Friday, September 30, 2016

End Your Week Well - A Full Life

What does it mean to live life to the fullest?

I think I got a glimpse last week watching To Joey, With Love.

Tim and I had a rare date night, last minute even! I had seen a preview for this months ago and had almost forgotten until I saw something on Facebook of all places. Social media isn't always evil I suppose. It was a one night event, so it was one of those now-or-never opportunities and Tim jumped on it.

We knew how Joey and Rory's story ends. I actually first found out who they were while watching RFD with my in-laws. This was pre-cancer. When their fame was just beginning to blossom. They had a music show, and even then shared windows into their life.

Joey was pregnant. They showed her readying the nursery. So happy. So peaceful.

And instead of being soothed, I was seething. "Good for you" I thought. I almost walked out of the room. There she was, showing off her perfect life and her perfect nursery. I didn't have a nursery. I had a pack-n-play shoved between a rocking chair and a dresser. I didn't have a song in my heart or on my lips ... I was barely getting through the day in, day out same-old-same-old routine that was my life at the time.

Only, now I know. She wasn't showing off. And nothing is perfect. They didn't sing those songs because it sounded good. They meant every word.

They were letting cameras into their home because that is the kind of people they are. And God used that ... is using that.

Nothing was perfect because in a few short years Joey would go to heaven after a fierce fight with cervical cancer. She won't record another song. She won't welcome another camera into her home.

Yet I'm still learning from her. Part of what I have learned is that I may not have been decorating a nursery, but I had a baby coming. I had a roof over my head and food to eat and people who loved me through one of the hardest times of my life (and possibly theirs).

I learned that God is good all the time and that if I will change my attitude to find Him in everything, I can stop striving, stop comparing, stop expecting the worst in people. I can be happy for someone who seems to have more than me because all any of us really have is Jesus. Everything else can vanish in a moment.

My life was fuller than I was able to see. Chances are your life is fuller than you think too.

I thought I would cry through the whole movie, and I cried plenty. But I laughed more. And I think I got a glimpse of what it is like to really live. It has nothing to do with everything being just right and more to do with being right with Him and living a life that celebrates that.

"I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."  
- John 10:10b

There is going to be an encore ... October 6th. Go buy your tickets now, because I'm willing to bet it sells out. Even if you don't gospel music, sad stories, happy babies, or country living ... its one night. It'll be worth it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Day in the Life - MY will

A few weeks ago we started homeschooling. We've chosen to use the A Beka K4 curriculum with the Bible curriculum. So far I am really impressed and pleased with what we're doing! It gives a lot of great guidance. I've already started veering off from the teacher's guide some ... but that's so easy to do when homeschooling. I love the freedom, but I love having a starting place and something to keep me on track (I think it also helps keep me from overwhelming poor Shelby).

How did we get here so fast??
Part of our routine every day, after we say the pledge, is to say the Lord's Prayer.

I'm no King James purist by any means. But it does have a certain poetry to it, and it is how I memorized the Lord's Prayer:

Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those
Who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
And the power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.
- Luke 11: 2-4 (also Matthew 6:9-13)
Well, try explaining that to a four year old. Who every day says "Hello be my name ... my kingdom come ... my will be done."

Tori "does school" with us every day ... right after saying she doesn't want to do school anymore
We have a couple of beloved children's Bibles ... and as much as I love their versions of the Lord's Prayer ... I'm not sure they're in a "memory verse" friendly format.

Our Father in heaven,help us to honor your name.Come and set up your kingdom,so that everyone on earth will obey you,as you are obeyed in heaven. 

Give us our food for today.Forgive us for doing wrong,as we forgive others. 

Keep us from being temptedand protect us from evil.The kingdom, the power,and the glory are yours forever. Amen.
- Jesus Calling Bible Storybook by Sarah Young

Hello Daddy!
We want to know you.
And be close to you.
Please show us how.
Make everything in the world right again.
And in our hearts, too.
Do what is best - just like you do in heaven,
And please do it down here, too.
Please give us everything we need today.
Forgive us for doing wrong, for hurting you.
Forgive us just as we forgive other people
when they hurt us.
Rescue us! We need you.
We don't want to keep running away
and hiding from you. 
Keep us safe from our enemies.
You're strong, God.
You can do whatever you want.
You are in charge.
Now and forever and for always!
We think you're great!
Yes we do!
- The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones 

It is fairly clear Shelby doesn't really think the Bible says for Shelby's will to be done. Victoria, on the other hand, is two and clearly thinks that is the case. Even when it is physically impossible. But that's ok ... she'll change her mind as soon as it is out of her mouth half the time.

