"Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15

Monday, February 28, 2011

These are a Few of My Favorite Things

Some of my favorite songs:

"Bring the Rain," by Mercy me

I Refuse," by Josh Wilson

"Beautiful," by Mercy Me

"Praise You In This Storm," by Casting Crowns'

"What Love Really Means," by JJ Heller

"Our God is Greater," by Chris Tomlin

"I Will Follow," by Chris Tomlin

"Cinderella," by Steven Curtis Chapman

"Above All," by Michael W. Smith

"Better Than A Hallelujah," by Amy Grant

"Thank You," by Ray Boltz

"Stand in the Rain," by SuperChick

"Hero," by SuperChick

"Everything to Me," by Avalon

"Starry Night," by Chris August

"That's What Faith Can Do," by Kutless

I hope you've enjoyed listening to a few of my favorite songs. I have tons more, but I think this is more than enough for now. This sampling also gives you an inkling of what each Christian artist sounds like. I love them all, and I hope you do, too. Be blessed!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

He's Not Who I Thought He Was

Have you ever met someone and after a while, you realize he's really not who you thought he was?  Well, that happened to me yesterday.  Well, our family Golden Retriever recently passed away, so I have been looking to rescue another.  We really, really fell in love with Sam and have decided that we definitely want to adopt another Golden.  So, imagine my surprise when my niece Facebooked me and said that she may have just the dog we are looking for.  Woo-Hoo!  Autumn volunteers at an Animal Rescue and recently came across a woman who had a Golden that she couldn't take care of because she was financially strapped.

Well, Autumn to the rescue.  Apparently Leonard (Ok, I know he needs a new name--I don't even like typing  his name--so let's call him Leo) was found in Leonard, Michigan, on Leonard Street, and this lady had taken him in a few weeks ago.  Autumn Facebooked (is that even a slang term yet) a picture of him, and he was so adorable.  I was told he was a one year old flat coated Retriever.  Hmmm.  Autumn, along with her fiancee, Taubin, was going to pick him up on Thursday evening.  So, I made arrangements to go to Michigan on Friday afternoon/evening.

Autumn called me on Friday and said that Leo was beautiful, sweet, totally awesome, and ALL puppy.  He wasn't trained nor housebroken, but he was highly intelligent.  No problem.  Now here's the kicker.  When Autumn and Taubin picked him up, the so called 'financially strapped' woman was standing on the porch of a million dollar mansion, dressed in full length fur coat.  Talk about not being who you said you were. Hmm.  Well, that made absolutely she had said suspect at best.  Leo was found in the barn, extremely thin and cold.  His ribs were showing and he was so very happy for some human interaction.  Apparently, Leo wasn't gaining any weight.  Could that possibly be because the woman was only feeding him leftover pizza and pasta?  Well, let me guess on that one.  (Please note the sarcasm--because it is so intentional.)

Anyway, amidst their dismay, Leo happily bounded into their backseat and began to take Autumn's fur lined coat hood in his mouth.  As soon as she told him, "No!," he immediately dropped it.  If nothing else, he was truly obedient.  Then, they went home.  Autumn gave me the complete update upon my arrival.  Although he wasn't housebroken, he was doing fabulously and got along really, really well with Autumn and Taubin's Newfoundland, Xander--all 120 pounds of Xander and all 80 pounds of Leo.  He hadn't chewed anything he wasn't supposed to and was just all puppy.

Sure enough, as soon as Autumn opened the patio door, in bounded Leo.  All gangly and goofy Leo.  I immediately noticed his adorability (again, is that even a word?) and I also noticed that he definitely was not a Golden Retriever.  Nope.  He, in fact, was a complete Irish Setter. 

A beautiful, shiny coat, copper colored Irish Setter.  Beautiful.  Setters are hunting dogs, and that explained why Leo was so enamored with Autumn's fur line coat hood.  Ha.  He was just doing his job.  Whenever he would hear a bird chirp, he would immediately freeze, as if a statue, and point his nose, tail and legs.  Very cute.  Definitely hunting material, but not Grayczyk household material.

I was thrilled that I was able to spend some time visiting with Autumn and meeting Leo.  I also was able to stop and see my brother and nephew in Livonia, Michigan, on the way to Autumn's. That's all very good.  However, this experience totally got me thinking about my original question: Have you ever met someone and after a while, you realize he's really not who you thought he was?  Oh yeah!  Most definitely.  Two times in this case.  I  mean, come on lady, you can't afford to feed a dog, but you can afford to live  in a mansion, house various horses and wear a full length fur.  And then, Leo being an Irish Setter and not a Golden Retriever.  Now, that's just funny.  Then I wonder just how many other things are there that I think are one thing, when in reality, they are another.

One thing I do know for sure though, is that the Lord is most definitely Who I think He is.  He is, He was, and He always will be.  He's Abba Father.  The Alpha and Omega.  The Beginning and the End.  The  best friend of a lifetime.  A Father to the Fatherless.  Hope to the Hopeless.  Perfect Health to the sick.  Perfect Peace to the Worrisome.  Perfect Love to the otherwise unlovable.  Perfect Joy to the saddened.  Perfect Kindness to those that are unkind.  Perfect Grace to those that need it (don't we all?).  All Merciful for those that need mercy (again, that's all of us!)  Wow.

It saddens me when I think of all the people who truly don't know just Who this Jesus is.  They think He is sitting on His Throne just waiting to pounce on them when they do something that they consider wrong.  They think he will pummel them if they don't live up to His expectations.  That He will stop loving them if they misbehave.  These are all horribly incorrect views of Jesus. No.  He is exactly the opposite of these characteristics.  And the bottom line is:  He not only loves each and every one of us, but He is crazy, madly in love with us.  He would NEVER hurt us, ALWAYS has our backs, and LOVES us unconditionally.  Always, always, always.

Here's praying that although we may run into the occasional deceitful person, and the occasional Golden Retriever that is actually an Irish Setter, that we realize just Who Jesus Really is. --a welcome participant in my life (and, hopefully, yours, too)--Who lives in my heart.  I heart you all.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Visions and Insults

“If the size of the vision for your life isn’t intimidating to you, chances are it’s insulting to God.”  I borrowed this quote from a friend who recently heard it at a Chick-Fil-A company meeting.  Wow! And when I read it, I really had to pause.  I mean, shoot.  I hope I'm not insulting God.

As I sit here and ponder my life vision, it's rather exciting.  Not to be dramatic or anything, but I doubt I would have called it a 'vision for my life,' but rather, 'what I want my future to hold.' As if I have much say in the matter. Goodness, I know that my life is made up of choices--good and bad--and chances are, the way I respond to those choices will determine my future.  But, you know what?  I'd like to think that my future holds  more than just my responses to the choices thrown at me.  No, I want to believe, and actually do believe, that although I may correctly and incorrectly make choices that help determine my future, ultimately God will determine my future.

That's a total relief, especially considering my past.  I mean, I wouldn't want to repeat that at all.  I know the Lord has plans for me, and I know that they are totally awesome.

Proverbs 20:24 says, "A person’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand their own way?

Well, that's good to know because I generally need some major directing in my steps.  If I had to count on the fact that I would be the one doing the directing, I would be in a sorry state. Geesh!  Why people want to direct their own future is just beyond me.  I wouldn't even really want to supervise my future.

Proverbs 16;9 says, "In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.

Do you honestly think that the Lord wrote those words because he just had some extra ink and paper? I don't think so. I think He meant it as a comfort and as a saving grace to us.  Just when we think that we have everything all planned out, the rug gets pulled out from under us.  Just when the rug gets pulled out from under us, and we are ready to give up on our future, a little voice whispers, "Shari, you may plan your course, but I alone will establish your steps.  I will ultimately determine where you go. Don't worry.  I have it covered."  Whew!  That's a relief.

Back to the 'life vision--possibly insulting God--Chick-Fil-A quote.  Oh yeah, my life vision.  Does it sinc with the Lord's life vision for me?   I hope so.  I have so many plans for my future, and as they say, "My future's so bright, I need to wear shades."  Ha.  I've got plans that I've shared with only a precious few, and they have been sworn to secrecy, lest they be struck by lightening.  I have, however, written down these plans, only because I believe in prophecy but because the Lord has spoken these plans for me. Plans for my future.

Jeremiah 29:11 says, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plan to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Not only do I thoroughly believe this Old Testament quote, but I live by it.  I've claimed it for myself, and I have claimed it for my children.  I have claimed this quote for quite a few people over the years, and I  am always excited about God's revelations regarding it.  My future is tomorrow, but is also next week, next month, next year, next decade, etc.  College was in my high school future.  Career was in my college future.  Marriage and children were in my career future. And only God knows what my next future will hold.  I know what my ultimate future holds, in eternity, but I have to admit, I would love to have a crystal ball and be able to see next week, next month, and even next year.

