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Thursday, December 11, 2014

What Words Will You Serve?

While the work of it all sometimes overwhelms me, I do love to welcome people into my home during Christmas. Whether a friend drops in for coffee and a cranberry orange muffin or we gather with several other couples around our large, square dining table, I love to pour a little sweet hospitality out during this sacred season.

But I've often made the mistake of putting more effort into preparing the cheese ball and the pecan pie and the specialty coffee than I have the words I say to my guests. That is I did make that mistake until I realized the nurturing effect our words can have.

You know by now that I strongly believe in the satisfying and nurturing power of God's Word. I believe that when we "eat" His Word by meditating on and even memorizing scriptures that speak to our souls' desires God truly satisfies our hungry souls. And we, in turn, are able to live fuller and more contented lives.

Now God's words are so powerful that He was able to create the world by simply speaking it into existence. And Isaiah 55:11 reminds us that God continues to use His Word to accomplish powerful things in our lives. But while our words may not create worlds or do our bidding, they do have the ability to build up or destroy, to encourage or defeat, to heal or to harm. Wouldn't you agree?

In Mary and Elizabeth's verbal exchange during that very first Christmas, we find a beautiful example of a conversation that served up words of blessing, testimony and grace. Maybe while we're setting the table for our own guests or baking cookies for our families we should ponder the words these two expectant mothers spoke to one another as they anticipated the appearance of Emmanuel, God with us.

Words of Blessing
When the young, virgin Mary entered the home of her older cousin Elizabeth, she was greeted by words of exuberant blessing. Elizabeth didn't let a minute pass without reassuring this young woman that she was indeed up to the task God had called her to. She covered her with blessings and encouraged her to stay the course.

41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And [a]how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. 45 And blessed is she who [b]believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her [c]by the Lord.”

Surely Mary breathed in this blessing and breathed out renewed confidence and courage. She must have sighed with relief to hear the assurances of this older woman.

Our children crave our blessing. They want desperately to know that they are doing at least something right, that we see potential blooming forth in their inexperience, and that their simple faith and hesitant obedience will carry positive consequences. They want to hear us bless them with joy and passion and excitement and anticipation. And they must breathe a sigh of relief when we rejoice in them rather than berate them, nag them or shake our heads at them. How can you speak satisfying words of blessing to your child's hungry soul this Christmas season?

Words of Testimony
The next words spoken in the inaugural Christmas conversation come from Mary, newly refreshed by Elizabeth's kind blessing:

46 And Mary said:
My soul [a]exalts the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
“For He has had regard for the humble state of His [b]bondslave;
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
“For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is [c]upon generation after generation
Toward those who fear Him.
He has done [d]mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who were proud in the [e]thoughts of their heart.
“He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things;
And sent away the rich empty-handed.
“He has given help to Israel His servant,
[f]In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and his [g]descendants forever.”

Mary doesn't grab hold of the blessing and feed it to her pride. Instead, feasting on the encouragement and enthusiasm of her cousin, Mary praises the Lord with words of grateful testimony. The bottom line is really found in the 49th line of this chapter: For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name.

When guests come to our home they may or may not enjoy hearing about the accomplishments of our children, the latest antics of our pets, or the journeys of our vacations. After all, such tales are largely one-sided and leave little room for true give and take.

But start bragging on the great things the Lord has done and you open wide the opportunity for others to share similar tales. Don't you just love to hear what God is up to? I do. You might want to put your vacation slides away for a family only viewing night and you might tone down the talk of your children's latest successes. That kind of bragging sometimes annoys house guests. But you can't fail when you share how the Mighty One has done some great things. Just be sure to give Him all the credit and resist the urge to share the spotlight.

Words of Grace
I don't really know what was said next between these two expectant relatives. The conversation ends there in the text. But this is what I do know. These two mamas-to-be weathered the final three months of Elizabeth's pregnancy together and then they parted, I'm assuming, on good terms. So there must have been a lot of grace doled out between them!

56 And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home.

When extended family and other house guests set up camp in our homes during this holiday season we'll be wise to dole out a little grace, too. When your grown kids come home from college and strew their things all over the house? Grace. When your husband is off from work and in your hair? Grace. When your mother-in-law takes over your kitchen? Grace. When your sister shows up without the side dishes she was supposed to prepare? Grace. When your neighbors show up for your open house the week before it's scheduled...and stay a while? Grace!

