Talking About Prayer

Being an elementary school teacher demanded that I find creative ways to help students remember facts, figures, and information. Even the color of the folders had a purpose; purple paper protector, green go home folder, etc. Mnemonic devices assist us in remembering important information. 

So, it should be no surprise that I need this for my prayer life. Recently, I discussed Silent, Surrendered, Sacred Sundays. Just thinking of all the words that begin with the letter S reminds me to continue to surrender my will, my worries, and my stubborn heart. I am also reminded to be still before the Lord and listen for Him and to Him. It prepares my heart to be ready for the week ahead. 

I have a very long prayer list. It seems I continually add to it, but rarely take items/people off of it. I found that if I tried to pray through the whole list every day, it was a bit overwhelming. If I prayed through my whole list, often it would be just a quick mention of someone’s name without giving the reason behind that person on my list being prayed for. I decided to break the list into categories and group them in a way that I could remember even if I did not have my whole list with me. 

I am going to share my daily mnemonic devices with you, and over the next few weeks go into a more in-depth message about each one.  Soon you will be a able to download a tool to organize your prayer list like mine. But this is the most important thing to remember. This is a tool. It is not a magic wand. It is not how YOU have to organize your prayer life. It is to help you bridge from being overwhelmed to confidently communicating with your Creator.

Here they are:

Silent, Surrendered, Sacred Sundays

Ministry, Missions, and Marriage Mondays

Talking Tuesday

Worship, Work, and Washington Wednesdays

Thankful and Thirsty Thursday

Family and Friends Friday

Set-Down Saturday

Silent, Surrendered, Sacred Sundays

Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.

Sundays can be a challenge. I don’t know anyone who has tried to faithfully get their family to church that has not experienced the battles that ensue when they are trying to get out the door and actually be on time. We want to get there and present ourselves as whole and put together, but the enemy wants to steal, kill, and destroy, and he tries do to that all before 9 am on Sunday morning. Honestly, there have been days that by the time I get to church, I am spent. I need mercy. I need grace. I need Jesus!

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16

One of the things I love most about our church is the weekly communion time. We are encouraged, in Scripture, to stop and remember Christ’s sacrifice for us through the breaking of bread whenever we gather. However, we are also directed to not take the cup in an unworthy manner. We are instructed to surrender our hearts, confess our sin, and have a pure heart before the Lord before we partake in this meal. 

How many of us have sung the song “I Surrender All” without even knowing what we are singing? I did for a long time. And then one Sunday, I really listened to the words coming out of my mouth. They took my breath away and reduced me to a weepy mess. I actually pictured myself saying “I surrender all… except…” Could I really surrender? Did I really want to do that? That would mean I have to forgive the person who called me evil, obliterated my character, or otherwise hurt me. It would mean that I would need to turn my career over to the Lord, even if it meant it was not what ‘I’ wanted. It would mean I would have to surrender my children and trust that He will take care of them even if they are on the other side of the country. This sweet hymn also reminded me that in surrender there is His power and blessing.

For me, one of the greatest gifts of Sunday, is the reminder that I need to be still before the Lord and allow the surrender to free me from the burdens that so easily weigh me down. As I close my eyes in preparation for communion, those burdens flash like a slide show before my eyes. As the thought of each of those burdens enters my mind, I picture myself laying them at the feet of Jesus, asking Him to take them from me and give me wisdom to navigate life. I scan my heart to reveal any unconfessed sin or harbored bitterness brewing. I ask the Lord to cleanse me and renew my mind, and then I enter into a sacred stillness that can only come from experiencing the presence of the Holy Spirit. 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. Hebrews 12:1-3

The songs we sing lead me into the throne room of God where I can express my gratitude for His sacrifice on the cross and for the salvation that is offered through it. Too often, after the cleansing refreshment of surrendering and communion, we are on to the next thing. In church, it might be the offering or special music. At home, it may be chores or a football game. Sadly, we rarely take time to just be silent. 

It is in our silence that we can fully know that He is God. Being still is something we are reminded to be many times throughout Scripture. Being quiet before the Lord is a discipline to learn that is as important as articulating our extensive supplications. 

Throughout the busyness of our weekday activities and challenges, it is easy to get distracted and veer off the path of the cross. Every day we need to focus our hearts on our purpose, to honor and glorify our Maker and be the Imago Dei, the image of God. 

Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake;  and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. I Kings 19:11-12

Do you feel like you have been shaken up as in an earthquake or a mighty windstorm has swept through your life? Maybe those were for you to notice the silence so you can hear His voice.

Your sacred, silent and surrendered Sunday might not actually be on Sunday, and it might not involve church or the sacrament of communion. You may not have the luxury of an extended period of silence. Your silence might come when you are taking a walk or a bike ride, driving to work, or taking a shower. Wherever you are or whatever stage of life you are in, I challenge you to turn off the noise, focus your heart on the One who created and loves you, give Him your burdens, allow Him to cleanse your heart, and be still in His presence. 

All to Jesus I surrender,
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.

Refrain:
I surrender all,
I surrender all;
All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

All to Jesus I surrender,
Humbly at His feet I bow;
Worldly pleasures all forsaken,
Take me, Jesus, take me now.

All to Jesus I surrender,
Make me, Savior, wholly Thine;
Let me feel the Holy Spirit,
Truly know that Thou art mine.

All to Jesus I surrender,
Lord, I give myself to Thee;
Fill me with Thy love and power,
Let Thy blessing fall on me.

      Justin Van DeVenter, 1896

Scripture for further reading:

Proverbs 2:1-5

John 10:27-28

Psalm 62

Who, What, Where, When, & How of Prayer

Coffee steaming, sacred silence in the house, heater warming my workspace (the big comfy chair in my living room), I sat down at my computer this morning to begin writing about my prayer habits. The dog interrupted, wanting to be let out. I set down my coffee, unwrapped the blanket carefully tucked around my legs, and let her out. Returning, I picked up my computer and looked down at the one sentence I had written and came to an embarrassing and convicting realization. I had not done the very thing I was anticipating writing about. 

In an attempt to be transparent, here is basically what I prayed in that moment. Lord, forgive me for being so proud that I should tell anyone about prayer, when I have not even stopped to invite you into the conversation. Please let the words pour through me so that the reader sees only you. Draw them into the quiet and sacred space where they have only an audience of One. Please help me to clearly articulate the means, importance and benefits of a rich and healthy prayer life. 

The next several entries will be focused on prayer. I will be sharing a series of tools that I use in order to organize my prayer life in an attempt to not be overwhelmed, redundant, or thoughtless. But before I do that, I want to explain the foundational structure of the gift of prayer, the who, what, when, why, and how of prayer. It may sound complicated, but really it is quite simple. 

WHOOur Father who art in Heaven

God is our daddy. He wants to love us, talk with us, and provide for us. 

