Just A Jacket

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It arrived many years ago in a brown grocery paper bag with a string tied around the bulky package. My mom had found the winter jacket at a garage sale and thought of me. It was an extravagant gift. My mom didn’t have much money during that period in her life and had stopped buying gifts.

The jacket is worn out now with a tattered lining. I was at least the second owner and it is obvious that the jacket was loved and worn, even before my time. The jacket has outlived its purpose, yet it hangs in my closet taking up valuable space.

I know the reason why I keep it. It was unique. Whenever I wore that jacket, I could count on at least one stranger complimenting it. As soon as I arrived home from running errands, I would tell my husband that another person liked the jacket. It was a long-running joke between us because I loved everything about the jacket, the fabric, design and color, whereas my husband never cared for it.

I know the real reason why I keep it. It is a jacket that my mom lovingly picked out, touched, and sent to me as a surprise of her love. My mom has been gone for four years now. That jacket is still a connection to my mom in the flesh. I imagine my mom spying the jacket at a garage sale and remarking, “I know my daughter will love this!”

As we downsized houses and sorted through too much stuff, the subject of getting rid of the jacket came up over and over. I would put it in the donate pile one day and take it out the next day. My husband finally told me to keep it. We would make room for the jacket. Something as ordinary as a coat captured my heart.

The prophet Isaiah speaks of the ordinary and then reminds us of the extraordinary beauty of Jesus Christ that captures our hearts.

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him (Isaiah 53:2). But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5).

The ordinary became the eternal definition of love expressed. The unique gift from our Father in heaven is a garment of salvation that always looks beautiful and never becomes tattered in the hearts of His children.

I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels (Isaiah 61:10.)

Jesus cloaks us with God’s extravagant love that transforms the ordinary and changes hearts with the extraordinary. We wear God’s love as a garment that holds us in His loving arms and never lets go. Make room. You are loved!

 

 

 

 

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What Do You Do With The Bad Days?

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I just wanted the week to be over and done with. That particular week in January had not been on a good course. It didn’t seem to matter what I said or did because I could not get my week back on track. I felt like a bit player in my own life.

It is easy to indulge the pity party when bad days become a bad week. God reminded me that His invitation is always better. One evening, I opened my devotion book to the words that articulated my emotions: frustration and anger over lack of control. God clearly showed me my current state of my mind and then reassured my heart of His presence. God spoke to me when I needed it the most.

The very next day, I received a return phone call from someone I left a voicemail with weeks earlier. As part of my ministry work, I often ask to pray with people before we hang up. It is not unusual for me to pray over them. However, it is very unusual for the other person to ask, “How can I pray for you today?” God orchestrated all the details to bring me special encouragement when I needed it the most.

I find that sometimes frustrations and fears lose their power when I verbally express them to other people. By admitting what was really bothering me deep down, I gained clarity in the various situations that comprised my bad week. I am thankful for trusted ones that listened without judgement and then faithfully prayed for me. First, I had to be honest enough about my own failings and insecurities to ask others for help. God provided fellowship with other Christians when I needed it the most.

I was glad that difficult week came to an end and I had a clean slate for the new week. As much as I wanted to forget about the bad week, I couldn’t. I realized that the week served a good purpose. God reminded me that He is active in every aspect of my life and responds with nudges to look up to Him. I can count on those closest to me and even unexpected phone calls from strangers to pray me through the hard times. As I react to bad days with faith, I grow in confidence of God’s will for my life. God showed confirmation of His path when I needed it the most.

God leads me through the valleys to the next peak. God’s view helps me appreciate the beauty of the rolling hills behind me and yet in front of me. January’s bad week made me realize what I needed the most: more of God!

Isaiah 35:2

Yes, there will be an abundance of flowers and singing and joy! The deserts become as green as the mountains of Lebanon, as lovely as Mount Carmel or the plain of Sharon. There the LORD will display his glory, the splendor of our God. (NLT)

Isaiah 40:4-5 

Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Who Are The Sinners In Your Life?

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“You don’t live in the real world.” It was a comment that stung. I have to share the context in order to explain the personal meaning behind that comment. My son and I made a trip to the grocery store in a metropolitan area. As we stepped out of the car, a panhandler asked us for money. My son politely declined, which prompted a tirade of cuss words as the panhandler walked away.

