Encouragement Café

Today’s post is going to be a bit different because it is an audio clip:)

God has been graciously opening new doors of opportunity for me these past several months, and I am excited to share one of those with you today.

Earlier this fall I was invited to join the Encouragement Café ministry team. This is a group of Christian speakers, writers, and artists all across the world that are called to encourage others and share the love of Christ.

Please click on the audio player below to listen to a recent radio interview with the Executive Director of Encouragement Café, Luann Prater, in which we discuss our first meeting and my book, Purpose Through Perspective.

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"Repeated First-Time Guest"

After almost seven years of being plugged into the same church, God called our family out of it.

To say this uprooting was “difficult” would be an understatement. This was an extremely painful relocation process. Many tears were shed over this decision. I remember driving away from our church after attending our last Sunday there and thinking, “What have I done to our family?”

How were my husband and I going to explain to our seven and nine-year-old that the only church they had ever known would no longer be a part of their life? Would their young minds understand an act of obedience by their parents with the simple phrase, “Because God told us to leave.”

We sat them down on the couch and tried as best we could to satisfy their questions. Here is the one that we did not have a clear answer for: “Where are we going?”

However, this question presented an opportunity to teach and apply Scripture to present day circumstances. God doesn’t always give us the next set of directions until we follow the first. This was the case for Abraham when God directed him to leave his home and family in order to answer his call.

“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.’ ” (Genesis 12:1 NLT)

There’s the key phrase, “that I will show you.” It takes faith and trust to leave everything behind when you don’t even know where to go next. But we don’t have to know the entire plan today, because GOD WILL SHOW us where to go—in His time. Often this requires us to take the first scary step of leaving the familiar and advancing into the unknown.

And so our great “Church Search” began. This quest was exciting at first because change can be refreshing. It was such a blessing to see how many different “flavors” of Church there are.

But after about the fifth new church, our elementary aged children were just not feeling it. “Can’t we just go back to our old church? I still don’t understand why we had to leave. I don’t like visiting different places anymore.”

Change and transitions can be difficult, especially for children. They knew that every Sunday they would have to be the “new kid” and start all over again with introductions and unknowns. So my husband came up with an attitude incentive.

Each week after we visited a new church, our family would go out for a treat to talk about our feelings and list pros and cons. Now our kids looked forward to ice cream, pizza, or other delectable eats to make it through our mission. It was a fun family activity and helped ease the feelings of frustration with not knowing where to go next.

After months of being a repeated first-time guest, in over a dozen churches, we had acquired an assorted collection of complimentary pens, mugs, gift cards, key chains, t-shirts, swag bags . . . but still, we did not find the right fit for our family.

Change can quickly turn from exciting to exhausting. It would be nice if I had a perfect ending to this story with the comforting words, “We finally found our new church home and are all settled in.” But that’s not our family’s experience.

This is our current testimony . . . We are still traveling. Still trusting and obeying. Still relying on the Holy Spirit to direct our path and make it clear to us when and where to stop and stay. I don’t know how long this journey will be, but I do trust that God has a plan for us and it will come to pass in His timing.

If you are experiencing a period of wandering and waiting in your life, you are not alone. Keep going!

Whatever your “search” is (church, spouse, house, job, etc.), continue to let the Lord lead you so that He can bring you to the place or person He has already selected in advance for you. Don’t settle for less. Practice and develop patience.

Even though the next set of reposition instructions may not have been revealed yet, know that a divine plan is there and that GOD WILL SHOW His children where to go.

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“I’m a Princess”

My little girl turned 10 years old last week. (Blink) Wow, that decade went fast!

Ever since she was a baby, my husband and I have tried our best to teach her about God. It started with lullaby worship music in her nursery. I would hum tunes and sing lyrics about God’s love as I rocked her to sleep.

As she grew into a toddler, my husband and I would take turns reading her nightly bedtime stories from children’s picture Bibles.

Then as she transitioned from pre-school to elementary age, we would have her read the stories aloud to us. We also started to have more discussions beyond the words and pictures printed on the pages.

About the time she was 7, I began to encourage her to go further in her relationship with God. She knows the stories—but knowledge is not faith. I wanted her to move beyond the names of Bible characters and factual information.

It’s easy to get stuck in monotonous religious routines. But there’s so much more available with God than remembering rules and checking off a daily Bible reading or prayer.

So I encouraged our daughter to start a listening journal—spend time with God in prayer, listen to what He speaks to her heart, and write it down.

I cannot tell you how many precious entries she has shared with me over the years. Cherished conversations with God that reach deep. Thank You Holy Spirit!

Recently she showed me one that melted my mama heart. It was a poem that she wrote about who she is in God’s eyes:

 

I’m a princess in Your heart

No matter where I’ve been

I’m a princess in Your heart

Even though I sin

I’m a princess in Your heart

It’s not about the fashion

I’m a princess in Your heart

With lot’s of love and passion

I’m a princess in Your heart

I know You love me so

I’m a princess in Your heart

No need for a crown to glow

I’m a princess in Your heart

Ever since the very start

 

Oh, if only we could all see ourselves like this—precious children of the King! This is true identity. We are beautiful treasures to God.  Our value has nothing to do with appearances, achievements, or accolades. Just grace, truth, and love.

I pray that she keeps this poetic perspective as she is entering the “tween years.”  Media will bombard her with false pictures of beauty. She will be showered with comments from her peers about who they think she is. Worldly advice will be given about how she should change to fit in or stand out from the crowd to be more popular.

Lord, help my daughter, and all of us to KNOW WHO WE ARE THROUGH YOU. May our identity rest in Your reflection.  

“Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.” (1 Peter 3:3-4 NLT)

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”How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered!” (Psalm 139:17 NLT)

“Restoration Review”

This past week my family enjoyed some fun in the sun at Long Beach Island, NJ. My husband’s side of the family has vacationed in LBI every summer since the early 1950’s. At times, there have been four generations of extended relatives present and more 1st, 2nd, and 3rd cousins than you can count on an abacus!

I have enjoyed making this annual trip to LBI since 1998, the summer my husband and I started dating:) Now, twenty years later, we still continue this family tradition with bringing our own children to the same beach.

Last week, on our first sunny day in LBI, we walked up the familiar sandy path, over the high-rise dunes, and were utterly shocked to see a construction zone—on the beach?!?!

Orange plastic fencing, bulldozers, dredge pipes, portable office trailers . . . these things don’t belong at the ocean!!!

