Good Gifts

God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I bit into the bright green jellybean anticipating the tangy apple flavored sweetness. I screwed up my face and tried to swallow. Watermelon.

I really don’t like watermelon flavored candies.

I set the bag of jellybeans on the seat beside me and wondered how to get rid of them without offending the sweet little girl who had willingly offered me her bag of candies. How do I say thank you for something I don’t want?

God handed me a bagful of goodies recently. Some have screwed up my face in dislike and disgust. I’m sure they were meant to make me sit still and spend some much needed time with him, but when that directive came disguised as a boil in the crease of my leg, I set it aside on the chair next to me and wondered how to get around it.

A class I signed up for has stressed waiting and white space. So I have spent the day trying to fix problems, finish projects, and finalize preparations. White space? Who has time for that?

I need to visit my friends at the rest home, but the repairman can only come during my weekly visiting hour. Instead of enjoying the extra hour I’ll have to slow down, I curse the appointment that may make a big difference in our home.

The jellybeans were a child’s selfless offering to someone she loves, but all I tasted was bitter disappointment. The rest of the candy sits on the counter top now, unopened, untasted, unwanted.

I wonder how many bags of candy I have turned away from because the first taste was unexpected and disappointing?


And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 NIV

Are You Listening?

“Part of doing something is listening. We are listening. To the sun. To the stars. To the wind.”  ~Madeleine L’Engle, Swiftly Tilting Planet

As the mother of two very talkative sons, sometimes I don’t quite listen. Several years ago they were very, very interested in Star Wars. It was the only thing they talked about at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And being stuck in the van with them meant being captive to their incessant light saber, hero, super-powers talking. Finally, I told them I would not listen to it anymore.

The thing is. . . I hadn’t been listening for a long time already. I had tuned out what they were saying because I didn’t want to hear it. I wasn’t interested in what they were discussing. I had more important things to deal with. I couldn’t be bothered.

Somehow that attitude transferred itself to other areas of my life. I half listened to friends while I thought about what I needed to be doing next. I “mm hm-ed” on the phone as I washed dishes and wished the speaker would hurry it up. I planned dinner while the kids told me the latest news, worked on plot twists while Matt unwound by telling me his own stories, and typed out a blog while my mother talked on the speaker phone.

So a few weeks ago, I decided it was time for me to start listening. People all around me have things to share, and I can be the ear they need to listen. I had no idea where I was about to be lead.

A few days into the “listening experiment” I asked God if he could help me to slow down and be an ear to someone who needed it that day. Then I headed into my busy day- drop Amos off at the orthodontist, stop by the dump to get rid of the recycling, head to the grocers, check at the pet store to see how my book is selling, and then back to get Amos. Forty-five minutes? No problem!

I dropped Amos off, stopped by the pet store- the owner was in a meeting, so I said I would come back- and then headed to the dump. On the way there I had to slam on the brakes, and recycling with a lidless kefir container in it went spilling all over the back of the van. I cleaned it up as best I could and thought I would stop in the restroom to wash at the grocery.

A shopping cart with a small girl, perhaps two years old, was parked in front of one of the stalls. I used the other and then went to wash up. A woman appeared out of the other stall and as the child cried, the mother exclaimed, “I just don’t get it! What do you think?” I looked over, and she held a positive pregnancy test. She went on to tell me that she had had an ultrasound that morning and was told the baby had died. The doctor prescribed a medication to help her get rid of the fetus, but she was afraid to hurt the baby if a mistake had been made. What did I think she should do?

Really, God?  I stayed with her a while, listened, offered my advice, and prayed for her. Then I headed  off to the pet store again.

There I discovered that the owner’s husband had had a heart attack and died the week before, her aunt had also died that week, and her son’s pet had died that morning. OK, God, I get it.

I realize that people are hurting around us all of the time. The woman in the stall next to you. The cashier at the pet store. People everywhere need a listening ear. But busyness and lack of interest turn down the volume so that we don’t have to hear what everyone else needs to say.

