“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! 

“Garbage Habits”

Does the thought of a new garbage can excite you?

For the past year (or maybe more?) our family has gotten used to our broken garbage can. We usually wear items out in our house until they are completely non-functioning. But when we were asked by a relative to make up a wish list for Christmas, my husband and I thought it would be nice to upgrade to a functioning trash receptacle. So we requested an exact duplicate of the one that was currently in our home.

It’s not a fancy high-tech garbage can, like the ones that have sensors to automatically open the top with a magic wave of your hand. Just simply the kind that you step on a pedal with your foot to lift the lid.

This sanitary assisting base broke so long ago that it became an accepted habit to pick up the lid in the front with our hands every time we needed to throw something out. The unhygienic broken method became the new norm.

So when we set up the new fully-foot-functioning garbage can in our kitchen, we were excited to not have to use our hands anymore. Except guess what . . . we still used our hands instead of our feet!

We had become so accustomed to the wrong way of doing something, that it took a very conscious effort to retrain our brains to do something the right way.

Mentally I knew that our trash situation was fixed--but old habits are hard to break. It became frustrating over the next week to catch myself physically messing up. I would only remember that the foot pedal worked after I had already raised the lid with my hands.

And then one day, I smiled when I caught myself failing--because my old garbage habit brought my thoughts to spiritual connections:)

“I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” (Romans 7:15 NLT)

Sometimes a person may KNOW the right thing to do, but still struggle with actually DOING it. Sinful habits are hard to break.

“I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” (Romans 7:19 NLT)

I am still getting used to the correct way of throwing out garbage, and I will continuously exercise my brain in forming a new way of thinking and acting. Eventually, I will become accustomed to the foot pedal and stop reaching for the lid. The correct way will become my new norm.

It’s not as easy or possible to train our brains to stop sinning. No one is without sin except God. However, we have help with curbing garbage habits in life. We are not alone in fighting the battle against sin.

“I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord . . .” (Romans 7:21-26 NLT)

We are not capable of living sin-free, but this doesn’t mean we have to feel dominated and defeated by our wrongdoings. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can willfully discard sinful habits. Create new norms.

Stay close to the Helper. For when we mess up, He is there to pick us up.

Live wisely and peacefully in the unending forgiveness, grace, and love of our Lord.

Happy New Year 2018!!!

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Even better than a new garbage foot pedal is the spiritual footing made available to us!

“Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing.” (Psalm 143:10 NLT)

“TV-Y-MA Christmas Specials”

Over the past few weeks, our family has been enjoying relaxed time together watching Christmas specials. Seems like there are hundreds to choose from these days, but we still like to incorporate some of the classics: The Grinch, Charlie Brown, Year without a Santa Claus, Frosty, Rudolph.

As I now sit down with my six and nine-year-old to watch these familiar favorites, I am brought back to my own childhood. I can vividly recall viewing these same shows (except with TV commercials) when I was younger.

Yes, there is something to be said about literally watching our own children experience these traditional holiday shows (through the eyes of a child) but this year, I have found more humor than nostalgia.

It’s comical to watch these with our kids because not only do my husband and I see what’s clearly impossible (Really, how could the Grinch’s sled not tip over the mountain?), or notice sections of poor quality audio (Why does it sound like the soundtrack on Rudolph is played on a dying record?), but now we get to chuckle at some of the lines we hear in the dialogue or songs.

There are some clever and funny things said in Christmas specials. The one that had us cracking up this year was in the movie “Jack Frost.” The evil villain, Kubla Kraus, sings his theme song about being king over a kingdom, but there are no people to rule over (“There’s the rub!”).

I know I have seen this less popular Rankin/Bass holiday special before in my childhood . . . so why didn’t I think this song was funny when I was younger?

Answer: Probably because I was not paying attention to this “boring” part of the show back then, and I had not yet read Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet”, and so I had no idea what “There’s the rub!” even meant.

As a child, we are only capable of a certain level of understanding. As adults, with more experiences, more knowledge acquired, and hopefully more wisdom gained, we should view life with greater comprehension and discernment.

The same is true with our faith. In the beginning of our walk with God, we learn the basics of Christianity. As we continue down our spiritual path, we should be moving forward with increased understanding--building off the beginner foundation and raising our awareness of what’s deeper.

We are to advance beyond elementary teachings and move forward in maturity.

I must have heard the lines in some of those Christmas specials at least forty times now in my life. But the older I get, the more times I watch and listen to these holiday classics--I have an increased memorization of the script and a deeper appreciation for the context of what is happening.

Now apply that to Scripture . . . the more times I read it, the more I memorize and commit verses to heart. I also gain a deeper appreciation for what is written and what Jesus has done for me. The closer I grow to God in my relationship with Him, the more He reveals to me in His Word.

The Bible didn’t change, but my level of attention and understanding did.

“Let us stop going over the same old ground again and again, always teaching those first lessons about Christ. Let us go on instead to other things and become mature in our understanding, as strong Christians ought to be. Surely we don’t need to speak further about the foolishness of trying to be saved by being good, or about the necessity of faith in God; you don’t need further instruction about baptism and spiritual gifts and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. The Lord willing, we will go on now to other things.” (Hebrews 6:1-3 TLB)

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Praying that you discover something deeper this Christmas. Perhaps something that was once hidden or unnoticed before . . . but with increased attention and maturity, may God reveal something new to you this season.

“Prepared Room”

Have you ever had a light bulb moment with song lyrics? Maybe you have been singing a tune for your whole life, and then finally, out of nowhere, the meaning of the words just clicks and makes sense.

That’s what happened to me last December with “Joy To The World.”

Joy to the world
The Lord has come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and heaven and nature sing

“Let every heart prepare Him room.” That’s the line that jumped out at me last Christmas.

As we sang this famous Christmas carol last year during our church service, that line (the phrase I have probably sung hundreds of times throughout my life) brought my mind to this passage:

“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Luke 2:4-7 NIV)

NO ROOM. Jesus came to earth to be with us, and He didn’t even have a prepared room to be born in. This was not due to lack of preparation by God the Father, but rather this humble setting was part of a perfect plan. 

It’s not about physical places, but rather spiritual spaces. 

There may not have been a “Vacant Room” sign in Bethlehem when our Messiah was born, but today, we all have the opportunity to open our hearts and prepare room for Jesus.

Every heart is an available open space. The vacancy will be filled. It’s just a question of--what or who will fill it?

This is where the line from “Joy To The World” comes in. “Let every heart prepare Him room.” As we open our hearts and invite Jesus to fill this space, we can experience the joy that only He can provide!

