100

“On your feet now – applaud God!

Bring a gift of laughter, sing yourself into His presence.

Know this: God is God, God, God.

He made us, we didn’t make Him.

We’re His people, His well tended sheep.

Enter with the password, ” Thank you!”

Make yourselves at home talking praise.

THANK HIM.

WORSHIP HIM.

For God is SHEER BEAUTY,

ALL GENEROUS in Love,

Loyal…

Always and EVER.”

Psalm 100 The MSG

Laugh.

Sing.

Give Thanks.

All are offerings to our God, sweet incense to his senses –

What if today – we all did these three:

Laugh, Sing, Give Thanks.

Even if….

The Turkey is Dry.

The conversation gets uncomfortable.

The traffic is heavy.

There is an empty seat at the table reminding us of the absence of all we love that are no longer with us.

The team does not win.

The diagnosis is clear and hard.

Even if…..

The weights of this world feel heavy and daunting…

Can we find a space,

can we trust our God to give us the strength and the desire to

Laugh.

Sing.

Give Thanks.

It’s my prayer for you. It’s my prayer for me.

May you feel His peace today.

A Prayer:

Lord, allow my heart to feel the peace that comes from the confidence grown over a life time of receiving your abundant provision. Even today I sit under the heap of blessings and answered prayers. Give me the assurance as I head into today that you are present, you are faithful, you are real. Amen

My greatest gifts.

Observer: Crucifixion

Welcome Jonah Lange, guest writer, back to the fire. Jonah is a graduate student at University of Iowa studying school counseling. He enjoys running, board games and exploring the world in which he lives.

A man was being led away by a squad of soldiers. He didn’t seem like a violent man, so the soldiers seemed rather unnecessary. They led him into the temple. I didn’t see him for a while after that. I heard what some were saying about him. Some said he deserved death, while others swore that he had only done good. Spurred on by my curiosity of what I’d heard, I decided to go and see it when he was going to be crucified. Apparently, they must’ve found out something bad about him.

I got there when they first put him on the cross. They’d put a crown of thorns on his head along with an inscription on his cross saying that he was the king of the Jews.

I didn’t know how long I’d stick around. Sometimes, it’d be days before a crucified criminal would die; however, from the start, something seemed different about this. For one, it got dark fast. Expecting a storm to break out, I almost just left. My house was far off anyway and I figured I’d get just as wet either way. So I stayed. Much to my surprise, it didn’t rain.

At one point he asked for a drink and at another he called out to God. Then, all of a sudden, a lot of things started happening. Rocks started splitting and the earth shook. It looked like the man on the cross had died, but it would’ve been much earlier than normal. I ran pretty quickly.

The next day, I heard that some people had taken his body down and put it in a tomb. The man must have really been dead. I tried to go see the tomb for myself but seeing that it was being guarded by Roman soldiers, I chose not to approach. The question of who the man was still rang through my mind. No one had really seen his followers around since the day he died.

A few days later, I was walking around and thought I saw the man going around with his disciples. At first, I thought it may have just been someone who looked like him. I wouldn’t have been surprised considering that I’d been thinking about him quite a bit recently. However, when I saw the holes in his hands, I knew it had to be him. I immediately dropped what I was doing and went to see where he was going. I continued in my curiosity, until I saw him speaking with his main followers and then, all of a sudden, float into the air and disappear. Seeing that and hearing what his disciples said afterwards made me more than convinced that he was someone special. Perhaps the son of God. 

30,000 Feet

Reunion Tower: Dallas, TX

It was so good to see him.

We grew up in the same town and graduated from the same high school.

We agreed that Mr. Falan was the best history teacher.

He worked at the Big Boy where my friends and I would gather late at night for hot fudge ice cream cake.

I worked down the street at Dairy Queen.

He had lived on Island Lake and I had lived down the street from Hope Lake. Two of the many lakes in our little Michigan town.

I still miss the water and evergreens that dotted the landscape of my drive to my high school, the same one my friend attended.

My friend, … that lived in the same town I did during high school. The one that had the same favorite teacher, worked at a popular stomping ground,

The friend I hadn’t seen in such a long time….

actually I hadn’t ever seen him.,,

because we met for the first time last week,

at 30,000 feet.

You discover funny things in life… when you’re paying attention.

At the beginning of July a book was placed in my hands.

The giver, my wise nephew, encouraged me to read it with no strings attached. He did not want me to feel pressured to embrace the beliefs of the author but believed he had some ideas worth considering.

I respect and trust my 27 year old nephew so I dove in. I devoured the book that stretched me, challenged me, comforted me, inspired me. I told my husband about it, kids about it …..

actually anyone that would listen.

I have to believe that it is the book, the one from my wise nephew… that was instrumental in heightening my awareness to the events occurring in my everyday life… the things that I noticed when I looked around me, in front of me, beside me. The things that were in my physical space that walked right by me. The book helped me grow my awareness to the humans I encounter everyday, the humans I work with and worship with and recreate with and…

live with.

You know…. the ones closest and most important to me.

And my new friend, the one who graduated from the same High school as I did and loved the same history teacher and worked at my favorite late night hang out…

that I met last week for the first time…

at 30,000 feet.