And then Matt preached it on Sunday. God wants to speak to us, but are we listening? Well of course I’m listening! I mean who wouldn’t want to hear God, right!?

Only maybe I am listening like I used to be listening, not noticing the woman next to me crying over the loss of a wanted child, not hearing the pain and fatigue in another’s voice who is struggling with loss. What if I am ignoring God because what he has to say isn’t easy to listen to or I don’t particularly want to hear what he has to say?

So now I add to my prayer, God let me be an ear to those who need to talk AND let me have ears to hear you, no matter what you have to say, — even if I have to listen to Star Wars.


Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:4 NIV

Victorious with a 17% Success Rate

I ain’t nothing but a winner.
~Paul Bryant

Saturday I will be making a pot of chili. For many years now, I have made chili on the first Saturday in February. Why? Because chili needs time to marinate and assimilate all of the flavors, especially if you plan to win the Super Bowl Chili Cook-Off. Which, by the way, I have done twice.

Basically that is the only bowl I will be concerned about, the chili bowl. I am so unaware of football that I haven’t even heard of one of the teams. Are the Atlanta Falcons a new franchise?

But you know who I’ll be hoping wins? Yep. The Falcons.

And you know why, too, don’t you?

Because even if you don’t care about football, if you have lived in America for the last five years, you know that the New England Patriots play by questionable rules and tactics. They will attempt to win at any cost.

Why do I enter the Chili Cook-Off when I have only won twice in twelve years? Because I know there is a chance that I will win. Winning is what every team member, coach, owner, and fan desires. It’s why we play the game.

Or cook the chili.

The possibility of winning is why I try year after year.

I have a 17% success rate. Not so good. There might be a little bit of me that wishes I were more like a Patriot, maybe lacing the other chili pots with something a little . . . questionable . . . would help me to win.

The lure of winning is why people compete.

Victory is a mighty strong motivator.

For the Christian, it’s everything: Victory over circumstances. Victory over sin. Victory over death.

And victory over a 17% success rate.

See, I won’t cheat in the chili cook-off. I have doubts that I will win. I’m even girding up my courage to accept defeat.

But my faith? I know my faith will be victorious, because I have been given victory over my disbelief. Victory over my lack of faith.

Victory over all of the times that I have failed.

In Jesus, I am a winner 100% of the time.


“It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:22-24 NIV

 

 

Holy Spirit Coach

“On this team, we’re all united in a common goal: to keep my job.” -Lou Holtz

We’re down to the final teams: Atlanta Falcons vs. New England Patriots. They have two weeks to prepare. They’re lifting weights, watching their diets, maintaining their schedules for proper sleep and exercise. And they’re reviewing plays with the coaches.

Coaches get paid a lot of money. The average NFL head coach salary is between two and four million dollars. Some make a lot more than that, others make less. But I think we can all agree that they are well compensated for their work.

So what does a coach do for all of that money?

A coach motivates the players. He talks to them, encourages and inspires them. He gets to know each player, understands what makes them tick, and then manages the team in such a way that each player can perform his best.

A coach doesn’t work alone. He has other coaches who instruct the players. He ignites passion in the fans so they will support the team. And he reports to the owner, making sure that the owner understands his players.

We have a head coach too. The Holy Spirit.

Certainly there are assistant coaches: preachers, elders, deacons, friends, brothers and sisters who have handled more tackles that you.

But it is the Holy Spirit which stirs us up and whispers that we can do this great thing before us. The Spirit switches on the light so we finally understand the play book. The Spirit draws the body of believers together so that we cheer one another on, offering support and encouragement.

And the Holy Spirit speaks to the owner of the team, God himself, so that he understands what we are going through, why we are reacting the way we are, and asking for a little more time to prepare this rookie player.

Our head coach doesn’t make a salary. There’s no glory in it for him. Not even an upturned cooler of ice water when the game is over. No, the Holy Spirit is the most passionate of coaches. He does it because he loves us and he loves the Owner.

He’s the truest member of the team.

