Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gratitude vs.Bragitude: Fighting the Spotlight Mentality

Luke 18:11
The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector.

I have to be honest and say that I really feel blessed in my life.  Mostly because I serve a really good God, and partly because I'm learning that the gift of contentment is one that really must be earned with blood, sweat and tears. 

With all that said, this journey toward contentment has allowed me- for the first time, to have the ability to take the focus off of myself.  God has been really challenging me to a growing awareness of the people around me....their joys, their struggles.

They say early adolescents go through a developmental season where they feel that the focus of the universe is on them.  When they walk into a room, the spotlight is on them.  It's as though they are living their life as the star of their own play, and everyone else is in the background- secondary characters. 

Sometimes I think that stage goes beyond middle school.  Sometimes, I think there is a fraction of that little adolescent living inside of us always...battling for the spotlight. 

Lately, I've been really trying to fight that urge inside of me. 

I heard a pastor the other day on national TV say that he is so "Thankful" for his amazing car, beautiful wife, financial prosperity, and incredible ministry.  "God is good", he said. 

Not sure why, but something about that rubbed me the wrong way.  It brought me back to those middle school days of fighting for the spotlight.  Me, me, me....thank you God that my life is amazing, thank you that I'm rich, beautiful, and smart...thank you, that my life is not like HIS...

I'm grateful for what I have...but I'm learning that there is a difference between gratitude, and "bragitude".

One puts the spotlight on me....the other puts the spotlight on Christ. 

This is something I need to work on daily.  To fight the Pharisee urges of glorifying the good in my life for the sake of praise and recognition, and accept the calling to lay those things down before the feet of Jesus....remembering that it is all because of Him. 

I'm learning to have an awareness of those around me, to approach them with grace and with love, taking the spotlight off of me, and willingly putting it where it truly belongs.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Stop comparing yourselves to supermodels and pornstars...

I read the greatest article I've read in a while today by Russell D. Moore.  It was an incredible calling to women to really take a look at WHO they are submitting their lives, hearts, and values to. 

The past few months I've written many articles on sexuality, body image, and male-female relationships- and this article ties all of those ideas together in a very profound way. 

Please, man or woman, take the time to read this article, but most importantly, take the time to live it out. 

Best Article Ever: Women, Stop submitting to Men

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Selflessness, Interviews, and Naked Taxi Cab Drivers

Matthew 5:40
If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too.

A couple of years ago I had joined my husband on residency interviews as he was looking for a place to land a job after graduating from school.  Usually the interview process is really intense, full of questions, conversations, and a whole lot of professionalism.  The dress code is top notch, suits and ties are a must- and even ties of a certain color.  You never want to stick out too much, or blend in too much.  

But through that entire process, I heard a story that changed my life.  A story that I will never forget as long as I live.  

At one of the interview dinners, we met a young man who had just completed his 2nd year of residency.  He was grateful for the opportunity to be at the hospital that he was currently working at.  And he told the story of the person who made it happen.

A couple years ago as he made his way down the interview trail, there was a snow storm that delayed his flight into Baltimore.  Due to that delay, he had to switch flights at the last minute in order to make it to his interview the following morning.  Fortunately, he did land.  Unfortunately, he landed at 2 in the morning...only to find that his entire luggage had been lost- tie, suit, shoes, and all.  

On his way to the hotel he was making some frantic phone calls in the taxi, trying to make contact with friends and family to think of a way he could avoid showing up at this interview in a sweat suite (a sweaty one, at that!). 

He reached his hotel to no avail, discouraged, tired, and feeling quite helpless.  As he got out of the cab, the taxi driver got out with him, and began to undress!  You can imagine the reaction of this student- unsure to what was going on.  

"I want you to have my suit", he said, having overheard his conversation from the driver's seat.  

And he proceeded to strip down to his boxers, giving the young man his shirt, suit, tie...and even his shoes.  

The young man was humbled, embarrassed, and amazed at the generosity of this complete stranger.  He gratefully took the suit, with tears in his eyes, and hugged the taxi driver goodbye.  

Just hearing that story changed my life.  

I was so challenged to really consider what message I am sending with the way I live my life.  We as Christians talk about being thankful and grateful during this Thanksgiving and Holiday season.  Thank you Lord for what you have given me, thank you Lord for all of your blessings...while clinging on tight to our belongings and being selfish and self-absorbed.  Turning an eye to the poor and needy, and living in our little bubbles of blessing.  What is the point of thanks-giving if we hoard our blessings to ourselves?

I was so challenged by the heart of this taxi cab driver- who was so willing to go above and beyond to meet an immediate need...though it was the need of a complete stranger.  This was the heart of the taxi-cab driver, what then should be the heart of a Christian, of a follower of Christ?

Does my life reflect that kind of heart?   This is my challenge this holiday step out of my bubble of blessing and actually do something with what I have been given.  To hold it with an open hand, and to live with an open heart.  May you be challenged to do the same. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Take THAT Black Friday:

Matthew 6:19-20
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 

21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Let me be honest: my heart was SO divided today.  Like Matthew 6 reminds us: where your treasure, there your heart will be also.  Black Friday is always one of those days that really tests the state of my heart.  There is just something about the idea of hordes of people shopping for incredible bargains that really gets me going! 

I don't think there is anything innately wrong about Black Friday, shopping, or finding great deals.  But this morning I noticed a really strange struggle inside of my heart as I was looking at the ads and watching the commercials.  On one hand, I am trying my best to simplify my life and focus my priorities on things that really matter I really want my life to reflect what's really important to me.  I want the treasures of doing God's work, giving to those in need, and being united with Christ to be the things that drive my adrenaline and give me joy.  

But on the other hand...that iphone would totally beat using this old cell....And that is a really cute sweater. 