Please allow me to pause here in the middle of my story ( hate to leave you hanging since we floating at 30,000 feet and all)…

If you were to list the top three things you value most in life… what would they be?

Go ahead… what are they? Say them out loud. If you know me and have my number…. shoot me a text.

This list, my top 3, is where I chose to put my focus at the beginning of July – you know, when my nephew gave me the book….

Looking through the lense of my top 3 – I took 30 days to evaluate …. everything.

Every minute of how I spend my time was filtered through the question….

“Does this support my top 3?”

This is not easy- creating a clear head space to objectively evaluate time spent. So there was one small task the author of the book required ( if we wanted an accurate view of our lives) …

Stop all forms of technology that aren’t necessary…. for 30 days.

No social media.

No for fun apps.

No blogs, podcasts….

Friends, the above list had become my oxygen and I decided to disconnect the tank.

I chose to do this during a month where my highlight reel would be strong.

A visit from my parents for the first time in 4 years.

Kansas City BBA with Mom and Dad

A golf getaway with Tom.

Golf at the Lake of the Ozarks

A family gathering with all of my children.

Biking the Katy Trail

An in person seminar where my team and I would be recognized for our best year in business ….

ever.

In 19 years.

My top achievers from my team – Best year Ever!!!

No posts, no scrolling, no filling my mind with constant chatter of my favorite podcasters while traveling. No story scrolling on Insta…

nada

Nothing.

And here I sit… at my favorite coffee shop.. telling you the story of a life of 30 days of fighting to stay in the moment, not escape the uncomfortable and open my eyes to all around me.

Have I mentioned my friend? The one that graduated from the same High school I did? The one that had the same favorite teacher? The one that worked at Big Boy?

The one I met last week… because I was…..

paying attention?

As I made my way to the back of the plane, my eyes were searching for my friend. She had boarded before me and saved me a seat. ( Southwest – no assigned seats)

I spotted her engaged in conversation with a friendly looking gentlemen. She had the window seat, he had the aisle and I would get the middle. Its the price you pay for downloading your boarding pass too late when flying Southwest.

He was traveling from Guatemala where he had recently been assigned by his church to serve a mission. From his thoughtful tone to the simple priestly robe he wore, we knew he was passionate about his calling and his life’s purpose. If I learned nothing more about Father Zach I would have considered our interaction as positive and encouraging.

But I did learn more….. and I’m so glad I was paying attention. I am so glad that I met him at the end of my 30 day technology detox… my senses were clear and I had practiced being present.

In the course of our conversation I mentioned I had lived in Michigan. He remarked that he was familiar with the area I spent my childhood and high school years. When I inquired about why, he answered….

“I grew up at Chicago and Evergreen.” ( for non- Michigan Readers those are crossroads in Detroit.)

“Really!” I replied. And for God only knows why, I asked… “So where did you go to high school.”

And it was that moment, at 30,000 feet, that I thanked God I was there… really there. Present. Focused. Watching.

“Well, I was kind of a handful in high school so my mom had me go live with my dad…. in Brighton – I graduated from Brighton High school.”

Friends – Did I mention that I was on a flight from Dallas TX, to Kansas City, MO? Did you know that is no where close to Brighton, Michigan?? Did I tell you it was 10:30 pm at night and I was exhausted after a fantastic week with my business team??

Did I tell you I grew up in Brighton? That I graduated from Brighton High School??

The same place this man, that had previously practiced law in California and felt the call to serve God as a Catholic priest at age 32, that was sitting to my left, en route to Kansas city….

Had graduated from the same high school I had.

He was the class of ’79.

I was ’88.

And yes – we did have the same History teacher and we both agreed that he was the best.

And there we were….

On a 55 minute flight from Dallas to Kansas City – meeting for the very first time.

I’ll probably never see him again.

But I’m pretty sure I am forever changed.

I am changed because my nephew handed me a book.

I am changed because I took the challenge to list my top 3.

I am changed because I created space by disconnecting for 30 days, a space that opened up room for new friends, from old stomping grounds.

I’m changed because when I turned down some of the voices in my world…. God’s voice got louder.

And boy do I need that in my life……

the sound, the direction, the wisdom, the clarity that comes when I hear HIS voice and see the ways he shows up in my everyday life.

Now… more than ever.

The author of the book is not a proponent of disconnecting from everything forever. Not even close.

But he is convinced that there is power in …

Taking 30 days to look through the lense of your top 3 values so you can decide what best serves them.

He believes (and now I do too) that we live in a world that welcomes any and all distractions without ever considering how they are impacting ourselves, our most important relationships, our very lives.

So….. here I sit…. in the midst of some decisions…what I’ll return too, at what level I’ll engage.

One thing is for sure….. I never want to miss the beautiful surprises in life that I see when I am living in the moment…

especially those at 30,000 feet.

And what is that book ? you ask…”Digital Minimalism” By Cal Newport.

Forever grateful for my nephew Ted – who put this book in my hands.

The Book “Werm”

Welcome Guest writer Jonah Lange. Jonah is a graduate student at Northern Iowa University studying School Counseling. In he spare time he likes to run, read, and write clever short stories like the one below. Enjoy.

