Making Lemonade

On Mother’s Day, our family spent the afternoon looking through old photo albums. As we flipped through page after page, I was struck by how quickly time had passed. Glancing at my daughter–taller than me and of course much wiser. 🙂 — I had a strong desire to draw her close, to pull her into my lap like I used to.

But she doesn’t fit, and she balks at snuggles and butterfly kisses.

I wanted to hold her tight just the same, to cherish what little time we have left before she launches into adulthood.

Little did I know, God was stirring my heart for my next big task–one that hits a bit closer to home. It’s funny how He does that. He can (and sometimes does) command us to do something we’d rather not. But most often, He stirs our hearts first, planting a seed of desire.

1 Philippians 2:13 “For it is God who works in you to will and act according to His good purposes.”

On Wednesday, we sat in our KC house, packed boxes all around, my daughter crumpled in my arms, crying. The next day would be her last day of school. She’d have to say goodbye to some dear friends, to a wonderful church, to loving neighbors … to embark on the unknown.

But what she fears most is loneliness. I feared the same–a long lonely summer of her stuck in the house.

Driving that evening, I poured my heart out to God. I know He values community. I know He longs for us to live in close relationships, to avoid isolation. I knew He had a solution, I just couldn’t see it.

So He showed me. This summer, I will be her friend. We’ll turn this event into an extended vacation–an opportunity to explore, have ice-cream, sight see, and giggle over silly things.

Incredible joy swept over me as I realized God had been setting this up all along. It began with a fledgling of a desire, stirred by a very real need, that blossomed into a solution.

What a tender heart He has!

So that’s what I’ll be doing this summer. And while we’re exploring Omaha, I’ll use our time–this move–to show her:

1) God is good, loving, faithful, and true. In all things, always.

2) God can and does turn all things to good. (Romans 8:28)

3) Blessings abide in every storm cloud … if we’d but avert our focus.

4) A faith that is not dependent on our circumstances, but instead, that is rooted in the truth of God.

5) How to trust not in our home, our savings, our friends, but instead, in God’s unfailing love.

Psalm 147:11 “No, the LORD’s delight is in those who fear Him, those who put their hope in His unfailing love.

What an opportunity God has provided! Making lemonade indeed, and my, is it ever sweet.

Let’s talk about this!

We all experience tragedy, hurdles, storm clouds that attempt to shroud our view and distort our vision … if we let them. But Romans 8:28 tells us God works all things out for our good. That doesn’t mean He’ll fix everything, but instead, that He will use every event, painful and joyful, to mold us into the men and women He created us to be. And that is cause for celebration.

Sadly, I often spend so much time bemoaning my circumstances, I miss out on these hidden and unexpected blessings. Blessings that abound in each day, each trial, each storm cloud. The question is, will I focus on the rainbow or the rain?

Join us at Living by Grace as we talk about making pitchers of lemonade.

And congrats to Dicky To and Nichole Parks, May’s book give-away and gift basket winners!

Dicky, you’ve won a copy of Deborah Rainey’s Remember to Forget.

Nichole, you won the gift basket bundle listed on the May Donors page.

I’ll be contacting you both via email to get your mailing addresses. Be sure to join us Monday for another inspiring “Reach Out to Live Out” story.

Vision Check

This past month, my husband’s schedule has changed slightly, and he’s spent a few days working from home. In the beginning, each day as I performed my daily chores he’d ask, “Are you in a cleaning mood?” By the third time he asked this, I had to laugh. What was routine for me Monday through Friday seemed out-of-place for him because I rarely do major housework while he’s around. Most likely, he doesn’t give the clean floors and folded clothes much thought. (And I’m sure there are countless things he does each day I’m not aware of.) If left undone, however, I’m sure he’d notice!

I think this is true of God as well. We notice and talk about the big things–a miracle healing, a special verse that pops off the page when we need it most, but each day, God works behind the scenes, watching over us, guiding, loving, nurturing. In Matthew 6:23 Jesus said: “But if your eyes are bad, then your whole body will be full of darkness.”

Bad eyesight leads to distorted vision. If we can’t see God’s hand, the problem lies with us, not Him.

Perhaps it’s time for a vision check. 🙂

Let’s talk about this. How often do you think we miss God’s blessings because we’re not looking? Throughout the Bible we are told to live lives of praise and gratitude. Do you think negativity can distort our vision? What else hinders our ability to see God’s hand? How might “counting our blessings” change that?

And on a fun note, what are some unexpected or perhaps easily overlooked blessings that came your way this week?