It is good for our friends and family to know that we pray for them. It is important that, when we pray in public, whoever is listening can pray along with us and grasp the articulation of what we are saying. But we need to remember, that when we pray, we are talking to God and God alone. Our prayers are not pontifications or speeches. They are not monologs, sermons, or exhortations. They are a conversation with our Maker. (We could also talk about who we pray for here, (our leaders, families, ministries, and even our enemies) but that will be coming in the next few weeks) I John 5:14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.

WHATThy will be done.

While we may have a shopping list to share with God, what we should really desire is His will. On the other hand, we might think we can take care of ourselves without any help and not want to bother God with our problems. After all, He does have a few other billion people to worry about. The first words out of my mouth as a child were “I do it myself.” It has been a struggle for me to not get trapped into thinking that I have to solve all problems, take on all tasks, or figure things out for myself. But realizing that my “Good, Good Father” can do so much better than I ever could at providing, solving problems, protecting me etc., gives me hope that I don’t have to do it myself. The Apostle Paul says it well in his letter to the Philippians; Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done.Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

WHEN:  Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. I Thessalonians 5:16-18

In the Morning: I noticed it was getting lighter outside and glanced toward the front door, facing east. I was greeted with a breathtaking, brilliant sunrise. My heart heard this song/Psalm Psalms 5:1-3 Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my meditation. Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray. My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee and will look up.

In the Evening: Psalm 141:1-2 O Lord, I am calling to you. Please hurry! Listen when I cry to you for help! Accept my prayer as incense offered to you, and my upraised hands as an evening offering.

I love this little chorus I learned as a child. “Love Him in the morning when you see the sun arising; Love Him in the evening, ‘cause He took you through the day; And in the in between time when you feel the pressure coming, remember that He loves you and he promises to stay.  When you think you’ve got to worry, ‘cause it seems the thing to do, remember He’s not in a hurry, He always has time for you.”

All the time is the right time to pray. 

WHERE: Matthew 6:6 But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

Some versions of this verse tell us to go into our closet to pray. Many of us have wished for the opportunity to shut ourselves in a closet to have some blessed quiet time with Jesus, hoping we will not be like the disciples and fall asleep when we finally get that time. I don’t think this scripture is only talking about a physical place to pray, although that would be great. The idea is to close out the distraction of the world and of life for whatever time you can to focus solely on communing with Jesus. Our brains are noisy places, and our thoughts are battling to constantly distract our prayer time. 

Any place is the right place to pray.

WHY: Throughout history there have been as many reasons to pray as there have been humans. The fact that I am a fallible human being should be enough reason to pray. We pray because we are happy, relieved, sad, need forgiveness, need to forgive, need wisdom, or we may pray just to make our needs known to our Abba Father who is always listening.

James 5 Answers sums up the why question well Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord.15 Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. James 5:13-16

HOW: Scripture is full of examples and explanations of how to pray. We are to come boldly into God’s presence. We are to humbly bow before Him. We are to pray about everything and for everyone. We are to cry out to Him. We are to praise Him. And we are to bring everything to Him with an attitude of faith and gratitude. 

Eps 6:18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

Mark 11:24-25 Tells us to pray believing that God will answer but pray after having forgiven our offenders. “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him…”

James 4:2-3 Explains that we need to pray with the right motives. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Ephesians 6 summarizes well the “Who, What, Why, Where, and How” and the benefit of praying. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Scripture has so much more to offer in knowing how to pray.  I encourage you to do your own research. Biblegateway.com is an amazing resource as is your search engine of choice (Bing, Google, etc) Know that the tools that I will be sharing over the next few weeks are my tools. They work for me. You may need to organize your prayers differently. You may be a whole to part thinker rather than a part to whole thinker.  You may need an outline, or you may need to write a whole book. You may be a planner or pray by the seat of your pants kind of person. 

One thing that remains consistent, the need for prayer and communion with our Father. It is like any discipline, if you do not make a plan and commitment, it is less likely to happen. We have the benefit of direct access to Father through prayer. It is not complicated. It is simply a conversation with God. But know this, we do forfeit our peace and carry unnecessary burdens and pain when we do not embrace the gift we have of prayer. 

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged—
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful,
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy-laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge—
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
Thou wilt find a solace there.

Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised
Thou wilt all our burdens bear;
May we ever, Lord, be bringing
All to Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright, unclouded,
There will be no need for prayer—
Rapture, praise, and endless worship
Will be our sweet portion there.                        Joseph Scriven, 1855

From One-Word Prayers to Conversations With the Father

Sitting in a classroom full of educators, I was the only one who taught in a Christian school. Studying school law, the topic in our small group turned to religious rights of students. One of the other teachers quietly asked me “Do you really pray in your classroom?” In a split second, about a thousand responses came to mind; “As long as there are children in my classroom, there will be prayer in my classroom; As long as there are tests, there will be prayer in school.” But what I think I settled on is this, “I would not know how to start the day without it.”

Teachers, parents, healthcare workers, human beings all make thousands of decisions every day. Making decisions is said to be one of the most stressful things in our lives. Some people are good at making decisions and others find it excruciating and debilitating. Here is was scripture says about it:   Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Philippians 4:6

Last week I mused about “One Word Prayers.” Often that is all we can muster in the moment of immediate need. We are so blessed that God hears every one of those words that goes directly from our hearts to the heart of God. But how sad for us and for God if that is as far as our communication goes.

I have experienced, firsthand, how exciting it is when a child utters his or her first words, usually mama or dada. It is in recognition of the one who loves them and provides their every need. I have also walked beside parents whose children were not able to speak more than a handful of words. They rejoice in those few words, but it is heart wrenching to know that is all they will be able to speak. 

Like those parents, God desires to have full, deep and meaningful conversations with His children. God has begun the conversation with us and is waiting for our language development to blossom. Sometimes we just don’t know how to begin or what to say, but that is okay. Scripture says: And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.  Romans 8:26 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+8%3A26&version=NLT

Several years ago, I found myself suddenly with a lot of time on my hands. My children were grown and out of the house. My career that I had worked so hard for had come to an end. I felt dry, dusty, and used up. What was I going to do now? That still small voice whispered to me, “Talk to me.”  The only response I could have… In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly. Psalm 5:3  

The one-word prayers that I had prayed so often became a lengthy catalogue of petitions mixed in with cries of my heart and gratitude for His provision and love. I committed myself to praying through this list several times every week. But that became overwhelming and I was not as engaged in the conversation as I should have been. Can you imagine how boring it would be if your child, friend, or spouse repeated the same conversation with you every day? And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Matthew 6:7 

I had to do something to not just babble a list of words. I needed to keep my conversation with God relevant and meaningful. I began to connect scripture with my prayers and the names of God with many entries on my list. Eventually, I broke my “list” into categories. Each of those categories has a day assigned. Over the next several posts, I will dive deeper into each of those categories and how I integrated that into my morning routine. Soon, you will be able to download a printable outline (check back here next week) like mine to use in your own prayer life. It is not a written prayer but will be a tool to help you enrich your conversations with God. 