 People who are ruled by their desires think only of themselves. Everyone who is ruled by the Holy Spirit thinks about spiritual things. If our minds are ruled by our desires, we will die. But if our minds are ruled by the Spirit, we will have life and peace. Romans 8:5-6 CEV

Living in the Fandom

People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society. ~Vince Lombardi

There are an estimated 50 million tailgaters in America, spending 12 billion dollars annually in tailgating food and supplies. Tailgating appears to be the entire point of the game for at least 35% of the tailgating population, who never even enter the stadium. (blog.nationwide.com)

Arriving early is important to get the shady spots. Games like corn hole and ladder ball are set up in the parking lot behind cars or on grassy strips next to the pavement. The smell of charcoal and grilling meats, or smoked meats in some parts of the country, wafts through the cool autumn afternoon as the sound of the school band warming up across the street drowns out the blaring music from nearby stereos.

Why do so many people spend so much time and money tailgating? Because of the sense of belonging it develops. They share food, cheer on their team, find comrades, and develop relationships. Tailgating gives people a sense of belonging.

So every year in late summer, when students return to their books and classrooms, the tailgaters return to the parking lots. This is their place. This where they catch up with each other, find out how others fared through the last year. Share food,  a drink, a laugh, a hope.

Church attendance is like tailgating, except it’s year-round. I love getting together with friends and family. We eat together, build relationships, talk and joke with each other. There’s even music and occasionally dancing and games.

Relationship building is what church is all about . . . Deepening relationships . . . Sharing food and drink that never ends . . . Laughing and crying through our achievements and our failures . . . Finding a common goal . . . Victory in Jesus.

But it is much more important than tailgating on a football Saturday. At this tailgating party, we prepare for the game. Because we aren’t just fans. We’re members of the team.


My prayer is that light will flood your hearts and that you will understand the hope that was given to you when God chose you. Then you will discover the glorious blessings that will be yours together with all of God’s people. Ephesians 1:18 CEV

Too Many Rules

I follow three rules: Do the right thing, do the best you can, and always show people you care. ~Lou Holtz

I’m not a rules kinda gal.

Six or seven years ago we decided to house an exchange student for part of the summer. Before we could do this, though, our family had to be interviewed. The organization wanted to see where the student would sleep, make sure we didn’t have felony records, and, ahem, confirm that we didn’t beat our children.

During the interview, the representative asked my sons what the house rules were. The boys thought for a while, and then the older one spoke up.

“We don’t have any.”

She didn’t seem to believe him and prodded with questions like: What time do you have to go to bed? (When I’m sleepy.) Do you have to eat everything on your plate? (Only what I put there.) Are there tv channels you can’t watch? (We don’t have cable.) As if that explained it all.

Finally he said, “We just do what’s right. Then we don’t have to worry about rules.”

Last semester the same son took a course in critical thinking. The last fourth of the class was spent learning and playing the game of chess. Chess has a lot of rules, and the pieces all look alike to me, so I never cared to learn how to play.

In case you’re wondering, he did well at chess and was able to follow the rules. His years of unruly upbringing didn’t ruin him.

Football is like chess. Lots of rules. But to make it worse, there are rules for high school games, different rules for college games, and another set of rules for professional games. Like I said, I’m not a rules kinda gal. So I don’t watch football.

But I do believe in rules. And the best rule is the one my son told the social worker: We just do what’s right. Then we don’t have to worry about rules.

When I react in love, no worries. When I show compassion, no worries. When I give generously, no worries. Playing the game of life by these rules means I always win.

Many have called it The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Jesus called it easy and light.

Now that’s a rule I can live by.


So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12 ESV

White Rabbits

Living is like tearing through a museum. Not until later do you really start absorbing what you saw, thinking about it, looking it up in a book, and remembering – because you can’t take it in all at once. ~Audrey Hepburn

I don’t know how it started. No one does. But many years ago, probably 25 now, a Christmas package wrapped in a tin was offered to someone at the family Christmas celebration.

The box was a used candy tin from some of my father-in-law’s Chinese students. Whether the candy was tasty is long forgotten, even what was given in the tin that first year is not remembered.