I. Didn’t. Like it.
We had to do a book report. Usually, I really liked book reports. I love reading. This time; however, the book we read was assigned to us. Honestly, I wouldn’t have minded that either had I not been assigned such a boring looking book. Other people got fun fiction books, and some even got to read comic books. Me? I was assigned Werm, a historical book about a poor European man. The teacher said that the book would challenge me, but that he thought I was ready for it. We’ll see, I guess.
It started off slow. A bunch of numbers and dates of when Werm (whose given name was actually Will Bunt) and his siblings were born and how his parents both died when he was quite young, and he had to support his family so that he and his siblings would survive. I looked up at the clock. I’d been reading this for 2 hours and I was only 20 pages in. It was such a drag. I didn’t know how I’d ever finish it. I decided to call it a night and try to pick up reading it tomorrow.

Tomorrow came and, though I may have actively avoided it for most of my day, I eventually brought myself back to trying to read Werm. As I’d said, it didn’t seem much unlike any other dystopian historical book that I’d ever heard of before. Except, it seemed almost like it was getting interesting. Werm was working at a farm, but being younger, he wasn’t able to do as much. Due to laws, the owner was obligated to pay Werm a fair rate, but he didn’t think Werm was even worth the small amount he was paying him. Werm could tell that his job and thus the lives of he and his siblings were at stake. He had to figure out something to protect his siblings. At this point, I kind of started to like Werm. He was hard-working, but also selfless. When I looked up at the clock, 2 hours had gone by, and I’d read almost 50 pages!

The next day, I got up and went straight to reading. Werm had come up with a plan. He knew he could work hard; he just needed a way to for the hard work he put in to show some real results. His main job at the farm had always been to care for the plants. In his case, that mostly meant pulling up weeds. For him, however, some of the weeds were harder to pull up because of how deep the roots went. So, he decided to help himself out. He went out with a shovel to the beginning of the first row. He started digging a hole. It took a while, but eventually, he dug a hole deep enough to stand in. Then, from down in the hole he started to dig sideways under the row of plants. He knew he couldn’t dig too shallow underneath the plants or they might die. He had to be extremely careful. Also, since the man he worked for didn’t know what he was doing, he also had to be sneaky. Thus, He had to fill in the dirt as he dug, so that no one knew he was tunneling under the crops. I’ll admit that I was nervous. If he did it wrong, the crops would die and likely so would he and his family. As he dug, he started to not only successfully get rid of weeds, but he also found rocks, most of which he removed to help the plants’ roots grow better.
Eventually he found one rock that was different. It was gold! He didn’t know what to do. He had found it on his owner’s property, so he felt it belonged to him, but he’d also have to explain how he found it. He knew that he’d be in more trouble for not showing it to the owner, so he brought it in.
Edge. Of. My. Seat. What would happen? Would the owner fire him for tunneling? Would he let him keep the gold? Unfortunately, it was getting late, so I had to stop reading. I’d read over 100 pages that day.

I got up early the next day to finish the book. When Werm showed the gold to the owner, the owner was surprised. Naturally, the owner’s questions lead Werm to telling about the tunnels. After hearing everything, the owner was amazed. Not only in Werm’s hard-working attitude, but also in his cleverness and integrity. First, he thanked Werm for bringing in the gold, but said it was his to keep. Second, he told Werm how the crops in the rows he’d been tunneling in had been doing even better than the others and he wanted to raise Werm’s pay. Third, he wanted to help Werm provide for his siblings. He offered to pay for their house so that more of Werm’s money could go to buying food for he and his siblings.It was such a good book. It had indeed been a challenge, but one that I pushed through and ultimately loved at the end.
Now to write the report. I knew it wouldn’t take long. I already knew everything I would say.
All I needed now was a good title.

Inconvenient Grief

Please welcome my friend Ashley Luciano to the fire. She is a writer and digital artist residing in Upstate New York with her husband and two stepsons. She’s spoken at churches across the state, a message of hope and redemption through Jesus. With humor in her writing she seeks to empower women to hold joy and grief together as she shares personal stories of God’s presence in stormy seasons.

It wasn’t long after the unfaithful breakdown of my first marriage, that I found myself in another’s grief. Grief that I didn’t agree with. Grief that I tried to pass off to someone else, so I wouldn’t have to deal with it. Grief that I didn’t deem worthy of grieving.

Not even a week had passed since I saw my world crumble in a way that was unimaginable. It was then I found myself holding the hand of a man that actively crumbled his own world and marriage. I spotted him in the balcony after church, weeping uncontrollably as people were scurrying to break down stations and clean up the venue in the hopes of catching the tail end of bottomless brunch, before heading to the evening service, spirit(s)-filled.

As a member of the prayer team, I approached him with a card to take down all of his info, thinking he was so moved by the service and we could say we got another salvation on the roster. As I got closer I could see that this wasn’t going to be the case. 

I ducked my head down to get into his line of vision, how ever blurry it may have been from the tears, and got his attention. I gave him my prayer-team spiel, but before I could finish he grabbed my hand and blurted out “I cheated on my wife last night.” This revelation was laced with the smell of hard liquor and lime, which I previously assumed was coming from the rented club venue that was flipped into this church every Sunday for years on end. 