I love preparing menus, shopping for just the right extras to round out my feasts, and cooking up yummy delicacies this time of year. Maybe you do, too. But gals, we better choose our words carefully, prepare our hearts (from which all those words flow!) and hold our tongues when the words on them are of the sour variety rather than the sweet. The folks who come into our homes are more likely to remember well the words they feasted on than they are the china we served their meals on.

What will you do to prepare a satisfying feast of words this Christmas?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Tea Talk with Kay

Today is the first day in oh so many days that I have been by myself in my home with more than a few minutes to fill and feeling healthy. My wonderful mom was here right before Thanksgiving and I savored every minute of that visit. We cooked some of the dishes for my family's Thanksgiving day meal and put them in the freezer, decorated for Christmas and just enjoyed being together. It was a splendid visit!

Then Thanksgiving was upon me, followed quickly by a trip to Pennsylvania, where I spoke to the women's Bible study groups of Christ Community Church in West Chester. I had a lovely time there and thoroughly enjoyed seeing what God is doing at that powerful church. My hostess Carla picked my brain asking me question upon question about my salvation, my calling into ministry, my experiences as a pastor's wife, and my family. And I loved answering her questions. She reminded me just how wonderful it feels to have someone so interested in you that they dig into the depths of your soul a little. That's a gift...and a treasure. Thank you, Carla, for caring enough to want to know about me!

When I got home from Pennsylvania I went straight to work! I took a little part time job at Talbots for the Christmas season. I wanted to try something new, get out of my comfort zone, meet some new people and earn a little cash for Christmas. I just work five hours at a time, and I'm absolutely loving helping women shop. That's right up my alley!

So I worked last Friday and Saturday, was home sick with a stomach bug on Sunday and worked again Monday and Tuesday. Today I returned to teach my final women's Bible study classes of the semester. I love those ladies! I tell them frequently that they are the highlight of my week, and that's no exaggeration. There's just nothing sweeter than talking about our loving, trustworthy and gracious God with other women who love Him as much as I do. And they are all such devoted students of the Word, whether they are struggling to get their little ones to nap so they can open their Bibles for a few minutes or they are more seasoned women with more time at their disposal. And then there's my evening class, which I'll meet with in a couple of hours, that is full of working women who make time in their busy schedules to draw aside with their Bibles each day. I love that these women love God enough to work at getting to know Him and I love that they love His Word!

I had lunch with a dear friend after Bible study this morning. The weather is cool, but sunny and a little balmy here in southern Arizona, so we grabbed lunch at Wendy's and headed to a local park to eat outside. We laughed and listened and talked about big and little things. She smiled when I needed her to smile and nodded when I craved a little affirmation. When I shared my heart she didn't think I was a fruitcake. That's always a plus.

And this afternoon, before I sat down with a cup of tea to touch base with you, I tried a recipe I came across on Pinterest for old-fashioned shortbread. I used this recipe here. And it turned out pretty well. The texture is great. I should have made mine a little thicker than I did and I'd add a little more sugar for my sweeter tooth next time, but I'll definitely save this recipe. It's the perfect accompaniment to hot tea or afternoon coffee.

I made the little cookies today because I already had the ingredients on hand and because I felt like I needed to do a little something just for me. I wanted to enjoy my decorated house and the quiet of my home. I wanted to do something a little domestic, but I didn't want a long drawn out project. Sometimes I just need to putter. You too?

What do you enjoy doing when you have a little chunk of time to enjoy the solitude of your home? Do you find yourself longing to do those simple things a little more during the Christmas season? I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Do All Good Things Really Come to an End?

I get the blues when I turn the last page of a really good novel, especially one in which I've grown to love the characters. I'm tempted to order a second dish of Pinkberry when I finish my bowl of pomegranate frozen yogurt with strawberries, blueberries and mango on top. And I'm one of those people who is never ready for a vacation to come to a close. I love home, but I just can't ache for it while I'm lying on a beach or hiking through the mountains or standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon. Come on...

Bottom line? I don't like for good things to end. And yet, we know that all good things must come to an end, right?