What do they need me for? Tori took it upon herself to start teaching ...
Aren't we all a little bit like a child in this way though? Do we really pray that we want God's will? Or do we tack it on after we tell Him what we want because that's how we're "supposed to" pray?

"And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition ..." 
- Luke 6:7 
Hearing Shelby say "my will be done" has caused me to examine my prayer life from it's outpouring ... my heart. Instead of telling God what I think I want and need, I want to hear from Him what He knows I need and what pursuits are for His kingdom ... rather than a flimsy paper one of my own.

Father in heaven,
I want to honor your name.
Set up Your kingdom and work Your will
In my life just as you do in heaven.
Provide for our needs today.
Forgive us our sins
In the same way we forgive those
Who sin against us.
Show us the way out of temptation
And rescue us from evil.
Your kingdom, Your power, and Your glory
Are never ending.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Start Your Week in the Word - Know Your enemy: loser

I'm going to end this series on your enemy on a high note.

To quote the gospel song ... "I've read the back of the book ... and we win!"

The enemy will not win. The sky may darken, men may turn against one another, rivers may boil in anguish ... but the enemy will not win.

Even better ... the enemy doesn't have to keep defeating you.

"I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightening. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven." 
- Luke 10: 18-20

Once you are His ... the devil cannot touch you without permission. If you are being defeated, you have left yourself open. I don't mean if you don't have everything you desire ... I don't mean if you didn't get that big promotion you were praying for ... I mean if you are still letting sin enslave you.

I may lose a few of you when I say this, but I have experienced it. There is power in the name of Jesus. When we call on His name, the devil flees.

"These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons ..." 
- Mark 16:17a

While I've never knowingly met someone who was demon possessed (lets face it, we all have questioned that at some point about someone) I have had an encounter where it felt like the spiritual realm crossed over into the physical.

It was in our apartment, and I was pregnant with Shelby. I awoke in the dead of the night, Tim was home that night. And I couldn't breathe. I couldn't speak. It wasn't like an asthma attack. It wasn't something related to the HELLP syndrome I would later be diagnosed with. There was a presence.

A moment before I panicked, I remembered that verse. "Jesus."

It was the only word I could get out. But as soon as I said His precious name, more followed. "In Jesus name, whatever you are, get out." Louder. "In Jesus name get out!"

You may be thinking I'm crazy right now. It's ok ... there was a time I thought stories like that were a little crazy too. But I experienced it myself. Our enemy and his minions flee at the name of Jesus.

"...that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives." 
- Hebrews 2:14b-15

Jesus defeated the enemy by confronting death on the cross. And He rose on the third day because He defeated death ... the last vestige of power our enemy had. We have no reason to fear. In back of the book, he is bound and thrown into the abyss.

"...he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer ... ...Satan will be released from his prison ... fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone ... they will be tormented day and night forever and ever."
- Revelation 20:2-3, 7-10

So know your enemy. Know that like a lame duck he will try to take as many down with him as he is able to deceive. And know that for the believer, he is already defeated. He may have introduced Adam and Eve and all of their offspring to death, but in the end even death will be thrown down.

"The last enemy that will be abolished is death." 
- 1 Corinthians 15:26

Friday, September 23, 2016

End Your Week Well - Forgiveness: Part 2

I could have titled my post last week Forgiveness ... why? If I had, I could have called today's post "but how?"

How do you hold out a precious gift to someone who doesn't deserve it? I'm no expert ... but I do have some experience on my side. And as always the Bible has a few things to say.

1. Start forgiving them in private. Alone with God.

In case you need any more "why's" ... remember that God tells us several times that the measure of forgiveness we use is what will be used for us. Yikes! It is a heavy gift, but God can give you the strength to lift it.

"For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you." 
- Matthew 6:14

"But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions." 
- Mark 11:26

Tell Him in prayer that you know you need to forgive ... that you desire His forgiveness for yourself ... but that it is hard. He knows what they have done. Walk through what needs to be forgiven. It is ok to feel it.

Forgiveness starts in the heart. Tim once had something to tell me, and I knew it wasn't going to be good. He wanted to tell me in person, and I had to wait until he was there. All I could do was pray. I will never forget ... God gave me a word. Mercy. God prepared my heart to forgive Tim before I even know what for.

"...If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him." 
- Luke 17:3

2. Understand forgiveness, God's and our own, isn't an absolution from consequence.

In fact, sometimes part of the gift of forgiveness is honesty and safety.

Forgiveness doesn't mean "now I trust you."

