No Fear Of The Snow

images“When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.” Proverbs 31:21

I didn’t always understand this verse. Clothed in scarlet? What does clothing my family in red have to do with  peace in a snowstorm?

We’re buried under a blanket of snow this morning. We don’t get a lot of snow in these parts of North Carolina. I get the impression people around here are pretty thankful they don’t have to worry too often about driving on slippery roads or bundling up with layers of clothing to keep themselves warm in freezing temperatures. I get the feeling the only people happy about a good snowfall are the kids. Not that they like getting out in it, they just like getting out of school.

I love a fresh snowfall. Always have. Even back home in Virginia where it snowed more frequently than it does in Spring Hope I loved it. I was never one to rush to the grocery store because I was afraid I’d run out of the bare necessities. I never got cabin fever. I never gave in to the fear of losing my electricity. I chose to enjoy the beauty of it. I just love the way snow blankets the earth in pure white.

Some of my fondest teenage memories are sledding on one of the best hills in the county with a group of great friends, especially by starlight with a bonfire adding warmth nearby…or ice skating by moonlight on a small pond surrounded by a thick forest of trees. Earthly sounds are muffled and the landscape is put to rest. A walk through the woods in the snow has always been good for my soul. All is hushed and my spirit finds peace.

I never thought I was a Proverbs 31 Woman. Years ago, though, I studied the real meaning of her “perfection” and realized she’s a woman I should strive to emulate. She’s well-prepared in all seasons. She works hard. She’s generous. She’s supports her husband. She takes care of her family. She walks the talk of faith.

She isn’t afraid of the future…she isn’t afraid of the snow…she. isn’t. afraid.

The Proverbs 31 Woman has done all she knows to do for her family. She has fed them well, clothed them properly, and given them a warm, loving home. The rest is up to God. Even in snowstorms.

This is a recurring theme in my life. God doesn’t want me to worry. He doesn’t want me to be anxious. He wants me to find rest in His unchanging hand. The Hand that offers protection and security. The Hand that gives strength and guidance. The Hand that never loses its grip and never grows tired. When my husband has to spend the night at the store and my son in a motel because roads are unsafe for traveling and I’m home alone in a big drafty house with 3 dogs, I don’t have to worry…i’m. not. afraid.

If God’s hands are big enough to hold the whole world then I can certainly trust Him to keep me safe, to keep my family safe. This morning, I have a smile on my face and peace in my heart because my family and I are well-prepared for the snow. I have dry wood for my wood stove, food to eat and plenty of warm clothing. I’m thinking of taking a walk across the cotton field. I won’t be clothed in scarlet, but I’ll be clothed in peace because the Hand of God is with me…

“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.” Psalm 139:7-10

Still Believin’ No Matter What

UnknownThis post was originally written for another ministry blog, but since that ministry has restructured and redesigned it’s website I wanted to repost.

As I prepare to end my month of fasting and prayer, I’ve already seen glimpses of God’s hand at work in my life. I foresee a year of change ahead. Part of me is excited to live out God’s purpose for me in this season of life and part of me is afraid. Afraid I’ll fail, afraid I’ll fall on my face, afraid I’ll take a wrong turn somewhere. I have to keep reminding myself that my life is a journey and when I surrender wholeheartedly to God I can be assured that He will order my steps. Even if I take a wrong turn He has the wisdom to steer me back on track. Even if I fall on my face He will pick me up. Even if I experience fear I will know His peace. So, here I am… still believin’ no matter what.

In November, 2002, about a week before I was scheduled for brain surgery I was reading John, chapter 17, one of the last prayers of Jesus before He went to the Cross. He first prayed for Himself, “The time has come. Glorify Your Son…” Then, He prayed for His disciples, “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those You have given Me, for they are Yours…Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name–the name You gave Me–so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name You gave Me…”

I read the chapter over and over again with tears streaming down my face because my spirit was responding to the words of Jesus and I was deeply troubled. I asked God, “Are You telling me that I’m going to die? What about my family?”

His response was, “What if you did? Could you trust Me with your family? I’m what they need the most and I can go to the places in their hearts that not even you can go.”

A great peace came over me and I realized what God wanted from me more than anything was to hear me say, “Whether I live or die, You are Sovereign and You will be glorified in life or death. I’ve done what I could. There rest is up to You. I give You my family.”

In essence, this is what Jesus was saying to God…”the time has come…I’ve done all that You’ve asked of Me…the rest is up to You. Now glorify Your Son.” Jesus went so far as to pray in the Garden before the soldiers came  to take Him away, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not MY will, but Yours be done.”

How many of us who claim to know and believe that God is perfect and perfect in all of His ways can really pray like this? Yes, I was able to pray something similar before I allowed a neurosurgeon to slice into my skull and perform the very tedious task of cutting a tumor away from the nerves of my brain, but if I’m completely honest with you and with God I don’t always surrender so willingly to the trusting hand of the One who keeps my heart beating every minute of every day.