I've experienced several endings in the last few years. For example, my child rearing years have ended. That's been a tough one. I completely dedicated myself to being a mom to my children for 21 years. And before you say that was shortsighted of me and that I shouldn't have been so absorbed with them, let me put your concerns to rest. I was also involved in ministry, deeply in relationship with friends and my husband, and pursing other interests as well. But I loved the noise and busyness and dinner-in-the-oven aromas and large loads of laundry and laughter of raising my children.

But that has ended. And now it's quiet and my time is more my own and dinner is rarely cooked in an oven and the laundry amounts to two little loads a week. My husband and I laugh with each other, but we miss the sarcastic wit of our son and the high octane energy of our daughter.

Endings. New chapters. Bleh!!

And, like I said, I've got other endings where that one came from. I'll not go into details, but suffice it to say that they were not all anticipated or desired or relished endings. Some of them have been hard and sad, and sometimes they have wreaked of the odors of rejection and loss and grief and unfinished business.

Endings remind me of undesirable truths, such as:

  • nothing in this world is permanent (except the souls of believers and the Word of God)
  • life is fragile
  • life is a vapor
  • anyone has the potential of disappointing you at some point
  • life is made up of seasons
  • seasons change
  • feelings change
  • people change
But endings have also taught me something else, something much more important and hopeful:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end.
(Lamentations 3:22)

I have clung to this hope-evoking scripture in recent months the same way I clung to my daddy's hand when he talked me into going through a haunted house as a child. Petrified of whatever lay around the corner (or behind me or beneath my feet, for that matter), I gripped my daddy's hand and insisted he hold onto me. Okay. Actually I was 17, but still... I've been laying hold of and holding onto this sweet biblical truth with that same tenacity.

Remember God's love is not just some abstract emotion He feels toward us. His love wouldn't let us go. His love compelled Him to send His only, perfect Son to live and die for us. His love compels Him to seek us out. His love compels Him to pursue us with a hot jealousy and unyielding passion, letting nothing get between us and Him (Romans 8:38-39). His love compels Him to forgive us. His love prohibits Him from ever abandoning us...or even glancing away for a minute. His love fastens His adoring gaze upon us, consumes his mind with innumerable thoughts about us, propels Him to speak to us and walk with us, and sustains His long-suffering patience with us. And His love will one day prompt Him to send His Son back to fetch us. He absolutely adores us.

He adores me. He adores you. And that will never, ever, ever, ever, ever...end. Never. It never pauses or wanes or shrinks or becomes less effective. His love never ceases. Thus, His mercies--those tender gifts of compassion and grace--never come to an end either.

Praise the Lord! His love never ceases. It's higher than the heavens are above the earth, It overflows the deepest oceans. It cannot be contained or explained or refrained. It never, ever ends.

Have you recently turned the last page in a book you loved? Sure, maybe you've finished a novel with pages and a binding. But maybe you, like me, have also closed a beloved chapter in your life. Sad, huh? Truth is, seasons come and go. Sometimes people do, too. I hate that. I really, really do. But I cling to the fact that God's love never goes away. Never, ever, ever. And as I've meditated on Lamentation 3:22 that has become enough for me. His never-ceasing love is enough. Amen.

What do you love about God's never-ceasing love? How have you seen Him love you in recent days? Please share...

Monday, November 3, 2014

Hopeful Thinking

I'm just folding clothes, minding my own business, when the dadgum thought enters my mind. It invades my peace, interrupts the song I was humming and causes me to clench my jaw. The thought builds, grows, puts out tentacles and grabs hold. Feelings of frustration and helplessness begin to course through my mind and into my heart.

Isn't it alarming how quickly our dispositions can change as troubling thoughts seep into our minds unannounced, uninvited? It peeves me, quite honestly. But that's the battleground Satan chooses on which to wage the most subversive and debilitating wars for our hearts.

He can't rob us of our eternal victory, so he tries to steal our present peace. He can't snatch us from the Father's hand, so he tries to snatch away our joy instead. And he can't take us down with him, so he resorts to taking out our hope.

Equation for Hope
The fifth index card in my soul-satisfying menu actually contains a scripture passage of four verses. But I want to share each individual verse with you, taking time to flesh out the importance of each. And the first one has become the key to managing the warfare that goes on in my mind most every day.

