Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him. James 1:12

Friday, August 12, 2011

“Up Against the Wall”

Deb Douglas, Women’s Minister of First Baptist Church in Bossier City, Louisiana, recently told the story of her experience in a Houston airport. Not having the best of days, Deb noticed a peculiar looking wall covered in tiles. She was disturbed by the fact that the mismatched tiles were arranged in such a hodge-podge, but even worse - there was an area of tiles that were missing all together. Not being able to make sense of it, she became infuriated that the airport would care so little and not take the time to maintain it.

Feeling as if she needed to speak up on behalf of the wall, Deb took several steps back. She caught a glimpse of a man in a red coat and assumed he was an airport employee - the perfect person in which to plead her case that the wall of tiles should be “fixed”. But just as her accusations began to spill off her tongue she caught a second look at the tile wall and it all became so clear. From a distance, she realized that those same mismatched tiles in reality created a beautiful mosaic.

Women in crisis tend to be “up against the wall”. All we can focus on is what is right in front of us and we cannot seem to see beyond the moment. But when we take a step back and look through God’s lens, we find that He was creating something beautiful all along.

God is weaving a golden thread through the tapestry of our lives, and yes, that includes the junk as well as the joys. Each experience, good and bad, becomes a tile on our wall. We cannot seem to make any sense of it by looking at the individual tiles, but when we take a step back and consider the bigger picture, an amazing mosaic will be brought to light. For, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

As we face the struggles of life, we must keep in perspective that God can bring good out of any situation. Each tile is an important piece to our puzzle. Without it, the beautiful mosaic would not be complete.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

“The Aroma of Christ”

It was an early summer morning just following a light, but steady rain shower. I decided to get a walk in before heading off to work. Living in the country provides for many sights, but most of all smells (if you know what I mean), especially when you live smack dab in the middle of Amish country, surrounded by farmland and barnyards. I passed numerous friendly cows along the way as I walked briskly up the road. Suddenly there was one aroma in particular that caught my attention. Now it’s not exactly what you’re thinking. Normally when the words cow and aroma are placed in the same sentence one would assume to experience something quite unpleasant, but that was not the case. Instead, the smell stopped me in my tracks and transported me back about 30 years to my childhood.

The picture was vivid in my mind. It was one of laughter and simplicity – a carefree spirit – as I recalled the memories of living in the country as a child. I remembered watching the neighbors working in the field and my brothers helping as they baled the hay. I was swept away to a less complicated summer day, where as a child I did not stress about the cares of the world. I smiled as I came back to reality, and then it hit me. Isn’t it truly amazing how something as simple as an aroma can take you right back to a time or an event in the past as if it had happened just yesterday.

At that intricate moment the aroma of freshly cut hay hit my nostrils and hurled me back in time. For others it may be the smell of freshly baked bread that ushers in reminders of grandma’s kitchen. Or maybe the aroma of a certain sweet-smelling perfume that brings back memories of mom. Sometimes certain odors trigger unpleasant memories that we wish to forget or have buried deep into our subconscious and it’s painful to remember. Whatever the case, the sense of smell can play a key role in our everyday lives. Did you know that we as Christians are called to be an aroma?

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.” 2 Corinthians 2:14-17

Smell has a strong power to vividly bring back memories, or images of people and places. It is definitely more important than we realize. What do we smell like as a church to the world around us - to our families and our neighbors? Are we leaving behind an unpleasant odor, or are we a welcome and refreshing fragrance? When others breathe in our aroma, is it that of Christ? Are we spreading His fragrance among those who are perishing? Let us be challenged to be the scent that sweeps others back to pleasant memories of salvation, mercy and grace as we spread the fragrance of hope to a dying world. Let us live our lives in such a way that people remember the fragrance of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus because of us – the aroma of Christ.

Friday, July 15, 2011

“Blurry Vision”

When I was in the third grade, it was realized that my vision wasn’t the best. I have never really been fond of wearing glasses, I hated it actually, and being involved in sports and such my parents allowed me to get contacts in the sixth grade. What a difference, and how liberating to just pop them in my eyes and go. Now in my late thirties, I continue to prefer contacts over glasses.