The Good News . . . Not only are we preparing a room in our heart for God, but God is preparing rooms for us in heaven.

This is what Jesus told the disciples as He was getting them ready for His earthly departure:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-3 NIV)

This is our promise of God’s prepared rooms for believers. When we make room for God as the King in our heart, He prepares an eternal place for us to be with Him in heaven.

“However, as it is written: ’What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’— the things God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9 NIV)

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Not that we deserve it, but I believe our prepared room will be way nicer than a stable setting!

"Presents or Presence"

What does Christmas mean to you . . . presents under a tree or the presence of Christ? I realize this question may make some people uncomfortable or stir up controversy. However, I don’t write to make people feel good, but rather to share the Good News.

The Good News has nothing to do with holiday doorbuster sales, coupons, cash-back, or bright paper packages tied up with string. The birth, sacrifice, and resurrection of Jesus, along with the free gift of eternal life through salvation, are way better than any of the seasonal deals mentioned above.

Don’t get me wrong . . . I’m not anti-gift giving. Presents are not bad--as this is often a way of exercising kindness to others. Many people like to give or receive gifts as part of their love language. The problem is found within the shift--when the presents take over the spotlight of God’s presence and demote the reason we even have a holiday called Christmas.

(Below is an excerpt from Purpose Through Perspective.)

Have you ever seen the movie, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss? Can you visualize the scene toward the end when all of the citizens of Whoville woke up and discovered that everything was taken away? Their reaction was not despair, but joy. Their response to having nothing but one another was to join together and rejoice by singing! Christmas wasn’t dependent on presents and trees but rather on the presence of love. Now transfer this image from a cartoon movie to the message from a Biblical passage.

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights. (Habakkuk 3:17-19 NLT)

Everything that could go wrong with crops and livestock did--and all at the same time. The situation appeared hopeless and depressing, but the solution was joy and strength in God. Just like the empty-handed citizens of Whoville, we can respond with praise, because even if we have nothing of this world, we have everything in the love of Jesus.

The Grinch became puzzled by the citizens of Whoville. He thought that by stealing their belongings, he would be able to defeat them. Instead, he learned that Christmas doesn’t come from external conditions--that there was something much deeper going on inside their hearts. This was the factor that changed the Grinch. Likewise, it would be amazing to have those surrounding us curious about Jesus because they see our joy. We have the power to help transform hearts all around us through the way we respond to our circumstances. When our feelings are not based on earthly conditions, we are able to find joy, even in sorrowful situations.

Then we know that even if everything in life is stripped away from us, we still have the opportunity to strengthen our character, develop our faith, and reap the far greater eternal gift of life through salvation.

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This is one of my favorite Christmas decorations. It was given to me as a gift:) I pray that as you exchange presents this season, you are not just reminded of God's presence, but that you experience it. Peace and Joy are not just holiday cliché sayings, but rather gifts that are freely given to all believers who seek first the Kingdom of God.

“Jesus Junction”

Christmas season as described in a famous holiday tune: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year . . . It’s the hap-happiest season of all.”

Is this your truth? It has not been for me. However, I am on a continuous path of intentionally changing that.

Here is my truth:

About the second week of November, I usually start to get overwhelmed and grumpy, because I know the holiday season is quickly approaching. My life begins to feel like a fast-paced locomotive on an inevitable destructive path--destined to crush my spirit and derail my joy.

To some people, there is a love for the hustle and bustle of this time of year. They thrive--while I try to survive. I’m not saying there is a right or wrong way to go about chugging along, but I know what holds true for me personally.

There’s just too much to do in too little time. Even if it does all get done . . . what’s the cost? I have reached a point in my life where I refuse to exchange my free ticket of peace with holiday bargains and decorative cheer.

I used to pull out at least twelve bins of Christmas decorations and have it all unpacked before the end of Thanksgiving weekend. Not anymore. I have reduced my decorations to at least half (I hope to cut back even more) and they will be put out when I get to them--even if it is several days after Cyber-Monday.

I used to take the kids to get their annual professional Christmas picture. Then I downloaded it onto a website where I would create an endearing Christmas card. This needed to be ordered, paid for, shipped to me, opened up, stuffed into envelopes, stamped, addressed, and mailed out to family and friends. Not anymore. And I don’t feel guilty about this card cut-back either. (I still try to send pictures or correspondence through the mail, I just aim to do this in a different season.)

I used to bake heaps of holiday cookies and spend numerous hours preparing sugary treats to give to co-workers and friends. Not anymore. I still bake some, but this is done lightly with my kids for fun. No longer do I take on the pressure of being a Christmas sugar factory that needs to remain on a tight schedule to meet a cookie quota.

I used to get trapped in the crazy stress of Christmas presents and exchange with friends, extended family, and neighbors. I am not the hap-happiest-shopper throughout the other eleven months on the calendar. So when heightened consumerism takes place--forcefully crammed into the busiest season of the year, I felt like I was hauling a heart full of coal. Not anymore. 

I’ve learned where to turn at Jesus Junction. A junction is a location where traffic going in diverse directions can continue to travel on their path ahead or take a turn and change directions to an alternate route.

“Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.” (Psalm 119:35 NIV)

As I have come to the crossroads of what matters most at Christmas, I am no longer headed nonstop downhill in the month of December. I have hit the brakes and intentionally merged onto a different track. In order to do this, I have had to let loose of a lot of baggage cars. (The pressure and weight of going overboard with decorating, baking, buying, etc.)

In this detachment process, I know that I will most likely unintentionally offend or disappoint some people. As sad as this can be, I would rather let down people than miss the reason for the season.

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14 NIV)

Because as I let go of holiday to-do lists and expectations, I have more time to pull into the restful station of peace with my Savior. No longer am I a disgruntled passenger headed on a fast-track to frustration, but rather I am free to be a conduit for Christ.

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All aboard!!! If you too feel as though you get overwhelmed on a runaway steam engine in the month of December, this is your call to switch tracks and join the peace train. What might you need to let go of and leave behind this season in order to enjoy this free ride? 

"Crushing Candles Card"

Who knew a card company could make me so sad and mad?

I was browsing through the greeting cards section of a store--looking for the perfect card to give to a family member with an upcoming birthday. You’re probably familiar with the routine . . . sifting through the numerous rows, picking up various contenders, reading the pre-set messages from beginning to end, rejecting contestants one-by-one, and returning them back to their rightful spot on the shelves. This diligent selection process continues until the winner is found.

As I was going through the motions of this customary practice, my little light eyes were drawn to a card that had brightly lit candles all across the front. This initial browse was off to a good start, so I continued to read the words written on the front:

“Dad, on your birthday, count your blessings, NOT the candles!”