Sometimes forgiveness has to be given from afar because to offer it up in person would be unsafe. In an abusive relationship it is both necessary to remove yourself from the abuse and forgive the abuser. Trust me ... as long as you hold on to that bitterness, you can't heal. You keep giving the abuse power over you.

Sometimes forgiveness has to be given from afar because the relationship is that broken. I've found it to be helpful to write a letter of forgiveness and then throw it away. It is a sense of release. You may have to do it over and over again.

"And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him." 
- Luke 17:4

3. Keep on forgiving.

Sometimes those ugly old feelings ... hurt, disgust, embarrassment, you name it ... come back. Something happens to remind you (some call these "triggers") ... you feel a sense of deja vu, or the consequences of someone else's actions continue to haunt you.

Forgive again. Don't resurrect that rotting dead corpse! Your enemy is the one who wants to remind you. Sometimes I find myself having to say "You know what, devil? In Jesus' name I already forgave that ... and Jesus died to pay the penalty for that ..."

But sometimes on those days, even after I do that, I have to forgive all over again. If it is honoring to God and helpful to a relationship ... I confess to them I'm hurting all over again. Forgiveness isn't some magic bandaid that makes the pain go away and never come back.

Sometimes you are in the process of forgiving someone and they are still doing that very thing you are trying to forgive them for. I find it helpful think to myself ... "I forgive you for what you did, what you are doing, and what you are going to do."

4. Accept that forgiving may not change anything.

But it changes you. When you forgive, (really forgive), you are releasing your control, your rights, your anger, your bitterness. When you forgive you lower the bar held up to determine your own forgiveness. When you forgive your improve your health.

You may need to forgive someone you've never met.

You may need to forgive someone for doing the wrong thing who is never, ever, EVER going to do the right thing.

5. Forgive yourself.

We're all sinners and fall short of God's glory (Romans 3:23). Especially where relationships are concerned, we are rarely innocent. Don't forget to forgive yourself ... God already has.

"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." 
- Romans 5:8

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Day in the Life - #girlmom

Femininity was never my strong point. I don't really know why - it wasn't as if it was discouraged in my home. I had two brothers, but being the oldest I can only imagine it wasn't their influence that made me a tomboy.

After a rain I could be found down the street in the best mud puddle. One of my favorite colors is camo. I hate cardio. I love lifting. I like punching things. Throwing things. Flipping tractor tires. I don't want to be a boy, I never did. I like a little bling with my camo and a plaid skirt with my Docs and flannel.

If you had told me I would marry a first responder/mechanic/fixer and have two children, I'd have assumed they were to be boys. I'm the perfect boy mom, it was obvious God designed me for that role! We'll rough-and-tumble, play in the mud, I'll teach them to drive standard and we'll go autocrossing as a family!

Enter Shelby. Pink was her first favorite color. She is blond curls and princess pretend. She has had a feminine grace from the beginning; soft, fluid movements and nurturing purring through her voice and her hands. Daddy is going to have to teach her to drive ... she simply doesn't have the instinct. She has asked me to slow down on numerous occasion (when I wasn't speeding). She picks a dress over pants every time. I don't even think she owns any PJs right now; only nightgowns for Shelby.

Don't get me wrong, she's tough. But she has a strongly feminine air about her and I have no idea where she got it. God made her special indeed and I sit back in awe of how He works.

Then we were pregnant again, and I was so much sicker than the first time. I threw up in HEB. I was sure we must be having a boy this time. Enter Victoria. Now, if one of them is a tomboy it is her. She makes a beeline for piles of dirt. She's rough and loud. She has a temper. But she has a softness too and feelings that are hurt with a sideward glance.

Big sister often relegates her to the role of prince, but Tori doesn't take that. She's every bit a princess as big sister. She's picky about her shoes and she loves heels. Singing is her forte, and she does it oh so sweetly every chance she gets. Princess Aurora is her favorite and "Once Upon a Dream" is her bedtime request.

Being a #girlmom is pulling pink, glittery lint from the trap. It's ear-splitting squeals of terror and delight. It's cleaning and cooking and babies. It's dancing and dresses and jewels.

I'm so blessed God picked me to big a #girlmom.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Start Your Week in the Word - Know Your enemy: slave master

An uncomfortable topic, slavery. Yet we all have been, or currently are, spiritual slaves. Just as not all abuse is physical ... not all slavery is physical. It makes it that much harder to see because you operate under the guise of freedom.

Several of the last few weeks I've been trying to tell you that we all have an enemy. I can only imagine some of you are shaking your heads ... Why Amanda? Even if he exists, why would he bother with me? What does he care if I sin or not? Good question.

