, leaving me paralyzed in fear, unable to enjoy all that is going on around me. I become consumed with fear and allow it to steal the life (not to mention the joy) right out of me.

As I watched Joshua, I was reminded of a acronym I once heard for the word fear:



F - false



E- evidence



A- appearing



R - real

This was certainly the case with Joshua. Joshua was fearful of a fire that didn't exist. I, too, am fearful of things that probably don't exist either, or most likely will never even happen. Yet, even though what I fear is not usually real, the fear itself most definitely is!

Maybe you are like Joshua and me. Maybe you also struggle with fear. If so, how can you and I learn to escape this fear, once and for all, and live in the freedom and abundance of life that Christ wants us so desperately to experience?


It's quite simple, really. Joshua found his peace when he realized his teacher was right there with him and would take care of him. We can partake of this same peace by keeping our heart and mind fixed on our Heavenly Father, who promises to never leave us, nor forsake us.(Hebrews 13:5) Even more than this teacher could ever hope to be there for Joshua, our God IS there for us. We don't have to fear ANYTHING in this life, because our Father is with us.

I have heard it said that the phrase "Fear Not" is found 365 times in the Bible. 365 times! That is one time for each day of the year......or each day of our life. Obviously, God wants us to live a life free of fear.

Fear tries to take us prisoner, causing us to think irrationally and respond unwisely. We need to remember that most fear comes from Satan. The Bible tells us that God didn't give us a spirit of fear, but rather one of power, love and a sound mind.(2 Timothy 1:7) Only when we choose to keep our focus on Christ, knowing and believing that He is always with us, will we be free from the torment of fear. As we rely on Him to take care of us and to work all things out for our good and His glory, we will be able to let go of fear and instead take hold of the power, love and sound mind freely available to us through Christ.

Daughter colors a picture of herself
{Photo Credit}
The choice is up to us. We can either choose to sit around with our fingers stuck in our ears, fearful of what might happen, all the while missing out on what IS happening, or we can rest in the faithfulness of our Heavenly Father, embracing and thoroughly enjoying each and every minute of our life


Now..... where did I leave my crayon?








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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Face to Face~

"What are you thinking?"

I stand on the sidewalk leading to our front door, breathing in the unexpectedly cool air on a hot August day that is now quickly headed to night.  My husband, seated a few feet away, knows me all too well. As I look at the clouds swirling overhead, the very ones who have brought this reprieve from the heat, I answer his question.

"I want to to see her.  I want to meet her, face to face."

I shift my eyes from the sky and look over my shoulder at my husband. Although this conversation seems to be coming out of nowhere, my husband understands. The look in his eye, the gentle nod of his head, all say what his voice doesn't need to.

The next day, I receive an email from her:

August 13, 2013
OK.  Stacy.  Remind me where you live.  I would so love to meet you.

I read her words, the desire of my own heart written there, spelled out in black and white, and I think back to an another email written almost two years earlier.

September 9, 2011
OK, Stacy.  One day we need to meet!  I can't remember where you live, but how great would it be to meet! I read your post "But God" and just loved it.  And if I remember correctly, wasn't it published in P31 Magazine?  And you don't call yourself a writer??????  Oh, honey.  My husband is sitting beside me and I just read your email to me to  him.   Words can't express my gratitude for keeping me in your prayers.  Our work this weekend consists of determining a course of action.  Another round of chemo or alternative methods.  We're praying for guidance and peace with our decision.  So if you're so inclined..... I praise God for my healthy body.  Well, the I-feel-healthy body.  I can't believe I have cancer as I feel 100% perfect.  Crazy.  So I will indulge in a busy, great weekend knowing that lots of rest and pjs will be in my future.  Stacy, thank you so very much.  Keep writing!!!!!!!!!!!!

(Writing. This is the way God chose to first introduce me to this precious friend three years before. Proverbs 31 Ministries was offering a chance to win a scholarship to their yearly "She Speaks" Conference. To enter, each writer linked up a post on a designated Proverbs 31 webpage.  Ruthie and I linked up within minutes of each other. I read her post. She read my post. The rest is a tale of a friendship too precious for words.)

