the whole box of donuts DEVOTIONS ABOUT FAITH AND THE FRIENDS AND FAMILY WHO INSPIRE IT
KELLY O’DELL STANLEY
THE WHOLE BOX OF DONUTS Copyright © 2010 by Kelly O’Dell Stanley 2nd printing: July 2011 All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author. Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Printed in USA by 48HrBooks (www.48HrBooks.com)
TO THE FRIENDS AND FAMILY WHO INSPIRE ME. To my wonderful friends and family who have encouraged me to write, I say thank you. To my family, the frustrated souls who put up daily with my overscheduled and over-committed life, thank you even more. Youâ€™re the best. Even better than a maple-glazed cinnamon twist topped with colorful heart-shaped sprinkles. Even better than a whole box of them. And to the One who is the Source of all inspiration. Overflowing with gratitude for all You have given me.
PA S S T H E D O N U T S
If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! ~MATTHEW 7:11, NIV
When I started attending my church, we had donuts every week in the adult Sunday school class. (I wonder what drew me more at first, the hunger for knowledge or the craving for sugar?) It was part of the ritual – hug a couple people, doctor our coffees, and pass around the flat white boxes of Krispy Kremes, licking the icing flakes off our fingertips. Mmm. I hoped someone would pass, leaving me an extra, but I never wanted to look like a pig by taking two right away. Forget bran flakes and yogurt; I want to start my day with donuts. One day, not long after I began attending our church, I was talking to our pastor, Nathan. I had questions about everything. I didn’t understand the emotions, the jargon, the feelings. People talked about intense spiritual experiences that seemed crazy, delusional – just plain made up. Rather than longing for those moments, I questioned their legitimacy, and wondered how much of it I wanted for myself. I stumbled over “Christian-ese,” the confusing terminology that many Christians use in an attempt to explain complex spiritual concepts in simple words. In particular, I had questions about the “baptism of the Holy Ghost.” The term, as they were using it, refers to speaking in tongues. In my circles, everybody talked about it, but I wasn’t convinced that I wanted it. I didn’t understand it, and I thought possibly I’d be just fine without it. I believed the Holy Spirit lived inside me. I felt the changes in my life. I’d become aware of the presence of God in my daily activities. I’d learned to talk to Him throughout the day, and I thought that was enough. I was tired of feeling like I was lacking because I hadn’t experienced what someone else had. Wasn’t what I already had enough?
Pastor Nathan asked me if I’d ever watched someone being offered donuts. Sure, I said. Every Sunday morning. “What does that person do?” he asked. I looked at him, not sure where he was going with this. “He just takes one. That’s all,” he said. Nathan was right. If you offer someone a donut, he’ll look through the box, carefully selecting the one he wants. He may hesitate over his choice; he may reach for the cream-filled one with chocolate icing only to nab the cinnamon twist at the last second. But he just takes one, which he eats and enjoys. Then he stops. If there’s an extra, he might go back for more – if he’s not watching his waistline, and if there’s enough to go around. But really, one is all he needs. That’s how many Christians are about spiritual gifts, he told me. Someone finds God, and he thinks he’s only supposed to take a little bit and leave the rest for someone else. It’s easy to think that way, since even just a small bit is good, and sweet, and wonderful. Many people are satisfied with that small bit. Nathan, though, is not. He told me that day that he wants the whole box. Jelly-filled, cinnamon twists, glazed, cake, cream-filled with maple icing and sprinkles. One just isn’t enough. He doesn’t want to read the Word without living it. He doesn’t want to pray without the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t want to read about the Apostles and not practice their acts. He doesn’t believe healing and other miracles are given only to a few. If God created it, Nathan wants to experience it. If God gave it to the Disciples, He will give it to us. We try so hard not to overstep our bounds, not to take more than we need. We don’t want to look greedy by asking for too much. We haven’t spent enough time with other believers, sharing our experiences, or we haven’t studied our Bibles closely, and we simply don’t know what spiritual gifts are available. Whatever the reason, the result is that sometimes we forget that God has the power to do anything. He is the Creator of life, and He is above all. He will not run out of gifts. It’s all freely offered to us, and no matter how much of it we accept, there’s still an unending supply for anyone else who wants more. Nathan wants it all. Me, too. Pass the donuts.
B O L D LY A P P R O A C H I N G T H E T H R O N E
Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. ~HEBREWS 4:16, NIV
I t doesn’t occur to my six-year-old son Bobby that he shouldn’t be there. He doesn’t wonder if he has permission, or even if he needs permission. He walks to the front of the church, up the three steps to the platform on which the pastor, Nathan, sits. The musicians are singing, and Nathan is making last-minute additions to his notes while he waits to take the pulpit. Oblivious to the microphones, people watching, or the worship all around him, Bobby leans back in the chair next to Nathan’s, feet dangling. He scoots over to the side of the chair closest to Nathan, then leans back again, content. I watch, smiling, thinking of my God and the faith of a child. That’s how we’re to approach Him. Boldly. Not hesitating, not being hindered by all the reasons someone might object to our being there, right next to the King. That’s where we each belong, by his side, sitting in His chair, leaning on His arm, whispering to Him as thoughts cross our minds. Smiling with the sheer delight of being with Him. It doesn’t matter that the heavenly host are singing all around, or that the cherubim are circling, their wings fanning up His glory. All that matters – the only thing – is that He loves us. He could be annoyed by the interruptions; He could shush us and say that He has more important things to do. But He doesn’t. He lovingly listens and welcomes us to sit beside Him. Our pastor’s patient tolerance with my son reminds me that God, too, has time for His children. All of them, always.
Thought for today: Jesus said that we are to have faith like a child. How can I apply that idea to my daily worship and prayer life?