As much as the child of God wants to know what tomorrow brings, there is always a moment of truth when faced with the unknown when we are genuinely seeking God: Can I trust in the Sovereignty of God no matter the outcome? Somehow, I think when we can answer with a resounding “Yes!” to this question we have reached a pivotal moment in our faith journey. No longer are we weighed down by doubt and unbelief. We can trust in the power and goodness of God. That goodness will always prevail. Love will always rule where hearts are completely and totally surrendered to the work of His hand. To those who can say, “I’ve done all that You’ve asked of me. There’s nothing else I can do. No matter what, I will always love You. I will always trust You because You’re faithful.” It’s such a beautiful place to be.

How can we trust God with some things and not all things? Scripture tells us He doesn’t change. He’s not capable of changing. He’s the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He will always be faithful, He will always be trustworthy, He will always be good. When we doubt, worry and try to take over where only God can rule, in a way, we try to dethrone Him. I’m sorry, but that just can’t be done.

So, I’m still trustin’ and believin’ in the redeeming grace of God to save, no matter what. Sometimes I have to surrender again and again, but that’s ok. My heart remembers the Garden and my spirit responds to the words of Jesus because His words will never fade, never pass away and I’m comforted. I can do this. Life isn’t meant to be lived in fear of our tomorrows. After all, I’m still livin’ and breathin’ on this earth. Our worst fear could turn out to be our greatest miracle. You never know.

Can I hear an “Amen”, please?

“Because he loves Me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges My name. He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him My salvation.” Psalm 91:14-16

A Dream-Believer

imagesI have a dream…

These words were made famous in August of 1963 by the great Martin Luther King. As he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., he pleaded with all Americans to end racism. Near the end of his speech, the gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, cried out, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” and with her encouragement Rev. King drifted from his prepared speech to share the details of the dream God had put deep within his heart. It’s a dream that lives on…even in these present times.

We’ve all had a dream or two tucked deep within the crevices of our hearts. I know I have. Some dreams were never meant to see the light of day, though. They were just hopeful imaginations and what if’s. Some dreams have lingered, creating a passion and desire within me to see them come alive. Learning to discern which dreams are born out of my flesh and which are born of the spirit within me takes a lot of prayer and soul-searching. I’m a dreamer, after all, but I don’t want to be just a dreamer. I want to be a Dream-Believer.

One thing I love about dreams is that they’re meant to be shared. As Mahalia Jackson encouraged Rev. King to share his dream I, too, am encouraged to share mine. What’s a dream if it’s not meant to be shared? If we keep it locked up inside of us then it has nowhere to go. It’s as if we dare to hope such a dream could ever exist outside the walls of our innermost being. There are just some dreams God never intends to put to rest. If we carry them with us to our grave they risk dying with us and that’s a very sad thing.

I have some dreams that I believe have come from the heart of God. One of them is what you see before you as you read these words. A blog. A place where I can be God’s spokesperson. See, I happen to believe God has called me to be His voice through teaching His Word, through speaking and writing. This blog is a place where I can do that, where I can share how He’s working in my life and encourage you to do the same. I know this space needs a lot of attention. I want to make it more visually appealing. I want to customize it so I can add pictures and other media. I want to add personal touches that make it stand out. I want to generate more interest and appeal to more readers. It takes time. It takes patience. It takes God.

I’ve also written a devotion book, Connecting With God Creatively. Have I told you that? Yes, I think I have. Quite a few times, I’m sure :). It was born out of my January month of fasting two years ago. It has beautiful mixed media illustrations by my friend, Sherry French. It’s now in the hands of my artist son, Brandon, who is working on the final graphic touches. Knowing that God inspired this project means I can put my faith and trust in Him to promote it. Sometimes I’m so excited about it, though, that I want to run ahead of Him. I’m learning it takes time. It takes patience. It takes God.

“To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue.

All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord.

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” Proverbs 16:1-3

God is the Dream-Giver. It doesn’t matter how many dreams I may have, I know very few of them–if any–will ever survive or see the light of day if I don’t commit every step of the journey to God, if I don’t let Him prepare the way and go before me, if I don’t give Him all the praise and glory. Yes, dreams are meant to be shared, but I’m learning that the best dreams are those God shares with me and asks if I will make them real for Him.

Oh, dear…I feel a salty-tear-cheek-washing threatening to halt my progress here…give me a minute, will you?

It blows my mind when God gives me the privilege of sharing in the work of His hands. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder…why me? And God always answers, “Why not you?” Go figure.

As I fast and pray this month God is showing me that some dreams are way bigger than anything I can dream up on my own. Some dreams require great sacrifices and complete surrender to the work of His hands, knowing that the dream is much, much too big for me alone. I have no idea what this year holds, but I have a feeling that God is going to stretch my faith in unbelievable ways. I guess that means I’ll have a lot to share with you over the next few months.

When God says to me, “Tell them about the dream, Nina!,” you can bet I will because God-sized dreams always have somewhere to go…they’re always meant to see the light of day. God-sized dreams are always meant to live on.

