Wednesday, June 26, 2013

More Beautiful

Recently, I was scrolling through Twitter while my family was driving to a friend’s house and I ran across this video that was posted on Ann Voskamp’s blog:

So imagine me sitting in the front seat next to my husband sniffling up a storm… so much so that my boys ask if I’m crying.  I was actually being careful not to unleash all the tears that wanted to pour down my face.  I even had to take a moment to compose myself before I went into my friend’s house.  

The tears surfaced right now as I watched the video again.

Why is this video so meaningful to me?  Because God used this exact tactic to help me start fighting the ugly lies that I believed for a long time.  He used friends who only knew me AFTER I got Bell’s Palsy (which paralyzed the left side of my face) to tell me that they saw nothing wrong with my face… that  in fact, they saw me as beautiful.  It was shocking to me… I couldn’t believe that they didn’t notice things like my crooked smile.  But they didn’t and God used their compliments to help me realize that I needed to change my views too… which eventually led me to recite beauty scriptures to myself in the mirror two times a day.  And over the course of time, by renewing my mind with God's truth about my beauty, I began to be set free.  God began to transform my mind with His truth (Romans 12:2), and I began to see beauty in me.  God is so faithful in helping us change our perceptions and thoughts about ourselves when we are intentional about making the changes.   

Can you imagine how different our lives would be if we all believed that we truly were beautiful?  What if we saw ourselves as God sees us:  Fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned with glory and honor (Psalm 8:5); good (1 Timothy 4:4), made in His image (Genesis 1:26), a beauty (Psalm 45:11)?  And what if we taught these same truths to our daughters?  Our youth?  Our friends who struggle just like we do? 

Do you believe the ugly lies like I did?  Do you know someone who is fighting in a Beauty War?  We can win this Beauty War with God’s help and by using our sword of the spirit.  And we can help others win the Beauty War too… with a simple compliment, a Facebook post, a smile…  So my question for you is:  Who do you know that needs to see this video or this blog post?  How can you help them realize that they really are more beautiful than they think?  Let’s take action and win this Beauty War together... one battle at a time.

Monday, June 24, 2013

An "Aha" Moment

Have you ever had an “aha” moment?  You know, where something became more clear than it was before?  I remember back in my Grad school days that “aha” moments in statistics were few and far between.  Have I ever mentioned that I’m not a math girl?  And unfortunately, my study pals weren’t either.  So guess what we would do?  We would call our professor when we ran into something we didn’t understand.  He would explain it and we would all chant together “aha!”  OK, I’m just kidding about the chanting “aha” together, but hopefully it made you smile for a second. 

It feels so good to understand something better than you did before, doesn’t it?  I love how we can have “aha” moments with God.  And instead of calling a professor, we can grab our Bibles and ask the Holy Spirit to open our hearts, minds and souls to what He wants us to learn.  It’s so exciting to learn something new about God… and I’m praying that you have an “aha” moment with Him today.

So where is all this coming from?  I had an “aha” moment today studying Isaiah 30.  I was working on my Duty or Delight Bible Study by Tammie Head and she directed me to Isaiah 30:15:  This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…”  Sounds good, doesn’t it?  But the next part of the verse intrigued me… it says “… but you would have none of it.”  Hmmm… so I decided to start at the beginning of Chapter 30, and I was blown away by this new picture of God painted by Isaiah.  Let me give you a brief summary…

God is talking about obstinate children… and He describes them as carrying out plans that He didn’t approve, forming alliances with others that He didn’t instruct,  and seeking protection from Pharaoh instead of God (Isaiah 30:1-3).  If I’m honest, I fall into these categories myself.  I can be an obstinate child…  How often am I quick to make important, or not so important, decisions without asking God for His wisdom?  I wonder if any of you see yourself in these verses too… 

Then, God describes them as rebellious, deceitful, and unwilling to listen to the Lord’s instruction (Isaiah 30:9).  Ouch!  I’ve fallen into those categories too… what about you?

