Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Another Year

Daily Gratitude Year 5-Day 304: Today, I am grateful for another year. 

One of the great things about birthdays is the chance to reflect on another year of life, love, living, learning, teach and togetherness. 

The past twelve months there has been a bold reminder of His grace and goodness. We have seen our sons... now men... taking on new life adventures. Chase married - so we have a lovely new daughter. Walker balances school and working well, although... a mother is always concerned about things like sleep. 

I've held a newborn baby. Read more. I've practiced the arts I love. I have Randy by my side and I love him so much more than I did 30 years ago when we said "I Do".  Yes... we marked 30 years of marriage in this past year, too. 
Every year God grants us is a gift. How we use  each breath is our responsibility and gift to him. 

Our Grateful Girl is today's image. She has been finished and stands as a reminder of our many blessings of the past 30 years. Carved from a tree that offered us shade and beauty for our first 21 years in this house... now, that dying tree has been carved into something new for the next season. 

We can claim this promise in Isaiah 46:4...

"I will be your God throughout your lifetime— until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you." -Isaiah 46:4

His arrows of protection are true. They hit the mark. He does not abandon his children. We are carried and sustained. Some days, we need a rescue. 

Some days... we need to celebrate. 

Today, I am grateful for another year. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Game Changing Joy

Daily Gratitude Year 5-Day 303: Today, I am grateful joy can change the present.

I adore Ann Voskamp's writing. Sometimes it is simply profound. Other time, I get to take a sweet ride on her delightful use of the English language. This is one falls into the simple. 

"No amount of regret changes the past. No amount of anxiety changes the future. Any amount of grateful joy changes the present." 

Gratitude opens our eyes. 

Our priorities change. Our sense of contentment grows. Our generosity increases. We gain perspective on our past... it loses its chains and becomes a part of our story... but not one that defines us or destroys us. 

Gratitude can be the antidote to anxiety, because the two do not easily co-exist. 

This weekend, there was quite a show out my kitchen window. The tall decorative prairie grass is no longer green. It has turned the color of wheat and the tips are loaded with tiny seeds. The sparrows were feasting and bouncing around with joy. They were not competing, just sharing the abundance. No worry. No fretting. Just grateful joy in the moment. 

So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.- Matthew 10:31 

Today, we can waste energy on a past we cannot change or a future we cannot control, or we can be truly, deeply and profoundly grateful for the care, provision and goodness the Father provides.

As we are on the eve of the anniversary of Martin Luther's 99 thesis that marked the beginning of The Reformation, I am reminded of his conviction and commitment to illuminating the important work of grace that was finished on the cross. The temple curtain ripped. No longer was there a need for the old ways. 

"And so, dear brothers and sisters who belong to God and are partners with those called to heaven, think carefully about this Jesus whom we declare to be God’s messenger and High Priest." -Hebrews 3:1

"Unlike those other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices every day. They did this for their own sins first and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus did this once for all when he offered himself as the sacrifice for the people’s sins." -Hebrews 7:27

The burden of sin gone. The only one who can free us, has ordered our release. We have to choose him back. Not just in lip service, but seeking his heart. He has good things for those who say yes. 

Jesus didn't call priests or preachers. He made disciples. He instructed them to go and tell the good news. 

Now, some truly know the call of God on their hearts to pastor and lead, but many are propelled into the role with some reluctance. They understand the weight of the job. He holds those who serve in the role of teacher and pastor to a higher standard... as he should. Many resist, but He is persistent in his recruiting methods. Humble submission to a sovereign God. 

If we let him lead... he is faithful. When we fight him... he is faithful. 

I am grateful for His goodness and faithfulness in every season. He is our game changer. Delight in the freedom. 

Today, I am grateful joy can change the present.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Study Methods

Daily Gratitude Year 5-Day 302: Today, I am grateful for different study methods. 

Learning has been a theme this past week. I guess it continues one more day.

We all learn differently. But, we can all learn. The "S.O.A.P." method of Bible is a favorite of mine. 

Scripture. Observations. Application. Prayer.