So, stay tuned and please….if God lays my name on your heart, pray for me because a Dream-Believer needs a lot of prayer to see a dream come to life.

The Gift-Giver

17b0966a6ad218d3919a64df48c47e5bWho of us doesn’t like to receive a gift? Not just for a birthday or special occasion, but a gift that comes to us out-of-the-blue. For no reason. A friend sends a care package and a rotten day suddenly becomes the best day of the week. A neighbor shares a plate of cookies. A student brings a card of thanks. Gifts come in all shapes and sizes. I love gifts. When a gift is given out of love or deep appreciation I can’t tell you the joy it stirs in my heart. I don’t always want to be on the receiving end, though. I want to be a gift-giver, too…the one who makes someone else’s day…the one who makes someone else smile.

God loves to lavish good gifts on His children and He never expects anything in return, but I believe He loves receiving gifts, too. Gifts that express our love. Gifts that come from a heart of  gratitude for all He’s done for us. My gifts may seem small in comparison, but I believe God is pleased with the sincerity from which my gifts are given.

I learned to play the piano as a child. I took lessons from the time I was six years old through my first year of college. I can’t say I play extremely well. I’ve never claimed perfection. I never really disciplined myself. I despised memorization and I didn’t always pay attention to things like “key signature,” “time signature,” and I still don’t know the names of all the different types of “rests.” During my weekly piano lessons I would shamefully sit at the beautiful black grande piano in Mrs. Anderson’s music studio and begin to play a piece I’d practiced half-heartedly. Part-way through she would stop me and say, “Nina, you still aren’t looking at your key signature.” I’d completely disregarded all sharps and flats and played as if I didn’t have a care in the world.

Shameful. ‘Tis true.

Given the fact that I was born with degenerative hearing loss I can’t say I heard myself playing all those wrong notes. Sounded normal to me. Probably because I’d practiced the wrong way all week. I do know that when I put forth my best effort and practiced every day I could play fairly well. God, bless Mrs. Anderson, please…she was so patient with me. I think she saw something in me I never saw in myself. Being hearing impaired and blind in one eye left me with enough insecurities to fill the luggage compartment of a Grey Hound bus. I don’t think I’ve ever really heard music the way a person with normal hearing does. All I know is, I did learn to play the piano and somehow God has used this small gift in ways I never expected.

Back in the eighties I was the church pianist. I was present every time the doors opened, banging away on the keyboard to my heart’s content. I played hymns for congregational singing, the preludes and the offertories, and occasionally for choir anthems. I’m proud to say I practiced, practiced, practiced during those few years. More than I ever had in my life, but I can’t truly say I was giving God a gift. My heart was missing something. That season was short-lived and God moved me on to the ministry of teaching His Word and speaking in His name. I quickly pushed my musical gift aside.

When God gives the gift of a talent to His child, though, I don’t think He ever intends for it to be cast aside completely. In the past couple of months He has dug deep into the storehouse of my being and brought to the surface this insignificant little talent He gave me. My church’s minister of music recently retired and I’ve made myself available to help. Although I haven’t truly played the piano or practiced in many years I’ve been comforted by this one truth:

“A gift opens the way for the giver and ushers him into the presence of the great.” Proverbs 18:16

My talent to play the piano may seem very small. I’m still not claiming perfection, but I’m older and wiser now than I was thirty years ago. I want to give God a true gift. When I give Him what I have in my hands and say, “Take it, Lord, it’s all I’ve got, but it’s Yours,” I believe it becomes an act of worship. My arthritic hands aren’t as strong as they use to be, but they’re willing. When I practice, practice, practice I’m not just giving God my talent, I’m giving Him my time. When I look long and hard at my “time signature” and my “key signature” I’m not just giving God my knowledge, I’m giving Him my mind. I’m desiring to give Him my best.

The funny thing is, I hear even less now than I did as a teenager. When I play for congregational singing I no longer hear any voices. I read the lips of the men and women in the choir with my one good eye ever watchful so I don’t speed ahead or fall behind. I realize just what an act of grace it is that God would use me in such a role, even if it is temporary. When I sit down at the piano on Sunday morning and give Him the gift of my hands, He ushers me into His presence. He opens the door to His heart when I give Him from the gratitude of mine.

Hummmmmm…I wonder if God sings along when I play. That’s a very interesting thought. I believe it’s possible to make God’s day. I know He smiles because when no one else knows what’s in my heart He does and my heart is saying, “Thank You, God, for showing me how to be a gift-giver.”

The Fruit Of Self-Control

UnknownI don’t like New Year’s resolutions. Not anymore. I think it’s wonderful that a new year inspires many to make positive lifestyle changes, but why wait for the New Year to start? I found out a long time ago that it didn’t really work for me. Those resolutions I made out of good intentions never seemed to take root. I would revert back to my old ways or habits after a few months and wonder why in the world I made them in the first place so I just don’t make them anymore. Instead, I want to make changes in my life all through the year. And I want those changes to last.