As we checked out with our groceries, the bagger got upset and scolded me with a cuss word. I had simply moved the cart to allow our cashier to help the cashier one row over. Trying to make the best of an awkward situation, I smiled and wished the bagger a good evening when we walked away.

In the car, my son remarked that my smile for the bagger was backed by an attitude. I had to admit that there was some truth to his observation. The entire grocery shopping trip made me uncomfortable and left me feeling offended. Hence, my son gave his opinion that I don’t live in the real world.

Maybe he is right. I live in the suburbs, and I haven’t worked a full-time job outside the home in 24 years. My circle of influence includes family, friends, and as the leader of a cancer ministry, volunteers with similar goals for cancer survivors. I know “my people.”

My shopping trip experience came to mind again when I studied Jesus’ calling of Levi (Matthew) to be His disciple and the subsequent dinner with “sinners” and tax collectors.

Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” were eating with him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the “sinners” and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:13-17)

We are called to follow Jesus into new territory: Territory that is outside our comfort zone. Territory that increases our spheres of influence. Territory that might scare us for an array of reasons. As Christians, we are redeemed sinners who are called to reach out to other sinners.

While I wait for God’s direction, I’m praying that God fills my heart with compassion for people that offend me or make me feel uncomfortable. I pray that my smile and well wishes will reflect Jesus and not an attitude of judgment or rejection. Before I go for God, I recognize first that I am a sinner in need of God for my life. To be genuine, I have to be genuinely touched by the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

Who are the “sinners” in our lives? Who do we need to bring to Jesus? More importantly, who do we need to go to in order to bring the good news of Jesus Christ? Each one of us is a sinner who God reached out to when Jesus died on the cross. Now it is our turn to pray it forward. The real world with real people awaits us!

Superstitions: Silly or Serious?

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Note: My blogging friend, Annie of Freedomborn suggested that I write a post about superstitions. I accepted the challenge below.

Growing up, I can remember going through a short phase of avoiding every crack. “Step on a crack, and break your mother’s back,” was not a superstition I wanted to test. I quickly learned that cracks were everywhere and unavoidable. Friday the 13th didn’t mean much to me until elementary age when my school artwork project disappeared without explanation. The memory that stuck became an enduring example of Friday the 13th bad luck. As a teenager, I can remember reading my horoscope in the newspaper. It was kind of like a game to see how well the predictions described my teenage life and angst growing up in a small town.

My husband’s grandmother was a wealth of old wives’ tales. While visiting, I would be gently scolded for doing something that was a source of bad luck. Grams always said it with a smile so I was never quite sure if she was being silly or serious. I meant to write down her many sayings before she passed away, but never did. Family has helped me remember the more common ones Grams shared. “If you forgot something at home and return to retrieve it, you have to go back inside, sit down, and count to ten for good luck before leaving again.” “See a pin, let it lay; you will have bad luck the rest of the day.” “If someone gives you a knife as a gift, you need to pay them (a penny or nickel) to avoid harming the friendship.” The old wives’ tales can feel homey because they remind me of being back at Gram’s house and hearing stories of bygone times.

In recent years, a friend and I were catching up while enjoying a local festival. She suggested that we stop at a booth for Tarot card readings. I have to admit that I was curious to see what the fortune teller had in store for my friend. However, my sense of uneasiness was stronger and I declined. A warning from a former pastor’s sermon over 12 years ago came to mind, “If you play with fire, you will get burned.” Besides, I don’t need to pay someone to tell me my future. Revelation, the last book of the Bible, reminds us that God wins and as Christians, we are on the winning team! Jesus already paid the price for my future.

To close out 2016, our family experienced a string of bad luck. I broke my favorite Pampered Chef stoneware. A few days later, my husband accidentally ran the microwave without any food inside. To top it off, I discovered that important documents needing to be returned weeks earlier were misplaced in a paper pile. There is no doubt that we had much to do with our year-end bad luck. At this point, I was simply looking forward to 2017 and a clean slate.

My favorite quote about bad luck was shared by a nurse when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. To answer the question “Why me?,” she replied with a quote she heard from a doctor. “Breast cancer can be caused by bad habits, or by bad genes, but mostly, it is bad luck.” It seems that bad luck can affect every aspect of our lives.