It is interactive, involves language analysis, color and prayers. What better way to invite our Lord to reveal his heart through His Word. If Bible study is "boring", I invite you to try a new way of study. His living, life breathing word is many things, but boring is not one of them. 

This image from pinterest includes Mark 4:24. If you want straight, to the point and relevant, Mark is the gospel book for you. Mark captures many of the parables of Jesus. He is not particularly wordy, so it is a great place to try out the SOAP method.

Mark 4 holds several parables Jesus used to teach. The Parable of the Lamp seems brief, but it has many layers:

Then Jesus asked them, “Would anyone light a lamp and then put it under a basket or under a bed? Of course not! A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light will shine. For everything that is hidden will eventually be brought into the open, and every secret will be brought to light. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” Then he added, “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given—and you will receive even more. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.”-Mark 4:21-25
We live in a time that the media has a powerful influence over the culture. Political and personal agendas run deep. We invite them into our homes when we turn on the television. Sorting through it all can be overwhelming. 
What did Mark write: “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given—and you will receive even more. "
In college was the first time I realized the power of the media. I did a brief time with our college radio station with one of my communications classes. Morning news, an afternoon spot and occasionally the late night chair. It was the news experience that sticks with me to this day. 
We had an Associated Press ticker tape connection that feed the radio studio the news of what was up in the world. I chose what would be shared. I was probably 19 or 20 years old...  and I had the responsibility of sharing what the listeners would hear and know. I had limited time, so some things would be left out. Others would be highlighted. My choice. 
We had excellent guidance and common sense from Professor Toland. The guy was always listening and watching. I had more experienced peers... passionate about radio...  who helped when I asked for it. Still, there was that moment of decision where I held the power. I still shake my head in wonder when I reflect on those days. 
Because news is always breaking and relevant. It is tough to apply a SOAP style method to insure accuracy and understanding of the events at hand. 
It is not that way with our Bible Study. We need to responsibly read God's word for ourselves and not merely choose the interpretation we receive from others... picking and choosing what we like and what we don't . "Sharper than a two-edged sword" it pierces our hearts. With modern study tools, anyone can read, study and understand. Study with others and savor the collective way the Holy Spirit leads us when we seek his face together. 
Today, I am grateful for different study methods... and study partners.  

Saturday, October 28, 2017

A Lifestyle

Daily Gratitude Year 5-Day 301: Today, I am grateful loving is more than a one-time decision, but a lifestyle. 

A lifestyle is simply the way you live. 

Doing the right thing every once in awhile is... well... nice, but choosing love every day is our calling. It is hard. But, it unlocks joy if we persist until we succeed. 

Stepping out in love can feel risky, but it is that very sense of living on the edge that helps us learn to fly. 

I once heard a doctor say that he had worked hard to become a good doctor, to make a good living, to make a good life and to use his resources to serve God. Still, it wasn't until he did a medical mission trip that he discovered a real and vibrant relationship with Jesus. I love how he phrased it, "Jesus was in the margins." He had missed him in the good things he was doing at home, but it changed when he stepped out of his comfort zone. 

This doctor found himself working differently.  His job was still important, but how he used his skills changed. He no longer lived to serve himself and those with financial access to his care. He longed to take what he knew to the edge and give to those who needed his physician's hands so desperately. In the margins, he felt new life in his old work. He died to self and found new life in Christ. 

What an example of learning to love as a lifestyle. 

Jesus often picked the unlikely and sought them out. The Samaritan woman, the lepers, Zacheus, Saul on the road to Damascus and others who were feared, rejected or outcasts.  He's a tough act to follow... yet he said, "Come. Follow me." Then, he invited the most unlikely bunch to mentor and take into fellowship. Some of them were pretty rough around the edges and others smelled of fish. Love transformed them. 

Jesus loved as a lifestyle. Paul writes this to the Corinthians:

But as you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.  -2 Corinthians 8:7-8
Genuine love. Not perfect, but striving to learn and grow in grace. Love is always the best choice. 

