Strength and Dignity

The Pause

The Pause

 

Some people are great “starters”, but not so great “finishers”. In the world of “starters” and “finishers”, I fall heavily into the “great starter” category. When I use the word “heavily”, I mean big, huge, thud-sounding heavy. The thrill of beginning something new, especially if it involves an element of change, excites me. Some might connect this trait of mine to an Enneagram number, but I say it’s simply because I stink at follow through. Dreaming, creating and beginning, that’s my jam. When the newness wears off and the routine settles in, my momentum dissipates.

 

This struggle of mine to follow through might explain my lack of success when it comes to the game of golf. Back in the day, when I actually attempted such things, my man, who loves the sport, would explain that I just needed to keep my head down and follow through on my swing. This meant not losing focus on that little white ball, not for one millisecond. For me, that was next to impossible. Nevermind the fact that when you’re playing this game of golf, you repeat the whole head down, follow through torture over and over again until you have successfully moved that little white ball into, not just 1, but 18 separate holes that are really far apart from each other. As if all of that’s not bad enough, you have to be quiet while doing it!

 

In 2016 a blog journey began because God moved my heart to inspire and encourage women in both their identity and relationship with God. My vision and passion have remained, yet somewhere along the way, I hit the pause button. Life happened, delivering unexpected and painful challenges. I could elaborate with paragraphs of reasons why my fingers have failed to strike the keys with intent, but God hasn’t moved me to do so. What He has moved me to do is nothing new; it’s simple. Actually, it’s much like the game of golf. Keep my head down, focus on Him, and follow through. I’m not sure I’ve even made it on to the next hole yet on this journey, but that’s par for the course. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist) Let’s be realistic, we typically don’t have the course map laid out in front of us in life. We simply keep moving the ball. As long as we place our trust in our Amazing Caddy, who has mapped out the course, to hand us the next club, keep our head down and follow through. Today, I grab the sand wedge He’s extended and hit out of the rough, hopeful I will land on the green.

 

As I step back on the course, I leave each of you with a challenge. Consider where have you may have lacked follow through? It could be as simple as laundry or dishes. Maybe it’s that long overdue lunch/coffee date? That project you keep meaning to finish? That hard conversation you keep putting off? That ministry you think you don’t have time for? Have you hit the pause button on something in your own life? Whatever it is for you, I pray you find encouragement today to follow through. I will as well, and I’ll meet you in the world of finishers…maybe not on the 18th hole, but for sure moving on to the 2nd!

 

“In the day when I cried out, You answered me, and made me bold with strength in my soul.”

Psalm 138:3

 

Be Mine

Valentine’s Day. Just the mention of this holiday can stir up a wide range of emotions. Some people grumble and complain much like a Scrooge at Christmas, viewing Valentines Day as yet another commercialized holiday for retailers to make a buck, while draining consumers dry. Others feel all a flutter, excited to celebrate relationships with loved ones. There are also the individuals who simply long to hear the question: “Will you be my Valentine?” That question communicates much in just 5 simple words; extending an invitation to welcome love from another. Not only does the question offer love, it offers belonging and speaks desire.

Let me extend an invitation to you, not to be my Valentine, but to invite you back, way back, to my sophomore year of high school. 6 months into a new school, 2 ex-boyfriends deep, and chasing number 3. My relationship with boy #3 had not been officially defined as “boyfriend/girlfriend” but there were strong indicators it was headed in that direction. Although, at this point most of our interactions were secretive, such as: late night phone calls, avoiding me at school but random and unannounced stops by my house. This guy was charming and the second I would start to question his feelings about me, feeling like his girl on the side, he would suck me right back into his spell.

Valentines Day was quickly approaching, and boy #3 had cooly mentioned an annual Valentines Dinner held at his church. He did not exactly extend an invitation to me, but it was assumed that if boy #3 would attend said dinner I would be his date. With the big day of love upon us I purchased the perfect red satin dress and awaited the details of our evening. The night before the dinner I attended our school basketball game, sure I would leave the game with all plans set for the next evening. After the game I made my way toward the locker room to chat with boy #3. As I rounded the corner to begin my decent down a flight of stairs, I saw and heard boy #3. His gaze was down toward another, his ex-girlfriend. Their conversation was concluding with great clarity that she would be attending the dinner of love with the one my heart desired. Eye contact was made and nothing was said as boy #3 brushed passed me, shattering my heart to pieces as he passed.