Let’s face it, sometimes change is hard. Breaking bad habits, overcoming addictions, softening hard hearts, tossing out rotten attitudes…it all takes work; like training to run a marathon, lifting weights to build muscle, aerobicizing (is that a word?) to strengthen the heart. Making positive changes requires discipline. Perseverance. Endurance. Self-control.

Oh, help.

I’ve struggled with a sugar addiction for years. I call myself a sugar addict, but I don’t know if the medical experts agree on that term. All I know is I’m hopelessly out-of-control when it comes to sugar. I eat way more than I should. I want it morning, noon, and night. I’d rather have a bag of cookies than a healthy dinner. I can’t eat just one cookie out of the bag…I eat the whole bag! I can’t eat just one small bowl of ice cream…I eat the whole half gallon. In one sitting! The same goes for cake and pie and candy. I drown my coffee with flavored creamers and double the fudge in my hot chocolate. Oh, and let’s not forget the brown sugar in the oatmeal and honey in the tea. Any time I can add sugar to the five, some say six, food groups I’m sweetly satisfied.

The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with one slice of cake after a meal or two cookies with a cup of afternoon tea, but I lack the self-control to do this and self-control is a fruit of the Spirit.

Uh-oh. I don’t like the sound of that because I want to be a fruit-bearer. I don’t want my branches lacking in purpose or withering in function. Just because self-control is the last of the nine fruits listed in Galations 5 doesn’t mean it’s not important.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Galations 5:22

Lack of self-control means I’m not letting the Spirit control “ME.” If I want to bear more fruit in my life then I need to make changes that reflect the Spirit at work within me. That means I need more than physical food. I need Jesus.

“Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.” John 15:4 & 5

I’ve learned I can never get enough of Jesus. I have to be so hopelessly addicted to Him that when my brain tells me I need a “sugar fix” I can feast on His unfailing love instead and be satisfied. Honestly, it doesn’t come naturally, but if I really want more of Jesus in my life then, for me, that means I have to choose Him over a slice of cake or bowl of ice cream some days. And sometimes it’s hard ’cause I really, really want the cake.

I have to choose discipline. I persevere. I endure. I practice self-control. I depend upon Jesus to help me because I can’t do it without Him and you know what? After a while, I find there’s a sweetness to life that doesn’t include sugar at all. Every time I say “No” to self I’m saying “Yes” to Him. Somehow, no jumbo-white-chocolate-macadamia-nut-cookie compares to the perfect fruit of the Vine.

Maybe one day I’ll have this self-control-thing down pat, but if I don’t start with my sugar addiction it could spread to other areas of my life and that scares me. I don’t want to lose all my branches, even though I know I need pruning every now and then to produce the most fruit possible. I want my roots to run so deep that no fire, no flood, no storm of life can destroy the hard work I put into training my body to reflect the work of the Gardener.

SoOooooo…here’s to a year of fruit-bearing, my friends…may our branches grow strong and produce an abundance of self-control in all areas of our lives. Let’s do Vine-life together where we stay connected to the true Vine…the One who makes life truly sweet. Let’s resolve to make positive changes that last all year long. Why wait for another year to start?

At The End Of The Bethlehem Road

3b17288306b4ff728bdb6ed9c6f87894I wish I was one of those people who loved to travel. Don’t get me wrong. I love sight-seeing historical landmarks, hiking mountain trails and walking through ancient ruins, but I’m not what you call a world-traveler. I’m not a jet-setter. I’m not even a happy-camper.

In my lifetime, I’ve journeyed to New York more than once both for pleasure and for ministry. I’ve toured New England and crossed the border into Canada. I’ve flown across country to visit a cousin in California who drove me up and down scenic Highway 1 and around winding mountain roads to stand beneath the mighty redwoods. I’ve been to the Holy Land and walked where Jesus walked and to Greece where I stood on the Acropolis and listened to the wind sweep through the ancient columns. I’ve been to Disney World and even cruised around Mexico, but I still don’t like to travel. It’s not that I don’t like experiencing more of God’s big, beautiful world. I just don’t like the journey.

I can’t seem to put aside my fear of flying. I can’t rid myself of this awful curse of motion sickness. I can’t even get a good night’s sleep if I’m not sleeping in my own bed. The older I get, the less I want to leave the comfort of my home. Somehow, though, I don’t think God wants me to become a homebody. I think God’s got something in mind for me that includes the discomforts of all that traveling requires…the loneliness of days on the road, the weariness of sleepless nights, the restlessness of a queasy stomach, the helplessness as I face my fears.

I happen to believe there’s a Bethlehem Road we all have to travel. Forced by Roman law to leave the comfort and familiarity of their home in Nazareth, Mary and Joseph journeyed over a hundred miles to Bethlehem to fulfill God’s plan and purpose for Jesus’ birth. It wasn’t an easy journey. They traveled on foot…Mary on the back of a donkey and very pregnant. (I’m sure she experienced a few bouts of motion sickness.) They slept under the stars every night of the journey…on a cold, hard ground.  (I’m sure they experienced a few sleepless nights.) They fought off waves of fear…at the thought of raising the perfect Son of God. (I’m sure they wondered what in the world they would ever be able to teach the Omniscent One.)

