Saturday, April 28, 2012

Refined by Fire

"When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze."
Isaiah 43:2

It's an anniversary I don't want to celebrate but I'm writing to commemorate. As I go to sleep tonight I am mindful that this time last year I laid down to rest having no idea of the wake up call that would come in the middle of the night. One year ago a fire destroyed our home and everything inside. I wrote these words a day after the fire:


I need you to know something, from the bottom of my heart, God is Sovereign and He is in control. What I need you to hear and see is that this does not shake my faith. On the contrary. It makes me all the more realize that our lives - this life - is temporary and our reward and our HOME is in eternity. (April 30, 2011)

One year later the words I wrote above still echo in my heart - He truly is Sovereign. He sees. He knows. He hasn't changed. Even when my faith has waivered, He's remained faithful and true.

I know this happened so that I would have no choice but to rely on God. Having seen his deliverance, having experienced His hope and being the recipient of your prayers, I pray you'll give thanks with me. We know that fire refines. It can be a painful process but when the chaff is burned off, the flames produce a purified substance that can withstand.

A year later, there is no remnant of the fire that claimed a home and its contents, but the course has been altered. The road continues to wind and twist and turn and it's rocky and bumpy and tough to pass. Even still, I can say this happened as yet another part of the story, the tapestry He is weaving that continues to shape me and refine me.

"But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God...He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many." 2 Corinthians 1:9-11

Knowing what I know now, I still don't have all the answers. If you ask me why this happened, I would tell you so that God could be glorified. If you ask me what blessings have come, I would tell you watching the body of Christ beautifully work together. If you ask me what scars remain, I would tell you just because a house was rebuilt doesn't mean life has returned to normal. But if you ask me what I've learned, I can proclaim:

"God is a God of the second chance. God is a redeeming God. Sometimes He redeems the mess and brings “beauty from ashes, the oil of joy for mourning; the garment of praise for the spirit of despair,” and sometimes He even “restores the years the locusts have eaten.” – Jill Briscoe

One thing I can note, even this blog began after posting updates and thoughts after the fire. It's a part of my story now and it helped lead to this platform to share with you. This fire may have destroyed a home but it continues to refine my life.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Eyes on Jesus, Heart in His Hands

It's time. I've been putting this post off for awhile. Not for any specific reason, other than I haven't been sure I could really do it justice. But today is the day that I am being lead to share this.

Eyes on Jesus, heart in His hands.

You may have heard me say it, post it as my status, or share it on any number of people's walls. I can't pinpoint an actual date, but some months ago God gave me this phrase as somewhat of an anthem. It has become the theme of my life.

Over and over as I've faced uncertainty, difficulty, trials, confusion, oppression, depression, bondage, crises, circumstances that seemed to overwhelm, I've uttered this reminder: Eyes on Jesus, Heart in His hands.

"Then Peter got out of the boat, walked on water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, cried out, Lord, save me!" Matthew 14:29-30

How many times do I lose sight? How often am I distracted by the wind and waves around me? How many times do my eyes fixate on the circumstance? At that moment when I take my eyes off Jesus, I start to panic. I start to sink. In my own strength, I realize my inability to follow through. The insecurity causes doubt. The weakness can lead me to shut down. The fear paralyzes me. If only I would have kept my eyes on Him...

And so I have to remind myself - more often than I'd like to admit - "Keep your eyes on Jesus. He's got this. He's got you. Don't be overwhelmed by what seeks to take your gaze off Him. Just stay focused on the Lord."

"My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." Psalm 73:26

Boy do I ever know the truth of this verse. I can tell you story after story of how my flesh has fallen or my heart has failed. I think it's a ripple effect. I take my eyes off Christ, I lose sight of Him, and in my human weakness I fail. My heart hasn't just been broken, my spirit hasn't just been crushed - no, I can say without a doubt I've gone through a pulverization that has required complete reconstruction. I know where I'm weak. It hasn't prevented me from falling. But it has caused me to be ever mindful of who I give my heart to. So my constant admonishment to myself is to keep it safely in His hands. "Let Him hold you. Give Him your heart - your full heart. Your broken, hurting, bleeding heart. His healing hands will hold you."

And so I share this with you. For whatever you face. I know it to be true.

Eyes on Jesus, Heart in His hands.

You can't go wrong with this ever before you. I'm saying it over and over. I'm praying it for you.

"God always ignores your present level of completeness in favor of your ultimate future completeness. He is not concerned about making you blessed and happy right now, but He's continually working out His ultimate perfection for you." -Oswald Chambers

Steady My Heart - Kari Jobe


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Spilled Milkshakes & Lost Lipgloss

I've found it. The alternative indulgence to my usual Oreo craving. The combination of real peanut butter, chocolate fudge and real chunks of banana blended together to create a consistency where I nearly thought I'd bust an eardrum trying to suck the milkshake goodness from the not-quite-big-enough straw. It was ohhhh so good!