My blood started to boil, and I hoped he couldn’t see it in my face, but my heart hated him right then and there.  “Uhhhh… let me see if… uh… I can find…” I said, as my head swiveled for a male presence to pass this dirt bag off to. Mind you, this is the second confession of adultery I was getting in the last 7 days. 

I was a mixed bag of emotions, but in that bag, the rage of a thousand suns was right at the top. Going against my want to snap every finger of the hand that I was now repulsed to hold, I started praying for this man. 

It was not what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to feel his grief and his sorrow for making a mistake that he could have avoided, or feel the weight of his failing marriage compounded with the weight of mine. I saw myself as innocent and him as guilty. 

What I wanted to console him with was something to the effect of, “You made your bed, and you let everyone lie in it”. But with a deep staggered breath, I gripped his hand tighter and said, “Holy Spirit, you are here now…” And we grieved together. 

It was hard. 

It was not want I wanted to do.

It was only possible with God’s strength.

I still don’t agree with what he did. But I know without love, I am nothing. 

With so much division in this world, news, culture, etc. I have to ask… 

When’s the last time you grieved with those you don’t agree with?

Read more of Ashley’s work. at http://www.ashleyluciano.com or follow her on instagram @ashleyrluciano

The Sounds of Silence

The collective rooms were silent – the three connected by zoom over 3 states. If our arms were long enough we could form a human chain starting in Central Missouri reach up to Nebraska and then south west to Colorado. That picture gives me peace – knowing that I am within a days driving distance of each of my favorite people – emphasis – days – not hours or minutes. I’m incredibly grateful for technology that allows us the opportunity to sit together for an hour a week and get caught up on life happenings, the good, the bad and the ugly. It just so happens that on this particular day… the news shared fell heavily into the bad and somewhat ugly category.

Silence.

If you have or had young children you are very aware of the power of a $4 box of cartoon embossed band aids or a Mc Donalds happy meal. A small scrape on a knee or an even heavier gushing wound – when covered by a brightly colored band aid – makes it All Better. A hard day at school or disappointing little league game can make a dramatic turn with a quick run though the drive through for chicken nuggets, fries and and orange drink – don’t forget the prize. The mood shifts for your child which shifts the very air the rest of the family breaths and life feels back on track. I’m so thankful for those boxes of pink band aids and greasy cheeseburgers. Powerful tools in the hands of weary parents.

Silence.

The news shared on our most recent connect time though – would not be fixed by a colorful band aid or a happy meal. The challenges faced by my young adult ‘children’ involved answers that required medical specialists, surgery, second opinions, cancelling credit cards, sitting in heart ache…… and there was not one thing I could do to fix it.

Not. One.

Silence.

There is an important transition that occurs in a parents journey that allows the silence to sit. As a fixer, natural encourager ( there is always a bright side – right?) this has been one of the hardest yet most rewarding skills I have learned. Ok – lets be honest – learn ING. My gut instinct when my children are facing challenges are to rush in to sharing solutions not to sit with the silence. The silence of unknown solutions. The silence of pain that will take days sometimes years to fade. The silence of recognizing real consequences that come from real choices.

It is uncomfortable.

It can cause discouragement.

And it is absolutely necessary.

Necessary.

Recently on a beautiful Friday afternoon I found myself enjoying the spring weather with five of my neighbors. Our chairs were overturned 5 gallon buckets and our drinks were cold and refreshing. Stories were shared about past life experiences and future plans. As time passed we turned to topics of our children, their current life status and our role as parents. We confessed our desires and struggles to want to continue to micro manage their young adult lives. If they would just listen to us they would certainly be protected from the pain that this world most certainly can give.

As we shared our situations and sought advice we shifted out thoughts to our own early days of transitioning into adult hood. We recalled days of poor financial choices, crazy career moves others didn’t understand, missed opportunities. We laughed as we connected knowing each of us had some proverbial skeletons in our closet. And then …. then the turn. The shift from our struggles and hard times to the ways we had each seen God provide in them. In our own seasons of silence.

One friend shared stories of generosity from family and friends in the early years of their marriage. Another recalled how important it was to feel the consequences of a bad decision. It brought much needed wisdom that still impacts their life today. Over and over again we saw God. We saw his goodness, his provision, his unconditional love. That can only be seen and felt…

In the Silence.

When I rush in to fix, I fill the space where God wants to meet my loved one. I can take away the opportunity for them to see His goodness, his provision and his unconditional love. The things that will fill that space when we sit in it long enough to turn our eyes and hearts to see it. The space that allows God’s best answers not mine.

I reached out to one of my children via a text late last night – “Hey – how are you doing?”. The response came long after I had fallen asleep. I drifted off in my own silence. No answers about their well being but I rested in peace. God is teaching me to rest in the silence, His peace despite the still unanswered questions in my life and those of the people I love most. I am finding the contentment that reflects the encouragement of the writer of Psalm 62:5.

“Find Rest o my soul in God alone, my hope comes from Him.”

It is real, it is lasting, it is true.

