Thursday, June 30, 2011

Book Thoughts

She Speaks is three weeks away (insert Charlie Brown noise here!); I've been busy preparing my two talks and working on my book proposal. Apparently it's more important to have a decent proposal than a completed book, so that is where I've been focusing my attention. To share with you, I am trying to write a book that would answer some of the hard questions a person might have before they can trust Christ, all done in a conversational style. I would value your this something that would intrigue you? I've been asking people what their "issues" are/were, and gotten some good replies. Think back, if you would, if you are in a relationship with Jesus, what scores needed to be settled before trusting Him. If you aren't currently in a relationship of trust with Jesus, what are your questions?

 My goal in this book is to make Jesus as real as He actually is, through using the Bible to provide His answers. Jesus is the Truth, and the Truth will set us free. Here is an excerpt from the chapter on confessing sin:


“Hello…?” He called into the empty room. “Is anyone here?”
I dragged myself into a chair, not meeting His gaze, shameful memories overtaking me. “Hey.” I mumbled, voice shaking with unshed tears.
“I thought we were meeting today. What’s going on?"
 “Lord, there are some things You don’t know about me, things I did before I knew you.”
“Well,” He chuckled softly, “I am quite familiar with you, actually. Before you say a word, I know it. I wrote all of your days in My book, long before you existed. So, yes, I do know a thing or two about you. We should talk about a few things, though, ok?”
Chagrined that I wasn’t hiding anything after all, I nodded humbly, trying my best to blend into the upholstery.
“Why did I come down from Heaven?”
By rote I quoted John 3:16 “For God so loved the world. . .” I stopped as He held up His hand, light showing through the nail hole in His wrist.
“You. Start again, please.”
With a sigh, I began again. “For God so loved me, He gave His only begotten Son. . .You, Jesus, He gave You,” my voice catching in my throat as the truth of these words settled on my soul, “so that everyone who believes in Him…in You, will not perish but have eternal life.”
“You need saving. Your sins, big and small, separate you from God, from Me. I did not come to condemn you, but to save you. The Father and I knew that you couldn’t get to heaven without Me, so I came for you. When you confess your sins, which just means agreeing with me that what you’ve done is wrong, and repent, turn away from those choices, I will forgive you and make you clean. I will not bring up those things again. You have My Word on it. So . . .,” He said, drawing out the word, “Where do you want to start?”
Though the anvil on my conscience made it hard to breathe, I spoke of my past, of the hurtful things I’d done, the sins I’d committed. The longer we talked, the lighter my heart became. My tears changed from tears of shame and remorse to those of gratitude, for the mercy He showed me. “I was afraid You wouldn’t want me anymore, wouldn’t love me,” I whispered, “If you knew the real me.”
“Tell me that verse again, would you?” He asked with a twinkle in His eye. “The right way.”
With a sheepish grin, I proclaimed, “For God so loved me, He sent You, so that all who believe in You will not perish, but have eternal life.”

References: Psalm 139, John 3:16, Psalm 65:3, 1 John 1:9, Psalm 103:12
Leave a comment, or if you prefer, email me privately with your thoughts. Thanks!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bloggers: Please Read

Hey there bloggers! If you have a way to check your stats, as I do on blogspot, will you see if you have a large number of referring sites from Russia? While I'm glad for the traffic, lol, I'm not sure what to make of this. Any advice or insight?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Amazing Grace

See now, I am that man that called out from the crowd for Your blood to be spilled on that earth shaking ground. Yes then, I turned away with that smile on my face,
With this sin in my heart tried to bury Your grace. And then, alone in the night, I still called out for You, so ashamed of my life, my life, my life.

But You loved me anyway.

These are some of the lyrics from Sidewalk Prophets You Love Me Anyway. I’ll be honest; these words have me rattled today. In these words, I am whisked back to the life I used to lead. A life of determined sin, sin that had the power to take so much from others.
I knew better.
I knew Jesus.
I had met Him in my 20’s with a ferocity and a gentleness all at the same time that changed my life. Until I walked away from Him in my 30’s. I turned away, with a smile on my face, with this sin in my heart tried to bury Your grace. I even said “Hold my coat. I’ll be back someday and we’ll make this right. I know You’ll forgive me when I ask, and I’ll be ready for that someday.”
It’s like the husband who tells his wife, “I’m going to sleep around now, but don’t worry, I still love you; it’s you I’m coming home to.”
Would you settle for that? Why would Jesus?
But He does. And the shame that I would even ask that of Him is overwhelming at this moment.
It’s a good shame, though.  It’s the awe of eyes opening to the grace that surrounds me, always and again, the grace that waits patiently. The grace that heals me, makes me whole again, even when I am the cause of my own breaking. It is the grace that I draw strength from to never break in the same way again. Ever. It is the blanket that warms me, the breeze that cools me, and everything in between.
I hope you find it someday.