What I heard that night sent me into an emotional state of hysteria that only a 15-year-old girl can understand. I played that conversation over and over again in my mind. Surely I had misunderstood and my phone would ring that night to explain everything, but the next morning I awoke to the most difficult Valentines Day I would ever experience. Of course it was pouring down rain, my eyes opened to my beautiful red dress hanging on my closet door. That dress would not be going out for Valentine’s Day and neither would I. Late that afternoon my BFF busted through my bedroom door with a movie, junk food, and a shoulder to cry on. I wanted boy #3 for a Valentine, but he did not want me. His desire was for another.

Maybe you haven’t been dumped cold on Valentines Day, but I’m sure you can empathize with the desire to be wanted. You know the desire that runs deep within to be someone’s person and to have them be yours. It’s at the core of feeling deeply loved. Song of Songs is a beautiful love song, written to express a beautiful story of love shared between King Solomon and his wife, Shulamith. Within the chapters of this book we read of the longing, desire and satisfaction that comes of love given honestly and freely.

In chapter 2:16 Shulamith says:

“My love is MINE and I am his…”

(it also goes on to say how he feeds among the lilies, but let’s just say the lilies are figurative, and I’m committed to keep this rated G)

In the words of Shulamith, hear the conquest. Possession, her person has become hers.

In 6:3 Shulamith says,

“I am my love’s and my love is mine…”

Within these words there is a subtle transfer. Shulamith now recognizes that not only does she possess the love of Solomon, but that she belongs within it. This belonging is then affirmed in 7:10 with an added assurance of Solomon’s desire for Shulamith.

“I belong to my love and his desire is for me.”

This is the crux, to be desired, wanted, as we are. Shulamith knows that she is deeply loved, because Solomon wants to love her. Solomon is not cool or aloof with this desirous pursuit of Shulamith. He is unabashed with desire. There’s no holding back with his love as if eating a carrot stick, when really he would prefer chocolate cake. Solomon is eating chocolate cake. He wants it, and not just for dessert, we are talking every meal and snack time! Again, keeping it all rated G here.

There is one who desires you and I on an even greater scale than this. His pursuit is constant and His desire is deep.

“How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.”

Ephesians 1:3-6 (MSG)

So maybe you need to hear this today. There is One Lover of your soul, who has you on His mind, settled the focus of His love on you, His desire is for you and He extends an invitation to you: “Be Mine.”

God is love. He didn’t need us. But he wanted us. And that is the most amazing thing. ~ Rick Warren

NEW

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, NEW things have come.

 

The word NEW has been tossed between my heart and mind countless times over the last several months. Every so often a word grabs my attention for a season, and recently it has been the word, NEW. In order to welcome in NEW, there must be a release of OLD. There’s a passing from and a taking hold of. In the process of moving into NEW, what is left behind then becomes the OLD. Even as I type that word, OLD, it sounds dull and unappealing as opposed to the word NEW which seems to glisten, shine, and excite! The word OLD just seems to fall flat, like the champagne on the counter from last night and about as unappealing as the moldy cheese in the fridge from 2 months ago.

 

I don’t know that I’ve ever been a fan of NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS. My first recollection of making such resolutions takes me back to my high school days. I recall a church youth gathering, a “lock-in” actually, where I might have gotten into some bit of trouble that might have involved boys. Sorry mom and dad, this may be “NEW”s to you. In those days if you were going to lock me in anywhere, it probably wasn’t wise to do so with boys. Anyway, there was a message given by a youth pastor in the early hours of New Years Day that made me feel dirty, rotten, and not enough for God as I sat in the folding chair circle having my feelings affirmed by the pious stares of other girls. Likely there was a Michael W. Smith song that played, such as “Above All” compelling me to write a list of resolutions. I’m sure I wrote something to the effect of not liking boys and having a “quiet time” with God every day. Only then to have this list of necessary changes about my horrid and wretched sinful-self mailed back to me 6 months later. I specifically remember opening that envelope that held this said list of resolutions on a warm summer day in June. All the feelings I had when making the list came rushing back and affirmed I would never measure up to the girl God was pleased with, and this was just who I would always be. Sorry, that just went pretty deep into my troubled teens, but the point of the story is that resolutions can deliver and leave us in places of striving and failure. A resolved feeling can motivate us to put pen to paper, but sometimes it ends there. Without a plan to become NEW we will never leave behind OLD.

 

Each year I sit at a table with trained individuals who work with and my daughter at her school. Together we formulate and discuss her IEP (Individual Education Plan). We assess the progress of previous goals set and mark them accordingly. Some goals are near misses; others are reached, because the expectation has been specifically set so that she can succeed. Her IEP will not look like anyone else’s. It is individualized, crafted for her to make progress. For example, she is non-verbal, and has not made vocalization progress in her 10 years of life, so her communication goals will not be to make new words, or even sounds. A goal of activating a communication switch with intent would be an appropriate and achievable goal for her. Now, once the goal is set, she’s not left to her own devices to meet it. A support team made up of: therapists, aides, teachers, classmates and her family come alongside her to help her make progress towards meeting the goal.