What do superstitions, old wives’ tales, and bad luck mean to me? I believe that King Solomon’s wisdom in Ecclesiastes 3:1 sheds some light on the subject. “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens.” Look at the list of times and we can see that bad things happening are just a part of life: “time to die, to uproot, to kill, to tear down, to weed, to mourn, to search, to give up, to throw away, to tear, and for war.” (Ecclesiastes 3:2-8)

One thing I know for certain is that God is still in control of my life and the world I live in. I don’t have to fear those times of “bad luck” because God will bring me through it to the times “to plant, to heal, to build, to laugh, to dance, to embrace, to mend, to love, and for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:2-8) I don’t have to fear man’s words of what will or won’t help me to enjoy life’s good places. God’s plans for me are already good. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

God repeatedly warns us about idolatry and witchcraft. Do we recognize His warnings in our life? More importantly, do we take His warnings seriously? We should because our Father in heaven truly knows what is best for us. We have an adversary in Satan who will manipulate whatever is handy to take our focus off of God and place it firmly on anything else other than God. Superstitions can start out being silly and quickly become something serious depending on our responses.

I choose the blessings of God’s promises over the curses of man’s superstitions. I choose God’s word to guide my life rather than man’s words which lead to chaos. I choose God!

 

Just A Piece of Paper?

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We were in-town visiting my in-laws in mid-December. There was an appointment to take my mother-in-law to and preparations to be made for a family Christmas party a few days later. We sat down to a Costco dinner when I saw the slip of paper on the kitchen table. It would have been easy to miss in the menagerie of food, dishes, papers, and medicine bottles scattered in front of me.

It was just a slip of paper announcing an “Advent Spiral Walk” for that very night in less than an hour. The title caught my eye because I had never heard of an Advent Spiral Walk. I suggested that we check it out. My mother-in-law did not want to go if it was held outside in the cold. I wasn’t sure about driving in the dark in an unfamiliar town. Wouldn’t I rather just stay put and unwind in front of the television for the evening? Still, something tugged at me to go, if simply for the fact that it was nearby and free. Curiosity won out.

My in-laws’ church is small, but big on ideas for fresh ways to encounter Jesus. I didn’t know what to expect, but I felt twinges of excitement and anticipation. We entered the church and were greeted by angels. They were the human kind with white robes, tinsel halos and genuine smiles. An angel led us into the sanctuary decked out with greenery, red bows, and lit candles everywhere. A Christmas tree towered over us as the sentinel for the ceramic nativity scene. The Christ family was huddled together in the stable on one side of the room. The wise men were travelling from afar on the opposite side of the sanctuary.

The crowd was sparse as the pianist played Christmas carols and the audience sang along. It was the perfect atmosphere to be still and let the rich words of well-known and new-to-me Christmas songs settle deep in my soul. After a while, the angel invited us to the Advent Spiral Walk held in a different part of the church. We walked into a darkened room with the flicker of candlelight outlining the spiral and edges of the room.  Pine branches comprised the spiral and beckoned us in.

We were given an unlit candle to carry as we began our journey. The Advent Walk was designed to be savored, not rushed. Candlelight guided our path as our eyes, minds, and hearts were illuminated. Each step and each candle were a reminder that Jesus is the Light of the world and in the dark recesses of our hearts. In the center of the spiral, an angel lit our candles and instructed us to place our light on the path. Future spiral-walkers would follow our light just as we were guided by the light of others before us.

Just a slip of paper? My answer is no. That piece of paper was an invitation to remember the reason for the season. It was my permission slip to slow down and enjoy the moments leading up to Christmas. It was an opportunity to reflect and prepare my heart in the midst of a very busy month. The paper was a reminder to experience Christ as I celebrate Christmas.

Jesus’s light shouldn’t be obscured by the busyness, presents, baked goodies, cards, shopping, parties, and distractions of achieving that perfect Christmas. Jesus is the perfect gift and the perfect Christmas. Jesus is the Son of God who became flesh so we can personally receive God’s gift of extreme love.

Seek the light, be the light, and share the light this Christmas season!

John 8:12

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Acts 13:47

For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

Psalm 119:105

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

 

Celebrations on Earth and In Heaven!

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The weekend began with much anticipation after months of planning. The day was surprisingly beautiful for mid-November. Eyes were drawn upwards as the sunshine highlighted the stained-glass depictions of Jesus’ life. There was a smile and hug at every turn in the church. My younger son said, “I do!” to the most important woman in his life. The marriage between my son and new daughter-in-law became official.