Can you imagine having unlimited access to the President of the United States? What would you say if you could have only one hour with him? You have a direct line to the Creator of the universe who not only knows you by name but cares about your every need and desires to have ongoing dialog with you. Don’t waste another minute worrying. Talk to Him. 

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done.Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 

Next Week: The Who, What, When, Why, and How of Prayer &  Sacred, Surrendered, Silent Sundays

One-Word Prayers

Courage… It was the only word I could pray in the seconds before I introduced myself to a classroom full of anxious parents at back to school night. A few other words sprang up from my heart; strength, focus, and intelligence were all attributes I needed for these parents to be confident I would be a good teacher for their children. 

Have you ever thought about what it means to pray without ceasing? Sometimes I can’t seem to pray for five minutes without my thoughts being diverted; how can I pray without ceasing? One of the amazing things about prayer is that God never gets distracted. He can listen to us twenty-four hours a day and still be actively engaged in hearing our needs, cares, worries, supplications, intercessions, and adorations. In discussion with my fifth-grade students, I explained that to pray without ceasing is like calling God on the phone and never hanging up. 

To pray without ceasing is to keep those phone lines open and clear for communication at any moment. It means that I must remain ready to listen, and He never leaves the conversation. I have direct access to the Creator of the Universe, and He wants to have intense and meaningful communication with me. All too often, we just use this precious gift as a 911 line or a proverbial direct line to the shopping channel, wish list in hand. 

The times when I am able to pray through my entire prayer list are priceless. Days when I can close my eyes and begin praying through my family and friends are good for my soul. Hiking through the mountains, taking a walk on the beach or sitting in my comfy chair in the early mornings gives me the solitude to focus on listening, pouring out my heart and communing with my Maker. 

But what about those days when you can’t take a walk, or the world is going by so fast your head is spinning? Visiting with a friend the other day, I recalled an event that had taken place unexpectantly. Trying to remember details, all I could think of was, “there were a lot of one-word prayers that went up.” In that moment, I needed wisdom and grace, but I could not stop, take out my prayer list, pray through the names of God, connect Scripture to my needs, or meditate on God’s goodness. I needed to pray “one-word prayers.” 

As I thought about the concept of “one-word prayers” it dawned on me what a gift we have in being able to have long conversations with our Father, but how blessed we are that He can understand us even when we cannot articulate in great orations. Don’t get me wrong, those lengthy conversations are desired by the Creator just as they are necessary for the created.

Previous prayers and meditations prepare me for the moments when I need to silently call out to God while still keeping my attention on the unfolding event. 

Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know. Jeremiah 33:3 NKJV

Sometimes that one-word prayer is as simple as “help” or “thanks.” Other one-word prayers shooting from my heart to heaven are more specific: Grace, wisdom, discernment, truth, love, patience, strength, direction, hope, forgive, protect, heal, comfort, provide, humble… All of these words are connected to deeper meanings and longer prayers, but frequently get prayed in quick supplications to the One who is always listening. 

I am so blessed to have days where I can spend an hour or two in prayer, but in moments of busyness and distraction, I love that I can keep the lines of communication open, be ready to hear what He has to say and know that He is always willing to listen. 

What one-word prayers do you often breathe? 

Boundaries Book Review

As a student of human behavior, I have often heard the story of the children on a fenced in playground enjoying recess with reckless abandon, while student on a fenceless playground huddled together toward the center of the play area. The fence gave students a sense of security and freedom. It kept them within the school boundaries, but it also kept bad people, stray dogs, and other potential harm from coming into their space. 

We should learn from this that, at every age, boundaries are important. They protect us from harm and keep us from overextending into potentially dangerous territory. God gave the Children of Israel very clear boundaries in the Ten Commandments. Throughout Scripture we are given boundaries that are in place for our protection and for that of our family, friends, and communities. 

As Christians, we sometimes have problems setting boundaries, because, after all, aren’t we supposed to bear one another’s burdens. We are supposed to quote “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” and just keep adding to a load that is already too heavy to carry. Friends, the Christian life does not have to be a life sucking, exhausting, overwhelming journey of carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders kind of life. 

I used to consider it a compliment when people asked me to take on a task. Wow, I thought, they must think I am competent, qualified or talented. I equated my bundle of tasks with my value and success as an employee and as a human being. I learned, maybe a little too late, that while I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, He did not call me to do all things.

Boundaries, by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend guides the reader through scriptural, life-altering methods for setting and respecting biblically based boundaries.  There is freedom in understanding how to protect your heart, mind, and time. There is also freedom in understanding how to respect boundaries set by others, understanding that an unreturned text or phone call is not a personal afront; it may be the phone is silenced for a reason.   

I would encourage you to grab a copy of this book or, better yet, listen to it on Audible or the Libby app. It is on sale on Amazon right now, and you can get it by clicking on the picture below. 

Do You Have Beautiful Feet

The majestic rock formations rose up around us in ancient hues of amber, rusty sienna, and algae green. Radiant heat of the day, broken only by short puffs of cool air from a waning waterfall or hidden cave, enveloped us. I was in awe of God’s handiwork in Zion National Park and could barely take my eyes from one regal display of grandeur to the next. Behind us was the Spearhead formation, providing shade as we ascended the trail to the Emerald Pools. 

As much as I wanted to only gaze upward at the incredible spires, cliffs and wildlife, I had to tear my eyes away and focus on the dusty trail, lest I trip and fall. Our goal was to reach the Emerald Pool and back to the lodge by sunset. The only way we could reach it was by this trail, one cautious, sandy step at a time. 

We were rewarded as the path opened up into a small, damp canyon. It was alive with frogs singing praises from their hidden choir lofts in the clefts of the rocks surrounding the pool created by a gently trickling waterfall. 

After exploring the vibrant canyon and resting at the pool, we began our descent. Sometimes I think I notice the oddest things. Shoeprints of all sizes littered the dusty pathway. There were huge boot prints alongside cute little baby hiker shoeprints that brought a smile to my sweaty face.  One set of shoeprints kept repeatedly drawing my attention. It was obviously a woman’s shoe. It had beautifully etched flowers inside of a teardrop shape that was impressed into the dirt with every step. I thought to myself, I want to have beautiful footprints too. At first, my thoughts were only meandering about the actual shoeprint, but as I continued down the path, my musings shifted from the earthly to the sacred. 

I don’t want just a cute pair of shoes. Don’t get me wrong, I love shoes. But I want to leave behind me a legacy of beautiful feet. How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Isaiah 52:7 (NIV)

As the path descended into the valley and grounds of the Zion Lodge, we were greeted by a herd of deer grazing. Unintimidated, the families of deer enjoyed dinner amongst the human families picnicking in the cool of the evening. I continued to be amazed at the colors of light reflecting sunset and bouncing off the rocks in a spectacular show. But I was hot, sweaty and sticky.  I had sand in my shoes and wanted to soak my feet in the tub of our air-conditioned cabin. 

