The Twilight Time

Every year, I get to this point and think something should be happening during this time, but it never does. I finally decided this year to give it a name. So, drum roll here. The week between Christmas and New Years is known as the twilight time. Yes, some people have to work while others are on holiday, but, for the most part, not a lot gets done. For those who are working, the main thing that is generally said is, ‘Let’s wait until after the new year to get that done,’ while those who are on vacation are in relaxation mode and not thinking about work at all until after the new year.

For me though, this week has turned into a week of consideration. A week to consider what I’ve done right this year and what I’ve done wrong. And I have done plenty wrong as I’m sure you all have. I’ve let down my family and my friends in many ways, and I’ve not let Jesus lead me the way I should. As Paul says in Romans 7:19, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.”

I feel like I have people fooled sometimes. One time I heard someone say, “If people knew what I really struggled with, they wouldn’t want anything to do with me.” I struggle with this as well.”

We received a card during this season which detailed all the ways this person appreciated members of my family, and he didn’t have a whole lot to say about me. Imagine how uncomfortable I was when I saw him on Sunday.

Also, on Sunday, I had another encounter with someone who said how much they appreciated me. My first thought was to tell him I knew how much they appreciated my husband because of all the work he does with the media team, the implication being there wasn’t anything to appreciate me for.

You might see a common theme with these statements and feelings, :-), but for you to fully understand where I’m coming from, I need to go back to this week of consideration. I’m looking out at a dark and cloudy morning. It’s raining, but the overhang to our entrance is sheltering me. This has not been the best year for us. My husband got sick and spent some time unemployed. We moved, and life got more expensive. These things could and have been discouraging. I have wondered at times if I’ve had the strength to go on.

But, then, I flip these discouraging things on their side and realize how much God has blessed us. We have a place to live. Some people don’t. We have food to eat. Some people don’t. Things have been paid for, sometimes anonymously, but they have been paid for. And, my husband has work again. Some people don’t.

I am blessed beyond measure even with the burdens I carry, and I am so very thankful. This twilight time has been a time of reflection so far as well as a time of consideration. It is showing me how I’ve been blessed as well as what I can do better in 2017.

God wants us to have time for reflection. It is when we are most open to hearing His voice and knowing what really matters to Him. He has helped me realize that I have let others define me for way too long. The only definition that matters to Him is that we are His children and that I am His daughter. And, whatever mistakes I make, I can always come back to Him, and He will receive me with the grace He bestows freely.

This is my prayer for all of you–that as we go into 2017, we are able to lay our burdens at His feet and accept the grace He gives to all of us.

God’s blessings on all of you today!

The World has Stopped

It’s Christmas Day, and the world has stopped. As I sit by the lake near my home writing, I hear no noise that I would usually associate with the world. I only hear the wind rustling the leaves of the trees, the water lapping, the ducks swimming on the surface of the water, and the distant sounds of a barking dog. This special writing place is one of my favorite parts of living here. I get to see God’s glory every day.

But. back to my musings about Christmas Day. It’s almost as if the world has stopped to take a collective breath in anticipation of what’s to come. A break from darkness, from cruelty, from the ways we can just be mean to each other. A light is piercing the darkness. For those of us who believe, it’s the light of our Lord and Savior, our Messiah, who was born on this day over two thousand years ago. I do know historically that Jesus was probably not born on December 25. But, that’s not the point. Christmas is a symbol, a time when we stop and think about what Jesus’ birth and death mean to us. A time when the light pierces the darkness. We are kinder to each other. We say I love you more readily. We are more willing to give. And we are not as selfish as we usually are. These are all things I saw this morning at church. There was no frantic running around to make sure things were just right. There was calmness and peace as we centered our hearts on Jesus.

Why can’t we be like this all year round? Why can’t we enjoy the relationships we have like I saw this morning? Why can’t we give ourselves permission to just stop?