Her response was the first thing I read this morning,

“Hey mom, much better!” Followed by the provisions God had provided to some of her hard questions. Answers that came in the middle….

of the Silence.

my favorite 3

2 Lists

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Philippians 4:12 NIV

“I know how to get along and live humbly (in difficult times) and I also know how to enjoy abundance and live in prosperity. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret (of facing life) whether well-fed or going hungry, whether having an abundance or being in need.” Philippians 4:12 AMP

“I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. ” Philippians 4:12 MSG

It began as a conversation between 4 friends over zoom. We were sharing bible verses that offered encouragement. Sitting in the midst of so much global strife felt overwhelming and we were looking for answers to the growing anxiety among us. One friend pointed to Paul and his words to the Philippians about “learning to be content.” He was able to look at all circumstances good or bad and sit in contentment. What a super power. The more we talked about it – the more I too wanted it – the ability to be content in any situation. Like Superman’s Cape, or Wonder Woman’s invisible jet – I wanted the tool to help answer all the questions created from the things in my life that left me feeling simply out of control.

Later that night I hung up the phone with my sister and the weight of the conversation settled on my shoulders. Along with sharing the same parents, same upbringing, we also share some unique parenting experiences that involve childhood trauma, healing and life on the other side. I am so grateful I have someone in my life that completely understands one the hardest seasons of my life. I love and respect her opinion and her always listening ear. We don’t always, if ever, come up with solutions to the challenges we discuss but it brings me peace knowing I always have a safe place to process life. As I pondered the conversation with my sister and the sharing with my friends earlier in the day I began putting together an idea that has since been my version of a super power – the key to contentment.

Over the last month I have had the opportunity to teach this idea to hundreds of women both virtually and in person and now I want to pass it on to you. SO, Plot twist…. you are now moving from a sit and passively take in content by reading this blog to a, hopefully willing and active participant in an exercise that I believe could change your life.

Take out a piece of paper.

Drawn a line down the middle – creating two columns.

Label one side “Content”

Label the other side “Discontent”

(No it doesn’t matter which side you put these on.)

Start with the Content side and DUMP. Everything in your life that leaves you with a feeling of peace and contentment.

Here are some of mine today…

Knowing I put clean sheets on my bed this morning and will crawl into them later tonight. ahh.

Sunshine and 60 degree day.

The coffee shop where I’m currently sitting that makes the best, strongest coffee on the planet and is located 8 miles from my home.

Now move to the Discontent side and DUMP everything that triggers feelings of stress, anxiety, fear… discontentment. all of it. All. of. it.

Personal, Work, relationships, health issues, global crises, parents, kids……. Dump it.

Now take the discontent list and draw a line through everything of which you have zero possibility of controlling the outcome. Go ahead – use a thick black line and block them out. Don’t worry – we will come back to it. It needs to blacked out – totally.

What is left are 2 lists –

1 – A gratitude List – things that are currently bringing you joy and peace and blessing. So many things on this list are 100% gifts from God that you did not seek or ask for. Many are things you have worked for and that effort has had a direct impact on the results. It is so good to spend time recognizing the blessings that abound in our lives ever single day.

2 – A “What I can control but may possibly be pretending that I can’t” discontent list. A list that we may rehash with friends, post about on face book, but wont take responsibility for working on.

Let me give you an example.

For the last few weeks I have enjoyed the beginnings of pre menopause life – HOT FLASHES. They are indeed a thing and they have impacted my sleep which impacts my productivity, my attitude and my general view of life. I’ve discussed (complained about it) with a few friends in my demographic, my entire bible study group of 100+ women, my physical therapist, my sister and my husband. Each gave encouragement, suggestions, and knowing sighs but ultimately none of them can take this item off my “discontent” list. It’s up to me to call a doctor, make a much over due appointment and begin looking for solutions. Which I did.

I dread my yearly trip to the girl doctor. Despite birthing three children and making countless visits with some fantastic doctors in three different states over the years… it is still a date I wish I could skip. And I did – for the last 4 years. The year before Covid I received a letter that my doctor that I had just found after our move to Missouri, and really liked, was moving out of state. Just like that. Ugh. A few months later our world shut down and it just seemed like everyone stopped doing routine check ups so I jumped right on that very comfortable band wagon. Then the hot flashes started, then they got worse and I realized I was spending A lot of time complaining to anyone who would listen. I also recognized I was using the fact that I lost my doctor as reason for not figuring out the answer to a problem that was figure out able. The phrase I use with business consultants I coach is…

“Defending my limitations.”

I don’t have time to find a new doctor.

I’m sure this will just all go away ( especially if I keep talking to people that cant do a darn thing about it.)

It’s not that bad.

I’ll go over Spring Break.

I’ll go in the Summer.

I’ll ask a few friends for the names of their doctors.

Gas prices are rising and the closest doctor is 30 miles away.

blah, blah, blah.

Defend, defend, defend.

I had and have complete control over many things in my life ….

and

so.

do.

you.

Sometimes we need to hear it. Many times I need to hear it. And then I need to move into action to do something about it.

So… have you made your lists? What do you see?

Are you amazed at the gifts you’ve been over looking? I am.

Are you convicted by the things that have frustrated you that you can actually control? I am.