Yet, the Bethlehem Road was the most important journey of Mary and Joseph’s lives because at the end of the road  God performed the greatest miracle of all time. Jesus was born without the comforts of home, without a midwife, without family gathered around to share in the joy of His birth, without even a proper blanket for He was wrapped in swaddling cloths, long strips of linen wrapped around His body to keep Him still and quiet.

“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, placed Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:4-7

I’d say the loneliness of weeks on the road, the weariness of sleepless nights, the restlessness of a queasy stomach and the helplessness of their fears was worth it. To witness the miracle of Jesus’ birth, to hear the Son of God cry out with His first breath, to cradle the Hope for all mankind…oh, yes, it was worth it. The road to Bethlehem with all it’s discomforts and potholes and uphill climbs was so worth bringing the Savior into the world.

Wanna hear something wonderful? Miracles still happen at the end of the Bethlehem Road.

As I approach yet another year in my faith journey I wonder just what lies ahead. Sure, there will be potholes to avoid, mountains to climb, starry nights to keep me company on sleepless nights and upset stomachs to pamper, but I’m convinced God is up to something new in my life. The birth of Jesus was a new beginning for God’s people and Mary and Joseph witnessed God work a mighty miracle in their lives. The journey to Bethlehem may have been difficult, but it was life-changing.

I’m believing God for a few miracles of my own. Since I have an active imagination I like to ponder things and I wonder…what if Mary and Joseph hadn’t obeyed God and taken the road to Bethlehem? As I sit at my computer and type this question tears pool in my eyes because I don’t even want to think about it. Life might be so different for all of us, but I also have to ask myself: What if I didn’t want to take the road God has mapped out for me in my own life? What if I choose a road that doesn’t lead to ‘Bethlehem’ where God wants to birth something new? What miracle would I miss out on?

I don’t know about you, but I want to see God work miracles in my life. I want to see Him birth change. I want to see Him create something new in my life. I may not always know where God is leading me, but I know He will never take me down a long and weary road if it won’t be worth it. I’d rather have a hundred sleepless nights and face a thousand fears as I journey through life than to miss the miracles waiting for me at the end of my Bethlehem Road.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll become a world-traveler after all. Maybe God will lift the curse of motion sickness. Maybe I’ll learn to love flying across friendly skies with God as my Pilot. Maybe I’ll sleep like a baby on unknown turf wrapped in the swaddling cloths of God’s protective arms.

Maybe…all I know is, I don’t want to miss out.

Big Girl Faith

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me–holy is His name.” Luke 1:48 & 49

These are the words of Mary, the young girl chosen to be the mother of Jesus. Wow. A virgin pregnant with the Son of God. What happened to her was beyond human understanding. Beyond human belief. Mary faced ridicule, rejection and a possible divorce form the man she was pledged to marry. To sing a song of praise to her God was a pretty remarkable thing. After all, she was just a child herself. A teenage girl. Have you ever wondered if you, at such a time as this…in the faith with which you possess at this moment…could have paused with a song in your heart to praise the Mighty One?

I was saved at the age of eight. Being a preacher’s daughter I grew up in the church. I began memorizing Bible verses and singing hymns loaded with Christian doctrine from the moment I began to talk. I believe I loved Jesus even before I asked Him to be my Savior, but if I’m to be completely honest, I didn’t have the faith of Mary during my teenage years. In fact, I’m ashamed to admit I was more like a prodigal who wanted to go my own way and rebel against the God of my father.

Not Mary, though. She had a special place in God’s heart because of her faith: “Do not be afraid, Mary (the angel told her), you have found favor with God..,.For nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1: 30 & 37

Scripture tells us more than once that Mary “pondered things in her heart.” She treasured the moments God gave her an understanding of heavenly things. Like the time the shepherds ran to worship Jesus in His humble birthplace because angels told them to and the time Simeon prophesied over Jesus in the temple when He was dedicated. These things happened to encourage Mary’s faith. Without a doubt, she believed God. She even knew that one day a sword would pierce her heart. On the day she knelt at the foot of the Cross and watched her son die, her heart was torn in two. I’m sure she thought it would never mend. But it did.

Mary’s faith may have been big at the time the angel of God came to her as a young teenage girl, but her faith became great when she no longer saw Jesus as her son but as her Savior. Acts, Chapter 1, tells us that after Jesus ascended into heaven, Mary joined the disciples in constant prayer before Pentecost. All the things she had treasured in her heart as she raised the Son of God gave her an understanding of His purpose on earth and prepared her for salvation. Her grief and suffering at the Cross was beyond what most of us will ever experience on this earth. She witnessed Jesus’ agonizing death and responded with a mother’s heart, but it was in her suffering that she found God to be faithful and true. He raised her son from the dead and His Spirit would live forever in her, as He does in us. Even Mary had to grow up in her faith.