I'd love to see job's future (considering they are laying off daily), my children's futures, my grandchildren, etc.  There's just so very much, and it's all very good.

It's especially good because, now that I think about it, I am definitely not insulting God.  And that's always a wonderful thing.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Crystals and Fluff

OK. I definitely have an entirely new appreciation for snow.  I'll admit it; I've never fully appreciated that white dust that always seems to prevail in NW Ohio during the colder months.  I've never fully appreciated its fluffy ability to be swiped off my windshield, with just a swish of my brush, early in the dark hours of the morning, it's ability to melt relatively quickly whenever I throw salt on it, and it's ability to move-on-over whenever I get my mini Toro snow blower out (which BTW, hasn't worked even one time this season) and move it right along.  I haven't ever appreciated the fact that I can generally walk in snow without falling, wipe it off my coat in an instant, make and throw a decent snowball, and romp in it.  Goodness, we can even take pretty pictures of it's fluffiness. (Is that even a word?)
You know why I hadn't ever really appreciated snow before?  Because I haven't ever seen ice like I've seen it the past few days.  I mean ice is EVERYWHERE--and anything and everything is totally blanketed in it. And it's not just that flimsy, step on it and break it, throw some salt on it and melt it, kind of ice.  No, it's the thick, cannot be melted without a blow torch, if it fell on you, it would permanently maim you,  kind of ice.  It's the kind that makes you shiver just looking at it, and heaven forbid you have to walk on it.  You may as well just sit on it because you're gonna fall anyway.  At least, if you sit first, you'll know when you'll be getting wet, and it will be less painful.

Yes, there was an ice storm in NW Ohio two nights ago, and we awoke yesterday to a crystal landscape.  The freezing, diamond like sparkle was everywhere, and it continued to cascade down all morning and afternoon, until my car was just totally encased in the stuff.  Unfortunately, my van, which was parked in my driveway, in front of the garage door, wouldn't move.  It's perfectly brand new battery wasn't acting so perfect the night before last.  I had wanted to park my car in the garage, but I couldn't because the van was immovable.  So....alas car was totally covered in the stuff.

Around 4:00 pm, Bethany, Jonathan and I went outside to tackle our car windshields.  Hers, because she needed to drive somewhere (should I say, 'slide' somewhere-against my better judgement), and mine, because I didn't want to have to tackle it in the morning.  The fact that Jonathan and Bethany were so willing to assist my chiseling efforts definitely added to my desire to bundle up and hack away at the windshield.  Ah....but first we needed to open the door of each vehicle so that we could turn on the defrosters.  Ha. Fat chance.  I couldn't even find the keyhole.  I could hear my automatic opener working, but the door wasn't budging under the half inch of freezing, rock solid, ice.

So...out came the buckets of cool water. We thoroughly drenched the sides of the doors, around the openings and finally succeeded in opening the doors of both cars. Whew!  On went the defrosters.  Then Jonathan dumped more water on the side windows.  I figured we should let the defrosters work on the front and back windows.  Ha, if it were only that easy.  We hacked, sawed, chiseled, hammered, and scraped our way through layer after layer of ice.  I hadn't ever seen that much ice, let alone on my car.  My lawn was an ice rink--pure ice; the street and driveways  were the same.  When my dog, Domino, tried to run off, he slipped (served him right). Obviously, he didn't get very far. Not that it would have mattered; I wouldn't have been able to keep my two feet vertical long enough to follow him. He loves the snow, but the ice is quite another story.

There were icicles everywhere.  Pretty-yes.  Freezing cold-yes.  Annoying to the point that I was praying for summer-definitely.  Even the mailbox was frozen shut. Thank God it was a federal holiday and the mail man wouldn't be stopping by.  Even today, when I went to get my workout bag out of the trunk, I had to scrape more ice off. Then, when I slammed the trunk shut, the icy shards of weaponly went flying everywhere.

So...back to my total appreciation of snow.  Ah, pure, white, fluffy snow. Who knew I would ever be singing the praises of snow?  Surely, not me.  No, I sing the praises of white sand beaches in Maui, of Oceanic Caribbean cruises, of flip flops and swimsuits.  Not snow.  Funny how everything just needs a little perspective and how quickly we can change our minds about things.

Have you ever been in a fender bender and been totally exasperated?  But then, you see an overturned car on the side of the road, and think, "Thank God for the fender bender?" Went to purchase a much needed item and thought it was way too expensive, just to find it somewhere else for twice the price?  Suddenly, the first item seemed like a bargain?  That's how I felt about the snow and ice today.  I used to love the snow, but the older I get, I tend to disdain it.  I merely tolerate it.  Sure, it's pretty, but I don't enjoy driving in it, and more importantly, I don't want my children driving in it.

I work on a college campus, and goodness, have you seen how some college kids drive?  Take that and combine it with some slippery ice and snow. Then add some black ice.  Definitely a prescription for disaster.  Thus, I've said, 'nay' to snow for the past few years.  That is, until  yesterday.  All I could think of was, 'bring on the snow, baby.' 'Pack up this ice and bring on the snow.'  Over 28,000 people lost their power due to the ice on the power lines.  I prayed without ceasing yesterday that my power would stay on, and Praise God, it did.  A few people at work had to sleep in local hotels because their power was out.  One person had forgotten about his daughter's fishbowl.  Ahh....I think it's probably encased in ice, too.

We are supposed to get another 5-6" of snow in a day or so.  No problem.  As long as it's not ice.

Here's hoping that you are able to find a new appreciation for something that you have otherwise not appreciated.   Stay warm and be blessed!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sunny and Warm

Yes, a sudden reprieve from the ravages of an Ohio winter; it has been sunny and warm all week here in NW Ohio. OK. I realize that warm is relative, but considering it has been below freezing (more like sub zero) temperatures, resting comfortably in the mid-forties is very warm. Almost tropical--at least to me. Whoever would even remotely describe NW Ohio as being 'almost tropical,' is surely desperate.

With the craziness of this past week, I have been, unfortunately, unable to bask in any of our new found sunshine and warmth. With work, Sam's untimely passing, school activities and family commitments, I have only been able to enjoy this weather from afar. That's OK though. I have thoroughly enjoyed it, even if it has been from a distance. It's given me a craving for Spring, for crocus emerging through the soil, for birds chirping in the morning hours (preferably after I am already awake), for long walks and even longer runs, and for Summer...visits to the beach, vacation in Daytona Beach, graduation parties, cookouts, Mudhens baseball, kids home all day, waking up knowing it's going to be warm outside, ice cream cones, etc. Yes, I thoroughly love Spring and Summer and can't wait for their arrival.

I love sleeping in on a summer vacation day, sipping coffee and reading the newspaper outside in the backyard and just walking the neighborhood. Actually, now that I think of it, I really miss walking my neighborhood. I'll have to begin doing that again, regardless of the weather. Domino is beginning to become a bit pudgy, and I'm sure he'd enjoy it, too. I haven't been able to walk the dogs of late, not only because of the weather, but also because, as tame and timid as they were, they would go wild when they were together walking. For being a trained therapy dog, Domino sure taught Sam some wild antics. Anyway...

Back to dreaming. Who doesn't love laying in a hammock, sipping a diet coke. Wait a minute. That is, once you have gotten yourself settled comfortably in the hammock--without leaning too much to either one side or the other and falling out. And camping. Ahh...camping. I think I am getting ahead of myself. I need to just keep reminding myself that it's almost Spring, and then Summer. Spring first. Most people say, "Rain, rain go away. Come again another day." I say, "Bring on the rain." At least that means it's not snowing, and it's a telltale sign of Spring. I also say, "Winter, Winter go away. Don't come back another day. Ever."

So, I guess I will just enjoy this unexpected burst of warmth and sunshine, walks and thaws, puddles and light jackets, and just pray that it lasts longer than it inevitably will. Maybe, I'll actually go for a walk tomorrow. Be blessed as you enjoy this Lord's day.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Tribute

Sam...Well what can I say about him? To memorialize him? To leave a legacy of him?

Sam Grayczyk. A short, but sweet name. We didn't name him. But we did like his name.

--Meaning: "Asked of God, God has heard."
--Breed: Golden Retriever
--Color: Golden
--Favorite Hobby: Retrieving
--Weight: 80 pounds
--Siblings: Joy, Bethany, Jonathan, Domino
--Demeanor: Sweet, kind, pleasant, laid back, lovable, peaceful, friendly, playful

We adopted Sam less than 3 months ago. Yup, November 19, 2010, to be exact. We were told he was 6-7 years old and in good health. Ha. Joke's on us, but it is not very funny at all. Call us naive, but ultimately, we were happy to have him in our growing family. We were extremely disappointed when our reputable veterinarian informed us that not only was Sam a lot older than we had thought, but that he was mostly blind and deaf. And, we didn't know it then, but he had an enormous tumor growing inside him, that would cause him to pass away far sooner than we would have liked.

