Saturday, April 30, 2016

Set Apart: Odd & Imperfect

Gratitude Year 4 - Day 121: Today, I am grateful for things that are odd and imperfect.

I guess I am not quite done with my "weird" gratitude. There is something about the "odd and imperfect" that catch our attention. There is a strange beauty and a sense of wonder that seem to accompany them.

A person (or pet) with two different eye colors. So unusual. So imperfectly beautiful.
A house with a quirk or two that makes it unique...and makes it home.
A four leaf clover in a field filled with three.
A old pair of jeans that fits the curves just right.
A blanket with an imperfection that re-ignites a memory.
A woven rug with an intentional imperfection woven in to identify the artist.
A tattered handkerchief that is full of memories.

What beautiful, odd and imperfect thing did you see today?

Today, I am grateful for things that are odd and imperfect.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Born For This

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Gratitude Year 4 - Day 120: Today, I am grateful for moments when destiny unfolds.

Do you ever reflect on your life's journey to this point and suddenly the struggles, the opportunities and the purpose of certain twists in the path begin to make sense. Hindsight is 20/20.

Today, I found myself wandering back into the book Esther. After her time of being chosen queen...and in God's perfect timing as she would have her chance to choose courage or or let evil win. The path God had set before her was unfolding. She could ignore it or embrace it. 

I think I use the word embrace often. I hope not too often. To embrace something means to wrap our arms and our head around the thought, the challenge, the idea or the person. When we embrace something, we commit. Esther had no middle ground to choose. She was all in or all out.

Esther had to be scared. Going to the King and confessing that she was indeed a Jew and shedding light on his trusted pal, Haman's, evil ways. She was taking a huge risk. 

Uncle Mordecai spent time in prayer, fasting and sack cloth before she called for him to come and explain what had him so upset. She went from a comfortable spot in the palace to putting her very life on the line. I am sure her stomach flipped, flopped and dropped. 

She had survived being orphaned. She survived being thrown into the original "The Bachelor" scenario and chosen by the King...without ever craving the spotlight. She was now forced to decide to risk her life for her people or to let them all be put to death. Her secret was not so secret that her life was at risk, too. 

These are Mordecai's words for Esther:

"For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” - Esther 4:14

He was saying, "Baby, you were born for this!"  

Servants around her said, "Esther are you nuts?" But, those who knew her likely didn't try to hard to change her mind. They knew that once she made a choice - she committed. Whatever the personal risks might present themselves. She was all in!

So, Esther put her life on the line...her royal life...and her neck. God was with her. He moved the heart of King Ahasuerus, because the man was not known for his gentle ways. Her bold courage was rewarded not punished. She saved her people.

What an example she provides. I am naturally chicken...a safety girl...but she inspires me to cast off the safety of the harbor and sail my ship. 

Esther is the subject of a favorite song. Sing it Ear Worm! You can sing along, too.

"Born For This". Mandissa's best to my opinion. The song never played on the radio but so worthy a top spot. Children take to this song like few others. "The Violin Song" is what my sweet friend Miles calls it.

Is your story still unfolding...or is this your big moment? Life has many chapters. Some seem unsure as we look down the path, but our God goes with us. "Of whom shall we be afraid?"

Today, I am grateful for moments when destiny unfolds...and Esther's example of courage.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Rich Fruit of Mercy

Abe Lincoln read the Bible cover to cover many times. Why do we wonder at his wisdom? 
Gratitude Year 4 - Day 119: Today, I am grateful for mercy.

"I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice. - Abraham Lincoln

What an interesting observation and piece of wisdom. Lincoln proved he believed this time and time again. His life was far from easy, but he kept pressing on. He couldn't make everything right, but he did his best to lead, teach and guide where he could. Our nation was a mess - and he answered the call to be our leader. He attempted to lead with grace and mercy as he walked humbly with our Lord. He knew the value of greeting and meeting God in daily prayer. 

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
   his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness. -Lamentations 3:22-23

My "Ear Worm" is awake and singing this morning. It is the old hymn, "Great is thy Faithfulness"  Silly Ear Worm forgets that hymns are not my favorite, but there are times I think he is determined to change my stand. There is rich theology in their artful verse. They are a balm to the soul when tired, wounded or weary. There are often taken straight from scripture (in the KJV, of course).

Mercy.  Oh, how I love to receive it. Do I find equal joy in dispensing it to others?  I should. My Jesus does. 

"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God." -Micah 6:8 (NIV)

Seriously, this verse should be read out loud by James Earl Jones' voice every single day at moment I open my eyes. Maybe, then, I would remember to live it out. What a great verse. What a challenging on, too. 