"You will know the Truth. And the Truth will set you free. (John 8:31)"

I've written about this before here, in the life of Peter, and here, in regards to my ministry as a writer.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Skipping Stones with God

This post was sent out to an online devotional audience through Scriptural Nuggets yesterday...hope you enjoy it!

I took my boys down to the Milwaukee Lakefront and was teaching them to skip rocks. It is so satisfying to see one skip off into the distance and disappear from view, riding the waves. Ok, so I have never been that good...but two or three skips in a row still looks cool. More often than not, though, the rocks the boys picked were too big, and sunk with a giant bubbling thunk. Still cool, but not really the goal...or so I thought.

When I turn on my computer in the morning, the first email I read is the KLOVE radio station verse of the day. Then I read a few online devotions. All good stuff. Each thing I read makes me nod my head and say, Ooh...that's good. Now I have a friend sending me devotionals, which I read, and say, Oooh...that's good. Then, I might work on a Bible study, or read a devo in a magazine, and say...yup, you guessed it...ooh...that's good. Then, midway through the morning, when real life is setting in, I try to draw strength from the Lord. With everything I have read, you'd think something would stick. But it doesn't, because I have been skipping stones with God.

Instead of a big satisfying thunk of a bubble, as His Word sinks to the bottom of my soul, forming a firm foundation in the sand of my life, it never really settles beneath the surface.
What to do? What to give up? I think the answer lies in the word "illumination". When something catches your eye, and you can't stop going back to it, stop there. The Holy Spirit could very well be telling you that this is your big rock. Grab that one, and settle there for a bit. Ponder. Meditate. Dwell there. Watch for the bubble.

Father God, please grant that Your Word would dwell in us richly, not just scatter a few bubbles across the surface and keep moving. Yours are the Words of life, the Lamp to our feet. Please displace me with You, sending up a big bubble of surrender. Help all of us who are guilty of dabbling, but never really dwelling. In the Name of Him Who Makes All Things Possible, Amen. Not my strength, but Yours, Father

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Soul Smudges

I looked at the smudges on the wall for what must have been the hundredth time. The smudges that lived at my waist level on the wall painted with washable paint, so I could wash them. Glancing down at the sludge colored decor this morning, I decided to grab a washcloth and clean it off real quick. Not that I didn't know it was possible to wash the wall, I had just gotten used to seeing the evidence of kids coming in and out the patio door and stopped noticing it.

Damp dishcloth in hand, I surveyed the offending marks, and noticed the little fingerprints that made up each streak. I pictured the hand of my five year old lingering on the wall as he rounded the dining room table. A little higher up, evidence of my eight year old blends in, creating a canvas of life in the design. I slowly wiped away the dirt, the wall clean once again, and considered the smudges that Jesus has wiped away for me.

Smudges that have gone into creating the person I am, some needing to be acknowledged by me before they can be cleaned, some washed immediately and prevented from leaving their residue, a gift from a merciful God. Each of us bears the evidence of  many hands, some touches in love, some in anger, some in a desire to humiliate, manipulate, and control, some smudges left behind by bad decisions. Jesus stands ready, though, at the right time, to gently clean us. To wipe away the grime of the world.

I picture Him with a washcloth in one hand, His other hand lifting my chin to His face, wiping away the remnants of a life hard lived, like a mother removing the last traces of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And once again, in His presence, I am made clean.

"If my people who are called by My Name, humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
(2 Chronicles 7:14)"

Monday, June 20, 2011

God Bless the Ants

Their bright pink heads bowing to the ground, peonies always shout the arrival of summer to me. I have a large swath down the center of my backyard, and as soon as the snow melts I'm checking for shoots. As excited as I get, my boys love them more because they snap off the large round buds and throw them at each other. Hmm.