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope...
- Lamentation 3:21

I'm prone to allowing my mind to wander. Bill and Pam Farrel say that's because women are like spaghetti. In their book Men are Like Waffles and Women are Like Spaghetti, the Farrels point out that for us women all of our "thoughts, emotions and convictions are connected." So when we start thinking about one thing, it's not uncommon for us to traverse through many other subjects and concerns in our pursuit for solutions or understanding. And I can only assume that while we're meandering through the dilemmas and relationships and situations and lessons and concerns in our life, that we cover a lot of territory in the meantime.

And that's why we're so prone to picking up a negative thought here and there on the journey. At least that's my theory...

But gals, we have to learn to take control of our thoughts. Rather than allowing our emotions to spiral down like a spaghetti noodle twisted on a fork, we need to learn to choose our thoughts more carefully so that we maintain our hope in a hopeless world.

In Lamentations 3, the prophet laments that he "has seen affliction...forgotten happiness...been made desolate...dwelt in dark places...had his prayers shut out...and been rejected from peace." And that's the abbreviated version of his hopeless lament! This guy is hopeless.

That happens to me, too. What about you? Do you ever work yourself into a tizzy? What's a tizzy? It's a downward spiral in which God is absent and hope is nonexistent. It's not a good thing to be in a tizzy.

But then the author of Lamentations, after stating that his soul is "bowed down within," suddenly has a realization. He stops the downward spiral by calling to mind...the truth. We'll eventually get to the specific truths that brought this lamenter such hope, but for today I simply want to encourage you to follow his very intentional step of calling to mind truth.

That's not as easy as it sounds. You and I both know that. Pity parties usually include large does of the gloom-inducing drugs of bitterness, worry, fear and hurt. It's not easy to pull ourselves out of the stupor long enough to set our minds on the right things. That's why it's important to check each thought at the door of our mind before it has the opportunity to come in and take a seat. But if we do find ourselves spiralling down, we can indeed choose to do the hard work of thinking on the truth.

What lies do you need to send packing today by way of choosing to dwell on the truth instead?

Folks, this is why it's so important to have an album of soul-satisfying truths at your ready at all times. Trust me, I grab this little photo album filled with mostly memorized scriptures at least two to three times each day. These truths sustain me. They give me hope.

Why don't you share with all of us one of the Bible verses that you have chosen to call to mind recently, allowing it to restore your hope? We'd all benefit from your sharing.

And when the enemy tries to steal your hope today, don't let him. You call to mind truth, and hold onto your hope!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Like He Said, He's My God

I hung up the phone, but immediately wanted to dial another number. The previous conversation had not gone well and my heart was burdened. I swallowed back the tears and debated about whether or not I should bother my husband at work with my concerns. Or maybe I should call a friend, my mother or even my daughter? Surely I needed to unload this burden on someone. Surely I needed advice, a shoulder to cry on, and some encouragement.

It bears repeating, I learn by repetition.

So...my fourth verse in my Soul Satisfying Menu of scriptures, with which I feed my soul every morning and multiple times the rest of the day, is not unlike the second and third verses. It reiterates that God alone is my god and nothing else in this world is to have the preeminence in my life that He does.

But this scripture additionally points out that He alone can save me.

Yet I have been the Lord your God since the land of Egypt; and you were not to know any god except Me, for there is no savior besides Me.
Hosea 13:4

Do you ever run to a "different" savior? A savior besides God? I certainly have. Do. Hmm.

But God reminded His people through the prophet Hosea that He had saved their ancestors from their captivity to the Egyptians, and He alone could save them still. Like the Israelites, we are prone to run to the cross for salvation from our original enemy, Satan, but then run to "other" saviors in "lesser" attacks.

Bad news? Call a friend.

Bad report? Ask for a second medical opinion.

Bad grade? Hire a tutor.

Bad cough? Call the doctor.

Bad marriage conflict? Flip through a magazine.

Bad work day? Have a glass of wine.

Bad credit report? Check the Internet for advice.

Bad experience at the grocery store? Buy a candy bar at the register.

Bad faculty meeting? Search for a new job.