Dear Lord, here I am, imagining the smile of delight on Your face as I boldly walk towards You, knowing You welcome me with open arms. Here I am, wanting nothing more than to simply be beside You, close enough to touch. Understanding what a gift that is, and feeling immensely grateful that You have given me such a privilege. Thank You, my King. Thank You for loving me. h
M Y FAV O R I T E D E S S E R T
As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. ~ISAIAH 62:5, NIV
We’ve all been to weddings. White lace and flowers and hope in the air. Some are elegant and elaborate; some are simple. Some brides and their families make the bouquets from silk, some choose white roses, some select colorful bursts of fresh spring flowers. Long, sleek red dresses, like celebrity evening gowns, may adorn the bridesmaids, or they may wear soft, flowing, ruffled pastels. Tuxes – with tails or without. One attendant or twelve. Some wedding receptions consist of three-course catered dinners for hundreds of people with an instrumental quartet and dancing. Some are quiet gatherings of a handful of close friends and family. But the one thing you will find at the centerpiece of any wedding you attend is the cake. Occasionally, a bride will serve a lemon cake, or half chocolate and half white, or even a white cake with a ribbon of sticky raspberry hidden inside. Very rarely, you might find someone who breaks with tradition and has gourmet cheesecakes, or provides a display of festively-bedecked cupcakes on a tiered server. But usually it’s the old stand-by: white cake with white icing. I think the reason for this is it’s safe. It’s tried and true. Everybody likes it, and we want to make people happy. Our happiness matters even more to God, but He doesn’t settle for the generic solution, the one that’s acceptable to everyone but a favorite of few. We’re told in the Bible that Jesus stands at the door and knocks, wanting to be let in, wanting to come in to His bride. That’s us: His beloved. He comes to each of us in a different way, and woos us based on our unique personalities and desires. If white cake is your favorite, He’s got that. But for some, it’s a caramely turtle cheesecake. Strawberry shortcake piled high with whipped cream. Sugar cream pie. Creme brulée. A Snickers bar. A box of donuts. Homemade ice cream that churned noisily for hours on the back
porch in the July heat. Whatever it is, whatever is your heart’s deepest desire, that’s what Jesus has for you. He doesn’t always offer you what’s safe or expected. He created us as individuals with varied talents, tastes, and personalities. So it only stands to reason that when He first pursued me, He did it differently than when He first began chasing after you. We need to relish the differences and understand that there’s no need to be jealous of anyone else’s relationship with the Lord. He has given them just what they needed. But if that relationship is different than the one you’ve developed with Him, don’t despair. Maybe instead of white cake, He’s busy baking up a quadruple chocolate cake with different flavors of fudge between the layers, and is waiting for just the right moment to surprise you with it. Open the door wide, and wait for Him to show up. It’s guaranteed that He will, and it will be sweeter than any wedding cake you’ve ever had before.
Thought for today: Have I forgotten what it feels like to be pursued by the Lord? What can I do today to recommit to the One who loves me?
Lord, it’s hard to believe that You care about me – me personally, me individually. You are omnipotent, omnipresent, and everlasting. Your kingdom has no end. You never sleep. Surely, next to all of that, I ought to be irrelevant. Yet somehow I know that I do matter to You. You have indulged me with the sweetest gift ever, and I eagerly accept – oh, yes, “I do.” Amen. h
KEEPING THE LINE OPEN
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. ~1 THESSALONIANS 5:16-18, NIV
I n this age of computers, we are so spoiled. We’re used to convenience, and our society thinks faster must certainly be better. Do you remember your first computer? How about the first computer that connected to the Internet? I remember the awe I felt thinking that anything I wanted to find might be out there somewhere. I could get to it from home. I didn’t have to go to the library. I remember the long waits while I waited for the computer to boot up. I’d hit the on button, and go fix a snack, or go to the bathroom, or pick up the living room. Then I’d come back in and start the Internet connection. We all know the bouncy, staccato sound of the signal from the computer as it tries to make that connection. Then static, and then, finally, we were there. The connection felt so fragile, so tenuous. But it would usually hold. Even weak, it was better than not having it at all. The worst part was having to tie up the phone lines in order to get onto e-mail and send a message. It was so much quicker to call someone than to go through the lengthy process of logging on to the computer and then to the Internet and then waiting as it sent tiny little bytes of information slowly across those lines. But now this has all changed. With my high-speed Internet, it runs in the background, sharing the phone line, remaining on as long as the computer is on. It’s only a second away if I need it. It allows, for all intents and purposes, instantaneous communication. This reminds me of Paul’s meaning in I Thessalonians when he exhorts us to pray without ceasing. He doesn’t say to come in and pray, and then go out, and then when the next thing happens, or the next thought crosses your mind, to retreat back into a prayer closet and pray about that, and then to go out and wait for the next thing. Stop. Go. Stop. Pray. Stop praying. Start again. No, he says to pray without ceasing. To keep the connection open.
Once we’ve turned on our machines, and logged in to the network, we need to remain linked. That way, when we need to get a message to Him, we don’t have to work through all the logistics and technicalities to be prepared to send it. We simply send it, immediately, no waiting. We shoot it out into cyberspace, not always understanding how it gets there, but knowing that it will, without fail, be delivered. Lucky for us, though, this is a two-way process, and the best part is not in the sending but in the receiving. Even if I’m doing something else, my computer may suddenly ding – “You’ve got mail.” God replies. He still speaks, but sometimes we have to wait a little while to hear from Him. He doesn’t want us to shut down the operating system and log back in periodically see if He had something to say; He wants us to be ready to hear from Him at all times. He wants us to stay connected; to keep the lines open. As my friend Lisa told me once, prayer is like keeping a radio on in the background. Always transmitting, always receiving a broadcast. We just have to learn to stay tuned and listen.
Thought for today: Do I try to keep the line open, waiting to hear from Him, or do I fill that channel with static, endless chatter, or lots and lots of noise?
Dear Lord, when You left Your Holy Spirit with us, You gave us an amazing gift: the ability to hear from You. Help me to slow down, tune out the world, and listen. Amen. h
F I N D I N G T H E R I G H T PA I R O F S H O E S
And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. ~COLOSSIANS 3:14, NIV
I , like many women, love shoes. Unfortunately, I’ve reached a point in my life where comfort matters. But that doesn’t mean I can’t still find cute shoes. My husband doesn’t understand why I have so many, or why I need more. To him, black shoes are black shoes, end of story. (He has one pair.) But to me? The black high-heeled mules go with many of my suits. The Land’s End black sandals have a wonderfully comfy sole and are great to wear with jean shorts in the summer. The black flats with the pewter trim are good for dressing up jeans but still staying comfy, although if I’m going to do a lot of walking I switch to the worn-out black Skechers with Velcro straps. The black and gray slip-ons are kind of quirky; the black sandals with the ankle strap are professional-looking but cool and I can walk miles on the flat 2” heel; and the black sandals with woven straps and wedge heels are great with summer dresses but kill the balls of my feet if I wear them too long. The black Clark’s Mary Janes with the colorful stitching and leather flowers are my most fun (but almost too small) pair. And I haven’t even mentioned the four pairs of black boots – knee-high with spike heels for wearing with certain dresses; ankle-high with pointy toes for certain slacks; casual, cowboy-boot-style for jeans; and warm, soft cable-knit winter boots. My house slippers are even black. In the natural world, I can justify the “need” for a bunch of different pairs – as long as buying them doesn’t take the place of food or paying bills or providing the needs of my family. But in the spiritual realm, I’ve noticed many of us put on shoes that were never meant for our feet. We put on shoes of unbelief; strap on division and strife and disloyalty; walk around with unforgiveness or resentment or untruth or deception or hate. We put on all these shoes, but we really only need one, for the Lord says we must shod our feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15). We need to
let peace carry us through our days – without pain, without blisters, without vanity. The footprints we leave behind should be gentle and unobtrusive, yet distinct and memorable. The shoe may not be what we’re used to wearing, and it may take some time to break it in. But when we put these shoes on, we discover something surprising – there is no longer a need for any other pair. No matter how much we try to justify it. Not even if they’re on sale.