 

As I thought about the NEW of 2017, I wanted to set some of my own goals, but bring others along with me in the process. These were not going to be absolutes, but marks that I felt I could set out to meet. Some of my goals may not be fully achieved in 2017, but achievement will not be the goal, progress will. Setting the expectation too high will leave me crippled with discouragement much like I was at age 15. My goal-setting meeting will also not be held in a circle of folding chairs with self-righteous high school girls.

 

Who sits at the table of your 2017 goal-setting meeting? It will not look the same for everyone with the exception of One. One person in particular is on everyone’s individualized team offering a resource no one else can. The resource offered is mercy, and it’s not OLD; it’s NEW. With each NEW day, God the Father faithfully meets us with NEW mercy with which He enables us to progress toward some NEW and leave some OLD behind.

 

“Yet I call this to mind,

and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s faithful love

we do not perish,

for His mercies never end.

They are NEW every morning;

great is Your faithfulness!

I say: The Lord is my portion,

therefore I will put my hope in Him.”

Lamentations 3:21-25

 

So, my friends, the NEW has come for you today, weather you like it or not. Do something with it. Gather your family, or spouse, or friend and set some goals together, then when 2017 becomes the OLD and 2018 becomes the NEW mark the progress and set NEW goals, knowing that each day will be packed with the NEW mercy you will need to make progress.

 

(I’m including our projected family goals for 2017. From this list we’ve all been encouraged to also set individual goals. These goals will then be posted in our home to help maintain focus and encourage us toward some NEW in 2017!)

 

  1. more individual time with God
  2. Pray together at mealtime for those we love & support
  3. NO CELL PHONES at our family table
  4. Spend less; give more

                  *no NEW clothes

                  *eating out 2 Sundays per month

  1. 30-minutes of exercise 3x a week
  2. Each person sets his or her own personal health goal
  3. Be responsible for our own messes: dishes, laundry, room, etc.

 

 

 

REST

“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Here we are, just 10 days until Christmas Day and most will agree they feel far from rested. The hustle and bustle of the season is nearly impossible to avoid. Programs, presents and parties can leave the days of December with little time for much else. My man has studied deeply the topic of rest and emphasized often the importance of rhythm in life. The continual problem I find is that life can be much like tall, awkward, pubescent boys at junior high dances … rhythm impossibility! However, when we take a look to the very beginning of time we will see a God-established rhythm of rest. Not only did God establish such rhythm; He exemplified it.

“So the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts (inhabitants). And by the seventh day God completed His work, which He had done, and He rested (ceased) on the seventh day from all His work, which He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it [as His own, that is, set it apart as holy from other days], because in it He rested from all His work which He had created and done.”
Genesis 2:2-3

God’s rest on the 7th day of creation was not as much about completion as it was preparation. It’s abundantly clear there was much more work to be done, but yet there was still a pause. That Holy pause allowed for pleasure to fall over what had been accomplished up until that point. The Holy pause also allowed for preparation for what would come next.

Without the Holy pause, God might have entered the Garden of Eden a bit differently after the whole “apple-eating incident”. You know, that first sin that broke His relationship with the ones He had created? Can you imagine? God created the universe only to be hurled into the fall of the man He just gave life to.

My thoughts wander to those depleted mom moments that arrive on the wings of exhaustion. Maybe the kitchen has been ordered and cleaned, I step away for just moments, and upon my return to my pristine kitchendom I now find complete disaster. As I struggle to pull myself together from the horror before my eyes, my foot falls into dog poop left by our beloved family pet. Monster mommy then makes an appearance, and she is not a calm, rational being.

The day His relationship with creation crumbled, God did not approach the Garden of Eden in a depleted state, whirling about in frustration or anger. No monster mommy moment for Him. God’s approach was to pursue His children, whom He deeply loved, with a heart that was gentle and a plan to restore and clean up the mess they had created.

Ever feel in desperate need of rest, but simply no time for it? We can find our lives in the unhealthy rhythm of jumping from one thing to the next; allowing ourselves to be drug into the never-ending quest to have it all done. That rhythm will inevitably lead us to places that resemble my monster mommy. So then, how does one find time to rest? The answer for most is it must be scheduled. There needs to be a commitment to make rest happen or it never will. Completion will not arrive in our lifetime on earth. There will always be just “one more thing” looming in the distance that needs to be done. Until that heavenly rest comes, what does earthly rest look like?