God loves these obstinate, rebellious children and gives them a recipe for reconciliation with Him in verse 15:  This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says  “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…” 

I love how God doesn’t expect me to be perfect.  In fact, He knows that I won’t be and He lets me know how to be restored… by repenting (or confessing my sins and turning away from them) and He even offers me rest.  God desires me to trust Him and when I do, I can be strong in tough situations because I know that God is bigger, stronger, and that He can do immeasurably more than I could ever ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20… one of my favorite Bible verses).

But this next verse was the key to my “aha” moment today… and I’m still in awe of Who God Is…  It’s from Isaiah 30:15:  Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion.  For the Lord is a God of justice.  Blessed are all who wait for Him! 

What are your reactions to this verse?  I love how it shows me that in spite of all my sin, mistakes, and imperfections, God is LONGING to extend grace and show compassion.  WOW!  He’s  not sitting on His throne casting stones and condemning me.  He’s anxiously waiting for me to cry out to Him so He can give me grace and compassion… which I totally don’t deserve.  It blows my mind.  Look at the same verse in the Amplified Bible:

And therefore the Lord [earnestly] waits [expecting, looking, and longing] to be gracious to you:  and therefore He lifts Himself up, that He may have mercy on you and show loving-kindness to you.  For the Lord is a God of justice.  Blessed (happy, fortunate, to be envied) are all those who [earnestly] wait for Him, who expect and look and long for Him [for His victory, His favor, His love, His peace, His joy, and His matchless, unbroken companionship]!

Did you catch the undercover message in this verse?  GOD LOVES YOU… He loves you anyway… and in spite of… and just because… and even though… and always.  Let this “aha” moment take root in the depths of your heart.  Know that you are truly loved by your Heavenly Father. 
Here’s a song for you today:  Let It Out by Chris and Conrad.

God longs for us to take off our masks to find peace at last…  He wants us to be vulnerable with Him because He already knows what we’re struggling with.    So let it all out and experience the grace and compassion that God longs to give you.  He truly loves you more than you could ever know.  Find rest in God’s amazing love today!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Where are you looking?

So, I have to confess that I’m not the best mountain biker in the world.  In fact, this city chic actually thought that mountain biking trails were paved… so I was in for a rude awakening the first time I hit the mountain bike trail because I not only discovered that the trails were NOT paved and you had to ride over roots, rocks and uneven terrain, but I also learned that these trails were quite narrow and one wrong move could lead to falling down the mountain.  YIKES!!! 

My hubby gave me some great advice for mountain biking… make sure you look where you want to go because your bike follows your eyes.  Good to know!  I should avoid looking down the mountain where I didn’t want to go and look straight ahead on the trail so I’d be safe.  And thankfully, I did survive… after an endo within the first 30 seconds on the trail.  Like I said, I’m not much of a mountain biker...

My hubby’s advice also applies to other areas of our lives besides mountain biking.  Where we focus our eyes makes a huge difference in our lives.  So my question to you is where are your eyes focused today?  Are they focused on worries, trials, lies, your circumstances?  Or are they focused on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith?  I know that when my eyes are focused on worries, trials, and lies, my mood and attitude are not the best.  In fact, taking my eyes off Jesus can quickly send me off the mountain and down into a pit of doubt, fear, insecurity, and lots of other negative things…  Can any of you relate?  But when I choose to surrender my worries to Jesus and trust in Him completely, the things of the world become strangely dim and I start to experience peace, hope, and joy.   I know it’s not always easy to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus… and Satan will use whatever distractions he can to get us to turn our eyes away.  But these simple words, whispered in the moment, “I trust you, Jesus,” can help redirect our eyes and rescue us from a potential tumble down the mountain.   
The Bible gives us some good reasons to fix our eyes on Jesus...

Hebrews 12:1b-2
…and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

 Jesus showed us how to keep our eyes focused on God… He experienced struggles just like we do… and He spent lots of time in prayer talking to His Father God… just like we can do.  If your eyes are not fixed on Jesus, pray about it.  That can get your gaze going back in the right direction.