It would be easy to say that’s how the world works, and I believe it does to a certain extent, but I also believe it’s because of certain choices we make. Choices of doing our best to grab the brass ring; choices of not noticing the lonely, the hungry, or the homeless; choices of not allowing the intimacy of close relationships we were made for; choices of saying that things have to be done a certain way in our churches. We all make choices that can make it impossible for us to stop.

But, God wants us to stop. He made us to need rest and renewal. Whether you are sitting outside on a seventy-five degree day today (as I am), or whether you are looking at snow-covered roads from somewhere nice and warm, I pray you will sense God’s presence and peace in the stillness or in the noise and that you will know the true reason for the season.

Merry Christmas and God’s blessings on all of you!

To Those Who have Shown Jesus to Me

As I think back over this year, I think of all the highs and lows I’ve endured. I think about the goals I’ve achieved and what is still out there. I think about the good times and the bad times. But, mostly, I think about the people in my life. The people who have poured into me with no benefit coming to them. The people who have shown Jesus to me. I’ve tried my best to be like that as well, but sometimes, I think I’m lacking in that department. No, let’s be honest, I lack a lot in that department. I see my weaknesses more than my strengths.

But, this post is not about me. It’s about the people in my life. The ones who have been Jesus to me. When it gets to this time of year, I think of ways I can thank them. I think of possible things I can buy, possible things I can do for these people, and all of it comes up lacking. There’s nothing I can do that would be enough for what these people have done for me. Then, I get it. What these people have done for me is the same as what Jesus has done for us, He died on the cross for us and for our sins. There is no possible way we can pay Him back. Oh, we try to. We follow every rule in the Bible religiously. We even follow some rules that aren’t in the Bible just to say we’re following rules. It doesn’t work that way. God wants us to love people with no expectation of getting anything back. That is the grace He give us, and that is what He expects us to show to others–to show Jesus to all we meet.

So, this is what I would like to say to all who have shown Jesus to me this year. From Philippians 1:3-6: “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” I wish you all the best as 2016 ends and wish you many blessings in 2017!

Reading through the Bible

In September of 2015, I made a decision to start something I had not done in a long time. I started reading through the Bible. I printed off a schedule sheet which scheduled Old Testament. New Testament, and Psalms/Proverbs readings and got started. The first few weeks went well. I read every day, reading through parts of the Bible I was already familiar with, and God spoke to me as I read. I had the feeling this was going to be a time of real growth in my faith, and I was looking forward to what God was going to show me.

Then I missed a couple of days, and I wondered if I had the stamina and the commitment to ‘catch up’ with my readings so I would be done in a year. If any of you have followed a schedule with this, you know that most of them are written with the goal of being done in a year. Anyway, I became discouraged and asked myself if I had the commitment to my faith I thought I had. God spoke to me in that moment. He said, “Just start wherever you left off. It doesn’t matter if you finish in a year or not. What matters is that you finish reading my Word.”

Those words made sense to me, and that’s what I did. I was fairly consistent about completing my readings during the week and missed some of them during the weekends because I was doing things with my family. As I progressed further, I noticed I was pulling out my Bible at times I didn’t expect because I wanted to get further into God’s story. I was growing and learning, and things that my pastor and the teachers at my church said started to make better sense to me because I was studying the Bible in a way I hadn’t done in a long time. It was a neat feeling!

The one-year anniversary of starting this journey passed in September, and it didn’t bother me because I was committed to finishing. God was showing me things and helping me to grow in my faith. I’ve grown despite the times I’ve spent in the pit this year and despite all the questions I’ve asked. I understand Scripture and my faith in a way I didn’t when I started.

Today, I am thirty-three readings away from being finished. This might not be a big deal to some of you if you have made a point of reading through the Bible every year. It is a big deal to me though because it represents a renewed commitment to God and to my Christian faith.

So thankful that God is with me through the pain, through the questions, and through the joy!

God’s blessings on all of you today!

The End…of This Blog Series (Beyond Our Walls)

Written earlier this morning.