Thought for today: What kind of spiritual shoes am I wearing? Is there a pair in my wardrobe that I need to toss out forever, knowing they’re not a good fit?
Lord, as I step into my shoes each morning, let me remember what traits I really need to be strapping on instead. Let me walk in peace, and let me leave behind God-shaped footprints every place I go. Amen. h
INNER TUBES Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. ~ROMANS 12:4-5, NIV
S wimming pools and me... two things that don’t go together. As I lie in the sun, I’m conscious of the sun sizzling my pale, unnaturally white skin. I feel the freckles forming on my face, popping out in the heat like popcorn on a stove. My body just wasn’t made to comfortably withstand heat, so I inevitably end up in the water – even though I’ll have to put on more sunscreen later. Unfortunately, I’m not much of a swimmer, either, so I prefer to lie on top of a raft or inner tube, dangling my feet and hands into the refreshing water but staying safely, for the most part, above it. (The splashing sounds in the pool help drown out the sounds of my skin turning crispy.) My husband has always been a strong swimmer, and he doesn’t see much of a need for a floatation device. He will hop out of boats in the middle of the ocean to snorkel, diving down to look at the bright colors, coming up occasionally to check on me as I hesitantly float on the surface, life jacket and goggles and all. He dives into pools, swims along the bottom, and feels no fear. Not me. I’ve been reading a lot lately in Christian publications about how churches fall short, about how “church” and “religion” have gotten in the way of so many people’s relationships with the Lord. Some people are turning away from church and trying to find God on their own. And if that works for them, that’s great. But I think the church is a lot like that inner tube I hold onto for dear life in the pool. Sure, if you’re a great swimmer, maybe you can navigate through life’s stresses on your own and still stay afloat. And for short distances, you might be more efficient and agile on your own. But sometimes, life is not full of sunlight and happiness. Sometimes there are
storms. Bitterly cold rains. Churning, turbulent waters. And sometimes you’re not in a friend’s small pool, but in bigger waters – ponds, rivers, oceans. The distance might overwhelm you. You might be in over your head or choke on water or be knocked down by the waves or even find scary predators hiding below the surface. And when those waters get rough, or when your arms get tired, that’s when you need the security of the church. That’s the point at which an inner tube just might save your life. Not every church can be everything to every person, and it shouldn’t be. The church cannot create or maintain an intimacy with God for us. But until we get there on our own, or when we can’t do it on our own, we can depend on the church to help hold our heads above water until we find firm footing again. And when we find ourselves lucky enough to be in a sunny swimming pool, we can focus on improving our abilities so that we’re strong, ready to help the next person who feels like he’s going under.
Thought for today: How can I prepare myself to be strong in my faith, ready for the storms when they come? What can I do to help another who seems to be struggling?
Lord, You are the One who can calm the waters with a single word and the One who can keep me afloat no matter how severe the storm. I pray that You will prepare my church to help me swim when I’m unable to do it on my own, and show me what I can do right now so that, when someone else is having trouble keeping their head above water, I’ll be ready to help. Amen. h
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. ~ROMANS 15:13, NIV
A trickle charger – I think that’s what it’s called. When I plug my cell phone into the charger, it receives a slow, steady stream of energy. Sometimes I am impatient to get going, and I pull it off the charger after only a few minutes. I’ve tricked the battery, apparently, because it always shows a full charge when I unplug it, but the battery only lasts a very short time. Falsely full. It takes time to get a complete charge, and patience, and a willingness to sit still and let the power flow in. The same could be said for our spirits. When we have been away from the Source for too long, we grow weak. Reading God’s Word, or kneeling in prayer, is how we plug in to get recharged. Sometimes we feel the flow of power, and we mistakenly think we’re full after only a minute or two, so we hop up and take off again. But it soon becomes apparent that we’re only half-charged. We snap at our kids, get annoyed with our spouses, yell at other drivers on the road. We forget to show love, because our reservoirs are running low. That’s when we need to spend time, waiting on the Lord, waiting to be filled, waiting to let His power and love and grace flow into us, soothing all the hurting spots, reinforcing the weak spots, restoring the broken parts. It takes time to be transformed, and it takes deliberate, one-on-one time with the Lord to remain fully charged.
Thought for today: How can I find ways to stay on the charger longer? What â€œsourceâ€? in my life am I plugging into besides the One who has all power?
Dear Lord, I wait, plugged in to the Source. Speak to me, allowing the current of Your Word to flow through me, renewing, refreshing, and restoring. Thank You for always answering this prayer. Amen. h
JUST KEEP DRIVIN’
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. ~HEBREWS 12:2, NIV
L ast winter, it was one of those breathtakingly beautiful mornings with fog everywhere – white snow, white sky, crisp frost on the branches. I had an hour’s drive ahead of me, so I grabbed my camera to try to capture some of this beauty. Unfortunately, as I drove along the highway, I could never find a good place to pull over to take pictures. Frustrated, I vowed to take the next side road I came to. It snuck up on me in the fog, and I swung onto it... and, moments too late, noticed it was a rutted, muddy dirt road. Not even gravel, just dirt. Great. My clean white car... I hadn’t gone far before I regretted my decision, but there was no place to stop and nowhere to turn around – not a single house or lane to be found. At first it was just messy and bumpy, but before long, I started composing in my head the words to explain to my husband how I got stuck in the middle of nowhere and needed to be rescued. The muck was deep and sucked at my tires. My car was sliding from side to side when it wasn’t bogged down by the deep wet earth, and the tires were spinning and spewing mud up to the top of the side windows. I didn’t care how clean my car was; all I could do was pray out loud and focus on not stopping. I knew if I so much as slowed down I’d never get moving again. The sludge in the road pulled the car from side to side; my shoulders were tense from gripping the wheel, and I repeated over and over, out loud, “Lord Jesus, please. Lord Jesus, please. Lord Jesus, please!” After two miles, I came to a crossroads (thank you, Jesus!) and the road was paved (thank you, Jesus!). With a deep breath of relief, I turned onto it, feeling stupid and annoyed with myself. I headed right back to the main road, making sure at each turn that the road was solid asphalt before me, and went directly to town and the nearest car wash.
Sometimes we’re faced with situations we don’t want to be in – usually because of choices (or stupid decisions) we’ve made. Those are the times we need to look for a side road and turn around, or look for the earliest opportunity to get off that path. But once in a while, we find ourselves in circumstances that are out of our control. A relative is very sick; we lose jobs or friends or money; we’re misunderstood or unappreciated or wrongly treated. Some of these predicaments are small, but some are all-consuming and life-altering. We may think we can’t bear it. We don’t have the strength or energy or desire to patience to get through, and our hearts are broken. But more than that, we don’t know how to keep going. We’re being pulled down into a quagmire, under the sludge and muck, trapped and unable to find a way off that path. Those are the times we need to keep the pedal to the floor and just keep going, praying all the way. It may be ugly, and it may be messy, and it may even be a little bit scary. But if we can just keep moving forward, and ask God to help, we will get past the situation we’re in.