The Bible doesn't come out and call him a slave master in so many words, but let me tell you why he is. One of the names the Bible does use is man of lawlessness ... son of destruction. One of our enemy's primary motives is power ... he desires to exalt himself as God, above God. That is the motivation behind everything he has done and will do.

"...the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God."
- 2 Thessalonions 2:3-4

If you are a parent, what is the lowest blow someone could do you? Take your car? Your house?

Your children.We are all God's children, and some of us will never be retrieved. Won't accept the proferred rescue. If we are sealed for that day with the promise of rescue by Jesus blood - our enemy can't touch us. But what he can do is prevent us from coming to the aid of any more of God's children.

"For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
- Colossians 1:13-14

If we are not serving God in ways that spread His rescue plan to others, we are sinning. If we are outright breaking His laws meant to protect us ... we are slaves to sin. Right where the enemy wants us. Ineffective. Disconnected. Confused. Cut-off.

"Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin."
- John 8:34

Friend. We have all sinned. The Israelites were given the Law so that we could see that in our human form, with our weak human natures, we cannot avoid it. We cannot earn our freedom. We can't buy it. That is why it was bought for us.

"Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God."
- Galatians 4:7

Jesus paid the price for our freedom, but we do have to claim it. God does not force us to accept Him as a loving Master rather than the sin we are born slaves to. When you doubt the Bible, doubt what myself and other Christians are saying to you ... my dare, if you will, is that you search that out. Who stands to benefit from you not claiming that which was given to you freely? You are not your own. So who do you belong to?

"No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other."
- Luke 16:13

Christian friends, while we are sealed in Christ (though there are some who would argue if our acceptance of salvation is permanent ... I am firmly grounded in the belief that the Bible says once you have accepted Christ you are sealed even if your free will is left intact). While we are sealed in Christ, the enemy does not give up on us. He can still shut us down. He may have lost us, but he will fight to keep from losing any more through us.

"But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?"
- Galatians 4:9

Claim your freedom, child of God. You are PAID in FULL. Live in it. Only in God can you serve in freedom. He is the Good Master - Adonai.

Friday, September 16, 2016

End Your Week Well - Forgiveness

Have you ever had to ask for it? Have you ever known you needed to give it, but everything in you wanted to hold that angry ember between your hands and blow on it instead?

Forgiveness. Depending on which angle you view it from it can be a drink of cool water or a bitter pill. It is the gift that, when you are wronged, you hold out and say "You don't deserve this, but I am giving it to you. I WANT you to have it." Not a hastily wrapped gift thrown in a crumpled gift bag from six Christmases ago. A gift wrap with love and care. When you are giving it, you want them to know it means something. That it took an effort.

Forgiveness isn't listed as a spiritual gift, which is probably a good thing or I'd think I had it. I feel, as I assume most do, that I've done a lot of forgiving in my time. But honestly - I'm happy to do it. Because He first forgave me.

"For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little." 
- Luke 7:47
Jesus could have been speaking of me. My sins are many. I have been forgiven much. If the righteous God who created the universe and His perfect Son can forgive me ... who am I to withhold such from someone else?

"But You are a God of forgiveness" 
- Nehemiah 9:17

When I remember just how forgiven I am ... that anything and everything I've ever done can be cast into the depths sea (Micah 7:19) - not bobbing on the surface waiting to be picked up ... into the DEPTHS ... I just can't hold on to something against someone else.

Jesus DIED so that I could be forgiven (Matthew 26:28, Colossians 1:14). I think I can probably swallow my self-righteous indignation and forgive a fellow sinner. I'm not going to lie and say it is easy. But there is joy in it. And sometimes closure that can be had in no other way.

If sinless Jesus, in agony, can hang on the cross and ask the Father to forgive sinners ... there must be a way for this humble broken heart to share the forgiveness that was given to me.

"Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." 
- Luke 23:34

I will share more about forgiveness next Friday - but for this week, simply bask in the warmth of God's forgiveness. Even if you haven't accepted it yet. No matter what you have done. Let it wash over you and ease the tension, the striving, the anger. Let go of the rights and rewards and revenge. Be still and realize that the God who is God isn't out to get you. He is out to give the gift none of us deserve.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A Day in the Life - Clean Freak

I'm a little self-diagnosed OCD/ADD. I'm easily distracted and I keep our house very clean. I always have. I get made fun of a bit for it and that doesn't bother me in the slightest. The girls seem to be picking up on it but I'm honestly ok with that.

However, I feel like it makes people afraid to invite me over.