I think maybe earthly rest looks a lot like “Silent Night”.

Silent Night, Holy Night!

…all is calm, all is bright
…round yon virgin, mother and Child
…Holy Infant so tender and mild
…sleep in heavenly peace
…sleep in heavenly peace

These lyrics carry my soul to stillness; a vision of Christmas Eve service, the sanctuary of the church I grew up in, circled around the pews, holding a candle and singing…

Thinking on the calm that is spoken of in this beloved Christmas carol; Mary with her baby Jesus. It is so calm; they sleep with a heavenly peace. If you’ve every held a sleeping infant you know the peace that accompanies the moment; it is nothing less than heavenly. It’s a peace like no other. This is a peace that must be chosen. Only happening for as long as it’s allowed.

When will you take the Holy pause you need? When will you rest your soul?

Go get your calendar. I think you need to make an appointment.

 

Beginning

beginning

In the beginning, God created. These are the first words of the Bible. Within these 5 words a beginning is realized A beginning in which God preexisted being supreme over beginnings. The first action word of Scripture is created. Created: the action of taking nothing and making something, and that’s exactly what God did.

One of the entries in Webster’s Dictionary to define the word create is: to produce through imaginative skill

As a highly unimaginative, non-crafty type person, this definition of create finds me lacking. Now and again I get these crazy ideas to make something. Not like peanut butter and jelly kind of make something, but a real DIY kind of project. Setting out with Pinterest-like aspirations, and possibly even with step-by-step instructions; yet still, in only a matter of minutes I find myself sitting smack dab in the middle of a DIY nightmare! I really wish I could find some pictures to show you. Crackle paint. Sponge paint. No-sew curtains. Hair bows. What about a simple little round floral bouquet? It seemed to me all that would necessary for this project would be a green foam ball, some artificial flowers and hot glue. Hot glue, this is where things can get really messy for me. I haven’t quite mastered the glue gun. Attempting to clean excess glue from areas where I have been a bit trigger happy on a project I inevitably burn myself, forgetting the reason it’s called a HOT glue gun! If there were a requirement to be a licensed glue gun carrier, I would not be able to obtain such a license.

But seriously, look around you. God is the best DIY-er of all time!! He is creativity at it’s finest. He didn’t search Google for how to create the heavens and earth, day and night, man and woman, etc. All God did was open His mouth, commanding into existence the most beautiful world ever imagined. It was absolute perfection. Created with the perfect plan for life and love.

God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good and He validated it completely. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.”
Genesis 1:31

This perfect existence would indeed be brief, but for a short time it was truly heaven on earth! Heaven and nature were singing for sure!

Sometimes we need to let our gaze fall back to this beginning. Beginnings refresh, delivering a new start. Like when I mess up at one of those directed painting classes, and completely start over half way through the class. Covering the canvas up with one solid color and beginning again on a clean slate. It empowers me, making me feel determined that I can get it right this time. Have you ever tried that infamous reboot of your computer? That’s a new start.

One day there will be a reboot of this world. It will come by way of a new heaven and a new earth.

2 Peter 3:12-14
[while you earnestly] look for and await the coming of the day of God. For on this day the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the [material] elements will melt with intense heat! But in accordance with His promise we expectantly await new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.
So, beloved, since you are looking forward to these things, be diligent and make every effort to be found by Him [at His return] spotless and blameless, in peace [that is, inwardly calm with a sense of spiritual well-being and confidence, having lived a life of obedience to Him].

SPOTLESS…BLAMELESS…in PEACE

Living a life of obedience to Him that is accompanied with inward calm and a spiritual sense of well-being and confidence will require many new beginnings. God freely offers them for sure, for He was the Creator of them…from the very beginning. It’s Monday, December 5th, and 20 days until the birthday of our King! What is the new beginning you find yourself in need of? No better time to reboot! Go to your Father God and ask Him, He’s the expert!

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.
Revelation 21:5-7

 

Redemption

As I think about the story of Rahab, I can’t help but marvel at the wondrous work of redemption that was accomplished in her story. We are told that Rahab was a prostitute. This label assigned to her multiple times, not being hidden within the pages of God’s Word.

“And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent.” Joshua 6:17

“But Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.” Joshua 6:25

“By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.” Hebrews 11:31

“And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?” James 2:25

Give the girl a break, right? We get the picture, she had an occupation, being what she DID, not who she WAS. I can relate, can you? Have you been in a place such as this? It’s a place where you are perceived but not really “known”. A place where something or someone identifies you completely, yet only makes up a small part of who you really are.

But…alas, there is a redeeming verse for Rahab. In a passage that literally delivers hope we once again find Rahab’s name, giving her a new and beautiful identity that few carry.