Okay . . . the word “blessings” appears . . . I like it. (It's not about age--it's about God . . . good, good.) Then I opened the remainder of the accordion card and finished reading:

“No one wants to stand around all day waiting for a piece of cake.”

Did you catch it? Were you offended too? Some of you may be thinking . . . take it easy Sarah, it’s just a card. But to me, it contained a heart-breaking societal message. Let me break it down for you.

I believe the author of this card was trying to crack a joke and convey that the Dad who was receiving this card is old. Since it would take a long time to count all of the age-representative birthday candles, he might as well just count his blessings instead. (Conveying a “Let’s get on with this” attitude.) This way the gathered guests can eat a piece of the delicious cake right away, instead of waiting around for a lengthy numeral sequence.

In my disappointment and disgust, I counted the candles. There were about seventy. Do you know how long it took me to count ALL of those candles? Less than a minute. So this means that the person receiving this card can’t think of enough blessings in his life to surpass the length of a minute.

In my mind, I was thinking it should take WAY LONGER to count blessings than passing years of life. If that were an ice cream cake being served from the picture on the card, it should be melted and dripping all over the place with the time needed to reflect upon the gracious blessings that are given to us.

“We have all benefited from the rich blessings he brought to us—blessing upon blessing heaped upon us!” (John 1:16 TLB)

As you gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, remember and appreciate the abundant blessings that God has given you. Even if it takes longer than a minute to acknowledge them (and it should) before diving into the turkey, sweet potato casserole, green beans, cranberry sauce, and all of the other foods people are waiting to devour. Let them wait. Lift up praise and thanksgiving to the One who supplied it all.

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” (Psalm 100:4-5 NIV)

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P.S. I think a more appropriate message could have been:

"Dad, on your birthday, count your kids, NOT the candles!"

But that's just my opinion:)

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!!!!!

"Drive-by Blessings"

It was late Sunday evening. The kids were finally off to bed. My husband and I had just settled down to relax in the living room with a TV show, when all of the sudden . . . there came a loud KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK on our front door.

Immediately my husband and I turned to each other with confused and slightly annoyed looks on our faces. Who on earth would be knocking on our door at 9:07 PM on a Sunday night? My first thought was that it was a neighborhood teenager doing some late night fundraising for a school event. (Yes, this has happened to us before.)

We could hear some chatter outside and then we heard a car drive off down our street.

My husband got up from the couch to check out the scene from our front porch. I could not hear noises or voices anymore. A few seconds passed. Now I was really curious. I stretched my neck to peer around the corner of the hallway. I kept saying, “Who’s there?”

In a very shocked and laughter filled response, he said, “Come here. Someone just left something for you at the door.”

“WHAT?!” I said. Who would drop something off at my door this late at night and drive away?

As I walked over to my dining room, I saw that my husband had just placed a beautiful giant orchid and a container of KozyShack rice pudding on the table. He said, “This has to be from someone who knows you.” Because that sweet treat is a very specific match for my taste buds.

Neatly tucked away in the cellophane wrapping around the orchid was an envelope with my name on the front. So I pulled it out to see if my mysterious sender would be revealed. Inside a beautiful Christian card was a generous Panera’s gift card (one of my favorite places to buy chai tea lattes) and the message, “Hope your heart sees God’s love for you in unmistakable ways. Love you girl!” It was signed by two of my friends, “L” & “N”.

Shocked. Hysterically laughing. Loved.

Immediately I dialed the phone number for “N.” No answer. Then I dialed “L.” She picked up around the third ring.

“Did you just drop something off on my porch and drive away?” I knowingly asked. (In the background I could hear the giggles of two adult females in a moving car.)

“Maybe . . .” replied “L” in a playful tone.

I thanked them both for this uplifting delivery of lovely surprises and asked what prompted this action.

“L” had just gotten a new minivan, and was taking “N” for a spin in it . . . so instead of just aimlessly riding around, they wondered how they could put this test-drive time to good use. I guess the Holy Spirit brought me to mind. They quickly purchased and gathered all of the gifts, and then gave that new vehicle some godly mileage on the odometer by driving them over to me.

Have you ever been the receiver of a drive-by blessing? This is not a common experience for me, but I can tell you that my entire evening was elevated through this thoughtful act of kindness:) My heart was indeed refreshed with God’s love spoken THROUGH the actions of my fellow sisters in Christ.

What could your Holy Spirit prompted actions lead to . . . ? Listen. Move. Uplift.

“And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people.” (Philemon 1:6-7 NLT) 

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“L” told me that the following song lyrics sum up WHY this impromptu blessing happened: “The One He Speaks Through” by Mandisa

 

Car stalled, side of the road

Everybody looking out the windows

For some reason you feel the need to help

Or maybe, somewhere you're standing in line

An old friend comes to your mind

And you get the urge to call and see if all is well

Do you ignore it or go for it?

Is this human or divine?

All these promptings tell us something

They're all proof that He's alive

He might use your words to heal a heart that has been bruised

He might use your hands to rescue

He might use your whisper, maybe your smile

To tell somebody that they're worthwhile

You might be the one He speaks through

The one He speaks through

This God, great as He is

Still uses all of us to accomplish

His perfect plan to reach the world

So don't ignore it, just go for it

We are led by the divine

To be His heart, His love

And show this broken world that He's alive

You might be the one He speaks through

The one He speaks through

The one He speaks through, yeah

I remember I was in a pit

And you prayed me out of it

I bet you didn't even know that you

Were the one that He spoke through

So listen, keep on listening, oh...

“Cafeteria Clash”

Over this past month, God has led me to periodically substitute teach at my children’s elementary school. Through this placement, He has revealed numerous valuable lessons in my heart.

Lessons are not always fun. Many times, they are uncomfortable and learned through undesired circumstances. I had no idea when I stepped into the school building last week that my biggest lesson of the day would not be an academic one taught in the classroom with students, but rather spiritual instruction that took place in the cafeteria with a staff member.

It was only my second time covering lunch duty as a substitute teacher. Instinctively I know the basics: make sure students stay seated, stop any food from being thrown around, keep kids safe and supplied with utensils/napkins/etc.

The cafeteria has a reference chart . . . in order to see which tables each staff member is in charge of watching over and what times the students need to start cleaning up so that they can line up for recess. This seemed simple enough. 

Occasionally kids raise their hand and ask to use the restroom. So I thought nothing of it when a student asked me for permission to go the bathroom--I said, “Sure.”

Shortly after this interaction, a staff member in the cafeteria walked up to me and bluntly asked, “Who are you?”

