Monday, February 29, 2016

The Staircase

Year 4-Day 60: Today...I am grateful for the humble staircase.

It is a great way to get unintentional exercise.
It is easier than a ladder.

It is safer than a ladder.
Once familiar...can be managed even in the dark.
It can be beautifully carved or simple.
It takes me higher in safety.
If it is open, it can be decorated.

The quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. "Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase."

The biblical inspiration for that quote would surely be Hebrew 11:1 "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."  

What tasks this week require a staircase?  Which ones require faith that requires stepping out?  Which staircase will we choose and use?

Today...I am grateful for the humble staircase...and the beautiful ones, too. 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Bold In Our Souls

Year 4-Day 59: Today, I am grateful we can be bold in our souls.

Some weeks are long and leave us weak. Some trials seem never ending. Grief is a companion throughout life's journey. Illness may be a trial that goes on and on...until it comes to an end either in earthly healing or new life. Job loss. Relationship struggles. Managing life as a parent, an employee, a volunteer or any kind of caregiver...exhaustion finds new meaning.

When my soul cries out to the Lord...he always seems to answer. 

Psalm 138:3 is a new favorite! The entire Psalm is great, but this little verse is a power house of hope, strength and comfort in fourteen little words, one comma and a powerful semicolon. 

On the day I called, you answered me;
    my strength of soul you increased. (a)

How about that footnote?  Do you ever read them?  Sometimes I do...sometimes I rush right through.  So glad I paused today.  

When a group of experts is working through a Bible translation from the original languages of the day...classical Hebrew, Aramaic...and the original translations of the Hebrew into Greek. There are moments that even the experts get stuck, pause, revisit the original and disagree on the BEST translation.  Not always a "right or a wrong" but a better way to say it. That footnote means God moved among men who knew His Word was living...and choose to let it breathe by adding a footnote.  

I believe that there are times that Bible scholars agree to disagree...and we get a footnote in our modern translation.  This is one of those moments I am so very, very grateful they did.  

This scripture speaks to the deepest part of my soul, so it is time for slow dig into the very simple but eloquent cries of David's heart and God's response.

ON THE DAY - Not tomorrow on next week, but on the day.

I CALLED - We have to make a move. The Holy Spirit is a gentleman. He won't force himself. He wants us to call, to invite and to form a two-sided relationship. 

YOU ANSWERED ME - The One True God of Heaven and Earth makes house calls.

; - a semicolon-Pause because two ideas are then given equal position or rank (oh, grammar makes me happy!)

 MY STRENGH OF SOUL - The strength of the part of us that is everlasting...the part God breathed into each of us.  Our soul breath is strengthened for whatever the day may bring. 

YOU INCREASED. - He increases our strength. Not on our own but the God of the Universe infuses our souls with the strength for even the hardest days.  It is increased.  It is...pause...enough! 

(a)-Hebrew you made me bold in my soul with strength. - I really like the Hebrew. 
You made me bold in my soul...on my own I am not so bold. 
with strength...God infused power for our next breath and next step.

Curiosity took me to the Hebrew to answer "What kind of strength?" It was interesting what I found. It is strength is various applications with one word. 

'oz (pronounced in Hebrew with a long "o") is defined by Strongs as strength in various applications (force, security, majesty, praise):—boldness, loud, might, power, strength, strong. Many times , "oz" was used in other places as "strength for the battle". 

David took on giant men and lions and won. He led armies into battle, experienced sin struggles, sent a man to his death so he could have his wife, chose to spare the life of the king who wanted him dead, buried a child.  He understood the need for " 'oz". 

David lived a complicated life that always simplified when he knelt before God in praise, prayer, submission and asked God to do life with Him...not just as a "Mr. Fix-it" when David messed up. Real relationship requires a partnership. God is God...but he chooses to be with us when we ask and seek His face with a sincere heart...not just a "to do" list.  

Today, I am grateful we can be bold in our souls; He answers the cry of our heart.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Leaves for Healing

Year 4-Day 58: Today...I am grateful for "leaves for healing". 

When you grow up on the are self-employed and self-insured...doctoring is for the dead and nearly dead.  We joked in our childhood home, that you had to be "dead three Jesus...and then, if you didn't improve, you could go to the doctor". Stitches, breaks and birthing babies did require doctor. But for general illness and small wounds, a physician was not the first line of offense. 