2 Corinthians 4:18 encourages us too:  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 

How’s that for some encouragement… our circumstances on this earth are temporary… but heaven is eternal.  God is faithful.  His love is constant and unchanging.  We have a future of perfection awaiting us when we invite Jesus into our hearts.  That’s something we can cling to in the midst of our trials… they are  temporary.

So what are your eyes fixed on today?  If you’re on the verge of falling off the mountain, just change your gaze.  Look straight up to Jesus… call on His name…for Hebrews 4:15-16 reminds us “For we do not have a high priest (Jesus) who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”  Call out to Jesus.  He not only understands, but He can help you.  Jesus is waiting to shower you with mercy and grace during your time of need.  Look up to Him instead of focusing on your circumstances… because Psalm 34:5 says “those who look to Him are radiant, their faces are never covered with shame.”  Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus so we can be covered in His radiance today.

And here's a song to the help bring the point home… one of my recent favorites called Strangely Dim by Francesca Battistelli.  Let the chorus remind you to fix your eyes on Jesus moment by moment.  And let the things of the world grow strangely dim…


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Starbucks Grace

I wonder what thoughts crossed your mind when you read the title of this blog post.  (This is, of course, assuming you actually read the title.)  Did you picture me at Starbucks, praying over my Caramel Apple Cider and Pumpkin Scone before I started to indulge in my yummy treats?  Did you imagine I had an encounter with a barista named Grace?  Or did you picture someone extending grace to me while I was at Starbucks?

If you picked question #3, then you are correct.  One definition of grace is God's unmerited favor.  And Charles Spurgeon wrote an entire book on this concept of grace.  The definition of grace I use with my boys is that grace is getting something they don't deserve.  And last Friday at Starbucks, my boys and I experienced grace in action.  Let me explain.

While running an errand with my boys, I decided to stop by Starbucks en route.  There was a very specific reason for this particular Starbucks visit.  We were visiting my friend who recently started working at this location.  When my boys and I arrived at the counter to order, we were greeted by the friendliest baristas.  Notice that was plural... not only was my friend delighted to have us there, but her co-workers were too.  They chatted with my boys, took our orders, and since we were fortunate enough to arrive right as my friend was taking her break, the four of us headed outside to enjoy our drinks.

The boys quickly chose the loveseat and ottoman/table, so my friend and I sat at the table right next to them.  As we chatted, my four year old continued to inform me that his hot chocolate was too hot.  So, I tested it... and it was luke warm.  But in an effort to get him to drink it, I decided to leave the top off so it would cool faster.  I wonder if you know where this story is going...

I quickly discovered that leaving the top off was a BIG mistake.  Within a minute, the hot chocolate spilled all over the wicker ottoman and the concrete patio.  Did I mention that it was a full cup of hot chocolate?  Yep, it went everywhere.  Somehow he had managed to not get any on him... so that was a blessing.  I was not too happy about this, but I also recognized that I contributed to this mess by taking off the lid.  So, I picked up the cup, explained that this was his only hot chocolate and that he would not be able to get another one, and went inside to gather some napkins and to ask for a giant cup of water to clean off the table and patio.

I got the napkins first, then stopped by the counter to request a big cup of water.  When I explained what happened, the two baristas were so kind.  They did not roll their eyes.  They did not let out a huge sigh.  Instead, they told me not to worry about it at all... and then... drum roll please... they offered to clean it up for me!  My reaction:  Are you sure?  And they said yes... and didn't even give me the cup of water.  I was shocked!  The mess my son and I created was greeted with a smile and cleaned up by someone who didn't cause it.  What a blessing!

But that's not even the best part of the story.  While the barista was using the giant cup of water to flush some of the hot chocolate into the concrete cracks, a second barista appeared with another hot chocolate for my son.  The look on my son's face was priceless.  His eyes lit up.  He couldn't believe it... and I was surprised too!  I hadn't asked for another hot chocolate.  Yet they provided another one anyway.  And as the barista handed it to my son, he pointed out that this hot chocolate was even bigger than his original one.  How's that for some unmerited favor?  We spilled the hot chocolate we paid for, made a huge mess, and ended up with a bigger hot chocolate and not having to clean up after ourselves.  Incredible!  This quickly became my favorite Starbucks ever!