Cool air hit us as we entered our cabin, and I proceeded to my goal of a refreshing bath. I sat down next to the tub and pulled my foot up to remove my shoe… and laughed. There, staring me in the face, was a shoe with a teardrop middle and beautifully etched flowers. I was wearing the shoes that made the footprints in the sand that I had so blissfully admired. 

As human beings, we tend to view ourselves through impaired lenses. We either think to highly of ourselves, or, all too often, we look at ourselves as unworthy, unlovable, ugly, less than intelligent, irrelevant, damaged goods. We compare ourselves, wanting to be what we don’t think we are or can be.

We need to see ourselves through the blood colored glasses that God sees us through because, of Jesus’ finished work on the cross. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalms 139 and even more importantly; We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

God knows my heart’s desire, to leave an eternal, positive and significant impact on those I am called to walk with. Through his refining power, He is giving me “Beautiful Feet.” 

*If you know me, you know that I would almost always choose to be outdoors rather than in. I can think better, breathe better, worship better, and just be better under the canopy of creation than the confines of four walls. Most of our vacations are marked by what we did outside. Hiking is one of our favorite summer getaways from the noise of this world’s chaos. If you are able, I encourage you to spend some time today fellowshipping with the One who created His sanctuary for all of us to enjoy. 

Sacred Snorkeling

Sacred Snorkeling

I love how God reveals Himself to me through nature. I have often said there is no separation of the sacred and the secular. Everything is sacred, and that includes snorkeling. In fact, snorkeling is one of the most religious experiences I have ever had.

It has taken some practice. My family can tell you stories of my first snorkeling experience in Captain Cook, Hawaii. It wasn’t pretty. I had never been swimming in the ocean with fins, mask and snorkel. My snorkel had a valve that malfunctioned. I could not breathe, which led to some panic and maybe some yelling. I made my way to the lava rock wall, pushed myself up, and promptly sat upon spiny sea urchins. Then some youngish SCUBA divers popped up and asked me to get out of their way! Like I said, it wasn’t pretty. 

Over the years, I have learned how to swim with fins, regulate my breathing through the snorkel and clear the fog in my mask. How can all of this be sacred? 

Adorning my gear, I submerge my head in the cool water and am called into worship as I observe God’s incredible creation. The outside world, the noise, the disease, the chaos is suddenly muted. My focus is on breathing in, breathing out and searching for the treasures under the surface of the deep blue. I have to admit, I may squeal like a little girl when I see a school of brightly colored tropical fish flitting in and out of the coral reef. I try to shout to my husband “LOOK, LOOK,” wanting him to experience the same joy I am.  

Speaking of my husband. He is a former search and rescue, motor lifeboat driver in the Coast Guard. He approaches snorkeling in a search pattern in order to most efficiently cover the area.  He likes to kick hard and go down as deep as he can. The fish, however, are a bit more random in their swimming patterns. I like to follow the fish. 

The bad thing about following the fish is that they can swim to places that will most definitely be dangerous to me. Also, it is never good to snorkel or swim off by yourself. Occasionally, (okay, way too often) I obsess with following a particular fish or see something that draws my attention and have found myself swimming out to sea where the water is choppy, and the waves are big. For safety, I have to choose to stay in close proximity to my husband.

During one of our recent sacred snorkeling adventures, this parallel occurred to me. I want my husband to lead us on this voyage. I trust he is a stronger swimmer and has my safety in mind. It takes us a while to get into sync, me trusting, he leading. Sometimes I try to keep up with him only to get kicked in the head or whacked with a flipper. It is probably better to swim next to one another. He wants to see all that the ocean has to offer as much as I do. Sometimes he ventures down where the eels live or further than I am comfortable with. But he feels responsible for me and desires my safety more than he desires the underwater quest. 

I have to admit, I try to follow or stay in sync, but sometimes it is hard. I am a leader by nature, gifting and training. It is said “to be a good leader, you have to be a good follower.” In and of myself, I could never be a “submissive wife.” Only through the power of the Holy Spirit can I be who God created me to be, participating in sync with and along side my husband. 

Husbands need to follow God in order to appropriately lead their families. They cannot be distracted by shiny objects or schools of fish swimming out into the unknown… Unless that is where God is leading. Husbands, if you are leading according to God’s Word (gentle, above reproach, etc) your wife will respect you and want to swim beside you, navigating the waters of life. 

Wives, we need to desire for our husbands to be good leaders. We cannot make them be good leaders but need to give them the support and freedom to be what God created them to be. That does not mean that we blindly follow. It does not mean we don’t get to experience life in its abundance.

Husbands, follow God, not every cool thing that crosses your path. Lead in a way that makes your wife want to swim along side you. And for goodness sake, don’t kick her in the head when she is trying her best to be a good follower. 

Ephesians 5:21-33

Silent Night

While I doubt all was calm as Mary was giving birth in a stable or a cave used to house animals and their caretakers, a sense of peace and deep comfort settles over me as I listen to this sacred hymn. It refocuses the lens of my life, replacing my view of me and my needs with the blessing of salvation brought to us on that cold night in the form of the Baby Jesus.

When my kids were babies, this was our go to lullaby, no matter the season. The peace that filled me flowed out of me and into my babies and brought rest into our home. I want that peace to flow through me again.

I have been reminded over the course of this past week that silence brings an opportunity to breathe deep, listen and be refreshed. Throughout scripture, we are encouraged to be still, be quick to listen, slow to speak and be quiet before the Lord.

The busyness of this season can rob us of the joy of making the time to do exactly what this season is for, adoration. I talk too much. I think too hard. I make too much noise. I need to be still and know that He is God. I can’t hear the Silent Night with the TV blaring, the music playing, or the traffic racing by.

So, I will take time this week to listen for that gentle quiet whisper that is our Heavenly Father speaking the truth to me that He loves me, that He cares for me, and that He sent His only son to bring peace on earth and goodwill toward men. I will hear that whisper in the waves and in the bird’s song. I will take time to be still and adore Him, Christ the Lord.

Psalm 62:5-6 Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken.(NLT)

Receiving the Gift

Luke 21:1-4 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

“It more blessed to give than to receive” is a phrase we hear often this time of year. We go into hunter gatherer mode the day after Thanksgiving in search of the perfect gift to give our children, spouse, family and friends.  

Do you take time to ponder the heart that went into the gifts that you are receiving? Sadly, I have probably not always articulated my gratitude appropriately. 

As my students were preparing for a Thanksgiving chapel, one of them came to me with a gift. Because I had my classroom decorated in “Americana” style, and collected eagles, Derek was thrilled to present me with a bracelet made of little heart shaped flags. I put it on my wrist and proudly wore it the rest of the season.

I treasured the thoughtfulness of this gift. When I saw Derek’s mom, told her how much I loved the bracelet and thanked her. She said, “Oh no, don’t thank me.” Observing my puzzled look, she explained that Derek had very carefully inspected the jewelry at a party she hosted, picked this bracelet out, went to his room, emptied his piggy bank and purchased the bracelet for me. The gift took on a more significant meaning. Coming from his parents, the bracelet would have been a very nice gesture of appreciation. From Derek, it was a sacrifice of his personal finances and a heartfelt gift of gratitude to bless his teacher.