We used other methods for healing...and much of the time, they worked. (Interesting side note...we have amazing immune systems and are rarely sick.) I could count on one hand the number of times I was given an antibiotic as a child...and not many more as an adult.

We grew up drinking teas (some store purchased and some from the land) and aloe vera gel for every wound.  We used "leaves for healing". Then, a friend shared this verse: 

Ezekiel 47:12- "And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”

I believe in professional medical treatment. I am grateful for it. But, I am my mother's daughter.  Remember the movie, "My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding"?  Papa used Windex for everything...including zits!  I would not recommend that...but I was thinking about it and realized that aloe vera and teas were my mom's "Windex".  There is a native American great grandmother in her family tree...way Mama was naturally curious about native medicines before they became a popular curiosity. 

You tend to practice what you learn at it doesn't seem strange. When my Grandpa Lindgren lost three toes and a good chunk of his foot to a lawnmower accident. The doctor...of course we went to the hospital... said that at his age (he was in his 80's)... and the size of the missing piece of his foot, Grandpa's healing would slow at best and he feared the old fragile skin would not heal at all.  They said he would likely never walk unaided again. 

The physician was unaware of two significant factors...Grandpa Lindgren's strong will and Mother Ina Mae's love of "nursing". Mom was a Candystriper for a time at St. Mary's in Kankakee as a girl and Grandpa was 100% Swedish stubborn with a farmer's work ethic. 

The third factor was the power of prayer and T Great Physician on his side.  Grandpa was not done serving the Lord or his neighbors...and Grandma Marge was had Alzheimer's and needed him able to watch over her. He still had farming to do. 

When Grandpa returned home from the hospital... the home health nurses would make occasional visits, but we did the wound care.  Mom would tend to the wound several times daily in the beginning. She trained me for the times she could not do it. The final step of the process, before the sterile bandage... was to grab a leaf from the aloe vera plant and squeeze the gel to cover the wound.  Hydrogen peroxide for cleaning and aloe vera gel leaves for healing.

I'll never forget the amazement of the trained nurses. "What are you doing to him?"  they would ask. "His healing is amazing!" Mom was honest to a fault. Some just shook their heads but others were curious. Grandpa healed far beyond their expectations. The fact he did heal...and he healed well.  His new skin no less fragile than the rest of his 80 year-old-body and maybe even healthier. 

I probably don't need to mention that he did learn to walk and didn't use a cane until he got "old" in his later 90's. He lived the rest of his 80's farming and feeding the chickens and livestock. Grandpa and Mother Ina Mae made a great combination. 

I am grateful for the times I was able to kneel at his feet and care for that "beautiful ugly" wounded foot. As we celebrated his healing, Grandpa spoke love, gratitude and God's grace into my life. 

I have respect for the field of medicine and all it provides us...and a greater respect for The Great Physician. He allows some trials and wounds...but provides leaves for healing. 

Today...I am grateful for "leaves for healing". 

Friday, February 26, 2016

10 Ways to Love

Year 4-Day 57: Today, I am grateful there are many ways to love.

February is the "love month". Valentine's day keeps thoughts of love, flowers, diamonds and chocolate everywhere you look. As the month comes to an end- here are some reminders that love must be more than the tangible tokens we can give. 

If we practice even a few of these this weekend, it will impact others and lighten our souls. When we ask ourselves, "How can I love them better and love them more?"...look to this list. 

Keeping it simple at the end of a long week. This week, we have tasted deep sorrow and rejoiced in new life in our little world...with"our people". Not our biological family...but "our tribe". Sharing life's difficult and life's beautiful moments...that sometimes collide. The "ugly beautiful" moments and images are rich in relationship when shared.

In my years at St. Jude, I leaned quickly to dislike the phrase "God will never give you more than you can handle." It is NOT a comfort, although meant to be encouraging.  I think it is because it places the emphasis on what "we" can handle. It takes our eyes off of Him. 

God never wants us to sail the ship alone. The "SS Solo" is a ship that is sure to sink. In the deep waters...he rescues. 

He is love. He is faithful. He is with us. He is stronger. He doesn't sleep. He cares for His people. He is present.   

In the trials...and everyone has a story that would break your heart at some time in their life. We learn to press on. We lean on Him and love him more.  Then, we do our best to love "our neighbors" better. 

Today, I am grateful for there are many ways to show love. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Kindness as a Lifestyle

Year 4:Day 56- Today, I am grateful for those who cast "random acts" of kindness aside and embrace "kindness as a lifestyle". 