You get the point. What "saviors" have you run to recently? I've run to the Internet, friends, chocolate chip cookies, Dillard's, my husband and pasta. Those things and people sometimes make me feel better for a few minutes, but they've never yet saved me from anything. God was right (of course). There is no savior besides Him.

So, for me, three's a charm. Yes, I have three scriptures in a row in my Menu that remind me that no one else, nothing else makes a suitable god for me. He alone loves me, cares for me and has the ability to save and rule over me with love and integrity. I can trust Him as my God. He alone is worthy. He alone is able. He alone has my best interest at heart at all times.

He's the only God, Savior and King for you, too.

What other "savior" are you prone to run to? How do you discipline yourself to run to God instead?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I Want to be Like My Parents When I Grow Up

My mom called about a month ago and asked me if I'd like to join her on her Sunday school class' retreat to Tennessee this coming weekend. She didn't have to ask twice. I'm on a jet plane tomorrow a.m. heading East.

I jump at any opportunity I have to visit my parents, whether they come my way or I get the treat of visiting them in the greener section of our country. I'm quite aware these days that my parents are getting older...because I'm quite aware these days that I'M getting older. I savor every opportunity I have to spend with them.

My parents both retired from professions as educators over 20 years ago, and one of the blessings I consistently thank the Lord for is the good health they have enjoyed during their retirement years. Not only has their health allowed them to stay fully engaged in life through their senior years, but it has also ensured that their children and grandchildren have continued to enjoy their presence in our lives.

Dad continues to construct wheelchair ramps for people needing them, go on mission trips with their church, reconstruct an antique car, and tend after a huge yard. My mom still cooks and bakes for families in crisis, visits shut-ins, works her garden and engages with friends. And they both continue to travel, volunteer on election days, complete daily crossword puzzles and play golf. They are healthy and thriving, enjoying life and serving others daily.

I want to do the same.

Recently I read Dr. Richard Furman's Prescription for Life: Three Simple Strategies to Live Younger Longer. He wants me (and you) to have the kind of thriving, healthy and enjoyable senior years my parents have enjoyed...and continue to enjoy. And rather than make it painful and complicated, Dr. Furman boils it down to four key strategies:
  • achieve and maintain your ideal weight
  • reduce your risk for life-threatening diseases (such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer)
  • make exercise a natural, enjoyable and doable part of your life
  • learn what foods to eat and what foods to avoid.

But let's get this clear: Dr. Furman hasn't written a book for senior adults. He's written a book for all of us...all ages. He makes it clear that leading a healthy lifestyle in our younger years will produce dividends in our senior years. Of course, the converse is true as well. Life sloppily lived in our younger years will result in less healthy living in our later years as well as a likely reduction in the number of years we even have to live.

While I can't say that I've decided to adopt all of Dr. Furman's advice (simply because I'm stubborn and foolish, like most of us), I have committed to continue to exercise regularly and be more vigilant about maintaining a healthy weight. I've also chosen a few foods to work into mine and my husband's menu more regularly and a few foods to steer clear of. I'll work on a few more foods in each column after I accomplish my initial goals. I get overwhelmed if I try to make too many changes at once.

I especially appreciate that Dr. Fuman is a believer in Jesus Christ and presents his material with the goal of helping us to live longer and fuller lives that glorify God. He doesn't just want us to get in a few more rounds of golf; he wants us to be able to serve the Lord and activitly participate in His church for many, many years. 

My parents have been blessed with full and healthy lives in their retirement years. They are such a blessing to me, the rest of their family, their friends and their church. In many ways I believe they have been able to serve the Lord more passionately and activitely in their 60s and 70s than they could while they had the restraints of children and jobs. I praise the Lord for the gift He's given to my parents in their health, but I also praise Him because I see my parents using that gift to bless others every day.

What are you doing to live a longer, healthier life to the glory of God?

He Knows My Name

Because I'm one who learns by repetition...lots and lots and lots of repetition...God reminds me more than once each morning that I belong to Him.

Have you heard the story about how I was baptized with the wrong name? Yep. We had an interim pastor at the time. I was nine years old and I had recently accepted Jesus' gift of salvation through His death on the cross and ressurrection from the grave. I was eager to be immersed in our church's baptismal pool.