Phillip Yancey describes true grace as shocking and scandalous in his book "What's so Amazing about Grace?"  And my boys and I experienced a taste of shocking grace through the kindness of the Starbucks baristas.  Have you ever experienced grace like this?  Can you describe it?  Picture it?  Feel it?  How did you respond?  Can you relive the details like I just shared with you?

Grace makes an impact on our lives.  And God offers us grace on a much grander scale.  Jesus came to earth, lived a perfect life and then died on the cross.  Three days later, He rose from the dead.  And when we invite Jesus into our hearts as Lord and Savior, He cleans up our mess:

Ephesians 2:4-10

New International Version (NIV)
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

 And the most scandalous, shocking part of His grace is He gives us eternal life, which we completely don't deserve.  It truly is God's unmerited favor given to us.

John 3:16

New International Version (NIV)
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 

Maybe you need some grace today.  Maybe your mess needs to be cleaned up by Jesus, who can do a much better job than you can on your own.  Let Hebrews 4:15-16 encourage you:

Hebrews 4:15-16

New International Version (NIV)
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Go ahead... approach the throne of grace with confidence.  Receive the grace and mercy that Jesus offers.  And relish in the unmerited favor that He lavishes on you. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

A Blustery Day

Have you ever experienced a blustery day?  Yesterday was blustery here in Louisville, KY.  Blustery is defined as to roar and be tumultuous, as wind.  And windy it was... all day long.  As a matter of fact, I can't remember the last time it was windy for an entire day.

When I left for my morning walk, I noticed it.  The wind enveloped me.  It surrounded me.  It was swirling all around me.  When I paused to feel the wind - to take it in for a moment - it was behind me and before me and beside me.  I couldn't escape it.  And the Holy Spirit brought Psalm 139:5-6 to mind.  Check it out in these different translations:

You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.  NIV

You go before me and follow me.
    You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too great for me to understand! New Living Translation

I look behind me and you’re there,
    then up ahead and you’re there, too—
    your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
    I can’t take it all in! The Message

You have beset me and shut me in—behind and before, and You have laid Your hand upon me.
Your [infinite] knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high above me, I cannot reach it.  Amplified
Isn't the thought of being completely surrounded by God incredible?  Picture God constantly swirling around you like the wind... never leaving you or forsaking you as Deuteronomy 31:6 says.   Envision the wind as God's gentle embrace when you're struggling because the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).  Or just as the wind can be a powerful force, imagine God's powerful tug lifting you up when you've fallen like Psalm 40:1-3 describes:  
I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
    and put their trust in him.
Hear Him speak His truth to you... it could be gentle encouragement like the rustling of the wind through the trees or it could be a tumultuous roar of warning like the sound of a tornado.  God's Word is powerful and Hebrews 4:12 reminds us how powerful it is:
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 
Rest in confidence that God is behind you and before you and beside you as Psalm 139:5-6 so beautifully reminds us.  Experience the joy and peace that comes from choosing to believe Psalm 139:5-6 because it truly is too much, too wonderful to grasp (Psalm 139:6 The Message).   
May we never experience the wind the same way again...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Lessons from the Monkey Bars

Ahhh, the monkey bars… kids love ‘em, and some parents hate ‘em and I found out why last month.  Yep, you got it… my son fell off the monkey bars and broke his left arm.  Now don’t get too alarmed… because out of all the breaks, his was a common one.  It’s called a buckle fracture, which means the bone buckled rather than broke.  That’s good news in my book.  He only wore a cast for three weeks (followed by three weeks in a splint).  And as of Monday, his bone completely healed.  In a matter of about seven week, he is as good as new with no physical therapy required.  That calls for a big WOOHOO!  I’d say we hit the jackpot in the world of bone fractures.  I’m so thankful God was watching over my son and protected him from something much more serious. 