Our Jr. High Principal had the pleasure of hearing Maya Angelou speak at an educators convention, not long before her death.  She has many fabulous quotes but this is a twist on one her common themes that continues to challenge me every single day.  

“Anyone can be kind, merciful, caring and compassionate erratically, but it takes courage to be that way consistently.”-Maya Angelou

Anyone can be intermittently kind, merciful, caring and compassionate. Many can and will with the hope of some kind of "return" on the kindness extended.  That is not love.  That is kindness as a currency. 

Kindness as a lifestyle will ripple into eternity. What a great seed to sow. 

I like imagery. Imagine throwing kindness like glitter. Into the wind, without a care as to where it will land...only confident that it will had a little sparkle wherever it does.  There is no intention of re-collecting. Just the knowledge that it adds beauty, a smile and wonder. 

It takes courage to live a kindness lifestyle.  Be courageous.  When currency kindness is replaced with loving kindness the soul is impacted. It grows lighter and is set free. 

I think kindness and forgiveness are related. Jesus taught us to pray and included the scariest, hardest line of all: "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us." Think seriously about that prayer when praying it. He doesn't take it lightly. 

To be forgiven in the portion we forgive. Yes...scary stuff...but not to be ignored because it was how Jesus modeled prayer. Asking forgiveness and forgiving others we feel have wronged us...or even those we know without a doubt are have done wrong. Forgiveness allows us to unload the burden of bitterness to make room for loving kindness to take its place.  

I adore this image.  Can you feel the lightness in both souls. He studies her steps with serious patience.  She may be concentrating but in her heart...she is skipping because this young man is gifting her with his time, his hand and a piece of his heart.  Five minutes is probably all the time it will take of his time...but the ripple into her day in immeasurable. 

We were created in His image, so the impact of lifestyle kindness on our hearts does not surprise our Lord. He healed, forgave, offered hope and even raised the dead.  

Living in His grace requires that we live in love. Crazy love. Love that doesn't make sense. Love not for the market return, but for the sake of loving the way Jesus instructed us to love. 

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ - Matthew 24:37-39

In his eyes, we are all neighbors. Not just the people on our street or the ones we like. An act of kindness can give us a rush.  A kindness lifestyle is at times tiring and there is not always a return the world can measure.  Good thing there is an alternative measuring cup. Matthew 6 is full of direction on just that matter.   

"Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven." - Matthew 6:1

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

A kindness lifestyle is best rooted in the bottomless well of His love and grace. It is the only way we it can be sustained.  In our own strength...we would be exhausted.  Good thing His strength is not only sufficient...but without restrictions. 

In His love...we can love more.  We can be kind.  I want to choose lifestyle over random acts.  I am grateful that it is not a "solo act". With Him, nothing is impossible. 

Be courageous. Be kind. 

Today, I am grateful for those who cast "random acts" of kindness aside and embrace "kindness as a lifestyle".

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

God has feelings, too

Year 4-Day 55: Today, I am thankful for Charlie Brown...and the reminder that God has feelings, too. 

I think most of us can relate to Charlie Brown in one way or another. The artist, Charles M. Schulz, applied the Walt Disney Disney Art Studios after high school, but they rejected him based on his drawing test. It was obvious,  Disney didn't think he had enough talent.  

Thank goodness he didn't stop drawing the day that rejection letter arrived. It must have been beyond disappointing and right into the discouraging, depressing category.  Still, the fire burned inside of him and he continued to draw.  There was a great deal of life for Schulz between Disney's rejection and real success.  He kept drawing.

Life has it's peaks and it's valleys, but it is lived day by day.  We have to press on.  The bigger plan is rarely revealed ahead of time and we miss the "foreshadowing" because we are living it. 

I am grateful we can talk to God, but do I forget at times that "God has feelings, too."? It is so easy to cry to to him in our distress, but ignore the opportunities to talk to him in pure relationship and even in the fun moments of life.  We can, literally, chat with him like the friend he wants to be. Building the kind of relationship where we know His heart...and he knows ours, too. 

Do we communicate our daily struggles? Or, just hope he doesn't notice? Nothing is hidden from we might as well "fess up". He wants to rescue, steady our feet, encourage and cheer our souls.  Our struggles fill him with compassion when shared in relationship. Isn't that what best friends do?   Share the struggles.   