Days pass and while chatting with my sister one night, I share the desire of my heart that will not go away.

"I've been thinking about going to California."
"Really?  What's in California?"
"Not what - who.  I want to meet her.  I want to see Ruthie face to face. I want to give her a hug. I want to pray with her and for her. I want to tell her thank you for being such a constant, faithful, friend and amazing source of inspiration to me."
"You should go."

Several  more days pass and while chatting with my sister once again, she shares the desire of her heart.
"I still want to take you on a trip. I know we've talked about doing New York City for Christmas and to celebrate your birthday, but I've been thinking. Where do YOU want to go? How about California?  How about in a few weeks? How about mid October?"

October 18, 2013 (three years after first meeting Ruthie) I ring the door bell. Three years and untold emails   of encouragement, faith, and the forever present "Keep writing!!!! xoxo" and I meet her - face to face. Amazingly, I hold back the tears as she opens the door. I give her a hug.

I sit in her living room, the same one I've seen so many times in photos from her blog. It's just as beautiful in person, but Ruthie, she is even more so. Thin, tired, worn from the disease ravaging her body, she talks and I listen. I talk and she listens. My sister, my sweet friend and I share in two hours of sweet communion. We talk about writing. We talk about blogs. We (well, more she and my sister - a decorator, I am not) talk about decorating and interior design. We talk about New Mexico. (Ruthie has never been) We talk about cancer. We talk about faith. We talk about God.

I give her another huge hug.  We take a photo together. We hold hands, and in a circle of three, with God's Spirit in our midst, we pray together.  I tell her thank you - for all she is, for all she has been to me.  I tell her that even though my sister and I are seeing the sights while in California, she is the highlight of my trip.  She quickly replies: "Honey! You've got to get out more!" We laugh, hug again, and my sister and I make our way back to our rental car.

I latch the seatbelt and simultaneously, unleash a flood of emotion.
And, I cry.
Right there in her cul de sac.
All the way to the hotel.
And, I marvel at such a God as this.

One day shy from two months to the day when I sat in her living room, my sweet God-sent friend passed away.

The night before she took her last breath, I wrote Ruthie one last letter.

Three years ago, a girl from New Mexico meets a girl from California....first through their love of God and their love for sharing His love through words . . . and then 2 months ago, face to face. Who but God could orchestrate that?! Who but God could love me enough to introduce me to you, sweet Ruthie, then grant me the desire of my heart to meet you in person, to sit in your living room and share my heart as you shared yours, to wrap my arms around you in a long-awaited hug, to hold hands with you and pray together to our precious Jesus. Only God. Who but God would graciously (amazingly!) intertwine my life with yours, inviting me into your story, into your journey, into your home, into your family, into your passionate quest to "use your gift." Who but God would send YOU to me as my personal, heaven-sent cheerleader to spur me on, to encourage my heart, to keep me believing in His dream for me, to keep me tapping away on my keyboard?! Who but God could have blessed me with you? Unbelievable. Yes, only God could orchestrate all that . . . and only God knows the forever thanksgiving I have in my heart. Only God knows how my life has been touched, changed, inspired, enriched, and so many words the English language has yet to create to truly express your imprint upon my heart. Only God knows. Only God and me. . . and you. I hope you know, too! I love you, Ruthie. As always, I'm on my knees . . . praying. you. through.

I sit on the edge of our bed, my husband wiping my tears.

"What are you thinking?"

"I want to see her.  I want to see her face to face again."

I shift my eyes from the floor of our bedroom upward to my Father God. I know He understands. The comfort I feel in my heart, the hope that is stirring within me, all say what His voice doesn't need to.

And, I cry.
And, I marvel at such a God as this.
. 

 Thank you, Ruthie . . . I can't wait to see you again.






(Remember this August night three years ago and ever praising the God who made it all possible,)







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Monday, August 10, 2015

Through Eyes Other Than Your Own~

I love spotting elk as they majestically meander their way through the tall pine trees of their mountain home.

But, even more than this, I love spotting my husband spot elk.