I didn't finish the entire thing and I failed to throw the cup away. (There's a couple of lessons here but those are for another day.) Returning to the car, I noticed the cupholder was overflowing with ooey melted leftover peanut butter banana fudge milkshake. I picked up the cup only to find the entire bottom detached and what had once been contained was now dripping everywhere.

It was a sticky mess filling the middle console and as I attempted to remove the broken cup, it dripped and leaked all over the seat, the floorboard, and essentially left a trail from the cupholder to the trashcan. 

In true mom fashion, I whipped out every napkin stored in the glove box and pulled the package of baby wipes from the backseat, quickly trying to sop up the mess.

I had to laugh at the whole debaucle. And, in true Carrie fashion, I had to blog about it. There's a point, I promise.

The thing about the spilled milkshake was even though I attempted to clean up the liquid, it left behind a stickiness that I am STILL trying to scrub away. I wet and wipe and wipe some more but it doesn't want to budge. Have I inherited a permanent reminder of my afternoon indulgence?!

As I tried to remove the milkshake remains from the rug on the floorboard, I saw it. "YAY!! THANK YOU, LORD!" I exclaimed.

There it was. A zippered pouch with contents nearly irreplaceable to me. What was inside, you ask? (Okay, maybe you didn't but I'm going to tell you anyway!)

LIPGLOSS!

Yes, lipgloss. I know. I get it. You're scratching your head, rolling your eyes and wondering what on earth....

A week ago I lost this pouch and all its contents (Pictured below). I searched every bag, every purse and I checked the house, office and car. But it was nowhere to be found. I was - I know you'll laugh - devastated at the thought of it all being gone. We're talking nearly $200 in lip products. (Now you really think I'm crazy.)

As I was mopping up the milkshake mess that had dripped down every crevice of the front of my car, there wedged between the console and the seat was my pouch full of products for my puckered-up-pout! So now you know why I was praising the Lord.

I could have gotten mad about the mess, but the milkshake incident found me laughing at my sticky plight. And now I was rejoicing because that accident lead to the discovery of what I thought I'd lost. WOW!

Sometimes blessings come in disguise. Sometimes what you're searching for comes only after you're cleaning up the mess. Sometimes the plan you had in mind has to come to a screeching halt before you can ever move forward. Sometimes God's Plan A happens, but only after your own Plan B has fallen through.

Sometimes it takes a spilled milkshake to discover the lost lipgloss!

Sometimes what we're searching for is right there - but we just can't see it. It takes a near disaster or another circumstance to get us to the point where we can see, discover, look from a different angle and finally realize what it is we've been overlooking. When my best-laid plans have fallen through and my own steps seem to have lead me down the wrong path, that is when I usually look to God. I'm searching for the lipgloss all over the place but it sometimes takes a spilled milkshake and a sticky mess to lead me to the point where I find it.


If you're cleaning up your own milkshake mess today, I encourage you to keep your eyes open...You may just find what it is you've been searching for all along!


UNRELATED/RELATED STORY: A few years ago I took a flight and forgot to pack the contents of my lipstick/lipgloss collection in a clear quart-size ziploc baggie. I was immediately flagged through security where the TSA officer dumped my zippered pouch to reveal a collection much like that above of prized lip paraphenalia. "Please don't make me throw it all away!" I begged. I would have been heartbroken to see it all go in the trash, not to mention how would I make it in New York City for a week without lip product?! Being the LYH airport, you're bound to know someone...and sure enough, the officer recognized me from singing in the Living Cross! HALLELUJAH! He knew I wasn't an undercover terrorist trying to smuggle bomb-like products onto my flight in the disguise of lipstick tubes. I got to keep them all!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sidewalk Chalk


God Keeps His Promises
 It was a beautifully warm sunny day just begging for me to be enjoying the outdoors. E & I were laying on the driveway looking up at the brilliant blue sky. The occasional strands of cirrus clouds were too thin and moving too quickly to make out any kind of shape. Also moving quickly from one thing to the next, E  exclaimed, "Let's draw something!"

No, he wasn't referring to my iPod game obsession, but he was going to get the sidewalk chalk.

And so we began to draw. He practiced his "E's" and "J's" (J is for his friend John), and he asked me to design images of the following: dinosaur, dandelion, sun, moon and a rainbow. Excellent choices, at least I thought so since my drawing abilities are limited.

I couldn't help but stare at the bright lines of chalk I had constructed for the rainbow. Something was missing. The lines alone seemed incomplete. I decided to add a few fluffy clouds - one on each end. Even though it was simply grains of colored dust packaged and sold as "sidewalk chalk," I could picture the real thing positioned in the sky, standing as a picture of God's faithfulness. I've seen a rainbow many times before, but I've never seen where it starts or ends. Maybe that's part of the point...

Two times God mentions the rainbow in the clouds.

"I have set my rainbow in the clouds..." Genesis 9:13

"Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds..." vs. 14

The rainbow is a sign of His promise - a covenant keeping God who said He'd never flood the entire earth and destroy all life. The covenant doesn't say the storms won't come. In fact, the science behind it all is that the storm MUST come. You need the clouds to produce the rain which serves as the prism to reflect the wavelengths of light and VOILA...RAINBOW! (That's as good as it gets for a science lesson from me!)