Sam was friendly and pleasant to the very end of his life on earth. Although I am thoroughly dismayed that an Animal Rescue Center would sell us Sam under such false pretenses, we were happy to call him ours. Domino was happy to have him to play with (well sort of). We actually adopted Sam to be a companion for Domino, but because of Sam's age, he couldn't keep up with him. Domino was constantly prodding him and pushing him into play, and Sam would do the minimal amount required to have a good time. Give him a ball, and he was set for life. He loved retrieving, and we loved throwing. But...Sam always knew when we wanted to stop playing and to settle down. All we had to do was to stop for a moment, and Sam got the idea. Woo Hoo!

Anyway, I wanted to just memorialize Sam in this blog because, although he was only a part of our family for a very short time, he left a huge impact on our lives--his paw print. Before Sam, we hadn't ever even considered adopting a Golden Retriever, now we definitely see another one in our future. Only this time, we will adopt from a more reputable center.

Lastly, as our family is still grieving (Domino has laid around all day sulking and looking for Sam), we realize that Sam's name was definitely suited for him. "Asked of God, God has heard." I think that God knew we would enjoy having him in our lives for a short time, and Jonathan had been asking and asking for a dog. And...I'm sure that God heard Sam's inner plea for a home for his last days. A perfect fit. It's always nice to know that God not only hears our pleas, but actually answers them. May we all rest knowing that.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My Grown Up Job

On Sunday, my Pastor posed this question from the pulpit, "What do/did you want to be when you grow up?" Hmmm. As I was thinking about it, he said, 'Do you really think the men and women at the Cherry Street Mission planned on being homeless when they were kids? Did a crack addict aspire to be one as a 5 year old? I don't think so. Did the alcoholic tell his parents, 'I can't wait to be addicted to alcohol when I grow up?' No way.

I had always wanted to be a veterinarian. As a child, I adored animals, and they seemed to kind of like me, too. I typically thrived whenever I was around an animal. But a veterinarian? Apparently, that didn't happen, because I don't exactly go to work at a veterinarian's office daily. No, I wound up an accountant. Yikes. Talk about a change of venue. I mean, it's like a totally different person was inside that little girl and smushed out the sweet, caring, veterinarian, and said, 'No. You're going to be a pencil pushing accountant.' What 8 year old would ever really aspire to be an accountant? I can't say that I know of any. Oh, maybe Alex Keaton, from Family Ties, but that's a whole different ball of wax.

We then saw a video of a man talking to another who claimed to be God. "Psst...Remember...back to my story about being in church last Sunday--just in case I was boring you and you had forgotten." And for video purposes, the man was God. OK, it was a rather simple, but effective video skit. The man prayed and prayed, and God was answering his prayer by chiseling away at him. He had a hammer and chisel and would pretend to hammer the chisel around the man's back--thus cutting out 'pride,' 'anger,' 'jealousy,' and more, attempting to make him the man that he was praying to become and the man that God had truly intended him to be. I mean, does anyone ever plan on growing up to with some of the seven deadly sins hanging around his or her neck? I don't think so.

Me, like the man in the video, ultimately wants to become who God wants me to be. I want the Lord to strip away from me anything and everything that would cause me to sin. (OK, Lord. Please leave my family and my job.) But in order to do so, I must be purposeful and intentional; I must take the time, effort and energy to learn to grow in my walk with the Lord. Pastor Caldwell also mentioned that we all come to various forks in the road of life, and depending upon how we view them, they can become opportunities and blessings or destruction and consequences. I mean,we literally choose our destiny.

The question then is really, "What do I want to be Spiritually when I grow up?" Ahh...Now that's an entirely different story. And....what am I going to do to ensure that it happens? To ensure that I am actually become that woman of God that He called me to be. This needs to be a core value, stemming from how much I want to personally want to grow with and in Christ. This is a process, and most likely, a life long one. Pastor mentioned, 'The more I learn about God, the more I know that I do not know.' Wow. Isn't that the truth? The more I learn, the more I realize that I really don't know anything. I learned a long time ago that I should not pray for either patience or humility. Why? Because whenever I would pray for those character qualities, I would suddenly be thrust into situations that would require me to be patient and humble. And...either I would learn that I am not God's material, or I would prove that I still needed some more chiseling.

When I accepted Christ as my Savior, that was only the first step. It was a major first step, and that in and of itself, was quite enough. But to really live for Christ, to center my life around Him, to walk the walk and not just talk the talk, to grow in my relationship with my new-found best friend, it requires a journey, a process. It may take weeks or months, but most likely, it will take years, even decades. Spiritual growth doesn't just happen. If anything, our society works against it happening. Every time I turn on the TV, I am bombarded with images that affront my spiritual growth. When I drive on the freeways (especially I-75 leaving Michigan and entering Ohio) it is the same. In order for my spiritual growth to happen, I must be intentional, purposeful, ever watchful and wanting. I have to want it, crave it. And...I have to be willing to do whatever it takes to get it.

Just as husbands and wives want their relationships to develop, flourish and prosper, so the Lord wants my relationship with Him to do so. It won't just happen overnight. No, just as couples need to communicate daily, work on and alleviate their negative, past behaviors, focus on the positive in each other, crave each other's presence, I need to practice the same behaviors with the Lord. I must crave His presence, through the Word, through prayer, through music, through creation--however, I choose to commune with Him. But....I must do it. As Christians, we must stop talking about it, stop debating it, stop procrastinating about it and just do it.

We may actually have to sacrifice something in order to grow. You may have to turn the TV off a little earlier so that you can read God's letters to you before you go to bed; you may have to set the alarm, and stop hitting the snooze button in the morning, so that you can enjoy His creation with your morning cup of coffee and have a pleasant conversation. You may be called to teach a Bible Study on the only night of the week that you have free. Or cook meals for new parents, even though you may barely have enough to feed yourself. You may need to put dinner on hold while you counsel a frazzled, young mother, get a sitter to visit the homeless or sick, get your hands dirty by helping the widow garden...whatever it is, it may require some sacrifice, and you must be a willing vessel.

But isn't anything truly worthy of God, totally worth whatever it takes to acquire it? Can we possibly put a price on our menial sacrifices in order to get to know God better? Nope. What would you do if you knew that, by doing it, you would have a totally awesome personal relationship with the One Who created the universe? Hmm...Would you climb Mount Everest? Would you swim the deepest ocean or cross the widest sea? Would you be willing to stop complaining? How about not watching various programs on TV? Just what would you do?

How about learning to be quiet and listening to His, still, quiet whisper, and let Him tell you just what to do. He will if you ask Him. He really wants to help you, but you just need to do the asking. Jesus will not push Himself onto anyone, nor will He go where He hasn't been invited. Over the years, I've learned it's really not about me, and it's all about Him. That can be a bummer sometimes. Sometimes, I just want it to be about me. Like when I am ready to go off on the very rude driver in front of me, I have to remember, it's just not about me at all. When I want to scream in frustration because people are not doing the jobs they are being paid to do, I have to remember that it's not about me. It's really about Him inside of me and how I am going to represent Him. Hmmmm...that should make me think twice (or maybe three or four times) before I put my foot into my mouth.

When all is said and done, I really want to become exactly who God wants me to be at this season in my life. When I was young, the Lord called me to be a good daughter, sweet and kind. And then, a great student and friend. Then an excellent employee, wife and then mother. And now...as my children are growing, I see the Lord calling me still to be an excellent employee and mother, but also a great friend to the friendless, and a light in a dark and lonely world. I am sure that there are many other things that the Lord is calling me to be, but I am too tired to think about them or write them.

On a side note, please pray for my Golden Retriever, Sam. He is currently on my living room floor, as sad as can be; he can't move and is dying. Please pray that he is peaceful and not in any pain. I will write about him in tomorrow's blog.

My hope for you is that you seriously consider just who it is that the Lord has called you to be during this season of your life. And then that the Lord gives you the strength and willingness to do whatever it takes to become that person. I heart you all.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

King of Hearts

Happy Valentines Day, everyone. Today is traditionally the day when love is magnified, seduced and celebrated, we think about who we love and why we love them, who loves us and why they do. We show our affection for those we love and are just plain lovely. Restaurants are crowded (I know, because I went to Olive Garden), flowers are purchased and given by the gazillions (I know that, too, because I received a dozen), chocolates are given and eaten, and all of those other things that happen on this lovely day of the year--well, they just do.

Even though I may not be 'in love,' I love Valentines Day. OK, I'd love it even more if I were in love, but let's not even go there.  Anyway, I am someone's object of affection. He, in fact, is crazy in love with me.  Always was and always has been. He loved me even before I existed, even before I was a speck in my mother's womb, before my parents' had ever even thought of me, and He always will.  He can live anywhere in the universe, and yet He chooses my heart. I obviously did not earn this love because I couldn't.  It's not because of anything that I could have, would have or should have done.  No.  It's merely because He does.  He chooses to.  He always has and always will. If I were the only person on this earth, He still would have died just for me.  He knows me even better than I know myself and has reached His verdict: He still loves me.