There is something about
seeing the sheer delight and excitement on his face,
feeling the sudden jerk of his foot on the brakes,
hearing "There's one! See it? Right there! Look! There's two of them - a momma and her baby!"
and experiencing his experience in this experience that thrills my heart no end.

The other night, (well, technically, I suppose 3:00 am would be considered the other morning),
my elk loving husband and I took a leisurely drive down a lone mountain road in hopes of spotting these majestic animals out on a "midnight" stroll.

As we slowly made our way down a back mountain road through the forest not too far away from our home, we were not disappointed.

One after another, we spotted an elk here and an elk there -
tucked behind trees,
nibbling on grass growing near the road,
sauntering down a stately hill,
gracefully leaping over a fence.

And each and every time my husband delighted in spotting one of these kings of the forest,
I delighted in his delight.

And, right there - in the middle of this mid of the night moment, I realized this:

I love spotting God in the midst of my life.

But, even more than this, I love spotting others spot God in the midst of their life.

There is something about
seeing the sheer delight and excitement on their face,
feeling the sudden burst of emotion,
hearing "And then, God . . . , But, then God . . . , And, I knew it was God who . . . ",
and experiencing their experience in this experience that thrills my heart no end.

Because you see, when my husband spots an elk and everything in him responds to this sighting,
it stirs up a response it me, too.

When his heart starts beating faster, and his words start coming quicker, and his actions mirror the thrill he is feeling inside, I feel it, too.  All of it. And, it makes me want to keep peering into the darkness, keep driving mountain roads at 3:00 am, keep believing beyond hope that the elk are there in our midst, just waiting to be spotted.

And when a friend, a family member, a casual acquaintance, a stranger on the street, a brother or sister worshiping on the pew next to me spots God and everything in him or her responds to this sighting, it stirs up a response in me, too.

When a heart starts feeling His presence, and tears start flowing down cheeks, and what I see is mirroring the emotion that is being felt inside, I feel it, too. All of it.  And, it makes me want to keep peering out into my own life, keep following wherever God is leading, keep believing beyond hope that God is there in my midst, just waiting to be spotted.

When was the last time you spotted an elk moving through the forest?

More importantly,
when was the last time you spotted God moving in and around your life?






Just like the elk in the mountains,
He is there.



He is ever present.



He is ever moving



He is ever at work in our life.







Maybe,
just maybe,
it's time to do some spotting of your own.~












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Sunday, August 9, 2015

Got Love?

If I wash dishes, fold laundry and scrub the tub,
but don't have love....

If I mow the lawn, fix the flat tire, wax the car,
but don't have love....

If I drop off at soccer, pick up at the cleaners and feed the dog,
but don't have love....

If I pack lunches, attend the school play, and help with homework,
but don't have love....

If I answer the phone, answer the email, and answer my boss
but don't have love....

If I pay the cashier, hold open a door, and smile,
but don't have love....

If I donate clothes,
feed the homeless,
drop coins into the offering plate,
and attend every service,
but don't have love....

If I do anything at all, but don't have love......

I am...

I have...




Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, 
but have not love, 
I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 

And though I have the gift of prophecy, 
and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, 
and though I have all faith, 
so that I could remove mountains, 
but have not love, 
I am nothing. 

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor,
and though I give my body to be burned,
but have not love,
 it profits me nothing.
~1 Corinthians 13:1-3









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Saturday, August 8, 2015

Loving in HIS Name~

After graduating from college, the Lord led me to New Jersey and to what would turn out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. My college roommate and dear friend, Amy, had accepted a teaching position at a Christian school there and told me about an opening at a daycare center located next door to her school. Having never ventured east of the Mississippi, this new opportunity sounded inviting. After much prayer, I packed my bags and headed for the East coast.

To my delight, I was assigned a class of adorable, rambunctious, lovable two and three year olds. Each day was an adventure in learning…them from me, and most often, me from them. I taught these free-spirited little ones how to be still and stand in a straight line. They taught me to walk to the beat of my own drum. I taught these creative minds how to hold a paintbrush and a crayon. They taught me how to hold my head high and be proud of who I am. I taught these children who were destined for greatness, how to write their name. Four years later, Stephanie would teach me it’s not your name that's important; it’s the love you give away.

