Who Do You Say I Am?

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I do.

I’ve only been to one wedding vow renewal. It was unusual for around here, with Celtic music and a procession of flags. I wasn’t at the first wedding, so maybe it was some kind of throwback to that. Who knows?

There are lots of reasons people give for having them. Sometimes it is to mark a special anniversary, 10, 20, 25 years (I think this was the reason for the one I attended). Sometimes a renewal is done after a difficult situation the couple has overcome – a rough patch or an illness, etc. And sometimes it is simply to let the world know they would do this all over again. While Shawn and I have experienced all these reasons, neither of us would want to do a ceremony. He said he meant it when he said them the first time, and I’m not a fan of being the center of attention. But they can be a beautiful thing and important for a lot of people.

It’s all too easy to completely love your person and mean all words you promised them on your special day, then life and laundry and bills get in the way.

Sometimes it’s just important to take some time to remember why and confirm it again.
In Mark chapter 8, Jesus is traveling with his disciples and Jesus throws a question to them- “Who do people say I am?”

In verse 28, “They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’”

Then Jesus turns it to them at the beginning of verse 29.

“’But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’’

And Peter speaks up, saying, “You are the Messiah.”

Peter had been with Jesus for some time at this point. He had watched as Jesus napped on a boat and then controlled the weather with his words. Peter saw demons not only disappear from a man but saw them then enter right into 2,000 pigs at the command of Jesus. He heard Jesus teach and spent so much time with him. He saw Jesus heal a very sick woman and then a tween girl who was pronounced dead began breathing again with the touch of his hand and the power of his words. He saw bread and fish multiplied in ways that were unexplainable apart from the very power of God. He saw even more than all of this by the time Jesus had asked, “Who do you say I am?”

I think Peter knew before that day that Jesus was the Messiah. And I think Jesus knew that Peter knew. But I also think Jesus knew it was beneficial for Peter to press pause for a second and let the question sink in and confirm it once again. I *do* believe You are the Messiah.

Peter didn’t even simply say, “We call You the Messiah.” Peter declared it. “You are the Messiah.”

Maybe you are like me and could benefit from doing this today too. Pause for a second and ask yourself, “Who do you say He is?” “Who do you believe He is?” Let’s remind ourselves of the things we have seen Him do, and the things we read He did in Scripture. Write those things down if you are near a scrap of paper or your phone. Let it sink in for a minute and remember who we say He is.

Happy Little Trees

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Noah and I were finishing up the day with an episode of “Chill with Bob Ross” on Netflix.

Bob’s canvas was covered with a mix of Titanium white, Prussian blue and Midnight black across the top for the sky, and a slightly darker version of the mixture for a pond beneath it. He had just blended it perfectly and it looked beautiful and serene. Bob is a genius. Everything he paints turns out top-notch and he does it in a way that calms us, with his kind, encouraging words. In this episode he even had a tiny bird perched on his finger while sharing memories from his childhood. He has a way of lowering your blood pressure in just one episode.

Even though I know he is going to do something incredible, when he takes that metal painting knife covered in a dollop of midnight black and drags it right down the center of his masterpiece, I’m sure for a moment that he has completely ruined it. That this episode is certainly the one time he regrets what he has done and we all feel sad. But then he starts fanning the paint out, a little to the left, a little to the right, and continues it to the bottom of the line of paint. It turns into one of his happy little trees. Even then, I think, Are you sure Bob? Right in the middle of the water? Trees don’t grow there. I don’t think this is right. I keep my eyes glued to the screen and watch him as he then grabs a different brush and starts fanning a darker shade of paint southward and it turns this tree in the middle of the sea into this tiny edge of a snowy forest on the side of a pond, complete with reflections on the water. I don’t know how he does it.

As I was questioning Bob, the questions and doubts felt familiar. I have asked God the very same things. I see my life or the lives of the people I love and how things are going great, pretty smooth and pretty easy, when He suddenly drags the painting knife right down the middle in a harsh shade that doesn’t seem to go with everything else, and I start to question. What are You doing? Things are good, why do You need to add this? What is the purpose? There is no way this can turn into something good. This is the one time You have made the wrong move.

But, of course I’m wrong. He knows what He is doing. Every single time. It doesn’t always turn into a happy little tree so quickly, but it gets there eventually. Sometimes even the finished product doesn’t look like we think it should. But we aren’t the Artist. He is the One with a plan, and all the steps along the way to see it out.