We're all always apologizing to one another for the the states of our homes. I'm sorry my house is so messy/dirty/clean/empty/etc. I say we stop. Just stop. Welcome to my home. Welcome to my life. I'm glad you're here! Lets save the apologies for things we really need to apologize for. I'm sorry we're late. I'm sorry I'm too hard on my daughters in front of you. I'm sorry I'm not hard enough on them and am sometimes just too exhausted to follow-through.

I posted a picture of the dusty underside of my couch a few weeks ago. And a Cheerio. And a barrette. I want everyone to know that I am human too. The house gets ahead of me sometimes. It makes me a mean crazy lady when it does. But my goal in life is not actually to have a Pinterest-pretty social media stream.

I don't clean my house to shame you.

I don't clean my house to impress you.

I clean my house because that's what I do. No earthly comfort soothes my soul quite like a clean house (and a long soak in a clean tub with a clean towel waiting for me).

If we are friends - the chances of your house ever being messy enough ... dirty enough ... smelly enough ... scary enough to horrify this clean freak are just about none. Let me tell you a story ...

My OCD started early. I'll go ahead and blame my mom ... but I'll also say thank you. I've never wondered how to clean something, because I started cleaning for my mom in the summers when she started working. I was about 12.

She didn't literally wear a white glove, but she gave me the white glove treatment. She always checked the top of the fridge, always. I often forgot. To this day ... I tend to start with the top of the fridge when I clean. After Shelby was born, we had moved into a different house and I had to relearn my routine by quadruple because I was recovering from a C-section, caring for a newborn, in a new house, and frankly everything was just plain different. After several months I about had a meltdown when I realized I had yet to clean the top of the fridge.

But part of my OCD also stems from my previous life experiences. When you joke that your house looks like a crime scene ... you forget you are talking to someone who studied hundreds of crime scenes and has been to a few.

You. Have. No. Idea. I won't drag you through the details, juicy as they may be. The odor of diapers and unwashed socks, damp dogs and senile cats will never ever ever (EVER EVER) outdo the things I have smelled. I interned in a medical examiner's office with an entire exam area dedicated to "decos." That little trick of Vicks up your nose? Yeah, don't do that. It just opens up your nostrils and lets the smell down deep so that even after several showers you feel like strangers will turn and look at you expecting a real-life episode of Walking Dead.

I've started thinking the number of unwashed dishes piled up in your sink ... and on the windowsill ... and down both sides of the counter ... and on the floor ... is in direct correlation to the likelihood of some kind of 911 call. Your kid's spilled juice will not gross me out. I have seen floors undulating with the scurries of cockroaches while I shifted from one foot too another in my 5.11 boots ... afraid that if I stand still they will come to rest under the deep treads and perhaps even hitch a ride.

You may have a pile of unfolded or even unwashed laundry on your sofa. But it is doubtful you have an entire room devoted to a pile of laundry that may or may not have a bed beneath it which rises up taller than my 5'4" self. Not a small washroom with a washer and dryer ... no, a room that was probably intended to be a bedroom.

The mess of children at play does not bother me. Wading through trash ankle, knee deep bothers me. Not just mess. Literally. Trash. Empty food containers, soda bottles, entire packs of emptied adult beverages. We're talking an episode of Hoarders. Which I can't watch. We had Netflix when Shelby was a newborn, and I spent many quiet nights watching show after show while holding her and nursing her. I tried to watch Hoarders, and looking across the dusty floorboards of my own home sent me into an "I-might-need-an-inhaler" panic attack.

It isn't that I'm afraid of dirt. It is that I'm afraid if I don't stay on top of it I will somehow wake up in an episode of Hoarders. Or a crime scene. Or that if blankets/sheets/etc are touching the ground the scorpions that sometimes make their way into our home will climb up into the beds and sting us. Or roaches will be drawn to the crumbs and overtake us. Or touch me.

So please, I don't think I'm better than you. In fact, I think I'm just crazier than you. I'm not judging you! Deep down ... I admire your ability to stay sane amidst normality. I'm jealous that you can know where things are even if they don't have a designated place. I'm awed when people do that.

I clean because it keeps me calm. I clean so I don't turn into an anxious freak having a meltdown at every turn. But that only applies in my own house. I've seen enough in my time on this earth to know that if you and I are friends ... there is very little chance that your lifestyle has lead to enough of a mess to freak me out. So stop apologizing and lets just enjoy one another's company.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Start Your Week in the Word - Know Your Enemy: angel of light

You didn’t see it coming. Or you did, but you didn’t recognize it for what it was.