Thought for today: Am I being bogged down by things that aren’t important? What practical steps can I take today to get back on the right path?
Lord, help me to stay on the right path, not being misled by things that don’t matter to Your eternal kingdom. When I find myself trapped in situations beyond my control, help me to lean on You. Remind me that the only way out is with Your help. Allow me to trust that You will always deliver me safely home. Amen. h
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. ~HEBREWS 12:1, NIV
W hen I was in high school, I hated P.E. in any and all of its variations. Running? No thanks. Archery. Not my thing. Square dancing? Don’t even ask. But the worst segment of all? Swimming. What evil tyrant decided it was a good idea to put developing teens of both sexes in the same room, halfnaked and dripping wet? It wasn’t an attraction issue – I don’t remember thinking anyone looked particularly good. All I remember is fretting that I looked really bad. And I’m sure I did. Insecurities run high, especially in women, and particularly in young, hormonal girls – and in any female in a swimsuit. To add insult to injury, my school provided the swimsuits. Color. Coded. By. Size. As if I didn’t feel self-conscious enough, I had to request a red suit – which meant extra large. (To be fair, one of the small sizes was also red, but there was a substantial enough difference that no one would confuse the two.) And to add insult to injury, most of the suits were outrageously stretched out from the other extra large parts most of the bigger girls had. Unfortunately, I did not, so I had to tie the straps together in back with my shoelace to keep the suit from falling off. Some people dread coming to church as much as I dreaded swimming class, certain that everyone can spot their sins, convinced that the “churchy folk” are pointing at them saying, “She had an affair,” or “He was arrested,” or [fill in the blank]. We have trouble believing that our sins wouldn’t matter. We have trouble seeing ourselves for who we really are because we have accepted the enemy’s lies about us. We say we have faith but perhaps we don’t really believe God forgave us as He said He would. When we allow our self-identities to be defined by what we’ve done wrong, we’re essentially walking into church in color-coded suits. Adulterer? Scarlet. Addict? Green.
But that’s not what church is about. As a member of God’s church, we must be careful not to “color code” those who walk in the door. It’s not our place to assign someone a category, to assume we know who they are because we know what they’ve done. And, more important, it’s not how God functions. He says, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (Isaiah 1: 18, NIV) When we repent, when we truly understand that our behavior is preventing us from being as close to God as we could be, when we are willing to turn away from what is hindering us, then we can be confident when we approach the Lord. We can come together with God’s people, free of judgment, free of condemnation. Knowing we’re clothed in garments of righteousness, assured of our identities as children of the King, and able to stand tall and confident and without shame before Him.
Thought for today: When have I judged and labeled others? Is there one person who comes to mind, someone I find myself judging? How can I let go of that judgment and accept that person?
Dear Lord, if anyone has the right to judge, it is You. You are holy and supremely worthy. Yet, even with all my failings, You allow me to freely come to You. Please forgive me for the times I have wrongly judged others, and let me see beyond the “colors” on the surface to the person inside. Help me to love them just as You do. Amen. h
MY DAD’S HANDS
In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. ~HEBREWS 12:1, NIV
M y dad is a professional watercolor artist, and I’ve always loved his hands. Large, strong, capable – but so gentle. Soft but not frail. So very able. Talent hidden in those hands, the ability to make something surprisingly intricate and beautiful. My dad worked with his dad as a cabinetmaker, and he is skilled at carpentry, at making things solid and attractive at the same time. But when he sits down with a brush, he is amazing. He’s got such a delicate touch – he can effortlessly, in a couple strokes, invoke the sagging roof line of a barn in the snow, bring out depth and color in the shadows of a hollyhock, or carve ruts in a dirt lane. With years of experience and loads of innate talent, my dad makes it look so easy. When people ask how long it took to paint a particular panting, he replies, “Three hours and 30 years” (even though he’s up to 40 years or so now). He worked hard and spent years developing his skills, and now it comes easily to him. It’s not that easy for most of the rest of us. I’ve always thought my dad’s hands must be a lot like God’s. Big enough to hold my hand and make me feel protected, and at the same time capable of such gentleness. But when God works, it doesn’t just look effortless on his part, it really is. It’s more than a well-honed skill. He creates with just a touch, just a word, just a thought. And then He tries to involve us. It’s like when we teach our kids that success doesn’t come without effort and monetary gain doesn’t come without work. We want them to understand the value of what they have. So even though it’s not hard for God to work miracles, creating a way when there was no other way, He may ask us to do some work to get what we need. Not in exchange for His blessing, and not as a form of payment, but simply so we understand the worth of what He’s given us. Simply so we can see what He can do with one touch from His magnificent hand.
Thought for today: Where do I see evidence of Godâ€™s touch? Ask Him to reveal Himself in a new and surprising way.
Dear Lord, So often I hurry through my day, oblivious to the masterpiece of Your creation all around me. Open my eyes today. Let me see You in the delicate shapes of leaves and flowers, in the colors of the sky and earth, and in the faces of those I love. Thank You for all these lovely gifts. You are magnificent. Amen. h
To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy– to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. ~2 CORINTHIANS 3:18, NIV
I sat on board the plane, waiting for take-off. When the flight attendant started her safety spiel, I zoned out. It’s important stuff, I know, but I’ve heard it so many times I can’t seem to force myself to pay attention. I look down at my book, and glance up again as she demonstrates how to use the oxygen mask. If the plane loses pressure, the masks will drop out of a compartment above you. Tug gently on the mask to start the flow of oxygen. Secure your own mask before helping a child or elderly person sitting beside you. That has always struck me as backwards. Shouldn’t we be selfless and help the needy first? After all, they may not know what to do, or they may be less able to follow the instructions. But, to be practical, if you don’t have air, you can’t help someone else. Neither one of you would be able to breathe. As a Christian, this idea seems particularly hard to justify. Aren’t we to help others? To give the coat off our backs to someone in need? To feed them, clothe them, pray for them and love them and show them God’s love? To put ourselves last, to be the least among our brethren? It seems obvious – we are never to help ourselves first. But as soon as I had that thought, a still, small voice told me I was wrong. It’s just like the oxygen masks. Yes, of course we are to do for others, in all those many ways. But if we do not take care of ourselves, we aren’t much use to someone else. If we don’t feed ourselves with the word and fill our faith tanks with prayer, we have nothing inside us to give to the needy person next to us. God created us, and He breathed into us the breath of life. In John 20,
it is written, “He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” If I’m not nourished by the presence of God in my life, I have nothing helpful or valuable to give to the person beside me. ** I wrote these words many weeks ago, and now the oxygen mask means a different thing to me. When I wrote, my world was not crashing down, I was not falling topsy-turvy through the sky, I was not gasping for air. My mom has been diagnosed with cancer, and I feel like I’m free-falling, waiting to crash. During this time, I have to remind myself of two things. One, that God will give me what I need to be able to breathe, to be able to survive. And two, it is the blessing of my loving friends and family beside me who, thank God, have kept their air tanks filled and are holding the mask to my face for me. When I can’t help myself, I find myself grateful beyond words to those who sit right next to me, holding me up. ~from June 2008
Thought for today: Who has held me up, offering me the sustaining oxygen I need in a tough time? Send them a note of thanks. What can I do to help fill my tank today?