If the Lord had not been my help,
    my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.
18 When I thought, “My foot slips,”
    your steadfast love, O Lordheld me up.
19 When the cares of my heart are many,
    your consolations cheer my soul. -Psalm 94:17-19

How would we feel if someone never talked to us until they wanted or needed something?  We all have those people in our lives.  God does, too. I don't want to be one of them. He has feelings, too. 

Today is a great day to begin constant  and regular conversation with God. We can talk to him at stoplights, in the shower (He has already seen us naked), on the morning commute, over oatmeal and even in the grocery line. It goes faster when you take that time and turn it to conversation with God time. Take time to listen to him through Christian radio, music, corporate worship, his Holy Word and that still soft voice...His Holy Spirit and it whispers peace, calm and hope into every day we invite him to share. 

"Bless the Lord, oh my soul...worship his holy name..." Ten Thousand things to chat about and more. 

Today, I am thankful for Charlie Brown...and the reminder that God has feelings, too. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The First

Year 4-Day 54: Today, I am grateful for those daring souls who choose to be "the first" in the tough stuff. The first to apologize...the first to forgive and the first to forget.

So...two out of three are tough.  Forgetting is only easy because my memory is not as good as it used to be, so I don't think that really counts, but it does increase the happiness quotient. 

When I found this quote - my mind raced to what Jesus told his disciples: 

 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” -Matthew 20:16

Mark and Luke, also, record these words of Jesus. 

Of does not appear to work with this quote at least at first glance.  But, after truly looking at the context of this scripture, it supports it perfectly! The common theme to both the quotation and the scripture: humility. 

Everyone likes to get special treatment. It feels good. James and John's mother wanted them to be specially seated in heaven. Mother's love their sons, but Jesus was not pleased with the pride in her heart and stated that was the Father's decision. 

In Matthew 20:26-28 records Jesus words as he continues to attempt to teach them what really matters and how to live in a way that pleases God. 

Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Learning to embrace a servants heart and to serve with humility...these motivational game changers. Truly seeking to put another's needs before our own will change relationships.  It is how Jesus lived every day of of his life.  

Yes...Jesus took an occasional break...some alone time... to pray, rest and restore. But in the midst of being taken to be crucified, he took time to heal an ear that had been cut off by over zealous Peter and he offered salvation to both thieves hanging beside him on the cross. Only one would say "yes".  

"Servant leader" has become a popular catch phrase in church culture, but it is a good one. It points to a Christ like leadership measured not by the size of a church building, the money in the churches bank account or number of books published. It is about meeting people where they hurt and meeting a need. 

What is a true servant leader? It's about loving Jesus and loving like Jesus. It's about loving our neighbors...all of them...especially widows and orphans. It is meeting people at their need...out of love, and not to earn points. Jesus doesn't give points. He simply looks at our heart.   

The courage of an apology...puts a relationship before "being right". 

The offering of forgiveness...changes lives. 

The happiness in forgetting the hurts and moving on is lightens the heart. Who wants to carry that baggage, anyway? 

I am grateful the example of Christ and to those around me who model the right kind of "firsts". They inspire and encourage simply by how they live.

Today, I am grateful for those daring souls who choose to be "the first" in the tough stuff. The first to apologize...the first to forgive and the first to forget.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Interrupt Anxiety

Year 4-Day 53: I am grateful that gratitude has the power to interrupt anxiety. 

We were granted the power of changing our response to any situation by finding the grateful spots. In fact, it can even help us manage how we "live in valleys". 

The first verse I memorized by sheer repetition in reading was Matthew 26:27- "And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?" 

I had an anxious stomach in my early grade school days. I lived in fear that my best would not be good enough. Satan does start early with his whispers of self-doubt!  His messages... designed to make us doubt that we were created with purpose and for a purpose. We are God designed...with a unique fingerprint and an original set of gifts. 

This Matthew 6:25-34 passage is always an encouragement for a worried heart.  Jesus words. Written in red in some Bibles.  They felt like a life preserver to me as a child... and they still do.