When I first started driving, I used to drive myself and one of my brother’s to piano lessons. There was a game we’d play while I was driving. It was the early/mid-90s and I had an uncanny talent for identifying the make and model of a vehicle by their headlights or taillights alone. Ford F150, Chevy S10. Corvette. Buick. Camero. Lumina. Crown Victoria. Grand Am. Mustang. Toyota Celica. Suburban. Firebird.

I’m not so good at it anymore - there are more different models out there than there were half a lifetime ago and I don’t spend nearly as much time looking at them. Though you better believe I can still spot a Corvette when it is little more than a speck on the horizon.

Sometimes it is hard to tell what something is until it is on top of you. Our enemy works like that. Not only does he disguise his attempts to tempt and distract us … he clothes himself like the wolf among the sheep covered in fleece.

“…even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”  
- 2 Corinthians 11:14
He comes at us when we are blurry-eyed with tiredness, shaky with weakness, and covers who he is beneath a guise of compassion, help, kindness … a safety net.

He did this with Jesus. He came to a hungry Jesus [Matthew 4:4-11] in the desert with an idea for how to obtain bread. He invited Him to prove He is the Son of God by testing God’s words in Psalms 91:

“For He will give His angels charge concerning you,To guard you in all your ways.They will bear you up in their hands,That you do not strike your foot against a stone." 
Psalm 91:11-12

Yes, that’s right. He can quote scripture. Do you expect to hear scripture slithering from the mouth of your enemy? We know our enemy lurks in the darkness - but in Isaiah he is referred to as the star of morning and the son of the dawn. Thrown down from heaven when his unrighteousness and corruption revealed themselves, but you better believe he recalls beauty and light. He once stood in the presence of God and the father of lies is an impressionist.

“How you have fallen from heave,O star of the morning, son of the dawn!You have been cut down to the earth,You who have weakened the nations!” 
Isaiah 14:12

So sometimes we don’t see him coming because instead of preparing something juicy, tempting, and glaringly wrong - he presents himself as something right and good. What defense do we have against such a seasoned masquerade?

When Sam and I played that game, I could tell what those vehicles were because I knew them. Their patterns were ingrained in my brain because I had seen them so many times before - ads, magazines, commercials, posters, calendars. I’m the girl who asked for transformers for her birthday as a kid. I knew cars and trucks.

“Your word is a lamp to my feetAnd a light to my path.” 
Psalm 119:105

“… I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” 
- John 8:12

The best way to identify a counterfeit is to know the real thing inside and out. When we are immersed in light and life, we know when we’re being dazzled by a mirage.

“for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light.” 
- Ephesians 5:8

Friday, September 9, 2016

End Your Week Well - Master Craftsman

Do you ever have one of those moments that makes you pause and listen, head tilted to the East ... straining ... Jesus, is that You? I had one of those last week.

Usually I feel closest to God in the early morning hours when the crickets are still, the frogs have quieted the croaking, and the sky itself seems to be holding its breath. The thin line between night and dawn. My favorite time of day. Everything is new ... hope is mounting ... yesterday is well on its way into long term memory or forgetfulness.

But this morning winked so glorious that I paused to listen for trumpets before dashing outside with my camera.

"The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever." 
- Revelation 11:15b
And in looking through my lens I wondered that some mornings must be captured ... some are too brilliant to look at with anything other than my bare eyes ... and some pass almost unnoticed. And I was awed that God ... unchanging, timeless God who can simply speak things into being ... gives us such diversity. Not only of mornings ... of everything. His craftsmanship is unending.

This week is our first week of homeschooling, and we start the day with Bible. And we start at the beginning. God spoke and light and dark separated ... the seas and the air became separate entities ... and then look at what He does on the third day:

"...plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them ... let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be fore signs and for seasons and for days and for years ..." 
- Genesis 1:12 and 14

 At last count, almost THREE HUNDRED THOUSAND plant species have been discovered. That's not including the over ONE AND A HALF MILLION fungi and algae species! And if you're like me and enjoy a little time on the microscope ... whole worlds exist in complicated, beautiful mechanisms in each cell that keep that plant alive. Stoma to open and close to release or retain water. Chlorophyll to make energy from sunlight. DNA to code for what kind of cell it is going to be, how it is going to work, to tell the next generations of plant how to be that plant.

Humans are remarkably clever, but we cannot create like this. He could have kept things so simple ... He could have spoken the entire world as we know it into being in one word. Instead, the words of Genesis weave a tapestry of motion and change ... of a God reaching down into the dirt and breathing life into the pinnacle of creation and declaring it VERY good.