Lord, Thank You for every person in my life who has been on a turbulent journey with me. Bless them, Lord, and build them up, sending people and situations to encourage them. And show me, Lord, where I am needed. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit and enable me to hold the mask for someone else. Amen. h
“I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you,” says the Lord. ~ISAIAH 44:22, NIV
I may not choose to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, but much of that time is spent baking. I love sweets, especially homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. I know how to read a recipe, and I know the basics of baking, but I tend to be impatient, wanting to cut corners whenever possible. For instance, I know you’re supposed to sift the flour, letting it fall in little puffs of white softness that pile up in the center and slope down on the sides, then level it with the back of a butter knife for a perfect cup of flour. I know that it’s supposed to make the finished product lighter, fluffier – and it’s the only way to guarantee perfect proportions. In spite of that, a few years ago I finally threw away my sifter, tired of it getting in the way when I tried to close my over-cluttered kitchen drawer. I figured, why not get rid of it? I never use it. I discovered that if I scoop the flour into a measuring cup and run a knife through it to kind of loosen it up – fluff it up a little – it will still work. I may not win baking contests, and occasionally things don’t turn out as well as I hoped, but it works OK. In my harried mind, sifting seems like an extra, unnecessary step. Skipping it, I can finish faster and make less of a mess. God, the Master Chef and Creator of all, never skips the important steps. He sifts our hearts. He filters out the lumps and impurities. He understands the difference between pretty good and perfect. He doesn’t want to take a chance that we’ll fall flat, that something will end up in the finished product that doesn’t belong there. And the mess? We may worry that something important will get thrown out or that the mess will be too big to clean up. But He knows that what is lost along the way is never as good as what
remains, so He doesn’t let that get in the way. It’s just part of the process. And because of it, after God sifts our hearts and our lives, we end up with a certain lightness of spirit, a delicate but consistent texture, and a sweet, heavenly taste.
Thought for today: Is there something I feel I’m supposed to do that I continue to willfully ignore? Is there some part of me that God wants to change? Will I let Him?
Lord, help me to slow down long enough in my spiritual walk to do things right. Help me yield to the work You want to do in me. Let the impurities come to the surface so You can remove them. And when I start to feel discouraged about the enormity of this task, Lord, please remind me that the finished product will be worth waiting for. Amen. h
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. ~2 CORINTHIANS 3:18, NIV
W inter in Indiana isn’t always beautiful. When the snow drifts just right, and the winter sunlight glints off the snow-covered branches, and when you take time to notice that the shadows from the corn stubble left in the field are a lovely bluish-purple, then yes, it can be called pretty. But much of the time, our winter landscape consists of drab browns – grass and weeds and plants that are dead and dry and crumbly, washed-out gray skies, and the stark pointy shapes of tree branches, bare of leaves, silhouetted against the sky. But the other morning, the scenery was breathtaking. A dense white fog had settled onto the ground in the night, and though it had cleared in most areas, it left behind a beautiful white frost. Everything was covered. The crystals outlined each and every blade of grass, the fence posts and wires, the individual pine needles, the bushes and the plants and every single delicate branch of the trees. It was breathtaking. Suddenly, the blah landscape was transformed into a thing of remarkable beauty. Everything was a shade of white, with the lightest, purest white coming from the sun, trying to burn through the fog. Bluish-whites and grayish-whites and dull whites and sparkly whites; it was like looking at a magical, make-believe world. It was the same view that had been there the night before, the same as it had been all winter – except for one thing. The frost. That one little touch – that specific combination of temperatures and humidity and cloud cover and air pressure – made all the difference in the world. Suddenly, we were able to see everything in a new way. We’re all products of our environment, if we let ourselves be. How quickly we pick up the prevailing mood or spirit – when good things happen, our
outlook is positive and hopeful; when we’re confronted with trouble or anger or hatred, we respond in kind. In other words, we are changed, just as the landscape was – but are we changed in a good way? If we soak ourselves in the glory of God, if we let Him saturate our days, our minds, and our spirits, then His beauty will cling to us. His magnificence will outline our very beings, and we’ll walk around transformed, and people will see our individual attributes and formerly hidden beauty. But if we don’t surround ourselves with His presence, if we don’t immerse our lives in His grace and mercy and love, nothing will change. We’ll still remain drab, dull, and (frankly) not all that interesting. When Moses went up on the mountain to receive the Commandments, the glory of God settled like a cloud. When he came back, he wasn’t the same because the Spirit of God changed him. Next time you draw close to God, you have a choice to make: will you stay the same, or will you be transformed by His touch?
Thought for today: When people look at me, do they see me, or do they see God? How can I let Him be seen even more?
Lord, I recognize that You are completely able to transform me, but I find that I am unwilling to let You change my heart about ______________. I promise You right now that I will stop pretending I don’t hear You asking me to change, and I ask You to fill my atmosphere with Your transforming power. Thank you, Lord, for what You are about to do. Amen. h
I ’ M N O T A C AT L O V E R
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. ~JOHN 15:16, NIV
I am not a cat person. Never have been. Never planned to be one. I could not have imagined any circumstances in which I would have any possible reason to be persuaded to be one. I just don’t like them – and, if that’s not enough, my whole body joins me in my resistance. I touch one, or get near one, or spend time in a car with someone else who held their cat before meeting me, and I sneeze and wheeze. My eyes itch and water and turn red. If I mistakenly touch a cat, even if I wash immediately, I get hives. Trust me, cats are just not my thing. A few months ago, we moved into the house next door to my sister. They have an outside cat named Hudson. My daughter Anna adores him and carries him in her arms like a baby. She brushes him, feeds him, brings him cat toys. My husband stoops to pet him whenever he walks by. Did I ever touch Hudson myself? No. Did I pretend to like him? No. But, perversely, he took an instant liking to me – me over anyone else. It seems that is what most cats do. So, anyway, as the weather turned colder, my family became worried about Hudson. Never mind that he has a thick coat of fur and that animals were designed by God to live outside. But finally I gave in to the pleading and allowed them to let Hudson into our laundry room, just inside the back door. He cannot go into the house because my allergies truly won’t permit that (however, try explaining that to a cat). Many times this winter, I would notice Hudson looking through the door at me. He would stand on his hind legs and paw at the glass with an anxious look on his face. So, assuming he needed to be let out, I would go back there and open the back door. Hudson would sit down and look at me, or walk over to his food dish and nibble on a bite or two. He would then proceed to ignore
me, pretending with great determination that the door was not being held wide open. Exasperated, I’d go back to whatever I was doing. A little later, I would notice him again, and go back to let him out. Again, he would ignore the door and come towards me, doing figure 8’s around my ankles or just looking at me. A friend of mine who is a cat person explained it to me. Cats choose their humans (not the other way around). I am his human, and it’s an irreversible, irrevocable thing. It’s not because I wanted to be, or did anything to earn it. Not because I was nice to him or loved him first. It’s simply because he chose me. When I thought he wanted to go out, he really just wanted me to come spend time with him. My friend said her cat will only eat when she’s there watching him. It’s a sign of affection and attachment. Although it pains me to say it, I see a connection to God. He chose us, simply because He loves us, not because we first wanted Him, not because of anything we did for Him. It’s an unshakable thing (much more permanent even than the affections of a feline, no matter how determined). Sometimes we feel Him calling to us and wonder what He wants. Perhaps he wants us to come to Him and just sit, quietly, together. And one of the millions of really great things about Jesus? He won’t make you itch or break out in hives. He might make you dance, though, or lift your hands in praise, or feel compassion on your neighbor or rethink the way you treat people. He might change your heart and mind and soul from the inside out, and transform you into someone you never thought or even dared hope you would be. But no matter what, he’ll never make you sneeze.