I was a bit confused by this confrontation, because I did not know if she was looking for my true identity (Sarah Seiz) or if she just wanted to know who I was substituting for. To me, it was obvious that I was temporarily filling in for cafeteria duty, because as a substitute teacher, we are required to wear a bright red lanyard with a name tag that says, “SUBSTITUTE.”

So I happily introduced myself as Sarah and told her who I was here for. Immediately I was scolded with something to the effect of, “Did you just let that student go to the bathroom? I never gave him my permission, and he is not supposed to leave unless he checks with me. You’re in charge of THOSE tables over THERE. This is one of MY tables.”

Completely taken off guard by the tone and message conveyed to me, I quickly apologized for not knowing this routine information, and told her that I would move closer to my designated area of the cafeteria for supervision.

Okay, thank God I was able to react politely in the moment. Because inside I felt like sarcasticaly blurting out (probably in an equally rude manner), “I’m sorry. I’m new here. I didn’t know it was a crime to allow a student to go to the bathroom. It’s not like I was ever given an official rule book for substitute cafeteria duty!”

I know--not very godly. But this is why it is important to follow the wisdom found in (James 1:19 NLT) “. . . You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.”

I finished out the remainder of my cafeteria duty (on my side) without saying anything further. Throughout the remainder of the day, I kept praying about this unsettling situation. I am here to be a bright light, not a trouble maker.

Upon reflecting, it became clear to me that I had upset the staff member. Albeit this was not intentional, but an offense did take place. Her reaction and words then set off another offense--this time it was directed towards me. I felt insulted, embarrassed, and unappreciated.

So I prayed how to make this uncomfortable situation better. The answer God gave me was . . . Grace.

Grace makes space for God’s love to spread. Grace is an undeserved free gift. So even though I felt like I was the one who was owed an apology, I was moved by the Holy Spirit to apologize to this staff member--again--except this time it needed to be sincere.

“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” (Colossians 3:13 NLT)

At the end of the day, I found her and reached out my hand to gently place it on her back. I told her that I wanted to apologize again for giving her student permission to use the bathroom. I was unfamiliar with the cafeteria routine and never intended to overstep my substitute supervision boundaries or make her upset.

She quickly said that she had been reflecting on the situation as well, and apologized to me for her reaction. She told me that I must have thought she was so rude. We mutually accepted each other’s apologies. Then she thanked me for my kindness.

Crisis averted!

This juvenile cafeteria conflict is the type of situation that can cause division and generate unfruitful outcomes. It’s so important to know ahead of time that people will (deliberately or unintentionally) offend us, so that we can be prepared in advance to respond with God’s love and grace, instead of reacting with revenge and hate.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3 NIV)

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A Prayer for MORE . . .

Lord, teach me more please. Give me more circumstances in life that require me to practice Spiritual fruit and show grace, instead of spiteful retaliation. Place me in offensive situations, so that I can choose to transform more and more into Your image. Amen. 

We Sow--God Grows!

Grass growing . . . one of the most challenging homeowner projects here in North Carolina. Every fall the soil must be prepared ahead of time: Dead grass, rocks, and other debris need to be raked across, scooped up, and thrown away. Then, the hard clay soil has to be softened with water and aerated. This creates deep pockets for the abundance of tossed seed to drop into the freshly plugged moist earth. Next, fertilizer must be spread over the ready blanket of land.

Once all the exhausting human prep work is done, then it’s up to God’s sunshine and rain to do the rest! (Well, when it does not rain naturally, it’s a lot of rotating sprinklers around the yard to make sure the seeds get the proper moisture they need to grow, but you get the point.)

Then we wait, and wait, and wait, and wait. Patience can be a difficult fruit to practice. Sometimes we get nervous when we do not see any immediate visible results. Because so much work went into this . . . planning, money, time, sweat, blisters. Hopeful expectations of something new.

Seems like forever before that first green baby blade of grass pokes its way through the surface of the earth. But then slowly, over time, multiple blades push through the soil--and then all of those single stems of grass eventually form new thicker and fuller patches of grass.

The transformation from seed to stem takes time. We never actually sit down and watch this growth take place. Most of the development occurs underground. And even if we had a view beneath the soil, the rate at which the seed sprouts and matures is not a timeline that people would sit and stare at.

For so long we gaze over blank brown spots on the ground, and then out of nowhere . . . green! From a period of dormancy to developed. How and when does this happen? This process is a good reminder of the way God’s Word can grow in the lives of others. The Gospel of Mark communicates this to us in “The Parable of Growing Seed.”

“Then Jesus said, ‘God’s kingdom is like seed thrown on a field by a man who then goes to bed and forgets about it. The seed sprouts and grows—he has no idea how it happens. The earth does it all without his help: first a green stem of grass, then a bud, then the ripened grain. When the grain is fully formed, he reaps—harvest time!’ ” (Mark 4:26-29 MSG)

For the past two years (and especially these past two months) I feel as though I have been tossing handfuls of seed--hoping and praying that the Word of God will stick and take root in the hearts of others.

Many times, it seems as though my seeding efforts are without produce. Because when growth does not occur immediately, and I cannot see visible green patches of faith progress in the lives that I have sown into, it can be discouraging. However, looking at the wisdom in God’s Word offers hope.

The farmer scattered seed and then continued on. The labor efforts had already taken place, then it was up to God to work the seed into the soil--He opens up the Word in individual hearts.

Look in the parable how the crop grew without the farmer’s knowledge or intervention. This means that God can accomplish His purposes, even when we are unaware of how/when it happens. Growth in others does not depend on our continuous interactions, but rather the action of our Creator.

Once we have faithfully toiled and sown the seed of God’s Word, pray for the harvest to ripen . . . because at that point, growth depends on the sun (Jesus--Son of God) and the rain (Jesus--living water).

We have been entrusted with seed to spread, but we do not have to take on the pressure of growing the seed--only God can create life. While the farmer is sleeping at night or going about other business throughout the day, the Holy Spirit is still at work. Just keep planting and praying. Do your assigned part and leave the results to the Lord!

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If you have ever been discouraged by seemingly fruitless efforts with spreading seed, find peace in knowing that hidden germination takes place beneath the surface. Over time, we may even get a glimpse of green where we planted.

We sow--God grows! 

"It Was Worth The Wait!"

PB&J, PB&J, PB&J, PB&J, PB&J, Pizza, PB&J. Repeat. Dinner for five years in a row!

My son was born a picky eater. When raising kids, you need to pick your battles. Since our six-year-old son has been the ideal picture of health on the pediatric wellness exam charts every year, as long as he was getting protein, we chose not to fight this one. Until now.