He handpicked craftsmen in the desert to build His tabernacle ... His temporary dwelling place. One of the downfalls of the climax of human achievement will be the loss of art:

"And the sound of harpists and musicians and flute-players and trumpeters will not be heard in you any longer; and no craftsman of any craft will be found in you any longer;" 
- Revelation 18:22

The Lord is a craftsman. He enjoys beauty. He created us to enjoy beauty and He displays it for us every day. Sometimes we have to look hard to see it, and sometimes it calls us outside through the windows.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A Day in the Life - The Hand of God

I know kiddos do this ... but it still caught me by surprise. Sometimes Shelby does something that I don't think we have done ... or says something we don't say ... and we ask "Where did you learn that?" Sometimes because it is funny. Sometimes because we are amazed. Sometimes because it is rude. Sometimes because it is baffling.

It started innocently enough ... Victoria really did teach Shelby to scream. Cousin Cabub (Caleb) really might be where she learned a few things. Then along came A, and suddenly A was responsible for everything.

Right over there!
Technically she's younger than Shelby ... but its complicated and she definitely acts older than her age. And she's a hoot and a joy just like my girls are. But for whatever 4-year-old reasoning Shelby has ... she is the inspiration behind mischief.

A told me I can do that. A does that. I learned that from A.

It was pulling me!
Almost as soon as A became the scapegoat ... she was replaced.

Where is your sunshine game piece?

Maybe a hand took it.

A hand?

Yes a hand came down and TAKED it.

What hand?

THE HAND OF GOD ... spoken with all the seriousness you would expect of a four year old who though that, just maybe, God reached down into her house and took her quarter-inch square cardboard game piece. Yeah.

Maybe a hand took it?
God gets blamed for almost anything that is missing now. Even though God made the sun, God maybe took her sun game piece. Maybe God has Victoria's baby. Maybe God needed her blanket because He was cold.

She's even dreamt about the hand of God. One morning she told me His hand came down and took her to heaven. That made me uneasy, [do you feel me fellow moms?] I asked more details, and she said God's hand came down and rescued her from the green house. What green house? Have you seen it before? No, but she was hurt in the green house and God's hand picked her up.

"It's scawy" Yes ... yes Tori it is kinda scary
If you invite us over and your house is green, please don't be offended when you hear me grind into reverse and stipple the front of your home with gravel.

They even play a game where "a hand" is taking them, and she and Tori do impressive impressions of being dragged by the back of their shirts by an unseen hand.

I suppose apples didn't fall far from the tree with these two.

For the record ... I did find the sunshine game piece. It had slipped under the edge of a piece of trim and I fished it out while cleaning. But my cleaning is a story for another time ...

Monday, September 5, 2016

Start Your Week in the Word - Labor

No, I'm not going to give you my perspective on the birthing of a child ... frankly my dear, "I don't know nothin' bout birthin' no babies!" Yes, I have two yet I know next to nothing of being in labor.

No, I'm talking about Labor Day. As long as I can remember I thought Labor Day was a celebration of HAVING work after the Great Depression. It turns out, Labor Day has been around for longer than that. Labor Day is actually a celebration of the achievements of workers in the United States that came about as a bit of a reactionary move after some pretty horrific riots around the turn of the century. That is ... the 19th to 20th century.

Shows how much I know. I suppose it is a little embarrassing, confusing, and frankly slightly controversial (what can I say? I'm a Texan the general attitude I've grown up with towards the labor movement and unions in general is ... conservative) to teach about what Labor Day means. For me, growing up, it meant no more white shoes, the return of suit jackets and sport coats for the men in church, and school starting. Yes, I'm young but I'm of that generation-less portion of the population that is lost in the cracks between distinct generations. And I think most of us like it here.

It has always been a weird "Oh, its a holiday?" holiday for me. Even though it has been close to three years, I never got out of the public service mindset that there is no such thing as a holiday. I know plenty of people even now who have no special plans at the lake or parades to attend. It wasn't until a few days ago that I even realized Tim was off work! We're celebrating by going together as a family to see Shelby's gymnastics, because they must find it an odd holiday as well and are still open.

You know me, I started wondering what the Bible says about labor ... the kind of labor we are celebrating today. Work and human achievement. Can we find our purpose in bettering our country?  Is finding something you love really the answer to living a happy life?

Days of training where shooting up a car was all in a day's work? Of course I loved my job.
Days where being torn apart by an attorney while wearing a suit was my job - what have I gotten myself into???
Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.  
- oft quoted but true author unknown
When I was still working, I had a job I loved. When we were doing training that involved shooting up a car? Of course it was fun! But it was still work. Sitting on the witness' chair was not fun. If we are doing God's will for our lives, does that mean it won't feel like work? Is a labor of love the opposite of "work?"