Join us at Living by Grace as we talk about ways to enhance our spiritual vision. 🙂

Jelly Beans, Candied Almonds, and Hearts … sigh

How much do I love thee? Let me count the ways ….

My husband is quite the romantic. He rarely buys me glitzy jewelry or takes me to five-star restaurants. He doesn’t read me poetry or take me dancing (perhaps you remember why. If not, you can read the reason here.), but he does buy me candied almonds when he’s at the outdoorsman store. He buys me jelly beans and packs of gum … just because. He sends me one sentence—uh … one word—emails, and calls me with absolutely nothing to say. 🙂 It’s like a trail of love, small actions sprinkled throughout our sixteen years together, easily overlooked if I’m not paying attention, and yet able to penetrate deep into my heart if I am.

If you belong to Christ, you have a husband even more tender, more thoughtful, more attentive than mine. Daily, Christ showers us with love, for no other reason than because we are His beloved. His treasure.

Today my sweet friend  Elizabeth Veldboom shares how God sprinkled tokens of love before her, like hidden rose petals waiting to be discovered and cherished.

***

As I held the small angel ornaments in my hands, ready to purchase them, tears came to my eyes even as a smile touched my lips. I fingered the pretty white lace, and breathed in the words the angels held in their embrace: love, and joy. Yes, I had love. And I had joy, for I was loved.

But let me rewind a little bit. One morning last December in my prayer time I felt as if God were asking me to focus on “love” and “joy.” Love and joy? I thought, crinkling my brow. Could you be more specific, God? That’s kind of general.

If only I knew then how specific He could get.

A few days after that, I came across a blog post about the widespread phenomenon of the “one word for 2012” campaign. Basically, instead of concentrating on a huge resolutions list for the new year, participants were asked to consider focusing on just one word for 2012. They could do this through prayer, journaling, and just by asking God how He would have them apply that word throughout daily life.

The idea intrigued me, and I decided I, too, would focus on one word for 2012. As I mulled on it, my conversation with God a few days earlier came back to me. Focus on love and joy. Could those be the words God wanted me to concentrate on for 2012? I hoped not. They were two very broad terms. Besides, they were just that:two. I needed one word.

A week later found my mom and I at a craft fair. In the first room we entered, a woman selling lace angel ornaments caught our eye. As we ventured nearer, I felt a gentle tugging in my spirit to pay attention. Curious, I tried to listen closely to what God was trying to tell me. But instead of my ears, it was my eyes God used.

Looking up, one angel stood out from among the many. Love, I read. That would have been enough to make me wonder, but then I felt another gentle urging to keep looking. I swept my gaze to the side, and immediately recognized what I was supposed to see: joy, said another angel. I couldn’t believe it.

That was at least two months ago, but the words “love” and “joy” have kept resurfacing everywhere I go. And I’m not a bit surprised.

You see, I serve a God who takes joy out of the little things. Who never overlooks the smallest detail or tiniest trouble. Who orders and plans and organizes our steps. He is a God of greatness, yes-but He is also a God of the still, the small, the silent.

Psalm 37:23 says, “The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.” (NLT.)

Every detail? Yes. Even the smallest: a single tear wetting the pillow; a snowflake drifting from the skies of heaven; the lace in an angel’s skirt.

No one is ever too insignificant for Him to notice. No problem too small for Him to care. Knowing He delights in and takes care of every little detail in our lives, we can rest easy and without fear.

I love that God delights in the details and in the small things. But even more-I love that God finds delight in the details of my small life.

I Hear Ya: In what small ways has God shown that He delights in the details of your life recently or in the past? What one word would you choose for 2012?

Elizabeth Veldboom is devoted to God, a small town girl, and a freelance writer.  She has previously been published in places like Guidepost’s Angels on Earth Magazine and Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Magic of Mothers and Daughters. Visit her blog anytime at www.thefearlist.wordpress.com– the place that is for the faint of heart. **And visit her blog today to get in on a fun give-away! She’s giving away a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul.

And come back here Saturday as we talk about our spiritual vision. God’s always working, loving, speaking, guiding. If you can’t see His hand, perhaps you need to get your vision checked. 🙂

Guarding Date Nights

Early in our marriage, my husband and I made a commitment. We decided we’d place our marriage first. We’d sit beside each other in the restaurant even though our daughter tried to wiggle between us. We’d schedule date nights and hire babysitters even though it’d wipe out our monthly budget. We’d go on annual trips, just the two of us, even though leaving our daughter left a knot in my gut. 16 years later, our love is even stronger than on the day we said I do. I believe our commitment to guard date nights played a major role in that.