Today, I am grateful loving is more than a one-time decision, but a lifestyle. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Involve Me-I Learn

Daily Gratitude Year 5-Day 300: Today, I am grateful for those who teach us working side by side. 

Side by side is a wonderful place to be. 

"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn." -Ben Franklin

Some of my best teachers worked worked with me. Mama always said you can't learn to make pie dough with a recipe. You have to learn to know when it feels right. She always had the pie assignment and her old fashioned crisco or lard crusts were the best. She would say, "Touch this. Now, it is right.: 

My music teachers would play with me or sing with us to help us understand what they wanted. It was more than just getting the notes right. It was nailing the emotions, too. 

When my work friend, Kathy, helped me learn to use the computer, she would be nearby at the desk behind me. Patient with my questions. Helping me navigate new waters. She was with me. 

Yes... I am still stuck on the power of the phrase, "I am with you." It seems to be inexhaustible. I've don't think we have touched on the value it adds to a teacher/student relationship.

Dad would walk us through the fields checking sweet corn for readiness. We learned that you could almost scent in on the air. Mama never measured for some of the favorite meals like ham and beans, chicken and noodles, beef stew and the Thanksgiving turkey. We just figured out what was enough and kept flavors in balance.  Sure... there is a starting point... but from there, the process is an experience not a recipe. 

My Mississippi sister-in-law Billie, taught me to make Red Beans and Rice the way her mother taught her. No measuring spoon. Just the right ingredients and a big pot. It is one of my best memories from our times together. 

Side by side. With us. That is our Jesus, too. He didn't really spend much time preaching. He led by example, but did it with his disciples by his side. Then, when the return to heaven was upon him, He gave these words of commission attached to a promise:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” -Matthew 28:19-20

This means we have a job to do. To paraphrase- "I am not physically present, but I Am with you. My Spirit will never leave you. The Spirit will guide you as you go. Go and do as I did. Be my hands and feet to all nations." 

Jesus taught his disciples the most when they walked side-by-side. With Him. We can still do that today through the gift of his living word...  and with fellow pilgrims. 

Today, I am grateful for those who teach us working side by side. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

A Warm Bed

Daily Gratitude Year 5-Day 299: Today, I am grateful for a clean, warm bed. 

As the temperatures turn colder here in the Midwest, I am reminded that some sleep without a roof and a warm bed. Don't forget to appreciate the little bits of warmth in your world.

My warm bed didn't want me to break free this morning, but the call of duty means I had to resist the urge to stay cozy and comfy. It was Goldilocks perfect... not too hot or too cold. 

If we have a safe place to sleep that is clean and protected, we are blessed. Simple as that. If we have someone who loves us under our roof... human or fur babies... our cup overflows. Savor it all.

Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? -Ecclesiastes 4:11 

I've never been homeless, but I have known people who have experienced house fires, job loss, illness, tornados and houses that are too unsafe to call homes. 

It won't be long and the Salvation Army will take to streets to ring their bells. The food pantries will shrink due to heating bills causing some people to not have enough for food. The shelters will fill at night, because it is too cold to sleep under the shelter of a bridge or overpass. 

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. -Psalm 4:8

Oh yes, to sleep safe, warm, clean and comfortably is a luxury some have never known. 

Today, I am grateful for a clean, warm bed.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Sovereign Defined

Daily Gratitude Year 5-Day 298: Today, I am grateful for a window into sovereignty. 

Sovereign defined: possessing supreme or ultimate power

What do I know of sovereign?

I must confess... I enjoy a little royal watching.  I was a young mom when Princess Diana died. Chase had just turned 5 and Walker wasn't even one-year-old at the time.  I felt such sorrow for those boys who had lived through so much, even before their mother died. Two little boys with no mommy to hold them when they wept. 

Part of my grief for them, was the sense that they had lost the only parent who would put her foot down when being royal was too much to bear. She understood the weight of the responsibility, not born, but married into the family. She could be fierce for her boys... and fun. 

For those who wear and embrace the crown, I am a bit awed by their commitment to upholding what it means to be born to that position. It isn't always easy and comes with a price.They do what they must and what is considered right, sometimes at a high personal cost to their privacy and the deepest desires of their heart. 