I don't remember the interim pastor's name. I'm not sure if that's my subconscious attempt at revenge or just the fact that this all happened 40 years ago and I have of course forgiven him (ahem!), but I think that's kind of fitting...me not knowing his name and all. Anyhoo...when the pastor dunked me under the waters, he said he baptized Kathy Winton in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost (I guess I should just be thankful he got the Trinity's names right!). My maiden name is Winton, but my given name is Kay, not Kathy. I'm pretty sure I swallowed a mouthful of water while trying to correct the minister's mistake, but alas I was under water and the deed was done. Kathy was going to heaven, I thought, but I wasn't sure about me, Kay.

I've got stellar parents and they did an excellent job of convincing me that even though Pastor What's His Name didn't baptize me with the correct name God knew who I was. And I love and trust my parents, so I believed them. (And yes, I know that baptism doesn't send you to heaven.)


Don't you, too, sometimes wonder if the God of this universe, the One who created it all and keeps it all together, really knows you? And even if you had stellar parents and rockstar Sunday school teachers and mind blowing pastors (who baptized you with your given name *wink* *wink*), don't you wonder if God, I mean THE God, really knows your name and has His eye on you and enjoys you and has plans for you and is preparing a place for you... little ol' you? Come on. Really now!

Let's see...

"I have summoned you by name; you are Mine."
Isaiah 43:1

True, God said these words to Israel, His chosen people. But the Bible tells me I am also His chosen people in Colossians 3:12 and 1 Peter 2:9. Therefore, I can know without a doubt that He has called me by name and I, Laura Kay Winton Harms, belong to Him.

So as I read this third scripture in my Soul Satisfying Menu of scriptures each morning, I'm reminded that I belong to Him (I don't belong to anyone else and no one belongs to me). But I also receive the added benefit of hearing that the God of this universe has called me out by name, summoned me into relationship with Him, wooed me into His gracious embrace, romanced me with the sweetest name to my ears (my own, of course!) and singled me out with love. There is no doubt that my God knows me by name and treasures me as His own. I am so adored. You, too.

Monday, October 20, 2014

In Case You're as Confused as I Was

I didn't think I'd ever felt compelled to be owned by someone else. At least not in the sense that would make me enslaved to them. I'm a pretty independent gal.

But I have yearned to belong. In fact, like most people, I've worked hard to belong at times. I've dressed to fit in, joined the club, spoken the language, followed the rules, signed on the dotted line and laughed like I knew what we were all laughing about...even when I really didn't. You, too?

Fact is, God created us with something like a magnet in our soul that draws us to something which can possess us. It can manifest differently in each of our lives, but there is an inner desire in each of us to be owned, ruled and possessed. We long to belong, but more than that, we long to be ruled.

Even God's people cried out for someone to rule and reign over them when, in fact, they had no real need for such an arrangement (See 1 Samuel 8:4-9 & Judges 8:22). God was their King, and He was certainly sufficient.

God is our King, too. That magnet in our souls that searches for someone to claim us as his own, to call the shots, to protect, to love, to rule and to be jealous over us? That magnet is meant to draw us to the very heart of God, our one true King.

Unfortunately, I've been confused on that point at times. I've both desired to be possessed by another and to rule over another. I've wanted to have a king...and I've wanted to be the king.

And I've become angry and resentful when my "subjects" have banished me as their king. And I've pouted when my "king" no longer wanted to play "kingdom" with this damsel in distress.

Maybe I've just now been really vulnerable and hung myself out on the gallows as the only sick peasant in the kingdom...

But my bet is that if you really examine your human relationships you'll find that you've gotten just as confused as I have at times about who is the King and who is the subject. Let me clarify. Better yet, let Him clarify:

Know that the Lord is God.
It is He who made us, and we are His;
We are His people, the sheep of His pasture.
Psalm 100:3

This is the second scripture in my Soul Satisfying Menu that I meditate on each day. It reminds me that I am indeed possessed...by a loving and gracious and pursuing and jealous God. He does not desire to share my allegiance or my heart with anyone or anything else. He wants me to operate each day with full awareness that I am His.