What amazes me the most about this fracture is that God designed our bones to repair themselves.  The doctor did nothing except put a cast on his arm to protect the bone while it heals.  Isn’t that incredible?  I’m no scientist and I’ve never taken anatomy and physiology, so I don’t know much about how the body works.  But I’m in awe that God designed our bones to heal like that.  My friend, whose daughter broke her arm, told me she was amazed at her daughter’s second x-ray because the bone was bigger after it healed.  I have a new appreciation for Psalm 139:14:  I will praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Your works are wonderful, I know that full well!

Have you ever been broken or fractured in some way?  I know I have… and it’s painful and can have lasting effects.  The same God who designed our bones to heal themselves is there to help us heal from our own breaks and fractures… whatever they may be.  In fact, read these verses and be encouraged that God can make things new:

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Psalm 51:10

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  2 Corinthians 5:17

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.  Ephesians 4:22-24

But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these:  anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.  Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge of the image of its Creator.  Colossians 3:8-10

The Creator still creates.  We can be made new.  But healing requires us to spend some time with the Great Physician, God Himself, so He can show us what our breaks and fractures are.  Maybe you need to visit with God right now.  He’s waiting for you: 

 18 And therefore the Lord [earnestly] waits [expecting, looking, and longing] to be gracious to you; and therefore He lifts Himself up, that He may have mercy on you and show loving-kindness to you. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed (happy, fortunate, to be envied) are all those who [earnestly] wait for Him, who expect and look and long for Him [for His victory, His favor, His love, His peace, His joy, and His matchless, unbroken companionship]!  Isaiah 30:18  Amplified Bible (AMP)

So spend some time with your Great Physician, your Creator, and the One who loves you with a steadfast love today.  Bring Him your breaks and fractures.  Be confident that you can be made new.  And let this song (I Am New by Jason Gray) remind you of this truth...that you are new, chosen, holy and dearly loved.  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Shadow Reflections

I was back to my normal walk time this morning and I loved it!  The sun was rising over the rooftops.  The birds were singing.  My bunny rabbit buddy was hopping across the field.  And I could see my shadow again.  I've become fascinated with my shadow since I've started these morning walks.  Why, you ask?  Because I'm petite in the height department, but when I walk with my back to the sun, my shadow appears to be six feet tall!  I've also discovered some interesting facts about my shadow.  I can tell that my hair is in a ponytail, but not that I'm wearing my glasses.  I can see the outline of my shorts, but not the color of my clothes.  My shadow is a reflection of me, but you can't see a lot of details about my appearance if you're just looking at my shadow.  See what things you notice about your shadow the next time you're out in the sun.

Have you ever considered how your life can shadow Jesus?  How you can be transformed to reflect Him? 

After reviewing the Merriam Webster's definition of shadow, I was intrigued:

: partial darkness or obscurity within a part of space from which rays from a source of light are cut off by an interposed opaque body
: a reflected image
: shelter from danger or observation
a : an imperfect and faint representation
b : an imitation of something : copy
: the dark figure cast upon a surface by a body intercepting the rays from a source of light
a : an inseparable companion or follower

Wow!  I long to reflect Jesus (2).  I desire to intercept rays from Jesus, my source of light (5).  And I want to be an inseparable follower of Jesus (10).

The thought of shadowing Jesus captivates me.  Inspires me.  And convicts me.  Because in order for me to reflect Jesus, in order for my life to be a shadow and for Jesus to shine through me, I need to spend time in His light.  Sounds simple, right?  But it definitely requires discipline.  Spending time with Jesus is not something I have to do... like laundry (because if I don't do this, we will run out of clean clothes), or grocery shopping (because we need to eat), or filling my car up with gas (or we'll be staying home).  This is a personal decision I get to make each day.  And in order for me to be a better wife, mother, and friend, I NEED to spend time with Jesus.  Trust me, I notice a difference in my life, my attitude, my words, and my actions when I spend time in the light of Jesus instead of hitting the snooze button and getting a few more zzz's.  The Bible also provides some benefits of walking in the light (or more simply put, of spending time with Jesus).

Psalm 89:15
Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord.