Finally – have you released the things you blacked out with a thick dark line, the ones you can’t control? Like really put them in the hands of our God that is quite capable of holding? Have you? I’m trying.

When I think about Paul’s words to the Philippians – I like to believe that he understood the idea of 2 lists. He had solved the mystery of feeling content in any and every situation. He was able to see the good in any situation he was in – the content list. His letter of encouragement to the Philippians was written while he was in prison. He gave instruction to those around him and put effort into things he could control – The discontent list. He lived each day trusting all the big, hard, out of control things into the hand of a God who could hold them – the blacked out list.

The Secret….. and now you know it too.

Finally, I have found it so helpful to remember a couple of things about these lists….

  1. Everybody has them. Every. Body. Every body. It may appear that others lives are one big list of blessing but don’t be fooled. Behind every filter covered social media post touting the perfect husband, job, home, children is a discontent list. Lists that are filled with events they cannot control that would shock you if you knew the truth. Lists of things they wrestle with taking responsibility for. Yep- we all have 2 lists.
  2. We can’t wait for our entire world to land on the content side of the page to move into the callings we have on our lives. Paul did not let his discontent circumstances stop him from proclaiming the gospel, starting churches and equipping leaders to lead them.
  3. We have a God that will provide for all we need, every darn thing, so that we can clearly see the blessings in both the content and discontent side of the lists. I have found that He is present on both sides. I have realized that He works in both to teach me to trust his ability to use all things for His glory and my good.

Earlier today I had a conversation with one of my college kids that are in the process of finalizing summer job and living plans. Some of the challenge is that she is simply waiting on answers to job applications, housing requests etc. These are totally out of her control. The other challenges are in her control, reaching out to other possible opportunities, making firm decisions about what she won’t do. As we wrapped up the conversation – we reflected on her lists. First, the content list. We thanked God for the blessings of several opportunities she has for her summer that will provide income and experience. Second, the discontent list. We recognized that patience was needed as she waited for answers from employers and landlords – things she could not control. Finally, she looked at the items on her list that she could actually put effort into effecting and prioritized her focus for her day. The Superpower, The Secret to being content….

all wrapped up in 2 simple lists.

Pull out your pen and start writing.

Going Over the Line

Today we welcome Guest to the fire, Melissa Koonce, my neighbor and friend. She recently messaged me and said she had story to share. I LOVE when people do that. I LOVE the story that Melissa has for us today. Melissa is a nurse and a wife and a mom and a volunteer and a light for all of us.

Another trip around the sun. As I sit and reflect on year 43, I am reminded of God’s amazing grace. 

I spent the first quarter of year 43 in God’s preparation for the storm I was about to endure. I started giving him the first 30 minutes to an hour of my day. Well, what I started doing was talking to the holy spirit as he walked with me on my morning walk. It was always dark and very early so I’m sure the neighbors didn’t notice me “talking to myself.” I spent the whole walk unplugged just talking everything through. I always started by thanking him. I thanked him for all the good things and then asked him to help me with the hard things. At first, I didn’t have any out of the ordinary hard things to pray about.

He was preparing me

At the very end of this period, I spent some time with an elderly patient at my hospital. He shared with me a very long story (so long I didn’t really have the time to give him, but I sat down and listened.) He explained his life and that of his family. He, his son and granddaughter believed in God and went “over the line” and were richly blessed. Meaning, they shared freely with others the word of God. His wife and his daughter believed in God, but never went “over the line.” They had blessings, but not as abundant. They kept the word of God to themselves. At the end of his long story, we were both in tears. He said, “I don’t even have to ask you if you are a Christian honey, I can see it in your eyes.” More on this later.

The second quarter of year 43 was hard. The storm came and swept everyone up into their own tornado. Every one of us! It was so overwhelming! That kind of overwhelming that you know you aren’t strong enough to handle the storm and you fear you might not make it. The kind that brings you to your knees. One morning while walking with Jesus I wept and didn’t know what to even thank him for or ask him for. I wasn’t thankful for the storm, and I didn’t know what I even needed to get through the storm. I was desperate and I wept and said, “I give this all to you Lord. I cannot bare the pain anymore.” 

THIS is what God was preparing me for.

He prepared me to be able to lean on him, give all my worries to him, and have faith that he will see me through.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication and with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Phil 4:6

The moment I said those words, “I give this all to you Lord,” and I meant it, a weight was lifted off my chest. I have never felt so at peace before in my life. I have always believed and had faith. I have always gone to church. I went to a Lutheran grade school. BUT… I had never had an intimate relationship with God. There was one other time I can remember that I prayed, and my prayer was immediately answered. I don’t know why it took me so long to catch on, but God’s timing is always perfect.

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. 1 Peter 5:7

He works all things according to His sovereign plan, for the good of those who love him, and for his glory. Romans 8:28.