The clouds may roll in. The storms may come. But rest assured, you will not be consumed, nor will you be destroyed. It is His promise...and there's a rainbow to prove it!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A little birdy taught me

It was the normal morning drive; a country road that twists and turns through pastures and fields. We normally talk about the cows and how they give us "chocky-milk" or we remark about the lush green farms. Just as we cleared one of the many roller-coaster-like hills, the sun was shining so brightly I could barely see in front of me. And then I hear from the backseat, "Mom, look at all those birds! What are they doing on the ground with the cows?"

Sure enough, covering the pasture where the cows would ordinarily be standing were dozens and dozens of birds grazing instead. They were busy at work poking the ground.

"They're digging for worms!" I told my inquisitive preschooler, knowing his own love of this activity would surely peak his interest.

"Mom! Why are they on the ground?" he asked.

His emphasis was as if I had not properly understood - or answered - the question.

"I told you -  birds eat worms and the ground is wet from all the rain so they're digging up their breakfast," I clarified.

"But mom, birds are supposed to FLY!"

He's right. Birds were given wings and they were blessed with the ability to fly. So for him to see a flock of birds walking on the ground, neglecting to take flight in the air, this just didn't make sense.

There's a lot of things that can be said about a bird walking on the ground versus taking flight. If you've seen the movie Rio (one of my favorites!) two birds are chained together and it will take 30 minutes of flight time to get to the place that will bring them freedom. The flightless Blue Macaw asks how long the trip will take by foot. For a bird, the quickest and most direct route is by air. A flightless bird bound to the ground encounters all kinds of obstacles and obstructions. He was meant to fly.

The birds in the field today weren't grounded because they couldn't or wouldn't fly. On the contrary, they left their perch to find sustenance and strength by taking advantage of the feast now readily available after the past few days of rain. They were happily pecking away at the ground, eagerly hopping through the field and excitedly grazing the grass for a squirming feast.

How often am I bound by the chains that keep me from taking flight?

How often do I leave my comfort zone and what seems innate to retreat to the unnatural?

Am I willing to leave my lofty perch to take a lowly place on the ground?

Am I willing to give up the freedom of flying to walk around in new territory?

There's nothing more natural than seeing a bird spread its wings, take flight and soar across the sky. But more than the aerodynamics of the wings, the bird requires a source of strength to have energy to do what she was created to do. She must leave her perch and ground herself from flight to seek nourishment.

I've been grounded. I've found myself in an unnatural habitat. I've felt inhibited, hindered, chained by circumstances and feelings. There have been times the thought of surrendering my wings and what feels innate seemed to weigh me down. But there have also been realizations that I must replenish, restore and seek nourishment. Despite being "out of my element" on the ground, it is the very place where I find the source of strength I need to be able to take flight again.

I want to fly. I want to soar. I want to do what God created me to do... But I've got to be willing to leave my comfort zone, toil through the ground and dig up the strength that I need.

I know you'll want to join me in flight - but let's meet on the ground first!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

He's Still God

When you're faced with pain...
He's still God.

When you don't have answers...
He's still God.

When you don't understand...
He's still God.

When you're overcome with grief...
He's still God.

When you're weighed down by guilt...
He's still God.

When you pray for a miracle but it doesn't come...
He's still God.

When you can't even pray...
He's still God.

When you're too weak to speak...
He's still God.

When you scream out in anger...
He's still God.

When you don't know the next step to take...
He's still God.

When you're wandering in the wilderness...
He's still God.

When your situation has left you completely out of control...
He's still God.

When you're paralyzed by fear...
He's still God.

When you're heart is overcome...
He's still God.

Whatever you face, whatever your circumstance, whatever you feel, whatever you're going through... No matter what twists and turns life is throwing at you. No matter what situation your faith is faced with. Regardless of you, your circumstance, your feelings. He is still God.

We aren't asked to interpret God through our circumstances, we're just called to trust Him.

There are a lot of needs weighing heavy on my heart today. He is. He was. He always will be. It's never too late to hope and pray for a miracle...but even if it doesn't come, He is still God.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dog Gone It

Mom's going out of a town for a few days. Because dad works crazy shifts, my sister and I have been asked to assist with the watchcare of the 2 year old Teddy Bear bichon-frieze/shiztu mix named Isabelle.

This dog has more fur than you can possibly imagine so she gets groomed regularly. Most recently leaving the doggie parlor with a fashionable pink feather fastened to the fur on her ear. Gone are the days of "fur bows"...we're trending feathers now.

Isabelle isn't high maintenance but for the brief time mom will be gone she has come with a day-by-day itinerary of categorized instructions, complete with color-coding for each person and their corresponding responsibilities. If you know my mom, you're not surprised. She's organized to a "tee" (I stole that from a friend). The color coding and details are mostly for dad. (If you know him, this isn't a shocker.) If you know my family, you know why we're all laughing.

I should also add that in addition to this email itinerary we all received, mom will adorn the house with post-it note reminders for dad. Bathroom mirror, coffee pot, outside AND inside the refrigerator.

