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!

Who Are You (Part II)

I get a kick out of watching my fourteen year old daughter hover between childhood and adulthood. As she matures, she experiments with clothing and hair styles, slang words, and all those other things inherent to the teenage years. We’ve had countless conversations about outfits, make-up, and jewelry, and have spent hours upon hours perusing clothing racks. Yes, her world revolves around clothes and hair right now.

Had I not spent so much time researching identity issues for a contemporary youth program I’m writing for Christ to the World Ministries, I may be tempted to think her behavior is selfish and shallow. Shouldn’t I be training her to look beyond those things? To focus on things more important? To an extent, perhaps, but I’ve learned to spend as much time trying to understand her heart as I do observing and trying to correct her behavior. Most often, there’s more going on than I first assume.

I’ve realized my daughter’s behavior really isn’t about clothes or hair. It’s about something much deeper. With every outfit, hair flip, and music choice, she’s trying to establish her identity. No easy trait considering how many changes she’s been through over the past three years. Puberty hits, and suddenly she finds herself staring at a stranger in the mirror. Friends change, and she needs to decide which group to “merge with”. She longs to belong but also needs to be unique, longs for closeness and security at home while fighting for independence.

Although most of us move past this developmental stage, I think we all struggle with our identity at times. As Donna Stone shared on Monday, sometimes we allow who we are to get tied up in what we do.

When that happens, it helps to remind ourselves of how God sees us. If you belong to Christ, He says:

You are dearly loved (Col. 3:12)

Redeemed (1 Cor 6:20)

A masterpiece (Eph. 2:10)

Christ’s friend (John 15:15)

God’s child (John 1:12)

Chosen and adopted (Eph 1:3-8)

Complete (Col. 2:9-10)

Secure (Rom. 8:11)

Are you feeling pulled in a million directions today? Like perhaps you don’t quite measure up? Spend a moment reflecting on these verses and ask God to show you how He sees you.

Join us at Living by Grace as we talk about what it means to rest in who we are in Christ.

Hiding Beneath My Father’s Arms

Our family is in a period of uncertaintly, a time where we wake up each morning saying, “Okay, God, what next?” I don’t need to go into too many details except to say, we understand God’s admonishion in James 4:13 “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” For a plotter, scheduler, preparer like me, this gets a little uncomfortable. And it leaves me with two choices: Angst over a perpetual list of what-ifs, or rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

Resting doesn’t come easy. Nor does waiting…for that job offer, that phone call, that medical report, whatever,…Oh, how I long to plan! To know! To do!

But God says, “Trust in me.”

Psalm 16:1-11

1 Keep me safe, my God,
for in you I take refuge.

2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing.”
3 I say of the holy people who are in the land,
“They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”
4 Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
or take up their names on my lips.

5 LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
7 I will praise the LORD, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
8 I keep my eyes always on the LORD.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay. (Although verses 8-11 are what’s referred to as a Messianic Psalm, referring to Jesus and His ressurrection, God has promised to never abandon us as well. Faithfulness to those He loves is who He is. It is His very nature.)
11 You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

What about you? Are you going through a time of transition or uncertainty? What are some certain, unwavering truths you can hold tight to? Join us at Living by Grace as we talk about resting in the Father’s arms.

When God Nudges

When we lived in Southern California, I attended a gym. Fitness facilities in this area are unique to say the least. I think many gym members came to find dates, others came to show off their plastic surgery, and others, well… I never could quite figure out their reasons. Surrounded by such superficiality masking such deep pain, I began to use this time to pray. As I did, I felt God calling me to pray with one of the members in particular. But surely not! I didn’t know this person! I must have heard God wrong. So instead of obeying, I delayed, asking for clarification. This went on for some time, me looking for that giant neon sign that said, “Yes, Jennifer, pray with my child.” And then we moved, and I regret not following through. 

Today’s post comes from a fellow ACFW author, Sandy Nadeau. As you read about how God nudged her to be His hands and feet, think about how He might be wanting to do the same through you. Because if we truly are His hands and feet, we need to get moving. 

When God nudges

Years ago while I was in a local store, I passed by an aisle noticing out of the corner of my eye, a young gal all goth’ed up. Beyond what most Goths did for makeup and dress. I got an overwhelming sense of….almost evil radiating from her. It stopped me in my tracks. I backed up, looked down the aisle at her and felt goose bumps rise up on my skin. My pulse and heart rate went up. I just felt so unsettled. I knew God was nudging me that I had to pray for her and do it now.