"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?" (vs:25)

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." (vs:33-34)
Heaven knows each day can bring enough of it's own trouble. Jesus himself...on the night before he was taken...had dinner with his disciples. He knew the future.  Thank God for the grace that we do not.  
He knew:
-One of his best friends would betray him...for money.
-Another of his closest friends would deny him three times over the course of a night.
-His friends would nap while he prayed through the hardest night of his life.
-Beatings, a kangaroo court and death on a cross were before him.
What did he do IN THE MIDDLE of breaking bread to feed them? "
Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples," -Matthew 26:26
He stopped to give thanks!  In the middle of the worst kind of stuff, he continued to offer thanks and gratitude. 
I first saw this observation in the book 1000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  Now, I knew the scripture. I knew Jesus prayed over the bread. I never contemplated all he was personally suffering when he stopped to offer gratitude... as my focus was always on the lesson he was trying to teach his disciples in "the bread and the wine". I missed it. 
He knows what it is like to go through a horrible season.  He knows what is like to give until you are empty. He knows what it is like to be betrayed, hurt and disappointed. He knows what it is like to lose a loved one. He knows our sorrows because he chose TO BE one of us. He gets it.   
Our great "I AM"...chose To BE. And he continues to be with us. 
"But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me" 2 Timothy 4:17a
He gets it. He gets me. He gets you. 
To tap into the power...the secret is in stopping to offer gratitude.  Ann Voskamp calls uses the word "Eucharisteo". This quote is from an interview when asked to define "eucharisteo". 
"Yes, it’s all Greek to me, but this is the word that can change everything: eucharisteo—it comes right out of the Gospel of Luke: “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them … ” (Luke 22:19 NIV). In the original language, “he gave thanks” reads “eucharisteo." 
We can stop anxiety in it's tracks with a word of thanksgiving. An offering of gratitude is not because he needs it.  We do. 
 Today, I am grateful that gratitude has the power to interrupt anxiety. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Coffee & Jesus

Year 4-Day 52: I am grateful for the coffee & Jesus in the morning combination. 

Outside of a wake-up "Good morning, Lord." as I roll out of bed... and the fleeting thought of "I wonder what you have planned for us today?" Coffee comes first. 

Coffee is a ritual. It is a routine. Don't tell the rest of me, but ...sometimes... I even start with decaf if I know I will be drinking more throughout the day. I try to use some common sense with caffeine and  too much is too much. I don't like the feeling of being wired.  I do need the warm, cozy of my cup of java. It gets me ready for Jesus. 

I am a morning person...but one who needs coffee. 

Coffee and Jesus...a craving. One for the body and one for the soul. I decided to look up "crave" in my bible. It is not used often. Here is the passage I found:

Proverbs 21:25-27 states:  The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor.  All day long he craves and craves, but the righteous gives and does not hold back.  The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; how much more when he brings it with evil intent.

Craving is associated with the lazy loser. The "sluggard" wants it all, but doesn't want to work for if.  Personal lusts, wants and desires guide his days. I want to crave the good things...not the bad. 

Dictionary time!  

I looked up the word "crave" and found something interesting. The Hebrew gave the word "Avah". It means "to wish for, covet or greatly desire. But that word has two different components of the definition: Piel and Hithpael.

"Piel" with is always the word used when applied to a soul craving...or food and drink. "Hithapael" is the desire or wish for oneself. It is all about me. 

Humans...each unique in our soul breath...crave things.  What will I choose to crave today.  

I knew that the New Testament had a "crave" but it didn't show up in my ESV I went to my NIV version. 

1 Peter 2:2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 

The ESV uses the word "longing". The Hebrew word is epipoetheo: to long for, to pursue with love.  It is a different kind of craving...and definitely a soul craving. 

I hope you don't find this boring.  For me, looking at the Hebrew and Greek is like digging for golden nuggets...or maybe even like getting a new pair of reading glasses that clear the vision. 

Now...that we understand the difference between selfish cravings, soul craving and longings, let's look at the opposite of a selfish craving:

"but the righteous gives and does not hold back." We cannot neglect that part of the is the good stuff. The affirmation of the opposite of a sinful craving is righteous giving...without holding back. I've got some work to do here. 

Give to God, give to our neighbors and even to those who do not love us back. God says love me...and love each other. That recurrent theme rises again. When we choose to life is life changing.  It is the way, the truth and brings us life. 

Giving fills our gratitude cup.  Crazy but true.  When we pour our lives into others...without holding back... in service to our Lord, the joy cup overflows. You won't be able to contain it. Not pour out expecting a blessing but embracing that we cannot out give our great God. 

"The desire of the sluggard kills him."  It happens.  Not always quickly, but the wheels of God's justice continue to turn. Sometimes, I find it hard to remember that he does things on his own time.  I find it easier to stay on track when we spend time together. 

Today, I am grateful for the coffee & Jesus in the morning combination.