Today is the 40th day of my church’s 40 Days of Prayer. We will go to church this morning and make our pledge to the capital campaign. I will think about what I’ve learned over these last 40 days about myself and my faith. When we were given these devotions, we were encouraged to share our thoughts on social media which is when I came up with the idea for this series. It’s been a quiet statement of faith for me. Before I started, I had trouble thinking of writing topics and wondered if anyone was interested in what I wrote. Mid-way through, I realized God cared about what I wrote and started writing them like He was the only one reading. If anyone else read them, it was a bonus.

I think that’s similar to what today’s devotion topic is (Are you Surviving or Thriving?) For a long time, I’ve just been surviving and covering up the wounds from my past. God knew I couldn’t go any further unless I dealt with those wounds so that’s what this time of prayer and reflection has been for me. I don’t want to just survive. I want to thrive in everything I do–thrive in my teaching, thrive in my writing, thrive with my family, thrive with my church family, and thrive with sharing Jesus’ love to those around me.

The way to thriving is through these verses from Scripture. Matthew 22:37 and 39 say, “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

If I follow Jesus’ words, there’s no way I can not thrive. His love filling me, in every part of me, always spills out to those around me. That is how we thrive as Christians–with love. Love for our Lord and Savior, love for our neighbors, and love for ourselves. He gave us the formula to thrive, and if we keep these verses in mind and the order in which they’re stated, (This is important. We need to love him first and others second before we love ourselves.), I believe we can thrive.  At least, that’s my plan going forward. 🙂

Yes, you will still hear from me as there are many, many topics related to my faith I haven’t even addressed. I’m thankful for those of you who have read any of the posts of this series and very thankful for my Lord and Savior who stays with me as I heal from my wounds and who gives us all the formula to thrive as His disciples!

God’s blessings to all of you today!

Our Church Family (Beyond Our Walls)

I’ve seen several memes on Facebook with the statement I’m about to quote. I always share it when I do because of how much it means to me.

“Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs; the ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what.”

This is what our church families are supposed to be like–the ones who love us no matter what. It is also the subject of today’s devotion (The Body That You Choose). We choose our church families. Over the years of our marriage, my husband and I have made choices that haven’t been so good because we and the people around us didn’t understand the previous paragraph and didn’t understand the Scripture that calls for the body of believers to live together in love and not in judgment of one another. Fortunately, we are in a much better place now.

I say this with a true gratitude of how God brought us to this church family and how much we’ve grown in our faith because of our church family. They are people who genuinely love one another with the love of Jesus, and they’ve taken us under their wing even though we are messed up and broken people.

Today’s devotion brings out the other side of this coin. Not only do believers need to be accepting and loving towards others who come into the church; we have a choice at how much we are engaged with our church families. My husband, who is involved with the media ministry at our church, often tells me of people who get up and walk out when our pastor says the final words of his sermon. This saddens me. We are in such a great place now I don’t understand why some people don’t want to be engaged with others. Then, I realize they’ve made a choice like I made all those years ago. They don’t want to be real with others because of the chance for pain. They don’t believe people will love them as they are. They don’t believe people actually want them in their lives. They come to church to hear the weekly sermon, and they figure that’s enough church for them.

How sad! Oh, how sad! But, I understand. I do understand because it’s where I was, and it’s what I still struggle with a lot. We, as the church, haven’t done a good job with loving people. We need to make a choice to be engaged with and take care of our church family just like we choose to take care of our biological family.

So, there are two things I need to think about in regards to my church family. One, I need to make the choice to be engaged with and love my church family. Two, I need to love the people beyond our church’s walls and tell them about the One who loves us all. I can only do these things with Jesus in my heart. Praying for grace and love to share His love during this Advent season!

God’s blessings on all of you today!