Stephanie was a beautiful, energetic three year old. Every day she came dressed in the cutest outfits accompanied by a smile that would light up the room. At a casual glance, one would have assumed Stephanie’s life was as beautiful as she was. Sadly, this notion was far from the reality of her situation. Both her mother and father were in prison and she was living with her grandparents. Even though her living arrangement had change for the better, deep inside, Stephanie still lived with the hurt, pain and abuse that had been such a part of the first three years of her young life.

All of my students quickly warmed up to me and welcomed me into their world. All, that is, except Stephanie. She kept her guard up and never let herself get too close or too comfortable with anyone. How my heart broke for her. Each day I prayed the Lord would pour out His perfect love through me, freeing Stephanie from her own prison of hurt, pain and loneliness; healing this precious little girl of her brokenness.

Weeks turned into months. As we spent time together each day, Stephanie gradually began to lower the emotional wall that had separated her from me. One memorable day, as we were taking a walk in a nearby park, I felt a little hand take hold of mine. It was Stephanie’s. From that moment on, Stephanie and I were heart to heart. The year soon came to an end and so did my time with these precious children. I had accepted a teaching position in Wisconsin and was headed to the Mid-west.

Four years later, my husband and I had the opportunity to visit my friend in New Jersey and to once again go to the daycare where I had taught. As I experienced the familiarity of each classroom and gazed into the eyes of the children now attending, I couldn’t help wishing I could once again see the children who had touched my heart four years earlier. I casually shared this desire with one of the current teachers. Naturally, the children in my class had long since moved on to other cities and schools. One child, however, had enrolled at the Christian school next door. Imagine the joy I felt when I learned this child was none other than Stephanie.

We excitedly made our way to the school and then to Stephanie’s classroom. I anxiously peeked through the window in the classroom door and began scouring the sea of children for this one familiar face. From the far corner of the room, a young girl turned around to speak to a fellow classmate. As she did, she spotted me spotting her through the window and immediately came running in my direction.

Blurry running girl
{Photo Credit}
I burst into the room and ran to meet her. Stephanie buried her head in my stomach as she embraced me with every ounce of her being. When she finally lifted her head and turned her beautiful face upward to look at me, I couldn’t believe God had blessed me with this unexpected reunion.

As I looked into her eyes, I asked in total amazement, “You still remember me after all these years? You were just three years old when I last saw you.” Then Stephanie said the words I will never forget; words that brought tears not only to my eyes, but also to the eyes of my husband as he witnessed one of the most priceless moments of my entire life.

“I don’t remember your name,” she said, “but I know you love me”.

How fitting that Stephanie didn’t remember my name. My name wasn’t important. Who I was didn’t matter. Amazingly, I was simply the one, hand picked by God, to touch the heart of this precious child with His healing love. What an awesome honor I had been given. My name had long since been forgotten, but it was obvious the love she had received never would be.

As I stood captivated in this divinely orchestrated moment in time, I humbly thanked God. I thanked Him for leading me to New Jersey. I thanked Him for bringing Stephanie into my classroom and into my life. I thanked Him for His incredible love that sets the captives free and heals the most broken of hearts. I thanked him for the incredible honor we have all been given: to love others in HIS name.








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Friday, August 7, 2015

When Happiness Looks and Feels More Like Holiness~

Once upon a time my husband and I attended a memorial service for darling elderly couple.

The wife's health had started to fail first. Hip surgeries, along with dementia, had left her feeble and in a nursing home. Faithfully, her husband was at her side each and every day until he was stricken with an aggressive form of cancer. Within a few months, the love of her life was gone. In her weakened state of mind, her heart couldn't understand why he had stopped coming to visit her.

Not a day went by that she didn't ask for him by name, crying out until she was hoarse and could speak no more. Desperately longing for the man who had stolen her heart, she would grab the arm of a son or daughter sitting near her and spell out his name in the palm of their hand. His name was cradled by her final breath. Five weeks to the day of her husband's death, she passed away. His death came as an unexpected surprise. Hers did not. They had been Mr. and Mrs. for 64 years.