Beachgoers were informed that construction crews were working 24 hours around the clock and moving quickly down the coast. Despite these optimistic assurances, people were not happy.

In the grand scheme of life, a beach access being closed off for several days is not tragic. But when people are only there for a week, (and paying NJ prices to stay there) it is certainly inconvenient to relocate multiple blocks down the road from their rental homes.

You can imagine the complaint-filled conversations over the next several days from all around. A lot of grief and griping!

Why the township decided to do this project in the middle of summer instead of the spring or fall—not sure? But the fact is that sections of the beach (about 4 blocks at a time) were shut down to the public in order to transfer sand from offshore directly onto the beach. This restoration process was necessary to build up the coastline and replenish the eroded areas of sand.

Although this summer will always be remembered as the ill-timed “Beach Restoration Project of 2018,” it will also serve as a reminder to me of the following verse:

“In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.” (1 Peter 5:10 NLT)

No, I am not connecting our annoying temporary beach relocation to suffering, but rather I am focusing in on the process of restoring.

“Restoration” means that something is being repaired/renovated in order to return it to a former condition. The reason the beach needed reconstruction is because the original edge of land had been washed away. The coastline required an overhaul to put back the sand and build up a firm foundation.

Just like the sand slowly erodes from the shoreline, we can often become worn-down by swells of circumstances. Life’s trials roll in one wave after another, repeatedly depleting our footing. Difficult conditions can knock us off balance and leave us less stable than we were before.

While Christians cannot escape suffering in life, we can endure temporary pain and look forward with hope to the promise of eternal restoration. God has given us an unwavering promise of everlasting renewal. Believers will be “restored, supported, strengthened, and placed on a firm foundation.”

As temporary residents in a broken world, believers will experience only a portion of this repair/build up within their lifetime here on earth. But hold tight—one day, Christians will experience God’s full promise and undergo the complete restoration process in heaven. We will be returned to our original condition of perfection and established permanently with Jesus Christ.

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I’m guessing there will be another bothersome beach restoration project down the road. Hopefully, it is many years from now—but for today, I am thankful for this spiritual reminder in Scripture:)

 LBI- August 2018

LBI- August 2018

“Wild Weeds and Powerful Pruning”

I so admire people who have the gift of gardening. Perhaps that’s because I am so bad at it. Both my husband and I have two black thumbs when it comes to horticulture. It’s not that we don’t ever try—we are just not talented in that area. We inevitably either drown or dehydrate plants.

The only thing we know how to grow is weeds—this we do well:( Probably because we don’t try to cultivate them. They just produce and increase on their own without our involvement. It’s not really something to brag about, but we sure do know how to maintain mature weeds!

Outside one of my windows, I can see an entire patch of overgrown weeds. Within this cluster of wild foliage, there is one weed that stands out of the crowd—a real winner. It was screaming for attention. So I gave it some. I walked outside to measure it.

Again, not a proud moment to share, but a truthful disclosure . . . it measured 85”, which means this towering weed was slightly over 7 feet tall!

As I continued to stare at the “Jack and the Beanstalk” weed, I felt a blog post in the making. I wasn’t sure what the spiritual connection was yet, so I prayed that the Holy Spirit would disclose one to me.

God asked me, “What do you see Sarah?”

I answered, “An overgrown unkempt weed.”

“Why?” He asked.

I love it when God poses a question that forces me to think deeper. So this was my response back:

“Because we don’t give lawn maintenance the time it needs/deserves. We allow weeds that we see to keep growing because the sight of it does not affect us enough to want to do something about it. We are too lazy to pull it. We have prioritized other activities over pruning.”

And there it was—a lesson revealed to my heart through prayer and one severely overgrown weed.

It’s not like I couldn’t see the weed growing. I probably gazed out that window hundreds of times and simply chose to overlook something that did not belong. I could have chosen to walk outside when this weed was in a much younger stage of development and pulled it. Instead, I just ignored the weed and let it grow out of control.

This is how sinful habits grow in our lives. Often they start out as a tiny sprout. Visible to our eyes and heart, but not enough to make us want to do something about it. Thoughts and behaviors that should be plucked out when they are small, but instead our laziness or indifference allows them to remain and grow. Until one day, what started out as a little thing, intensifies and overtakes a space in our lives that should have been dedicated to producing fruit of the Spirit.

Some of us are terrible at physical gardening (I can’t be the only one!), but thankfully we all have a spiritual Gardner who helps us with cutting back and cleaning up.

Look at the words of Jesus: “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.” (John 15:1-2 NLT)

Jesus is the vine. God is the gardener. People are the branches.

Some branches do not produce fruit—unbelievers or fake followers—who are separated and cut off from the Lord’s life-giving power. Other branches bear fruit—true believers—who remain attached to the vine. Although Christians are connected to Christ, they still require pruning power from God.

Pruning is a necessary action to help snip the sinful choices from our lives. In order to promote healthy spiritual growth, habits or decisions that are not glorifying to God need to be cut out. Only by remaining in a healthy relationship with the Lord can a person be strengthened in faith and develop godly character. This is how we produce fruit . . . love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

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Can you recognize the overgrown weeds that require plucking—the spiritual pruning that needs to take place in your life? Will you ask your Heavenly Gardner to help you?

"Peace In The Pause"

In 2015, God invited me to write a book (Purpose Through Perspective). My first reaction was fear and insecurity. Tears. I had no experience as an author--but I practiced trust and obedience. Look what God did!

In 2016, God asked me to open my own Christian publishing company (Little Light Shine Bright, LLC). My initial reaction was uncertainty and self-doubt. Tears. I had no experience in this field--but I practiced trust and obedience. Look what God did!

In 2017, God nudged me to start a blog. My immediate reaction was . . . NO THANKS. I swore I would never be one of those online blogger people. Tears. I fought this one hard. Not only did I not have experience, I had no desire--but I practiced trust and obedience. Look what God did!

In 2018, God connected me to a believer who has asked me to help write her testimony. My initial reaction was . . . How cool is this!?!? No tears:) What a unique opportunity, to assist in capturing her story on paper, so that she can preserve her testimony and share it to encourage others. Ghostwriting is also an unfamiliar path for me--but I am practicing trust and obedience. Looking to see what God will do!

Over the years I have learned that God’s plans for my life are not typically what I would have selected for myself. It would be safe to say that most likely I would not have even agreed to try any of those things, had it not been for my Heavenly Father directing and guiding me. Each time He asks, I am given the choice to pass on those unfamiliar experiences--or lean in, trust and obey.