I don’t ever want to take a gift for granted or without the proper gratitude. I want to receive every gift with grace and with the heart attitude with which it was given. The way we receive a gift is as relevant as how we give them. 

Christmas is a good time to stop and think about the heart of the most important gift ever given. God gave His only son to come to earth, be fully human yet fully God, to rescue us from ourselves and our sin and give us the gift of eternal life. All we have to do is receive it with a grateful heart. 

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

My Marie

Today my childhood best friend turns fifty-seven. Why is that significant? Well for all of us every new day is a gift, but for Marie, it is a miracle. Forty years ago, this fall, the doctors diagnosed Marie with Lupus and gave her five years to live. They told her she would never be able to have children. God’s ways are not man’s ways, and I am so grateful. I am working on writing our story. This is the first installment.

Like water to my soul; that is how I would describe my friendship with Marie. This story is not just about giggly girls, although that could describe us at times. This story is about friendship, faith and a common bond that unites our hearts. It is about a journey of a lifetime with my BFF and the lessons we have learned along the way. It is about strength and tenacity, about sorrow and joy, about pain and healing; it is about showing up for each other when life is pretty and when it is pretty ugly. This is a story of how two little girls became friends, grew up together, faced adolescence, death and disease, marriage, military, ministry, children and even grandchildren together. Most importantly, it is about how our good God has been present every step of the way, being that friend that sticks closer than a brother. 

The world may have a different view of what faith, courage, and tenacity look like, but when I think of those words, one person comes to mind, Marie Edna Beydler Williams. As four-year-olds, we were carefree, somewhat shy and rather ornery, innocent of all of the challenges that would be tossed in our path, potentially derailing our friendship. If we would have known then what we know now, we would have asked to be excused from the party.

I was an extremely shy little girl. So shy that when a grown up would speak to me, I would actually feel sick to my stomach and was often rendered speechless. Even now, I can get tongue tied and sweaty thinking of speaking to someone with whom I am unfamiliar. 

One Sunday morning, when I was about six years old, I had a feeling of confidence. My mom had made a new lavender dress for me and fashioned a headband to match. I felt pretty.  I was so excited to see my new friend at church. We had met when we were only four years old at a work event for our parents. Her dad and my mom both worked at the phone company. My new friend had just started attending our church and would be going to our Christian school soon. 

As my new friend approached me, I saw a funny look on her face, maybe even one of incredulity. She just looked at me and said, “You know you don’t need that hair band.”  I don’t know why she said that or remember what my initial reaction was, other than being a little hurt, but I do remember that this moment was seared in my memory as the beginning of our life-long friendship. As I read this to her, she started laughing. Remembering that encounter, she recalled my hair being so pretty and had no understanding of why I needed a headband! For fifty years, I thought she didn’t like my hair! James one tells us that we should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. Really, he is telling us to not be so sensitive and to slow down, get the facts before we get our knickers in a knot. Most importantly He is telling us to not be easily offended. 

In hindsight, I think Marie’s brutal honesty marked the beginning of our friendship. Proverbs tells us that faithful are the wounds of a friend. And boy, have we been faithful!  Over the years we have hurt one another’s feelings, sometimes been harsh, and have given new meaning to the idea of a friend’s wounds. However, as our friendship has grown, so has our ability to sense each other’s needs and respond with words or actions to encourage, challenge, and even rebuke. As snarky YOUTHs, our goal was not always to build one another up. As we have matured, so have our hearts and minds. We believe that God has given us a special discernment where our friendship is concerned.  

Now, even though we may talk like we are solving the worlds problems, our conversations almost always come back around to where our hearts are, what we are learning through life and through scripture, and how we can encourage each other. We, sometimes, have to remind each other of Ephesians 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” While in our conversations, we do not tear each other down, but we can really let it rip about other people who may have a splinter in their own eye. We have to remind each other to let go of past and present hurts or injustices and focus our hearts on our Creator as His creation and part of His first fruit, speaking the truth in love. 

Each year brings new challenges. In the past 12 months, Marie has endured cancer, open heart surgery, potential kidney (the transplanted one) rejection, medication debacles, and copious amounts of God’s grace.

Psalm seventy-one speaks her testimony well… yet I will praise you.

14 As for me, I will always have hope;
    I will praise you more and more.

15 My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds,
    of your saving acts all day long—
    though I know not how to relate them all.
16 I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord;
    I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone.
17 Since my youth, God, you have taught me,
    and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
18 Even when I am old and gray,
    do not forsake me, my God,
till I declare your power to the next generation,
    your mighty acts to all who are to come.

19 Your righteousness, God, reaches to the heavens,
    you who have done great things.
    Who is like you, God?
20 Though you have made me see troubles,
    many and bitter,
    you will restore my life again;
from the depths of the earth
    you will again bring me up.
21 You will increase my honor
    and comfort me once more.

22 I will praise you with the harp
    for your faithfulness, my God;
I will sing praise to you with the lyre,
    Holy One of Israel.
23 My lips will shout for joy
    when I sing praise to you—
    I whom you have delivered.
24 My tongue will tell of your righteous acts
    all day long,
for those who wanted to harm me
    have been put to shame and confusion.

(NIV)

Scones, Skivers and Hospitality: Part Two

Scones, Skivers, and Hospitality: Part Two

Aunt Gerda, my husband’s spunky 90 something year old aunt, came to the US from Denmark when she was only five. Her family has been an integral part of the Solvang, CA community for more than 80 of her years. My husband spent most of his youth there as well. Gerda always insists on feeding us when we are in her town, as hospitality is something that is as important to her as breathing.  

That hospitality comes in many forms. Sometimes, it is leaving the front door open for us, sometimes it is serving us ice cream. At least once during our time in Solvang, she will insist on us going to the Solvang Restaurant where they serve authentic Danish food. They know Gerda there and treat her like the royalty she is. They seat us quickly and keep our coffee hot. 

Solvang, and particularly the Solvang Restaurant is known for a melt-in-your mouth, ridiculously delectable treat called Aeblskivers. It is a sphere type pancake made in a special pan with wells that you fill with batter and slowly turn using a special stick or knitting needle.

Years ago, I discovered one of these treasures packed away and forgotten. My husband had saved his money and purchased this for his mother when he was only eight years old. He educated me on what it was and quickly added that NOBODY makes aebleskivers like Aunt Gerda. I promptly got her recipe and began experimenting. 

If you have ever stayed in my home, you have probably been a recipient of this handed down mound of hospitality. Pretty much everybody gets the opportunity to partake in an aebleskiver feast, but more importantly gets to participate in the art of aebleskiver making. It is not only a delicious way to entertain company, but it gives me a chance to share a gift that was given to me, handed down from one generation to the next. 