Marriage -


a union between a man and a wife.

two becoming one flesh,

sharing the same name,

the same bed,

the same life.



Today, my husband and I are celebrating fifteen years of marital bliss. A far cry from 64, but a good start none the less. On that memorable day when I said "I DO", I have to admit, the vision I had in mind was happily ever after {emphasis on happily}. Now, fifteen years later, I am starting to see God's vision is so far beyond this.

Within the marriage experience,{adventure, journey, roller coaster ride, whatever words you might choose to use!} God desires to make us more holy. Amazingly, one of the tools he uses is...

wait for it

...submission.

For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 
~Ephesians 5:22

True biblical submission is not meant to be scary, demeaning, or degrading. God, himself, established this principle and designed it to be something for wives to embrace. After all, submission is not meant to place us "below" or "beneath" our husband. Beautifully, submission places us under; under the care, protection and leadership of our man. The husband is the one called by God to bear the responsibility of the family. We, as wives, get to “rest” in his authority.

But, as wonderful as resting in our man sounds, we know all too well that submitting does not come easily or naturally. Submission is a choice of the will. We have to intentionally choose to do it. I think God wired us that way on purpose.

It is in choosing to submit that we discover the inner strength of the Holy Spirit enabling us and empowering us to submit and do as He commands.

It is in choosing to submit that we develop trust both in our husband and in our God.

It is in choosing to submit that we are able to show our husband respect and draw him into a deeper love relationship with us.

It is in choosing to submit that our true God-graced beauty as a woman is showcased and revealed.

This is how the holy women of the past used to make themselves beautiful. 
They put their hope in God. And they followed the lead of their own husbands. 
~1 Peter 3:5, NIRV

As the memorial service drew to a close, the family showed a video of this special couple. It had been made four years earlier in honor of their 60th wedding anniversary. As I watched their journey through life together, I felt a longing in my heart. A longing to have what they had. A true, abiding love.

It was obvious from the photos (and from cherished moments in the company of this sweet couple) this wife had accepted and embraced the authority of her husband.

One look at him, looking at her, told you this groom only saw beautiful when he looked upon his bride.

In her husband and his leadership and guidance,
this dear, spiritually wise lady had found security, love and a restful abiding.

In his wife and her submissive, respectful, Christ-like demeanor,
this strong, independent, "self-made" man had found...

wait for it

...the Lord.

Wives, likewise, submit to your own husbands. 
Do this so that even if some of them refuse to believe the word, 
they may be won without a word by their wives’ way of life. 
After all, they will have observed the reverent and holy manner of your lives. 
~ 1 Peter 3:1-2, CEB

Holy?

When I got married I never saw that coming. But, I should have. True marriage isn't about my husband making me happy (although he does!) It isn't about me making my husband happy (although it helps when I do!). It is about the two of us living our lives together in a way that glorifies God and makes God happy.

What could bring more happiness that that?








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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Sometimes, It Takes Some Manure~


Yep! You read that right…..manure.

Manure Pile Sign
{Photo Credit}

When you think of manure,
 what comes to your mind?



Yeah, mine, too.




Not a pretty picture, is it?





While manure may not be pretty on the eyes or easy on the nose, it does serve a vital purpose. In fact, it is one of the most commonly used forms of fertilizer around.

World English Dictionary defines fertilizer as: any substance, such as manure or a mixture of nitrates, added to soil or water to increase its productivity.

Which brings us to Luke 13 and a particular fig tree.

The owner of this tree had been waiting three long years for this fig tree to live up to its name and produce some figs. Three long years! Now, I don’t know much about fig trees, but it is obvious from the owners reaction that this tree had grown to a level of maturity capable of producing fruit. But it wasn’t. And this owner was disappointed, to say the least.

So he said to the vinedresser, See here! 
For these three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree and I find none.
 Cut it down! 
Why should it continue also to use up the ground [to]deplete the soil, 
intercept the sun, and take up room]?