I’ve learned, if I want an intimate relationship with my eternal Husband, Jesus Christ, I need to do the same thing. This can be hard, especially when you become involved in ministry. There’s always a hole needing to be filled, a study to attend, a person in need of prayer. But if we’re not careful, our business can steal our needed time with God. Sometimes we have to say no and leave the results–and other people’s expectations–to God.

For me, my day is Sunday. It’s taken a few years for my family to catch on, but on Sunday, I let the laundry lie. I let the dishes set, and I grab my iPhone with my Pandora and head for a nice long walk–by myself. It’s my special time with Jesus. Sometimes it lasts a few hours, other times it extends all day, but I always come back refreshed and recharged.

What about you? Have you and Jesus set aside a “date night”? This date will look different for everyone, but I believe we all need it. I believe we all crave it. Spend a moment with God and ask Him what day and time He’d like you to set aside for Him. For the two of you to get away. Then ask Him to remind you and help you follow through.

Equally important, we need to encourage and allow other people to do the same.

Let’s talk about this!

Join us at Living by Grace as we talk about being intentional in our time with God. Here are some things I like to take on my “date”.

*my Bible

*my Pandora radio tuned to praise music

*my prayer list

*a journal

*a concordance

But my favorite times are when I slip away to a hiking trail and simply enjoy God’s presence–no agenda or expectations, just me and Him, spending time connecting on a heart-to-heart level.

What about you? Where can you go this week to spend time with God? What will you bring with you? What might you need to say no to in order to make that date happen?

Incomprehensible Love

When our daughter was an infant, she spent hours in my arms. Then she learned to walk, and our times together have grown increasingly shorter ever since. This makes those rare moments when she sits with me on the couch or invites me to spend an afternoon with her at the mall even more special. If you’re a parent, I imagine you can relate. Today Zeke Lam, author of subMISSION shares the heart of another parent–our Heavenly Father. I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to fathom the depths of God’s love, but we can catch a glimpse of it when we look at our own children.

Incomprehensible Love by Zeke Lam

When I consider God’s love for us, it generates an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. His unconditional and insurmountable love towards His children is easily the most powerful truth in our lives. Understanding the level of love that Christ offers has often been a reality that is difficult to fully grasp. Why does God care so much about me? How am I supposed to reciprocate that kind of commitment? These questions crossed my mind as I matured in my walk with Him.

The birth of my first child was an eye-opening event that catapulted my faith as it relates to grasping His love for me. On one occasion however, I received a love lesson that altered my thinking and settled any uncertainties as to what God expects of my life.

It was a typical Sunday evening service where I was filling in for our pastor who was travelling. With my head bowed in prayer as I always do before preaching, I heard a loud commotion coming from the rear of the church. It was my two-year old son. With tears flowing, he kicked, screamed, and wrestled out of my wife’s arms and made a mad dash towards the front of the church where his daddy sat. All I could hear was the loud chant of: “I want my daddy. I want my daddy!” My wife caught him and settled him down, but he generated quite a scene amidst the formal and quiet atmosphere of this particular service.

Two things happened as I laughed from the front row. First, I experienced an incredible amount of joy. As my son proclaimed his love for me, he did so with no regard for his surroundings. He didn’t care what other people thought. He refused to be held back. He wanted to run to his dad. I was so proud.

As I pondered with appreciation this little outburst and prepared to approach the podium, God spoke to my heart, “This is all I want from you.”

This was a paradigm shift in my life. In relation to God’s love, what He expects from me became so simple. He wants me to want Him with no regard for what others think. He wants me to want Him to the extent that I hold nothing back. He wants me to run to Him with all I have.

He doesn’t just command our love. He desires it.

subMISSION:

What is the greatest challenge that the Church is facing today? In one word, author Zeke Lam suggests that the following is the greatest challenge: submission, or the lack thereof. It is not the external forces that nullify the testimony of a vibrant and Christ-centered Church. Instead it is the lack of submission to the Lord within the heart of each believer. Zeke Lam shares Scriptural truths coupled with real life experiences to demonstrate a life of biblical submission. Are you ready to live a life of joyful submission unto Christ?

Zeke Lam is a 27-year-old youth minister, evangelist, and missionary who followed God’s leading in 2010 and moved his family to Sugar Land, Texas. Although they knew nothing about the area, they soon met a church family that changeed their lives.

Writing subMISSION was another unexpected detour in Zeke’s life. In the book, he outlines his best advice for daily preparing yourself to be obedient to the Lord.

‘If you don’t prepare,’ he says, ‘one of two things will happen: 1) You will not hear the call, or 2) you will hear but not have the courage to obey.’