1 John 1:7
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
Have you walked in the light today?  Have you invested time in your relationship with Jesus?  If not, there's no time like the present!  Grab a Bible and read a chapter or two.  Psalms is a great place to start.  Or the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. (The Gospels tell you how Jesus Himself stayed connected to His Father God, the ultimate light source.  Check out Mark 1:35).  Spend some time in prayer.  Thank God for the blessings He rained down on you today.  Absorb His truth.  And become radiant as Psalm 34:5 so beautifully states:  Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.  Start intercepting His rays today as you become an inseparable follower of Jesus, the Light of the World (John 8:12).   

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Walk in the Dark

My morning routine was a bit different today.  And I quickly discovered that sometimes changing things up makes you appreciate your original routine even more.  I got up SUPER early today for my morning walk.  It was still dark outside.  And it was raining... again.  I was prepared for the rain this morning, though, because our electricity went off last night in the middle of a thunderstorm, so I knew I was in for a windbreaker, wet glasses kinda walk.

What I didn't realize was how much I would miss walking in the light.  I got the same amount of exercise as other mornings, however, I just didn't enjoy it as much.  I couldn't see the sun rising over the houses as I began my walk.  I missed watching all my little animal friends.  Yep, my morning walks just might make me an animal liker yet. (Notice I didn't say animal lover...) No one else was out.  I didn't even get to see the dog in the raincoat this morning because I was out too early.   
But I did get to hear the raindrops hit my hood to remind me that God is raining down blessings on me.  In fact, I even opened my palms to receive some raindrop blessings.  I was thankful that I got to exercise.  And I knew that the sun would come up soon, even though I couldn't see it.  And sure enough, the sun rose just as it did every other morning.

Have you ever walked in darkness?  Have you ever felt alone?  Isolated?  Searching for light, but not seeing any on the horizon?  I know I have!  It's a tough place to be.  But just like we know that the sun rises in the east each morning, we can trust that God will guide us through the darkness of our circumstances into light.  Check out these verses:

You, Lord, are my lamp; the Lord turns my darkness into light

He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings utter darkness into the light.

You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.

Psalm 139:11-12

 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

Did you find some encouragement in these verses?  I sure hope so!  But I also realize that you might not even see the slightest ray of sunshine in your life right now, and these verses just leave you feeling worse.  Maybe you feel like the darkness is so thick that you are completely out of reach… that not even the slightest sunbeam could find you.  Remember that God has not abandoned you.  In fact, Deuteronomy 31:6 tells us to: "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you."  Will you choose to believe this?  Will you put Proverbs 3:5-6 into practice?  It says:  "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight." 
Trusting God can be so tough in the darkness.  But you can do it.  You may have to make a moment by moment decision to trust Jesus.  You may even need to say "I trust you, Jesus" out loud… over and over… whenever the darkness seems to cover you.  And maybe you need to hear 1 Peter 2:9 right now: 

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

 Take a moment and personalize 1 Peter 2:9.  Read it out loud with your name plugged it.  And choose to believe it… you are chosen, royal, holy and God’s special possession.  Look for opportunities to praise your Heavenly Father in the dark.  Because God is light, and His light is wonderful.  And as Psalm 18:28 says, “My God turns my darkness into light.”  Keep your eyes fixed to the east, dear friends, because the sunrise is coming.



Friday, June 7, 2013

Blessings in the Rain

So I did something yesterday morning that is not typical.  In fact, I can't remember the last time I did this.  Are you ready for my big reveal?  Here it goes... I walked in the rain.  Yep, you read it right.  This girl actually decided to walk when it was raining.  I picture you giving me a high five right now.  Or maybe a fist pump.  Or I can even hear you saying "Good job, Heather."  Imagine me smiling and saying thanks. 

Now I have to confess that I only did this because I didn't know it was raining when I finally rolled out of bed and got ready for my morning walk.  Somehow I missed the weather when my alarm went off... more than once.  So in my mind, I pictured another sunrise as I was getting dressed.  But as I walked downstairs and looked through the window, I noticed puddles.  When I didn't see any raindrops hitting the puddles, I decided to go for it because I was already up and ready.  And boy, I'm so glad I went because God wanted to reveal something to me... and I would have missed it if I didn't embark on a walk in the rain. 