You know what I mean?  It's a constant battle to consider what I really want, and what I actually need.  And man, there are soooooo many things that I really want.  It's a battle to continually remember to keep my eyes on heavenly things rather than on this world, to invest in the the kingdom of God and people who are hungry, poor, and alone...rather than my wardrobe.  It's a battle that I fail time and time again, but one that I'm not willing to give up on.  Because the few times I do feels overwhelmingly right.  It's what I was created to do.  It's the treasure I was made to possess. 

It feels so good to invest in the right things.  I want to be a person who does more of that.  I want to be a person who's checkbook clearly reflects the state of my heart and the truth to where my treasure lay. 

Take that, Black Friday.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I'm thankful for Joy because it's not always the norm:

2 Corinthians 1:3-4
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 

The day before Thanksgiving is always a unique day because it marks the start of the holiday season.  Magical Magical decorations, joyous Christmas music, sparkling lights and the aroma of delicious food fill the air and bring an indescribable happiness to people all around. 

The delight of the holidays is contagious.  Looking around you see a sparkle in the eyes of the people around you and feel an unexplainable connection to humanity.  It's as though we were made to be joyful, and this holiday season is a reminder to stop and feel the joy.

I'm thankful for that.  I'm thankful for the fact that I have a reason to feel joy that supersedes the lights and the decorations and the food.  I am so aware as I look at my life that it is filled with blessings, and the clear hand of God as the giver of those blessings.

But this holiday season, I am also aware that for many...this is not norm.

For some, this holiday season brings with it a different feeling.  Depression, loneliness and isolation.  A painful reminder of things that have been long awaited for but have never arrived, or of precious things that have been lost.  The truth is we never really know what someone else is going through until we take the time to notice.  But sadly, so many of us are so distracted by our own blessings that we miss the opportunity to bless others.   

Enjoy your holiday season, enjoy your friends, loved ones, and the joy of this season.  But please, have an awareness that you are blessed, and reach out a hand to someone who might not be feeling so blessed this holiday season.  A hand of comfort, of friendship, and of love.  A hand that says I see you, I feel your pain, and you don't have to be alone.

Because one of these holidays, that someone could be you.  Thank you Lord for joy this holiday season.  Help me to not only be the recipient of that joy, but the giver of comfort as well.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

I'm Thankful that Mercy is not for Pansies...

Luke 1:50
He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him.

Matthew 5:7
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

A few weeks ago I attended my brother's church in Philly: Circle of Hope.  He spoke about the topic of mercy that day, and God has been bringing it to my mind ever since.   

What's the difference between grace and mercy someone might ask?  In my mind, grace is being given what we do not deserve, while mercy is being spared what we did deserve.  So many times in the Christian life we focus on what we have been given, but sacrifice the awareness of what we have been spared.

I've been camping out on these thoughts the past few weeks.  One of my favorite illustrations that my brother referred to was looking at the game of Mercy.  I'm sure we've all played it at one point or another as children.  Wikipedia defines it as this:

Two players face each other, holding their opponent's hands...On the word "go", each player attempts to bend back their opponent's hand and inflict pain by straining their wrist. When a player can no longer stand the pain they declare defeat by shouting "Mercy!"
The very fact that a game such as this was named "Mercy", reflects that we have an incredibly skewed idea of what it really means to be shown mercy.  The truth of the matter is the idea of Mercy is seen as something undesirable.  It's for the fragile and the weak, the those who can't handle the pain anymore.  Asking for mercy is taking a step down into the dark abode of shame and confessing that we don't have what it takes because at the end of the day, Mercy is for pansies.  

And sadly, for so many of us, we have taken that view of mercy into our own spirituality and allowed it to effect our relationship with God.  If mercy is for the weak, then who really wants it? 

It's time that we redefine what it really means to receive mercy.  

I think one of the reasons so many of us have a hard time really appreciating mercy is the fact that we really forget where we have come from.  Just like the parable of the man who was pardoned a huge debt and immediately went and tortured someone who owed him just a little bit.  He forgot where he had come from, and the mercy that had been granted him.  It makes me wonder if he ever REALLY accepted the mercy that was granted to him...because he walked away, and failed to live it out.  True mercy breeds mercy. 

For you see, it may take strength to show mercy....but it takes wisdom to accept it.  It takes a wise man to understand his need to be pardoned and make the choice to walk into that undeserved reward.  And for those who will take that risk, it will inevitably transform every part of who they are.

Mercy is not for's for wise men.  It's for those who understand the miserable place that they were, and recognize the love of a God who chose to bring them into something greater.  Those who see the utter despair that God has pardoned them, and seek to live a life that pardons those around them. 

Today, I am thankful for Mercy.  I am reminded every so clearly of where I have come from and where I should have been...but here I am today.  Thank you Lord for your unrelenting mercy, give me the wisdom and the strength to live in such a way. Have mercy on me again, and again, and again. 

*What has God pardoned in your life?  Where might you have been otherwise?  Thank Him for his mercies today. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Glimpses of Heaven:

Matthew 6:10
May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

My friend Z (Steve) recently came back from a mission trip to Honduras.  This is one of many trips that he and his wife have taken in a desire to heed the calling on their life to do greater things for the Kingdom.

In his most recent blog post he described so deeply of the hell that exists in the lives of many of the poor and broken, who live in some of the most forgotten places.  He went on to explain the devastation that effects so many of the Honduran people- dire living conditions, extreme poverty, broken relationships.  It is true that many times we look around us and sure enough see glimpses of pure hell.  Sometimes in our lives.  Sometimes in the lives of others.

But then, he went on to describe something even more amazing that he saw in Honduras.  Glimpses of heaven.  Laughter in the midst of sorrow.  Love in the midst of brokenness.