It was a normal day. I rolled out of bed at the sound of my alarm, (well after hitting snooze a few times), and headed into the bathroom to get ready for work. One of the very first things I do in the morning is put my contacts in so I can see clearly to apply makeup. If I tried to do otherwise, I would most likely resemble a four-year old’s attempt to “look like mommy”. I finished getting ready, had some breakfast, and headed to the office. But during the drive it seemed as if there was something in my eye. I blinked a few times and everything was fine.

I plopped down in front of the computer screen and had just begun to get some work done when my eye began to hurt once more. I reached up and gently maneuvered my contact back and forth to try to relieve the discomfort. But instead of retrieving an eyelash, or a piece of lint, there on the tip of my finger lay two separate halves of my contact lens. Oh great! Now, if you know me at all, you will understand that this really presented a problem because I am blind as a bat without my corrective lenses. And those of you who are contact wearers will also understand how it feels to have one contact in and one contact out – blurry vision to say the least.

So, bull-headed as I am, I stuck it out instead of running home to get a replacement. Squinting most of the day, I would close my right eye when there was really something I needed to see or read. But as the hours passed, I began to get a headache and feel a bit nauseous. I was stubborn and had my mind made up that I was not going to make a trip all the way home and come back again. I would just stick it out.

It wasn’t until I had put in my hours at the office that I realized driving home may also be an issue. I hopped in my van and headed for home, relieved that a replacement was waiting there for me and it would not be long until I would be seeing clearly once more. But driving proved to pose quite a challenge. In order for me to see well enough to drive, I had to close my right eye, which totally impaired my depth perception and my judgment of distance. More than once I found myself creeping up a bit too far on the vehicle ahead of me. Who knows what may have been coming at my right side that I never even saw due to ‘my blind eye’.

Doesn’t this sound familiar? Because of our stubbornness and unwillingness to change we turn a ‘blind eye’ to the things of the world. We drive around in life with altered judgment as we peer out of one good eye. Our depth perception cannot reach beyond ourselves, the needs of others remain unnoticed. The compromises we make impair our vision and we miss out on all the opportunities God has for our lives. We are content with squinting, instead of making full use of the immeasurable gifts that God has given – to see fully through two eyes – wide open.

We as humans need help. We cannot do this life on our own – when we try to, we stumble and we fall. But God has provided us with corrective lenses, the truth of His word and a passion for His people. When we look at Him through new eyes, the blurry vision is removed and we can see Him clearly – becoming more like Him!

“And we, who with unveiled faces [clear vision] 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

I need a truer vision, Lord, a vision filled with Thee,
To see the needy world again with eyes willing to see.
A world where people are hurting and hungry every day,
A world that’s ready and waiting to hear what You would say.

I need a wider vision, Lord, a vision filled with Thee,
To see that lonely woman down the street from me.
The teenager who’s all mixed up, the child who’s been abused,
The day-to-day cares in my neighborhood. Lord, I want to be used.

Give me a new vision, Lord. A vision filled with Thee,
To see the world and my neighborhood as Your eyes would see.
Help me use my gifts, dear Lord, in ways that glorify You,
To act with loving kindness toward those with a different view.

A truer, wider, new vision, Lord. That’s what I need,
To carry out Your commands in word and thought and deed.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

“God has a wonderful plan for your life…and so does everyone else”

I tend to be a perfectionist. I set high standards for myself and when I miss the mark I become laden with guilt. Apparently there are others out there who deal with the same issues. According to the studies of psychologist Roy Baumeister, the average person spends approximately 2 hours a day feeling guilty. For 39 minutes of that time, people feel moderate to severe guilt that may limit their abilities. This does not refer to the standards we set for ourselves only, but also includes the expectations of others. I don’t know about you, but I can’t meet my own expectations, let alone everyone else’s.

The good news is – it’s not that way with God. God is perfect in every way, yet we can meet His expectations for us because His expectations are realistic. Isn’t it interesting that there are some people you will never be able to please, but you can please God? It’s mind-boggling! Now I’m not referring to any standard of perfection or sinlessness that can only be obtained in heaven. God has called us to become more like Christ and that in and of itself is a higher standard that we are to strive for. I’m referring to God’s plans for our lives versus people‘s plans for us. It is essential for me to discover His will, because when I learn what He expects of me, I don’t have to try to live up to everyone else’s standards. If I am not living out God’s plan, then I am serving man and not God.

God’s expectations for me are perfect. He knows what I am, and what I am not, capable of. And unlike our critics, He does not expect what we cannot give. He sets His standard for us based on the gifts and talents He has blessed us with. It is important to note though, that although God does not expect too much of us, He also does not expect too little – there’s always two extremes. There are those who strive to do more than they should and others who do less than they should. Both can lead to disaster.

There are benefits to God-pleasing and pitfalls to people-pleasing. When we strive to please God, we become better people. When we seek to please men, we become bitter people. When we strive to please God, we are filled with joy. When we seek to please men, we are stripped of joy. When we strive to please God, we receive strength. When we seek to please men, we become exhausted. There is peace and freedom found when we look for God’s approval, but only guilt and frustration when we strive after the approval of men.

We are called to possess a servant's heart. But to serve out of love rather than out of obligation. Galatians 5:13 says, "You, my brothers, were called to be free {from the expectations of men}. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love."  When we serve man as unto the Lord, we serve in love. When we serve man out of obligation only, we rob ourselves of the blessing of servanthood.

When we fall short of the expectations of man, we tend to judge ourselves unworthy, or consider ourselves a failure when in reality we our God’s beloved. Listen to these beautiful words taken from the book, “Abba’s Child” by Brennan Manning,

“We ourselves are the greatest obstacle to our own nobility of soul. We judge ourselves unworthy servants, and that judgment becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. What we need is a glimpse of the true self – unself-conscious, unpretentious, immersed in life, absorbed in the present moment, breathing in God as naturally as a fish swimming in water. Sanctity lies in discovering my true self, moving toward it, and living out of it. ‘Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. You are precious in my eyes, because you are honored and I love you…the mountains may depart, the hills may be shaken, (you may disappoint yourself and others), but my love for you will never leave you and my covenant of peace with you will never be shaken’ (Isaiah 43:1, 4; 54:10). Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. God’s love for you and choice of you constitute your worth. Accept that, and let it become the most important thing in your life. The basis of my personal worth is not my possessions, my talents, not esteem, (or approval) of others, or reputation…I stand anchored now in God before whom I stand naked, this God who tells me, ‘You are my beloved.’ Being the beloved is our identity, the core of our existence.”

Amen and Amen.

“If only we all could apply some extra grace, this world would become a better place…”

Friday, June 17, 2011

“God at Work…in Alaska – a Beautiful Journey”

"Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are His. He reveals deep and hidden things; He knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with Him."    -Daniel 2:20, 22
When our children were very young, Mike and I made a commitment to take each of them on a special getaway just for them. Four years ago, Lauren and I made our mother-daughter trip through the Panama Canal, and in another few years Tyler will have his special trip with dad. But, this was Hayley’s year. Our mother-daughter excursion found us on a journey to beautiful Alaska!

Our trip began on Saturday, May 28th, 2011 as we flew from Akron, Ohio to Seattle, Washington where we stayed for the night. On Sunday, May 29th, Hayley and I boarded a cruise ship bound for the Inside Passage along the gulf of southeast Alaska. All of Sunday and Monday was spent at sea, learning our way around the boat, relaxing, and enjoying one another’s company, and of course, sampling all the food! 

Tuesday, May 31st, we enjoyed the city of Ketchikan, Alaska.  Ketchikan is known as Alaska’s “First City” because it’s the first major community travelers come to as they journey north. Located on an island, Ketchikan began life as an Indian fishing camp. The name comes from a Tlingit Indian phrase that means, “eagle with spread-out wings”. In the early 1900’s, when gold was Alaska’s claim to fame, fishing and timber industries were established helping to make it the fourth-largest city. Visitors are intrigued by Ketchikan’s rich Indian heritage, which includes the world’s oldest collection of totem poles.

For our first excursion in Ketchikan, we took a floatplane ride into Misty Fjords National Monument. Many years ago, the area was covered in ice. Massive glacier action carved out its present landscape. Donning our own set of head phones in this 7 passenger plane, we were amazed at the views from above – land untouched by humans, only accessible by floatplane or boat from Ketchikan. We soared to the tops of majestic mountains shrouded in mists, was inspired by the beauty of free-flowing water falls caused by melting ice, an endless view of evergreen forests, and cliffs that soar as high as 3,000 feet into the air.


We searched for roaming wildlife while our pilot narrated the tour. The peak of our plane ride came when we landed on a remote lake. Here we were able to get out and enjoy even more amazing landscape before heading back to Ketchikan.

When we returned from the plane ride, we hopped on a bus headed to the rainforest canopy where we would gear up to soar once more. This time, we were ziplining through the treetops of the Alaskan rainforest surrounded by mountains. Our hearts pounded as we stepped off that first platform, but after a total of eight ziplines and three swinging bridges, we were flying without fear! The most challenging (and fun) zip was 135 feet off the ground and 750 feet long! Upon mastering our zipline course, we headed back to the ship, excited for the next day’s destination - Juneau. In being true to its name, we sighted many bald eagles which are numerous in Alaska.


Wednesday, June 1st, our ship made its way through Tracy Arm Fjord. The wind was crisp on deck, but the views were splendid as the ship navigated through the narrow opening. Sights such as steep fjord walls, hanging valleys, waterfalls, glacially polished rocks, distant snow-capped mountains, and free-floating blocks of ice all contributed to our experience.                                                    

Upon our arrival in Juneau, we toured the city with a private tour guide. Our first stop was Gold Creek, also known as “Last Chance Basin”, where  Joe Juneau and Richard Harris struck gold in 1880. The creek is city- owned, allowing anyone to roam its banks in search of their own treasure of gold. Hayley and I each tried our hand at gold panning. No nuggets are found there anymore, but we were able to capture some gold dust and Hayley pocketed a souvenir stone from the creek. 

From there we ventured on to the famous Mendenhall Glacier, a glacier which spans a length of 12 miles located in the Mendenhall Valley and is a part of the Tongass National Forest. We entered the park and hiked to a closer view of the glacier, as well as an amazing waterfall nearby. Then our guide drove us to two other points where we could view the glacier at different angles. From there, we drove past the University of Southeast Alaska to a very old, small log chapel on the lake. In Juneau, we also took a ride through town seeing many other places of interest, such as the capital building, airport, and parks, and then did a little shopping before re-boarding the ship in route to the next port of call.

Thursday, June 2nd we arrived in Skagway. Known to thousands of hopeful gold-rushers as the gateway to the gold fields. It may have been the shortest route to the Klondike, but definitely not the easiest. Thousands of stampeders lost their lives on the White Pass and Chilkoot Trails. The White Pass Railroad is one of the most popular attractions in Skagway, but we opted to take in the scenery on horseback instead. A bus took us to a horse ranch where we would embark on a trail ride through the Alaskan and Canadian wilderness. Hayley's horse’s name was Doc and I saddled up on Spirit. Our 2 hours on horseback took us through the brush and to the tops of mountains, along ridges  with indescribable landscapes. The horses were spirited, yet gentle, and the ride was amazing. It was almost difficult to take it all in. 

On this excursion we spotted a black bear, a grizzly bear, and a moose. At the conclusion of the trail ride, our tour guide made several stops for us to enjoy the pristine views of Alaska including the Klondike, Yukon and White Pass. We spotted a black bear and a grizzly from the bus and a moose and another black bear while on the horses. Prior to the excursion, we enjoyed the old-time sites of the gold rush town of Skagway while doing some shopping.

We relaxed during another day at sea on Friday and most of the day Saturday, until the ship pulled in to our final port – Victoria, British Colombia, a picture-perfect city exuding old-world charm. Here we were amazed at the grandeur of the Empress Hotel and a shrub cutting of Killer Whales. Our time was short here, so we proceeded to window shop until we re-boarded to head for Seattle where we disembarked Sunday morning and made our way to the airport for our flights home. We were amazed at the beautiful weather we experienced our entire trip, with temperatures in the upper 60’s and lower 70’s, and no rain (which is quite uncommon especially in Ketchikan).

I was so in awe of the true beauty of Alaska – the mountains, glaciers, waters, and wildlife, as creation sang out its’ praises to Him! It felt so good to breathe in the crisp, clean air! I could not help but praise God for His marvelous creation and power – proof that He IS at work – everywhere. It reminds me of the passage in Romans 1, 

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”   

God is visible through His handiwork and I am grateful to have had this opportunity to share in that reminder with my daughter Hayley. These are memories that will last a lifetime and a bonding experience like no other!

If you are interested in viewing 
our entire Alaska photo album, 
you can do so by looking me up 
on FaceBook!