The hard hand of justice must be dispensed - as God's character does not change and demands it. But, to balance out justice with mercy is required.  How do we figure put that complex balance? I think it is answered in the same verse. "To walk humbly with your God." Seek to be like Jesus in the morning, afternoon and night and submit to the Holy Spirit's leading. 

Sounds easy. Right? And perhaps it would be except for one big variable.  Other people. One unkind word. One person who fails to use the four-way- stop the correct way. One step on our heart by another...intentional or accidental...and we want justice so much more than mercy. 

How quickly I forget all the wrongs I've been forgiven when I am the one dispensing mercy over justice. Firstborns and other rule lovers...I think it is harder for us sometimes. Rules and order keep make us feel safe. 

 "All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us,God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved." -Ephesians 2:3-5 

To intentionally live with grace and mercy adds good life to our days.We must not forget His ways and his rules...but we cannot be like Him and not be rich in mercy. 

Lincoln bravely extended mercy where he could. It was unpopular at times. Still, he repeated the behavior often enough to see that mercy did...indeed...bear rich fruit. Worth the risk. 

I am grateful for mercies received from His hand and from others. Undeserved and unexpected. It is soul piercing. It clears our vision so we can see His face more clearly. 

Today, I am grateful for mercy.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Gratitude Year 4 - Day 118: Today, I am grateful for the weirdos.

One of the things I find most intriguing is that every human is unique. Even twins... identical twins... have unique attributes and behaviors that allow those who know them best to discern the difference.  

Every human is unique in some way, from all of the others. A creative masterpiece from the hand of God. Science can try to explain it, but there is still mystery. 

My friend Kelly always said "It's good to be weird." She said this in high school when everyone else was trying to fit into a certain mold.  I found her to be quite smart (talented and beautiful, too).  I still do!  Another friend, Todd, wrote something brilliant on my language arts folder-"In an insane society, the sane people appear to be insane." Todd wrote on my folder a lot.  These creative friends were (and are) treasures time and space cannot erase. They taught me the wonderful in the weird. I carry them in my heart. 

Some "weirdness" is a result of cultures intersecting, colliding and abiding in the same place. 

Intercultural Communications was a favorite class in college, as it focused on truly respecting every human's roots.... the soil they were planted in...and where they grew.  David Kale was teaching it and preaching it before it was "a thing" to teach cultural sensitivity. He had a bigger purpose in his passion to grow us into culturally sensitive young people. His was a God assigned mission to teach us to love our neighbors. 

To "love our neighbor", we must make a sincere effort to understand them. To communicate effectively, we have to have a sense of not only their language, but people see through their language.  We can find different cultures without leaving the county, the state or the country we call home. 

There are people in Chicago who think central Illinois is "southern Illinois". Bless their hearts. There is still half a state below us with even more diversity.  Country isn't all hick and city isn't all cold and unkind. We all have cultural goggles that limit our vision. Some can't see past Chi-town's tall towers and lake shore. There are country folk that mistrust anyone from "a big city". Our differences can be vast within an hour's drive...or less.  On the other side of town, may be a house with out running water or electricity if there is no way to pay for it.  

Different gets labeled "weird". What's wrong with different? Not like the others can be a good thing... a great thing... a God thing. 

Weird is defined as "uncanny or supernatural". Well, I serve a supernatural God who is not of this world, and as His children- we are aliens. New creatures in Him. Alien people!  What a hoot! Right?  What a promise. Explains much, doesn't it? 

Citizens of heaven are aliens in this world! Resident aliens until He calls us home. 

For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone -Ephesians 2:18-20

Weird?  Yes!  We are called to be weird. To stand out. To not fit in. To swim against the current when the current is contrary to His rules for living. 

Kelly was right. "It is good to be weird." Be a weirdo and unlock all He has for those who put their trust in Him. 

Today, I am grateful for the weirdos.They are my people. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Far Far Better things

Gratitude Year 4 - Day 117: Today, I am grateful for "far, far better things ahead."

A C.S. Lewis is a great way to start the day. This is the promise of God breathed scripture, yet I fight to hold on to yesterday and put far to much burden on today. I cling to the temporary when the eternal is our promise and our assurance. As believers Jesus, we can know God keeps his promises. 

"There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind. - CS Lewis

Lately... it seems... I have been reminded often of the temporary and instantly changing circumstances of this world. As good stewards of what we have been given, it is good and right to plan and make wise choices. Absolutely! But, perhaps there are times to throw off the ropes that hold us safe in the harbor and set the ship to sail...full speed ahead. 

I love the energy of youth. They are so full of energy. For them, trying new things is not so scary. In fact, it energizes them. They don't have a regiment that must be followed and a change does not throw them completely for a loop. In fact, they tend to enjoy the adventure of mixing it up. 