From that moment on, every day I thanked him for the hard. I had faith he would turn it into his good, in his perfect timing. I also cried many tears to water the seeds he had planted. We made many family changes that set us up to be a united strong family unit, so we could brave the storms together instead of fighting our own battles. Things as simple as family dinner, game night, and family meetings. We had let life get in the way and we were busy…too busy. God knew we needed it.

and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. Psalm 50:15

In quarter three, I started seeing God’s blessings. It felt too slow, but it was happening. God was answering my prayers in his way and in his timing and I knew he would. I did wish at times it would have happened faster, but I had faith that he would make it wonderful, and he was. During quarter three the clouds were parting, and I realized how powerful my prayers were. How powerful they were because I wasn’t just asking God to make things better, I started every morning by praising him for the lessons he was teaching us and for what he was preparing us for. Then I prayed that he would continue to wrap his arms around us and help us to do his will. I also started sharing with friends my experience with prayer and having an intimate relationship with God along with the Christian podcasts and devotions I was listening too. Something I never used to do, because you never know how people feel and I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. This is where I went “over the line.” Do you remember the patient I spent time with in quarter one? THIS is what he was talking about.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6.

In quarter four, God abundantly blessed my family. The storm was ending, and God’s light was shining through. The number of blessings he showed to my family were undeniable gifts from him because we were faithful. We did not ask for or pray for all of the gifts we were given. We simply trusted that if we were faithful, in his timing we would be blessed. We not only endured the storm, we grew in it. He made clear our path.

  Praise God from whom all blessings flow. 

In this short yet very long year, I’ve learned that the key to dealing with difficulty lies in trusting the one who is in control of all things. No hardship can overpower God’s provision for enduring it. That’s because we walk with the holy spirit. Our peace and joy come from our relationship with God, not from our own circumstances. God showed my family his amazing grace. 

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Friends, I urge you to spend time with God first thing in the morning. Talk to him. Put him first and form an intimate relationship with him. Get into his word and absorb his words into your heart. Then go over that line and don’t ever look back. God’s amazing grace is waiting for you on the other side. 

God wants you to live in his grace, rely on his strength, and put your hope in his unfailing love. Ps 147:11

Amazing Grace

Devotional & Sermons:

In Touch Ministries by Dr. Charles Stanley – mobile app – This is my favorite. He has 2-3-minute daily devotions and has daily sermons. He is very easy to follow. This is a MUST have! 

Podcasts:

The Bible Recap By D-Group – Reading the bible in a year

The Healthy Christian Women podcast by Dr. Melody Stevens – For following Christ centered health

The Strong Confident His podcast by Kim Dolan Leto – For following Christ centered fitness

Valentine’s Day Reviewed

Today we welcome guest writer Brooke Lange to the fire. Brooke is a sophomore at Concordia University Nebraska studying Psychology/Behavioral Science. These thoughts were first shared on the campus website blog http://www.cune.edu.

When I was in my early stages of growing up, Valentine’s Day was the cause of much joy, or at least a slight release from the painful monotony of winter. I would eat lots of sugary, heart-shaped foods and exchange a plethora of store bought Valentines with other elementary schoolers, which pretty much checked all of the boxes for what constituted a good day for third grade Brooke. 

The way we celebrate Valentine’s Day is not too different from the way we typically celebrate holidays: Eating food and giving people things. Except this day is different because the expressly stated purpose for celebrating Valentine’s Day is not always one we want to celebrate: Love. 

More specifically, romantic love. 

Romantic love is like writing a research paper, in the sense that everyone seems to go about it at different paces and using different (occasionally questionable) methods. 

But at the same time, it is not like writing a research paper. Although it may cause the same amount of stress, loving and being loved by someone is unfortunately not as clean cut as a paper due at midnight. 

With love, there are no clear deadlines or rubrics. Valentine’s Day can feel like it challenges that notion. It can cause all these other neat types of love in our life–like the love we have for our friends and family and dog and campus squirrels–to feel deeply, painfully, insignificant. It can feel like a deadline; one that passes year after year, one that if you have not accomplished the goal of being in a relationship, you have somehow lost. 

We can become so inundated with the idea of a relationship we should have, that we can lose sight of a lot of other, arguably more important things. 

My last Valentine’s Day was spent a few months out of a breakup. So, as you may be able to infer, I was sad. I spent the afternoon crammed in a dorm room, eating pizza with a few of my friends, and talking about our years and lives and how we had changed and why we were thankful for each other. I don’t think I recognized it then, but it’s what I really really needed at that time. In fact, I think it was love. 

And I think that might have been love as much as the way my sister and her husband beamed  as they exchanged vows, slow dancing with someone you really want to slow dance with, when my grandparents stood arm and arm with each other in their kitchen and told us again how they first met. 

And I think that might be love as much as love is difficult but necessary conversations, a professor willing to critique you because they know it will make you better, when coworkers bring snacks to share, a parent who takes a call late at night, being there for the people who need you, allowing yourself to be chased by a horde of children for hours on end, just because they think it’s fun.  

Romantic love is love, and it’s important. But there are also a billion different ways throughout your life that people show love to you and you show love to other people. Those should not be disregarded. Those interactions form the basis of our being, they bring us joy, they’re what drive us to make the decision to wake up and try again to love other people better. 

I don’t know how you’re spending Valentine’s Day this year, but I do hope you realize that there are people who love you and people you love. Love has a way of ebbing and flowing; everyday it challenges our growth and teaches us things about ourselves. It is indisputably complicated, sure. But it’s necessary. 