It was a regular occurrence in our home to see the post-it reminders back and forth from mom and dad listing tasks or items needing attention. It was also common to see these notes bear terms of endearment and affection. I love their love notes.

The truth is, sis and I are grown and gone so Isabelle is their "baby"... despite the very real fact that both E & A have captured Nana & Papa's hearts. They're the grandparents. They're allowed.

It's funny to think about. Color-coded categorized instructions for the family dog. But the keyword is family. This is my family.

We're quirky and sometimes get on each other's nerves. We're codependent and cross relational boundaries. But we're family.
You can bet your life that no matter what care or attention the dog, grandkids or any of us could need, we'll be there to help, step in, support, pray, love.

Welcome to the family. We welcome you with open arms. (And maybe even a pink feather!)

What a Difference a Day Makes

Yesterday was sunny and 75. The cool breeze offered a consistent reminder that it is still spring despite the warmth of the sun.

The cloud cover today is blanketing the sky. It's a chilly 55 degrees with a cool and steady rain.

What a difference a day makes.

The sun may have been shining yesteday but my heart was downcast. And while the skies of grey could certainly make today look bleak, it bears no reflection of the joy I feel inside.

What a difference a day makes.

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
   the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
   and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
   and therefore I have hope:

Lamentations 3:19-21

Oh there have been days of affliction, certainly days - maybe longer - wandering in the wildnerness. I remember these days well, and I recall these days as a reminder...

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
   for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
   therefore I will wait for him.”

The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
   to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
   for the salvation of the LORD.

Lamentations 3:22-26

I wait for Him. I hope in Him. I am not consumed because today, this day, He is faithful. Surely, He alone is my portion and all that I need.

What a difference a day makes.

Let him sit alone in silence,
   for the LORD has laid it on him.
 Let him bury his face in the dust—
   there may yet be hope.
Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
   and let him be filled with disgrace.

Lamentations 3:28-30

Just as the rain came this morning to literally wash away the dust from yesterday, so was His love showered on me to bring peace and joy. Yesterday I had to be still. Wait patientily for Him. Turn the other cheek. Sit in silence. Be alone. Seek... His face. His strength. His deliverance. His hope. His peace. His salvation.

Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
   so great is his unfailing love....
I called on your name, LORD,
   from the depths of the pit.
You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears
   to my cry for relief.”
You came near when I called you,
   and you said, “Do not fear.”
Lamentations 3:32, 55-57

Yesterday might have brought trouble and grief but today has brought love and compassion. Yesterday may have been cause for concern but today He is my reason to rejoice. Yesterday I might have cried tears of pain but after crying out to Him, today He has answered me.

What a difference a day makes!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Gone Fishin'

He's 3. I'm 33. It was the first fishing experience for both of us.  I touched the worm. I got dirty. He accidentally (on purpose) "fell" in the creek. We didn't catch a single fish. But it was one of the most enjoyable and memorable days I can remember.

My boy loves the outdoors. This mama is learning how to get dirt under my manicured nails, find joy in all the insects that would normally "bug" me, and stick my feet in the creek and get them muddy and not care. (Okay, I care a little bit...but it all washes off!)

Some days the fish are biting and somedays they aren't. But you've got to at least be willing to bait the hook, cast your line, and be patient. Even a normally active and energetic little boy was willing to patiently wait in hopes of catching the prize. The mud and water and worms didn't phase him. Not in the least. I was certainly stepping outside of my comfort zone, but I'm so glad I did.

He demonstrated more patience than I anticipated. But after about an hour of not catching anything and the minnows nibbling away at the worm, he wanted to get in with the fish, determined that if he was closer he might catch something. He was content to wade in the water. He found a red plastic cup that he wanted to use to catch the fish instead of the rod. I explained why this wouldn't work, but he didn't care. He was enjoying scooping a cup full of water at a time and carefully inspecting to see if he'd caught anything. I'm proud to report he caught an acorn, leaf and a stick, but no fish.

Jesus told the disciples to cast their nets. He taught them to make fishers of men. And so you and I have been commissioned. I admit - I share smiles to passers-by, offer compliments to complete strangers, start up conversations with those in service positions - all attempts to be some small example of Christ's love.

But what if I went one step further. What if I was willing to remove myself from the comfort of my little world, even go past the safety of the creek bank, and wade into the waters. You see, I think E had the right idea. His red plastic cup might not have been the right tool to catch fish, but he was willing to get into the water where they were. He wanted to be in their environment. Down and dirty, literally. Even throwing himself in at one point saying, in his own words, "I'm being just like a fish." Could my little fisher be teaching me what it means to be in the world but not of it?

I'm willing to bait the hook - even if it means getting dirt under my nails (or worse, worm guts). I'm willing to cast my line - even if it means having to wait patiently for a fish to swim my way. I'm also willing to step off the creek bank and wade into the waters to go where the fish are.