It also reminds me, however, that no one belongs to me. Not my husband or my children or my friends or my mentees or my employees (if I had any) or anyone else. No one is called to serve or bow to me. No one is to pledge undying allegiance to me. No one is to put me first. (Of course I understand that my husband is to fulfill his commitment to me and my children, when they were younger, were to obey me, but God has even encapsulated those relationships within the parameters of ultimate allegiance to Him. see Exodus 20:3-6)

Hey, maybe you're not confused on this issue as I sometimes am. Maybe the magnetic force in your soul always operates according to the Owner's manual and never malfunctions by drawing you into unhealthy relationships. Praise the Lord! You have been spared a messy dilemma.

But if you've ever fallen into the trap of either serving another as master or demanding such high allegiance from someone else, may I suggest that you commit Psalm 100:3 to memory...and to heart? And fortunately it's not a shaming verse; it's an affirming and loving promise. You belong! You belong to One who has sought you out, paid the price, redeemed you from a pit, commissioned you to service, provided your every need, delights in your companionship and prepares a place for you in His coming kingdom. You belong! And, no, no one belongs to you. But, trust me, that's best. You can't handle it and neither can I. But God can.

Can anyone relate? Have you been confused on this issue, too? Let's pray for healthy relationships and strong commitments to our one true King.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

This is Where I've Been Living

Where in the world have I been? Right? Well obviously I haven't been at my desk typing out blog posts!

But honestly, other than a quick trip to Pennsylvania to speak at the Iron Sharpens Iron Greater Philadelphia Women's Conference, I've been right here at home, sorting through laundry and tired summer clothing and my disheveled office and...life. It's just that the "sorting out"of life has been such a personal and, at times, tiring process that I've had little inspiration to tap the computer keys.

No. That's not entirely accurate.

I've been quite inspired. God has been filling my ears and heart full. I guess I've just been keeping all that He's taught me close to the chest, like a Rummy hand I've not been quite ready to lay down.

But I'm ready now. And maybe, just maybe, you've been waiting...and you're ready for me to share the cards the lessons I've been dealt, too.

So starting today I'll be going back to sharing from my personal Soul Satisfying Menu of scriptures from which the Lord has been graciously feeding me for the past few months. Hopefully I'll be posting at least two or three posts per week. (How many times have I said that?!?!)

Your Assignment, 
Should You Choose to Accept It!
Philippians 4:8

My thoughts have gotten the best of me more days than I care to admit in the past 12 months. In fact, my thought life has been at the root of most of my troubles. Due to some significant (but not overwhelming! PTL!) changes in my life, my thoughts have drifted toward anxiety, fear, doubt, bitterness, self-pity, and other such toxic, emotional cess pools. Yeah, I've been swimming in the stinky stuff.

So the first scripture I've been meditating on each day is one that directs me to lift my thoughts to a higher plain.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent and worthy of praise - think about such things.
Philippians 4:8

Truth is, foul thoughts feed something in us, do they not? Sure, they feed our pride. They justify our behaviors and vilify the other person. They pacify our insecurities and nurse our hurts. They placate our fears and heat our anger to a boil. They irrigate our bitter roots and fertilize our self-centeredness.

But I noticed that when I spent hours thinking my stinky thoughts I began to smell, too. My words were putrid, my expressions were sour, and my attitudes wreaked!

Do you ever have problems getting a hold of your thoughts and lifting them to a higher level? Do you ever feel like your thoughts are controlling you rather than you being in charge of your thoughts? Sure you do. We all do. Especially when we are wrestling with something overwhelming, new or fearful.

Philippians 4:8 reminds me that my thoughts will not just automatically default to the pure and lovely, the admirable and true. I will have to conscientiously put them there. I will have to take each thought that comes into my mind captive to Christ and His Word. And I will need to toss many a rank thought and decisively replace it with one that is based in truth and godliness.

Memorizing this verse has compelled me to be more intentional about taking charge of my thought life at the beginning of each day. And it's challenged me to stay in control of my thoughts throughout the day as surprises and words and people contribute to my day.

What helps you to control your thought life? I'd love to know!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Dancing with Scarlett

A friend and I are driving into Tucson to see Gone With the Wind on the big screen next week. I can't wait! I thought for about 10 minutes about rereading Margaret Mitchell's book in preparation. Then I remembered that I went through a full box of tissues when I read it the first time and decided against it.

I am anticipating both the movie and the experience. We're eating lunch out before we catch the flick, so I've already decided that I'll postpone buying my popcorn and Diet Coke until the intermission. Isn't an intermission just so fun?