Although still in excellent physical condition, (thank you Jesus), my husband and I have now taken on this deferred mission and stepped to the front of enemy lines. Our objective is to make sure that our first-grader consumes a variety of proteins and vegetables.

Most nights our dinner table is bombed with food arguments and infiltrated with defensive tears. You would think we were attacking his digestive track with poisonous suggestions, like . . . meatballs, lettuce, chicken nuggets. Oh, the torture . . . on both ends!

This required us to implement a new strategic plan: “Operation Boomerang.” This means if a dinner food isn’t eaten the night it is originally served, it’s coming back again the next night!

The “Boomerang” this week was a pulled pork sandwich. For added incentive to eat this tormenting food, I bought a new dessert--a special limited edition of Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream: rich and creamy pumpkin ice cream with a cinnamon graham cracker swirl.

OH (pause) MY (longer pause) GOODNESS! When I say that this immediately made it to my top three favorite ice creams in the world, I’m not lying.

As my son was still battling the pulled pork sandwich, my daughter and I were indulging our taste buds with this delectable treat. We could not help but comment, “This is A--MAZING! I can’t believe how good this is!” Unfortunately, our proclaimed words of satisfaction were not enough to entice my son to actually eat his sandwich that night.

So, “Boomerang” pulled pork came back again the next night. And again, my daughter and I were enjoying our bowl of dessert, while my son was suffering through the lengthy battle. But eventually, he came to the point where he was willing to endure the food fight, push through his misery, and collect his prize.

My son’s victory was rewarded with the Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream. His response after the first bite, “Mom, where did you get this? Best ice cream I have ever tasted! It was worth the wait!

We are all fighting earthly “Boomerang Battles” in this world--problems that just keep coming back into our lives. Some are small (like pulled pork sandwiches) and others are more serious issues (like health, relationships, employment, finances). Perspective is key. Even the larger earthly issues are small in comparison to eternity. Heaven outweighs all of our problems.

“For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” (2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT)

For those that faithfully fight the good Christian fight, and patiently endure the small/temporary problems of this world, there is a great reward--much more valuable than Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream . . . eternity in heaven with our King. This is worth the wait!

“Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.” (Hebrews 10:36 NLT)

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P.S. After my family finished the carton of pumpkin pie ice cream, I was able to return to the store and pick up some more. But when Jesus returns to this earth again, there are no second chances to collect on the reward of eternity. Just like this particular flavor of ice cream is only available for a limited season, there is also a limited time that heaven is offered to unbelievers. 

"Why Can't I Have THAT One God?"

Last week I was given the privilege of delivering the sermon at my childhood church.

This was the very building in which the foundation of my faith was laid. It was on those grounds that I attended Sunday school, sang children’s songs about Jesus (“If I were a butterfly . . . I’d thank you Lord for giving me wings!”), earned candy for memorizing Bible verses, was confirmed and baptized, and participated in youth group from middle school through high school.

What an honor to now stand and share the message of my heart with some of the same people who poured into my faith as an elementary aged student and teenager.

Two days beforehand, I was excited and preparing my material, when all of the sudden, a close friend had emailed me a great sermon from another Christian female to view. This speaker’s message was relatable, and her words were delivered in such a humorous manner.

As I sat there in the living room chair, listening to the people in the crowd respond with laughter through the speaker on my phone, I thought to myself . . . why can’t I have THAT type of message God? Why can’t I have a topic that includes opportunities to be witty and amusing?

You see, I love to laugh. (Even Sarah from the Bible is famous for laughing--albeit inappropriately--but a legendary laugher nonetheless.) My problem . . . the core message that God has asked me to share with the world is about broken hearts, not funny bones.

When I say that, “Suffering is a gift from God” it’s not the type of sermon that leaves much room for comical relief. Because pain is not hilarious. It’s uncomfortable, it hurts--and it needs to be handled delicately with compassion first, not sarcasm or jokes.

So I sat there for a brief period of time and sort of complained in my head to God . . . “Lord, could I please have a different message to preach--one that is funnier and more entertaining?”

When I say, “a brief period of time,” I do mean brief. Because very quickly the Holy Spirit checked my heart and set it straight.

There are times where humor is appropriate and there are times when a more serious tone is necessary. God needs different speakers for both types of messages. Just like the Bible contains blessings and curses, war and peace, life and death, truth and grace--we are given lighter and heavier messages to receive/deliver. At times we are to laugh . . . and at times we are to cry.

“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven . . . A time to cry and a time to laugh. (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4 NLT)

I started to feel convicted at my dissatisfaction with what God gave me.

No, pain and suffering may not be humorous, but it is a topic that God has a lot to say about in His Word. I was tasked with writing and speaking about difficult circumstances and the abundant opportunities to practice/develop Fruit of the Spirit. In that moment of conviction, I praised God for the privilege of being selected to deliver this truth.

Just as quickly as I grumbled, I apologized to God for ever being disappointed with the particular sermon that He has stewarded me with to preach and teach. The message of Purpose Through Perspective is a gift--and God has specifically called me to help others unwrap it, see it, and put it into practice. Although it may not earn as many laughs, I pray that the message I deliver will change countless lives.

Have you ever grumbled to God about what He has selected for you . . . secretly or openly coveting that you could have what that other person over there has?

God doesn’t make any mistakes. If He has selected something for you, He must have a will with it. Your circumstances may not be funny or most-desirable, but God has a purpose for everything.

Don’t wish away what God has planned for you and through you. Embrace your calling and message.

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"Isn't It Obvious?!"

Within a matter of seconds, it escalated from a leisure activity to tears and fears.

Let me rewind.

It all started off so peaceful. An older sister who loves to draw--teaching her younger (much less experienced) brother some improvement techniques. To be fair, he did ask for advice, and she was giving gentle helpful suggestions.

I believe the real trouble started when my daughter innocently asked her sibling, “What is that?”

His insulted heart responded with, “Isn’t it obvious? It’s a drawing of a girl! See the hair and the dress!”

My daughter never intended to wound her brother’s artistic ego with a simple honest question. But nevertheless, my son broke down in tears and could not believe that his best efforts were not as comprehensible on paper as they were in his head.

“I quit!” Tears. “I can’t believe she doesn’t understand my drawing. What else could it be?” Accelerated tears. “I’m no good at art and I just get so frustrated when people make fun of me. It hurts my feelings.”

(The supposed ridicule didn’t take place--his sister never insulted him--but the generated feelings of rejection and failure were real.)

I held my little six-year-old son with a tight mama-bear hug, waited until his uncontrolled waterworks ceased, and prayed that the Holy Spirit would give me words to share with this crushed elementary-aged spirit.