My grandparents – A legacy of love

Gifts in the dark

But I will sing about YOUR STRENGTH. I will rejoice in your love EVERY morning. You have been my place of safety, the place I can run to when troubles come. I will sing praises to you my SOURCE of STRENGTH. You, GOD are my place of safety. You are the God who loves me. Psalm 59:16

It wasn’t a polite request. I wasn’t dressed in my Sunday best repeating the printed prayers in the bulletin. I wasn’t cozied up in my over stuffed chair with my coffee, my journal and my bible. It was dark and the room was cold. The increasing tightness in my chest and swirling thoughts in my head had pushed me to my bold middle of the night demand. No waiting until morning…

GIVE ME A WORD.

A.

WORD.

YOUR WORD.

Something, anything that will move me from this place of confusion and discouragement. Not tomorrow, not next week not after I run through the list of my ideas for solutions one more time…

RIGHT NOW.

1:30 am – Why is it always the middle of the night when the worries of the day invite themselves back into my mind – demanding a solution? When all I want is sleep. When what I really NEED is sleep. When I know that if I don’t sleep I can pretty much count the next day as loss.

Maybe, just maybe….. that it is in the dark, when my resources feel empty, when my thinking is foggy, when I am most vulnerable… maybe it’s in this time that God knows I’ll be ready to pay attention. Maybe its when my mountains that feel conquerable in the day in my personal strength become hopelessly impossible with what I have to offer in the middle of the night. Maybe it is what is necessary to move me to the recognition that I don’t have what it takes. That I will never be or have enough to fix or answer the questions in my world. Maybe the darkness and the cold and the middle of the night wake ups are actually God’s beautiful invitation to seek the thousands of promises for peace and power and provision that I “claim” all day long… and ask…

“But do I really believe them?”

Thousands of them. Over and over and over again – repeated truths of love, hope, provision, strength , peace. Promises from our all loving, all knowing God. Spoken so many times so we cannot possibly miss them.

But gosh… I do.

I quickly read them, sing them, text them to friends that need encouragement…. and then at 1:30 a.m. I hear God saying…

“…but do YOU believe them. In this question, with your issue, in your pain?”

And in the dark and the cold… I make a demand.

GIVE ME A WORD.

A WORD.

YOUR WORD.

and I do what many of us do in the middle of night when we cant sleep.

I pick up my phone.

But I don’t go to social media, or email or my business website….

I click on my Bible app and go straight to the verse of the day. I don’t have time nor do I want to wait another minute for the swirling to stop, and the tightness to leave my chest and sweet sleep to return… I need a word right now. And my generous, faithful God shows up and meets me right where I need him.

But God, I will sing about YOUR STRENGTH. I will rejoice in your love every morning. You have been my place of safety, the place I can run to when troubles come. I will sing praises to YOU my source of strength. YOU GOD are my place of safety. You are the God who loves me! Psalm 59:16.

A WORD.

THE WORD.

In one verse I felt God take my face and turn it off of my unanswered questions and turn it towards …..

Him.

HIS STRENGTH. He didn’t remind me that I had what it took. That I could continue going it alone. He reminded me that He. Is. Strong. PERIOD.

Strong enough to hold every one of my questions. To carry them in his capable arms. No need for me to feel the weight when he had what I did not.

I sat up in my bed, reading the promises over and over…. HIS STRENGTH, HIS STRENGTH. My responsibility is only to

…. sing about HIS STRENGTH.

I rested my head down on my pillow and drifted off to a settled, deep sleep. HIS STRENGTH.

The gift of the dark…was a desperate searching for the light that was met with the soft glow of the peace of God’s truth. Open arms ready to give what I didn’t know I needed.

The morning light brought with it …

the same unanswered questions.

the same health diagnosis of loved ones.

the same relationship struggles.

yet a new perspective, a new hope, a new peace.

Oh darkness…. did you know you could usher in such a sweet gift?

Oh friend… did you know YOUR darkness could be a doorway to your greatest gift? The greatest gift?

Light in the darkness

If you have a few minutes at the end of this read…. Here are some promises from Psalm 18 and an invitation to ask yourself… Do I believe them… in my unanswered questions, in my darkness, in my sleepless nights?

YOU GOD make me strong. God is bedrock under my feet. The castle in which I live. My rescuing knight.

Rescuer

Shield

High tower

Stronghold.

Saves me from my enemies.

He hears my voice- my cry goes to his very ears.

He rescues me from strong enemies-those who hated me and were too strong for me.

Lord is my support.

Merciful

Faithful

Cause my lamp to be lighted and to shine

Illumines my darkness

By Gods strength I can crush a troop and leap over a wall.

He encircles me with strength.

He makes my feet like hinds feet ( able to stand firmly and tread safely on paths of testing and trouble) He sets me ( securely) upon high places.

Trains my hands for war, YOUR right hand upholds and sustains me.

YOUR gentleness ( gracious response when I pray) makes me great.

YOU enlarge the path beneath me and make my steps secure so that my feet will not slip.

Rescued me from the contention of the people.

Placed me as the head of nations.

For the word of the Lord holds true, and we can trust everything he does. Psalm 33:4-5