To be sure, this beautiful post was a reminder to me of the glimpses of heaven that I see all around me...and frankly, many times fail to see.  It's so easy to fixate on the hell in our lives, the brokenness in this world, the tragedy and pain that effects our world.  But if we look a little harder...we will surely glimpse heaven, because no matter the circumstance, God is there.

I am challenged to be mindful of the glimpses of "heaven" that exist in my world.  I am challenged to be grateful for these moments of light that may times go unnoticed in the darkness.    The joy of being in a committed loving relationship.  The beauty of my daughter's smile.  The fellowship of dear friends.  Shelter.  Food.  Comfort.  Peace.  Joy.  Glimpses of heaven all around me.  Glimpses of Love.  Glimpses of my God.

May we be challenged to see the glimpses of heaven here on our earth.  And may we heed the call to allow those glimpses of heaven to invade hell.    Thanks, Z, for the challenging reminder. 

Lord, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Why I'm Thanking God- And Why You Should Too...

Ephesians 5:20
And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

A few days ago a friend of mine shared a quote by Max Lucado that said something to the extent of:

"What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?"

I had never heard that quote before, and to be honest -  it stirred a really deep place inside my heart.  A place that hasn't been stirred in a very long time.  

It hit a cord of gratitude within me that had been silenced by the noise of a world of entitlement, materialism and false productivity.  A word that glorifies so much the paradigm of a do-it-yourself mentality that at the end of the day, you start believing the lie that the things that you have are because of the work that you have done.  Your hard work, your sweat, your tears, your labor. 

What a scary place to be. 

Slipping into that mentality scares me, because if I got myself here...then I have to keep myself here.  And if I got myself here, then I have to get myself to the next place.  To be completely honest- I don't have the energy to live that kind of life. 

I want to slip back into the place of dependency and trust.  An awareness of my great need for a loving God to have His way in my life, in my family, and in my future.  I want to rest in the truth that He is in control, and this world is what it is for me because of His grace.  

For me, that place comes only with gratitude.  The acknowledgment that all I am and all I have is because of Him.  Everyday.  In everything. 

The next few posts will be focused on this concept, because I want to take the time to really think through and be grateful for the things God has given me- and even more so, for the things He's chosen not to give me.   I want to revive my dead soul from the grips of self-sufficiency and practice a heart of thanksgiving, humility and reverence- because God knows I have wandered far from that place. 

Join me this Thanksgiving Season in reclaiming our rightful place of gratitude and restoring our dependency on a loving God. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

An Eeyore Day:

Psalm 107:1
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

There's a lot to be thankful for.  It's easy to focus on everything else though, isn't it? After a particularly difficult day, I'm having to remind myself of this truth.  To be completely honest, I was having a bit of an Eeyore day yesterday. 

In my counseling sessions, sometimes I will ask my client to write out two different versions of their life story- one including all the good, and one maximizing on all the negatives.  Then I ask them to consider the two stories and ask themselves which one they choose to live in the most. 

The reality is, we all have two stories that we can live in.  One: thankful, the other: miserable.  We have the choice of which story we decide to star in, to savor, and to express. 

Both stories are equally true.  The reality is, even when we choose to be grateful, we aren't protected from the negative things in life.  But our response and perspective about those things is what leads us to the ending. God knows this to be true, and He challenges us to be thankful at all times.  He knows the influence that this kind of attitude can have in our lives. 

Choose to see something positive in your story today, choose to give thanks- no matter where you have come from, where you are, or where you might be going.  Because at the end of the day, your perspective has the power to change your heart, and in turn, your life. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

What's the Point of Unused Freedom?: On Egypt, Freedom, and God's Grace

Matthew 5:11
God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.

Many of you have heard about the tragic events and injustice that has recently happened in the country of Egypt, a country very close to my heart.  October 10th brought devastation to Christian Egyptians as they were attacked during a peaceful protest, in defense of a church that was recklessly burned down prior to this protest.

Though injustice like this occurs every day around the world, and Christian persecution is a common part of many cultures- this tragedy rings even closer to my heart because in the back of my mind I always remember that this could have been me. 

I'm thankful that God willed for my parents to immigrate to the States long before I was conceived.  I had the privilege to be born into freedom and religious rights never imagined by my parents and grandparents.

When I hear about this tragedy, I'm reminded of the freedom that I fail to take advantage of...a freedom that get's taken for granted nearly every day.  My purpose is not to write a post about my American blessings...because though I am blessed to live in a country that offers freedom- I owe every bit of that to the grace of God.

My purpose, though, is deeper than merely giving thanks for freedom.  Because at the end of the day, what is freedom if it is not used?  Why would a chained prisoner rejoice just because he has the key to his chains- if he doesn't have the strength to throw off those chains and be free?

Sometimes I feel like that prisoner.  Given all the freedom I could ever need...and no motivation to use it.

My prayers are weak.  My worship is lacking.  My intimacy with God is limited...not by persecution (that would be an honor), but by the chains of laziness, busyness, and arrogance. 

I forget how much I need Him, and I forget how much He wants me.

It's sad that it takes the death of brothers and sisters in Christ to remind me to take hold of the freedom that I have to worship.  May it never be so again.  

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Steve Jobs and the Image of God:

Genesis 1:27
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Wednesday, October 5th, Steve Jobs-  founder of Apple, said goodbye to this world and journeyed into the next.  It's always a sobering reminder when someone dies, bringing into awareness the reality that this life is not all there is.

But what was even more devastating to me about the death of this man?  The reaction of our society.

With regard to his death I heard someone say, "It's a who is going to come up with the next iphone?"