As I wiped away the salty moisture on his cheeks, I told my son . . .

“People do not define who you are or what you will become. Only God can do this. Many people in this world will misunderstand you or give you their negative opinions at times. I know it hurts. But . . . You need to know your truth, be confident in who you are and what you do--and never give up based on what others say.”

He responded with, “But that’s the problem. I’m not confident. My feelings get very upset when other people make fun of me. It really hurts!”

Reactivated tears.

And again I told him to repeat after me, “People’s opinions do not define who you are. God is the only One who can define you. You are a son of the King--and you are my son. You are loved. You are valuable. You are talented. Keep drawing and practice confidence.”

Minutes later my husband walked in the door from work. I told my son to test out his confidence and ask his father what he thought about the drawing.

“Dad, what do you think this is a picture of?”

(I discreetly whispered to the side that it was a drawing of a girl, but to purposely guess wrong to see if he learned a lesson.)

Hesitantly, “Hmmm, is it a puppy?”

Roaring laughter. “No dad, it’s a girl! You’re so silly! See the hair and the dress.”

“Oh, now I see it. Nice drawing!”

More laughter--and practiced confidence.

”For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth.” (Psalm 71:5 NIV)

Little kids . . . big adults . . . we all need to be reminded that no one but God can label us. Our identity rests in the opinion of our Creator, not people. Know your worth and practice confidence today.

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"Manna In The Middle"

Baby Bear got it just right. Although this fuzzy creature from the fairy tale “Goldilocks” is not a biblical hero, there is something spiritual to be associated with the median lifestyle of this character.

Baby Bear’s porridge was neither too hot nor too cold--it was a perfect medium temperature for consumption. His bed was neither too hard nor too soft--it had a balanced firm/plush mattress.

I thought of these childhood images as I read the following verses in Proverbs:

”. . . Give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs! For if I grow rich, I may become content without God. And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name.” (Proverbs 30:8-9 TLB)

Life in the middle with God . . . not too rich--not too poor . . . just right.

If we have all of our wants in this life, we can proudly become independent and feel as though we don’t need God. (Because if I already have everything I desire, what do I need God for?)

If we do not have our basic needs, we might independently take matters into our own hands and create personal measures of justice. (Because if I don’t take care of me, who will?)

Both of these mindsets lead to a self-sufficient life that is void of God. Instead, we are taught to live in the middle with manna.

Manna was the sweet-flakey-frosty-food substance that the Israelites supernaturally received from the Lord each day (for forty years!) while living in the desert.

"Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.’ ”(Exodus 16:4 NIV)

The Israelite's were tested with this provision. They were instructed to get what they needed . . . not too much--not too little . . . just the right amount each day.

The lesson we can glean today from their gathering in the past is this: God wants us to remain dependent on Him for our daily bread.

Jesus reinforced this practice when He taught us to pray:

“Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11 NIV)

Manna still matters! This is the pace of life that we are instructed to live.

Not having everything this moment--Not needing everything this moment.

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Lord, help me not to fall slowly behind while neglecting Your plans. Also, help me not to get swiftly ahead of Your will by trying to direct You from the front. Instead, keep me just right in the middle . . . nourished by the daily bread that You so faithfully and lovingly provide. Amen.

"Omission Challenge"

What does 24 hours without God look like?

Last week, a situation along my spiritual journey prompted me to ponder . . . What would it be like to try to omit God from my day? Now stick with me. I’m not saying to throw away your faith--quite the contrary. I’m actually asking you to take a closer look at how much of your day is typically infiltrated by your faith.

To be clear, this is not a comparative contest. I’m not posting point results. There is no winner. This is an individual spiritual exercise between you and God.

Be fair in the assessment of yourself. If you don’t normally pray multiple times a day, don’t try to pray more just to earn extra points. If you don’t usually listen to Christian music, don’t adjust the dial on your radio station. If you are not in the habit of reading God’s Word, I do hope you start, but just not on the omission day.

Are you up for the 24 hour “Omission Challenge”?

Every time you think of God--give yourself a point.

Every time you are about to talk with God in prayer--give yourself a point.

Every time you are about to read God’s Word--give yourself a point.

Every time you are about to worship God with music--give yourself a point.

Every time you are about to share an encouraging word with someone about God--give yourself a point.

Any time you turn to God for anything--give yourself a point.

(P.S. Don’t do this on a Sunday, or whatever day you typically go to church.)

I would never convince anyone to stop thinking of God, praying, reading the Bible, listening, worshipping, encouraging, (Do it all!!!) . . . but just for 24 hours, hit pause if you find that you are about to do any of the above. Hold it. Experience what it is like to not be actively connected.

At the end of your 24 hours, add up all of your points. How many do you have--a lot, or a little? 

Speaking of points . . . what’s the point of all of this? It's not about earning virtual God points, but rather to reveal a spiritual point of dependence and appreciation for His presence in your life.

Here was my personal take-away from my omission day:

It was rough. Very rough. I saw what it was like to try to extract God from my life. I was able to physically stop myself from outward expression, but it was not possible to remove Him from my inner thoughts. This is because God is not just a sprinkled addition to my day. GOD IS MY DAY. All day. Every day. Permeated.

My life is heavily influenced and connected to Him. Similar to an earthly marriage, two become one. "But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him. " (1 Corinthians 6:17 NLT)

To some people, this challenge will also be heart-breaking. That’s what it felt like to me--a painful break-up. You know the "absolute association mentality" . . . when a couple splits and suddenly every-single-thing reminds them of the person they are not with anymore: songs, shows, places, words, foods, etc. Because all memories and experiences somehow point back to the one we love and miss.

To others, this challenge may impact a portion of their day, but not enough to feel like they have just been torn away from their first love. It may seem like an “off” day--but not unbearable.

To others, this challenge might not affect much of their day at all. Because when Jesus is just a periodic “add-in,” it does not hurt to eliminate Him for a few moments. It’s hard to even tell that God is missing if He does not get that much space or time to begin with.

Again, this is not a faith competition. No pride involved. It’s simply a personal spiritual exercise, between you and God, to see how much of your heart/day is given over to Him.

If you choose to participate in the 24 hour “Omission Challenge,” I pray that it opens your eyes to how dependent you are on God, and that it gives you a renewed appreciation for His daily involvement and availability in your life.

“Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.” (Psalm 86:11-12 NIV)

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(P.S. In case you are wondering what today’s picture is . . . it’s NOTHING. Because that’s what my day without God felt like: Dark, Empty, Nothing. 