Zeke, his wife Kathleen, and their three children currently reside in Virginia.

The Song We’re Singing

The song, “Praise You in the Storm”, by Casting Crowns expanded on in the following post by friend and fellow writer, Jodie Bailey, came out during one of my family’s most difficult times. It felt like the world was falling apart around me, under me, like I’d fall apart, too. Through this song (and verses, devotionals, and a million other God-moments sprinkled throughout our day) God carried us through. Looking back, that painful time miraculously transformed our family and brought about some incredible healing. Not one tear was wasted and standing on the other side of the valley seven (or so) years later, I can honestly say if given the choice, I’d go through it all again. (You can read a snippet of this story in Majesty House’s Kernels of Faith, coming out in September. I’ll link when it goes to print.) If you’re going through a valley or a hurricane-like storm today, hold tight to the words in this song and God’s promise to stay beside, to carry you, and to hold you close to His heart. He’ll never leave you nor forsake you. Let Him be your strength made perfect in weakness.

The Song We’re Singing by Jodie Bailey

If you don’t know this by now, you’ve been living under a rock…  I’m a Southern girl, a Carolina girl (“best in the world”), a true blue Tarheel.  I’m proud of where I come from.  I’m proud of belonging to the Bible belt.  Since my husband and I were married in 1996, we’ve lived all over the country, but you truly can’t take the Southern out of this girl.

As a Carolina girl, I am not a big fan of March. Okay, wait. March Madness and ACC basketball… yes.  March weather… not so much.  You see, March is notorious.  On March 28, 1984, there were 24 confirmed tornadoes in the Carolinas.  A whopping seven of them rated F4.  One storm that tore through Red Springs stayed on the ground for 45 miles and was, in places, two miles wide.  The nearest one to us was probably ten miles away, but I can remember driving through a few weeks later with my dad, to a small town that had been leveled.  It looked like the pictures you see of Hiroshima after the bomb.  It was surreal, etched in my brain, scary…

Last week, I realized we are entering March.  For a little while, I got a little concerned and started wondering what I’d do when the storm came.  I’m always relieved when it passes, but sometimes, I get a little pre-emptive and start to worry about the next storm when it’s not even on the horizon yet.  Because, you see, there will always be another storm.

Isn’t life like that?  We don’t know when it’s coming, but there will always be another storm.  In fact, just a handful of months after that weather disaster, my parents divorced.  I had my own personal storm. Somehow, in my head, the two events twined together and, for months, I hated thunderstorms, lived in fear of them ripping my life away.  One puffy cloud in a clear blue sky sent me into hysterics.  My ten-year-old self didn’t know how to cope.

Then, one day, I sat on the deck of a beach house and watched a storm out at sea.  Lightning chased through the clouds and made beautiful patterns and flashes.  In that moment, God showed me how beautiful a storm can be.  Don’t get me wrong, I hate going through them, but even in the most horrid moment, there is something worth noticing.  See, God never allows us to weather a storm for no reason.  There is always beauty to be found, always something that–maybe in the midst of it and maybe on the other side–can change us for His glory.  I think knowing He is in charge is why we can praise him in the storm….

Jodie Bailey was Playwright of the Year in Methodist University’s annual Hail! Dionysus competition and has written plays performed by the Monarch Playmakers. She has been published in Teen magazine and collaborated on PWOC International’s latest Bible study. She has a B.A. double major in English literature and writing, and an M.Ed. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, the Christian Writers Guild, and Middle Tennessee Christian Writers. She lives in Tennessee with her husband and daughter.

Jodie is an avid reader, a life-long writer, and an aspiring beach bum.  She is a stubborn child who resisted God’s calling for two decades until He hit her over the head with a Beth Moore Bible Study book, and she finally figured out He wanted her to be a writer.  When not tapping away at the keyboard, she watches NCIS reruns, eats too many chocolate chip cookies, wishes she were at the beach, roughhouses with her daughter, and follows her Army husband around the country. (Her debut novel, Freefall, releases in November from Steeple Hill.)

Visit her online.

Remember, if you loved today’s post, leave a comment, FB share it, “like” it, or tweet it, and I’ll tally each comment, share, like, and tweet to determine which three posts were your favorite. I have one more post for my top 20 of 2011. After I post that, I’ll announce the top three sometime in the next three days.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Today’s post is a repost from Jimmy Davis’ blog, Cruciform Life. Many of you may be struggling this holiday season. You long for the joy of Christmas, but life’s burdens are wearing you down. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one and this is your first Christmas without them. Maybe you’re fighting illness, or a plummetting bank account. Whatever your struggle is, God sees you. He loves you and He’s promised to be your Abba Daddy.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Jimmy Davis

Yep, here I am again. In one of those “rock and hard place” seasons, wondering how to be refreshed in the desert. And then I was reminded today that God and I have had this discussion before. So here it is, from my old blog over three years ago. Reading this encouraged me to keep my eyes on Jesus, even and especially when I’m feeling “stuck.” A good reminder during Holy Week.