The celebrations continued and held the promise of memories that would last a lifetime. Those special moments were captured from every angle and the perspective of old and young alike with tweets, cell-phone video, Facebook postings and pictures galore. I will be able to savor the many details that made this wedding day perfect.

The wedding festivities didn’t disappoint. Joy and unity were themes for the entire weekend. I recognized pure joy in the bride’s and groom’s faces. I felt unity as family and friends came from near and far to be a part of the celebration. Two people became one in marriage and now two families are linked together for what the future holds.

At least for one weekend, all was right with the world! In life, we long to go from milestone to milestone with many reasons to celebrate in-between. In reality, we know that this world is more a mix of rejoicing and sadness, hopes and disappointments, successes and failures, and ultimately, life and death.

Examples of these juxtapositions can be found even at a wedding. We rejoiced with those who were present while intercessions were made for deceased loved ones who couldn’t be there. In-memory-of-pictures and votive candles were placed alongside wedding pictures of the newlyweds’ parents and grandparents.

Although I was unplugged from technology and the world for the weekend, life and death didn’t take a break. I was reminded of this fact as I returned to my normal routine and responsibilities for a cancer ministry. One of our cancer survivor’s family made the difficult decision to place their loved one in hospice. Three other survivors and a leader’s stepmom passed away. I enrolled two new survivors recently diagnosed with cancer. All in the same week.

The wedding weekend was a mountain peak followed by a valley of unexpected sorrow. Revelation 19 connects the themes of weddings, eternal life, and death:

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:6-7)

John’s words in Revelation evoke the same emotions in me that I felt at my son’s wedding. The wedding was even more special because I had a genuine relationship with and closeness to the groom. Joy united the guests invited to the wedding banquet. The bride was beautiful in her dress. I knew I was blessed by God to be an intimate part of the wedding festivities.

The wedding is over. My two sons are married to women that I am pleased and excited to call my daughters-in-law. There are no more weddings to plan or prepare for in our immediate family. The excitement of wedding festivities will gradually fade as the memories take root in my heart.

The Bible reminds me that there is one more wedding in my future that I can look forward to as an honored guest. My faith in Jesus Christ guarantees that I am invited to the wedding of the Lamb and His bride, the church. I will join people from every tribe, language, and nation united with one heart for our Lord.

There will be no last song as the marriage celebration will never end in heaven. Memories will not be necessary as we will have all of eternity to soak in the wedding joy. God’s people will be overwhelmed by the love the Bridegroom has for His bride. We will see that love in His eyes and feel it in His hugs. We will dance with Jesus and never let go.

Hallelujah for celebrations on earth and in heaven!

 

 

 

What Are You Holding On To?

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cucumber-plant-takes-hold

Cucumber leaves and stem removed to show a cucumber tendril wrapped around a dill plant.

My husband built a raised-bed vegetable garden for me. I have three eight-foot rectangles of fertile soil. It is the ideal set-up for a small home garden. However, there is one problem. My cucumber plants do not respect the boundaries.

Experienced gardeners know that you must allow plenty of space for cucumbers to grow. The plants tend to wander looking for something to grab hold of. Tentacle-like tendrils reach out to wrap around any support they can find. Support is defined simply as what is nearby and easily accessible.

This year, the cucumber plants crossed over to an adjacent bed and became entangled in the dill plants. I counted five loops of a single cucumber tendril around one dill stem. The cucumber plant’s tenacity is to hang on as if its life depended on it. Eventually, the cucumber plant took down the dill plant because the dill was not meant to support itself and the cucumber plant.

What or who are we entangled with in our lives? Is it simply what is nearby and easily accessible? Does our support hold up over time? Or do we take ourselves and our support down? Time and fruit borne will prove the worthiness of the support we choose.

We were never meant to do life alone. We need each other, but more importantly we need God. We can reach out to God knowing that He will never let go of us. He is our sure foundation, refuge, and support for real life that takes us into eternity.

God delights in our growth as we entangle our thoughts, hearts, faith, and life around Him. Reach out to God and just try to wrap your mind around all His promises for you. Lean in closer, trusting Him with all of your being as if your life depended on it. (It does!) Jesus Christ on the cross has already proven the worthiness of God’s support for us! What or who are you holding onto instead of God?

Isaiah 33:6

He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure. 

Isaiah 28:16

So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.