Just when I think, wow, I really want to be in love with that kind of man--one who loves me unconditionally, the one who always has my back, the one who wants to watch movies and take walks together, the Lord speaks to me and whispers, "You already are." When I reminisce about my past loves and ponder the lessons learned (and not learned), I hear the Lord say, "I will never be your past love because I will never leave you."   When I think of Valentines Day  and all of its earthly implications, I remember, just Who really loves me and just Who I really love and remember that He is the beginning and the end of all Valentines Days. And I smile.

Whether you are madly in love with your husband, you wife, your significant other, or someone else, may you always remember to take time for your First Love--He who created you and is crazy, madly, and undeniably in love with you. And may you smile.....  I heart you all.

Monday, February 14, 2011

To Sara, Miranda Evangeline and Chad, with Love

This past week, I experienced a few of the many blessings of writing a blog. A brother in Christ and friend of mine, Chad Cole, lost his loving wife and baby daughter in a car accident, and he kept a blog--a standing journal of their lives together--soon to be a cherished memorial to his wife and daughter.


It's so very encouraging, and yet so very sad, to be able to read Chad's blog, both before and after the events of last week. Chad began his blog, "Our Little Secret" immediately after learning that he was going to be a father--last summer.  He and his wife, Sara, had been trying to conceive for over 16 months, and finally, she became pregnant. Chad then proceeded to chronicle his wife's pregnancy, his feelings, the doctor appointments, videos of the ultrasounds, etc.  It is a very sweet testimonial to a much loved wife and daughter.  Although Chad hadn't yet met his daughter, later to be named Miranda Evangeline, he wrote as though he had.

August, 4, 2010
We got to hear our babies heartbeat this morning.  Everything sounded good to us and good to the mid-wife doing the exam.  She confirmed that we're at 11 weeks which means the shrimp is a little over 1.5 inches long now.  Just a couple more weeks and everything that makes up a baby will be there.  The mid-wife said that after about the 13th week it's mostly just growth, with little development of new parts and pieces.

and then, the car accident (just a week before Miranda was due to enter this world)...

February 6, 2011,
I lost my best friend of over 15 years yesterday.  She was taken from this Earth far too early.  Knowing that she is resting is Jesus loving care doesn't begin to address the emptiness and hurt that I feel today.

and...earlier this week, when Miranda passed into Jesus' arms...

As I prepared to hold my darling daughter to my chest this evening, I was terrified that I would break...literally break...into pieces.  My fears were unjustified.  The hand of God so reached down and touched me, that I was able to sing my sweet angel into heaven.  That peace stayed with my while I bathed her.  It covered me like a deep blanket of snow while I dressed her for the first time.  It kept a smile on my face while we took pictures and I was able to introduce her to her extended families without all those wires and tubes sticking out of her.  You are all responsible for that peace.

God's miracle to me was giving me strength beyond my own.  Endurance that I could never have mustered.  Helping me carry my daughter proudly down long, silent corridors as we approached the gathered family and friends who were singing upon our arrival.

and then today's entry...

Chad posted the text from the memorial that he read at her funeral yesterday.  Below is an excerpt.
Because of this I want to tell you who Sara really was.  She described herself the best back in 1983, at the age of 7, when she wrote a short, but poignant letter to Jesus.  “Lord, I pray that you will make my heart loving and kind…”

In Miranda’s short life, she never said a word.  She never cooed, or gaa-gaaed.  She never crawled or took a step.  And yet, because of Miranda, a chord has been struck in the heavenly realms and its reverberations will be felt for eternity.  Thousands have joined together in prayer, setting aside spiritual and philosophical differences to lift up one small girl, her mother, her father, and their families.

Because of this I want to tell you who Sara really was.  She described herself the best back in 1983, at the age of 7, when she wrote a short, but poignant letter to Jesus.  “Lord, I pray that you will make my heart loving and kind…”

God answered that prayer, tenfold.  Love dripped from Sara’s pores.  Kindness was at the heart of everything she did.  As an adult, an unkind word from Sara was such a rarity that it was shocking.   And it was usually followed by something positive just to make up for it.  Sara’s gift was living her life with the spiritual purity of a child.  She didn’t make the mistake of trying to make her Christianity into something that was too complex.  For Sara the rules, set by her parents at a young age were simple:  Be kind.  Don’t do things to other people you don’t want to have done to you.  That is who Sara really was.  Sara was love.  She lived love.  If you want to do something to remember my wife, the greatest memorial would be to live life like she did.  Be kind to one another, and don’t do things to other people that you wouldn’t want to have done to you.

I'm not writing this to make anyone sad, but rather as a testament to Chad's devotion to his wife, daughter, and to Jesus Christ.  Through his grief, he remained steadfast, knowing that God had everything under control.  Even though he doesn't and can't see the big picture, he knows that God knows. This is also a testament to Sara, whom Chad has described as, 'pure kindness.'

Tomorrow is Valentines Day--the day that we typically focus more on love than any other.  May the love that Sara lived out, be lived out in your life.  May people be able to say of you that you lived out the word, 'love,' just as Sara did.

The Blessing
Let it be said of us while we walked among the living
Let it be said of us by the ones we leave behind
Let it be said of us that we lived to be a blessing for life

And let it be said of us that we gave to reach the dying
Let it be said of us by the fruit we leave behind
Let it be said of us that our legacy is blessing for life

This day, You set life, You set death right before us
This day, every blessing and curse is a choice now
And we will choose to be a blessing for life

Let it be said of us that our hearts belong to Jesus
Let it be said of us that we spoke the words of life
Let is be said of us that our heritage is blessing for life

'Cause blessings and curses are choices
Will we build up, tear down? The moment of truth is now

For your kingdom, for our children
For the sake of every nation
For your kingdom, for our children
For the sake of every nation
We will choose to be a blessing for life

And...Please remember to pray for Chad, Sara's family and Chad's family.  That the grace of God be upon them, that Chad is especially able to feel and experience God's loving, comforting arms around him during these dark days, that he knows that he is loved, not only by the Savior but also by his many friends.

If my blog is able to bless even 1/4 of the amount of people that Chad's has, I will be truly happy.  Be blessed as you begin your week.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Thank God for Warm Ovens

Well, just when I thought my consistently inconsistent furnace had been repaired, I realize that the 'inconsistent' shined.  Yup, it was just a temporary fix.  I had been so very excited to come home to a nice, cozy and warm home, that I practically forgot that it had actually been freezing cold less than 24 hours earlier.  Funny how quickly we forget.  Anyway, after putting a chicken in the oven, getting my 'American Idol' fix, and chillaxing while writing yesterday's blog entry, I thought I would read a bit before going to bed.  I was totally, physically and mentally exhausted.  Ah hum....I was also getting a bit chilly.

Not to be deterred, after finishing a few mundane tasks, I snuggled beneath my blankets to finish my book.  Of  course, I suddenly remembered I needed to fix my lunch for today. So, I got up, (for the first time, I may add) packed it, and returned to bed.  I was still feeling a little chilly.  I had left the oven door open to utilize the heat from roasting the chicken earlier.  Ah...but then I remembered that I was supposed to bring a certain CD to work tomorrow; one that I had borrowed and the owner needed it by Friday. So, again, I got up and searched everywhere for it.  OK, I didn't search everywhere, because if I had, I would have found it.  And I  didn't.  Well, that took quite a while.  

Again, I noticed that the thermostat numbers were steadily declining. Woah!  Wasn't it just working a little while ago?  I mean, didn't I just get it totally fixed?  Realizing it was bedtime and I couldn't really call anyone this late anyway, I settled under the covers and prayed.  And prayed and prayed until I fell asleep.  How quickly I forgot about the thermostat and drifted off.  But then...I awoke around 3:00 am.  I should say that I was awakened by my large, freezing cold dog jumping in my bed.  He so knows better, but considering the circumstances (meaning, he wasn't begging to be let outside into the sub zero temperatures), I let him stay. Almost anything is a welcome distraction from getting up, putting on my robe and slippers, and going outside to tie up my dog--all the while waiting at the back door for him to dutifully return to the porch to be let in--that is, assuming he really had to ummmmmm you know what, and not just run around chasing tired squirrels.  

It was then that I noticed just hold cold my house was.  Yup, it was borderline freezing in here--about 55 degrees. OK, I understand that it may not sound that cold, but goodness, I was freezing.  So....I did what any exhausted, frustrated, cold woman would do in this situation (No, I didn't wake my husband because I am not married, and no, I didn't wake my teenage son because if he had known how to fix the furnace, it would have been fixed already.  Hello?), I took a comforter from another bedroom, put socks on my feet and snuggled back under the blankets.  Well, I couldn't actually snuggle because it was so cold, but I  seriously tried.  I felt like a bear getting ready to hibernate--I had so many blankets on.  Oh yeah, and I prayed.  Just when I thought I was done praying, I prayed some more until I eventually fell asleep.