I made like I was looking at cards and began an earnest prayer for this young gal’s soul. To get out of whatever she was involved in. The prayer went directions I wouldn’t have known, so I knew the Holy Spirit was involved. But the feelings inside of me were of a true battle going on. The more I prayed, the more I felt a pulling trying to get me to move on, to stop. I did all I could to keep my feet planted where I was. My brow began to sweat. It was many strange sensations as I tried to stand in the gap for this girl.

The feelings that crawled all over me, felt consuming, eerie, I prayed harder. It was only minutes, but I felt like I was transported somewhere else as I prayed. Then it was over, I had no more words. I looked at her one last time then moved on. I’ve never forgotten her. I can trust that God did something for her that day. And I still pray for her.

 Sandy Nadeau is a writer of inspirational adventure fiction stories sprouting from her own adventures around Colorado. Sometimes she just has to write about true experiences however. Sandy has been writing for over twenty-five years with twelve years as a columnist for a local newspaper, a few articles have been published in national magazines; she does all the publicity for her church along with a self-published book about her church’s history. Her heart is for writing fiction now, but life’s experiences and adventures are on her blog. She’s been married to her best friend for thirty-five years, has one daughter and a great dog named Gus.

Visit her website, www.SandyNadeau.com, and blog, www.SandyNadeau.blogspot.com, to find out more about her and her writing.

 

When God Lights up the Sky

Before you read this story, one that brings me tears even now, stop by Under the Cover of Prayer to read about another time when God showed me His tremendous love for His children. There is nothing He won’t do to show His love and to draw His children to Him.

The following is based on a true story, shared with me by a dear friend fighting brain cancer. (The actual account is provided at the end of the story, but I wanted to put it in story form so you could perhaps understand what a beautiful experience this was for her.)

Although I pray for miraculous healing, my greatest prayer is that this radiant daughter of Christ would know, moment-by-moment, God’s incomprehensible love for her. When she told me how God is demonstrating His love to her night after night, I was reminded of God’s tender mercies. There’s a song I love, it says, “With the strength of no other, and the heart of a Father.” Think about that phrase for a moment–God is all-powerful. He created every star in the heavens and each star blazes with an enourmous amount of energy. The source of all things is always greater than that which it created. But behind that power, or more accurately, coupled with it, is a heart that bleeds for His creation. That sees us when we are at our weakest moments and goes to the ends of the earth to show us we are not alone. He Himself has promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

When God Lights Up the Sky

Terry pushed up from the dinner table, staggering as the plates blurred before her. She gripped the back of her chair until the dizziness subsided.

“Momma, are you okay?” Tiffany, her oldest, froze, tears brimming in her eyes.

Swallowing down a wave of nasuea that threatened to expel her recently eaten dinner, Terry forced a smile and pulled her daughter close. “I’m great, sweetie. Now, where’s that picture you wanted to show me? The one you drew in art class?”

Tiffany studied her mother for a moment longer before turning on her heels and dashing up the stairs. Terry glanced at the clock on the far wall.  7:15. She kneaded her temples as if doing so would fight off the fatigue. One more hour to connect with her children, to instill memories, to show them the depths of her love. Then she could collapse for eight hours, maybe nine, before doing it all again.

Lord, give me energy to be here for my kids–really here. Clear the fussiness in my head. Please. And give me one more day.

“Zzzzrrrrrreeeea!” Her youngest child, Dennis, a chubby-faced boy with sky blue eyes and dimples on both cheeks, swirled an airplane in the sky. “Wanna pway with me, Momma?” He held a Match Box car in his other hand. “You can be the cops and I’ll be the cimimals.”

Terry glanced into the living room where Legos scattered the floor and a handful of other vehicles lined the couch. Maybe sitting would ease her nausea and clear her head. The least she could do was give him ten minutes.

Less than a year ago she would’ve whisked her son in the air like an airplane, filling the house with his high-pitched giggles. Now it took all her energy to make it through the day. And yet, no matter how difficult, each day was precious. Priceless. Cherished.

She turned back to her son. “I’d love to.”

The phone rang. She cringed and her husband bolted to his feet. A moment later, he called out to her. “It’s Linda from church.”

The fifth call in the last hour.

“She wants to know if she can stop by later.”