But the tin . . . We remember.

You see every year, the tin is filled with a new present and given to someone else in the family. Everyone waits expectantly to see who will receive the “White Rabbit” gift that year.

It isn’t a large tin; the present will be something small . . . a gift card, a notebook for your purse, a pair of underwear. Really the present isn’t what we care about. It’s all about getting the White Rabbit tin.

There was a lull in White Rabbit giving for several years. We noticed its absence, but we didn’t know what had happened to it. Had we given the tin to someone out of the family by mistake? Had it been inadvertently thrown away or sent to a thrift store? Like Alice’s White Rabbit, it seemed to be gone.

Then, after many years, it reappeared.

My sister-in-law, new to the family tradition, had not known its importance. We failed to tell her of its significance. She received the tin, but never passed it on. Finally, by sheer luck, she placed a gift in it one Christmas.

There was great rejoicing in the house. The White Rabbit tin was back. Again we have no idea what the present was; but we remember and rejoice at its presence. Like a long lost friend, the tin reminds us of Christmases past.

Josiah was a child when he became king of Israel. After reigning for 18 years he sent to the temple to make repairs. The priest passed on a book he had found by chance.

It was the Book of the Law.

Josiah read the book and mourned that its contents had been forgotten and ignored. He spent the rest of his days trying to bring Israel into a right relationship with God.

Someone, somewhere, had put the Book of the Law aside. They didn’t know its importance, or the great present that it held inside. For many years it sat unopened, like a White Rabbit tin that was misunderstood.

God told Josiah that the Israelites would still suffer because of their faithlessness, but Josiah tried to make it right anyway. He wouldn’t let the present be forgotten again.

You, too, have an opportunity to open a long-forgotten present: The Bible. It’s not an old family tradition of forgettable presents in an unexceptional tin. Neither is it a book of laws condemning us to suffering and shame.

It’s a new present, filled with the Love of God. It brings joy, excitement, peace, and comfort every time it’s opened.

Don’t ever forget what’s inside.

And don’t ever stop giving it to others.


Shaphan read it, then went back to Josiah and reported, “Your officials collected the money in the temple and gave it to the men supervising the repairs. But there’s something else, Your Majesty. The priest Hilkiah gave me this book.” Then Shaphan read it out loud.

 When Josiah heard what was in The Book of God’s Law, he tore his clothes in sorrow. At once he called together Hilkiah, Shaphan, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, and his own servant Asaiah. He said, “The Lord must be furious with me and everyone else in Judah, because our ancestors did not obey the laws written in this book. Go find out what the Lord wants us to do.” 2 Kings 22:9-13 CEV

A Christmas Gift

Giving is a really big thing around Christmas, as well it should be. Christmas is about giving, and it all stems from the greatest gift the world has ever received – the gift of Jesus Christ. ~Monica Johnson

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I was twelve, the age of confusion. No longer a child, not yet a woman. I played with my doll babies alone in my room. I knew it wasn’t considered cool or mature. Only a child played with dolls.

That Christmas I received a gift packaged in a hair dryer box. I was ecstatic as I thanked my mother for the gift. I hadn’t known I wanted one, but now, well, a hair dryer was the gift I had always longed for.

My mother’s face fell.

“You better open it up.”

I don’t remember what was inside, but it wasn’t a hair dryer. It wasn’t the gift I had expected.

I’m sure I tried to recover and thank my parents for the non-hair dryer gift, but 35 years later, I still remember the disappointment.

She was a young girl, not a child, but neither was she yet a woman. She played with the children and tried to fit in with the older girls. It was a time of confusion and uncertainty.

She was given a gift. The package was startling. It didn’t meet anyone’s expectations. It was what she had always wanted, and never known she desired.

It was a gift she would never forget. A pain and a joy that would overwhelm all disappointment.

May you find the real Christmas present every day of the year.