If you are finding yourself in the middle of your fresh, seemingly misplaced, line of harsh paint right in the middle of your easy-going canvas, this is to remind you that you aren’t alone and that often these steps are needed to get the result we will really want the most.

Trusting is hard. But when you can remember time and time again how faithful and right God has been in your life, and then remember all the times you have heard your friends and family talk about how God came through for them, and then recall the stories written in the Bible, where we see God showing up over and over – our trust can grow a little bit more. He has a good track record and I promise He knows what He is doing.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” – Proverbs 3:5

Look For His Shirt

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Sometime in the fall our church joined the other churches in our community for a prayer walk, and for probably a mile or so we all came together asking God for so many things we want for the Highlawn area. We prayed for the school, other churches, the hospital – you name it, it was covered. It was a beautiful day, with colored leaves on the trees and on the sidewalks and in neighborhood yards.

There are few things I love more than finding a big, extra crisp one, stepping right on top of it and hearing the crunch. During the walk I was distracted by these beauties and when I looked up, I realized I wasn’t in the same place in our large group. I couldn’t see Shawn anymore. I was looking all around me, but wasn’t having much luck finding him.
Everyone was taller than me so couldn’t see very far ahead of where I was, but then when I peeked around the right side of the group, up ahead I could see a bit of a red shirt. I knew he was wearing red, and felt pretty confident it was him. It was just enough for me to keep my eyes on until our next stop when I could meet back up with him.
Sometimes I find myself losing God in my crowd. Things pile in around me and I can’t see over the doubt, the fear, the uncertainty. Looking around I can find the tall disappointment, and I can see the broad-shouldered comparison, but where is God?

Then without fail, He will come into view and I can see a smidgeon of red, wondering if that just might be his sleeve. It is the hope I need to keep going.

In Luke chapter 8, a woman had been sick for 12 years, and no doctors could help her. She knows Jesus is passing by, and knew that if she could just get so close to be able to touch his clothes, it would be enough. She knew she just needed to be near Him.

She was right. Immediately, without even a word said, He did what doctors could not.
And I love so much that Scripture says “she could not go unnoticed.” She was settling for just being near Him, but He wanted to see her, up close. He called her “daughter.”

Being near did the job, but Jesus didn’t want it to stay that way. He got closer.

Are you facing something that seems much bigger than you, and you can’t seem to see God in it anywhere? Pray for a glimpse. All we really need is to know He is near.

Are distracted by all the things – the doubt, the comparison, the lies of the enemy? Look for His shirt.

Thankfully these times aren’t the norm. Often I feel like Jesus is right there, in my line of vision. And there are other times I feel like He is close enough to be holding my hand. But for those moments when I just can’t seem to find Him, I am so glad I can look for His shirt and that will be enough to keep me going. He is always close by.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:9

Birds and Purpose

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Little bits of twigs, string, and mud all smooshed together to help our back porch lights become a housing community for our neighborhood birds wanting to start their families. We were delighted to see a new nest this year with three teensy eggs and two loving parents patiently caring for their new bundles of joy. It is so fun to watch. First the nest is built, then the parents are waiting and waiting, taking turns keeping their precious eggs warm and protected in the wind, rain and unexpected snow. Before long, tiny bald heads peep out over the top with their beaks wide open, anticipating Mom or Dad’s breakfast runs. I love watching them, but it seems to go by so quickly.

 I remember a couple of years back when Noah was turning 15. He had gone to the movies with some friends and Shawn and I were eating in the food court. My friend Mona walked by and was chatting with us for a minute, where of course I lamented how quickly time is flying by and I don’t want Noah to grow up and it’s all going to be over soon, blah blah blah. Then she shared words of wisdom with me, saying how it is normal and natural for things to grow. She said, “When baby birds grow up, they leave the nest. Wouldn’t it look so silly to see a nest full of grown up birds all stuffed in it?” It was a funny picture in my head, but it was words I haven’t forgotten. She was right. When the time comes, they leave the nest. It is the way it is supposed to be.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven” – Ecclesiastes 3:1

Another wise woman, my mother-in-law, said how she has enjoyed every single part of her kids’ lives. She doesn’t mourn for the parts that are over, she embraces what is happening right now. And I think that can be true for all of us, with or without kids.

Whether you are a new parent, missing the days when you can sleep in, or one who just watched their last child graduate from high school. Whether you just retired from your job, or are moving a parent in to live with you. Sure, there were great parts about what we just finished, and we can be thankful and delightfully remember them. But there is something good right in front of you.