I put on my bright coral rain jacket, tied my shoes and was out the door.  I've been quite spoiled with my morning walks because it's typically sunny or cloudy, but not rainy.  There was a light drizzle and I walked with my head down to avoid getting too much rain on my glasses.  The contacts hadn't made it into my eyes yet, and since I'm without windshield wipers on my glasses, it was for the best to look down instead of straight ahead. 

As I walked, I discovered that I could actually hear the pitter-patter of raindrops on the hood of my jacket.  The nylon shell didn't absorb the rain, so I could hear each raindrop hit my hood.  I've never noticed this before.  I love how I can be more in tune to things I typically overlook when it's just me and God in the mornings.  And as I considered the fact that I could hear the raindrops hit my hood, I heard a gentle whisper that said "Isn't it just like God to rain down blessings?"  Huh, what a profound whisper.  It made me realize that God rains down blessings on me every day, but I miss so many of them because I'm too busy or distracted to notice.  Whether I'm basking in the sun of a good day or drowning in the torrential downpour of a bad day, God is showering me with blessings.  Makes me look at the rain a little differently...

What about you?  Do you notice all the blessings that God rains down on you each day?  I'd like to challenge you to be on the lookout... because they truly are everywhere.  And if you're having a hard time recognizing the blessings, ask God to open your eyes so you can SEE the blessings.  Ask God to open your ears so you can HEAR the gentle, constant pitter-patter of blessings that He chose just for you.  And then, stop to thank Him, for He is good.  His love endures forever (1 Chronicles 16:34). 

Here's a list of some blessings that God rained down on me today.  I am thankful for...

1.  Walking in the rain
2.  God's gentle whisper
3.  Seeing a dog in a raincoat while I was walking... that's not something you see every day. 
4.  The smile said dog brought to my face.
5.  The laughter of kiddos I love dearly playing with water guns
6.  Impromptu dinner with extended family
7.  Sunshine after a rainy start to the day
8.  The slatted orange glow of the sunset on my son's wall
9.  Anticipating my upcoming vacation
10.  Watching my sons, niece and nephew play while sitting in a porch swing

The hymn "Count Your Many Blessings" by Johnson Oatman Jr. came to mind while I was writing.  If you need some inspiration to count your blessings, take a moment and read the lyrics to this classic hymn.  And then, get started!  Feel free to start you list in the comments section of this post.  That way, we can count our many blessings together.  It's so much more fun that way!

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings. Wealth can never buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be disheartened, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Bird of Courage

In my Bird Songs Blog Post, I shared that I'm not a bird fan.  I discovered today that there's one bird that I adore.  It's orange (my favorite color), petite, and the cutest thing ever.  If you're suspicious... you should be because it's my niece.  She was in a dance recital tonight called The Bird Story (almost enough to keep me away... but she drew me in.  Maybe a tactic to get me over my bird aversion?  It worked... for tonight anyway.)  She was the most adorable orange bird ever.  While this orange bird can be shy, tonight, she was a star.  She grinned from ear to ear, performed brilliantly, and got a medal for her amazing performance. 

The dance instructor warned us at the beginning that this recital was for beginning dancers.  She set our expectations up front.  The girls were from 3 to 8ish with little to no dance experience.  And she let us know that they may just stand there or talk or wave or even dance.  And dance they did.

One of my favorite moments (besides watching my niece do her thang, of course) was from the bluebirds.  Three precious girls came out on stage and one girl was NOT happy.  Her lip quivered, her eyes filled with tears, and she looked like she wanted to run away... far, far away.  The song began and she just stood there - like a statue - with her lip trembling and tears welling up in her eyes.  The instructor stopped the music, gave her a hug, and had them start over.  This girl, in spite of her fear and trembling lip, danced.  And while I didn't catch a smile from her (in fact, she may have frowned the entire dance), she did successfully complete the performance.

