Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Good Deed

Daily Gratitude Year 4- Day 244: Today, I am grateful for good deeds in a weary world. 

Another Willie Wonka quote for today. Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory was full of wonder and invention. Willie created his own little world inside...but in doing so, he cut himself off from the outside world. Then came the realization that he had an amazing legacy and no one to receive it. A gift with no recipient. He had to risk letting someone inside his factory and his heart.

Charlie had an amazing heart and good character. Yes, he had temptations, but don't we all? His home was full of love but it was no easy road. His life provided no luxuries, but love sustained. He cherished his family. Even the ones who were harder to love. Yes, Charlie looked for the good. He wanted to do the right thing and it made him uncomfortable when those around him exhibited horrible behaviors. 

"So shines a good deed in a weary world." - Willie Wonka

We had flash floods yesterday. Little random acts of kindness popped up all over town as people tried to help each other other. Some strangers. Others friends. Crisis seems to bring out the best in people or the worst. I think the same can be true for those who are blessed with money, fame and good fortune. Both struggle and wealth can bring out the best and the worst in people. It is why so many find their purpose, their joy and their calling when they choose to serve "the least of these". 

I just  heard a man say that he went on a mission trip because he knew he had medical gifts he could share. He came back a changed man. He...I believe was a cardiologist...but it was his heart that experienced new hope as he discovered that God's presence was rich among the people who lived "in the margins". The people society calls "the least of these"... just praying for their daily bread and not building castles... were the very people who showed him the powerful peace, love and joy of embracing "this day" as it is given. He found the wonder and the "wow" of God in serving the poor, the sick and the simple. 

We are called to be "salt" and "light". 

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." -Matthew 5:13-16
A good deed... a God calling... it shines in a dark, weary world. 
Good morning Earworm. He is singing a little Kari Jobe's "We Are" this morning. Love that song. It always makes me think of a sweet girl name Cora who loved Kari's music and certainly fulfilled her calling to be salt and light. Her legacy will be much longer than her short time here on earth. She let her light shine.  Here are partial lyrics and a link to the song. 
Every secret, every shame
Every fear, every pain
Live inside the dark
But that's not who we are
We are children of the day
We are the light of the world
We are the city on a hill
We are the light of the world
We gotta, we gotta, we gotta let the light shine  
Flash flood... deep waters... dark seasons... there is light and there is hope.
Today, I am grateful for good deeds in a weary world.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Invention & Willie Wonka

Daily Gratitude Year 4- Day 243: Today, I am grateful for the creative, hard working minds that propel us into new inventions...and Gene Wilder's Willie Wonka (based on the Roald Dahl book).

This week may see a few more Gene Wilder moments. I didn't think I was a huge fan, yet his genius in certain roles is undeniable. The sadness is real. He was one of the good guys.

 He was brilliant in his comedic delivery and his unique ability to bring to life a more gentle comedic genius to life. It is why his Willie Wonka will always be the fan favorite. 

The character Willie Wonka was quirky and confident. He didn't follow the crowd and didn't care if the crowd followed him. He inspired fans to do the right thing when choices presented themselves. Good stuff for kids of all ages. 

Such a rich telling of the Roald Dahl story... and the messages are timeless. Doing the right thing doesn't have to be miserable. Genius and hard work do not have to be boring. Never neglect the butterscotch ripple or the recipe for invention will not come out right. 

The work we are called to do should have a butterscotch ripple. A labor of love always gets better results. When vision, passion and perspiration come together - amazing things happen. 

The things we once believed impossible... are now a part of daily living. We were created in His image to be creative. There are no limits. 

"Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion ... over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” -Genesis 1:26-27

We breathe his breath. Creativity is His gift...unique to each one of us. It is where we find our groove, make our move and enjoy the dance. I know we return to this theme often, but if creativity was not a rich part of the human experience there would be no books written, movies made or jewelry created. How can we think it frivolous? 

From creating quilts to creating wealth...we are designed to be creative... made in His image. In our creativity, we must be true to His word and take responsibility for where actions and decisions lead.  

Some will find a better way to make a car.
Some will give us better sound systems.
Others will redesign the cell phone again and again. 

Disney will create and re-create.
Musicians will write songs that will inspire to dance and make us cry.

Authors like Roald Dahl will give us characters like Willie Wonka and the Gene Wilder's of the acting world will bring them to life. 

Today, I am grateful for the creative, hard working minds that propel us into new inventions...and Gene Wilder's Willie Wonka.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Monday Is Mine

Daily Gratitude Year 4- Day 242: Today, I am grateful for Monday. Yes, that's right...Monday!

"Mon" in French means "mine". Now...that makes Monday "My Day". What a fun thought to start the week. This day is my day. 

Diets begin on Monday. Exercise routines begin on Monday. Weekly "To Do" lists begin on Monday. Apparently, Monday is rich with possibilities.  Promises of things accomplished and successes on the horizon. Perhaps, it comes disguised as work... but it is full of promise.  

Monday only comes once a week and four times a month (occasionally five), so every one counts. 

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.-Psalm 118:24

Let's take a closer look at this verse:
"This is the day" - this day... and only this day. "Give us this day our daily bread..."
"that the Lord has made" - He created it for our use, purpose and pleasure.
";" - A semicolon means PAUSE. Take it in and connect this next thought. 
"let us rejoice" - Embrace it and find a reason to sing.
"and" - don't stop with rejoicing...continue on...
"be glad" - Be truly filled with a happy heart for the gift. 
"in it." - IN it.  Not inspite of it. After it. Or, when it is over. In the moment! 

Today, I am grateful for Monday. Today, I will make it mine. 

Strength for This Day

Daily Gratitude Year 4- Day 241: Today, I am grateful for all the days that we are given the strength for "this day".

I think that there are times that the courage and strength to simply embrace each new day we are given... as "our daily bread"... Is enough.
I love that Jesus prayed "Give us this day". Not for this week or this month. One thing at a time. Such a wise way to respond to whatever challenges come. We don't just do our best. We do what is required if this day.
Short and sweet at the end of a full weekend. Weekend conquered and safe, quiet rest is granted.
Today, I am grateful for all the days that we are given the strength for "this day".

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Like A Tarp

Daily Gratitude Year 4- Day 240: Today, I am grateful for tarps. 

Life does not always happen when the weather is perfect. College move in days are not directed by the weather. The humble tarp becomes precious as it provides shelter and keeps things covered and relatively dry. 

Shelter, protection and the possibility of everything being "just fine" at the end of the day, is often the result of a humble, simple tarp...and bungee cords!

I am sure you are wondering if there is any way to make a devotional out of a tarp...but the Word whispered in my ear this morning seems to fit. He is our tarp. It is God's covering on our lives that gives us shelter and hope. He provides the shelter that keeps us from giving up on the midst of the storms that come our way. Big and small. 

Popular survival shows have taught us the value of shelter. Think what they could do with a tarp! The peace and protection of a safe, weatherproof covering would be a priceless gift. 
Every life has it's "Survivor" moments. We are promised peace and protection.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. -Isaiah 26:3

God calmed Moses with these words in Exodus 33:22:"and I will cover you with my hand until..."

Interesting note on Exodus 33- God was protecting Moses from something good - the overwelming presence of God. He was not allowed to see his face - only his back. Do we ever wonder about the goodness and glory that passes us by for our protection? That is food for thought and another day. 

In trouble he is sure. 

For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. -Psalm 27:5

In response to our inability to "get it right" on our own, He came to be with man form. God... with... us. Humble and rooted in the oh so daily life of a carpenter's son. He came to cover our sins with his blood and our lives with his love and purpose. Imperfect but treasured. He found us worth the sacrifice. 

More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.-Romans 5:11-13

He is our savior and covering. As God offers us the shelter of his wings...Jesus covered us with this blood...and the Holy Spirit wraps us in the comfort of holy hands. Yes...our God is like a tarp. 

Today, I am grateful for tarps. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

26 Letters in the Alphabet

Daily Gratitude Year 4- Day 239: Today, I am grateful the alphabet has 25 more letters when "Plan A" doesn't quite work out. does have unexpected plot twists! The story we thought we were writing takes a sudden turn.  Not all plot twists are bad... but many are interesting. 

Control. How I struggle with it at times. I love a back up plan to a back up plan. Sometimes, I think God expresses his sense of humor as much as his love and grace when life takes a sudden turn. 

My plans are often researched, measured, plotted and weighed out, but his are sovereign and holy. I can barely see to the end of one page or chapter in my story... but he sees the big picture.He knows the whole story. Our human need for control can create a major conflict and suck the joy right out of the plans he has for us. 

There is an old song, "You Can't Hurry Love" ...that may be true, but equally true is that we can't hurry God. His plans are always perfect but they are not always fast and easy. The good stuff is worth the wait. 

“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.” – Jeremiah 29:11

There hope of this verse...written to a nation in exile is a popular one. It is full of promise. But, sometimes we need to be reminded of verses 12 and 13:

"Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. – Jeremiah 29:12-13 

Call. Come. Pray. Seek. "Seek me with ALL of your heart." Holding nothing back. To claim the promise requires a commitment to consult the Master Planner. 

Working in a school  I have learned that the "master schedule" is a nightmare at times. Every cog in the wheel impacts another. Every one has their individual goals, desires and idea of a perfect plan. The problem with that is about 53 people have their own idea of a perfect. When working collectively for a greater good and common goal, there is always give and take. 

When people come together for a common goal - good things happen. Even in crisis and tragedy, we see good things happen. In His image... the fires of life define and refine us. A tune I am hearing often right now is called "Diamonds" by Hawk Nelson. Great song. 

He's making diamonds, diamonds
Making diamonds out of dust
He is refining in his timing 
He's making diamonds out of us

Oh the joy of the lord
It will be my strength
When the pressure is on
He's making diamonds  

Under pressure...coal becomes so much more. Plan "A" turns to plan "B"... "C" and beyond. Yes, the alphabet has 26 letters. So many plot twists in our stories. 

Will I ever comprehend that His ways are not my ways? Can my human mind.. although made in his image...admittedly struggles to wrap my head around the truth that God's driving desire is to restore his relationship with us. He wants us back. Like the father who welcomes the prodigal son home... his heart's desire is for us to seek him, find him and love him with our first breath, our last breath and every heartbeat in-between. 

 "I will be found by you, declares the Lordand I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile." – Jeremiah 29:14

I will restore. I will gather. I will bring you back. You can breathe and trust in me. 

Impatience gets in the way. The desire to know what is ahead can cheat today of it's goodness.  It is great to have plans...but when we submit our plans to Him and embrace the master's schedule... He moves in bold and mighty ways. 

Today, I am grateful the alphabet has 25 more letters when "Plan A" doesn't quite work out. I am grateful I am not responsible for the master schedule, only my heart and my part. 


Thursday, August 25, 2016


Daily Gratitude Year 4- Day 238: Today, I am grateful for the value in naming and being named. 

Naming matters. We took the job seriously as parent. We wanted them to have a sense of uniqueness among all the Smiths of the world, but we didn't want strange or awkward spellings to frustrate them the rest of their lives.  

Growing up, I rarely had my first and last name both spelled correctly until I married a Smith. That one is easy. Valerie isn't hard, but there are alternate spellings... although the "erie" on the end of mine fits my Halloween birth...and would have been unique. I have never introduce myself as "Val" - as I've never cared for the less feminine, shortened version of my name. As a young adult - when I left for college... it was easy to speak up and express the preference for Valerie. At home - given names are not used as much as endearments and nicknames - but out in the real world, they our first impression on the world. 

Randy doesn't ever use his legal first name except on legal documents. The popular nickname has been his moniker for all of his life. He wanted the kids to have names that fit for life. Not just a season. As a child... you don't get much voice. Naming matters.

In light of our own experiences, we wanted names that were not strange, but somewhat unique for our children. Correct phonetically spelled names...but somehow their own. Chase was not on any list of popular names in 1991 - neither was Walker in 1996. Our future daughter, Emma, was also named ahead of the popular curve, too. Ashley, Jessica, Brittany, Amanda and Samantha were the top 5 for girls in 1991. 

A name is a first impression. It follows you wherever you go. There was a time that a man's name and the value of his word were synonymous. A word and a handshake... and the deal was done. A century ago, mention a man's name and those who new him would give a quick character assessment. Now, we "Google" a name for information. 

I love that our creative God gave Adam the gift of naming the living creatures. 

"The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him." -Genesis 2:20

 That our God numbers the stars and calls them by name is something that my human brain cannot fathom. Each one valued enough to be named. 

He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. -Psalm 147:4

Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing. -Isaiah 40:26

My favorite piece of this scripture is "not one is missing". 

God changed Adam's name from Abram to Abraham as part of a promise. Daniel and "the boys" were given Babylonian names to strip them of their heritage when they were taken captive in the book of Daniel. An angel instructed Joseph in a dream about the naming of the baby Mary would bear in Matthew 1:21:

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 

When asked how the a crippled man was healed in Acts 4 , Peter responded:

 "let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.  And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

And a glimpse of the future in Philippians 2:10:

"so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,"

Names are important. The act of naming is the giving of a gift for a lifetime. The name of Jesus holds power, authority, healing and hope. 

Earworm is awake and singing Jim Croce's "I've Got a Name" and Matthew West's "Hello, my name is Child of the One True King". He can't make up his mind so I get two songs this morning. 

Today, I am grateful for the value in naming and being named. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Choose Beauty, Polish and Shine

Image from  
Daily Gratitude Year 4- Day 237: Today, I am grateful for choices that add beauty, polish and shine.

Ask people to describe the same object or event and you can get wildly different descriptions. How can that be? Movie critics. Book critics. And even fashion designers see with different eyes. There is choice in vision. 

I love Helen Keller quotes for her clear vision of the world around her...from sightless eyes and ears that did not hear. She learned to live...really live... beyond her circumstances. Her example challenges me.

Choices. We all make them. Every single day. The choices we make will impact how we interact with others and live with our ourselves. They reflect our spiritual life, too. 

Does our hope show? Does it float? Does it shine? 

I loved this little image this morning. The quote from Mary Davis and the image is from  The quote simply defines the conglomerate of choices we make each morning, noon and night. My choices are typically better and easier in the morning. I lose a little steam along the way of the day. 

Still, when we meet the morning with prayer...and coffee (or your beverage of choice)...and a mindset to make this day an offering, there is a new energy born. It is a soul exercise. Vision clears in a grateful heart. 

What will we see today? 

"For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him." 2 Chronicles 16:9a

The rest of the verse is about consequences to those who do not seek God's face and rely on "other kings" or their own power and influence. 

You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.” 2 Chronicles 16:9b

Wars as a result of trusting in other kings... instead of Him.  Logical consequences is a parenting we always liked...and apparently, it is not a new one. 

We cannot always control the world around us. We can choose new eyes and adjust our vision to his lens. See beauty. Seek kindness. Shine. Love. Live. Create. Be thankful. 

In a nutshell... 

"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." -Romans 12:1

Be present. Be a present. Be an offering. Love... real love and commitment... tears down the walls of resistance... and it seems the reasonable thing to do. Crazy love. 

Now... as a work in progress... some days are great and others are epic fails. Still, each day we can choose again. Beauty, kindness, generosity, gratitude and whimsy all make a difference... one tiny act and intentional observation at a time.  

Today, I am grateful for choices that add beauty, polish and shine.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Favorite Things

Photo by: Wendy Williams Vastine 2016
Daily Gratitude Year 4- Day 236: Today, I am grateful for blue skies sprinkled with puffy, fluffy white clouds over fields of maturing I adore and have loved since their birth...and old tractors. Yes...these are a few of my favorite things. 

Earworm is awake and singing "My Favorite Things" from "The Sound of Music".  "Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens..." 

When I look at this amazing shot - totally lifted in love and adoration from my friend, Wendy Williams Vastine, who sees beauty and moments through her lens and captures them both- I see reminders of the goodness in this day. It is rich! 

We can't buy blue skies. You can't make the the corn and beans grow, we can only care for them. We can't all see the beauty in an old tractor, but some do and put the effort into salvaging and restoring the "old girl" to her former glory. 

For the tractor people...I grew up with "green" (not red). We now run a lot of "yellow". But it is the "Old Massey-Ferguson that makes me smile and reminisce about my childhood on the farm. The Old Massey and the John Deere 3020 were more like friends. Beloved and well kept.  They never let age or inclement weather keep them from pulling their weight.  Small buy mighty little warriors were those tractors. The Farmall captured here, I am sure could tell many similar stories if tractors could talk. 

Some days, it is good to pause; lifting our hearts in gratitude for the gifts in this simple ordinary day is why I believe gratitude is life changing. 

This picture...if I could name it...would be "Roots, Wings & Favorite Things". These kids have some farm in their history (if I recall correctly Great Grandma). Grandpa Ron worked for John Deere. Dad at Caterpillar. And...a great adventure across the sea gave them wings, but also taught them the value and the joy of a sunny, cloud sprinkled sky. Yes, roots, wings and favorite things.  All the photo is missing is pumpkins! (Insert a laugh if you are from Morton or if you are not from Morton and find our pumpkin obsession amusing.)

"Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever." -Psalm 136:1

Cloudy days come and go, but the sun always returns. Crops thrive and crops fail...but we seem to have enough to eat. More than enough. Children grow up and thrive when sprinkled with love, discipline, encouragement and guidance. 

"For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer." -1 Timothy 4:4-5

Today, I am grateful for blue skies, old tractors, puffy clouds, maturing grain and treasured teens. These are a few of my favorite things. And...Earworm...who keeps me singing random tunes from every era. :)