Not only was the owner upset with this tree, he no longer felt it was worth cultivating. He was ready to cut it down! But wait….the vinedresser, the one who was in charge of nurturing and growing this fig tree, wasn’t ready to call it quits. He knew this fig tree had the potential to bear fruit and he wasn’t ready to give up on it.


The vinedresser decided it was time for some manure.

I’ve got a question for you:
How long have you been a Christian?

How long have you been rooted and grounded in the soil of God’s love?

And…………hmmm……….well, how much fruit have you produced?

As I look back on my own life, I have to admit, it was during the manure-caked times of my life that I produced the most spiritual fruit. I have a feeling you will discover the same is true in your own life.

Sure, we all like the good times. We don’t like life to get messy. We especially don’t like it when life dumps manure on us. Yet, could it be, that this manure is a gift from the vinedresser himself? Could it be that without it we will never live up to our spiritual potential?

I AM the True Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser. 
Any branch in Me that does not bear fruit [that stops bearing]He cuts away (trims off, takes away); and He cleanses and repeatedly prunes every branch that continues to bear fruit,
 to make it bear more and richer and more excellent fruit. 
~John 15:1,2, The Amplified Bible

What does it take for you to bear fruit?

Has your life been full of manure lately?

Maybe the vinedresser is simply applying some fertlizer. He sees your potential to bear spiritual fruit and he isn’t ready to give up on you.

You have been showered upon with Christ’s blessings,

you have felt the warmth of His love as it has illuminated your heart and life,

and you have grown deep into the soil of His word.

It is time to start producing fruit! It is time to start living up to your name as a disciple of Christ and to start making some disciples. It is time to do that for which you were created to do!

Manure. Not something we like, but oftentimes something we need, especially if we are ever going to produce spiritual fruit.

 But how?

How do the “manure times” of our life help us to produce fruit?
How can our suffering bring others to Christ?

Simple.

All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! 
God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times,
 and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. 
~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, The Message

As you grow through the hard times you can be sure these times have not come to you in vain. What Satan means for your harm, God will ALWAYS use for HIS good and HIS glory. Allow the manure to produce fruit in you and in those around you. Use these times of testing, trials and suffering to minister to those around you.

Are things a bit messy in your life right now?
Can you see and smell the manure?

Then give thanks.

The vinedresser is at work.

He is lovingly cultivating you and graciously giving you what
                                   you need to be fruit-filled and fruitful.

Fall Grapes
{Photo Credit}
When you bear (produce) much fruit, 
My Father is honored and glorified,
and you show and prove yourselves to be true followers of Mine. 
~John 15:8, The Amplified Bible










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Monday, August 3, 2015

31 Ways~

Words.
It's amazing to me the sheer "power" these consonant and vowel laden creations contain.

Letters, placed together, all in an attempt to convey a thought, an emotion, a reaction.

Every day, you and I engage in conversation.
A joke here.
A comment there.
A "have a nice day" here.
A "what were you thinking?" there.

On and on, all day long, words spewing from our mouth with no end in sight.

And yet, I wonder how often we stop to contemplate our words and the impact they are having on those around us.

Don’t use foul or abusive language. 
 Let everything you say be good and helpful, 
 so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. 
~ Ephesians 4:29 NLT 

Watch the way you talk. 
 Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth.
 Say only what helps, each word a gift. 
~ Ephesians 4:29 MSG 

Words.
I've written with them,
written about them,
and wrestled without them time and time again.

And, I've also
heard them,
received them,
and been wrestled to the ground because of them.

" . . . so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them."

". . . each word a gift."

No matter what we feel we need to say,
be it
a word of congratulation,
a word of correction,
a word of inspiration,
a word of rejection,
a word of recommendation,
a word of protection,
a word of stipulation -
what we say and the way we say it matters.

Everything can and should be said in a way that is helpful, useful, encouraging.  A gift.

Words.
Little bundles of letters that when unwrapped to reveal their true meaning can either
lift up or tear down,
inspire or deflate,
heal or wound,
unite or undo,
bless or curse.

What are my words speaking into the lives of others?

What are yours?




 


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