“Zoooooomzzzzeeeeeerrrrr!” Her son crashed his plane into a wall of Legos. “Momma, you gotta awwest me. I bwoke the waw. I had an akkident.”

“Hold on, sweetie.” She ruffled his hair then called out to her husband. “Can you ask her if I can take a rain check?” Grabbing a police car with chipped paint, she wove it through the “streets” of carpet town, toward her son’s plane.

“Not like that! You need to make the siwen noises.”

A wave of nausea swept over her and she leaned against the couch, double images flashing before her. Her brain pulsated, swollen from radiation-saturation, and for a moment, she feared she’d pass out.

“Honey? Honey? Are you okay?” A hand touched her shoulder and an image of her husband blurred before her.

The room went silent and her son dropped his plane. “Momma no feel well?”

She pinched the bridge of her nose and squeezed her eyes shut. Lord, please give me Your strength made perfect in weakness. For my children and husband’s sake.

“How about I put in a movie?” Her husband poked their son in the ribs until he rolled on the floor with laughter, then he cupped his wife’s chin and lifted her face until their gaze met. “Love you.” He kissed her cheek, then her mouth.

***

Terry lingered in the door of her children’s bedroom, listening to the steady rhythm of their breathing. If only she could capture this moment. Her husband draped his arm over her shoulder and pulled her close, resting his chin on top of her head.

She closed her eyes and inhaled his citrus cologne, laying her cheek against his chest. The steady pounding of his heart soothed her and for a moment, peace washed over her.

But then the phone rang again. She sighed; her shoulders caving forward. Her husband tensed.

“I’ll get it. You go relax.”

She nodded and shuffled down the stairs, outside, and to the porch swing. A cool breeze swept over her, carrying with it the faint scent of freshly cut grass. A crescent moon blazed in a clear night sky, thousands of stars twinkling all around her. She searched the constellations, naming each one in turn. For years, she’d wanted to see a falling star. As a kid, she’d spent hours searching the night sky. She’s seen many things–air planes glistening in the night, Venus blazing bright. But not once a shooting star. But one day she’d be with the bright and morning star. Even as He stayed with her now.

She leaned her head back and inhaled the cool night air, a deep warmth filling her heart, as she turned to God in prayer.

A flash of light caught her attention and she sat aright. In that moment, her vision cleared and above her, a star fell like a miniature Fourth of July firecracker.

“Oh, Father! Oh, Holy Father.”

Tears flooded her cheeks and laughter bubbled in her chest as another star followed.

***

About two months ago, my friend started to sit on her back porch talking to God. Something about looking up at the sky, under the stars, brought her peace. One night as she poured out her heart to Him, she saw a shooting star. She was so excited but didn’t connect it to God- not that time. Since that night, she has seen at least 6 – 10 shooting stars, always when she’s talking to Him. Just typing this story to me overwhelmed her with emotion.

Her words: It’s a simple thing, but for me it reminds me of His love and how He delights in showing it- to ME. Just for me. Just because He wants me to know He’s with me and hears me.

When she told me the story, I, too, was overwhelmed with emotion. A song called Light up the Sky by the Afters is one of my favorites. I listen to it often and love the chorus, “Light, light, light up the sky to show me You are with me.” I never understood why I loved that phrase so much until my friend shared her story. I believe God drew me to that song so I would understand what He’d done for my dear friend, because the song rushed to my mind the minute she told me.

With the strength like no other and the heart of a Father, He lights up the sky to show us He is with us.

Pause and listen to this song and rest in the presence of your loving Father. (And to my dear, radiant, beautiful friend–you are dearly loved! And you shine brighter than those stars God uses to show you His love.)

What About Now?

Yesterday I edited a study written by one of the Christ to the World Contemporary youth team. The studies are scripted radio broadcasts discussing biblical topics and various portions of Scripture. Something Brad, one of the characters in the broadcast, said, really hit me. I thought of it again today at church. In the broadcast, Brad, one of the teen participants, said he was  still waiting for that person to come to his aid–someone to show they cared.

Today’s youth are often referred to as the love-less generation. This means there are an increasing number of young people who have never heard (or rarely hear) those imperative words, “I love you.” Right now, as I write this, someone is sitting in their room, alone, wondering if anyone cares. They don’t need a Bible verse shoved under their doorstep. They need someone to be Jesus to them. They need someone to demonstrate the love of Christ.