” Then he blessed them and told Mary, “This child of yours will cause many people in Israel to fall and others to stand. The child will be like a warning sign. Many people will reject him, and you, Mary, will suffer as though you had been stabbed by a dagger. But all this will show what people are really thinking.” Luke 2:34-35 CEV

Singing In the Presence

For me, singing sad songs often has a way of healing a situation. It gets the hurt out in the open into the light, out of the darkness. ~Reba McEntire
carolsI was sitting in a soft chair in the living room stroking my big belly, past due to deliver my first child. So maybe I don’t have a good grasp of the obvious, but I remember a thought running across my mind like a streaker at a football game: Don’t look, Ethel! This baby has to come out. What?!  I’m in big trouble. I don’t want to do this!

I began singing the old hymns to calm myself. When Peace Like a River . . . Holy, Holy, Holy . . . How Great Thou Art . . .

I was drawn into the presence of God and a calm descended on me.

In 1 Chronicles the rules for worship in the great nation of Israel are laid out. It seems that music is very important.

Those who were musicians, heads of Levite families, stayed in the rooms of the temple and were exempt from other duties because they were responsible for the work day and night. 1 Chronicles 9:33 NIV

The entirety of 1 Chronicles 25 is about who will lead the temple music. The singing and instruments would aid the prophesying of God’s message to the Israelites. The music would bring the people into the presence of God.

So it isn’t any wonder that when God came to Earth, he was announced by a host of singing angels.

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven,  and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:13-14 NIV

Music ushered the shepherds into the presence of God.

The Christmas Season is punctuated by singing and music. It’s so important that we even gave music its own name at this time of year: Christmas Carols. We go caroling to sing about God coming to Earth. We enter into his presence again in song.

As you listen to the holiday music streaming all around you, soak it in. Let it wash over you, cleanse you, prepare you to come into his presence.

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus!


Sing to the Lord a new song;
    sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
    proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvellous deeds among all peoples.

Psalm 96:1-3 NIVUK

Is It Time Yet?

Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting. ~Joyce Meyer

hourglass

Last spring I was looking for a job. The last of my homeschooled children was graduating high school, and it was time that I started helping my family financially. Or so I thought.

I really believe God has called me to write for him. Having a full-time “real” job would greatly prohibit my creative abilities and thus my writing schedule. Basically, I would be too tired to write.

But I looked for a job anyway.

I found the perfect fit, or so I thought. I would teach English online with a company in China. It was perfect. Flexible. Good pay. Right up my alley- teaching and English!

But God told me NO. Three times I put out the fleece and three times he sent it back. I couldn’t explain it, even felt crazy telling people that God told me not to do it. But I obeyed.

Zechariah and Elizabeth prayed for a child. At first they prayed for a son. A boy who would be like his father, a priest for the Lord. They envisioned a cherub that would grow into a man who would care for them in their old age. As time went by, they gave up on a son. A daughter would be fine. She would look like her mother, be gentle and kind, supportive of her family. But the daughter never appeared either.

Finally, the couple gave up. They didn’t know why, but it seemed as if God didn’t find them worthy of this blessing. They questioned, they cried, they hid their pain and embarrassment. And life went on.

Later, Zechariah’s lot as priest was chosen. This would be the year that he would go into the Holy of Holies. It was an honor, a privilege, an awesome event.

Zechariah walked up the steps, the rope tied to his waist jostling against his leg. He pushed the curtain aside like a child entering the Big Kids’ Class and walked forward. Smoke and incense filled the air as he prayed for the people.

Then an angel appeared and a prayer was answered. A son was given.

If Zechariah’s turn to serve had come earlier, he would have missed the divine encounter. If Elizabeth had had children earlier she wouldn’t have been available to host her cousin Mary and praise the mother of Jesus. If John had been born earlier, he would have missed the Christ.

The answer to their prayer had been given all along, it only needed time.

So many times I can’t understand why God doesn’t answer my prayers. I ask for good things. Things that surely are within his will. Perhaps he doesn’t send the blessing because the timing just isn’t right.

Last month I put the fleece back out, and God said YES. I don’t know what made the difference other than time. The time was right and the blessing was given.

May you be patient as you wait for his timing and his blessing.


The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9 ESV