I'd say we have a fishing trip to schedule...  Want to join me?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Maintenance Required

The light has been flashing for awhile now. Every time I started the car it blinked "Maintenance Required." I'm a girl. I don't pay attention to this stuff. The little sticker in the corner told me I had 200 more miles before my next oil change so I figured the maintenance check could wait until then.
It wasn't until I glanced over at my windshield and noticed my inspection sticker bore the number "3". Uh oh. We're well into the 4th month. Girl moment again. Now realizing I was breaking the law, I made the call to schedule an appointment for maintenance and inspection.

The warning light wasn't enough to get my attention. I had to become a criminal to motivate me to take action.

How many times is this true of me? Guardrails are in place. Safety nets are out-stretched. The warning signs are posted. The flashing light serves as a reminder, "Pay attention!" But seemingly I ignore it. Not until I have crossed the line, gone over the cliff, broken the law, and found myself in actual danger (or trouble) do I really stop to pay attention.

Then I got the call that said, "There's a problem with your car..." Should I have really been surprised?! The warning light had been blinking for weeks. My ignorance of this flashing reminder to have things checked out caused a small little something left unattended to create a bigger something that would require it all to be replaced. Sheesh.

How many times has that happened? Even with the warning signs and flashing lights, when the problem is ignored or left unattended it usually leads to an even bigger problem. I couldn't see it - but that didn't mean it wasn't there. By looking at the exterior, no one would assume anything was wrong (other than the fact that my vehicle bears layers of dirt, pollen and bird poo that may in fact need to be scraped off.). This was under the hood.

My ignorance of the problem didn't make it go away. It made it worse. And now I'd pay the price.

There were two options. One was a temporary fix that would cost $10. The other would be a permanent fix that would cost...brace yourself...$850!

I'd like to give you a great spiritual application of how I immediately chose the permanent fix because the temporary solution won't last. However, I admit that my bill was only $10.

I'm well aware I've only "patched up" the problem. Eventually I'll need to pay the price and provide a permanent solution. I can tell you that I have learned a valuable - and in this case, costly - lesson. When the "Maintenance Required" light starts blinking, I'm going to pay closer attention. I don't want a small problem left unattended to escalate into something I can't fix.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

When I Am Weak

Today I had to admit weakness.

I was broken hearted, discouraged, and I know myself well enough to know I was at the point of shutting down. I've recognized my default setting of trying to do things on my own, which usually results in donning the mask that "everything's okay." But I was so rocked at my core that I felt certain I couldn't even put on the act today.

So, I went public with my admission of needing help. I debated this for a second - should I really post that I'm asking for people to pray? I'll start getting texts and private messages asking "what's wrong" and I wasn't in any position to explain. What if people thought I was self-seeking or just trying to get attention? No, I knew that my motive was pure. Today I needed prayer partners to surround me - whether they knew what the situation was or not. Today I needed confidantes to intercede on my behalf. Today I was seeking spiritual support and encouragement because I knew I was weak.

Immediately people responded. Oh the power of prayer! Just 2 hours later I sat overwhelmed at the out-pouring of love and support! My heart still hurts. My world is still shaken. But my spirit is encouraged because of the prayers of His people.

I just blogged about how Satan is so good at targeting your weakest spot. But I was so blinded by pain that I couldn't even recognize this as an enemy attack. As I admitted my weakness and need, those who felt and sensed the Spirit's leading were able to speak truth into my life and immediately point out this was Satan's attempt at hitting me at my core.

Shame on me for buying into his lies! Shame on him for waging war against the One who is Victorious!

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. Romans 8:37

I've challenged myself before - do I live as a conqueror? Or do I live defeated? What if I hadn't asked for help? I'd be sitting in sorrow, maybe drowning in self-pity. Hurting and aching with no sign of hope. I'd be secretly hiding my heartache and forced to face people with nothing more than a fake smile and a false reality.

That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10

I don't like to admit that I'm weak. But having done so today has taught me a huge lesson. I don't have to rely on my own strength. I know my strength and my hope is in the Lord. But even when I am broken to the point of not being able to reach out for Him, I also learned I can ask those around me to stand on my behalf.

I praise Him for moments of weakness. Moments of weakness result in exposed vulnerabilities. Exposed vulnerabilities lead to wounds being healed. Wounds being healed help strengthen areas of weakness. So that next time I face an enemy attack, I might just be able to stand on my own two feet. But even if I find myself again in a fallen state, I now know where to turn!

Thank you for your prayers!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Half Off

It was a joyful Sunday morning. A day of celebration. A day of remembrance. A day of thanksgiving. Easter Sunday. Knowing we serve a risen Lord was certainly cause for celebration and you could sense the excitement. There were greetings filled with rejoicing, new outfits donned in honor of this day, and baskets chock full of candy and prizes that eager kids couldn't wait to get their hands on.

But the day after Easter rolled around and I just knew...the stores would have everything half off. The stuff I paid full price for just two days earlier would now be marked down by at least 50%. (except Target which felt 30% off was sufficient - what is this about?! You're a "Super Target" now so you don't have to offer a real sale?!)