As flippant as that comment was, I think it's a sad reflection of our society and it's priorities.  We have grown so accustomed to seeing people for what they have to offer rather than who they are.  We interact with people around us as though they were a commodity, making sure to tap into the resources they have available.

Brains, beauty, wealth.  Business, advice, help. 

In the interpersonal communications class I teach, there was a section in the text devoted to "networking" and the principle of making sure to see everyone we come into contact with as a potential person with whom we can "network".

Really?  Is this all that our humanity has boiled down to?

The answer is yes.

I don't know about you, but I want to do my best to fight this vicious paradigm.  I want to be a person who fights the temptation to treat the world around me as a commodity, but rather, see each individual as one who bears the image of God- highly loved, highly valued, highly honored- simply because of their Creator.

Friday, September 30, 2011

What Could Have Been:

2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

I've had the honor of meeting some really incredible men and women over the course of the past few weeks who have really reminded me why I am a follower of Christ.  

Men and women who's lives have been radically changed from darkness into light, from dysfunction into healing, from brokenness into new hope.

It never ceases to amaze me when I hear their stories.  The chains of addictions wrapped around their lives.  Addiction to drugs, sex, relationships.  Addiction to approval, alcohol, and material things.  Broken hearts, destitute spirits, and hopeless futures.  It's amazing to hear the incredible stories of how God took their hurts and their shame...and brought them into something new.

The old has gone, the new has come. 

It reminds me of the power of the love of God through Jesus.  It reminds me of the hope to which I cling.  It reminds me that there is some real power behind the Spirit that is living inside of my heart. 

But it also saddens me.  

I'm saddened because at times, I take my story so lightly.

Sometimes I forget what a privilege it is to be living in the "new".  I've been in relationship with Jesus for most of my adult life.  Having made that choice, and accepting that gift, I've been doing my best to live a life guided my God's Spirit at work in me.  Offering me hope, freedom, and joy ever since.

There is something incredible about that.  There is something incredible to think of who I am today and imagine what could have been if Jesus had not captured my heart. 

My story should cause me to celebrate every day at what should have been...but isn't. 

Thank you Jesus that you enter my present each and every single day, and that you rescue my future. 

The old has gone, the new has come.  May we never take that lightly. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I Heart Me: Loving Yourself

Love your neighbor as yourself.

From the beginning of time there has been a deficit of love in our world.  There has been a deficit of how man loves his God.  There has been a deficit of how man loves one another.  And there has also been a deficit of how man loves himself. 

For this reason, these five words hold such powerful insight into the human psyche.  The more I learn about the discipline of psychology, the more I am amazed with how well God knows His people.  There is proof of that knowledge within these words. 

The beauty of this verse is that with two words God is relaying a foundational truth that many times goes ignored: “As Yourself”.  You cannot love others, until you have learned to love yourself.  I meet so many Christians who struggle continually with this concept.  I meet Christians who have wrestled with the concept of loving themselves because their lives have been filled with self-denial, self-hatred and self-loathing.  Christians who have never been taught to love themselves.  Christians who mistakenly thought they had found some solace in the words of the Bible that taught them to deny their self, to put others before them, and to consider their selves as nothing.  There is tragedy in this type of degradation. 

This type of “denial” is a dangerous misconception.  Masking self-loathing with self-denial is a dangerous road.  Confusing humility with a lack of self worth causes more harm than good.  We are called to love ourselves, to enjoy how God has made us, to delight in our uniqueness, our value, and our worth.  God delights in us, and we also are to delight in who He has created us to be.  We are to love ourselves. 

You see, God is not calling us to deny who he has made us to be, but rather, who He has not made us to be.  To deny our sinful nature with its temptations and its downfalls.  To deny our selfishness and our stubbornness.  To deny our lust, our pride, our idolatry.  To deny the things that separate us from God.  And only those things.

Christians, we are called to love ourselves- just as God loves us.  We are called to delight in ourselves as He delights in us.  And when we do, we will find that gates to loving others have never been so easy to walk through.  We will find that loving others becomes so real, so genuine, and so complete.  We will find that in that beautiful exchange of love between our self and our God, we find the strength and motivation to exchange that same love with our neighbors. 

Lord, give us the ability to love ourselves as you love us- in order that we may then learn how to truly love others. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Life Happens: Simple Birthday Thoughts

Romans 14:8
If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

--CT Studd

In just a couple hours the clock will strike and it will be September 18th...the day I was born. 

As a child, birthday were always a joyful time.  Looking forward to a day to celebrating ME.  I'm sure you can relate.  For most children, birthdays hold special memories, a time when all the world around you stops to put the spotlight on you. 

As I get older, birthdays hold a different, more profound meaning for me.  Slowly, God is showing me the greater joy that comes from taking the spotlight off of me and placing it on Him.  Let me explain.   

As this day approaches, I realize that another year of my life has passed In college, our chancellor never allowed us to forget the reality check by CT Studd, reminding us that life was short.  That phrase sticks with me, and is especially ringing loud in my mind today.  Another year has passed...not that it's any surprise, but the reality that life is short is beginning to sink in- in a serious way.  

You see, Life happens...whether or not you are living it.  Today I am struck with the challenge to live my life, and to live it well.  For me, living it well means nothing less than a life devoted to a God who devoted His life to me. 

And yes, that may sound so selfless and sacrificial, but you know what- it's not.  When you really dig deep you realize that life does not get more fulfilling, purposeful, and abundant until you are truly living it for Him.  Like John Piper says, there is something hedonistic about that kind of sacrifice.  

In seeking to live a life for Christ, I am ultimately choosing to live my life in the most fulfilled way possible.  I am choosing to live a life in which true joys are to be found.  To me, there's nothing much sacrificial about that.  Because at the end of the day (and of life) what I am gaining, makes what I am giving seem entirely meaningless...compared to knowing Jesus and finding myself in Him.    