Can I tell you how exciting it is to watch God’s plans and provision unfold?! Each time I try something new, I can look back and connect the dots.

The person I am ghostwriting for--we connected through my blog. The blog I write--was established because I had a company website. My company was only created because I needed to publish my book on perforated paper. My book was written because I started sending cards of encouragement through the mail. The first card was sent because God asked me to notice and support one of His daughters that was hurting.

It all connects . . . I am able to retrace everything that God has me doing today, all the way back to a single prayer and handwritten card filled with love, Scripture, and hope.

Each year God is teaching me and training me for what He has planned next. He has repeatedly asked me to do things out of my comfort zone, and as I listened to His voice of direction, I have discovered His will and a passion for things that I initially wanted to refuse.

This blog has been incredibly fun for me. I love seeing God in ordinary experiences and connecting Scripture to everyday circumstances. I pray that you have been blessed by the words shared and that you are inspired to SEE GOD IN EVERYTHING!

As I have been praying about how to balance all of the past and present developing opportunities, I feel that God has answered my prayer with, “Be at peace with the pause.”

Do you know what is interesting about the pause button . . . It is often connected to the “play” button. The “stop” button signifies--done for now, but the “pause” option is usually pushed when a quick break is needed. This means that the intentions are there to push “play” again and get back on track when ready.

As I continue to participate in the evolving plans that God has for me, I need to be able to hit “pause” on the blog sometimes. I’m still here:) I still want to share with you the God connections that I see; it just might not be as frequent as I would like it to be.

I hope this is a word for someone today . . . Even a plate full of good things is still a full plate. You can not overwhelm yourself with doing everything at once. There is peace in the pause.

In order for God to groom and grow us, sometimes we need to either hit “stop” or “pause.”

So if you need to take a momentary break from something in life in order to focus on today’s task, hit pause and come back to it when you are ready. Then hit the play button again!!!

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 ”Be still, and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10 NLT)

"Pungent Perfume"

The other day my husband took me out for an impromptu visit to the mall. To many ladies, this might sound like a fabulous date! However, since both of us despise shopping, and we have not been to a mall together in years, I was quite surprised at our destination.

Then I learned we had a specific purpose. Our assignment: find a new cologne.

With our mission in mind, we navigated the corridors of the mall directly to the fragrance shop. OH-MY-GOODNESS!!! How many different scents could there possibly be?!?!

Although we already had a particular name brand in mind to review, I was completely overwhelmed with the plethora of perfumes and colognes available.

Before we knew it, each of us had samples sprayed on our neck and arms. I didn’t even plan on looking for a perfume that day, and somehow the sales clerk at the counter was already trying to convince me that I needed to get not just one--but two bottles of perfume!!

Feeling smothered with thick layers of aromatic air, we needed to exit the tiny store to clear out our nostrils and inhale fresher oxygen.

We sat down on a bench near the food court and started to sniff each other--repeatedly. To an onlooker, we most definitely looked like fools:) We must have smelled each other up and down the left arm, then the right arm, then the neck, then back again to each arm . . . more than a dozen times.

I can imagine we looked like a bad episode of Pepe Le Pew. Wafting, inhaling, waiting to see which fragrance was a winner.  

Unfortunately, neither of us could agree on the perfect scent. Some were iffy to both of us. However the situation that shocked me was how my husband loved one of the perfumes on me, but when I took a whiff--I hated it!

He was interested, and I was disgusted. Same scent--different reactions. Our odor ordeal then reminded me of Scripture . . .

“Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume . . .” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16 NLT)

In the verses above, Paul was describing the different reactions he received while preaching about Jesus. Some people breathed in the Gospel as a sweet fragrance of life. Others, who did not believe, found this news to be a foul stench of death.

Just like our fragrance samples at the mall . . . the SAME SCENT smelled attractive to my husband and nauseating to me. This is how the Good News comes across to people . . . the SAME MESSAGE of Jesus produces diverse reactions.

Have you noticed how people around you respond differently when a conversation about Jesus comes up? Do the words spoken produce a sweet aroma of hope and salvation, or do you see a repulsed look of dread and boredom?

No matter what reaction you may receive, continue to be the sweet perfume that you were designed to be!

“Be full of love for others, following the example of Christ who loved you and gave himself to God as a sacrifice to take away your sins. And God was pleased, for Christ’s love for you was like sweet perfume to him.” (Ephesians 5:2 TLB)

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P.S. Stay tuned for a unique blog post next Wednesday! I was chosen as a guest post writer and published with (in)courage. I can’t wait to share this special written piece with YOU:)

“Spiritual Gifts Box”

Recently we had to replace the mat on our trampoline.

It could be due to the hot scorching North Carolina sun that slowly disintegrates the material over time. Or perhaps the weight of ten first graders all jumping on the trampoline together for a birthday party wasn’t the wisest idea. (That was a fun and noisy day!)

In any case, a small hole appeared in the mat--which if left untreated could lead to a giant tear and a trip to the emergency room. So my husband diligently ordered the replacement mat and hooked it up.

As I looked at the empty box for the new trampoline mat lying on its side, I noticed a Scripture reference on the bottom. It was 1 Peter 4:10.

I hate to use the term “bumper sticker” Bible verse because I don’t want to demean any of God’s Word . . . but certain Scripture references are more common than others. Some of the most recognizable ones are (Psalm 23, Jeremiah 29:11, John 3:16, Romans 8:28, Philippians 4:13)

But when I looked over at the trampoline box, I could not recall what 1 Peter 4:10 was off the top of my head. So I looked it up . . .

“God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” (1 Peter 4:10 NLT)

Hmmm, that’s interesting--I thought. The big “C” Church does not even talk frequently about spiritual gifts, so what would inspire a trampoline company to reference this verse on their product boxes?

I was intrigued, to say the least. Since I could not see an obvious connection linking trampolines and spiritual gifts together, I had to investigate further.

So I called the 1-800 number for the company to ask if they could tell me why 1 Peter 4:10 is on the bottom of their boxes? The answering operator took down my contact information and apologized for my concern.

I quickly corrected her misunderstanding and told her that I was not filing a complaint--I was rather thrilled with this company’s choice to attach Scripture to their product and pleasantly surprised by the verse they selected. I told the operator that I was purely calling out of curiosity . . . as to WHY, out of over 31,000 verses in the Bible, HOW did 1 Peter 4:10 get chosen?