Around 5:15 am, my childrens's high school called to let us know that there would be a two hour delay, due to extreme sub zero temperatures.  I wondered if the Principal had been camping out in my living room and she was just so cold that she couldn't get herself ready for school.  Anyway, I was now officially awake for the day.  Well, not really.  My eyes were open, but I wasn't quite awake.  I had to check to ensure there weren't any icicles hanging from the doorways, no ice on the floors, or snow in my slippers before I could even get out of my relatively warm bed.  Even the blankets were becoming cold.  The temperature was zeroing  in on the 53 degree mark and falling. I even wanted to go work out at work just so I could get warm.  You know I'm cold when I actually want to work out at 5:00 a.m.  I mean, what normal person really wants that?  Not me, and I consider myself to be relatively normal.

All I could think of was warmth, heat, sunshine.  I tried doing the jumping jack thing to get my blood moving, but at that hour, my blood just wouldn't move.  It was an innate part of me, and I just don't move at that hour.  I turned on the oven and sat by it, all the while thinking up an exit plan.  Even the dogs were cold. Domino never even jumped off my bed, and poor Sam, arthritic Sam, aging Sam, was laying awake on Domino's dog bed. Neither even wanted to be let outside.  Ordinarily, they do a wild, 'Mom's awake' dance and begin running in circles the moment my feet hit the floor, but not today.  Nope.  Even they knew that everyone should be sleeping in a warm bed at that hour. I thought of taking a nice hot shower, but then I also thought that about the potential for icicles developing in my wet hair once I exited the warm drenching was quite high.  Instead, I ended up turning off the kitchen lights (I had turned them on so I could see to make a pot of steaming, fresh coffee) and dressing for work right next to the stove.  It really 'twas my only option.

Then, I broke down and texted my friend.  Sure enough, he came right over and worked his magic.  The temperature started rising, and I actually started thawing.  I continued to wear my coat and gloves while I poured my coffee, finished packing my lunch, getting my things together and heading out the door for work.  No working out  at the gym this morning.  I was totally mentally and physically exhausted.  I knew that it would be warm at work, and I was just happy to leave.  Thank God, my friend was able to temporarily fix the furnace.  But....now I really needed to find an inexpensive furnace repairman so that I wouldn't be going through the roller coaster rounds of "Will my house be warm, or will my house be cold today?"  

So....I went to where everyone seems to go these days.....Facebook.  I posted a status asking for recommendations for a good furnace repair guy.  Sure enough, my girlfriend, Kathy, (who is currently in Chicago on business), recommended Mauders in Millbury. I was so thankful to be at work, in the warmth of my office, with the sun shining through the window, and the paint fumes from the painters painting the entire fifth floor (Oh wait!  That's another story)  that I actually forgot to call them until late afternoon. A guy in a truck came immediately.  He worked on my furnace for two hours, and of course, my furnace was behaving perfectly.  I told him it's like taking your ever stalling, clanking, rattling vehicle to the mechanic, and suddenly it drives and sounds perfectly.  For him, that is.  I was beginning to think that my inanimate objects had preferences in personalities, and I wasn't at the top of their listings.  While talking with Gary, from Mauders, he showed me various things about a furnace that I apparently needed to know but never had the guts to ask.   How was I supposed to know I could use a 1" filter in a 5" slot, and it wouldn't make any difference.  The only reason I cared was because he was saving me some money with his suggestions.  Otherwise, I may have been better off not knowing.

When all was said and done, Gary, charged me $49.95 for the diagnostic call (I  prefer to call it a 'house call,' but Gary preferred the term 'diagnostic call'), and only $20.00 for the two hours of labor, parts, and keeping me company.  Oh wait!  I was keeping him company, or something like that. I couldn't believe it!  Then, he cinched my impression of him by saying if anything happens and my furnace decides to take a leave of absence or my house decides to return to Alaskan temperatures, within a reasonable amount of time, he'll return free of charge.  Wow! Kathy had definitely given me a great recommendation.

I got to thinking about how I so totally take warmth for granted and how things can change in an instant.  I mean, one minute I'm snug as a bug in a rug, and the next, even a hat, coat and gloves can't keep me warm.  One minute I'm stressing over the potential price of a two hour house call, and the next I'm so happy that it was beyond reasonable.  Things can definitely change in the blink of an eye around here.

There isn't even one evening that I go to bed and don't check my alarm clock  less than three or four times.  I know that once I fall asleep, literally in the blink of an eye, I could oversleep for something even 7 hours later.  Just one blink.  Like yesterday, when my dog, Domino, made a beeline for the front yard, it was literally in an instant. Like last June 5, we were outside celebrating Joy's high school graduation, with hundreds of people passing through our home that day, and almost instantaneously everyone's world changed.  Our center was shaken, and the party was over.  Yes, a tornado struck our little corner of the world and left only destruction and devastation.  In the blink of an eye.

1 Corinthians 15:52
It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed.

(Live version MercyMe performing, "In the Blink of an Eye")

I guess all this means that I have to be ready for nearly anything and everything.  OK, I'll never be ready for my blood to practically turn to ice again, but I will be ready with the number of a good furnace repair guy, the next time my furnace misbehaves.  I even asked Mr. Furnace Repair Guy just how much a new furnace would cost--I'm just thinking ahead.  I also asked him about how long a furnace should typically last in a home. He said around 20 years.  Mine was at least 24 years old, but he said it's still a good one.  

I may not ever be prepared for sub zero temperatures, either inside or outside my house, arising so early that even my feet are still asleep, or changing into my work clothes by the light of the street lamp and the heat of my oven, but I will be prepared for Christ's Second Coming. Why?  Because, like most everything else I prepare for, I am intentional and purposeful. I look for the signs and wonders that Paul speaks of and ask the Lord just what I should be doing to be better prepared.  Hello?  I have Him in my heart, but there just has to be more.  I realize the whole grace, mercy and forgiveness thing, but I also know that I have to prepare more. Don't I?  I mean, just accepting Christ into my heart is merely a fire insurance thing, isn't it? 

Nope.  It is so much more than that. And while technically I don't need to prepare, but it does make life a lot easier.  I mean, who wouldn't read their soon-to-be husband's letters in between long bouts of geographical distance; who wouldn't talk and communicate with their friend, especially when they couldn't physically see each other.  By reading the Word, my brain is telling my heart that the world is not only going to totally change 'in the blink of an eye,' but also that it will be relatively soon.  By relatively soon, I mean, most likely in either my generation or in my children's generation.  I can't say that I really care one way or another, but I can say that I am prepared.

My prayer for you today is that you, too, are prepared for whatever life or death may throw your way, that your Salvation experience is more than just 'eternity's fire insurance,' and that you are able to see the subtle, and not so subtle signs, of Christ's imminent return.  Be blessed, and I would love to read your comments.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Stop Trying to Steal My Joy, Please!

Have you ever had someone or something just try to rip the joy right out from under your feet?  Someone who begins the day with, "You don't look very good," on a day when you are feeling great and thinking you look  the same.  Someone who actually notices your new haircut, asks you if you have just gotten it cut, and when you say, "Yes," just says, "Oh!" Goodness.  Why do some people just have the need to steal someone else's happy?  I don't know.  I love my happy joy, and I want to keep it forever.

Geesh! Today seemed t o be going well until I came home from work.  Work was extremely busy. Did I just say 'extremely busy,' because I really meant to say, 'manic, excessively and intensively busy.' Then there was physical therapy and then home to my ever cheerful Lab/Husky/Shepherd mix and my Golden Retriever.  After all of the, "Mom's home. Let's go wild," stuff, I was in the process of letting them outside, when my Lab/Husky Shepherd, Domino, took off running.  Well, I started calling him.  I mean, whenever my daughter, Joy, lets him out, he runs for a few minutes and then dutifully returns to the back porch.  She even lets him out, unchained, and returns inside knowing that her pooch will return in a few.

And so I waited.  I decided to exude some confidence and go inside for a moment.  I wouldn't want him to think that I didn't trust him.  I got the Golden, Sam's, brush, and began brushing his long fur. Hmmm.  Joy's adorable pooch had not duly returned.  No.  My mongrel was out and about the neighborhood, carousing and doing God only knows what.  Geesh again!  Today's high was only 12 degrees, but that was when the sun was actually shining. I personally think that the Husky (another word for Snowdog or Eskimo) in Domino knew that it was about 5 degrees outside and wanted to just steal my joy.  Rip it right out from under my snow boots.  Well, guess what?  He just about did.