So, these are my simple thoughts as my birthday approaches...I want to remember to live. 

To live a life the honors Jesus, to live a life that magnifies Him, and to live a life aligned ever so closely to His will...His good, pleasing, and perfect will. 

Life happens.  Are you truly living? 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Hurricanes, Earthquakes, Fires and Floods:

Psalm 31:15
My times are in your hand...

The past 30 days has been quite an adventure, to say the least.  Natural disasters have showed their face all across the country at large and showed us humans who is boss.

It's a little intimidating at times, when nature takes an unexpected turn.  It's even more intimidating when that turn is closer to home.

Through the recent disaster's we have been facing in Central Pennsylvania there has been much tragedy.  This morning I heard a story of a friend of a friend, whose life was taken through the past days of disaster. 

It's heart-breaking taking in the details.  I'm sure that just a couple days ago this man was not thinking of his death...who is?  Who of us wakes up in the morning and wonders if today will be their last?  We don't realize that the end is near until it has found us...

For a moment, the stories of tragedy caused me to give in to some panic.  The reality is that you just never know.  You never know what day will be your last, or worse, the last for those you love.  Life is a difficult journey, with the giving of breath and the taking away.  When faced with the lack of control I really have in all of these things, I found myself with a storm of anxiety building inside my heart.

And then I realized something: God's not surprised by tragedy.

From the moment we take our first breath, the path before us is set.  Whether it's a road that we walk for 3 months, 45 years, or through the ripe age of 92...we each have our journey set before us.  A journey filled sometimes with joy, filled sometimes with pain, but one that is always filled with purpose.  Whether short, or long...foreseen or sudden, there will be a day that we will all come to the end of our road. 

For me, I find comfort in the fact that my journey is not my own.  My time here on earth is completely and entirely in the hands of a God who loves me and the ones I love.  My life is in his hands.

To make the most of this journey, there is no room for anxiety and panic...there is no time to waste thinking of the end.  There is only time to live, to love, to be present.  There is only time to hope, to heal, and to be available. 

Make the most of yours. 


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

For All the Stay At Home Moms- Or anyone who sometimes feels like they're under House Arrest :)

Acts 28:30-31
30 For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31 He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance! 

In reading Acts a few months ago I came across a verse that totally rocked my world and changed my perspective in a huge way.  You see, I'm a stay at home mom, for the most part.  This new chapter of my life came pretty abruptly, as does the birth of a new child.  Suddenly, your entire world is filled with change and just when you thought you were getting the hang of life you realize that you are back to square one.

Talk about a rude awakening.  In fact, it's an awakening that occurs every hour of the day...and even every hour of the long, sleepless first few months:)

Being a new mom comes with so many changes and adjustments...but being a stay-at-home mom is a whole-nother-level of change.  Not only does your entire world change, now revolving around this tiny human being...but so does your entire occupation.

I don't think anyone can really appreciate what that actually means unless they have gone through it.  All of a sudden the area in which you are an expert no longer seems to exist- and you are thrown into a new job with new rules, a new boss (mine was 7 lbs- but still demanding), a new location...and no orientation to get you accustomed.

The demands of being a mom are never ending (but, are the sweet, sweet joys). 

But I know for me, there have been many days in which I wondered how God was going to use me in this new phase of life.  No more adventure-filled mission trips to Africa.  No more visiting the projects and going door to door meeting some of the sweetest people I will ever know.  No more spending months in 3rd world countries, hours at an orphanage, or late night conversations with friends in need.

For some people, they might have the superpowers to accomplish all those things....but not for me.  The birth of my daughter brought many changes to my life.  It ushered me into a new season.

I have been on a journey of finding God's will for me in this season of my life.  Now, don't get me wrong, I think being a mom- and being a good one at that- is enough of a purpose for any hard working mom.  But for me, I had entered a season in which I felt that there was more.  My soul was thirsty for more.

And then, I stumbled across this incredible, incredible passage. 

I've read the stories of Paul's journey's in bringing the gospel to the world plenty of times.  But never did I really grasp the fact that two years of his most significant ministries was spent in the city of Rome, under house arrest after being ship wrecked.

For two years, Paul was not allowed to leave his home...but that didn't stop him from having significant impact on the kingdom of God and loving on the people around him.  For two years Paul proclaimed the name of Christ within the walls of his own home, accepting visitors, and welcoming friends into his home.  He encouraged them, loved on them, and shared with them the hope that he had in Jesus...

That clicked with me in a large way. 

You see, there are times that because of the demands of a baby and life as a mom that I, too, feel as though I'm under "house arrest".  Now granted, being a mom is nothing like prison.  It is a joy and a blessing to invest in our children and I wouldn't trade it for the world.  But as far as the flexibility, freedom, and spontaneity I used to such thing anymore. 

My world is limited by the sweet little child that God has blessed me with.  She is my world, and she comes first.  That said, as much as I would love to be "free" in living my life...nap times, bed times, and feeding times come first!

Talk about a sort of house arrest.  

But God opened my eyes in a huge way by showing me that just like Paul, I can be free to do God's work through my life no matter WHERE I am or what season of my life I am in.  I want to take that challenge and really live a life that reflects the love of Jesus to the world around me right within the walls of my own home. 

The past few months, just like Paul, I have made it my calling to really use my home as a place of ministry.  I have opened my home to friends for lunch, for prayer meetings, bible studies, coffee dates, play dates and dinner gatherings.  I have used this place as a way to share all that God has given me with the people around me, and to teach all that God is teaching me.  And in turn, God has opened my eyes to the people that really do need this kind of hospitality and love.  They're all over the place if you take the time to look for them. 