Many times in life we ask questions and seek answers that are not given. This is one of those times:( Maybe one day in the future someone in the company will get my memo and call me back to reveal their inspiration for this decision.

Whatever the company's reason is, 1 Peter 4:10 is a good verse! It teaches us the importance of using our uniquely selected spiritual gifts to help build up the Kingdom. As God’s stewards, we are encouraged to faithfully operate in the gifts that He has given to us, in order to serve others. 

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well.  If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.” (Romans 12:6-8 NLT)

 “To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said.” (1 Corinthians 12:8-10 NLT)

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Have you discovered your spiritual gifts? They may not be as obvious and easy as opening a physical present in a gift box (or a trampoline box), but once uncovered and activated, the recipient has the spiritual power to help change this world!

"Living The Dream"

As I pushed my cart full of bagged groceries out to my car, I made eye contact with a gentleman that was walking towards me.

He had one hand in each front pocket of his jeans (thumbs casually hooked over the rims), as he nonchalantly strolled across the parking lot. It looked like he did not have a care in the world or a pressured sense of time on a clock.

I smiled and said, “Hello.”

He reciprocated with a serene, “Hello.”

My brain is then trained to ask the routine question, “How are you?”

Typically people respond with one of the following habitual phrases: “I’m doing well.” . . . “Fine thank you, and how are you?”. . . Or here in the south, you can sometimes catch an upbeat, “I’m blessed!”

But not this guy in the parking lot of Harris Teeter. His response to my perfunctory question caught me off guard.

Without hesitation, he answered in the most laid-back tone, “I’m living the dream.”

When I heard this unexpected response, I chuckled to myself. After loading the next bag of groceries into the back of my car, it felt like a revelation crashed into my head at full speed. The Holy Spirit was prompting me to ask him another question . . .

“SIR!” I yelled towards the store, “WHAT IS ‘THE DREAM?’ ”

But at this point, he had already walked too many paces past the sound of my voice.

I really wanted to know what his answer was, but I also did not want to appear like a crazy stalker lady. So as I drove away, I just kept thinking about the possible answers:

His carefree tone gave me the impression that he just quit a job he hated and walked out of the office. (This certainly sounds like a dream to many.) Or maybe he just found out that his wife is expecting? Perhaps he just won the lottery? Maybe it is all of the above or none of the above? Sadly, I will never know.

For the rest of the afternoon, I could not get this curious thought out of my head . . . What does it mean to be “living the dream”?

I suppose the answer to this question is relative to individuals. Each person has their own vision of what a dream life looks like.

The following passage popped into my head when I meditated further on this question:

“For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.” (Philippians 1:21-24 NLT)

Paul is not describing the “American Dream.” No mention of a house, 2.5 kids, white picket fence, and an adorable dog. Nor does he discuss opportunities for successfully climbing the corporate ladder, equal rights, or freedom.

Few would describe Paul’s experiences as a rich and to the right dream life. There was no pursuit of personal happiness. His life included being stoned, and multiple accounts of being whipped, beaten, shipwrecked, and imprisoned.

Yet . . . Paul feels privileged in his life. As a matter of fact, he is so dedicated to LIVING for Christ that he can’t decide which is better: to die and go to heaven, or remain living on earth to tell others about Jesus. Not for his own sake (because he was already confident in his eternal destiny), but for the purpose of leading others to Christ.

Paul proclaims it would be better to remain on earth--suffering for the Great Commission. Does this sound like “living the dream” to you?

To unbelievers, this life on earth is everything. It’s all they have--which means temporary pleasures do sound dreamy.

But to those who have an eternal perspective . . . growing closer to God in a personal relationship, developing spiritual fruit to become more like Christ, and spreading the Gospel is LIVING THE DREAM!

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“Incredible Guarantee”

A few days ago my husband needed to visit the eye doctors for an exam. Since we knew ahead of time that he would be receiving dilating eye drops, (the ones that make your pupils enlarge to twice their size) I agreed to be his chauffeur.

After his appointment was over, he was ready to be driven back home, but instead suggested that we make a quick pit stop at the grocery store.

“Are you sure you want to walk around in a bright halogen-lit store? Won’t that hurt your eyes?” I asked with concern.

He turned to me wearing his disposable Ray Charles lookalike eyewear and said, “I should be fine.”

When we arrived at the store, he only wore the plastic pupil protection for about 30 seconds before taking them off. Even though his gigantic cartoon looking eyes were sensitive to light, he was still able to scan and locate the protein powder that we needed.

At the checkout counter, I was given the job of handing our few items to the cashier and making the payment. I’m not quite sure what prompted me to gasp when I saw the protein powder ring up for $50, (because I know it is expensive) but I blurted out loud in disbelief, “Fifty dollars?!?!”

My husband heard this and quickly said, “No, it should be around $45.”

The cashier just looked at us in confusion, so I quickly ran back to the aisle and snapped a picture of our item with the barcode . . . it was indeed stocked and priced at $44.99 dollars on their shelf. Then I ran back to the line full of people waiting on this price check and showed my proof to the cashier.

She called her manager, who then came over to apologize and correct the price. We said it was no problem, and then I swiped our credit card to finish the readjusted payment transaction.

Just after I completed the signature pad, my double-dilated-vision-impaired husband pointed to a sign on the counter. How he saw and read this in his temporary medical condition, I do not know? But the notice said:

“Think your item may be priced incorrectly? Please alert your cashier. If it is, and not in your favor, we’ll refund the full price and give you the item free. Our goal is 100% price accuracy.”

My husband and I looked at each other, and then we turned to the cashier to say, “Could we please see that manager again?”

We are still not sure why this store policy was not applied when the manager came to fix the original inaccuracy, but when we were escorted to the customer service counter, he politely honored the store guarantee.

Whoo-hoo!!! Fifty dollars worth of protein powder AND our money back;)

Guarantee—a formal promise assuring that certain conditions will be fulfilled

It’s nice that grocery stores have them, but did you know that God gives guarantees as well?

“And because of what Christ did, all you others too, who heard the Good News about how to be saved, and trusted Christ, were marked as belonging to Christ by the Holy Spirit, who long ago had been promised to all of us Christians.

His presence within us is God’s guarantee that he really will give us all that he promised; and the Spirit’s seal upon us means that God has already purchased us and that he guarantees to bring us to himself. This is just one more reason for us to praise our glorious God.” (Ephesians 1:13-14 TLB)

Believers receive the Holy Spirit as a deposit, an earthly foretaste/preview of our eternal inheritance with Christ.