I eventually put on my gloves and hat, meandered outside and continued calling him.  With snow all over, you would think that I may have been able to follow his footprints.  This dog apparently had done a hot jiggity jig upon his escape from the yard because there were paw prints everywhere, in both directions.  I called my daughter, Bethany, whining and saying that I couldn't find Domino, and it had been quite some time and yes, I was getting worried.  I was letting this tail-wagger steal my joy, and I knew it.

Thank God, I happened to spot my mutt down the street. This was only after I pulled my car out of the garage, and of course, the garage door wouldn't shut.  So I left it open.  He was running in circles and tinkling on someone's bushes all the while a man was throwing things at him and yelling for him to go home.  Talk about Domino stealing someone's joy.  I doubt he had much to steal even before my mongrel arrived to, hmmmm, freshen his bushes.  Yes, please, go home, dog.  When Domino saw me, windows down, offering a treat, he started to run towards me.  I hopped out and opened the passenger door, motioning for him to 'jump in for a joy ride.' He put his two front paws on the edge of floorboard and decided, no, he would rather I chased him.

So....OK....my joy was getting pretty much depleted by now, as well as my energy, and any warm blood that had been circulating through my veins, was turning to ice about now.  I proceeded to back my car all the way down the street, with Domino constantly running in front of it, as if taunting me to go ahead and hit him.  Hmmm.  The mean girl in me was considering such, but that's another story.  Finally, we made it home and he ran inside the garage.  The door was already open because I couldn't close it earlier. If you read my blog, you'll know that I've been suffering from a desperate need of someone to fix things.  Well, with my joy nearing exhaustion, I pulled my car inside the garage, shut the door, and left him in the garage to think about what he had just done.

It totally served him right.  Or so I thought.  I mean dog's memories are just like mine.  They can't remember what they did ten minutes ago.  Literally, one minute after I locked him in the garage, my daughter, Bethany, came home, parked, and opened the automatic garage door.  It doesn't shut well, but it sure does open on command.  Grrr..  Well, that joy stealer just took right off again.  This time, he returned immediately.  Thank God.

I then pondered, did I pass this test or did I fail?  Did I succumb to throwing up my hands in the air and declaring my black and white mongrel the winner? Did I yell and scream at him in anger (or just to get him running back home)? The good girl side of me usually gives him a treat when he takes off on a neighborhood adventure and quickly returns home unscathed.  But, the bad girl side of me locks him in the garage, even if it's only for a moment.  The good girl side of me brushes him, and the bad girl side of me thinks, 'let him suffer.'  I actually passed this test, but just barely.

Why?  Because even though I was very frustrated, and my joy was virtually being taken from me, I didn't lose all of it. I kept the good girl side of me almost totally in tact.  Sure, I was frustrated and locked him in the garage, but I didn't yell at him; I didn't even scold him.  Whew! That doesn't mean that I will pass the test next time.  And believe me, there will inevitably be a next time.  Domino has a thing for a dog a few blocks away, and in the summer, he loves just being around her.  I know the 'escape artist' side of his otherwise passive personality will emerge time and time again next Spring and begin testing my good and bad girl sides.

The good girl side of me prays about it, while the bad girl inside me wants to fight him and just leave him outside--forget about looking for him altogether. But then, the Holy Spirit intervenes and whispers in my ear, "Shari, don't be frustrated. He'll return. Don't pitch a fit, yell and scream, threaten to kill him, run him over with the car (yes, that is an option, too, ya know), or return home without him and shut the door.  You'll regret it later."  And we all know that later comes more quickly as the years pass.

Spiritually and realistically, I know that situations cannot steal my joy if I don't let them.  People can't steal my joy unless I let them, and surely a dog cannot steal my joy unless I let him.  Even rude drivers, grumpy cashiers, sub zero temperatures, broken garage doors, broken promises, and long, exhausting days can't steal my joy.  No, they can steal my stuff, but not my joy.

"I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete."
John 15:11 (NIV)

The Bible is very clear about this joy thing.  God gave me joy, and He is NOT an Indian-giver.  Nope, He gave it to me for eternity, and it's most definitely a treasure.

I never realized just how much of a treasured gift it is until last year.  I, strong Christian woman of God, Armor bearer, Prayer warrior and overall happy person, allowed my joy to be temporarily disbanded. I can't say stolen, because it wasn't.  I allowed it to go into remission, a veritable hibernation.  Why? Because I was focusing on the circumstances instead of on the prize.  I took my eye off the prize, but only for a moment. Sure, the Lord allowed me time to grieve, but there was and is a difference between grieving and being in despair.  Once I began to remember God's promises to me, memorize them, internalize them and focus on them, my despair took a snooze, and my joy re-emerged.

For a time, it was scary, but only for a time.  The silver lining, hiding behind my joyless cloud, was there, I just had to find it.  Surprisingly enough, it was really right in front of my nose, right where I had left it.  It never left me; I had temporarily shelved it. Left it on a dusty bookshelf to be retrieved at a later date.  Thank God, He, the Giver of the gift, reminded me to dust off the shelf and retrieve my gift. Whew!

Yes, when the bad girl, the selfish girl wants to succumb, the good girl in me remembers one of God's greatest gifts to me, and is totally, unequivocally, immensely, and amazingly joyful.

May you remember to tap into your God given joy today.  May the good girl (or boy) in you consistently emerge amidst the chaos and frustrations of this world and when anyone and everyone is trying to steal your joy.

Be blessed, friend.

Friends and Family

Friends and family.  When I think of that phrase, I think of my cell phone plan.  The more the better. It's all good. The larger your plan, the more Friends and Family you are allowed.  According to my cell phone provider, at least. They say, "You can talk more for free." "You can text for free."  Very enticing, I'd say.  So enticing that I have 12 Friends and Family, and I love it, and I love them.

Having said that, my cell phone plan's Friends and Family numbers are not necessarily all friends and family. No, they are merely the numbers that I call the most often, the people in my life that I either enjoy talking with or need to speak with on a relatively consistent basis. It could be work, my boss, the local hospital or police station (heaven forbid!), the lawn care company. Who knows?  And, oh, yeah, I forgot the clincher....they can't already use my cell phone provider because they're already free to speak with if they are a valued customer. Ha. Gotta love that.

When I think of friends and family, I would hope some of my friends are my family and/or vice versa.  And they are.  I mean, my sisters, Bonnie and Debbie, are two of my closest friends, and yes, their numbers are listed among my 12 coveted numbers. (Neither use my cell phone carrier.) My kids are all on my plan and thus free, and I see them daily anyway. My friends, Mary and Tammy, Karen and Cathy, don't need to be listed among my 12 F&F because they use my cell phone carrier. My friend, Kathy, however, is a different story. If she weren't on my listing, my cell phone bill would have the great potential to make me go bankrupt.

When I ponder the fact that I chose my 12 friends and family that are currently on my plan, I know that I can change those numbers daily. I can pick different friends and family each and every day, if I so choose.  So much for loyalty, I'd say. But then, I remember that God chose me.  I am thoroughly blessed that He doesn't switch out my friendship daily.  That He doesn't say, like they do on "Project Runway," "One day you're  in , and the next you're out."  No, out of the hundreds, thousands and millions of people in the Universe, God chose me. Why?  I haven't a clue. Was it because of my hair. Nope.  Psalm 139:13 says that He formed me in my mother's womb before I even had hair. Is it because He knew I'd be a great student?  Nope.  If he formed me in my mother's womb before I was born, He chose me just because.  I can't say I know why, but I know that He did. It surely doesn't have anything to do with I have done, haven't done or will do. But it has everything to do with Who He is, what He's done, and what He's going to do. As the words to the song, "Who Am I?," by Casting Crowns, ask, "Why would the Lord of all the earth, care to know my name, care to feel my hurt?" I've included a link to a YouTube music video.  It's not the official one, but it's nice nonetheless.

"Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth,
Would care to know my name, would care to feel my hurt?
Who am I, that the Bright and Morning Star,
Would choose to light the way,
Of my ever-wandering heart?

It's not because of who I am
But because of what You've done
Not because of what I've done
But because of who You are.

I am a flower quickly fading, here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean. A vapor in the wind.
Still, You hear me when I'm calling
Lord, You catch me when I'm falling
And tell me who I am
I am Yours. I am Yours.

Who am I, that the eyes that see my sin
Would look on me with love and watch me rise again.
Who am I, that the Voice that calmed the sea
Would call out through the rain
And calm the storm in me.

I am a flower quickly fading, here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean. A vapor in the wind.
Still, You hear me when I'm calling
Lord, You catch me when I'm falling
And tell me who I am
I am Yours.

I am Yours.
Whom shall I fear? Whom shall I fear?
'Cause I am Yours. I am Yours."

 I hope that I, along with my children, choose our true friends and family wisely.  Not the ones on our cell phone plan, but the ones that we choose to fellowship with, to be united with, to chat with, and to just 'hang' with.  I have almost always had the opportunity to choose my family as well as my friends. Why? Because my family isn't local.  Thus, my close friends and church friends are typically my family. Sure, I am close to my biological family, but I don't get to see them daily or even speak to them daily.  I don't even see them weekly or monthly.  But, isn't that what true friends and family do?  We have close relationships--not necessarily long distance, but they can be.  We talk daily, get to know one another daily, text constantly, visit and fellowship together.