While a good recipe is important, the most vital ingredient is heart. I always balk at recipes that list “love” as an ingredient, but without love, food is just a means to an end. For me, the love part of this recipe comes in sharing a part of our family heritage, in teaching, in practicing hospitality not by just offering food, but friendship and the genuine delight when guests get their first taste of deliciousness covered in powdered sugar or jam. 

I still use the fifty-plus year-old, cast-iron, well-seasoned pan. If you go to look for one of these pans, I suggest cast-iron aebleskiver pan with deep wells. You can find them on Amazon, but honestly, the best place to find a good old-fashioned pan is in an antique or thrift store. 

My desire is not just to share a good recipe, but to honor the moms, aunts, and grandmas that have inspired me not to be ordinary; but be who God created me to be and to share hospitality beyond the four walls of my kitchen from my heart to yours. 

Romans 12:9-13 (NIV) Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Aunt Gerda’s Aebleskivers

*Begin heating cast iron aebleskiver pan to a high-medium heat to ensure it is heated evenly. 

4 cups flour

4 Eggs

4 cups buttermilk* 

¼ cup oil or melted butter*

½ tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1Tbs sugar

*The amount of buttermilk and oil can vary depending on how thick you like your batter.

  • Separate eggs
  • Beat egg whites
  • Add oil, buttermilk, and egg yolks into to dry ingredients
  • Fold in egg whites
  • Put about ½ to 1 tsp of oil in each aebleskiver well and let warm up a bit.
  • Do a test run with only one aebleskiver to ensure your pan is ready
  • Fill each well with batter to just below the rim
  • Let cook for about one minute 
  • (If you want to fill with jam, fruit or other filling, do so now.
  • Gently insert knitting needle straight down and pull partially cooked aebleskiver up one quarter turn
  • Repeat previous step until aebleskiver is cooked all the way through and is crispy brown on the outside
  • Serve with powdered sugar, your favorite jam or syrup and whipped cream 

It usually takes a batch or two to perfect your art of aebleskiver making. Keep trying until you get them the way you like them. Add your own spice and fillings. If you have a cake pop maker, you can use it. But the best aebleskivers are made with a lot of love and a good cast iron pan. 

Scones, Skivers and Hospitality

Several years ago, I was having tea with friends at an adorable little tea cottage. We could choose our tea from an extensive list, but our food was a set menu. Two pots of fragrant steaming tea were served with dainty sandwiches and succulent fruit. Anticipating the next round of food, my enthusiasm waned when our server set before us, what she called buttermilk scones.

I thought to myself, “That is a biscuit with sugar on it, I could do that.” The very next day, my scone recipe was born. I will share it here today, but I want you to know that it is not the ingredients or recipe that make my scones good. It is the joy I receive in using the gift of creativity as a means to share the gift of hospitality that comes from a deep place in my heart. 

As we approach the holiday season, we often get caught up in shopping and gift giving, admittedly, two of my favorite things. It may look different to every person, gift or giver, and however exciting it is to find the perfect gift for a friend or family member, a gift of the heart always wins.

Keri’s Scones

 2 cups flour                                ¼ tsp cream of tartar

¼ cup sugar (or so)                    ½ cup butter

4 tsp baking powder                  1 egg

½ tsp salt                                      ⅔ cup buttermilk or cream 

*Cut butter into the dry ingredients (I started using a Kitchen Aid for this, and it works great!)

*Mix in wet ingredients

Fold in the ingredients of your choice:

Berries & vanilla

Cherries, almonds, & almond extract

Chocolate, almonds, & almond extract

Blueberries & lemon juice & orange juice concentrate

Shredded Cheese and herbs

Pumpkin & Candied Ginger

Apples, Cinnamon and Cinnamon Oil

*Add flour as needed when you are kneading

*Make into a ball and flatten and cut in 8 triangles or two balls and cut into 16 triangles

(I usually freeze them at this point, then take them out and use them as needed) 

* Heat oven to 350° (My oven is a bit hot so I bake at 325°)

* Put on parchment to bake

*    Coat with milk, egg, vanilla, almond extract, or OJ concentrate and sprinkle with raw sugar or something yummy

*Bake for 20-25 min depending on your oven. 

Serve with your favorite jam, curd, or cream.

Keri’s Mock Devonshire Cream:

Whip 1 cup heavy whipping cream with 1 Tbs soft cream cheese, 1 Tbs of almond extract, and powdered sugar to taste.

You may want to experiment a little to make your scones a gift from your heart…

I Peter 4:9-10   Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

Next week… What is a skiver and what does it have to do with hospitality? 

What is your favorite scone flavor?

A Cup of Contentment Sweetened with Sprinkles of Gratefulness

1 Timothy 6:6-7 But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.

I love to give gifts. More than giving them, I love to see that the receiver is grateful and excited to use the gift that I have given. The more I see someone using that gift, the more I want to continue giving them gifts. It is sad when you joyfully give a gift to someone you fully expect them to use and enjoy but see them just shrug it off like “Oh well, I could have lived without it.” Regrettably, I have probably been that person a time or two. Some of the sins that God says He hates (jealousy, stealing, lying, cheating, and a haughty spirit) are a direct result of an ungrateful spirit. 

Working with adults with disabilities, I have had the opportunity to be grateful for my physical and mental wellness. One of these ladies who had cerebral palsy and no use of her right hand, frequently had food on her shirt after lunch, never could pull her pants up straight, but she always had a smile on her face and joy in her spirit. I commented one time about her always having such a good attitude. She told me, “It just makes things easier.” Wow, what a powerful lesson from someone the world would consider “less than.”

When we moved to San Diego, we had only planned on staying long enough for my husband to complete school. At first, we lived in an apartment, which quickly became too small with the addition of a daughter. So, thinking we would only be here for a couple more years, we bought a mobile home. I was okay with it for a while; we entertained, had grandma live with us, and added to our family while there. But after a while I started to resent it; the old carpet, the leaking roof, and admittedly the stigma that went along with living in a “trailer”. I did what I could to make it our home but did not really allow myself to be comfortable or content. 

I was no longer grateful for what I had at one time viewed as an answer to prayer. Through a series of convicting conversations with the Father who loves to lavish gifts on His children, (Matthew 7:11) I realized that I needed to be grateful for what I had and be content until He decided to change our living circumstances. Once that decision to be content was made, I also decided to make our home as nice as we could with the money that we had. We bought some carpet and linoleum remnants and began the transformation. The day we were putting the carpet down, a lady came by and wrote us a check for our mobile home that was just perfect for her mother. 

We rented a house for a year and were quite content there. But God had other plans, better plans than I would have ever thought possible. Through the hospitality, generosity, and skill, God used a sweet family to help us get into our first “real” house; three times bigger than the trailer, twice the size of the rental, and brand new to boot. If that was not enough, He even gave us wonderful Christian neighbors on a street named after HIM! 