Christians are marked as belonging to Jesus by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit—stamped and sealed as God’s children.

The power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is the fulfillment of the first installment of God’s promise, and a reminder of the remaining portion that is to come—eternal life in heaven.

The Holy Spirit here with us today is the GUARANTEE that we will receive everything that God has planned and pledged to us in the future.

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God’s spiritual guarantees sure do beat free items at the grocery store!

"The Game of LIFE"

After several uninterrupted hours of spring break tech time, we asked our kids to please put away the iPads and do something else--something without a screen!

So as my mom and I chopped vegetables for stir-fry in the kitchen, my husband played the board game “LIFE” with our kids in the dining room.

I have my own childhood memories of playing this game. The rainbow spinner, the plastic vehicles, the tiny pink and blue people pegs. I remember that I didn’t like to play it often because it was such a long game (like Monopoly), but I could still recall the famous jingle from that 80’s commercial, “You can be a winner in the game of LIFE!”

As we diced onions, peppers, and beef in the kitchen, we could overhear bits and pieces of the game being played in the next room. Simulated lives were chosen. Each player selected their own career path, home, and family.

My son was able to fulfill his dream job of becoming a police officer. He lived in an apartment and had twin babies. One boy and one girl.

My daughter joined the entertainment business, lived in a condo, and had one child--a girl.

My husband went to college to become an accountant, lived in a log cabin, and chose to be a double income-no kids family.

At the end of the game, my husband read aloud the last part of the rules . . . “How to Win--After all players have retired, everyone counts up their money. The player with the highest dollar amount wins.”

“WHAT!??!” I shouted from the kitchen. “Seriously, this is how you WIN in the game of LIFE?”

I know, I know. You may be thinking, “Calm down Sarah. It’s just a board game.” But this last piece of the rules really disturbed me. I understand there has to be a gauge to determine a winner--but what kind of message does this send to kids?

My mom and I started shouting into the dining room . . . “What about the measurement of Spiritual fruit developed? Does the game take into consideration the quality of life the person lived, instead of just the quantity of money earned? How about positive impact on the lives of others?”

Well, obviously my husband “won.” He went to college, worked in a career handling money, and saved income by not having any kids. “WINNER”. . . according to Milton Bradley.

Believe it or not, this game was actually created in 1860. It has a fascinating history behind it. Google it.

The original game did include spots on the board to land on positive character traits: Influence, Honor, Happiness, Honesty, Truth, Perseverance, Ambition, Bravery.

On the flip side, the game board also included dark spaces: Disgrace, Poverty, Ruin, Crime, Prison, Gambling, Idleness, Intemperance (greed/overindulgence), and Suicide. How morbidly crazy is that?! (Suddenly I felt a little bit better about the 21st-century version.)

Thankfully real life is not played like this board game, and we do not “WIN” with the rules set forth by Milton Bradley.

Here are some of Paul’s final words to Timothy near the end of his life:

“As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8 NLT)

Paul did not calculate the sum total of his career, house, family, and bank account. Instead, he mentions the mission--his spiritual purpose. As he approached the end of life, he spoke about faithfulness and perseverance in his calling. Although this worth cannot be measured on earth, it will be eternally rewarded in heaven.

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The board game of LIFE only has room for one winner. However, heaven holds a prize spot for a multitude of race participants--all believers are WINNERS!

"Good Black Friday"

There are two famous Fridays on the calendar: Good Friday and Black Friday.

With Easter approaching, I started having more Holy Week conversations with my kids. Both my seven-year-old and nine-year-old inadvertently swapped the first word for these two holidays.

As I thought about these designated titles through the mind of a child, it seems that their innocent mistakes appear logical.

As an adult, you are probably aware that Black Friday refers to the retailers perspective of finally going “into the black,” meaning that they made a profit, instead of operating at a loss--staying in the red.

But young children are not aware of business terms, so they most likely associate titles with feelings.

Why would the horrific murder of our Savior be referred to as “good,” while the biggest toy shopping day of the year would be considered “black”?

Their unintentional interchanges had me thinking about the comparison of these two holidays:

Good Friday – Red Blood was dispensed

Black Friday – Red ink is replaced

Good Friday – Perfect Prophet lost His life

Black Friday – Financial profit is gained

Good Friday – Focus is on the Holy Cross

Black Friday – Focus is on the (+) addition of new possessions

Good Friday – Creator’s Eternal Sacrifice

Black Friday – Consumer’s temporary treasure

Good Friday – Centered on our Savior

Black Friday – Centered on savings

I found this juxtaposition very interesting. However, beyond their opposition, some connections were brought to mind . . .

Good Friday turned into a “Black Friday” on the day that Jesus died:

In physical terms . . . “At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.” (Mark 15:33 NIV)

In everlasting savings . . . Jesus did not exchange monetary income that day, but rather He paid the ultimate price to change the spiritual outcome of believers. His loss of earthly life for our gain of eternal life.

The cross is the ultimate bargain. You will never find a better deal--the day after Thanksgiving, or any other date on the calendar!

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Good Friday is good indeed--it generated the Good News!!!

"This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life.’ ” (Romans 1:17 NLT)

"Sorta Spring"

Spring officially started yesterday on the calendar, and yet, my weather app shows a snowflake on the screen for today. Oh spring, where are you?!?!

We thought spring had arrived last week, but then we received a snowfall that resulted in two days of school cancellation.

Since the temperature was hovering around a freezing 32 degrees, the snowflakes had more moisture in the air to latch on to, which resulted in good packing snow. (I totally googled that simple scientific information!)

Do you know what quality packing snow is good for? SNOWMEN!

So, my daughter spent a portion of her academic-free day building a snowlady. She was given delicate twig arms, a multicolored pastel scarf, and a neon green frog hat with a pink bow on top.

When I asked my daughter what her name was, she replied, “I call her, Sorta Spring. Because it was supposed to be spring, but it turned out to be an extended winter.”

There in the middle of our backyard stood Sorta Spring. For the first two days, her body was camouflaged against the rest of the white blanket covered ground. However, her surroundings changed rapidly. Here in North Carolina, the temperature can swing drastically within 24 hours.

Pretty soon we could see lawns again throughout our neighborhood. However, because Sorta Spring was created with good packing snow, she remained, while everything else melted. It was a funny sight to see--a snowlady planted on a field of green grass.