“…and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.” Matthew 1:5-6

Rahab is one of 5 woman mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus. Her name falls amongst the line of King Jesus, one of His Great-Grandmas. I call that a redeeming work! When God cast His gaze toward the battle of Jericho, He set His affection on a young lady named Rahab, and had wrote her into the greatest love story of all! As Rahab dropped that red cord from her window, not only would it bring rescue it would redeem and RENAME!

red-thread

Our all-knowing God knew that one day red would drop once again. This time it would not drop from a window, but from His One and only Son. This would become our renaming, redeeming rescue.

cross-red-scarf

This is who God is. He is all about redemption. It is the reason for this beautiful season. His deep desire to redeem His children from sin and death led Him to choose an offer of redemption. This redemption would be accomplished through a work that required the ultimate sacrifice, one that began with a baby boy. In the process of bringing Him into the world He chose to use some of the “least of these”, redeeming all along the way.

If you believe and follow Jesus you can’t separate who you are from the redeeming love of Jesus. You’re in the genealogy as well.

He calls us brothers:

Hebrews 2:11
“ For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers,”

Brothers…of whom He is the Firstborn:

Romans 8:29
“For those whom He foreknew [and loved and chose beforehand], He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son [and ultimately share in His complete sanctification], so that He would be the firstborn [the most beloved and honored] among many believers.”

Being in the sibling group, we are fellow heirs:

Romans 8:16-17
“The Spirit Himself testifies and confirms together with our spirit [assuring us] that we [believers] are children of God. And if [we are His] children, [then we are His] heirs also: heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ [sharing His spiritual blessing and inheritance], if indeed we share in His suffering so that we may also share in His glory.”

Now, if that is not redemption, what is?

Mark 3:31-35

“Then His mother and His brothers arrived, and standing outside they sent word to Him and called for Him. A crowd was sitting around Him, and they said to Him, “Look! Your mother and Your brothers are outside asking for You.” And He replied, “Who are My mother and My brothers?” Looking at those who were sitting in a circle around Him, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God [by believing in Me, and following Me], he is My brother and sister and mother.”

BELIEVE…
FOLLOW…
Look up redeemed one…
there should be a star to guide you…
it’s your brother and King…JESUS!

Welcome

I enjoy hosting people and parties. Opening my home to food, friends, and fellowship brings me great joy, yet sometimes the preparation can rob the “welcome” from my heart. When I think of “welcome”, I think of openness. Openness of home as well as openness of heart. Other distractions can so easily creep in and close my heart off to the true joy of hospitality. Evidence of this is reveled in overwhelming feelings of stress, anxiety and irritability.

To be hospitable is not defined by gourmet food, dazzling décor, or a tidy home. Being hospitable is opening my heart and home as a place of welcome, where the focus is on who I am welcoming, and preparing for.

As we enter into the season of advent, we can forget to place the welcome mat out for our Savior. Christmas lists leave Him out; calendars don’t even pencil Him in.

What needs to change for you to have the welcome mat out for the Savior?
• One less party
• One less gift
• One less decoration
• One less hour at the mall
• One less Christmas card sent! (What if you skipped them all together…gasp)

Let me make a shift to the story of Rahab. Rahab lived in the city of Jericho, which was fortified with great walls. Rahab’s home was actually right within the outer wall of the city. Her place of residence was strategic to her occupation of welcoming men, for she was a prostitute. Rahab’s typical welcome was to that which robbed her, until the day she welcomed 2 spies from the Israelite army.

After wandering in the desert for 40 years, God’s chosen people, the Israelites were entering into the land God had promised them. Part of this Promised Land included the city of Jericho. These particular Israelite men were sent into Jericho on a reconnaissance mission to spy out the city and prepare for its siege. As mentioned, Rahab welcomed these men into her home. She quickly gained an understanding of who they were and offered them protection, hiding them from the soldiers of Jericho. This offer of sanctuary soon became her salvation.

Rahab was aware God Almighty had been leading the Israelites. She heard testimony of the miraculous conquests that had carried them to this point. Believing Jericho would soon be delivered into the hands of the Israelites by God Almighty, gave Rahab the courage to extend a welcome that would soon become her rescue. The protective welcome birthed into a plan for her own protection. The Israelite men explained to Rahab to place a scarlet chord out the window to identify her home as the one home that would remain unharmed when the battle for Jericho ensued.

The Israelites did indeed conquer the city of Jericho, and Rahab’s red chord hung vividly from her window, providing salvation for her and those in her family.

When Rahab changed the welcome of her heart it resulted in redeeming rescue.