Prayer: Lord, Thank You for loving me, calling me, choosing me. Amen. h
LIVING IN THE MIDWEST
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. ~1 THESSALONIANS 5:16-18, NIV
I love the Midwest. Most people don’t understand that; they’re here not by choice so much as by circumstance. My father is an artist who paints realistic scenes in watercolor, so perhaps I’m predisposed to liking the subject matter. For years, though, I didn’t understand his fascination with Indiana. Where are the hills, the mountains, the oceans? I’ve seen those things, and they’re breathtaking. Each one is different; God created such variety. One beach may have fine white sand and salty blue skies; another thick, coarse tan sand whiskered with grass; another smooth pebbles and deep aquamarine water that almost glows from the intensity of its depths. What is there to see here? It took a little bit of maturity to learn to appreciate what is around me. The land is not awe-inspiring; it is not dramatic. It has a peaceful kind of beauty, but for all its quiet reserve, once I was able to see it, it made my heart swell with a deep contentment. Winters, mostly gray and slushy, still hold beauty… the bluish-purple hue of shadows in the whiteness, broken by the rich gold of the broken corn stalks pushing through the crusty, sparkly snow. Fall is a riot of intense, deep, passionate colors, maple trees thrusting their orange-red leaves proudly against the flawless blue skies, the ground carpeted with countless variety, each leaf shaped and colored in its own unique way. Spring: the promise of new life, the hope and excitement, the bright greens competing with each other, purple and yellow flowers leaping up in excitement. And summer – the rich, almost obscene lushness, the damp overgrown grass and trees and plants displaying an indulgent abundance that makes me sigh with happiness. There’s something genuine about it, something peaceful and unpretentious and true. It’s real and it’s reliable. It wraps me in its tender quiet and holds me tight – safe and secure and steadfast.
In life, it seems we gravitate towards the flashy things. When we dream, it’s not of the flat fields undulating gently in the breeze or the subtle play of light and shadow that defines the topography of the land. We dream of the dramatic peaks, the magnificent canyons, the enormous waters stretching around the curves of the earth, moving rhythmically and powerfully. But sometimes we need to stop and notice the nuances of beauty God has put around us. Our blessings won’t always be obvious. Our spiritual growth may seem stagnant until we sit up and take notice where we’ve been and where we are now. We must learn to see the reality surrounding us and not waste time wishing for the extremes. It is only then, only when we love what we already have, that true contentment can be born.
Thought for today: Where do you see beauty in your daily life? Give thanks throughout the day for each new thing you notice.
Lord, we live in a culture that seems to care only for the extremes, the dramatic peaks and plummeting depths of daily life. But I know that You are in all of it, and that I will find beauty and contentment and a lovely sense of joy if I’ll just set my heart on finding it. On finding You. Please walk beside me as I notice the magnificence You’ve placed in my life. Amen. h
A N E N V E L O P E F U L L O F L E AV E S
My soul faints with longing for your salvation, but I have put my hope in your word. ~PSALM 119:81, NIV
O ne day, walking to the post office, I noticed the leaves were starting to turn colors. Fall is my favorite time of year, and I walked slowly, stopping to pick up the prettiest leaves, gently shuffling through the blanket of leaves, trying to uncover the most colorful and interesting ones. Bright green centers with orange and red edges, some all red – you know, the vivid-beyond-anythingyou-can-imagine red/orange/pink color of maple leaves in all their fall glory. Each one is a work of art. At the time, Pastor Nathan was in Afghanistan, and I missed him so much. So, that day, I gathered a handful of the prettiest leaves, and when I got to the post office, I laid them between sheets of white paper, sealed them inside a cardboard envelope, and sent them off to Afghanistan. I figured by the time they got there, they’d be all brown and brittle, and it was likely Nathan would end up with an envelope full of crushed leaves. But I sent them anyway, because I love the colors so much it makes my heart hurt, and because when I studied overseas during college I missed seeing our version of autumn, and because it broke my heart to think of Nathan missing out on this beauty, this annual display of God’s splendor that takes our breath away every single time. Of all the care packages and letters I sent, this is the one Nathan most often mentions. I don’t know why it affected him, but I know why I sent them. I missed him, and I wanted him to know I was thinking about him. Besides, the colors were too beautiful not to share. They’re one of the best parts of living where we do. I wanted Nathan to see this quintessential part of life back home, and remember all the things he loved, and long to come home so strongly that nothing – no matter what, nothing – would keep him from returning. I think this idea might explain why God gave us His Word. He loved us, and
long before we had been born, He already longed for us to return to Him. He wanted to stir up a longing in our hearts that would sustain us. Being the Creator of all, He knew intimately of the beauty of His home, and of His love, and of the love and potential He placed within each of us. It was all too beautiful not to share. So He did.
Thought for today: Sometimes the smallest of gestures can make a big difference to a person we love. What can I do today to make someone feel special?