The verse that popped into my head as I watched this terrified girl was Joshua 1:9:  Be strong and be brave.  Do not be terrified and do not lose hope.  For I am the Lord your God and I will be with you everywhere you go.  This bluebird WAS strong and brave.  She performed in spite of being terrified.  She HAD other options... like being a statue, or letting the tears flow and throwing a fit, or running off the stage and refusing to dance.  But she chose courage.  She was brave.  She persevered. And I do believe that her group got the loudest applause of the evening.

How do you respond in situations that terrify you?  Do you muster up the courage to do the task, knowing that God will be with you everywhere you go?  Do you run the other direction like Jonah did?  Do you throw a fit?  Refuse to even give it a try?  We can learn a lot about courage from this little bluebird... because when she came out for her second dance, she didn't have tears in her eyes.  She danced without hesitation.  She may have even found a bit of a smile.  After exercising her courage during dance #1, the second dance wasn't nearly as hard.  She knew what to expect.  She survived.  She could dance again... with less fear.

Let's all be a bluebird.  Muster up the courage.  Choose to trust God, even when it doesn't make sense.  Even when you don't have all the answers.  Even if your lip is trembling and your eyes are filled with tears.  Because Proverbs 3:5-6 tell us to Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own.  Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; He’s the one who will keep you on track (The Message).  Remember, God is with you everywhere you go.  So be strong and be brave.  And dance like you've never danced before... even if you're dancing with tears and a trembling lip.  Because you can do this! 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Bird Songs

I’m not a fan of birds… at all.  And I have good reasons for this (at least in my mind I have good reasons).  Let’s see… I’ve had a bird fly straight at my head with a dead baby mouse in its mouth in an Aviary, I’ve had a bird flutter through my hair while sitting in my parent’s back yard, and the worst one of all… I was attacked by two Canadian Geese.  And I mean attacked… they flew at me and hit on my shoulders and backed me against a wall.  So, you see, I’m not a fan of birds.

So I’m intrigued by the lesson that I learned from birds this week.  Funny how God can teach us through anything… even the very thing that we aren’t a fan of.  I’m in “get ready for vacation mode” which means I’m super motivated to exercise and eat healthier.  I need a goal to work towards, and vacation will do that for me.  In fact, my friend posted this on Facebook and it helped get me on the exercise wagon:  Discipline is just choosing between what you want now and what you want most.  So this week, I’ve gotten up early each morning to exercise.

On Tuesday, I went for an early morning walk and became fascinated by the number of birds that were singing.  It was like every bird just woke up and joined together in a choir to serenade the sunrise.  I pondered the fact that while I hear birds throughout the day, I never hear so many singing all at once.  And God reminded me of something I heard… or read… or studied…. (sorry that I can’t remember the source for this one!  It could be Duty or Delight by Tammie Head, but I’m not sure).  Someone said that the birds rise and sing to God in the morning.  What a beautiful thought!  The first thing on a bird’s agenda is to sing praises to their Creator.  What a great way to start the day! 

What if we followed the example of the birds?  What if we started our morning with a praise and worship song?  Because Luke 19:37-40 in The Message says:

37-38 Right at the crest, where Mount Olives begins its descent, the whole crowd of disciples burst into enthusiastic praise over all the mighty works they had witnessed:

Blessed is he who comes,
    the king in God’s name!
All’s well in heaven!
    Glory in the high places!

39 Some Pharisees from the crowd told him, “Teacher, get your disciples under control!”

40 But he said, “If they kept quiet, the stones would do it for them, shouting praise.”

Let’s not allow the stones to shout praise on our behalf.  Instead, let’s join the birds and celebrate our Creator, the One who speaks and it happens (check out Genesis 1 for the creation story), the One who loves whether we do the right thing or rebel against His will (Ephesians 3:17-19; John 3:16), the One who never sleeps (Psalm 121:2-4), the One who hears our prayers (1 Chronicles 7:14).  We have so much to be thankful for… let’s put Psalm 92:1-2 ESV into practice:  It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praise to Your name, O Most High; to declare Your steadfast love in the morning and Your faithfulness at night.

And here’s Revelation Song by Phillips, Craig and Dean to get your praises going: