Thursday, January 22, 2015

Magenta Words

My mother taught me to write words before I was old enough for school. With a treasured box of Crayola Crayons beside me, I grasped my favorite magenta crayon in awkward, eager fingers. I drew each letter carefully, writing "I love you", my first sentence, on a paper heart.

My mother encouraged me as I created one valentine after another. A plain white heart covered with magenta words became a thing of beauty to treasure, something precious to share.

I remember running up the steps and flinging wide the back door of my grandmother's house. Grandma knelt to hold me close as I showed off my words.

"She wrote this?" Grandma asked my mother, obviously pleased with my treasure.

My mother nodded. "She made it for you."

I smiled. My words had the power to change my world and bring happiness. Heady stuff for a preschooler.

God wrote "I love you" with His own blood on my ordinary heart. I am beautiful because I am His treasure. I am His special something to share. So are you.

On the front of my Bible is stamped in gold, "The Word of God". God's Words have the power to change my world and bring happiness. Heady stuff for an ordinary heart.

He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all His creatures. And I will treasure His words in my heart so that I will not sin against Him.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The To-Do List

"A to-do list?" laughed Stephanie, "I always have one, but never finish it! Motherhood steps in and everything falls apart. I can't balance everything."

Is there any among us who hasn't looked at our to-do list and wanted to stamp it: "Impossible. Going back to bed."

"Life isn't meant to be this hard, is it?" Stephanie asked.  "My goals shouldn't be foes to conquer! They're supposed to bring joy, right?"

When life is full of joy, the heart is restful.  Joy propels us forward. It pushes away thoughts of defeat and failure. The joy of the Lord is our strength. He is the great joyride with a never ending supply. When joy is flowing, we build momentum and motivation. We feel happy about who we are and what God is doing through us, in us. The to-do list looks possible.

"Nobody ever tells you how hard it is to maintain joy and peace with four children underfoot," Stephanie confesses. "My life is one giant interruption.  I want to be strong. But I'm not. I'm just not."

Jesus had a to-do list:
      1. Spend time with the Father.
      2. Show up to love.
People clamored and shouted and made demands for His attention. Joy spurred Him on to love and good works. But He, too, got tired, frustrated and stressed. He needed to get away just like you and I do. Oh, how He understands the mothers of young children!

The needs and interruptions were opportunities for love and grace. His life bore much fruit because of His habit to get away to a quiet place with the Father. His mind was set on things above.

Pull out that festive paper you bought for your to-do lists. 
        1.  Spend time with the Father.
        2.  Show up to love.

Like a shepherd He will tend His flock.  In His arm He will gather the lambs, and carry them in His bosom;  He will gently lead the nursing ewes. -Isaiah 40:11

Who better than the Good Shepherd to show you how to care for your young? Ask and it will be given to you.  Seek and you will find. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Soldier-Princess: Thanks Giving

Burrowing into my soft robe, I snuggled under a quilt before the fire, a steaming cup of tea warming my hands. Soft jazz soothed my weary spirit. As I breathed in the lingering sweetness of gingerbread and glanced around at the photos of my healthy loved ones, I smiled. 

The cheerful surroundings called me to a thankful heart with relaxed ease. My heart, fueled by thanks giving, frequently bursts forth into song.

But am I truly thankful or am I reacting to creature comforts and happy thoughts? Am I thankful only when life is going my way?

An avalanche of misery and suffering in the world can so quickly overwhelm us. Burrowing into a robe of complacency and snuggling under a quilt of happiness is a mistake, however cozy we can make ourselves feel. That sort of thanks giving is temporary and accomplishes little. We cannot sustain happy feelings in a world where life is hard.

There is a giving of thanks that is more powerful and steadfast available to us. It goes deeper than transient feelings because it comes from praising God's gifts rather than our own perception of circumstances.

Faith that moves mountains starts with being truly thankful in all seasons of life. The me I want to be is beckoning me toward a life of deeper faith, a faith fueled by thanks giving no matter what my circumstances. 

Am I thankful when disease exhausts and disappoints?  Am I thankful when my heart is broken? Does my thanks giving fade away when my hardship surpasses my strength? In my weakness, am I thankful for the opportunity to prove God's strength? 