We can be used by God no matter where He has placed us....because He has placed us there for a purpose.  

My prayer for you is that God renews your passion for this specific season in your life.  Whether working a dead-end job, studying, a stay at home mom, career, or looking for a career...God has placed you in this season of life for a purpose.  Be open to what He has for you, be open to His calling on your life.  Because no one else can do what God has created you to do.  

Can I get an Amen?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

On Suicide, Bridges, and Hope:

Romans 15:13
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

On our way home this weekend, we drove past some interesting signs over the Tappan Zee Bridge.  

"Life is Worth Living"  and "When it seems like there is no hope, there is help".

You see, the Tappan Zee Bridge has been the unfortunate tool by which at least 25 men and women have chosen to take their lives over the past decade.  When the pain and struggle of their lives became seemingly unbearable, they tragically jumped to their deaths. 

Since these deaths, four "LifeLine" phones have been placed on the bridge in an effort to give people hope.  These signs are meant to draw passerby's who may have given up to picking up the phone and talking to someone who cares.

It was sobering to think that the very bridge that we were crossing toward our destination, was the very same bridge that housed these hopeless men and women in the last hours of their lives. It puts things into perspective, doesn't it? 

I know that for me, one thing I came away with that evening is the challenging truth that I need to be the "lifeline" in the lives of the people around me. 

It's so easy to live our lives with blinders on, completely unaware of the pain and struggles of the people around us.  Our culture tends to take a "don't ask, don't tell" mentality to our struggles, and the Christian community has allowed that mentality to seep into our own lives.  But how will we ever know, unless we really take the time to find show some concern...and to allow our self-absorbed self to take a moment off in order to look into the eyes of another.

The truth is, every action and every word that we communicate to the world around us is an opportunity to offer some sort of hope and healing.  A hope that loves us despite of our weaknesses, a hope that has never seen a problem to great, a pain too deep, or a mess too big.  A hope that doesn't know the meaning of impossible, nor does it have room for the shame of our past.  A hope that is founded in the love of God the Father through the life of Jesus Christ.

According to Romans 15:13, we should be so filled with this hope that it is overflowing from our lives...

Overflowing.  Out of our own life, and spilling into the lives of others.

Are you filled with that kind of hope?  Have you ever allowed that level of Hope to infiltrate your life?

May God fill our brokenness with Hope, a hope that is true, a hope that is real, a hope that is pouring out and overflowing into the lives of those around us.  

Related Post: God, Google, and Suicide

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Silent but deadly: The Danger of Mute Christians

Acts 1:8
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Last evening at our bible study we were discussing the phrase: "Preach the gospel; if necessary use words".  

Though I believe in the underlying message behind that phrase (i.e. As Christians, our actions alone should set us apart in how we live and love so much so that we don't even have to talk about it), I find myself revolting against the idea of being silent with my words. 

The truth of the matter is, when I look at my life and the lives of Christians around me- there is one very wrong thing that I see we all have in common most of the time:  silence.

We have grown accustomed to the idea of living our lives as mute believers. 

This wouldn't be a problem if we were actually preaching the gospel with our lives, but the sad reality is that most of the time- we aren't.  We aren't preaching anything.  We are living a life that is in  total conformity to the culture that we are a part of.  We belong so well that these days there is no difference between the nice guy in the other cubicle, and the born again Christian next door (except sometimes the nice guy is nicer than the born again Christian). 

I don't know about you, but I see that this life of silence is completely opposed to the lives I see lived out in the book of Acts through the early church.  Not only were they opposed to silence....they were LOUD.

They lived their lives out loud, proclaiming the their devotion to the God that had changed their entire existence, redeemed them from a life of sin and death, and given them joy unspeakable.  They couldn't stop talking about it.  It consumed their every conversation because it just boiled over from the love that was overflowing within their hearts. 

I think our main problem as Christians is that we are a little like the cowardly lion in the Wizard of OzWe are lacking a heart of love for the world that is in devastation all around us.  We are too concerned with what people will think and the negative consequences we might incur by really living our faith out loud.  In other words, our fear of man supersedes our fear of God.  Our fear of man is preventing us from actually loving them.  Ironically, we take on these priorities without even realizing that we are ultimately in devotion to this world, serving man, and worshiping a culture that we were never even meant to be a part of. 

If God has so radically changed our lives like we say He has, then something needs to change.  We need to live a life of power that's sole purpose is to preach the gospel and bring love to a broken and dying world.  It's time to take inventory of our silence and take the time to really address it at it's root. 

Speak up, Christian.  What are you afraid of?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Those Are Some Very Nice Ashes:

Isaiah 61:3
To give them a crown in place of ashes, oil of joy in place of mourning, praise in place of discouragement... 

I found myself getting discouraged last week.  It was one of those weeks in which I felt overwhelmed by the suffering and sorrow around me.  Not sure if you know this, but people are hurting in some really serious ways.  Friends, family, and clients.  It was just one of those days.  I had just finished listening to stories of brokenness, pain, and sadness only to be ushered into more. 

Sometimes it seems as though all this life has to offer is pain.  The truth is, I almost gave into that discouragement. 

And then I saw God at work. 

I met a young man recently who is climbing out of some serious pain...into something beautiful.  I see God at work in His life, and I am watching Him take this pile of ashes- and turn them into something incredible. 

I witnessed an artist a few months ago, take some dirty ashes on a plain piece of paper- and within just a few moments, out of the ashes I could see the most incredible picture.  She painted the most beautiful painting I had ever seen.

I'm reminded of this painting as I witness the life of this young man.  I'm reminded of a God who takes the most horrific and twisted pile of ashes we have to offer- put them into his nail pierced hands, and begin to work.  It takes paint to create something nice, but it takes ashes to create something incredibly beautiful.  The real beauty lies in the artist's ability to create something out of nothing. 