Jesus said they would know we were His disciples by our love. Or more accurately, by His love. And love is a verb, folks.

What About Now? (Because Tomorrow May Be Too Late)

Yavonne sits on her bed with her back pressed against the headboard and a pillow clutched to her chest. Her parents’ brutal words slice through her paper-thin walls, filling their house with hatred.  She grabs her Ipod sitting on her bedside table and slams the earplugs into her ears, cranking the volume until her brain vibrates. Tears lodge in her throat, but she swallows them down.

A razor blade tucked inside her nightstand drawer beckons her. The scars forever etched in her arm pale compared to the deep wounds encasing her heart. One of these days, she’ll cut deep enough to end it all.

Would anyone care? Would anyone even notice? The words spoken by a neighbor a few months back flood her mind, playing tug-of-war with her heart.

“God loves you. He’ll never leave you nor forsake you. He sees you.”

She snorts and yanks up her sleeve, exposing ugly pink scars. Yeah, he sees her all right. All of her. Why would he care about her or her family?  

“God loves you. He’ll never leave you nor forsake you. He sees you.”

What a laugh. If that’s true, then where is he now?

Yavonne holds her breath, her heart quickening, as she waited for a response.

The steel guitar grates against her ear drum.

Yeah, that’s what she thought. What does it matter, anyway? You live and die, then turn to worm food.

So why not speed the process along a big? Shorten the dash on the headboard?

***

Rachel sifts through her container of beads, laying the yellows and orange on the table. Soft praise music drifts from the kitchen, muting her parents’ chattering voices. She smiles and resumes her beading.

The words of this morning’s sermon fill her head.

“You’ve been given a precious gift. Now you need to share it. God wants to loves the world—through you. Right now, as you sit her surrounded by His love, someone is hurting. Right now someone is calling out to God, asking Him if He truly cares. The question is, will you allow Him to love His broken children through you, or will you turn and walk away.”

An image of Yavonne, her neighbor, lingers in her mind—the dark, almost hollow eyes, centered on the ground. Her shoulders, hunched forward. Her face hardened by anger and bitterness.

Rachel shakes her head. Yavonne isn’t interested in Jesus. Yavonne isn’t interested in anything.

“Will you share His love with a hurting world?”

She rests her hand on the table as the question posed by her pastor nibbles at her heart.

But of course she will. She does all the time. Last week she’d spent ten hours helping with Vacation Bible School. That’s sharing God’s love, right? And next Wednesday she plans to join the youth at the local women’s shelter.

And yet, despite her rationale, peace evades her as the questions continued to rise.

“What about now? Will you be there for my child now?”

Her mother walks into the kitchen clutching a basket of laundry. “What’s wrong, sweetie? You like you’re about to swallow a lemon.”

If only it were that easy.

Rachel rubs a bead between her index finger and thumb. “I’m not sure why, but I feel like God wants me to go talk to Yavonne.”

 “Then you should go.”

“I don’t know…. Maybe I should pray about it.”

“Or maybe you should obey.”

Rachel sighs and pushed up from the table, her stomach flip-flopping.

Her mother smiles. “I’ll be praying for you.”

***

Yavonne’s hand trembles as she holds the thin razor blade against her clammy skin. Her veins form a faint blue webbing through her wrist.

Just do it, you coward. One slice and it’ll be all over. One cut—long, deep and quick. She closes her eyes and grits her teeth—

A loud knock shakes her door. “Yavonne!”

Yavonne’s breathe catches in her throat. She shoves the razor under her pillow, her gaze locked on the jiggling door knob in front of her.

“Yavonne! How many times do I have to tell you not to lock your door?”

As if her father really cares.

“Someone’s here to see you.”

She wipes her sweaty palms on her pant legs, smoothes her hair from her face, and stands on numb legs.

“Coming.”

The stench of alcohol and stale cigarettes assault her when she swings the door open. Her father stands in the hall wearing faded jean shorts and a sweat-stained tank-top. Her mother lounges on a couch a few feet away watching television and gulping beer.

 “That girl from next door’s here.”  He swipes his nose with the back of his hand. “Said something about beads.”

Yavonne angles her head, staring into the living room where Rachel stands with a stiff smile on her face.  Her smile twitches as Yavonne approaches.

“Hey.”

“Hey….I…uh….” Rachel chews on her bottom lip, scanning the cluttered living room.