She was resilient, persevering through the increasing heat . . . until eventually, Sorta Spring melted. She was gone.

The only remains of her short life were sitting in a pile on our grass: two twigs, a scarf, and a hat. As I looked at her belongings on our property, I was reminded of a verse from Scripture:

“The grass withers and the flowers fade beneath the breath of the Lord. And so it is with people. The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:7-8 NLT)

Everything in this life will eventually disappear: snow, grass, flowers, fame, wealth, property, careers, trends, opinions, feelings, memories, loved ones--all temporary.

Only God is permanent.

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Seasons change. Fads fade. People pass. God’s Word is eternal. How does knowing this biblical truth affect and reflect in the way you live your life today?

"Alarm Clock Argument"

Beep, Beep, Beep. And so another day begins.

Here is a recent exchange of words that took place between my children following those beeps . . .

Daughter: “Wake up,” (in a tired tone to her brother)

Son: “I know. I’m just stretching!” (annoyed response to his sister)

Daughter: “I said, it’s time to GET UP!” (impatient authoritative demand)

Son: “GET OUT OF MY ROOM!” (angry defensive reaction)

Together: “MOM!!!!!” (screaming in unison)

To be fair, most of the time our wake-up system works beautifully. As an early bird, I am already downstairs getting ready to prepare breakfast. My older daughter has the alarm clock in her room that goes off at 6 a.m. She then transfers the wake-up call by poking her head into her brother’s room and gently relaying the alarm. Then they both come downstairs to start the morning school routine.

But for some reason, on that groggy morning, voices and attitudes were not so sunny. Not even three minutes into the day yet, and the kids were already heading down the stairs in a heated argument.

Daughter: “If you would just get up when I tell you the first time, then I wouldn’t HAVE to repeat myself!”

Son: “I WAS getting up!”

Daughter: “NO, you weren’t!”

Son: “I don’t want you to wake me up anymore! Mom, can I have my own alarm clock?”

As sad as this made me feel, I said that I would consider buying my son his own alarm clock--because he is getting older and having separate ones could avoid future potential arguments.

So the three of us continued our morning routine of breakfast with a “God Time Card.” This is a daily devotion that our church gives out each week to elementary students. It encourages them to discuss/practice a spiritual theme for the month and memorize an applicable Bible verse.

Guess what this month’s theme is? PEACE (HaHaHa! Don’t you love early morning irony?)

The definition of peace provided on the paper says, “Proving you care more about each other than winning an argument.”

So I’m sitting there, trying to put an invisible muzzle over my mommy mouth--hoping they would make this missing “peace” connection without me having to preach it and knock them over the heads with it.

After a few moments of silence, I gently posed the question, “So . . . Can either of you think of a very recent time that you could apply this to?”

I could see in their disgruntled faces that they were not having it--clearly they were not ready to discect the argument that had just taken place. So, I moved forward with the morning and prayed that the lesson would eventually sink in.

Minutes later, as I was upstairs, I could hear the two of them interacting downstairs. Apparently, something did get into their hearts--without me having to forcefully inject it!  It’s amazing how the Holy Spirit has more space to move and speak when I pray and walk away.

Even though my daughter did not feel as though she was at fault, she wanted to prove she cared more about her sibling than winning an argument . . . so she sweetly packed her brother’s lunch for him (including a kind note) while he was getting dressed in the other room.

When he came to the kitchen and saw this peace offering, he was so touched and responded with, “Maybe I don’t need my own alarm clock yet. You can still wake me up in the mornings.”

HA-LLE-LU-IAH, look what God can do!!! How heart-warming to see Scripture in action. Below is the verse that they each took turns saying over breakfast from their God Time Card.

“So let us do all we can to live in peace. And let us work hard to build up one another.” (Romans 14:19 NIrV)

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What can you do for someone else--to show that you care more about them over winning an argument?  If something as simple as making a lunch generated peace, imagine the many ways that you can build others up and extend peace . . . Even if, especially if, it’s not your fault!

“Coincidence . . . I Think Not!”

This past Saturday, my company had the unique opportunity to be a vendor at the “Unspeakable Joy” Conference, presented by Encouragement Café and JOY FM Radio. This was a sold out event that housed around 1,000 women.

Guess when I found out about it? Slightly less than 7 days beforehand! God opened a last-minute door for me, to a building packed full of Christian women seeking joy and encouragement--and He placed a Little Light Shine Bright table in the crowd:)

Luck? Coincidence? Serendipity? No, No, and No.

What may feel like an eleventh-hour opening to me, (and seem like good fortune to others) was actually a prearranged appointment, written in advance with permanent marker on God’s calendar and floor plan!

Although I was stationed in the vendor area most of the day, I was able to attend small segments of the conference to hear the guest speaker--Liz Curtis Higgs. She is a hilarious, keeping it real, amazing woman of God.

Do you know what she spoke about at the encouraging joy conference? Suffering.

And do you know which verses she referenced in her talk? (2 Corinthians 4:8-10) . . . The very Scripture passage that I wrote about in my last blog, “Clay Display.”

Another “coincidental” connection? Nope! Only God’s timing and topics could align like this:)

In the middle of the day, I was invited to go into the green room to meet Liz Curtis Higgs. I did not want to monopolize her down time during her lunch break, so I just quickly introduced myself, conveyed how much I enjoy hearing her speak, and thanked her for sharing about her personal health circumstances.

I told Liz that I appreciate how she is using all of her life experiences, including her cancer (with a lower case “c”) to display the glory and presence of Jesus. As I handed her a copy of my book, I expressed that the core message I feel called to communicate is purpose in pain. In bold capital letters, my Introduction on page 7 says, “SUFFERING is one of God’s greatest GIFTS.”

We both agreed that it is not an easy message, and certainly not a perspective that everyone understands or concurs with--but that it is a biblical principle and privilege to share. How affirming it was to hear this parallel viewpoint from the keynote speaker:)

Liz spoke to a packed room of 1,000 women. Although most of us do not preach from a stage, each of us is given an equivalent call to speak. Whether it is in front of a large crowd, or a single interaction with 1 person--our role is the same: Patiently endure suffering. Share our testimonies. Encourage and comfort others. Lead people to Jesus. Give all the praise and glory to God. These are the responsibilities and opportunities given to Christians.

“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-7 NLT)

We don’t all get to use a microphone and a podium . . . but all of us have a testimony platform to minister.