It's true.  He can do that.  And he does it every day.  I need to remember that as I look into the pain of the people around me, and as I look into the sorrows from my own life.  For every person caught in a pit of ashes, there is the hope for something beautiful. 

Will you allow Him to begin his masterpiece?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What a Homeless Man, Me, and John Piper have in common:

Jeremiah 29:11
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 

I learn so much from my daughter.  This little 10 month old has so much to teach without even trying.  God uses her in so many ways to help me understand the things that He's been trying to teach me for, oh, about 28 years now.  

Last night my husband and I were praying together after we put her to bed.  When it was my turn to pray I found myself praying about her purpose.  I don't know where that came from, really, but the words just started spilling out of my mouth.  And as the words flowed from my mouth, the tears flowed from my eyes.  I realized that this is a topic that really strikes a cord for me.

Purpose.  You know, if you ask me, when it comes down to it I believe that's the one ingredient necessary for a healthy and meaningful life.  There is really nothing more important.  My prayer for this little girl is that she learns God's purpose for her life the moment she has the ability to understand what that even means. 

I want her to see that her purpose is so unique, so special, and so important.  I want her to understand that the God of this universe has a spotlight on her life and on her soul...she is His focus.  She is His love.  She is His life. 

I see so many teenagers and adults in my office that have never grasped their purpose.  They haven't even gotten a glimpse of it.  Not in their parent's eyes, not in the worlds eyes, and in turn, absolutely not in God's eyes.  For them, life is so broken, so painful, and so meaningless.  They don't understand that they have been created for significance.  They don't see that their life has indescribable value.  They don't fathom that God has plans for their life that are beyond what they could have ever hoped for.    

But, you see....that's the truth.  It's the God-honest truth.  It's the truth for my precious little baby, and it's the truth for my hurting clients.  It's the same truth for both the brilliant John Piper and for the homeless beggar that stands outside in the cold.  It's the same truth for you...and for me.

My prayer for you, precious reader- is that today, you catch a glimpse of His purpose.  Today, you see a glimmer of the great plans He has for your life.  Plans to give you hope.  Plans to give you a future.  Plans to take the joy that is in your life and use it for the encouragement of others.  Plans to take your seeds of suffering and pain and bring life to the dead world around you. 

Plans for you.  A purpose.  Will you receive it?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Watermelons, Elephants, and Major Sins:

Hebrews 12:1
...let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles...

I bought a watermelon about a month ago.  

It looked so good in the store on a hot summer day, and I imagined cutting a slice outta that thing after dinner and letting it's sweet juice run down my face.

I put it in the fridge to cool until after dinner.  But for some reason, after the dishes had been put away and the pots and pans had been washed- I was really not in the mood to clean up one more mess, so I passed on slicing up the sweet treat.  Maybe tomorrow.  Or the day after that.  Or...the day after that. 

Four weeks later I bite into a slice of watermelon at someone's house and it triggers a thought- didn't I buy one of these?

I go home to my fridge, and there before my eyes sits the watermelon.  Huge as ever (and spoiled by now, might I add).  But somehow, I had gotten SO used to seeing that gigantic watermelon multiple times every day that I actually stopped noticing it.  It became a normal part of the background, until I hardly even realized it was there.  

I was sharing this story today as I was talking to a client of mine about the danger of getting so comfortable in our sin that it no longer becomes visible to our spiritual eyes.  That is the reality of how we function as human beings. 

We are so resilient and pliable that we can bounce back and conform to almost any situation.  But as life saving as those traits can be...they can also be permanently devastating.  To the man who gets so comfortable with the lust that has become the only excitement in his life.  To the woman who gets so numb to her addictive behaviors that they become a normalized part of her every day.  To the teenager who gets so acquainted with getting high as the only way to deal with his unpleasant emotions.  To the girl that finds her home in the toxic relationships that have taken over her heart. 

For those who get so comfortable with seeing their sin every single day, that they learn to become experts at learning to ignore it. 

It's time to come face to face with the elephant in the room.  It's time to recognize the sin in our lives that has outstayed it's welcome.  It's time to fix our eyes on Jesus, the Perfecter of our faith, and begin to recognize and throw off each and every sin that has so easily entangled us. 

Before it's too late.  

Saturday, July 16, 2011

More Junk In This Pile Than I Ever Imagined:

2 Corinthians 10:5
"...and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

There are so many things that come to my mind when I think about obedience.  But the interesting thing is, none of them have to do with my thoughts.  I don't know about you but when I consider the word obedience I tend to find my mind gravitating toward actions: sexual purity, respect, kindness, fidelity, selflessness, honesty...the list could go on and on.

God has been demolishing my definition of obedience by taking my focus from the external to the internal.

You see, I started reading a book last week by Beth Moore called, "Get out of that Pit".   I've never read a book by her before, but I've heard great things about her, particularly from my Christian clients, so I decided to pick it up when I saw it on the sale rack the other day.  I thought, "This will be a good resource to have for my clients...especially the ones who are stuck in a pit".  Addictions, anger, lust, abuse...these are the kind of things I consider a pit.

But, God has a sense of humor.  The book that happened to be on sale last week had nothing to do with my clients...and everything to do with God's client: Me.

You see, I'm a work in progress.  Sometimes I pridefully forget that.  And ironically, that prideful forgetting is a testimony to the fact that God still has a LOT of work to do on me. Though I can be obeying him from the outside...true obedience has less to do with the external and more to do with my internal state.  My heart.  My thoughts.  My attitudes.