Hebrews 11:30-31
By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

On this, the first day of advent, I leave you with lyrics from the beloved Christmas Carol Joy to the World and a challenge to prepare room and lay out the welcome mat for Jesus:

Joy to the world! The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart
Prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and heaven and nature sing

unknown

It’s Always My Birthday!

happy-birthday-to-me

My birthday was last week. Are you surprised? Did you miss it due to other major historical events? If you weren’t aware that’s shocking, but it was my birthday last week. Now, when I say last week, I mean week. You see I tend to drag out my birthday celebrations for much longer than just a day. I will drag them out as long as possible. This blog post speaks to my attempt to extend the celebration.

I like my birthday. Go ahead and judge me, say that’s prideful, call me a princess; I’m just being honest. It feels good to be celebrated. I love the delight of guilt free desserts such as… birthday cake. My man knows this about me and has gifted me with some HUGE birthday cakes over the years. He can’t quite remember the difference between a sheet cake that would feed 100, verses a quarter sheet cake that would feed 15. There is a difference and it inevitably reveals itself on my waistline, but it’s just one of many things I love about him. Also defining birthday celebrations are the presents, dinners out, and intentional times to gather together with family and friends. I absolutely love it all!

Growing up, I had a 45 record (for the younger folk, kinda like the CD of the 70’s). This particular 45 played a birthday song including my name as a lyric. Pretty sure I played that baby on days other than my birthday! In fact, my parents still call on my birthday and sing me the song from that 45. There were also Holly Hobbie cakes that were bakery beauties and homemade cakes that, although delicious, lacked visual delight. There were family parties as well as friend parties; some standing out more than others.

My 13th birthday marked my first boy/ girl party and included renting a VCR along with the movie Karate Kid from the local gas station.

“It’s Alli…with an “I.” I’m Daniel…with a “D”
“Wax on, wax off”
“Sweep the leg!”
…I digress.

Of course, there was the infamous 16th birthday party, that was nothing less than awkward when my ex-boyfriend showed up with a dozen red roses, only to discover that in just one short week since our break up I had moved on to someone else. Are you judging me again? Come on, seriously. I had to have a date for my 16th birthday party!

I could continue to relive many other birthday memories, but for your benefit I will make a giant leap to my 40th birthday. Along with 4 of my dearest girlfriends and I took a 4-day trip to and all-inclusive resort in Cancun to mark my big birthday milestone. It was truly one of the best birthdays of my life! Each night was marked with a spectacular dinner, followed with girlfriends dancing the night away free from the typical demands of our mama worlds. Our dinners would be accompanied by “happy birthday” wishes and song, with a special birthday dessert to top off the meal.

Being a slower time of year the resort was lightly occupied, and our little party of 5 became easily identified by a good majority of the guests. Among those guests were Giovanni and Jenny; a couple in their mid 70’s made up of a gregarious husband, and a less than gregarious wife. Jenny typically had her nose in a book, and Giovanni a story or joke to share with anyone willing to listen. Due to her level of disinterest, it appeared that over their years Jenny might have heard all of Giovanni’s stories and jokes. Giovanni and Jenny had been vacationing in Cancun for the last 22 years.

It was midnight on my actual birthday; my girlfriends and I were on the dance floor, ringing in the next decade of my life to none other than “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”; thus characterizing a true moms gone wild event for the ages. Giovanni had joined us out on the dance floor, but Jenny was perched at the bar with a book. Wanting to be an includer in the celebration of me, I quickly ran over to grab her, and extended the invitation to join us out on the dance floor. Not even looking up from her book, she abruptly told me “no”. Unwilling to accept the refusal, placing my hand on her shoulder, whining “pleeeease”, and reasoning that it was my birthday. It was at that point sweet Jenny had enough with the birthday girl; she looked me square in the eyes and snapped sarcastically, “It’s always your birthday!” Ouch! Jenny was a bit salty, but that didn’t put a damper on my party. A few more jams on the dance floor, and then us girls retired to our rooms, cackling about the truth of Jenny’s statement. My amazing and devoted girlfriends know this all too well, that truly it is ALWAYS MY BIRTHDAY! I tend to personify the high-maintenance, divalicious girl that can be so annoying to many. All I can say is that I am a work in progress friends, and the first step is awareness.

With all sincerity, I do realize and accept that it’s not always my birthday. Blasted! However I know there is ONE that celebrates me as if it’s always my birthday, and loves me in all my high maintenance divaliciousness. Psalm 139 tells me that He knows everything about me and “gets” me.

O Lord, you have searched me [thoroughly] and have known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up [my entire life, everything I do];
You understand my thought from afar.

Not only that, but He created my birthday!