A soldier-princess is not surprised to find herself called into battle. She serves at the pleasure of The King and considers it an honor. She doesn't quit and she doesn't fall back until circumstances are easier. 

When life gets tough, the soldier-princess turns into a warrior of thanks giving. She sees with The King's eyes and loves with The King's heart. Confident that joy will come through thanks giving, she picks up her sword, the Word of God, lifts her shield of faith, and follows The King into battle. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Oatmeal Moments

Kate Ware, Flickr
Who taught you how to make oatmeal?" Katherynn asks. "Are we going to have walnuts and raisins in it? I like brown sugar in mine. I don't think I want apples in it today. Is that cinnamon? Because I like cinnamon. Do you like stirring oatmeal? It looks fun."

She watches as I stir oatmeal, memorizing my motions as if I were creating a gourmet meal rather than a simple breakfast.

 A child is a sponge, soaking in love and savoring life, one moment at a time.

I smile and hug Katherynn close. "I do like stirring oatmeal. Making breakfast for a little girl is one of the most fun things I get to do."

She grins as she spoons hot oatmeal into green bowls. "It's pretty, isn't it? And we can decorate it now!"

Decorating oatmeal? Yes. I want to be a person who decorates oatmeal.

Seeing the beautiful in the simple, the extraordinary in the ordinary, turns my heart toward the God whose strength sustains me with joy when my own strength is spent.  A heart trained to ponder what is good, what is worthy of praise, especially in the ordinary, is a heart that will more easily endure pain and suffering.

I don't know if Jesus decorated his oatmeal with honey and figs, but I know he was a little boy sharing life with a mother who treasured little moments with him. She surely trained him to be thankful for simple, ordinary blessings.

And, because she did, He had much to ponder that was good and worthy of praise when He had to endure pain and suffering, when he was exhausted by the noise and fray around him.

"Let the little children come unto Me," Jesus said.  "For of such is the kingdom of heaven."

Monday, January 5, 2015

Hoarding and the Inmate

"There's so much to clean out of this house. Truckloads!" Shelby moaned. "I'm not exaggerating. How can we move? How will we ever get past the piles of...stuff?"

Hoarders. We see them on the television and our eyes widen. How do they live like that? How can they not see their clutter is holding them back from a well lived life?

I have a neighbor who cleans out her garage about once a month. She says she is determined to live a better life. She pulls everything out of her garage, rearranges it, then returns nearly all of it to the garage. If something doesn't fit her new arrangement, she piles it by her front door or has a garage sale. Most of it slowly returns to the garage until the next time.

In prison you don't have a lot of stuff. There may be a few possessions you have collected during your stay, but, your job income of 75 cents an hour in the prison only allows for  necessities.

Hoarding is still a problem. Even in the prison. Not the hoarding of physical stuff, but the hoarding of sins.

Inmates do not have the luxury of ignoring their sins. They are offenders and their sins must be punished. A prisoner who longs for a better life must not only do the time, but redeem the time. Change that results from sorting through the clutter of sin is their only hope.

Many of us are in prisons of our own making. We make an effort to get rid of sins, to clean out the garage of the heart. But sin clutter mostly gets moved around, hidden behind walls or disguised with pretty words.  If we can laugh about the sin, we lessen its importance. In the end, like my neighbor in her garage ,most sins receive a little more time to continue cluttering our lives.

It's easier to consider sin by the truckload. "I'm just out of shape" is somehow acceptable clutter so that we don't have to exercise or take good care of the body, God's dwelling place. Hiding anger, pride or laziness behind words like "I'm just tired" or "All moms yell sometimes" somehow makes it easier to walk past the sins rather than removing them.

Some hoarders recognize the problem, but, like my neighbor, merely rearrange their possessions. The possessions look valuable, helpful. It makes them feel prepared for a future day.

Pride can seem valuable. Greed can seem helpful. Selfishness can make us feel prepared for a future day. The rich young ruler walked away sad because he had many possessions. His "stuff" kept him from living by faith not sight. He had much but did not live well because his choices kept him from giving God first place in his heart.

Less of me and my stuff opens up room for more of Him.

"Just tell me what to do and where to start," a young prisoner said to me. She has seven children and one on the way. She's a new Christian and ready to rid herself of piles of sin clutter. We start the same way I unload my own truckload of junk. One sin at a time.