I don’t pretend to know everything. Some of you might be going through the toughest times of your lives right this moment. But I can tell you that there is something to embrace and be thankful for even then. During some of the toughest times of my life, I have found that’s when I find myself scooching closer and closer to God, and those are times I wouldn’t trade for anything. Learning to depend on Him, trust Him, and know Him better through time in Scripture and prayer have all been more of a blessing than I could have anticipated. He doesn’t waste anything.

During those really hard, icky times, there is always something we can learn. And there is always something we can give. A friend who works in Hospice shared with me this week how that is a struggle some of her patients go through. They wonder how God can use them and what purpose their lives can have while they are confined to their bed in a nursing home. She said it’s harder to accept, but that sometimes that purpose isn’t something for them, but for someone else.  The purpose might be that someone else sees how you can have joy even through suffering, and through that learn more about this Jesus that you are longing to see. If you have breath, you still have purpose.

Keep your eyes peeled and your hearts open to whatever God has for you in this day, in this moment.

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  – Ephesians 2:5

He Loves Us Through Our Failings

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At exactly 7 minutes before the lovely bride was to walk down the aisle, I realized I should run to the restroom. It was a building I had never been to before, but as I turned around I saw the tiny bathroom sign toward the back of the open space, I told my people I would be right back.

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I placed my hand on the doorknob and opened it to see the entire selection of groomsmen on the other side of the door.

Many of you quick-witted friends of mine would know exactly what to say in such a scenario to make that a laughable experience. I, on the other hand, with eyes as big as saucers and mouth agape, stood there for approximately 0.5 seconds, said nothing then shoved the door closed and speed-walked back to my seat.

I  may have never moved so fast in all my life. Except those times I’ve shoved a direction from the Holy Spirit right out of my mind. I can do that pretty quickly.

A thousand times in my life I have felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit to do something – send the card, make the phone call, set up the lunch date – and just as quickly as I turned around from that bathroom, the idea that just entered my mind will leave. The card doesn’t get sent, the call doesn’t get made, and there is no lunch. All my good intentions are blown away like a napkin from a picnic table, never to be seen again. I am not proud of this, but am hoping you will join me in this time of confession, letting me know I am not the only one.

This sort of thing will leave me feeling like a big, fat failure, and happens more times than I care to admit. Sometimes the feeling comes from following through with something I was pretty sure God has asked me to do, but somewhere along the way feeling certain this isn’t the thing He is asking of me right now. It leaves me wondering if I heard Him wrong to start with, or if that particular calling for my life was for a temporary season, or – worst of all – that I tried it but God must have decided I wasn’t good at it after all. I am gifted at being dramatic.

Sometimes my attitude is the problem. I will do whatever it is I am asked/called to do, but my attitude is clearly not of someone who is on a mission from God.

All of this will leave me briefly wondering if God looks at me as a disappointment. I know I am not alone in this, as a friend just told me last night that she feels this way right now.

It’s funny how I work super hard to find scripture and truth that can prove to others that these crummy feelings aren’t valid at all, but when it is myself feeling this way, I tend to wallow.

I’ve recently read through the book of Job, and learned some stuff about him that might help you as well. I had always credited him for going through hard things and never losing faith and staying strong through the whole thing. But I will challenge you to read the entire book if you haven’t. It was such a comfort to me to see this man who did not handle it perfectly, who complained, felt deserted, and cursed his very birth, still be used and blessed by God.

And what did God say about him? “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (1:8)

God, who knew how this was going to go, sees Job as blameless and upright. He sees him as a man who will stick it out, even when it is hard. A man who is going to get whiny beginning in chapter 3, who is going to feel forsaken, and who begins to question his very Maker – God has said there is no one on earth like him.

God knows we are going to mess up, but He is our Father who will guide us through it. It might require putting us in our place like it did for Job in chapters 38-41, but He will continue holding on to us, redirecting our failures and bad attitudes, and loving us through it all. He is a good Father.

“The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.
Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.”
Psalm 37:23-24

Keep Your Eyes Open

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Written February 2018

What happened in Florida has broken my heart. The tears kept coming as I saw the faces and heard stories of those who died. The tears come as I think of the mom who made it her life’s mission to love and care for this boy who would ultimately end the lives of 17 innocent people. My heart breaks wondering why he did it. Wondering if there was anything at all that could have prevented it.