For You formed my innermost parts;
You knit me [together] in my mother’s womb.

I will give thanks and praise to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.

My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was being formed in secret,
And intricately and skillfully formed [as if embroidered with many colors] in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were appointed for me,
When as yet there was not one of them [even taking shape].

How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!

If I could count them, they would outnumber the sand.
Psalm 139:13-18a

Beloved, you are the precious one that God celebrates. He celebrates you because He sees the whole picture of who He created you to be from the beginning to the end. You were created according to God’s great plan to redeem what had been stolen by sin. This plan of redemption is inclusive, and we are the includers. We are the invitation to the party!

Redemption is for ALL, like a birthday celebration, available 365 days a year open to all guests. It’s His birthday party and He invites us to the dance floor to celebrate with Him. Our purpose at the party is to then extend that invitation to others. We can so easily lose sight of the “Jenny’s” sitting all around us. We may carry unawareness of their presence because we’ve made the party about us and yet, there they sit. They may be crass, tired, hurting, broken, or annoyed but we who are at the party need to extend the invite.

AND…

Beyond that invitation, be a party they want to attend! This can only happen by way of our relationship with our Creator God, who will create in us a beautiful invite if we allow Him access to our heart.

Search me [thoroughly], O God, and know my heart;
Test me and know my anxious thoughts;

And see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.
Psalm 139:22-23

This week of Thanksgiving will present many opportunities by way of gatherings and shopping to invite others to the dance floor. I pray that you and I offer an invitation that no one can refuse!

the Presidential Election

Conversations and media have been consumed with the upcoming presidential election that will take place tomorrow. Actually, it had been quite refreshing to have all the World Series hype that provided some reprieve from the constant banter whirling around us. In my opinion though, our country has arrived at a pivotal moment in history. No matter the outcome of this presidential election, the drama it carries will most likely continue to play out before us in the days, weeks, and months to come. November 8th will not close the curtain on the theatrics of this whole campaign. The show (story) will go on.

However, voters do find themselves in a place of decision. This place of decision unlike any before, has voters asking questions such as: Whom will I vote for? Will I vote? Does it even matter if I vote?

As a child, my school days consistently began the same way. The bell would ring, prompting the start of the school day; I would stand by my desk, and place my right hand over my heart, casting my gaze toward the small American Flag in the corner of my classroom and then I would speak these words:

“I pledge allegiance to the flag
of the United States of America,
and to the republic for which it stands
one nation ,

UNDER GOD,

indivisible with liberty and justice for all

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School days don’t start this way anymore, because our nation has removed the authority component of its original founding belief system. A nation that is united under the leadership of an all-knowing and all-powerful God places trust in His Sovereignty. Looking to His Word, His Reign, His Rule for guidance. I think most would agree this is not where we currently find ourselves as a country. My question today is this: where do you find yourself as an individual?

Placing oneself under the absolute authority of God creates in us a spirit of unity that is unshaken by circumstances that press in on us and around us. Under His authority, we look to His Word that brings us all truth to actively guide us!

Hebrews 4:12
For the word of God is living and active and full of power [making it operative, energizing, and effective]. It is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as the division of the soul and spirit [the completeness of a person], and of both joints and marrow [the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and judging the very thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Living under God’s authority also opens our eyes to desire freedom and justice for others. God calls this desire and spirit good and He requires it of us.

Micah 6:8
Mankind, He has told you what is good
and what it is the Lord requires of you:
to act justly,
to love faithfulness,
and to walk humbly with your God.

Notice that these requirements of Micah 6 are VERBS! Don’t forget that part, because we are certainly not passive! This is how we seek to live in all areas, conversations and circumstances. Even in those that involve this election. Look at the words in Micah 7 as Micah describes the moral decline of Israel:

Micah 7

How sad for me!
For I am like one who—
when the summer fruit has been gathered
after the gleaning of the grape harvest—
finds no grape cluster to eat,
no early fig, which I crave.
2
Godly people have vanished from the land;
there is no one upright among the people.
All of them wait in ambush to shed blood;
they hunt each other with a net.
3
Both hands are good at accomplishing evil:
the official and the judge demand a bribe;
when the powerful man communicates his evil desire,
they plot it together.
4
The best of them is like a brier;
the most upright is worse than a hedge of thorns.
The day of your watchmen,
the day of your punishment, is coming;
at this time their panic is here.

This could easily paint a picture of where we find ourselves…perplexed with the questions in regard to our vote in this election. Yet, if our thoughts are left here we are discouraged, asking ourselves where the hope is…but read on to verse 7!

But I will look to the Lord;
I will wait for the God of my salvation.
My God will hear me.