It's easy to look good on the outside.  The reality is that in our world, we've all grown accustomed to that.  It's part of wearing the mask.  Do good and you will be good.  But in God's world, there is so much more to it than that.  

The thing I realized this week is that my thoughts are seriously out of control.  Some days my internal world is so misaligned with the idea of obedience to Christ.  I mean, I get that he knows my heart and mind...but it's so much easier to hide that which is between you and God, and hidden from the rest of the world. 

God has really been challenging me to get real with my thoughts.  To share them with trusted friends, and ultimately, to share them with Him.  He's been asking me to weed through the junk that I've allowed myself to focus on and exchange it for truth.  Every bit of it.  And trust me, there's more junk in this pile than I ever imagined...

So, that's where I'm at.  Learning to take my inside and give God the opportunity to allow it to match my outside...I want to take off this mask once and for all.  I want to be real in every sense of the word.    How about you? 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Porn, Pain, Problems...and Grace:

Romans 3:23
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Nothing surprises me anymore.  I just learned of a highly respected man from this area who committed suicide, a doctor who was caught harboring child pornography, and a school administrator who was involved in drugs.  Add that to the list of problems and pain I see in my counseling office, and you'll quickly understand why my shock radar is completely dead.  Sexual abuse.  Drug addictions.  Theft.  Infidelity.  Compulsive Lying.  Self-mutilation. 

Nothing surprises me anymore.

Time and time again I've seen the evidence of our fallen human nature.  Men and women, seemingly put together on the outside- the house, the cars, the clothes- but behind their mask there hides the face of their own "fallenness". 

Sometimes I see things so extreme that I have a silly tendency to sit back and think, "How do people end up in such awful places?"  I get confused sometimes, as if I- by my own doing- have made the best choices in my life. 

But then Jesus gently reminds me of my own desperate need.  He reminds me that the only reason I am even surviving without the mask is because He has graciously taken it from me, and nailed it to the cross.  He reminds me that I, too, have the capacity for things far more horrid than this, and that I am only rescued by His grace. 

A grace that knows what I'm capable of, yet loves me still.

There, but for the grace of God, go I.   --  John Bradford

Monday, July 4, 2011

There's No Such Thing As a Free Lunch:

Galatians 5:1
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. 

My best friend Jessie wrote something sweet today that made me stop and think.

"My economics teacher always said "There's no such thing as a free lunch." While I used to argue that, I now know that it's true. Freedom is never free, someone, somewhere, has to pay. Thanks to all the good soldiers who keep our country safe, all the people working in sweat shops to make all the "free gifts" that major corporations bribe us with, and thanks to Jesus whose sacrifice of his blood covers all our mess and makes it new and good! So much brokenness and so much good. Let's all celebrate by being a little sacrificial ourselves. Let's love!"

I really love what she had to say, because there is so much truth in it that can easily get forgotten.  Freedom isn't free.  There is always someone paying the price, and sometimes, the price is nothing small.

But what I love most about what she wrote is her response: Let's all celebrate by being a little sacrificial ourselves.  Let's love.

It is so easy to take our freedom for granted, but it is even easier to live a life of selfishness in response to the most selfless gift we have been given- the gift of freedom. 

Thank you, God, for freedom from our sin, our brokenness, and our shame. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Some Good Lookin' Grass:

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 

I'm on a roller coaster ride with contentment.  Looking back, it seems as though it's a topic that I write about every couple of months.  And the reality of this blog is that though my readers may find themselves getting something out of it- I don't write for them...I write for me. 

It's a place to hash through my struggles and my victories.  A place to give outlet to my thoughts and accountability to my spirituality.  Which means one thing about my frequency of visiting this topic: I wrestle with contentment a lot. 

I'm sure there are those of you out there who can relate.  The cliche, "The grass is always greener on the other side" probably wouldn't exist if this was not a universal struggle.

A couple weeks ago I found myself, once again, in the boxing ring with contentment.  Everyone's grass was looking pretty good right around then.  I found myself daydreaming about where I would rather be and what I would rather be doing. Imagining what it would be like to walk in their shoes.  And slowly but surely, the feelings of discontent and insecurity started sneaking in. 

My negative thoughts offered them a crack in which to seep through and start coating my life with discontent.

I once read a book about the topic of contentment.  One chapter included letters from 3 college friends who were keeping in touch 15 years after graduation.  One was a single, successful business woman.  The other, a stay at home mommy of 3, and the third going back to finish her education since her children were grown and in school. 

The series of letters were essentially a running list of complaints- each woman looking at the lives of her friends as "better than" her own.  The single woman wished she had a family to call her own.  The stay at home mommy wished she was out working, using her degree and making money.  And the third wished she would have already finished her education like her other two friends.  The letters went on and on but ultimately unveiled the discontent in each of their hearts.

The unfortunate thing about that chapter is the fact that, essentially, that becomes real life if we're not careful.  I don't want the letter of my life to be full of wishes and wants.  God has placed me where I am in this season of my life because I am CALLED to be here.  There is purpose traced through every single hour of every single day if I choose to look for it.

At times, that purpose is writing an article for a magazine, counseling clients, or speaking about important topics.  But at other times, that purpose is watching my daughter splatter applesauce all over her face while trying to feed herself, changing a dirty diaper, or loading the dishwasher. 

God's purpose for our lives is in everything, and it can never be calculated by what we are accomplishing on the outside, but on who we are becoming on the inside.  Watching God at work in our lives can never be boring.  Seeing him take our lifeless lump of clay lives and turn them into majestic and beautiful art is a process that unfolds each and everyday...if we will only notice.   

And as we watch this labor of love, and see God's will unfold in our lives, we will find ourselves rejoicing always...and giving thanks continually.  We will find that at the end of our day, this is the only way to find true contentment.