Being sovereign means the responsibility goes beyond our own agendas, wishes and desires. That is why it is God on the throne... and not us. Learning to embrace sovereignty is wonderful when we are richly blessed in so many ways, but there are times, that being His means coming face to face with "not what I hoped for, but thy will be done." Those are powerful, although painful, times of growth. The crazy thing, is that if we live long enough... we realize that his hand was never lifted from our mortal care. He is always present. Always there. But, each one of us is not a only child. And, he is always God. 

How do we enter his presence? 

"Singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." -Ephesians 5:19-20

How do we submit to his sovereignty? Jesus answered that one when he taught us to pray in this way: 

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, -Matthew 6:9-10

We submit to a sovereign Lord. I loved this image from wethreekingsillustrated.com  

"Not my way, but Yehweh."  Thy will be done. To offer that part of the prayer in praise and full submission is to drawer nearer to the heart of the living, moving, God of the Universe. 

Today, I am grateful for a window into sovereignty. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Healthy Fear

Daily Gratitude Year 5-Day 297: Today, I am grateful for a fear that leads to wisdom.

Halloween is less than a week away. The media is full of horror movies and costumes that evoke fear and trembling. There is something in our human nature... for some more than others... that craves living on the cliff between fear and freedom from fear. 

We learn... or we don't... from an early age that we must face many of our fears to free ourselves. There are times we take a stand and discover that what we feared was not even as frightening as we made it up to be in our heads. 

Proverbs 9:10 holds a powerful truth:

Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment.

Fear can be partially defined as a healthy respect and understanding of the way things work that leads to caution and better choices. We all need a little fear to keep us safe and healthy. 

The fear of the Lord... a healthy respect for his awesome power, knowledge of his laws, and submission to his sovereign ways... it is the beginning of true wisdom. Knowledge of Him and his ways leads to a clearer vision and insight. 

I am reminded of my student who played Ursula in The Little Mermaid trying to help me understand ... though I know Ursula is bad... I can't help but find something in her that evokes compassion for her wicked ways. She is a villain, yet she evokes a bit of empathy from me. She is jealous and lonely, by her own doing. She only wants things her way. Here is the wisdom from a 13 year old. "She doesn't mean to be bad. She just wants what she wants." Ursula challenged the King... and in the end... it would be her demise. 

Frankly, I get Ursula. Sometimes, I want what I want. But then,  I am reminded that I am not the Queen of the Universe... not even close. But my Heavenly Father is the creator of the Universe and holds it all in place by the power of his mighty hand. 

We don't have to be afraid. We don't have to have all the answers. He does. Better yet, we can trust him with the desires of our hearts... and everything else. Learning to fear him is tightly woven into learning to trust him and love him. He never fails. Not ever. He does things in his time... but the end result is always good. 

Occasionally, we face days that feel like scary snapshots in a picture. We can face our fears and know that He is with us, for us and his hand is on the moment and the big picture. 

Today, I am grateful for a fear that leads to wisdom. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Wild Abandon

Daily Gratitude Year 5-Day 296: Today, I am grateful for moments of wild abandon. 

I have a rubber stamp that says "Live for the moments of wild abandon." For a girl who likes to be ready for curve balls, the idea of "wild abandon" sounds brave and risky. Maybe it is. 

Dad used to tell the story of my two purses. We were visiting neighbors for a party. I potty trained early, but I must have feared not knowing the location of the bathroom. I was probably 3 at the time. I had a white with navy trim spectator envelope purse and a pink vinyl quilted one. I wore both in the cross over fashion. 

When our grandfatherly neighbor, Mr. Wade, asked me why I carried two purses, I showed him. In one, I had a dime. Back then, that was a big deal. From the second purse, I pulled a clean pair of underwear and simply explained, "Just in case." 

Our personalities are formed at an early age. I didn't like to be caught off guard by the unexpected. I still don't, but I am learning.  

When given the choice of risky or safe. I choose safe. But, in that part of my nature, Satan can whisper lies that keep me from fully embracing the places God may be leading or truths he wants me to explore. This quote from Max Lucado speaks to my inner chicken. 