What I’m discovering  in my later years is that I’m never to stop “growing up” in my faith. Neither are you. Our trials and our sufferings on this earth aren’t meant to defeat us. They’re meant to refine us. In these last days when our faith is threatened and evil seems to prevail, we’re to be a people who keep our feet firmly planted on the Solid Rock.

Isaiah 7:9 says, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.”

The original Hebrew meaning of the word “firm” in this verse means: to build up or support; to foster as a parent or nurse.

In my personal interpretation, I see a faith that is always growing; a faith that is constantly nourished and nurtured. Sometimes that means I have to praise God when things don’t make sense, just as Mary did, because Scripture tells us that He inhabits the praises of His people. It doesn’t mean I praise Him for cancer or death or a broken heart. I praise Him because He is God. Because He is mighty and reigns victorious and through my suffering He will bring about a good work in me. And I pray. With all the saints, I pray.

I love the mustard seed necklace my parents gave me a few years ago. I wear it to remind me of the lessons Jesus teaches us in Scripture about faith:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” Matthew 13:31

“I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17: 20 & 21

As I reflect on the birth of Christ this Christmas season, l want to be a woman of praise. I want to be a woman whose branches shelter the lost, the hurting, the suffering of this world. I want to be a woman who digs her roots deep into the nourishing soil of God’s Word and allow the Water of Life to move within me in love and power. I want to be a woman who shows a world of doubters what it means to rise up in belief and say,

“My God is a Mountain-Mover! Watch Him Move!”

I don’t want to be satisfied with little girl faith. If little faith can do a lot then don’t you wonder what big girl faith will do? It doesn’t matter how many people want to take Christ out of Christmas, He still lives. He still reigns. He still comes to the Mary’s of this world, to those who have learned to treasure the gift of faith, who believe all things are possible with God.

Why The Christmas Spirit Will Never Die

Fear. Sometimes you can smell it. It permeates the air and sends out waves of anxiety. It causes our hearts to race and our hair to stand on end. It  produces uncontrollable panic. It robs us of joy and steals our peace. It snatches from us the blessing of rest. It thrives on sleepless nights. It’s awful. It’s miserable.

It’s unnecessary.

This is the season of perpetual hope. When dreams of sugar plums dance in our heads as we snuggle warmly in our beds at night. When children sing joy to the world and steeple bells ring peace on earth goodwill to men. When the faithful come joyful and triumphant and silent nights are holy nights. When white Christmases flood our dreams and the sound of sleigh bells echo through the woods. When the star of wonder shines in the nighttime sky and away in a manger a baby is born.

At least, this is the way it should be.

We sing the songs and serenade with carols. We read the stories and meditate on the Word. We watch the movies and admire the live Nativity. We bake. We decorate. We play holiday music and wish one another Merry Christmas, but even in the midst of Christmas, fear creeps in. It catches us by surprise at the most inopportune moments. We stop and take a deep breath. The Christmas spirit is under attack. We want it. We need it. We fight for it.

In these days on the Kingdom Calendar there’s a lot to be fearful about. Our country’s a mess. Our government’s a mess. Our health care system’s a mess. Most of America is struggling to stay afloat. We work so hard and make so little. We’re angry. We’re frustrated. Sometimes it seems out-of-control. Chaotic. We have reason to be afraid.

But we have a greater reason to hope.

When Jesus came to earth things weren’t much different than they are today. God’s people were living in difficult times. They were oppressed by Roman rule. They were taxed to death. They were poor. They lived in fear, but they lived with the hope that Messiah was coming. It was in the midst of this fear that Jesus was born. It was in the midst of these difficult times that Hope came alive.

“…God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said  ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you…Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus.” John 1:26-

The angel wouldn’t have told Mary, ‘Do not fear,’ if she hadn’t been afraid. We don’t need courage if we have no fear. God knows we’re a fearful people. Yes, these are difficult times, but God still comes to us in our fear. He does some of His best work when we’re afraid. There’s something about courage that triumphs over fear. There’s something about the power of God that conquers fear. There’s something about the peace of God that rises above fear. There’s something about the way peace changes the very air we breathe.

The times when fear creeps up on me I remind myself that God. Favors. Me. I may not have lived in biblical times or been chosen to be the mother of Jesus, but I am still chosen. By God. He. Esteems. Me. He looks on me with affection. I’m important to Him. He knows what scares me, what causes me sleepless nights, what produces anxiety in me. When fear creeps in and threatens to steal my joy God reminds me He. Is. With. Me. I don’t have to be oppressed by the rule of fear in my life. Messiah has come.  He. Reigns. He. Rules. He. Lives. In me. And in you, if you’re His child.