Heat rushes up Yavonne’s neck, settling into Yavonne’s cheeks as she follows Rachel’s gaze. Empty beer bottles clutter the coffee table and dark stains splatter the carpet. An overflowing bag of trash lies on the linoleum floor, flies buzzing around it.

“So…. Do you like to make jewelry?”

Yavonne snorts. “Do I what?”

The girl wrings her intertwined hands, staring from the floor to Yavonne’s face then back to the floor again. “I wondered if….” She swallows. “I mean, uh…you wanna come over for a minute?”

Yavonne studies Rachel for a moment, searching for the hidden joke. When none surfaces, she nodded. “I guess so. Sure beats sitting around here all day.”

Be Still

I hope today’s post by Kiersti Plog brings you into a restful and prayerful weekend. I often talk about moment-by-moment surrender. That’s different than scheduled obedience. One follows a list of rules, turning religion into a ritual. The other follows the risen Savior, drawing to His side with ears open and a heart driven by love and ready to obey. It’s easier to follow the to-do list, and if the two-do list centers around religious activity, it’s easy to feel righteous by our actions. But God didn’t say “Come perform.” He said, “Follow me. Take my yoke upon you. Abide in Me. Draw near to Me. Let Me permeate every part of your being, speaking to you gently, like a dear friend and ever-faithful father.”

Be Still by Kiersti Plog

As I write this, quiet rests over our patio. A bird twittered above my head at first, but now I think he has moved to a more distant treetop. The neighbors’ air conditioner hums. Leaves rustle in a faint summer breeze.

I came out here to write an entirely different post. But when I sat down and even typed the title, I sensed the Lord whispering to my heart through the little bird’s song. Be still. Listen. Only I didn’t listen. I wanted to get my post done. I went inside for a pair of earphones, so I could hear music that might inspire me for the post I wanted to write. While inside, I realized I should fix my grandmother a snack. As I peeled and sliced our homegrown peaches for her, my heart relented. Okay, Lord. I’m sorry. I’ll listen.

I came back outside with my own teacup of peaches, milk, and cream. I sat back down. And I began to write, this time trying to listen to the Lord as I did.

It’s challenging, in this world of Facebook and iPhones, of deadlines and crammed schedules, to be still. To listen. Life has been hectic for our family lately, between Seussical rehearsals, set-painting and the multitude of details that must be organized in preparation for the show’s opening this week, on top of the day-to-day tasks and grandma-care and emails that must still happen somehow. Many a night I stay up typing past midnight, since it is hard to fit much novel-writing into daylight hours right now. I know others’ lives are just as busy with their own plethora of duties, joys, and responsibilities the Lord has given them. Good things, many of these. But it is often hard to remember to stop long enough to be still and know that He is God.

I’m reminded, though, of the devotional my mom led for our cast before rehearsal yesterday. The name of our theater company is Showlights, and at the beginning of this school year my mom gave each student a glow-in-the-dark star. She explained they must let the star sit under a bright light for a while before it could shine in the darkness. Yesterday, she brought the star box out again and passed it around once more, as many of our cast members are newer to the group and had not received one. And she reminded them that, just like these stars, we cannot shine the light of Jesus unless we take time to soak in His presence, His light. My mom encouraged each of our young actors to take time this week, in spite of the busyness, to spend time with Jesus, to absorb Him, so that we might truly “show light” to our audiences as our show opens this weekend. My own heart was touched as I listened to her words and the children’s prayers.

Often, the Lord has to remind me that,

“In returning and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15, literal translation)

I don’t want the ending of the verse to be true of me: “But you were not willing.”

I’m thankful He helped me to be willing today. And hopefully someday soon, I’ll get that other post written. ☺

May you know His rest this Friday.

Kiersti Plog,a writer and tutor in southern California, holds a life-long love for history and historical fiction. She has been published in Grit, Clubhouse Jr., and two newspapers and was also a staff writer for the Global Xpress Kids Club magazine for over two years. She is currently working on a historical novel set at a Navajo mission boarding school in 1911, a story inspired by living in northwest New Mexico for five years.

Kiersti holds a B.A. in English with a writing emphasis from Azusa Pacific University and has also completed the “Writing for Children and Teenagers” course with the Institute of Children’s Literature. She has been a writing consultant at Azusa Pacific University and Pasadena City College, as well as a private tutor. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and loves learning and growing with other writers penning God’s story into theirs.