And I've already been reflecting on my favorite scenes from the movie. I love the opening with Mr. O'Hara surveying his cotton fields. And then don't we all love seeing Scarlett sitting on the front porch steps of Tara with all her beaus swooning over her? All except Ashley, that is.

I'm also especially fond of the scene where Scarlett and the ladies of Atlanta are hosting a ball or gala of some sort for the war effort. Scarlett is in mourning attire in honor of her late husband who has died on the battlefield. But, while she watches the dancing from the sidelines, we catch a glimpse of her toes tapping to the music underneath all of her petticoats. She's in mourning (sort of), but she's itching to dance! And dance she does! With Rhett Butler! Shamelessly!

Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.
Others are appalled at her dancing in mourning clothes, but you know Scarlett! Fiddle-dee-dee!

Now Scarlett was mourning on the outside with her heavy black gown, but in her heart of hearts she was pining for Ashley. The only thing making Scarlett sad was that Melanie was wed to her beloved Ashley instead of her.

But you may indeed be mourning. You probably are not wearing all black, but your days may feel dark and your mood may be heavy and solemn. Loss is hard. Change is hard. Hurt is hard. And there are times when indeed our hearts feel like they will literally break. In fact, there are times when we feel like we are truly broken. And we wonder if we'll ever feel whole again, much less feel joyful, happy.

Grief takes time. And it includes so many ups and downs; sometimes it seems perpetual and eternal. We imagine that we will surely carry this dull and weighty ache in our hearts every day for the rest of our lives. At certain stages in grief, we even feel like we're supposed to be sad forevermore, that it would be disrespectful or disingenuous to be otherwise. At other times we try desperately to lift our own spirits or at least to somehow ignore the constant ache...but we just can't.

In Psalm 30, David reminds us that God always brings us through our times of mourning into times of refreshing and joy:

Weeping may last for the night,
But a shout of joy comes in the morning.
(vs. 5b)

Thou has turned for me my mourning into dancing; 
Thou has loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness;
That my soul may sing praise to Thee, and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to Thee forever.
(vs. 11-12)

Read those verses one more time, this time looking for the extreme contrasts David draws. Could that be right? Can a mourner (not the Scarlett O'Hara brand, but a genuine and sorrowful mourner) truly go from weeping to shouting for joy? Can you really go from mourning to dancing? Dancing??? Was David taking poetic license here? Or is he serious?

Knowing David, the demonstrative, dancing king, he literally meant the Lord had lifted his spirits so much that he indeed left his sackcloth behind, donned his dancing duds and took to the dance floor.

I believe God can do that for you and me, too. And I have no idea what or who you have lost. I understand the loss of a child is the toughest to be borne, but I haven't experienced that. So I do not pretend to know the depth of your pain, whatever is causing you to mourn.

But I do know the power and depth and love and grace and goodness of our God. And I know He has the power not just to change circumstances, but to change hearts, lifting and soothing and healing and restoring and, yes, infusing with supernatural and splendid joy.

You may mourn today. And if you do, cry into the welcome arms of your Savior. He truly cares. Cry and vent and hurt. Allow Him to press in on your wounds and stop the bleeding. Allow His Word to soothe you like the balm it is. And rest, sweet friend, in His strong embrace. There is a time for mourning. You, unlike Scarlett, may indeed need to take the time to mourn.

But know this. You will dance again. Maybe not later today. Maybe not tomorrow or even next month or the next. But one day, by the grace of God, you will dance again. And when you do, remember Psalm 30:12, and give a shout out to the One who has restored your joy.

Maybe, like Scarlett, you already feel your toes tapping and you're just afraid to get out on the dance floor for fear of relapse or being misunderstood or letting go. Let your sweet Savior take you by the hand and lead you out to a wide open place where joy comes in the morning. Kick up your heels and dance the Cotton Eye Joe...and dance with Jesus! There is a time for dancing. So trust that it will come.

Could I pray for you today? If this blog post has spoken to you and you have been waiting and hoping for healing of your broken heart, would you let me know so I can pray for that comfort? Just leave a short comment; you don't even have to leave your name, just a word or two. I'd love to pray for you.