We must focus on God…who is JUST

We must wait for God…who is MERCIFUL and will save us

We must pray to God…who is HUMBLE enough to hear us

Placing ourselves completely under His authority and trust His Sovereign control over ALL THINGS!

This doesn’t mean that we are free from consequence as a nation. His Sovereignty does not change the reality that our nation has gone it’s own way, and that the heart of our nation is far from God. What His Sovereignty does provide is the ability to look beyond our current circumstance and rest in knowing that He is the ultimate Victor over sin and death. It’s not that He WILL reign…It’s that He DOES reign that we have hope!

I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace. In the world you have tribulation and distress and suffering, but be courageous [be confident, be undaunted, be filled with joy]; I have overcome the world.” [My conquest is accomplished, My victory abiding.]
John 16:33

When you step into that polling booth, PRAY, place yourself under HIS authority and He will guide then, take heart my friends! Rest in this truth…

HE HAS OVERCOME THE WORLD!

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The Greatest Rain Delay of All Time

Some moments in life seem to unfold in slow motion. These are some of the same moments that can cause us to hit the replay button over and over again due to the sheer amazement of its power. Last night I lived through many of those kinds of moments. Possibly the most epic game in baseball history was played last night. The 2016 World Series will go down in Major League history, leaving its mark unlike any other. As the Indians and Cubs battled it out at the plate, their fans anticipated each swing, hoping it would deliver the runs that would carry them to victory. It was the 10th inning that revealed the champion, and I watched in amazement as my Cubbies took ownership of the title 2016 World Series Champions.

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The Chicago Cubs celebrate after Game 7 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the Cleveland Indians Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016, in Cleveland. The Cubs won 8-7 in 10 innings to win the series 4-3.Gene J. Puskar, The Associated Press
The Chicago Cubs celebrate after Game 7 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the Cleveland Indians Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016, in Cleveland. The Cubs won 8-7 in 10 innings to win the series 4-3.Gene J. Puskar, The Associated Press

Many will agree that this game carried us through countless moments filled with emotion. Moments full of fear, anticipation, hope, exuberance, confusion, nausea… and everything in between! Some moments are forever etched in my memory.

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As the final out of the game unfolded, there was Bryant’s boyish smirk that grew into sheer exuberance as he released the throw to Rizzo. It was the throw that would deliver that final out, sealing the victory for his team. Then there was Rizzo,

hqdefaultwith mouth gaping wide open as he catches the throw by Bryant only then to cram that game winning ball into his back pocket, much like he had done just weeks prior in the game that clinched their division. Some of my favorite moments though, took place after that last out of the game.As celebrating broke out on the field and reporters began snagging players for interviews, the behind the scene stories began to unfold and we all gained a clearer understanding of what had actually taken place within that Cubs “band of brothers” during a 17-mintue rain delay.

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In the bottom of the 9th the Indians had tied the game at 6-6. A storm front blew in, and settled on Progressive Field resulting in a 17-minute rain delay. For the Cubs players those rain delay moments would go down as the ones that carried them into and out of the 10th inning as World Series Champions. Apparently during the delay Jason Heyward, Cubs right fielder, gathered his teammates in the weight room for a team meeting. In the words of Chris Bryant to Fox:

“It was the best thing for us, We all got together in the weight room. We all supported each other….talking us up, gettin’ us ready”

“…in that moment, saying those things that needed to be said. That’s an ultimate leader right there.” Ben Zobrist

“It was a great message,” David Ross said

“It was,” Rizzo said, “the best rain delay of all time. It kind of settled us down, got us regrouped.”

So what in the world did the quiet, gentle giant, Jason Heyward say to his teammates?jason-heyward-jpg

When asked about the team meeting, Heyward told Fox:
“I just had to remind them of who they were. I just had to remind everybody who we are. … Win or lose, we were never worried about that… The beginning of every day, we never worry about wins or losses, we just worry about how we’re gonna go out there, have fun, compete, be right there for the guys next to us, and not take the situation for granted.”

Later Heyward said, “I let them know that I loved them.”

Maybe not in this particular moment, but some moments in life need a Divine rain delay. A moment to stop the game to be reminded of who we are, that we aren’t playing the game alone, and we are loved. Whatever the case may be, the power of a moment like that sends us back into the game, ready, and confident that we will be victorious, because we play for the winning team! Be looking for the Heyward moments. I guarantee that it’s raining hard somewhere and a meeting needs to be called. You could be the encouragement that pulls the tarps off the field for someone and sends them back into the last inning to claim victory

“Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors and gain an overwhelming victory through Him who loved us [so much that He died for us].”
Romans 8:37 (AMP)