James 1:17  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

I fully believe that God loves to lavish us with gifts (some tangible some not so tangible), and when He sees us using the gifts that He has given us, he is pleased and wants to bestow more gifts on us. He never promises us that we will live in a big house, drive a nice car, or have a big family. The world’s view of success is not God’s view. Sometimes gratefulness and contentment are visible to the eye, but more than that, they are attitudes of the heart. Remember, God does not look on the outside, He looks at our hearts. Are you missing blessings that He has waiting for you because of an ungrateful heart? Look for the things, small and big in your life, that you can be grateful for. You will be amazed at how you are blessed with contentment by simply practicing gratefulness.

1 Timothy 4:5 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. 

The Shepherd’s Wife (Book Review)

There is nothing better than getting a new book in the mail, except when that book is from a kindred spirit, fellow alum, and amazing author! Angie walks us all over the countryside of ancient Israel as we accompany the brothers and sisters of Jesus in their journeys of faith and family. I could feel the dust between my toes, smell the earthiness of the animals in the story and see the places Jesus walked as the story unfolded.  I got goosebumps as Jesus’ siblings realized his divinity and sacrifice. 

Whatsoever is Lovely

There is so much ugliness in this world. How we respond to the events that unfold this week will be a true test of our character. We can allow ourselves to become angry and overwhelmed by what we see as ignorance or injustice.

But what would Jesus do? He would say, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” 

He told us in Philippians 4:8  “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Sometimes unwholesome thoughts creep in and plague us, but we are told to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. I have to picture taking those thoughts and putting them in a prison cell and handing the keys over to Jesus. 

The beauty of birds, from the tiny hummingbirds to the majestic hawks, always reminds me of God’s tender care and how he is watching over me. What do you see in your daily walk that reminds you of what is true, noble, right, pure and lovely?   

We cannot bury our heads in the sand. We do need to speak the truth… IN LOVE. We do need to make sure our hearts and motives are pure. “Even a child is known by his doings.” 

How will you respond this week to conflict? I am reminding myself often that “A soft answer turns away wrath.”

We have to make a choice about what and how we think. We have a choice to make about how we respond. If the love of Jesus is in our hearts, our hearts should respond in love.

I desire to think about what is lovely and choose to respond with love. 

I Want Candy!

Cape billowing in the wind, Batman bolted down the street. Recovered plunder in hand, the masked crusader stopped, gazed down into the carrier of priceless treasure and exclaimed “Mom, this is AWESOME!” 

As a young mother, I was averse to Halloween. I didn’t even let my kids eat candy, why would I let them go around and beg candy from strangers??? Eventually a friend convinced me that it was just a good opportunity to have fun with my kids and be a light in the darkness to the community. 

Still wary of the evils of sugar, I only allowed a couple of pieces of candy after dinner each night. That is what my dentist did with her kids after all, so that seemed like a reasonable procedure. 

However, a few years into trick or treating, I heard “Mom, you never let us eat our candy. All our friends get to eat all they want.” Knowing this battle was going to continue, I said “Go ahead, knock yourselves out. Eat all you want.” It wasn’t long before groans began, “Oh mom, why did you let us do that? My stomach hurts… I feel awful…” I let them explain it to me. “You knew it wasn’t good for us, but we wanted to eat candy so much that we had to learn for ourselves how it would make us feel.” (paraphrased)

Even as adults, how often do we make choices based on what we want instead of what we need or what is best?  The choices may not always be life impacting. They may involve food or the books we read, how we spend our time, or how we treat our spouse or children. 

Throughout scripture we see example of how God teaches his children through allowing them to “eat the candy.” In fact, the Israelites whined to God about only having manna. They wanted meat. He provided quail. They ate so much they made themselves sick. 

I think the lesson is that God’s provision is enough. God is enough. He has our best interest in mind. His plans are better than our plans. His ways are better than our ways. When we surrender our will to His, we will find peace. We will find joy. We will find rest. 

I am not implying that there will not be heartache or pain along the way, but in the midst of life, we might need to stop, observe our good and perfect gifts and exclaim “Daddy, this is AWESOM.”

Finding Freedom in Forgiveness

Forgiveness is not once and done for us finite and fallible human beings; it is an ongoing process of the heart. Often we can offer forgiveness for an “offense” and never think about it again or look back and even laugh about it. All too often, however, the offense is repeated, the wounds reopened, the knife is twisted, or we allow ourselves to wallow in the hurt of past violations. Every. Single. Time. Our freedom comes in releasing control (and I am a control freak) of our hurt and anger, surrendering it and the person or situation to God, and practicing the seventy times seven principle (Matthew 18).

I “accidentally” found the book, “Forgiving What You’ll Never Forget” by Dr David Stroop, in the airport bookstore. The back cover described counsel I needed to let wash over me. Dr. Stroop packages forgiveness as a gift that we all need to give and receive. He biblically distinguishes between forgiveness and reconciliation as well as explains the ongoing process of healing that forgiveness brings. He helps the reader understand that, of course, we won’t always forget everything we need to forgive. Not forgetting, yet surrendering the pain and bitterness to the cross, helps us to not repeat the offense, guards our hearts from further hurt, and protects our children and loved ones from similar offenses. Forgiveness offers freedom in so many ways. Dr. Stroop guides his reader to that freedom.

I have come to realize that forgiveness is:

  • Obedience
  • An act of worship
  • Healing and contagious
  • Grace with boundaries
  • Does not mean you have to be a punching bag
  • A cure for anger and bitterness
  • Faith not in humans’ fallibility but in God’s tender care for our hearts
  • As much for the forgiver as the forgiven
  • Allowing God’s love to flow through me
  • Something I am incapable of doing without divine intervention
  • A free gift

Forgiveness came to us through the cross. We have all endured hurt and heartache, but because of the cross we have the supernatural ability to forgive. Ephesians 4:32 tells us to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. 

As I write this, I feel there is so much more to say, but forgiveness is a personal story and the final chapter can only be written by you.

Created to Create

WE ARE CREATED TO BE CREATIVEA Blog especially for teachers and parents

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earthThen God said, “Let us make man in our image.” He looked at what He created and said “It is Good.”

Many years ago, I took a group of adults with developmental disabilities to a Van Gogh exhibit. Many of the students worked in Sophie’s art studio and gallery in El Cajon and were familiar with some aspects of fine art. We all donned the headsets and proceeded reverently through the exhibit. As we approached a particular painting, one of the ladies stopped me and asked me why Van Gogh cut off his ear.  I remember discussing how sad he must have been, and that art was his way of expressing his feelings, but somehow that was not enough. I don’t really remember much more of the conversation and the student with whom I had it, but I do remember the comments of another member of our group who had come along as a sponsor of the trip. He was a veterinarian who had little experience with this special population. He took me aside and said, “How did you do that?” Shaking my head, I asked what did I do? He told me that I had explained in very simple terms what even he had a difficult time understanding.  