What does your gift of suffering look like? Who are you able to comfort?

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Congratulations Misty . . . you are the blog raffle WINNER from the conference and will be receiving a free copy of Purpose Through Perspective!!!

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If you have the heart and desire to encourage someone, but you just don’t know what to say . . . Purpose Through Perspective can be used as your instrument. The words are already written and available to share, but the 30 letters of encouragement need a messenger to deliver them. You can be that person who initiates connective support and offer hope in the midst of painful suffering.

“Clay Display”

This week I was visiting my not so happy place . . . the gym:( I wish I could be one of those healthy activists who love to exercise. You know, the people who actually enjoy (gagging noise) working out?!?!

As I walked down the long aisle of sweat-producing machines--elliptical lane on the left and treadmill alley on the right--I came to my desired destination . . . the rowers.

When I plopped down on the gliding seat, I began to fasten my feet into the straps on notch number three, and read a small sign attached to the program display area. It said:

“ROWER WORKS, DISPLAY NOT WORKING”

This meant that the machine itself was functioning correctly, but the area in which I should be able to track my workout was unavailable. Normally I would be able to monitor my distance, pace, time, and calories burned.

This was not the best case scenario for a workout, (since all of the information above is usually a visual motivator to keep me going) but since that was the only rower available, I remained and started my exercise routine.

With every pull of the chain on the rower handle, my eyes kept staring straight ahead at the sign that was taped to the top of the blank electrical device. That sentence kept repeating in my mind, over and over . . . “ROWER WORKS, DISPLAY NOT WORKING.”

Okay Lord, I know there is a spiritual connection here. What are You trying to show me? So I prayed as I rowed. And then a huge smile spread across my face as the Holy Spirit revealed truth to my heart:)

Although I could not see any exercise calculations, I know I was working out. How? The evidence was all around me. My shirt was wet with sweat, my ring finger on my right hand developed a visible blister from rubbing against the handle, and my leg and back muscles began to feel the burn throughout the duration of my rowing. The pain my body showed and felt was an indicator of work that took place.

Wouldn’t it be nice if God gave Christians a digital display box to see our progress? It sure would be encouraging to view measurable data in our race. We would be able to monitor how far we have traveled in our walk, the pace at which we are advancing, how long we have been moving and growing, and how many lives we have touched. Of course this spiritual fitbit does not exist, but we don't need it anyway.

Although we don’t have a digital device to see movement and spiritual experiences recorded as data, GOD’S POWER IS WORKING in our lives. How do we know? The evidence is all around us. WE ARE THE DISPLAY!

Our lives become a track record of God’s power working! Christians may not showcase a holy digital display, but rather we are testimonial jars of clay.

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7 NIV)

“Jars of clay” is a biblical metaphor for human beings. We are fragile vessels that contain the light and power of Jesus within. Our privilege and responsibility is to let others see Christ through us--as displayed in our lives.

Just like I had physical symptoms (sweat, a blister, sore muscles) to show that I was working out, God gives us circumstances to show His power working . . . our painful trials.

Training is hard and requires a lot of effort! The blood, sweat, and tears that come with running the Christian race--it’s all supposed to be used to display God’s power and glory.

Here are the next verses in the passage above . . .

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10 NLT)

Read that last line slowly again. “Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.”  Suffering . . . so that . . . Jesus can be seen in our bodies. Sure sounds like a working power display to me:)

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What does your clay display (life) say to others about the power of Jesus?

"Cardinal Craving"

Several years ago I had a very significant spiritual experience that involved a cardinal. Without getting into the back story, I will just say that whenever I see this red bird, I am reminded of God’s presence.

Recently I was praying about a challenge that I was going through and asked God if He could simply send a cardinal my way. It’s not that I doubted His presence, but I was seeking a little comfort and encouragement.

So, I sat near my window and prayed hard for this feathery friend to fly near me . . . desperately wanting to catch a glimpse of hope for my difficult situation.

Two minutes of intense staring out the window.

Nothing.

Surely this request of sending a bird was not difficult to fulfill. Actually, this prayer request was a lot simpler than the real challenge that I was facing--which prompted the desired visit from a cardinal in the first place.

A few more minutes of waiting, staring, searching, hoping.

Nothing.

Seriously God? It’s just a bird. It’s not like I am asking for it to land on my hand, do back flips in the air, transport food for survival, or verbally speak a message to me. I just want to see a cardinal today . . . Why is this too much to ask?

After a few more minutes of open air space, with no flight in sight, I accepted God’s answer and moved forward in my day.

Later that afternoon, it was time to pick my kids up from the bus stop. Several yards away from where I was positioned, I could see my daughter running towards me with an over-stretched smile across her face and a hidden object behind her back. Through my strained and squinted eyes, I could see a flash of red in her hand.

NO WAY--I thought to myself. There is no way she is holding a cardinal.

As she approached me, my daughter held out a paper creation that she had just made that day in art class.

“Do you know what it is, Mommy?” she asked jubilantly with wide-open eyes.

As I stared down at the red construction paper, I immediately felt a wink from God;)

“It’s a cardinal,” I said in an emotional tone.

“Yes! I know how much you love cardinals Mom!” My daughter was ecstatic to hand this present over to me. She further explained how her class was ahead of all the others (due to snow days) and so they were the only ones in the school that were able to create this special bonus project.

I don’t believe it was a coincidence--that the ONE DAY I asked God to show me a cardinal is the EXACT DAY that I received one.

I believe I prayed for reassurance, and graciously it was given . . . just not how I expected.

God could have easily sent an actual cardinal to fly past my window for a brief second. This temporary sight could have also turned into a fading memory of an answered prayer request. Instead of a fleeting moment, I now have a permanent visual reminder of this miraculous event.

Quite often in the Bible, people set up memorial stones to mark significant encounters with God. This was done in order to remember how God provided, protected, and guided His people.

Just like the permanent stones, my construction paper red bird will continue to remind me of the fact that God does not always reveal the answer to my prayers when I want or how I want--but quite often He surprises me in ways that I could not imagine.

How much better was it to be handed a cardinal to keep that day than to briefly see one fly by?

How much better are God’s ways than our thoughts? Thank goodness we do not always think alike--His plans are much grander than ours!

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.’ ” (Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT) 

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P.S.  Since God was quite out of the box in His response with answering my prayer request for a cardinal, it gives me great hope that He will also exceed my expectations and creatively answer the original prayer request for my difficult circumstances on that day… In His timing, on His terms, in His way.