Lord, I pray that You will place in my heart a longing for You, a passion for Your Word, an overwhelming love for Your people. Make this so beautiful, so all-consuming, so powerful that no matter how hard I try, I will never get enough of You this side of heaven. Amen. h
BAKING UP DELIGHT
I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer. ~PSALM 17:6, NIV
I love sweets, but the kitchen is not my favorite place to be. I cook in order to eat (which I really love to do, so you’d think I’d cook more). My kids, however, have always loved the process of preparing the food. For years, I’ve sighed whenever one or more of my kids walked in holding a box of cake mix or brownies, that I-love-you-Mommy-will-you-bake-with-me look on his or her adorable, irresistible, pleading face. During these times, I don’t think my child is necessarily all that hungry for sweets; it’s more about being grown-up and doing something with Mommy. Working side by side, cracking eggs, pouring oil, the powdery cloud of flour that rises when they pour the mix into the bowl and start stirring, the delight when you turn on the oven light and look inside, and the absolute joy when they discover that pan of gloppy, runny, messy ingredients has been transformed into a firm, golden, spongy cake. The other night when I was praying, I realized that’s what God does: He lets us help Him cook. He asks for our prayers even though He doesn’t need our opinions about how things should be done and He doesn’t require our assistance to get them done. He is perfectly capable of making decisions on His own, measuring out justice and mercy and grace, and doing it all without making the slightest mess. But when we come to Him in prayer, He’s allowing us to be a part of the process. It’s easier for Him when we’re not there to get in the way. It’s faster when we’re not bumbling around in the middle. And it’s much neater when we’re not there to drop things or grab the wrong ingredients. But the delight on our faces when we see what comes out of the oven – when we see prayers answered and hearts healed and lives changed and love prevailing, when we know that we were privileged
to be allowed to be a part of it, and that even though we weren’t necessary to the process, He loves us enough to want us working alongside Him – well, I think that’s why He does it.
Thought for today: There are some things I know how to do pretty well on my own. But have I become so confident in my own abilities that I forget to seek direction from the Master Chef?
Lord, I’ve noticed that in some situations I know just what to do, and sometimes I manage to turn ordinary ingredients into the biggest, gloppiest mess ever. Teach me, Lord, to lean on You. Remind me to wait for Your directions. And thank You for Your patience with me as I learn, daily, how to follow them. Amen. h
A WEED IS A WEED
Jesus said, “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. ~MATTHEW 6:14, NIV
have allergies, I don’t like to get dirty, and I don’t particularly care for the
heat. Those are just three of the many reasons why I don’t do much yard work. I love the saturated colors of the flowers gently swaying in the breeze, and the rich perfume that saturates the air, and thick, smooth green grass. I always notice beautiful landscaping elsewhere, but I just can’t get motivated to do something about my own yard. Two of my good friends, knowing this about me, decided to clean up and plant my front flower bed for my birthday. Unusual purple flowers, cheerful yellow mums, no weeds, and pretty, multi-colored stones now greet me when I come home. While they were working, I asked about a particular plant that grew straight up out of the ground cover. It was tall and ungainly but had a pretty flower. Was it a weed? Yes, I was told. Anything that grows where you don’t want it, no matter how pretty, is still a weed. It’s not about the plant itself; it’s about whether it belongs where it is. I’ve been conversing lately with someone who hurt me many years ago. I didn’t realize how much anger and bitterness I harbored in my heart until confronted with it. I realized I needed to let it go, and since I did I’ve been overwhelmed by the feelings of healing and wholeness that replaced the ugliness. Until I found peace, I hadn’t been aware of its absence. Turns out, although my hatred was there all along, I had mistaken it for something it wasn’t. I’d tried to convince myself that, though it wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t exactly offensive, so it didn’t have to go. I thought that I was doing the right things, acting as a Christian should: loving my friends and family, accepting myself, and being aware of my shortcomings. What I didn’t realize was that among the colorful blessings in my life, sown in the midst of the day
lilies and irises and roses, was a big old honkin’ weed. Somehow, gently and quickly, God has pulled the hatred out of my heart, removed that bitter root and replanted. Now that ugly weed is no longer choking out the things that are supposed to grow there. All of the sunlight and nourishment I am given can now be used to cultivate something beautiful.
Thought for today: What hatred, resentment, grudge, or envy have I nurtured, deluding myself into pretending it’s supposed to be part of my garden?
Lord, I want to be fertile ground, used for growing whatever beautiful thing You want to grow. I don’t want any weeds to remain. I don’t want to pour nourishment into something that You don’t want to grow here. I want to bloom extravagantly and profusely. I want to rise up in the glorious sunlight of Your glory. Oh, Lord, please, transform this garden. Amen. h
BRINGING THE FISH
Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? ~MATTHEW 16:8-10, NIV
G od does bizarre things. He solves problems in ways that sometimes seem convoluted, confusing, and down-to-the-last-second crazy. The answer rarely comes in the straightforward way we’d imagined, yet it comes. Stories of these miraculous solutions abound – the check (or tax refund or bonus or raise) arrives the day the bill you thought you couldn’t pay is due. Doctors mention scary words like aneurism and cancer and inoperable – so we do the tests and pray and suddenly, although the doctors can’t explain it, the condition is gone or the symptoms weren’t what they seemed. We lose a job and panic, worried about how to provide for our families, but then another, better opportunity presents itself and we wonder why we didn’t leave the old job sooner. He always delivers – somehow, some way. For years I have read the Bible stories about the fishes and the loaves. Jesus fed 4,000 people with seven loaves and a few fishes, and then fed 5,000 from five loaves and two fishes. He’s not limited in His ability to provide, nor is the percentage of increase the same each time. But whatever it is, whatever He does, it’s always enough – and usually it comes with leftovers, too. Because we’ve read these stories in the Bible, and witnessed the way God has provided in our lives, no one has to convince us it’s possible. We know. Sometimes, though, we overlook one fact. Someone had to provide the fish. Sure, He can create something from nothing, and there are plenty of times that He does. But, more often, I think, God works with what we bring to Him. We must stretch our hands forth with our offering, literally or symbolically.
We must plant a seed of giving with our tithe and offering money. We must put our own egos and desires aside in order to make room for His presence. We must offer Him our whole selves – bodies, heart, mind and soul – and mean it when we ask Him to use us. God will multiply. He will create. He will increase – when you give him what you have to start with. Don’t ever fall into the enemy’s trap of believing what you have is not enough, that God won’t come through because of your failings and weaknesses. Stand tall, and speak out loud: “Lord, I may not have much, but I come to you with the fish. Multiply it. Do your thing. I believe.”
Thought for today: God can work with anything we offer Him, however small and insignificant it seems. He’s the God of morethan-enough. What have I neglected to give Him?
Dear Lord, I lay down before You all that I have. My time. My money. My dreams. My family. My talents. My home. My life. I can’t wait to see what miraculous things You will make out of these few humble loaves. Amen. h
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. ~JAMES 1:17, NIV
A couple years ago, I attended a weekend spiritual retreat. Several times a day, we walked along a driveway than ran between the conference center and chapel and dining hall. The path was several feet wide and made up of thick, chunky gravel. One side was deeper and harder to walk on; the gravel on the other side was worn down by traffic and was packed and smoother, but there were some ruts and potholes along the way. Several women discussed how precarious it was. We walked back and forth all weekend, heads down, careful not to step in a hole or twist an ankle by stepping on a large, loose rock. On the third day, as we walked along the path for about the twentieth time, a woman beside me pointed and said, “Look at those trees! When did they change?” Lining that stretch of the path were several maple trees, and they were ablaze in the beautiful vibrant oranges and golds and reds of fall in the Midwest. The colors were so impossibly vivid and saturated against the clear blue sky. Wow. Had they been this way all along? We spend much of our lives, I think, looking down. We don’t mean to, but we’re so concerned by the things that might trip us up. We watch for potholes and fear losing our balance. All our efforts go into spotting potential traps, not just for ourselves but for our friends, too, to keep them “safe.” And that’s OK. But when we do this, we sometimes forget to look up. If we did, we might be amazed by what we see. There are blessings all around us – some are small, but some are so breathtakingly beautiful that you have to stop walking for a moment to soak it in. Moments like these remind us that, although our walks are important and we don’t want to stumble along the way, there is beauty throughout the journey – if we’ll
only look up and open our eyes. Who knows what blessings weâ€™ve missed that have been there all along? h
Thought for today: Which things are potholes, and which are the trees? Do I spend more time looking down at the ruts that might trip me or up at the glorious colors that take my breath away?