At least until they noticed the ants crawling all over them, which, admittedly, have always freaked me out, too. I was telling a friend about my peonies, and how the ants always bother me. She told me that the ants need to eat the green covering of the bud off so the flower can bloom. Who knew?

God shouts at me through His creation, and this was no exception.

When God planned us, as individuals, He had something beautiful in mind. But like the peonies, we would never reach our full potential without the ants. Without the challenges that eat away at our protective covering, we would never bloom into the creation He intended us to be. The difficult situations that we go through, those times that we call out to Him for relief and rescue, are the ants. And once our tough shell has been destroyed, we are free to bloom with all the frangrance and beauty He intended for us. It doesn't come easy, or naturally, to embrace the hard times, but consider them a gift from God, who alone knows your potential.

Let us offer our lives to God, an aroma pleasing to Him.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Overgrown Gardens

Admiring my flower garden, I noticed that what had begun as a few visitors of creeping Charlie and clover was now a full scale invasion. My Shasta daisies, Echinacea, and black-eyed susans were up to their armpits in uninvited guests. To the untrained eye, my garden is lush, brimming with life, flower buds crowning each stem, the verdant carpet adding to the appeal. But, as I began to thin the army out and give my “real” flowers some breathing room, I realized that beautiful as they are, it is an insidious beauty, choking the life out of what was intended to be there. I pulled handfuls of clover and creeping Charlie, their tendrils wrapped around the perennials, and saw the analogy to life right there in the dirt.

Perhaps you have a few goals that you are working towards, but someone asks you to do something. It’s only a monthly commitment, so you agree. A few more monthly commitments come up, and without noticing when it happened, you have one extra activity each week on top of what you wanted to be doing. Then a guilt-inducer comes up, something you really feel like you have to say yes to, so you add some clover to your garden. All the activities are worthwhile, so you just keep plugging along. Before you know it, the one project you wanted to cultivate is being choked out by everything that didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. Our “best” gets lost in the lushness of an over-productive garden of “good.”
You’ve probably heard the saying that if Satan can’t make you bad he’ll make you busy. Strong words, and I’m not saying that the opportunities to volunteer aren’t worthwhile and necessary, but are they all yours to do? I looked at my own schedule recently, as cries for help filled my in-box from two schools, church, and various social networks, and decided that being “busy” for Jesus was not my goal. I want to be His hands and feet, but I’m not an octopus. It’s not easy to step back once committed, but after prayer and reflection, I realized I needed to let a few things go.
In the Bible, God has made it clear that we each have certain gifts to use and tasks to accomplish, and seasons in which to do these things. We need to look at our activities, evaluating with wisdom what we are cultivating. I was encouraged by Peter’s words in Acts 6. At that time, there were few qualified to present the Word with truth, but many were coming to hear it. Peter, overtaken with the physical tasks of caring for all these people, said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God to wait tables.” They set up others to manage these needs, while devoting themselves fully to the calling God gave them, preaching His word. Because he was true to his role, the word of God spread and many came to know Him.
I could let my garden grow out of control, saying yes to everything that wants to put down roots, or I can manage the invasion of opportunities and give the flowers God wants me to grow a chance to succeed, to reach the heights intended for them.
Will you join me, carefully cultivating the life God is calling you to?
“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil” . Ephesians 5:15-16

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Keep Your Pants On, Girlie!

This post comes by way of a Hearts At Home blog challenge, asking what we would tell our teenage selves if we could go back. Take the time to read the other links; writing this made me realize how much I wouldn’t change, in spite of it all.

Keep your pants on, girlie!
This title sums up in five words what I would tell my teenage self, if I could go back and shake her by her skinny shoulders. I would grab a washcloth to clean the blue eye shadow off her lids and wipe the sullen look of her face. I would tell her she has so much more to offer the world than just what can be given away in the backseat. 
More importantly, if I could go back, I would introduce her to the King. That teenage girl was searching for love, hope, and identity; but without a strong core, she defined herself through the eyes of her culture.
And found that she didn’t measure up.
Filled with a longing to love and be loved, to know and be known, longings given by a God she didn’t yet know. So she searched in all the places she didn’t belong, finding not love, but more questions. More emptiness.
I would tell her not to sell herself short, that there is a plan for her life even if she can’t see it yet. I would lead her to the One who created the plan, saving about 20 years of detours and u-turns.
But, in all honesty, if I could go back, and do all these things, it would take away the richness of the journey I have lived. Without the detours and u-turns, I would not know God today as a God of grace and second chances. And third chances. So mostly what I would tell her is hang in there. You are going to be ok. Just hang in there.