"Let God have you and let God love you and don't be surprised if your heart begins to hear music you've never heard and your feet learn to dance as never before." "Max Lucado

This scripture came to mind:

He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord. -Psalm 40:3 

We must open not just our hearts... but our souls to His lead... and let him teach us a new song, a new dance and a new tune. One of the enemies best lies is that it will be restrictive and boring. It is a big, fat, liar-liar-pants on fire lie. 

Our friend Mark is full of wild abandon. I think this is why he is gifted with the 5 and under crowd he helps teach at church. We just had an evening with Mark and his wife and other good friends celebrating the marriage of a special young couple. He always reminds me to live fully in the moment. His love of the Lord makes him a beautiful example of what love does. It fully lives with hands that serve, feet that dance and a voice that sings. I am grateful for his example.

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly."  -John 10:10   

What ... or who... are the joy stealers? Jesus came that we might live life abundantly. There is a battle between God and Satan for our souls. It boils down to this: one want to prove he can win our souls because we cannot resist sin... the other proved His love by dying to restore our souls and the relationship broken by sin.

He didn't come to harness us... but to break our chains and set us free. 

 Today, I am grateful for moments of wild abandon. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Right Word-Right Time

Daily Gratitude Year 5-Day 295: Today, I am grateful for the right word at the right time.

And, the right artist. Please search out Hannah Dunnett. She is literally a word artist. She adds scripture or faith related truths into her designs. It might be busy for some people's tastes, but the pleasure in discovering new little elements with each look is pure delight for word lovers and lovers of The Word. 

"Wisdom" is the name of this image. I can't stop looking at it. This is my scripture for the day.

"Everyone enjoys a fitting reply; it is wonderful to say the right thing at the right time!" -Proverbs 15:23

When the image and scripture come together like a gift, I have to smile. Our God is like that. Generous in all of his ways. He gives us His Word, so that we always have the right word at the right time available to us, if we open it up. Other times, wisdom is spoken through others who seem to know and understand. 

We choose our attitudes and responses to tough spots and hard times. Those choices are profoundly impacted when we are familiar with The Word and his ways. I am grateful for those who pour out his wisdom into my days when I am too weary or too stubborn to see clearly on my own. The right word... at the right time is priceless counsel. 

I love being in the scriptures and finding something new or seeing an old familiar passage with new eyes and an different heart. In recent years, I've been fascinated with the "fits like a puzzle piece" links between the Old and New Testaments. My friend and encourager, Diana Hovey, shared this scripture on an image yesterday:

Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows. -Isaiah 1:17

The Lord looked and was displeased to find there was no justice. He was amazed to see that no one intervened to help the oppressed. So he himself stepped in to save them with his strong arm, and his justice sustained him. 17 He put on righteousness as his body armor and placed the helmet of salvation on his head.He clothed himself with a robe of vengeance and wrapped himself in a cloak of divine passion .-Isaiah 59:15-17
Jesus many times referred to caring for and protecting orphans and widows. Caring for the sick, the hungry and the unprotected. When Jesus was rejected at the temple, he was given this scroll to read from Isaiah.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” -Luke 4:17-19

Their rejection didn't make it less true. He came to free us from our sins, our failures and hopeless circumstances. We are called to be his hand and his feet and clean our hearts. 

"So clean the inside by giving gifts to the poor, and you will be clean all over.  “What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things." -Luke 11:41-42

Do I ignore justice? I give of my resources to the work... but ignore justice? 

Funny... this all comes together as I am trying to decide if I will take commit to "Dressember" for another year with my friend Sheila. And then a news piece breaks about an FBI raid on a child sex trafficking ring... with arrests in Illinois. 

The right word at the right time. Dressember. http://www.dressember.org/ 

Dressember stands to stop the slavery of this generation. It helps fund the rescue  and restoration of lives in jeopardy.  It does not ignore, but supports those who need to navigate the justice system.

Ugh... Dressember here I come. 

Today, I am grateful for the right word at the right time.