“Missing Piece-Peace”

Several years ago my husband and I participated in a technology fast together. For 21 consecutive days, we refrained from internet, television, radio, and our cell phones. The computer was only permitted if it was a necessity for work, but other than that . . . no technology! (If you have never tried this before, I would encourage you to see how different life is when technology takes a break and moves to the backseat of your priorities.)

My husband and I are already big communicators with each other, so we knew that we would still enjoy our time to talk, but we were also looking for an activity that did not involve electricity. So I went to our local Christian bookstore and purchased a puzzle to keep us entertained.

I love writing. Alliteration, Rhyming, Synonyms, Homophones--they all make me happy! I enjoy manipulating sentences and forming various word combinations. Using a thesaurus, cutting and pasting different fragments of words on a screen . . . this is the kind of puzzle that I appreciate piecing together.

Puzzles from a box--not really my cup of tea. It’s painful for me to figure out where each sliver of decorated cardboard fits. Some people (like my sister-in-law) just look at the pile of available pieces on the table, pick one up, and confidently place it in the correct position. It’s impressive and sickening at the same time. (I mean that as a compliment.)

So when I say that my husband and I worked on a puzzle for three weeks, it was fun to spend time together, but it was truly tedious work! One-thousand pieces that needed to connect and find their home. Or at least the box said it was 1,000 pieces.

In actuality, the box contained less--we received only 999 puzzle pieces. Can you imagine? I don’t even like puzzles, and the ONE that I decided to devote my time and energy to is missing the last piece! Disappointing. Frustrating.

We searched everywhere around our dining room table. Unfortunately, this blog is not about the parables of finding the lost coin, son, or sheep. We never found that missing puzzle piece.

As my husband was getting ready to deconstruct and put away our “finished” puzzle, I said, “NO! I’m framing this thing.” There’s no way I am shelving this accomplishment. There were many invested hours poured into that puzzle. Sure, it’s missing a piece . . . but that only adds to the beauty and perspective of life.

I had a choice--I could be upset about the 1 missing piece, or I could be content with the 999 pieces that were given and placed in the right spot.

It’s easy to look at my puzzle and focus on the void. Which if you think about it is crazy . . . because it is only 1/1000 of the picture. Yet somehow our human eyes are often drawn to what is wrong instead of what is right.

When it feels like something is missing, try to look at all of the other pieces/blessings that are placed in your life. This draws our attention to the bigger picture and allows our hearts to refocus.

Contentment creates peace and promotes spiritual growth.

“But godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6 NIV)

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It’s so fitting to me that the missing piece in this puzzle sits right near the chairs. It connects to resting--being still before the Lord and waiting patiently for Him. (Psalm 37:7) In the stillness, peace is found.

“A Whole New Appetite”

Ever heard of the Whole 30 food challenge? I had not--that is until a few weeks ago.

My husband knows me well. I need advanced warning time for an idea to soak in . . . so he initially asked me around the middle of December if I would like to do the Whole 30 meal plan with him in the upcoming New Year. It was not going to start until around January 1st, but he was introducing the idea of this 30-day food plan early on, in order to prepare me for the impending abrupt elimination of our normal foods.

“Sure,” I said immediately in a nonchalant voice . . . not even knowing what I was agreeing to. I just knew that after the month of December, even I, The Sugar/Carb Queen, would be ready to detox from an abundant overload of holiday treats. Little did I know at the time of my verbal agreement exactly what I was getting myself into.

In case Whole 30 is unfamiliar to you, (as it was to me last month) here is a description of the restrictions:

-          No dairy

-          No sugar of any kind

-          No carbohydrates

-          No gluten

-          No alcohol

-          No grains

-          No legumes (no beans, no peanuts!)

-          No MSG

So what can you eat? Meat, Seafood, Vegetables, Fruit, Eggs, Nuts, Seeds. That’s it!

I love a good challenge. (When I am in the right mood.) Once I get my eyes set on the goal, I run full force with it. I’m not saying it is easy, but I am committed to finishing what I set out to do . . . not what I DESIRE to do, but rather what I AGREED to do.

As my husband and I are persevering through this challenging meal plan, I am reminded of Scripture that discusses discipline and self-control.

“Like an athlete I punish my body, treating it roughly, training it to do what it should, not what it wants to. Otherwise I fear that after enlisting others for the race, I myself might be declared unfit and ordered to stand aside.” (1 Corinthians 9:27 TLB)

Discipline is tough. Strict eating is rough. But this verse is not talking about dietary regulations or physical fitness levels. It’s talking about the Christian life and the need to have discipline with our worldly appetite. Walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

As followers of Christ, we are running with perseverance in a race toward the prize--a crown that will last forever--an eternal life.

The discipline involved in this training involves self-denial and continuous preparation. This race is a long and steady course that requires believers to curb their natural appetite of earthly desires, and instead, supplement their hunger with the essential discipline found within the Bible. Not because this book is filled with restrictive rules, but rather because God’s Word is liberating and life giving.

Currently, my husband and I are on day 15 of the Whole 30. Half way there! It’s not easy, but it’s possible. Do you know what makes it feasible in our eyes? We have a finish line--a goal. There is an end in sight. Day 31! Our strenuous eating efforts will not last forever.

The same is true with our spiritual discipline. There is a goal. There is a finish line. These momentary hardships and training are not forever. Christians may have to sacrifice and be disciplined today, but the eternal reward in the future is worth it!

Our Whole 30 has been rigorous, and even with our best efforts, we have not been flawless. I accidentally used buffalo sauce instead of hot sauce. (Yes, it makes a difference in this eating plan.) My husband accidentally ate a mint at church. I bought the wrong coconut spread that had a no-no ingredient in it, and unknowingly consumed it.

We will all make mistakes in our training and discipline. But keep going . . . Don’t give up!

Listen to the words of Paul the apostle as he describes the need for self-discipline in the race:

“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” (Philippians 3:12-14 MSG)

It’s not a perfect path that we train on, but the direction we face is forward, and the effort we exert should be our best. Stay focused and press on toward the goal. Strive with the strength of Jesus Christ to reach the end of the race. Receive the upward eternal prize to which we are called.

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As a goal motivator, our nine-year-old daughter made us a 30-day calendar so that we can chart our progress and press on toward the finish line. In all seriousness, my husband and I look forward to putting up a sticker each day after dinner:) Satisfaction!