Check out some other thoughts here:

Monday, June 13, 2011

Going Native

As I stood in the shower, balancing my razor against the weather forecast, my thoughts ran like the water cascading down the shower stall door. If the decision to shave my legs or not to shave my legs depends upon who will actually see them, how does the rest of my life stack up? Humor me by accepting my leg shaving metaphor, understanding that this is not a measure of morality, just an illustration.

If it is going to be cold and rainy, definitely a “pants” day, and I choose not to shave, what does that mean on a deeper level? If I’m not in front of other people, what do I do differently? Do I swear more? Yell at my kids more? Complain or gossip more? All the examples don’t need to be negative. Will I share how God is working in my life in all groups, or do I save that for a select few?

If the group I am with is the benchmark of acceptable, where does truth lie? What I’m pondering right now is the line between who I really am when no one is looking, who you think I am, and who I feel like I should be.

I think the goal that Christ would have for us is that as we decrease in “prickly fuzziness”, He would increase. We would be His witnesses just by being ourselves. When I lived in Germany, only “paid companionship” shaved their legs, and the Americans. Generally, no one had any trouble figuring out which group I fit into. One look, and the casual observer would know I was an American. I hope that with one look today, the casual observer would not have any doubt where I belong.
"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is,
His good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2).

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Old Blue Tray

Thinking back to my high school days, the cafeteria is an appropriate metaphor for an angst-filled life. We stand in the doorway, blue trays gripped with white knuckles, providing a barrier between us and the world. Each day you stand there, tray firmly in place, scanning the room, searching for a place to belong, or at least a place to eat in obscurity. And then, one day, someone goes out of their way to catch your eye with a smile, a nod of acceptance. Slowly, you exhale. Now, if you are like me, you wonder why they would want to sit with you in the first place, and you keep walking. I mean, can’t they see what is on my tray? A buffet of lies, deceit, abuse, infidelity, loneliness, some piled onto my tray myself, some left there, unwanted and uninvited. Who would make room for that at their table?  I spent so long trying to fade into the shadows that even I almost forgot that I existed. Then I met Him.
“Come to me,” I heard Him say. “Come to me.”
 I looked behind me. I looked to my left and to my right. Finally I realized he was talking to me, though I had no idea why. “Come walk with me,” He said. Without knowing why He would want me to, I took one step closer. I was sure that when He learned who I was deep down, the things I’d done, the things that were done to me, the invitation would be rescinded. Instead, He said, “That tray looks really heavy. Let me take it for you.” Embarrassed and ashamed, I made room for Him to take a corner, keeping my eyes glued to the floor.
A few more steps and I took one hand off the tray, stealing a glance at Him to make sure this was alright, and allowed Him to take half of it. Soon He was carrying my burden for me, while I looked on, wondering why He would do it. Didn’t the stench of what I carried bother Him? Without noticing when, I became aware He wasn’t carrying it anymore. Somewhere along the way, He set the load down, and it was just the two of us. When I look for the old blue tray, He reaches for my hand and saying, “Now that the tray isn’t in the way, I can come closer to you.”  Sometimes I try to remind Him of the baggage I was carrying when we met; He smiles at me and says, “Hey, we are singing a new song. A song about Me.”
 I meet His eyes, smile back, and begin to sing.
The Lord is my strength and my song. He has become my salvation. Exodus 15:2

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Dirty Knees and Dreams

Not much of a gardener, I read the backs of the seed packets ten times over, hoping to discover the secret to a successful green bean harvest. "When the seedlings are about 3" tall, thin them to 6" apart. Cultivate and fertilize regularly." Are you kidding me? I'm supposed kill something that I planted? On purpose? I had such dreams for those cute little seeds. I knelt on my dirt encrusted knees, trying to discern which leaves held the greatest promise. Seriously, I felt like I was trying to pick a future Nobel prize winner from a preschool class. I did not want to yank the wrong plant. I understand the reasoning behind thinning the shoots: none of them will reach their full potential if they are all fighting for the same nutrients and sunshine in one small patch of soil.