I have no idea what the right answer is. I felt helpless and fearful. Wednesday evening we were researching bulletproof backpacks, and it breaks my heart that that even has to be a thing. Thursday morning, I didn’t want to send my son to school and I am sure I am not the only one who was feeling this way.

I pray with my son every day on the way to school, and every night before bed, asking God to protect him, and protect his school, and his friends. I am also certain I am not the only one who does this, and I wonder which Parkland moms were praying that Wednesday morning as their kids left them, and wondering how those moms are making sense of all of this now.

It leaves me wanting heaven. Wanting the day when Jesus makes it all right again. But here we are.

While a good bunch of people will be talking to their representatives and leaders, asking for law changes and action, it can leave the rest of us just hoping something changes but feeling powerless to make it happen. There is something we can do though, and we can do it today.

Keep your eyes open. Look for people around you who are alone, who are different, who are hurting. Talk to them. Care about them as if they are your kid, your sister, your dad.
If you are a teenager, look around the room. You will see kids at school, at church, at practice, sitting alone quietly, not quite feeling included. Please talk to them. Not in a pity way (though even that is better than nothing) but in a way that Jesus would. In a way that wants to really know them and sees value in them. Everyone has value.

If you are an adult at church, look for that kid sitting alone. Ask about what he does for fun. What he wants to be when he grows up. Take a genuine interest in his life. Pray for him, and ask him for specifics on what he needs prayer for. Follow up the next time you see him, asking how his test was, or if he saw the latest episode of whatever his favorite show is. Love him like Jesus would. It might be weird at first, but it is so very valuable.
If you are a neighbor, get to know that girl who walks by your house. Intentionally be available to make conversation. Find a way to show her that you see her, and that God made her for a purpose.

And this doesn’t just apply to teenagers. Look for the lonely adults, the people your age, the ones older than you, anyone who could use someone to value them. I am preaching to myself here too, because sometimes I am lazy, and skip the conversations. We can do better.

I am not saying this will stop all, or even any of the shootings, or that I have the answer.

But I think it is a good place to start.

“Love one another as I have loved you.” – John 15:12

The Hole

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Kankelfritz is afraid of the vacuum cleaner. When he sees it coming, this grey kitten’s hazel eyes get as big as saucers, and panic sets in. He takes off running, typically to the inside of the hollow leg of our air hockey table. All you can see is his tail sticking out from underneath. He will stay there for hours, even occasionally skipping a meal. The dark, private, secluded space seems safer, so he stays.

So if you ever come to my house and my carpet isn’t freshly vacuumed, I’m not being lazy –  I’m doing it for the kittens. Whatever.

There have been times that I forget he is in there. Feeding time rolls around, and only his brother Stank will come running, and then it hits me that I haven’t seen Kankelfritz in a long time.
He was in his hole and I didn’t notice.
I was reading Scripture this morning, in the book of Jeremiah, and in chapter 38, things take a rough turn for Jeremiah. Prophets don’t always get the joy of delivering delightful news; occasionally they have to say some hard things. People got tired of hearing Jeremiah’s words of their upcoming punishment. A group of officials went to the king and explained that Jeremiah was being a bit of a Debbie Downer. He was bringing down the mood of the soldiers and everyone else, and it might be better if he were dead. The king wimped out and agreed to let them do what they needed to, so they put Jeremiah in a deep, muddy pit, and left him there to die.

But somebody noticed.

Ebed-Melech heard about Jeremiah in the hole, and decided he wouldn’t stand for it. He went to the king, and sought justice. He told the king that what happened to Jeremiah was unjust and wicked, and something must be done.

He went to bat for Jeremiah.

The king agreed to save him, and sent Ebed-Melech and 30 other men to do the hard work of getting him out. Thanks to this guy, Jeremiah’s life was saved.

I have been in a hole.

A friend and I were talking the other day and we agreed that sometimes we get comfortable in our holes and don’t want to come out. The blah-ness and isolation and melancholy can begin to feel comfortable, like a warm blanket.

Mine has lasted longer this time than it has in the past. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what shoved me in, but here I sit.

But a friend noticed.

She invited me out for breakfast. She forced me to be social. She knew it was for my own good. She encouraged me. She also reminded me that she has been in the pit before too, and had help getting out. That’s what we do.

I want to be more like my friend, and more like Ebed-Melech. I want to be the one who notices, and does something about it. Join me in praying God will make us more aware of the people around us who could use a hand, and for us to get on with a plan to help get them out.

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
Galations 6:2