I admit. I've always been a sucker for Cadbury eggs. I guess you either love 'em or hate 'em. In my case, I can't wait for Valentine's Day to be over because these and the Reeses peanut butter eggs are usually the first to make their appearance announcing that Easter is coming. I made sure to grab a few of each.

I'm not really a jelly bean kind of person, although there are new brands like Starburst and Jolly Rancher that I will eat if they're put before me, but this bag that was once 1.97 was now discounted to under a dollar. Of course I needed some.

I never really cared for malt balls but the speckled Robin eggs were beckoning me. They're just so colorful and I justified the mini ones are easier to consume. And a bag of those made it into my basket.

There were packages of Fun Dip - remember that with the powdered sugar and a candy stick you lick and dip? 20 pouches marked down to only $2. That's only .10 each! How could I resist?

Adding to this shopping frenzy were the dozens of people crowded around me, rummaging through unsorted boxes of candy and random displays now filled with things that didn't belong. We were all making sure we got the best deals. It was almost like an unspoken competition.

The truth is, I enjoy chocolate but I can have a bowl full of candy sitting out for weeks and may only consume a few pieces. It's April and I'm pretty sure I still have a few remnants from Christmas. (I know...I need to just throw them away...) So why was I a part of this madness to purchase half price candy that undoubtedly I don't need and probably won't eat?

In this particular case, I'm proud to say I put it all back - save for a few Cadbury and Reeses peanut butter eggs. I'll eat those for sure. But I realized I didn't need the rest.

And now you're wondering is this just a random blog about my fleeting moment of self control or could I possibly find some spiritual application in this craziness?!

Here's where we're going. Nothing had changed. Not the packaging, not the contents. It was all the same stuff that had now lost it's value simply with the passing of a day.

And then it hit me. Has my joy been reduced? Have I discounted my excitement? Has my celebration been marked down? Just because Easter has come and gone, do I value the cross of Christ and the price He paid any less than the day I put on my Easter best and raised my hands to worship my risen Savior?

Easter has come and gone. We celebrated. We worshipped. We dressed our best. We praised and thanked Him for His sacrifice and our salvation. But the cross hasn't lost its value. Our salvation has not been discounted. Nothing about our relationship with the Lord has been reduced. We were bought with a price. And NOTHING about that was half price. He paid it ALL. The full debt of your sin and my sin. So today - everyday - we must live and serve and give Him our FULL lives. No discounts. No reductions. I owe Him my all.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Guards' Report

When the chief priests  had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the solders a large sum of money, telling them, "You are to say, 'His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.' If this reports gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." So the solders took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day. 
Matthew 28:12-15

Have you ever been lied to? Oh....I could tell you stories. True accounts of deception. The absolute defamation of a life of twisted lies and manipulation. It can be devastating.

I'm sure I've read it before, but it never really caught my attention that they not only made up such a story but it is still widely circulated TO THIS VERY DAY.

I remember our tour guide in Israel - a devout Jew. A group of wide-eyed college kids from a Christian school were all-too-eager to share our belief of a risen Savior with her. She walked us around the hillside and showed us the place where Jesus gave the sermon on the Mount. She described in detail the reasons why such a storm could so quickly erupt while Jesus and His disciples were out to sea. She lead us down the Via Dolorosa and we took each and every step relishing the agony Christ must have been in as He bore His cross. She lead us to the hill where the cross stood - and we all stared at the skull on the side of the mountain. She showed us to the tomb where a sign is hung overhead that says "HE IS RISEN!"

Oh, she believed He lived. She had full confidence the accounts of Jesus' life on earth were absolutely true. But to her, He was just a "good man" - nothing more than a prophet. See, she believed in His life ... and even in His death ... but she didn't believe in His resurrection which leaves her still searching for eternal life. She is still awaiting her Messiah...

She believed the guards' report. The story of the body having been stolen by his disciples. The twisted lies of some soldiers who thought they'd get in trouble. The defamation of a story that has caused a ripple effect for thousands of years.

What do you say of Jesus? What is your report of His life, death, and resurrection? What is your testimony of His life in you?

It's a silent Saturday - the day when His closest friends had lost all hope, when they grieved with devastated hearts. They didn't know Sunday was coming. They lost their hope. The report had not yet been given. The stone had not yet rolled away. The Savior had not yet risen. And for many, they've bought into a false report of Jesus that ends with His death. When I give my account of resurrection day I want my life to be a testimony of a risen Lord. It's a silent Saturday...but Sunday's coming!

Friday, April 6, 2012

T.G.I. GOOD FRIDAY

It's Good Friday. It wasn't really a good day for Jesus 2,000 years ago...but what came out of it was good for all mankind. For you, for me, for every person who would choose to accept.

Today's post isn't like others. This is the most important post I could share. Eternity depends on it.

Today is the day we remember Christ's death. But what I need you to know and hear if you've never heard it before...Christ died for YOU.

Sin separates us from knowing God and eternal life with our Father. No matter how big or little, we've all sinned; we all fall short of God's glory (Romans 3:23). The cost of our sin is death but we've been given a FREE gift - the gift of salvation through the price Jesus Christ paid by giving His life to pay the debt we owed (Romans 6:23). And even knowing we would sin - as He formed us in the womb and planned the days of our lives - He made a way for us to spend eternity with Him. Why? Because He loved us (Romans 5:8).