The Courage of Love (Beyond Our Walls)

Written and posted today. 12/02/16

As I reflect on my previous post, I can see how giving in secret is related to the courage of love. God wants us to totally depend on Him for our provision and our strength. He wants us to know in the deepest recesses of our heart that we are loved unconditionally. The courage and strength to reach out to a hurting world comes from this love. No matter how much we love the people around us or how much they love us, it is not the same love as what Jesus gives us–the love that caused Him to be born and to die on the cross for us.

This is why I titled this blog post The Courage of Love. Love and courage go hand in hand. When I think of being courageous which is what the title of today’s devotion is, I think of how the words in Deuteronomy 31:6 couldn’t have been spoken without love. It was centuries before Jesus came, but God still showed His love to Israel.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

God will never leave us. If He spoke these words to His people in the time of Moses, what did sending Jesus mean to Him? He sent everything He had because He loves us unconditionally, and because of that love, He will never leave us.

I’ve had to hang onto that love a lot this year through all of the mess in my life. There were times I didn’t think I had a lot of courage because I thought courage was the absence of fear, but now I realize that courage isn’t the absence of fear. It’s having fear and making the choice to go forward anyway. Making the choice to let God stretch me beyond my comfort zone. Making the choice to lay myself bare before my church family. Making the choice to work on healing even when it hurts. Making the choice to let go and let God.

This is also what my church is working through with its capital campaign. It’s not just for the raising of money. We want to love the people who are different from us and introduce them to the One who loves us all. That takes courage–the choice to love someone else even if they are different from you. May we all have that courage today!

God’s blessings on all of you today!

Giving in Secret (Beyond Our Walls)

Written on 12/01/16, posted on 12/02/16

It’s the first of December. When my church began this book of devotions thirty-seven days ago, December seemed so far away. But now, it has come, and we are three days away from the commitment Sunday for our capital campaign. This has been a journey where God has looked into my heart, and today’s devotion (Being a Humble Giver) is no exception.

The Scripture that it’s based on is familiar to all of us. Matthew 6:1, 3-4 says, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven….But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

I understand what this says and some of the ways this can be applied in today’s society. If you are giving to someone in need, giving anonymously reflects what this Scripture is telling us to do. The giving shouldn’t be to our glory. It should be to God’s glory. People who are serving in the backgrounds of our churches can also have an easier time with this. Since a lot of what they do isn’t noticed, it’s almost as if it’s anonymous anyway.

What I’ve wondered though is how the people who serve in front of our churches handle giving the glory to God instead of wanting it for themselves. It would feel natural, I would think, to expect praise for whatever was said or done especially since it really wasn’t done in secret.

Now that I say that, I realize there’s another part of those verses I don’t understand–the part about keeping things secret. I don’t think it entirely means what we, in present day society, think it means. There are ways we give and serve in our churches that are seen by other people. How can we avoid recognition during those times and give the glory back to God?

This question should be asked by all of us though because we all want praise and glory for the things we do. The author of today’s devotion correctly places the reason for this “to our sinful human nature.” God doesn’t want that for us. He wants our hearts to be right with Him when we give so we can direct the praise to where it belongs. We do this through prayer and Bible study; in other words, by keeping our hearts focused on Him.

My understanding has grown during this season of studying and praying about giving. Wounds from my past have been opened, and God has used this time to tell me that what I had learned about giving previously was wrong. I should have never known what people at previous churches were giving, and I shouldn’t have been persecuted for the amount of money I gave. And that is where the secret part comes in, I think. If someone has no business knowing what I’m giving in money, time, or talents, I shouldn’t tell them, and if I receive praise for something I’ve done in public, I should direct it to where it belongs–my Lord and Savior.

To end this post, I’m going to quote the author of the devotion because I think her prayer is worthy of reading as we seek to know how God wants us to give.

“Heavenly Father, forgive me for my selfish tendencies. Help me to look to You as the ultimate example of how to give, because You gave up your only son to die for my sins. Thank you for your provision in my life, and help me to give of that provision without seeking praise. May you be glorified in all things.”

God’s blessings on all of you today!