Oh My! I think I hear the angels singing…

The good news of the Christmas story is that God is all about hope. He is the Hope-Giver. So, when fear threatens to steal your Christmas spirit just remember: Jesus still brings rest to merry gentlemen and silent stars still go by above our deep and dreamless sleep. He still disperses the gloomy clouds of night and puts death’s dark shadows to flight. He is still the everlasting light and shines in the darkest streets. He still sings to lowly shepherds and calls to  all mankind. He still rises with healing in His wings and one day….oh, happy day…peace will reign over all the earth.

He is still Immanuel. God. With. Us. 

And He is still called, “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

And because Hope is alive, fear cannot survive. Because Hope is alive, the Christmas Spirit will never die…

To Shine Like A Star

The first year God inspired me to design our family’s Christmas card was over twenty years ago. I was sitting at a stoplight waiting for a “Go.” Out of nowhere, in my mind, the picture of baby Jesus appeared, silhouetted against a white backdrop. I had mere seconds to sketch it out on a napkin I retrieved from the glove box. By the time I got home, I knew God wanted me to design a Christmas card. A few days later God birthed a verse: Sweet and simple the Christ child came; the heavens proclaimed His holy name.

I never dreamed that a Christmas tradition was in the making with that first homemade card. Each year, I sketch out the design for the front of the card on mylar or thick paper. I cut a stencil. I use only 3 colors; gold, pine green and brick red. I paint on white card stock. I handwrite each verse. It brings me such joy to know that our family and friends receive such a precious gift from God through me. It’s way bigger than anything I could have dreamed up on my own. It’s a ministry. When an unsaved friend of ours tells me every year how much he looks forward to our Christmas card and that it’s the nicest he receives I realize God has a purpose that reaches far beyond my human creativity. Our unsaved friend has heard the gospel message more than once through these cards.

God has inspired these cards in some very unique ways. Sometimes the picture appears first. Sometimes the verse. I’ve been awakened in the middle of the night with inspiration and I’ve been inspired by a pastor’s sermon. (I had to doodle that one on my bulletin.) One time I sat in my grandmother’s rocker for three hours…waiting…doing absolutely nothing…before God spoke a word. That’s what you call being still and quiet before the Lord.

And sometimes I’m even cleaning house. That’s how the story of Ignatious came to be. Proof that God works in mysterious ways. “Ignatious the Star” ranks as the most beloved and the most unusual of all my cards.

It was August and I was vacuuming, not one of my favorite house cleaning chores. As I pushed and pulled that heavy upright a phrase began to resound in my ears, “There once was a star named Ignatious, who dreamed of being so spacious….”

I stopped vacuuming and actually laughed out loud. What would you have done?! I had no idea what it meant, but over the next few months I would hear this same phrase over and over again while I washed dishes, pulled weeds in the flower beds, painted walls, shopped for groceries. At one point, I started rapping it as I dusted furniture, “There once was a star named Ignatious–boom boom–who dreamed of being so spacious–boom boom.” And I danced a little with every swipe of the dust cloth. Holy Mackerel, I thought I’d gone mental.

Usually around Thanksgiving I start thinking about my Christmas card. I tell God I’m ready and ask Him to speak to me. Wouldn’t you know? The minute I asked God to inspire me I heard that familiar phrase. I stopped. I actually took a seat. I stared off into space and with tears of gratitude that I’d not lost my mind after all I received the rest of the story:

There once was a star named Ignatious, who dreamed of being so spacious;

Though smallest of all he still shown with awe, forever humble and gracious.

He hovered and twinkled and sparkled and sprinkled his light through the darkest of night;

So happy to stand and be part of God’s plan, he was such a glorious sight.

One day he asked God to give him a job, to prove himself to be helpful;

God said, “I’ll give you a task far more than you ask, but only because you’ve been faithful.

Today My child will be born reconciled to bring others to eternal joy;

The light from your heart will shine from the start bringing others to My baby boy.”

Ignatious grew grand and began to expand, his heart overflowing with love;

God’s gift though small was given to all and His light shone down from above.

I’ve had a few friends tell me this would make a great children’s book, but I don’t know. Somehow I think God had a message here just for me. God reminded me through the story of Ignatious that He’ll use anyone with a heart that’s willing and obedient. Sometimes our tasks seem small and insignificant, but God doesn’t see it that way. He gives us small jobs to test our faithfulness and we learn humility in the little things. When we prove ourselves worthy He knows He can trust us with more. No matter how small or how big the task, we have the responsibility to shine…to hover and twinkle and sparkle and sprinkle wherever God sets our feet…to be happy just to stand and be part of God’s plan.

We’re all called to shine the light of Jesus. To point the way to the Savior. We’re walking Christmas cards and who says the spirit of Christmas is only for the month of December? What a wonderful thing to receive inspiration from God while sitting at a stoplight or in the heat of a summer month or while cleaning house! Small things. Mundane tasks. Dreaded Chores. Hovering in one spot. Lighting just one room. It’s all important to God. It’s all part of God’s plan because…

a small thing can turn into a big deed…

a mundane task can turn into an extraordinary work…

a dreaded chore can turn into an anticipated event…

one spot can become many places and one room can become a mansion. My name may not be Ignatious, but I can still be a star.

“Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” Daniel 12:3

So, I think I’ll ask God to give me a job and see how helpful I can be. Who knows? Maybe if you look into the nighttime sky this Christmas season you’ll see a star with my name on it. I would love to see you hovering beside me.

Shine on, dear friends, shine on.

I May Look Like A Poodle, But I Don’t Always Act Like One

Jazzy is my cockapoo; part cocker spaniel, part poodle. She looks like a poodle, but she doesn’t act like one. I always thought poodles were prima donnas. You know, spoiled and prissy, sporting coats of soft fur and flashing diamond~studded collars with bows in their hair. I’d seen so many pictures of poodles on the end of a leash looking smart and well~groomed. Can I just say, pictures can be very deceiving.

Jazzy is anything but a prima donna. The girl digs in the dirt and chases squirrels. She lies in the soot by the wood stove in winter and on the cool cement porch in the summer. She jumps on (and over) furniture, turning over chairs and knocking pictures off tables. I dare not leave anything around that is too precious to be broken. She pounces crickets that find their way into the house and she barks at every Tom, Dick and Harry that walks down the road. She’d rather run around in the rain, splash in the puddles and (I almost hate to tell you this) roll around in stinky you~know~what. Seriously, when I let her outside I cannot take my eyes off of her for one second.

Like the time I was bringing groceries in the house so I left the door open and let her sniff around the yard. When I put the last of the groceries away I sat down so I could give Jazzy my full attention and my nose immediately detected the most unpleasant odor. My white fluffy cockapoo was caked in slop…another nice word for you~know~what. There she sat in my lap, looking up at me with her little stub of a tail wagging on her backside and I believe I could just make out the hint of a smile on her ridiculously adorable face. Only I wasn’t smiling back….

“What is the matter with you?! You’re suppose to be a frou-frou dog. You’re suppose to be prissy and proper and clean and shiny. You’re suppose to wear a bow in your hair and jewels around your neck. (I tried a rhinestone collar once. It didn’t last 2 months on Jazzy. All the rhinestones fell out.)  You’re suppose to sit on your pillow and live a life of luxury. Why do you want to roll around in that mess and how dare you sit in my lap and let me pet you!?”

Yes, this is really what I said to her.

I dragged Jazzy to the bath tub and gave her a good scrubbing with sweet smelling shampoo. She hates a bath. She also hates the blow dryer, but I have to do it because poodle hair is thick and I don’t want her to mold. It’s a fight to the finish and I usually win the battle, but wouldn’t you know?  That’s when Jazzy acts like a prima donna. That’s when she gets an attitude. Like a spoiled little child mad at her mamma ’cause she doesn’t get her way she pouts.  It takes her at least 3 hours to get over it. I’m thinking….who should be mad at who here?

I’ve had this experience with Jazzy more than once. I should have learned my lesson the first time I let her outside without a leash, but I had hoped she would truly turn into a Paris poodle. It has never happened. She may look like a poodle, but she acts more like the spaniel in her. Spaniels are great sniffers and hunters. The blood of both runs in her veins. Yes, pictures can be deceiving. Jazzy is high maintenance. It takes a lot of effort to keep her clean and well~groomed. I can’t take credit, though. I’ve got a great groomer with lots more patience than I to keep her clean and sweet smelling, not to mention some great commercial equipment that makes bathing and blow drying a dog like my Jazzy a whole lot easier.

But I have to tell you. For all the high maintenance, I love my Jazzy. Poodles are smart and funny and easy to train. They’re great family dogs and absolutely love to be the center of attention. Most people who walk through our door get pawed and licked on the spot. She’s not a guard dog by a long shot. She’s too friendly. And no matter how much I fuss at her, she worships the ground I walk on. I can never stay mad at Jazzy.

How like God…

He never stays mad at me.

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3: 23~24

Yes, I’m God’s child, but I don’t always act like it. I can be pretty high maintenance, but He has all the equipment to clean me up.  He takes me to the throne of grace where He washes me with the sweet aroma of His love that covers a multitude of wrongs. No matter how many “messes” I get myself into or how many times I cake myself in “slop” God has enough love to pick me up and put me right back in His lap where He floods me with compassion. Oh gosh…what can I say? I worship the ground He walks on.

God sees the final picture. The one where I’m a prima donna. All dressed in fine linen and wearing costly jewels. The one where I’m looking all smart and well~groomed. The one where I’m white and radiant with His glory. The one where He’s standing beside me and there’s no deceiving the eye. The one where I’m everything He knew I could be. I can only hope that what He sees in my eyes is what’s in my heart, one so full of gratitude and devotion to Him for the gift of His faithfulness to me.

Just so you know, I will never take credit for the person I’m becoming. When I act like a spaniel but look like a poodle I’m so very glad I have a Great Groomer.

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