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.

Tears in a Bottle

Tears in a Bottle 

I cry. A lot. I always have. Not because I am a whiny baby. I cry when I am happy. I cry when I am sad. I cry when I am mad. I cry when I am moved. I cry when I sing. I cry when I speak. I cry when I pray… in public and in the quiet places of my heart. 

Psalm 56:8 You have taken account of my wanderings; Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book?

God knows why I shed every tear. It is a language that he created with a purpose

Scientist have hypothesized about why we cry, what our tears contain, and the different types of crying. Real heart tears (not the fake manipulative ones) contain a multitude of impurities. Create in me a clean heart oh God, is often my prayer.  I figure, I either have a really clean heart, because it is constantly being purged, or the tears are God’s way of cleaning up that dirty mess down in my heart.

I don’t always have the right words to say to a hurting friend, but if I look at them in their state of pain, my eyes immediately well up with tears. It shows compassion and empathy from my heart without having to awkwardly tell them everything will be okay, or I know how you feel, or some other platitude.

Pavlov’s dogs have nothing on me when it comes to a trained response… maybe. My friends won’t even look at me during worship time. They know to do so will start their water works by seeing mine. My 5th graders loved our Friday morning worship times. I would lead from the back of the classroom. Hearing children lift their voices in praise, I would, of course, have liquid worship running down my face; the kids would turn to look at me, and upon seeing the tears, declare success. 

When my husband gave me my first harp on Christmas morning, the tears of gratitude poured out of me. When my daughter paid for my trip to see my childhood best friend recovering from heart surgery, I had no words, but my tears spoke volumes. 

Some of the most meaningful tears have come as loved ones pass from this life to Glory. Not really because I am sad, although I do miss them, but the indescribable emotion I feel, picturing them in the presence of Jesus, is overwhelming. I recently read the eulogy at friend’s memorial. I read the facts of her life just fine, but when I read the final line about her meeting Jesus at sunrise on a beautiful May morning, the tears broke through like the sun breaking through the clouds.

In college, I spent a summer with a traveling music team from my Christian college. I cooked; I was not one of the musicians. I attended most of the concerts with them, some in churches, some in very large venues. Every. Single. Time. I would be a teary mess by the time the concert was done. I told one of my stoic singing friends that I was praying God would take the tears away, maybe it was my thorn in my flesh. She rightly chastised me and said that my tears were a gift from the Lord, it showed my tender heart, and I should never ask Him to take that away again. I never have.

I have jokingly said, “When I get to heaven, I will know which house is mine, because the angels will be singing ‘A Hundred Bottles of Tears on the Wall’.” After all, the God who created tears also created laughter. 

What is Next

My name is Keri Willis. I am a semi-retired educator. I spent a great deal of my career working with adults with developmental disabilities and many years in elementary education, in the classroom and as an administrator. My main ministry now is coordinating the women’s ministry for our church in San Diego, CA. I have been married thirty-four years and have two grown and married children. I now have a head of full grey hair and good ideas.I believe we are created to use our gifts and to be creative. That comes in many forms for me. I love to woodwork and use power tools, design, decorate, garden, and create new recipes. And I love to write. One major lesson I have learned in my writing journey is that I need to be still and listen to hear God’s voice before I am prepared to put into words the message he has instilled in my heart. This has been much easier since I am no longer working full time, but it is so easy to get distracted and not listen, which almost always ends with an empty page in the form of writer’s block.While I have written many articles for newsletters and local newspapers, I did not consider myself a writer until I self-published my first book, Teapots and Power Tools. https://www.amazon.com/Teapot…/dp/1466458763/ref=sr_1_3…The idea emerged as I was working on a project in my garage. I had worship music playing, power tools out and saw dust flying. I glanced up and saw my delicate teapot sitting on my router table. The message was clear. Sometimes we are using the power tools God gives us and sometimes he just wants us to be still and have tea with him. The book became the foundation for a women’s retreat, and then my amazing niece helped me work through publishing it on Create Space (now KDP).At least five other projects are in different stages of production. I joined hope*writers to help motivate me and keep me focused and accountable. I am still trying to figure out the whole website and blog thing.

An Audience of One

From our very first breath we are cheered for what we do. From the baby burps to first steps, we offer praise to those little humans for their actions. Students learn to expect praise for grades, how they play with others, and their attitudes. We discover, early on, that performance in sports, dance, or drama can bring a wide array emotional response. 

As we grow and mature, we become accustom to performing with the expectation of a response from our audience. It may come in the form of a good job evaluation, a pay raise, or the opposite. I often question the crooked lines I leave when I mow the grass, thinking the neighbors are judging how I mow. But now I just shrug and think, “But I did mow the grass.” 

Critiques, self-imposed or from an outside source, can be beneficial. We need to comprehend the consequences of our choices, words, and actions. However, far too often we associate those critiques with our intelligence, self-worth, or value. How many people like my post? Who showed up to hear me speak or sing? Why did that one person not like my book? The list goes on. 

All of those questioning thoughts are racket that distracts us from our purpose, to glorify the One who created us. I Corinthians 10:31 Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God

I have never been able to do anything well if someone is looking over my shoulder, ask my typing teacher or my husband. I cannot be “creative on demand.” I become a bumbling goof. I am distracted by the “noise” of the appraisal of my work. 

When I set out to play the harp a few years ago, I jokingly said that I play for me and Jesus… and the dogs. The music is only as sweet as my audience.  When I write, it is the message He puts in my heart. When I garden, it is to create a sanctuary of worship. When I clean my house, it is an act of appreciation for what He has provided. 

As my hair has turned grey, my heart has not become hardened to that racket, but I am learning to put the earplugs in so I can hear the applause of my Audience of One. 

Galatians 6:4 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.

How Grandma Willis Would do 2020

Reposted to celebrate Mother’s Day, my rich heritage and the gift of my godly mom-in-law. This is the brief overview of a life well lived. For a more in-depth story of her life see my blog from January 24, 2022

My mother-in-law lived to be 100 years old. She was born on the heels of WWI and the Pandemic known as the Spanish Flu. As a teenager, she lived through the depression, and as that era was ushered out, she became a bride with a bright future.

Just as the dread of WWII was looming, she became a mother of a son. And in the wake of Pearl Harbor, she became the mother to a baby girl.  In the throes of a world in a complete upheaval, she gave birth to another baby girl who was whisked away from her “too weak to live.” Still reeling from the loss of her baby girl, she received the news that her only brother, a pilot, was shot down in the Battle of the Bulge on Christmas Eve 1944.   

Sadly, her story was not completely rare in that time period. I can’t help thinking that this changed the makeup of her constitution and that of our whole country. 

So this morning as I received news of yet another friend losing his job, and looked at the numbers of more precious souls leaving this earth, and the craziness in our economy, I turned on “Grandma’s Playlist” on my Amazon Music account and realized how she not only survived but blossomed into a beautiful tree planted by the rivers of water. 

Here are the songs on her play list… If you don’t know them, look them up and take a listen. These songs were all written in times of great uncertainty and pain, yet with the hope not in our government but in our Savior.  In this order… Yeah… you can cry with me… you know who you are… you already are:

I Need Thee Every Hour

I Surrender All

God Will Take Care of You

No One Ever Cared for me Like Jesus

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

Take my Life and Let it Be

Victory in Jesus 

Rock of Ages 

Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus

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