The gift is free - but you must choose to accept it. I can't do it for you. No one can't decide on your behalf. Nor can anyone tell you what to do. This is between you and Him.

You have to confess and admit you're a sinner. Recognize your sinful, fallen, separated state. Having hung on the cross bearing the weight of your sin - then conquering death to give us eternal life with Him in Heaven, this is what you must come to terms with.When you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, then you can receive the gift of salvation (Romans 10:9).

It was March 31, 1984. I was 5 years old. I had been indoctrinated with bible stories and church since I was born. But this day in Sunday school I heard the teacher talk about the separation I would face - not being able to be with Jesus when I died unless I asked Him into my heart to save me. I went home and told mom I didn't want to die without Jesus. I can recall my bedroom. I can remember kneeling down beside the bed. I don't know the words I said, but I know mom lead me in a sinner's prayer that was spoken from the heart and faith of a child who wanted to be with Jesus for eternity.

I would later understand Jesus didn't just save me, He is Lord of my life and as His child, I seek to pursue a daily intimate relationship. This wasn't just about a one-time prayer. This has become my life.

I pray you know Him as your Savior. If not, make today a GREAT Friday and seek His salvation. He paid the price for you. It's yours for the taking. If you've already received His gift, I encourage you to reflect on the moment you called upon Him to save you. Let's make it a good Friday!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Scars

I have a scar on my right hip. It's about 2 inches long and serves as a reminder of the one and only surgery I've had.

My freshman year of college I found myself doubled over in pain that progressed so intensely throughout the day until I was nearly immobile. I ended up in emergency care where they were convinced I had alcohol poisoning since I was, afterall, a freshman in college. I had never consumed a drop of alcohol in my life but the doctors weren't buying it, especially since the next day began my first semester's final exams. A likely excuse, right?!

After hours of testing and the pain intensifying, I was rushed into surgery for an appendectomy. After it was all said and done the surgeon wasn't convinced that the appendix was the problem, but I was left with a two inch scar and one less organ.

I remember the pain of trying to stand up for the first time after surgery. It felt as if my insides were moving and shifting to accommodate for the missing appendix. I had an open wound and stitches and staples holding me together where they cut through my skin, past the muscle and went deep inside my body.

The scar doesn't hurt anymore. I feel no pain in that area whatsoever. Regardless, many many years later, I bear the mark of that day that I will never forget. (Not to mention this permanent reminder of how difficult it is to find a two-piece bathing suit that will cover my scar!)

I wonder what scars you bear. Have you had surgery? Maybe an accident? Is there a physical mark that serves as a reminder of an ordeal you've had to endure?

You may be able to recall the vivid details of what you experienced just by seeing the mark you bear. It may be painful for you to think about. It may even bring up emotional wounds that carry their own internal scars. I understand this, too.

But He was pierced for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon HIm,
and by His wounds we are healed.
Isaiah 53:5-6

Jesus bears the marks in his hands and feet of where the nails were driven into his flesh and muscle to hold Him to the cross. My sin was nailed there with Him.

Jesus bears the scar where a sword was thrust into His side. His heart was beating for me. The blood and water that flowed out were symbols of His body broken and poured out for me.

Jesus bears the indentations of the thorns that pierced His brow, the crown that adorned Him with my shame and my guilt. Yet another symbol of His reminder to me that I don't have to bear it.


Scars don't hurt but they do leave a forever reminder of the pain once felt. The scars He bears should be on my hands, my feet, my side, and my brow. Today I'm thankful for scars.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Amazing Love

I'm forgiven because You were forsaken
I'm accepted, You were condemned
I'm alive and well, Your spirit is within me
Because You died and rose again

Amazing Love, how can it be?
That You my King would die for me

Amazing Love, I know it's true;
And it's my joy to honor You, 
In all I do, I honor You.

You may recognize the familiar praise song above. It seems appropriate especially as we continue this week of reflection of Christ's sacrifice, paying the debt for my sin, taking my place, dying for me. And what does He ask in return? That I accept His gift and that I honor Him with my life.

I should have been condemned to die - but He took my place
I should have been rejected by men - but He heard my voice among the scoffers.
I should have been spit upon and mocked - but He bore the shame.
I should have bore the cross - but He took it upon His back.
I should have taken the nails - but He bears the scars.
I should have suffered death on a cross - but He humbled Himself to the point of death.
I should have laid rotting in a tomb - but He conquered death and rose again.

Amazing Love. How can it be?

I love You because You took my place.
I love You because You loved me despite my sin.
I love You because You carried my sin and shame.
I love You because You bear the marks of my forgiveness.
I love You because You made a way for us to never be separated.
I love You because You are my Savior, my Lord, my Friend, my Redeemer.

Amazing Love.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

33

This may be one of my most honest admissions. Are you ready for this? I am about to reveal something so personal, so private ... Information so top secret and so hidden it could forever change everything you think about me.