"Microwave Mishap"

Did you know that if you accidentally microwave nothing, (as in, the absence of anything) it fries the electrical device? Yup--destroyed:(

We learned this through personal experience last week. Someone in our house (who will remain nameless) unintentionally pushed “Start” on the microwave for ten minutes, instead of “Timer.” Since there was no food to absorb the microwaves, something called the magnetron (I totally researched that term!) malfunctions, and the appliance basically self destructs.

Consequently we have been trying to survive cooking meals with just our stove and oven. (Gasp!) This should be easy--because really, it’s not like I am a pioneer woman chopping wood, starting a fire, and gathering our food from the garden/farm. But still, when a person is used to heating meals up in a jiffy, it can be frustrating when something that would typically only take two minutes to prepare now needs ten times as long to cook.

Our culture is familiar with instant gratification: fast food, high speed internet, immediate approval for loans, etc. We have grown addicted to getting what we want in a relatively short period of time.

So my family’s blown microwave situation made me stop and think about spiritual connections:) 

Salvation happens in an instant. This is the moment when a person decides to accept Jesus as their Savior. But the journey ahead of living a dedicated Christian life is not a one-time immediate choice. It’s actually a life-long process of choices made--becoming holy (set apart) and growing closer to God. This transformation requires us to continuously select thoughts and actions that look like those of Jesus--a gradual progression known as sanctification.

Faith isn’t a quick fix with little effort, but rather a long-term development of preparing our hearts. This requires perseverance and patience.

It’s impossible to really know or become like Jesus in a microwave minute . . . it takes a lifetime to develop/mature our faith and relationship with our Savior. Not a convenient measure of time, as we are typically accustomed to in this speedy life, but definitely worth it!

So if you ever feel frustrated with your pace of spiritual progression, remember . . . It's supposed to take time!

“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23 NIV)

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P.S. Faith also relates to our unfortunate microwave mishap:

If you put nothing in, you get nothing out--except brokenness. 

"Consign Your Mind"

This past weekend, my husband and I tackled one of the biggest projects in our house . . . our kid's rooms! It had to be divide and conquer in these treacherous toy landmines. So I paired up with our nine-year-old daughter, while Steven joined our six-year-old son.

I’ve heard that many people participate in an annual activity known as, “Spring Cleaning.” Not this house. We are more in line with the every-five-years-plan called, “Whatever Month We Pick To Clean Is Good Enough.”

Do you know how many toys kids accrue over time? Even with a Consigning Queen mother, our children still have more than enough possessions.

"CONSIGN."  It’s the most frequent and threatening verb spoken in our house. This word rolls off my tongue faster than they can open their presents on Christmas. As soon as something comes in the house, I am looking to see what can go out.

So when it became impossible to walk a clear path in our kid's rooms without tripping on something, it was time for our half-a-decade cleaning day.

In our search for the lost carpet, we made four piles: Keep, Consign, Donate, Garbage.

Each of them kept a fair amount of toys. It was amazing what they were able to find when they cleaned. So many rediscovered items were returned to their rightful places.

Every time I heard the chosen word, “consign” from my children, it was like beautiful music to my ears! Seriously. It became rhythmic: consign, consign, consign.

Several toys were purposely set aside for donations. (Their school is collecting for kids in Texas who lost toys in flooding.)

And then, there was the garbage pile--or should I say, the multiple piles! We filled up four large garbage bags with . . . you guessed it--trash. Broken electronics, decapitated dolls, plastic packaging to toys, glow sticks that lost their luminosity several months ago, old homework from last year, crumbled paper airplanes, cracked plastic Easter eggs, markers without caps, used band-aids (gross), and the list goes on . . .

And as usual, this life experience made me stop and think about spiritual connections:

Just as we (the parents) had no space to walk in our children’s rooms, sometimes our Heavenly Father is not given space to walk with us in our lives. It's not because God isn't powerful enough to step into our mess, (He's always present and can handle anything) but sometimes our minds are not cleared enough to walk the path of life with Him.

Remember how many forgotten treasures my kids found? These items never left their bedrooms, but their living quarters were too filled with other undesired things to even notice the precious misplaced articles. First, the garbage needed to get out, and then some unwanted items had to be cleared away.

Consign your mind. Get rid of what is not needed in order to make space for what is good.

When I consign toys, I hand them over to a store in exchange for cash. When we trade out our old thoughts and behaviors of this world, we get to exchange space in our hearts and minds for treasure far greater than money--Jesus. This decision results in something much better than a clean room . . . it leads to a transformed life!

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2 NLT)

Remember, some of my children’s most precious gifts were lost in plain sight. In order for us to experience the love and power that is available right in front of us, we need to clear out the garbage and useless habits that block our spiritual paths. This is how we make room to walk in a relationship with Jesus.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10 NLT)

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"Praying Is Not Just A Saying"

How many times have you heard or spoken these phrases: "You are in my thoughts and prayers." or "Thanks for letting me know--I will be praying for you." Maybe you’re more familiar with the praying hands emoji that often gets flashed across a phone screen.

Hopefully, the giver of these words (or symbol) is backing them up with ACTIONS, instead of just a perfunctory response to a difficult social situation.

I don’t make this bold statement as a judgment of anyone’s heart, but rather for a personal internal assessment.

Stop and think . . . If I say those phrases mentioned above, do I actually follow through with prayers, instead of just giving an automatic polite expression in the moment?

Praying is not just a saying.

I share this with you today because I used to be guilty of this. Even with a loving heart, I know that quite often I delivered those lines--but did not follow through with prayers. I had no intentions of deceiving the receiver, but life gets busy, and sometimes I just simply forgot to pray for that situation.

"Praying" means to repeatedly say prayers for a particular request. The -ING suffix suggests a continuous devotion to a topic . . . my action of prayer should be ongoing.

Recently God has inspired me with a prayer practice that helps me to remember the people I agree to pray for. I hope it helps you as well:)

Assign a NAME to your PAIN.

Most of us have periodic aches or unrelenting health concerns. Instead of focusing on my ailments, I associate a prayer request with my problems. Each time I experience discomfort, it's a physical trigger to remind me to pray for others.

We all have varying degrees, locations, and frequency of pain. Here are my top three:

When my right knee bothers me - I pray for a woman in my church who is experiencing infertility and longs to become pregnant.

When my left hip is acting up - I dedicate prayers to a family member who suffers from chronic illness.

When my left shoulder hurts - I pray for a certain individual who continuously hurts me. Yes, even those we struggle to like deserve our prayers. “But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” (Matthew 5:44 NLT)

Delegate each health problem you are experiencing to powerful persistent prayers for someone else:

Annoying body aches? Pick a person to pray for every time that spot causes you discomfort.