"I have seen that every labor and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbor. This too is vanity and striving after wind... There was a certain man without a dependent, having neither a son nor a brother; yet there was no end to all his labor. Indeed, his eyes were not satisfied with riches and he never asked "And for whom am I laboring and depriving myself of pleasure?" This too is vanity and it is a grievous task." 
- Ecclesiastes 4:4, 8
Ok, so labor for the sake of achievement is empty. I think most of us know that, even if we find ourselves falling into that pattern. It is safe to say that most of you reading this are among the rich even if you don't feel like it. Even if we do have dependents.

"Unless the Lord builds the house,They labor in vain who build it;Unless the Lord guards the city,The watchman keeps awake in vain.It is vain for you to rise up early,To retire late,To eat the bread of painful labors;For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep." 
- Psalms 127:1-2

The church where I first learned it isn't only serving when it is hard, serving can be fun.
This was taken on a mission trip ... I was "laboring" ... looks real tough huh?
So if we are laboring for love, for God ... does that mean it never feels like work? Am I doing it wrong when I love my daughters all day, when I try to teach them right and wrong, and at the end of the day feel like collapsing into bed rather than giving Tim a high-five and celebrating a job well done?

 "And He was saying to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves." 
- Luke 10:2-3

That doesn't sound like smooth sailing to me. While we work to His harvest as a labor of love, it is still a labor. You've likely seen this one as well:

"If you are still alive, then you haven't completed what you were put on earth to do." 
- Andy Andrews
Not a quote from the Bible, but I feel very applicable. We are here to DO something. We aren't just here to be. Many of the references to labor in the Bible are verbs, action words. Paul considered his labor, his work, to have been a failure when believers in the church in Galatia began to turn back to idols:

"I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain." 
- Galatians 4:11

Just because we are laboring for God and not for man; riches, achievements, pats on the back ... we don't get excused from work. And if your current calling "feels" like work it doesn't mean you've missed the mark. What barometer can we use to know if we labor for God or for ourselves?

Motivation. What motivates you to go do what you are doing? Fame? Fortune? Prestige? You might want to have a check-up with the great physician on that heart of yours. If your motivation is love, Biblical, serving love; even when it is heartbreaking, backbreaking, exhausting work - you are probably still working for God. And only you can determine that.

"constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father ..." 
- 1 Thessalonians 1:3 

" we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts." 
- 1 Thessalonians 2:4b

 Work done in love can still be work. The Greek word for labor used in 1 Thessalonians 1:3 is "kopos" which can also be used as the verb "trouble." If you are troubled because of love, it is the right kind of trouble to be in.

Friday, September 2, 2016

End Your Week Well - Healing

With confession comes healing. How can that be? You feel relieved and your spouse, your friend, your family are reeling. Laughing. Indifferent.

Sometimes the healing comes right away. Usually for the one making the confession there is a weight lifted. They've been carrying this burden, alone, and the load was just lifted from their shoulders. But for the person receiving the confession, the burden may have just begun. Ugly words rise from past hurts, suspicions, or simply the indignation that comes from finding out secrets weren't shared.

Questions upon questions rise like a stone wall between you. Just as our fleshly weaknesses lead to the need for confession, our fleshly responses to confession threaten to forestall the healing we are promised. But the Biblical response to confession is clear:

"Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much." 
- James 5:16

We are to pray with one another when a weakness is exposed. God is a God of healing. If His intention is to heal the sinner, should it not be ours as well? Even when a confession hurts, God's response is for us to stand with the repentant and prop one another up!

Solitude can be healing, but if "iron sharpens iron" we need to be coming to the grindstone together. It is work. Grueling work. There is no room for selfishness. When Ezra wept bitterly at the sins of Israel, Israel wept with him. And a man named Shecaniah (whose name means "habitation of the Lord") said to Ezra:

"Arise! For this matter is your responsibility, but we will be with you;
be courageous and act." 
- Ezra 10:4

We allow God to dwell (to habitate) among us when we are quick to forgive those who confess to us. When we prop one another up instead of putting one another down. When we tend to the afflicted rather than nursing our own wounds. In the end, the sin is against God - not us. Allow confession to bring healing to all involved.

"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise." 
-Psalms 51:17

Rapha ... Healer ... can do His work through confession when we respond like Him. This is how confession brings healing. When you are overwhelmed and don't know that to do ... pray and don't stop until the healing begins.

"I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will heal you." 
- 2 Kings 20:5