Lord, it seems counter-intuitive, but I know that if I focus on whatâ€™s above, if I keep my sights set on You, I will not stumble, no matter what is on the path before me. Help me remember that. Help me stop looking at the ruts and potholes and instead fix my eyes on You, the author and finisher of my faith. Amen. h
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. ~2 CORINTHIANS 3:18, NIV
When my husband and I bought a new (old) house, people thought we were crazy. But I had a vision. Never mind that the kitchen had ugly gray paneling and yellow-flecked Formica and blue plaid wallpaper, or that the living room was papered in a busy, rust- and gold-colored print. I could see it. I knew what to do with it. It would be wonderful. It was perfect. Partway through the process, though, I became less sure. Much less. Walking through the debris covering the floor from the demolition, seeing the cabinet frames without the doors, cut apart for rebuilding, I was deeply discouraged. It was so much harder than I expected, and it took so much time. I didn’t know what to do most of the time, and without the help of my dad, I never would have made it through. He came and patiently, creatively, thoroughly rebuilt the kitchen for me, one step at a time. If something didn’t fit, we recut it. If something broke, we made a new one. Each task brought forward another problem, and each time, as I was ready to cry, my dad stepped back, thought for a minute, and presented a solution. His father had been a cabinet-maker, so he knew how to do things. But sometimes they didn’t work, so we’d have to try again. I spent the summer wanting to cry, to curl up into a ball somewhere and never come out. But almost daily, my dad would call and say he was on his way, and did I want to meet him over there? Slowly but surely, the kitchen came together, and I loved the time we spent together, side by side. I’m not even sure when it happened, when we finally turned the corner from disaster to improvement. But we did. And now, when I walk through my new kitchen, I am filled with wonder. It is so beautiful. Gleaming new countertops, colorful cabinets, pretty hardware, crisp white wainscoting, shiny floor. My
mom walked in one day when we were nearly done and said, “Who knew it could look like this?” I said I did, and she replied, “I didn’t. I never thought it would look this good.” Reminds me of how God works with us. He sees something inside us – an inherent beauty, a solid structure – and He goes to work. The change isn’t immediate, and sometimes things look worse before they start to look better. But He’s patient, and creative, and oh-so-thorough. If something doesn’t work, He fixes it. If it’s broken, He tosses it out and replaces it with something new. The solutions are never what you expect, and sometimes the remodeling creates other, new issues to deal with. Yet He steadfastly continues the work He began, knowing the end result will be glorious, better than anyone ever imagined. All He wants is to spend time with us, working side by side. All He asks is that we trust His abilities and yield ourselves to His vision. So we do, anxiously awaiting the time when we can see what He had in mind for us all along.
Thought for today: The process of change can be ugly and overwhelming. Where might I have given up too soon, before the change was completed?
Dear Lord, Sometimes I have ideas about the ways You should change me. And sometimes I resist the ways You want to change me because I like my ideas better. Forgive me, Lord. Please come spend time beside me, and let’s complete this transformation together. Amen. h
ALONG FOR THE RIDE
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. ~JOHN 4:23, NIV
I remember, shortly after turning 16, driving to Indianapolis for the first time on my own. I’d been there a thousand times with my mom – granted, I’d always trusted my parents to navigate while I sat in the passenger seat with my nose buried in a book – but how hard could it be? You get in the car, head in that general direction, and in about 45 minutes, voila! We’d be there. Easy. Well, on my first solo trip, I managed to find my favorite mall easily enough, but getting back home was another story. It didn’t make sense to me that I’d have to take a road marked “Peoria, Illinois” to get to Ladoga, Indiana. I drove for a while, and I knew I was in the wrong place, but I didn’t know where the right place was. This was before the cell phones and GPS. We couldn’t count on someone else to guide us. We had to find the way on our own. (Or, like I did, stop at a pay phone and call for help.) Sometimes I find myself along for the ride at church. Yeah, of course I can find that sweet spot in worship when I’m in a roomful of people who are all headed to the same place. I can do my own thing, look up every once in a while and notice the landmarks, and coast along until we arrive at the throne. But what happens when I’m on my own? Can I get there myself? Do I know how to find God when I’m the one doing the driving? Can I find Him using my own directions, or do I prefer to ride in the passenger seat, trusting that our pastors or worship leaders will get us to our destination? It’s easy to believe that we can do it ourselves…until we try it. And then we discover that it’s harder than it looks. So worth it, so worth the effort and time and focus and concentration it takes – absolutely. But harder than we thought. The good news? Once we’ve been there once, the next time is easier, and before long, getting there is second nature.
Prayer: Dear Lord,
Thought for today: When was the last time I found my own way to the throne of God? Is it time to try again?
Iâ€™m tired of just going along for the ride, no matter how much I enjoy being a passenger. I want to learn how to find You on my own, so Iâ€™m stepping out in faith, without GPS, without a navigator, knowing that if I start moving in the right direction, You will meet me there. Amen. h
L AY I N G O U R S E LV E S AT T H E A LTA R
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God— this is your true and proper worship. ~ROMANS 12:1, NIV
W hen my daughter Anna was a toddler, if she hurt herself, she would lay the damaged appendage on a pillow. Anything that was sore immediately felt better when it was propped on a soft, fluffy pillow... sometimes with a soft blanket under it, too. One day, she was running a fever. I left her in the living room watching TV, and when I went in to check on her, I wanted to laugh and cry all at once. She had taken the pillow from the couch and laid them, end to end, on the floor. Then she stretched out on top of them, her entire body lying on the pillows. All of her hurt, therefore all of her needed to be laid on top of the pillows. Her whole body needed to be cradled. Sometimes we need the same thing. We kneel at the altar, offering ourselves for His service, for His use. But we hold parts back. I want to be used by You, God, we might say, but secretly we’re hoping not to be asked to step outside our comfort zones. We want to volunteer to help – until it’s someone we don’t know and we feel funny walking up to them. Or we want to give of our money, but we hold selfishly onto our time. But maybe it’s time we let God get hold of all our parts, everything that hurts, everything that offends, everything that already belongs to Him, and lay our entire selves on the altar, letting Him have it all.