Well, who should my greatest and dearest friend in the entire world be? Jesus.  Do I spend as much time with Him as I do with my earthly friends.  Do I fellowship with Him daily?  Do I pray without ceasing and read His Word?  Do I do all of the talking and none of the listening? Do I write letters to Him?  I hope so.  I really hope so.  Just as our friends want to see us, spend time with us, write to us, text to us and speak with us, so does Jesus--our Ultimate friend.  He's a very patient friend, Who only longs to fellowship with us and to get to know us on a very personal level.

Wow!  Again, I ask, "Why?"  And again, I answer, "I haven't a clue."  Ha.

I hope that today you are able to spend some quality time with Jesus, your friend.  The friend of all friends. The One who sticks closer than a brother.  The One who actually chose YOU!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Freezing Miracles

Well, my furnace is finally fixed. It's been a long time coming, but Praise God, it is finally fixed, and we are warm once again.  My children and I had become somewhat accustomed to being sweltering hot and removing the majority of our clothing, to being freezing cold and piling on the hoodies, socks and blankets. Yes. My very old furnace has been consistently inconsistent.  Generally more cold than warm, and it has been driving us all nuts. The other day, I told my son (in tears, I may add), not to get too comfortable (he was playing a video game) because we may be heading for a hotel for the evening.  It was just too cold in the house, but then my inconsistent furnace kicked on and warmed the place up to 90 degrees.

You see, my family lives out of state, and within my circle of friends (mostly single women), there are not any furnace repair people.  My friends and I all struggle with the day to day things that typically break down, and we have all been forced to rely on the Lord for just about all of our repairs.  Sure, my sister, a former Home Depot employee and home improvement afficiando, would help me--if she lived closer.  Unfortunately, she lives too far for the day to day breakdowns that go with owning a home.  She always offers to help, but goodness, if I were to take her up on her offer every time something broke down, she may as well park a camper in my driveway. I mean, I'd have her over nearly every day. 

I was really proud of  myself last fall when I looked up on youtube.com just how to fix a kitchen faucet; then I tore apart my faucet and actually fixed it in about 1/2 hour.  I was actually pretty amazed. The kids and I were tired of having to use the bathroom sink, and I didn't have too many choices.  Actually, I didn't have any choice but to fix it myself--that is, or call a plumber for a very expensive housecall.

I've had to fix a lot of things by myself--some more difficult than others.  When the flood of 2006 hit our home, I spent the entire summer and fall ceramic tiling my entire downstairs.  Now, I know why Home Depot charges so much to complete a job.  If I ever have to ceramic tile another floor, I think I'll just move.  On a side note, however, it's funny how the Lord works.  While recently on a missions trip in Jamaica, I was the only team member who had ceramic tiling experience.  Thank God, only some counters and tables needed tiling--I had already begun having tiling flashbacks from my 2006 experience.  Over the years though, the Lord has always intervened and either shown me how to repair whatever is broken, or He has provided someone to help me.  Just when we were all about to morph into Eskimos (there's enough snow outside to prove my case), the Lord sent me someone to consistently warm my home.  Not only did my friend replace my thermostat with a digital one, but he actually fixed the furnace.  Replacing the old thermostat was just a bonus, I guess.

Anyway, I am now sitting here, reveling in God's kindness to me through a friend.  I have been reading a new book lately, entitled Heaven is For Real-A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, by Todd Burpo. 

In it, the little boy, Colton asks his father, the author, "Daddy, remember when I yelled for you in the hospital when I waked up?"  The dad answers, "Of course, I do." And Colton says,"Well, the reason I was yelling was that Jesus came to get me.  He said I had to go back because he was answering your prayer. That's how come I was yelling for you."

Well, just as Jesus answered Colton's daddy's prayer, He answered mine. My answer may not have been as life altering and amazing as Colton's dad's answer was, but it was just as personal, and it was for me.  Just me.  The God of the Universe; the One who created the Earth, moon and stars; the One who created me, my children and my future grandchildren; the One who was crucified, died, was buried, and rose again--He actually answered my prayer, on a very personal level, and fixed my furnace.  It may not seem like much to you, but it is to me.  I mean, I've never enjoyed the cold weather, let alone inside my own home.  Lately, I have been so cold inside my house, that I went around wearing a hoodie and all sorts of clothing, including gloves, just to keep warm.  I've also come to realize that when I am cold, I can't seem to get virtually anything accomplished. I mean, Hulu was becoming a mainstay in our living room.  I was even too cold to type--and that's cold.

In the answering of my prayer, God also used my friend.  Had my friend not been listening or open to the Lord's prompting, my furnace may still be broken. Yes, there are always two or more sides to every equation. Thank God, my friend was such a willing vessel and was able to come over and spend the entire evening working on it, and thank God, the Lord chose to use him.  Tonight is the first night, in over a month, that I will sleep soundly (and warmly), without wondering if we are going to wake up to a 50 degree house.  Brrr.  It was so cold this morning, that my kids and I all opted to go without showering.  Uggh.

I just read my Bible Verse for today, and I thought I would share it with you:

February 08, 2011
The LORD’s promises are pure, like silver refined in a furnace, purified seven times over.
Psalm 12:6, NLT

My prayer for each of you this day is that the Lord reveals Himself personally to you; that you recognize God's work in your life through other people, and that you are as blessed as I am.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Unexpected Crystals

Have you ever had something unexpectedly hit you? Something that, although it hadn't necessarily come out of nowhere, it still was shocking?  Today was one of those days.  Nearly everyone in Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan woke up to a major snowstorm--a veritable blizzard--and it lasted nearly all day.  Had it been forecasted? Nope.  The weatherman had predicted about 2" of snow. Ha. It snowed that much before I had even awakened, and I awoke rather early to see my daughter off to volunteer at school for the day.

Because of this unexpected snowstorm, all of our Saturday plans were curtailed, or should I say, canceled.  We weren't able to go work out at the rec, and worst of all, the Snowcoming dance at the High School was canceled.  Unfortunately, that meant no hair up-do's, no putting on fancy dresses and ties, applying awesome makeup and going to dinner; it also meant that my eldest couldn't return to her dorm and Bethany couldn't come home from volunteering--the roads were awful.  It also meant homemade chicken noodle soup, a "Project Runway Season 7" marathon, shoveling and salting the driveway and laying around.  It's funny how we can all have so many plans for our Saturday, just to have one thing put the nix on absolutely everything.

Isn't that just how life is?  The unexpected creeps up on us, and we need to be able to 'go with the flow,' and relax a bit.  I was able to spend some time really looking at God's creation today; noticing the subtle nuances of the crystal-like snow falling on the barren branches.  It was rather beautiful.  How something so very cold, transparent, and virtually unwanted by every adult (but not children on a weekday), can transform even a barren branch into a beautiful, crystal like creation.  I let the dogs out, seemingly a hundred times today, and noticed how they loved to romp in the snow.  They were fun to watch, and I got to thinking that I really need to take advantage of our Blizzard of 2011--the second huge one this week.

I decided that we will take some Graduation pictures tomorrow in the snow.  I love to take graduation pictures of Senior High School students, and who could ever be a better subject than my own Senior High School student, Bethany?  By the time I had decided to do so, it was almost dusk, so we agreed that after church tomorrow, it's outside in her bright pink dress, without a coat, to take some pictures. Yes, unexpected can be good.  I can't wait.  Bethany's very blonde hair against the backdrop of the crystal white snow, with thick icicles everywhere. Gorgeous!

Here's hoping that you will be able to enjoy the unexpected in our everyday lives-that you'll be able to 'go with the flow,'-that you'll remember to make lemonade from that bag of lemons, and then share it all.  I hope that you are able to spend tomorrow at church, preferably in warm weather, with someone you love, and revel in the unexpected.

Don't Drink the Kool-Aid

I remember, in my much younger days, when I would anxiously await the four o'clock hour.  I would ensure my littles were either napping or occupied and that dinner had already been started. I would get a blanket, turn on the TV and kick back to watch The Oprah Winfrey Show.  Back then, watching the The Oprah Winfrey Show just seemed to relax me a bit, re-energize me so that I could tackle the remainder of the day, and it would leave me feeling oh so good.

That was then, and this is now.  I am now, Praise God, a much, much wiser woman, and I still almost always think of Oprah when 4:00 pm rolls around, but now it's for a much different reason. It's to pray for her and for her many, many disciples and followers--over 2,000,000 and counting.  Yes, Oprah, her program, her network and her magazine have become the largest church in the entire world.  It's unbelievable that a woman of such humble beginnings could be one of the most, if not the most, richest person in America.  Monetarily that is.  Not spiritually.  It's very sad when someone, with such a huge sphere of influence, critically misleads so many people who have entrusted themselves to her.