Do you take a daily prescription? Say a dedicated prayer for a particular situation every time you pop that pill.

Constantly on hold for medical insurance/billing questions, or in a doctor’s office for an appointment? Select someone that you want to pray for while you wait to connect with the receptionist or doctor. 

Think about the first aid symbol . . . a red cross . . . it's a perfect reminder!!!

Can you imagine how much prayer (and answered requests) could take place if we all used our medical concerns to generate prayers? This is one way to embrace pain with joy. I have learned to be thankful for my injuries because they remind me to pray specifically for others. 

“Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NLT)

When pain has a purpose, it gives meaning to life!

Speaking of PURPOSE . . . My book, Purpose Through Perspective, is finally available for purchase! (With correct perforations) If you are interested, check it out on the website:)

www.littlelightshinebright.com/shop

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"Flip Flop Fiasco"

I can’t stand shopping. This truth may have just sounded a concerning consumer alarm for some, but it’s just not an activity that I enjoy. Because of this, it is rare that I buy new clothes or shoes.

Don’t get me wrong, if someone were to show up on my doorstep with custom tailored outfits and shoes perfectly picked out for my size and style, I'm not going to say, ”No thanks.” But this is not a situation I have ever run into. Consequently, I wear clothes out till their final days are up.

Last week I put a pair of holey jeans to rest. (Not godly holy, but truly “holey,” as in the material finally faded from overuse and started revealing portions that should be covered.)

It’s the same with my shoes. This entire year I have relied on one pair of sneakers, and one pair of flip flops that were already several years old. Just because the flip flop thong between my toes was starting to let loose, that did not mean that I was ready to let go. Because that would require shopping for new ones--ugh!

For two weeks that strap was dangling by threads like a loose front tooth on a first grader. I thought it could just hang on for a few more weeks of summer. I was wrong.

As I was walking up the stairs to get my daughter from her Sunday school class, I accidentally tripped. Immediately I could feel my entire left foot travel right through the front of my dilapidated flip flop. This was clearly beyond repair. So I continued the journey up the stairs with my right flip flop on my foot and the broken left one in my hand.

The moment my daughter saw me, she looked down at my bare foot with concern and said, “Oh no Mommy! It finally broke.” What happened next just melted my heart . . .

As a nine-year-old, this situation could have easily embarrassed her. Who wants a parent showing up in front of their peers--barefoot--holding a broken shoe in hand? But instead of hiding, she took off her fourth grade sized flip flop and handed it to me to put on my foot. A precious thought from a big heart, but a shoe that was about five sizes too small for me.

When my daughter saw that I could not fit into her brilliant rescue plan, she empathetically did the next best thing. She took back her left flip flop and held it in her hand. This way I would not feel alone or embarrassed by myself. If I had to walk with one shoe on and one shoe off, she was going to do the same thing.

And so, side-by-side, we exited the building together--walking unevenly on the sidewalk and pavement all the way to the car.

“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” (1 John 3:18 NLT)

My daughter has told me many times with words that she loves me, but her actions that day spoke much louder to my heart.

What can you DO today to SHOW someone that you love them?

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"Can You See Jesus With Solar Eclipse Glasses?"

My younger brother-in-law is one of the most “get it done in advance” type of guys I know. He usually starts asking me about gift idea suggestions for my children at least several months before Christmas or their birthdays. I am impressed by this level of preparation, but usually find it difficult to return the question. For I am on the other extreme end of “get things done just in time” type of girl.

Earlier this week our nation experienced the much anticipated total solar eclipse. For at least several months beforehand, there was continuous hyped buzz talk about the special glasses needed to protect our eyes from staring directly at the sun.

If bought at the correct time, these cardboard glasses were not expensive. For those that waited until the last minute to buy these special solar filters, they paid a hefty price to acquire this almost sold out item.

Thankfully I did not have to worry about that last minute spectacle frenzy because my “get it done in advance” brother-in-law had already purchased a pair of solar eclipse glasses for everyone in the family. They were handed over to my husband about two months ago. So in typical fashion, we did not even think much about those glasses again--until the day before the eclipse.

“Have you seen the glasses?” my husband asked. “What glasses?” I said in confusion. (I had not seen them yet because I was not there in the moment of the prepared pass off.)

So my husband and I searched all around the house. No glasses. We did not locate them until the following morning, just seven hours before the total eclipse was to occur. (In case you are wondering, they were in the glove box compartment of my car.) Talk about last minute concern for a once in a lifetime event!

This situation reminded me of the "Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids" found in Matthew 25.

All ten bridesmaids knew that the groom was approaching and that they needed to prepare for the big day. Five of them wisely filled their lamps with oil ahead of time, so that when the groom was ready, they would have light to see their way to the marriage feast.

The other five bridesmaids also knew that they needed oil, but did not prepare in advance. When it was time to join the wedding procession, the five who were unequipped tried to borrow oil from the other five who were well prepared. Sadly, sharing was not an option because there would not have been enough oil for all ten of them to make it to the party. Only the five who were prepared in advance joined the groom.

By the time the five "last minute ladies" had purchased their required oil, it was too late to join the feast. The door was shut and locked. Denied.

“Later, when the other five bridesmaids returned, they stood outside, calling, ‘Lord! Lord! Open the door for us!’ But he called back, ‘Believe me, I don’t know you!’  “So you, too, must keep watch! For you do not know the day or hour of my return.(Matthew 25:11-13 NLT)

Isn’t it amazing that scientists could predict and prepare our nation for the solar eclipse? They let us know exactly where to look, at a specific time, in order to witness this once in a lifetime event. It's so precise!

This made me stop and think . . .

How is it that numerous people prepared way in advance with glasses for this week, yet so many people today are not prepared to view the return of someone much brighter--the Son of God. This too is a once in a lifetime event . . . only we do not get to know the day or hour that this is going to occur.

"Now concerning how and when all this will happen, dear brothers and sisters, we don’t really need to write you. For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night." (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 NLT)

People may have been able to purchase solar glasses at the eleventh hour for a premium price, or even lend a pair to a friend standing next to them in the moment. But the truth is, we can’t buy or borrow faith at the last minute. Each person is responsible for their own spiritual preparation and relationship with Jesus today.

I may not always plan in advance for this life, but through spiritual lenses, I am confidently ready for the next life.

Are you prepared for the party?

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WARNING: Staring at the sun for too long can make you go blind.

DIRECTIONS: Looking towards THE SON and living by His Word will allow you to see with clear vision and experience eternal life. 

"As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light." (Matthew 17:2 NLT)