Here we go...

We were hanging out backstage after the Living Cross and someone asked my age. (I'd like to think I hide it well....but I was being put to the test.) She's a good friend that I can trust with this knowledge so I felt no reluctance to share "I just celebrated the 4th anniversary of my 29th birthday."

Seeing the puzzled look on her face, I could almost hear the calculator in her head. I decided to help her out since her Bible trivia is better than her math, so I said "I'm the same age Jesus lived to be." She laughed & immediately blurted out "You're 33!"

Shhhhh!!!!! Keep your voice down!!! (Gulp...I can't believe I just revealed this to you all!)

And then it hit me. I am the same age as Jesus when he died. His life ended at 33... The thought is sobering. I'm not ready for my life to end.

Don't get me wrong - I have already travelled the world, accomplished many things, I've received awards and accolades; I've met all kinds of people, I've shared His love in multiple languages and countries. I've looked into the eyes of people so poor it made me sick to my stomach for all I have. I can't say I am anything but unbelievably and undeservingly blessed... But I'm not ready to die.

What If I knew... What if I was aware that this was my last year on earth? Oh you'd better believe I would have gone to that garden and cried out in torment and pleaded in anguish. Surely I would have begged God.

Speaking of Gethsemane, I've been there too. I've seen olive trees so big they shade the ground where Jesus would have knelt to pray. I've walked through the path of wildgrown flowers and greenery where the disciples probably fell asleep. I've seen that place where Creator wrestled against the Creation He formed pleading with His Father to take the cup...

So far I've been given 33 years on this planet and that's all the time my Savior had. It causes me to stop and reflect. Certainly I haven't honored Him all the days of my life. I'm sure I've blessed and been blessed but I don't feel like my ministry and service is fulfilled yet. I am not ready for my time on earth to be complete.

Maybe you've already passed your 33rd birthday. Maybe 33 still sounds like a distant (and old) number (just watch it - one day you'll realize it's not that old!) Either way, I am challenged by a quote I heard years ago, "The fact that I am alive today is proof positive that God has something for me to do." Let's live this out to the fullest. The very fact you opened your eyes, took in a breath, and greeted THIS DAY is proof enough that God has a plan for you.

You may not raise the dead, but you may give encouragement to someone who's spirit is crushed within them. You may not feed 5,000 people with a few loaves and fish, but the overflow of your life might be the spiritual food that someone needs to feast on. You may not be delivering the sermon on the mount, but your life could be a testimony that speaks to people who sense His presence at work in you.

I'm more and more aware that age is just a number and not necessarily a reflection of how you feel. However it is the number that marks the days He already had planned for you even as He formed you in the womb (Psalm 139). 33 plus or minus however many years you are... Let's make today count!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Sifted

We just finished a full weekend of four Living Cross presentations. Thousands witnessed the Gospel through the presentation of the life of Christ. As this week leads up to Easter, I feel it's appropriate to do my best to focus on the events surrounding the reason we "celebrate." I can honestly say I don't even like the word celebrate in relation to Easter. Yes, we celebrate our risen Lord. Yes, we celebrate His victory over death and the grave. But really it's a time to reflect and remember and recommit.

I may reference a few scenes or lines throughout the week but one that really has captured my attention this year comes straight from Luke 22:

"Peter, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." (vs. 31-32)

Jesus sets the scene. What is to come is Peter's denial of even knowing Christ (vs. 34) despite his pledge to go with the Lord even to death (vs. 33).

Sifted. To examine closely, to separate, to scatter. Here it is. Satan wanted to see what Peter was made of. He wanted to know where his faith would land after being tested.

Having shared such intimate times with his Master, Peter had every good intention of remaining true to that admission to follow Christ even if it meant death. But he stumbled. He fell. He caved under the pressure. Satan attacked him at a vulnerable spot in a weak moment and doggoneit if he didn't hate himself for it!

Peter and I were apparently in the same boat (and sadly this time it's not the boat where we get out and walk on water...)

But what I keep going back to is the Scripture (we're not just talking about a line in a play) where Jesus says He PRAYED for Peter's faith not to fail. See, Christ knew Peter would stumble and fall but He was interceding for his beloved disciple not to lose his faith. WOW!

Have you been sifted? Have you stumbled? Have you fallen? Have you denied Christ? Against Him and Him alone have we sinned, according to Psalm 51. We've certainly hurt Him at some time or another, maybe not denying we know Him but denying our identity in and with Him by the action of our sin against a Holy and Blameless Savior.

But let's finish the verse...

"...And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." (32)

Jesus knew he would stumble, he knew he'd sin, but he also knew he'd return. Jesus had already instructed Peter to feed His sheep. He would learn to lead after being tested, sifted, falling flat on his face, and getting back up to love and strengthen others in their faith.

Are you in the boat with Peter and me? Let's be sifted out and called His. Let's be separated as one of His disciples. Let them examine us closely and pray they see authentic faith. Let's be careful not to fail when our faith has been tested but to turn back and use the testing as a testimony to strengthen others!