Our Jesus...his is typically going to "mix it up" a little. In his creative image...we have a need to do new things. It keeps us young. It keeps us growing.  It keeps us trusting. It is hard to grow us when we fight him every step of the way for the steering wheel. 

"Who's driving the bus?"  In our world, we have used this phrase  in conversation for years. It is intended to help us define who is in charge of any given situation. Sometimes, we can be more flexible when we have a clear understanding of who is leading...and who is not in charge. 

Oh, my little world is my universe, but our God has a real universe to manage. My universe = tiny. His Universe = infinity and beyond. 

This means that there are times he calls us from the safety of the shore and leads us into deep, rough, scary waters. Do my prayers take into account his big picture purposes? Do I submit my plans before him as an offering...asking for guidance, strength and His direction? Do I have to answer my own questions publicly? You, likely know the answer without my open confession...and so does He.

This scripture goes so well with this CS Lewis quote:

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers,by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." - Romans 12:1-2

This is a powerful verse for those ready to leave the safety of the shore.  Am I ready? Ha!  I do like to spend time preparing and "packing my bag".  But Jesus said., "Come." "Follow me." If you have to think about it and prepare...don't bother. The rich young man in Matthew 19 couldn't do it:

16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

We can't get in by being "good" or not "too bad".  We can't donate our way into heaven. We must love God with our whole hearts and express that love by keeping his commandments.  We must love our neighbors as ourselves...all of our neighbors, not just the ones we like. 

I think that to fulfill these commandments of Jesus...the time will come... when we have to "leave the shore" of safety and step out in faith. It will likely be a wild ride! Following Jesus is not "safe"...and it is not boring! 

Gear up for adventure. We can set our ships to sail. 

Today, I am grateful for "far, far better things ahead." 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Shields of Protection

Gratitude Year 4 - Day 116: Today, I am grateful for shields of protection. 

I am the mother of sons. The first thing that comes to mind are super hero shields.  "The Bat Shield" was amazing. Captain America has a really great shield, too. A shield is a smart thing to pack when headed into danger...or off to work on a Monday. 

There are many kinds of "shields" that we use daily for protection:
Umbrellas shield us from the rain.
Sunscreen protects us from the sun.
Sunglasses and safety goggles protect our eyes. 
Earplugs shield our ears from factory noise or gunfire.
Shoes...thought barefoot is my favorite...protect our feet from dangerous ground.
Helmets keep us safe.
Gloves create a barrier from cold and dangerous things.

The list could go on and on. Shields of protection provide safety and help us endure whatever task or weather element is in our path. 

We weren't promised an easy path...we were promised protection and refuge. There are times the struggle makes no sense at all and we ask "Why?".

Remember how frustrated we were when our parents would not answer all of our "why" questions? How different that scenario looks when we become the adult or the parent who knows more than they know... and it would not be helpful... and might even be hurtful to give the whole explanation or the big picture. So, we ask them to trust us. In time they will understand. 

Frankly, today's trouble is enough to manage. I am grateful for God' promises. 

This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. -Psalm 18:30

His way is perfect...but His ways are not our ways.  His word is true because he is truth. He shields all who choose to seek his protection.  It doesn't mean he removes us from the battle, but... He will go before us and we can hide in him, behind him and know we are surrounded by his love, even when the wars of life rage around us. 

When I was a teen, Twila Paris came out with a song called "Warrior is a Child". It was so reflective of how we humans feel at times. There are moments... and even seasons... when we grows weary and tired.  Weary from the journey. Here are some of the lyrics:

Lately I've been winning battles left and right
But even winners can get wounded in the fight
People say that I'm amazing
Strong beyond my years
But they don't see inside of me
I'm hiding all the tears
And they don't know that I go running home when I fall down
They don't know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while
'Cause deep inside this armor

We all grow tired of working hard to do the "right things" and never meeting the expectations of others, despite best efforts. Wounded by the battle of daily living whether it be family issues, employment struggles, illness, grief or financial struggles.  Life darts arrows at us and we are grateful for shields of protection as we make our way through the battle. 

He is our hiding place. Our refuge is sure in Him...even in when the path seems dark and unsure. 

You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble;
    you surround me with shouts of deliverance. -Psalm 32:7

Our shields...shields of faith...raised through prayer, can join with other believers for additional strength and power. Never underestimate the value of a shield of protection! God's is better than Batman's! The cross of Christ is the ultimate shield. 

Today, I am grateful for shields of protection. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

10,000 Bad Drawings

Gratitude Year 4 - Day 115: Today, I am grateful for 10,000 bad drawings...and what comes next!

"Everyone is born with 10,000 bad drawings. The sooner they get them out the better." Walt Stanchfield 

This quote was shared by our delightful Jr. High Art Teacher, Brittany DuPont. She and Tiffany Wyse-Fisher are our Morton 709 Art Teachers. I am blessed to call them both friends and sisters in Christ. Brittany is new to my world...and Tiffany an old friend. Both add color and beauty to my world as they encourage young artists (and the more mature ones) to unleash the creative spark inside of all of us.  

Tiffany and I ended up at the same women's conference yesterday. When she walked through the heart did a happy dance. I haven't been to a women's conference in probably 10 years...and now I've managed two in two weekends. 

I signed up for yesterday's "one day option" of a retreat to fellowship with friends.  I had not one inkling (oh yes...I said INK-ling) of the topic an agenda...until Thursday when I received a copy in my email.  The conference was called "SPARK". Guess what the theme was? Igniting your creativity. I wasn't just going to a retreat with friends...I was going to be in my sweet spot...and get some good Bible teaching, too. I was pumped.  

Good thing I didn't know what was ahead. We had to "stretch and exercise". It was designed to accept that God has made us in  His image. He is so creative and in His image...and through our soul are we.  You know this is something I already believed, but once again, there were challenges. 

Genesis 1 & 2 - We were made in His image...with his soul breath. :)
Matthew 25:14-46 - Don't hide, bury and neglect your "talents". 

Don't hide your talent. Your light.  Your gifts.  Everyone has gifts.  Art is so much bigger than a paintbrush. Not everyone paints...although I am coming to believe that for most, it is just a lack of willingness to suffer through the "10,000 bad drawings".  Some bake artfully, sew, knit or crochet with creativity. Others were born to organize.  I won't repeat what I have said before, but I must revisit that you cannot be made in His image without having a creative spark. Remember...a spreadsheet can be artfully done so the data speaks. 

My "mediums of choice" are words, pictures and paper arts. Bible Journaling is stretching me to draw...a little...and guess what?  Every drawing improves a wee bit.  I have some failures, but the learning is worth the disappointment. How boring would life be if everything I raised my had to do was perfect? 

God designed us...His creation masterpiece...with the unique qualities of being imperfect. He gave us the aptitude to learn and the power to choose. Perfectly designed to be able to fail, learn, grow our skills and choose our path. Do we honor him with those gifts? Do we seek him with "our whole hearts" as David described in the Psalms? Do we pout, cry or quit because it might require some effort and require some risk? 

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ -Matthew 25:21

The Bible instructs us to "be fearless".  Satan whispers, "You will fail.". Jesus said the one who risks for Him will hear "Well done good and faithful servant." The one who hides, neglects or buries what they have be cast out. You can read it here:

 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ -Matthew 25:29-30

I don't want to be cast out. I've always thought it interesting that a "talent" is a unit of money in Bible times...but translates perfectly in the talents, skills and gifts each of one us is given. In His one was missed...we all have abilities that we can use for Christ, to grow the kingdom, to serve the Master and to ignite our souls with joy. 

What do you love to do? What do you want to pursue creatively?   How can you use it for the kingdom?  What talent are you burying or hiding? Dig it up...dig in... and put it to use. Why? It matters.

David writes in Psalm 51:10-11 after the prophet Nathan confronts him with his failure and sin with Bathsheba. Note how it relates to the "being cast out from his presence" in Matthew 25:29. How can we doubt that scripture is God-breathed?  

"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me."

We can neglect or gifts, run, bury them and deny they exsist...but in the end...we can't hide. Put your pencil or paintbrush to your passion and do what every remarkable artist, athlete or musician does. Practice, practice and more practice. 

Take a risk with your talents. Bake a batch of bread and gift it to someone in need. Help someone learn to manage their finances if you see them struggling(that is a talent, too). Sing in the choir. Have some fun. Laugh at yourself. It is good for the soul. Then... experience the joy when it comes out just right! 

By the way...if you create a way to make kale not taste like a lake... and still be are a food artist I need to talk to about a recipe. 

The pictures are from yesterday. Julie (Spark Joy...a perfect choice), Anna (Psalm 49:10) and I wrote a prayer He has placed on my heart. Tiffany made the gift-able heart. Proof that Tiffany has many of her 10,000 behind her. We all enjoyed the "exercise"... some more than others).

So. my new prayer as I have listened to Liz Curtis Higgs and Kim this:

"Create in me...through me...and in spite of me (don't let me get in your way Lord)...until they see YOU!" - Amen

Have a creative day my friend. Let His image be reflected in your day and your ways. Discover your metaphorical "bad drawings" and eliminate a few. You will have some good ones along the way. Let them bring joy! They are leading up to your "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Today, I am grateful for 10,000 bad drawings...the good ones...and what comes next!