Wise words, I tell you what. I feel like an overcrowded garden myself these days. Each little seedling represents the hope of the future, my knees getting dirtier by the day as I stare at the soil, wondering which seedling to pull. I wrote about this same topic back in March, but with a slightly different twist than today's thought.

Maybe I'm missing the point altogether. Maybe the key words are cultivate and fertilize. Get rid of what needs to go, and work like mad to maintain the right environment for everything else to flourish. Remember Noah? God gave him the command to build the ark, the exact dimensions of the ark, and closed the door behind him when the ark was built. But He did not drop wood out of the sky or hold the hammer for him. Noah did the work. And, he did this before the earth had ever seen a raindrop (Genesis 2:5).

I wonder if Noah just wanted to sit and watch tv once in a while. Or stare at the sky looking for confirmation. I guess it's time to dust off my knees and get to work.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Success Defined

What did you want to be when you grew up? There was a time, around 5th grade, that I wanted to be either a model or a writer. Not that I had great looks for modeling, but I was skinny and had bushy eye brows. Think early Brooke Shields...My teachers and family encouraged the writing bit; I never saw the slight in that until much later in life. Gradually though, that dream slid to the ground as I didn't really know how to pursue it. Until recently, when asked that ice breaker question, if I could do anything I wanted with no chance of failure what would it be, I never really had answer. Somewhere along the way I lost my ability to dream big.

How about you? Let's pretend we're sitting around my patio table, sweet tea sweating in a glass in front of you, and of course the requisite banana bread. The question comes up...what would you like to do if there was no chance at failing? Just for fun though, let's redefine failure and success. Let's call failure never trying at all, never taking a step in the direction of your dream. Let's call success taking one step. Just one. So, what are you waiting for? Set some goals.

For the sake of review, a goal has to meet five criteria: realistic, understandable, measurable, believable, and achievable. Not to be a killjoy as I encourage you to take a chance and dream big, but deciding to be an astronaut at 45 probably isn't going to happen. Want to run a marathon? Start walking, today. Find a training program and keep heading that direction. Want to finish your education? Start with one course. Want to own a bakery? Start giving away your treats...your reputation will spread and doors will open. Want to be a writer? Pick up your tool of choice, keyboard or pen, and start writing. Practice, reread, and edit. Overnight success never happens...there are countless hours of the mundane behind every success. Be ok with baby steps...just keep moving. Remember, the only failure is to never try.

I never did get to be a model. Apparently it takes more than bushy eye brows to cut it on the runway. I am, however, a writer. A successful one, even, because to be successful, by my definitioin, you just have to keep moving in the right direction.

I've posted a few times about why I write. You can check those posts out  here, here, and here. If you read these, you'll see that there is a place for you in my dream...

Friday, June 3, 2011

Three Little Words

Three little words can make all the difference in the world. If you are thinking of the three little words that we often wait to hear, those wouldn't be the three. These are three words that I am teaching to my kids, words to use as a filter before speaking.

1. Kind?
2. True?
3. Necessary?

Before they say something to someone, particularly in a state of high emotion, I am teaching them to slow down and ask themselves those three questions. "Is it kind? Is it true? And is it necessary?" If whatever statement they are making doesn't meet the first two criteria, then it definitely doesn't meet the third one. So, for example, as my son is yelling "You're the worst!!" at me in a fit of anger, I ask him to evaluate his choice of words by that standard. Basically, this rule is the practical, shortcut application of Ephesians 4:29, which says "Let nothing unwholesome come out of your mouth, only that which is useful for building up."

My goal in raising my kids is not just to have children who won't embarass me in public, but kids who are able to regulate their behavior based on biblical standards. Changing just the outward actions only leads to kids who know how to behave when someone is watching, or because they don't like the consequences of misbehaving. Consequence driven discipline is useful in the short run to teach a quick lesson, but it never hits the heart level.  Maybe Eddie Haskell rings a bell for some of you.

 It takes hard work, for a long time, to see the fruits of the kind of parenting I am trying to do. My kids may not always meet the mark, or look like they are getting it, but it takes a long time to grow a fruit tree.