Refreshed Between A Rock And A Hard Place

I often feel caught between a rock and a hard place. In fact, some weeks it seems that I merely step from one rock to another hard place, wondering when the tough times will pass so that I can experience those “times of refreshment from the Lord” (Acts 3:20). But God promises to refresh me in and from those places. Strange. I don’t know that I’ve often expected refreshment in, and especially not from, hard circumstances, difficult relationships, or the agony of waiting.

A couple of days ago I was feeling caught in one of those “rock and hard place” days. I came back to the office after lunch, feeling the anxiety building up inside, and was reminded to pray my midday Psalm. The scheduled Psalm was 114 which highlights the power of God as it was displayed through the wilderness wanderings of His people after the Exodus. Talk about some hard places! The Psalm concludes with these verses: “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water” (vv. 7-8).

The psalmist is most likely alluding to those moments when God’s people found themselves on thirsty ground where there was no water” (Deuteronomy 8:15). The people complained to Moses, Moses cried out to God, and God provided fresh water from the side of a rock (Exodus 17:1-7; Numbers 20:2-13). As I meditated on these verses the Spirit seemed to be saying, “You don’t have to wait until the hard times are past to find refreshment. I can satisfy your thirsty heart from the rock and in the hard place. When I am present in those places (and I Am), you can find refreshment for your soul.” I was then reminded that just the week before He had me meditating on Exodus 17:1-7, the time God told Moses to strike the rock and watch the water flow. God told Moses in verse 6, “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” The key to the rock providing water was not the pounding of Moses’ staff but the presence of the Standing God.

Not even a moment after the Spirit opened my eyes to see that wonderful truth, He turned my heart toward Christ. I envisioned Him on the cross, standing on that nail in His feet, pouring out His life for me. I thought about the soldier’s spear that made blood and water flow from the side of the Rock of my Salvation (John 19:34). I was filled with new confidence and comfort that my God was present in the hard places in my life, and that He indeed is the One who “turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.”

JIMMY DAVIS loves being married to Christine, with whom he shares the adventure of raising three great kids and a Havanese pup named Charlie. Jimmy earned an M. A. in Christian Education and M. A. in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary, and is an ordained teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. In over 20 years of ministry he has served as a pastor to youth and college students, youth-ministry consultant, church planter, pastor of discipleship, and has taught Bible courses on the high school and college levels. He has also served as a staff writer and associate editor of the Colson Center’s Worldview Church Website, and maintains The Cruciform Life Blog at www.cruciformlife.org.  Jimmy’s first book Cruciform: Living the Cross-Shaped Life was published by Cruciform Press in April 2011.
 
Facebook:  http://facebook.com/cruciformlife
Twitter:  http://twitter.com/cruciformlife
Amazon author page:  http://amazon.com/author/jimmydavis
 
Cruciform book blurb:
 
“What is the Cross-Shaped Life?

It is the vertical life of loving God with all your head, heart, and hands; and the horizontal life of loving others as Christ has loved you.
 
Employing the symbols of the cruciform cathedral and the Celtic cross, Jimmy Davis uses personal stories, both humorous and heart-breaking, to encourage and equip the reader to gain a cross-shaped perspective on how he or she can be an active participant in God’s community-on-mission.
 
Cruciform casts a vision for living as disciples of Jesus who are being shaped by the cross (gospel) into people and churches who share and show the cross (gospel) by living as sons and servants of God. As we embrace the gospel in this way we can live: – in relationship to God as seekers who exalt God; – in relationship to other disciples as shepherds who encourage one another; – in relationship to the resources God has given us as stewards; and – in relationship to those who are not disciples as sowers of the gospel of grace, engaging our neighbors, the nations, and the next generation with cross-shaped words and works. Finally, the Cruciform Life involves growing through cross-shaped spiritual disciplines and cross-shaped suffering, which together enable us to embrace and express the Cruciform Life to God, one another, and the world.”
 
Read the first chapter of Cruciform and more for free here:  http://www.scribd.com/doc/72970555/Cruciform-Press-Sampler-Vol-2

Remember, if you loved today’s post and would like to see it in the top 3 of 2011, FB share it, “like” it, tweet it, or leave a comment.

And have a Merry Christmas!