As teachers and parents, we will often be called on to give meaning to what may seem like chaos around us. We also need to be diligent to listen and understand what our students’ art is telling us. In order to do either of these, we must be grounded in the One who created us and how we use our gifts to infuse His spirit into every one of our lessons, planned or unplanned. 

Every person/student has a God given desire to create or be creative and natural curiosity that drives that creativity. As educators, as parents, we need to recognize and guide students in using those gifts and curiosity as a way of fulfilling our ultimate purpose here on earth, to glorify God. 

We also must recognize that individuals will express that creativity differently. I would consider myself a very creative person, but I am not an artist. 

I was to draw the playground. I remember drawing a square box with handles for the playhouse and a rectangle with lines for the monkey bars; then I drew odd circles that were connected as an illustration for the steps. I was kind of proud of my kindergarten artwork when I placed it on the teacher’s desk.  I can still see that picture in my mind… with a big, fat, red D at the top. I don’t remember any other instruction than to draw the playground and no follow up as to why my creation was unacceptable. What I do remember is that feeling that defined much of my youth and early educational accomplishments. I might as well have that big red D stamped on my forehead, announcing to everyone my lack of ability, artistic or otherwise. I love that teacher, and I still exchange Christmas Cards with her, but to this day… 52 year later, I still don’t get it. I share these examples as reminders to be careful with the hearts that are entrusted to us.

As teachers (and parents), it is our responsibility to encourage, guide and direct the exploration of each student’s creativity. It is good to recognize those talents in art just as you would recognize a student’s extraordinary skill in math or language arts. We have the unique opportunity to help shape a child’s view of himself and the world through our interactions while teaching art (or any other subject).

Ron D. Van Der Pol, in his master’s thesis, states. “Art is a process of making and interpreting visual reminders of God‘s creation. A Christian philosophy of art education begins with the fact that God created us in His own image as aesthetic beings, able to respond to and appreciate the physical beauty of the world. He also gave each of us the desire to create in our own right.” 

I love this statement. I realized a few years ago, as I was using my creativity in decorating my house and designing/creating my backyard oasis; that I am worshiping as I am using my creativity. Too Often, I will sit in my house or yard and look at the “one more thing that I could do.” But I recently came to realize that it is good to sit back after a project is done and say, as God, who created us in his image, said “and it was good.” Just enjoy the beauty of a job well done. Galatians 6:4 says:  Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. 

I wonder if Van Gogh would have cut off his ear or carried out his suicide if he would have heeded this verse. The world and its critics are harsh. We need to remove the fear and introduce the freedom of creativity. God is not a God of fear but a God of order, creativity and confidence.

The Currency of Friends

If friendship was currency, I would be wealthy

It is a chilly Oregon, fall morning. I hear the rooster crowing, the goats bleating, and I am awaiting my first cup of coffee. I am snuggled in on the hide-a-bed in my friend’s living room and being grateful that I have one so dear to me. 

We need friends. Friends are good soul waterProverbs 27:9-11 (The Passion Translation) Sweet friendships refresh the soul and awaken our hearts with joy, for good friends are like the anointing oil that yields the fragrant incense of God’s presence. Friends are good therapists Proverbs 27: 9 Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.  When I go for periods of time without being with my friends, I feel like I have been hiking in the dessert without any water. Not that I don’t love being with my husband and family, but friends fill a different place in my heart. 

My very oldest and longtime friend is my sister. Besides sharing our DNA, we share some of our deepest secrets, deepest joys, deepest pains, abiding love… and clothes. 

Some of my earliest memories are with my childhood best friend, Marie. Probably what drove us to friendship, other than divine appointment, was our need for a friend. As a six-year-old, she was new to the church, and I was painfully shy. Fifty years into our friendship, I believe that turned out to be a winning combination. We have walked through the valley of the shadow of death together. She has been an example of faithfulness to me. James 1:12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

Enter the college stage; being thrust into living with people you never knew before either makes you good friends… or not. Fortunately, I collected several life-long friends who also happened to be room or dorm mates. Julie, Melissa, Kelly, Dawn, Linda, Lisa to name a few held me accountable, encouraged me, challenged me, and filled the empty and lonely place in my heart. Psalm 68:4  God sets the lonely in families. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10a  Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. 10 If one person falls, the other can reach out and help…

My husband is my dear friend. He balances me, loves me when I am unlovable and takes great joy in being my provider. He entered the picture when I was twenty-two. As we established our family, we developed our friendship but did not really have many close friends in our daily life. In hindsight, that probably would have helped our first few years of marriage. However, I don’t really think I saw the deficit of missing friendships and wise counsel at the time. 

Yet, God saw the need and began adding arrows to my quiver. After a period in a ministry desert, God brought us to our church family. It was a tiny fledgling church. The pastor and his wife were just a bit older than Harold and me. We hit it off pretty quickly. Harold was cautious to not insert himself into their lives too quickly, as he was sure they were busy with the church and their lives. A niggling voice kept telling me that they needed the friendship and encouragement. And that was true thirty-two years ago, just like it is today. Marguerite is not only one of my dearest friends but my neighbor in every sense of the word. 

My dear sweet Ginny girl entered the picture a few years later. She and Ron had just moved back to the area from Calgary, Canada. God, in His providence, placed her right, smack dab in the middle of my work territory. Back before the days of cell phones and clean public restrooms, she was a God send. One of my first memories of her is seeing her walk across the parking lot, looking a little peaked, and I thought, “She is pregnant. She needs a friend. She needs me to feed her.” Turns out she has feed me, physically and spiritually, more than I ever imagined possible. Our kids played together. We taught both Sunday School and elementary school alongside each other. We love to go to garage sales and shop together. And we were at each other’s sides during our greatest losses. When my career, as I knew it, came to a screeching halt, she was there to help me pack up in a matter of minutes. No words were needed, it was her presence that was the gift.  When we were awaiting word of her husband, who is now with the Lord, we sat together in my car, praying, crying, and reading Psalms together. It is her hide-a-bed I sit on now and offer thanks to the God who made me as one with such a deep well to fill, also be the God who sees me and gives me such wonderful friends that pour their lives into me. (I have to quit typing here. I can’t see through my tears; See my last blog post).  

I really could go on naming people and dear friends, but this would turn into a book. However, I would be remiss to not mention my dear Tam. She also happens to be the best neighbor in the world. We have shared 1,000 plus cups of coffee together, and probably as many tears. She is a soul sister who feels my pain and celebrates my joy. She is a picture of the mercy and grace of Jesus in action, and I am blessed to be a recipient of the gifts God has so generously given her. 

In my years of friend gathering, I have been fortunate to have friends ages ten to one hundred. I learn from them all and thank the Lord for placing each one in my life.

If you are reading this and are wishing you had soul friends, I would encourage you to reach out and be that friend to someone else. Pour refreshing water into their empty well. In doing so, you will also be filled. 

I join Paul in his prayer of thanksgiving for his dear friends. 

Philippians 1:3-9 (NLT)  Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy,for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.10 For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. 11 May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ[b]—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.

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