What? Why don't I like Oprah?  Why don't I like her teachings? How can I, as a good Christian, not like such a wonderful, philanthropic woman?  I mean, come on...she gives and gives and gives, both of time and resources.  Well, I don't like her one bit because she is misleading two entire generations of people into believing things that are totally contrary to the Bible.  Her new age doctrine and beliefs are enough to put any God believing, Oprah following Christian in hell.  Even Satan believes in God, and yet he trembles. And he very well should.  Matthew 24:10-11 clearly states, "And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many."  Matthew 7:14 reminds us to, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves." I think that Oprah Winfrey is most definitely a wolf in sheep's clothing.

One reason I think this way is because Oprah emphatically denies that Jesus is the Only Way. She says that it is impossible that there is only one way. Yet John 14:16 clearly states, "Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'"  She claims that there are many more paths to God other than Christianity. Yet  Acts 4:12 says, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Wow. I think that about says it all.

Oprah insists that Jesus did not come to die on the cross.  She says that He came to let us recognize our inner consciousness.  Well lady, what about John 3:16?  "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."  The church of Oprah teaches that who you are requires no belief, that heaven is not a location but rather it refers to an inner realm of consciousness, that the Man on the cross is every man and every woman.  She teaches that there is no sin, that, "God is a feeling experience and not a believing experience.  If your religion is a believing experience then God, for you, is still a belief and that it truly not God."

As I sit here writing all of this, I am saddened that so many seemingly bright, intelligent, sweet and kind Christians believe it's still OK to allow this woman into their homes daily, thus indirectly following this blasphemy.  Yikes.  The Bible clearly states that we should avoid even the appearance of evil.  I would think that would mean to stay away from a woman who clearly does not believe in the Word of God and who actively and publicly speaks against it.  In most Christian circles, we would call someone who recruits others to her anti-Biblical belief system, not just misguided, but blasphemous.  Not just misinformed, but evil.  I tend to agree.  I don't even want the TV on when she is on it.  I don't want her voice permeating my home--regardless of what her program is about.

So, I sit here at 4:00 pm, writing and relaxing, not watching Oprah.  Nope, no background noise today.  I feel bad that I've even felt compelled to write about Oprah today, but I am sick and tired of so many Christians drinking her proverbial 'kool aid' and enjoying it.  I know that I wouldn't hang around a known liar even on a good day, so why would I ever intentionally allow one in my home?  I wouldn't, and I'm happy that my children wouldn't either.  Sure, sometimes we are tempted when we see that she is having an interview with someone that we like. But the bottom line is that we don't and we shouldn't.

I realize that my position on this world renown billionaire is not a popular one.  But, then again, whoever said I needed to agree with popular opinion or go with the flow?  True Christians typically don't 'go with the flow;' they form their own opinions and back them up with Biblical truths; they travel the road less traveled and make deep grooves; they are the silent crusaders, the prayer warriors battling on their knees, true soldiers in God's army.

"Most will never see their faces, never know their name.
What they do, they do alone, they don't need no fame.
On their knees they touch the Lord, knowing He will care.
Changing things that man can't change, with a simple prayer.

They are prayer warriors, fighting on their knees.
True soldiers in the Lord's army.
Frontliners, fighting every hour.
Doing battle everyday, with supernatural power."

Are you a prayer warrior for the things that matter to you and to God?  I know that I want to be one.  I know that this world could use a lot more prayer warriors who battle on their knees than Oprah Winfreys who battle over the airways and through the television sets.  This world needs more Christians who are willing to 'fight the good fight,' stand up for Biblical truths, and not only not drink the kool-aid, but to dump it all out.

May you be blessed today with the knowledge that God is God no matter what anyone preaches and that God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, regardless of what anyone thinks, says or does. 

I would really love and appreciate your comments on this.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Ceilings and Floors

Today was definitely even busier than usual.  I worked all day, went to the dentist, worked out, traveled to my accountant's office to pick up my 2010 tax return, returned home, ate dinner and watched "American Idol."  Whew!  I'm exhausted, but fulfilled.  I'm just winding down but I'm also pensive. Why?  All because I made that side trip to Michigan to pick up my tax return.

When most people hear the word, 'taxes,' it sends shivers up and down their spines; they practically hyperventilate as they picture an IRS auditor at the front door asking for a blank check.  As a former auditor, I totally 'get' that.  Just as having a police car driving directly behind you may solicit brake lights, even when you aren't speeding, auditors solicit fear and trepidation. As an accountant,  I know my limitations, and taxes are one of them.  In fact, I am rather fearful of them.  I've been a corporate accountant, and now I am a grants accountant, but I am definitely not a tax accountant, nor do I claim to be. So, I pay someone else to do my taxes, and believe me, it is always money well spent.

It was even more so this year. Not only did I, along with my children, all get tax refunds, but I was able to listen and glean wisdom from my accountant. Sure, she reviewed our tax returns with me, but that's not what I am referring to.  We began talking, I mean really talking.  Not just the 'how are you doing today?' kind of talking, but the real thing.  I learned that she felt that doing taxes was her professional calling, and that she and I had many things in common. Shanyn is a born again, Spirit filled believer, who believes the same way that I do--that the Holy Spirit imparts his many gifts upon us in order to encourage believers and show unbelievers. That miracles, signs and wonders are meant for today and not just for Bible times. That our children are not growing up in the same world that we grew up in. Shanyn also homeschools her children and is a Pastor's wife. OK, so I am not a Pastor's wife, but I did homeschool all of my children.  We even used the majority of the same curriculum, and most of this means that we may just be 'kindred spirits,' 'forsaking not the fellowship of the saints.'

Shanyn caught my ear when she said, "I want the ceiling of my spiritual knowledge to be the floor of my children's spiritual knowledge and wisdom."  Wow!  I felt like that was an 'aha moment' for me. I liked hearing that so much that Shanyn actually gave me a sticky note so I could write it down. I mean I want that for my children.  I want to claim that blessing right now for my children.  I, too, want the absolute best that God has ever blessed me with, the best that the Holy Spirit has ever given me, all of the wisdom I have ever been bestowed, to be just the floor of my children's spiritual depth.  I want that to be their starting place, their beginning, their floor.

I remember when I got my first big (very big) job.  I was hired as an auditor at an international computer firm, in a very tall and beautiful building in Downtown Detroit.  It was definitely the job of a lifetime.  They actually asked me what salary I wanted after they had already hired me.  When I told them what I wanted to be paid, they paid me substantially more.  When I told my parents, I learned that my then 49 year old father, who had worked at an automotive supplier for over 29 years, who had raised five children, who drove very used cars and wore second hand clothing, who worked second and third jobs to support his family, had never, ever earned that much money.  Unfortunately, my financial floor was even higher than his financial ceiling ever was.

I hope and pray that my spiritual ceiling is substantially lower than my children's spiritual floor will ever be.  I pray that my children have the patience and endurance of Noah--who built an ark when it hadn't ever rained, who persevered amidst much criticism and endured until the rains came.  I want them to have the level of obedience that Abraham displayed when he willingly was ready to sacrifice his son out of love for God. If they only had the faith of the Roman Soldier who believed in Jesus' healing power when few of his kind did.  I claim that my children have a love for the Lord like King David, who was a man after God's own heart, the wisdom of Solomon, the boldness of Daniel, the beauty of Queen Esther, the bravery of Joshua, the leadership skills of Moses, the ability to have friendships like Jonathan and David, the dedication of Ruth and Naomi, the courage of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the strength of Samson, the wise counsel of Mordecai, the patience of Job, the tenacity of Jehu and the compassion, mercy and grace of Jesus.

I mean, who wouldn't want these things for their children?  If my children possessed even one of these character qualities and traits, they would be totally blessed.  But seriously, what good and gracious parent wouldn't want to know that their children would be blessed beyond measure because they put their trust in the Lord and valued their relationship with Jesus above anything and everything else?  I mean if my children had the ultimate in faith, love, courage, obedience, wisdom, strength, dedication, patience, tena.city, compassion, mercy and grace, I would die a blessed woman.  Not that I won't die a blessed woman as things are now, because I will.  One of my favorite verses in Scripture is 3 John 4, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the Truth."  Ah....my soul can rest well because all three of my children are 'walking in the Truth.'

Well, this prayer of blessings has been my son's prayer for years, and I think that after today, I will make it my very own, as well.  I hope that many of you will consider adding it to your prayers that you pray for your children, as no one can pray for a child like a mother or a father.  On a side note: when I was reading this blog to my 15 year old, he commented, "Don't you just love reading the Old Testament?  I mean, if people only knew just how many cool stories there are, they wouldn't want to read anything else."  Ah...from the eyes of a teenager.  Yes, I am truly blessed!