Welcome to my blog! I'm so glad you stopped by. I happen to be one of those people who lives to eat, and the only thing I love more than eating is hanging out with my family and friends. Grab a cup of coffee and sit down to my daily devotion. I can't wait to tell you what's on my mind today....

Monday, May 30, 2011

Kernels of Corn

I just got back from a great weekend with my extended family.  It was so good seeing cousins after such a long time.  One of my cousins has the family farm, and he still plants crops in the old fields.  One of the things that he has been planting is corn. He takes the corn and dries it out and then grinds it down into grits and corn meal.  He uses the corn sheller that my grandfather used.  Two years ago, my sisters and I drove to the old home, and we tried our hand at making our own grits and meal.  I'm sure it was entertaining for my cousins to see the "citifolk" (my sisters and I) getting so dirty from the scalp down and loving it!  We had never done anything like it, and we probably never will - unless we make it back down there with our own kids!  My cousins have perfected the display and do it for school groups, scouts, homeschoolers.  It is such an interesting thing to see something as ordinary as cornbread and how it evolves from the field to the table. 

If you think of a giant field of corn and then move to the potential ears therein, can you even begin to imagine the number of kernels that are there?  And if you take those kernels and grind them down into grits, how much more could be counted?  The process is only multiplied further when corn meal is made.  This is exponential growth.  The one field becomes many ears which become many kernels which become many grains.  This is the kind of math that God practices!

So many times, we feel like our lives are not worth much.  We think that we aren't accomplishing the great things that we just knew in our hearts that we should be doing.  I often have found myself thinking that I have lost all potential, that I am not doing as much as I should.  But if we each consider ourselves a field, all we have to do is touch the ears of corn within our borders.  We aren't responsible for every kernel.  There is a downline, if you will, of outreach that should be occurring.  In other words, I am responsible to be a light to the people who are in my family, my work, my community.  The ultimate goal is that those people, then, take something from me and in turn influence the people in their realms of influence.  From there, the next level turns and takes it on.  If you can picture yourself making an impact on just 12 lives, and those 12 turn and touch 12 and those 12 turn and touch 12 and so on, in just nine cycles, you have impacted every person on the planet.  When you look at your life in terms of personal impact, this make the task seem so much less daunting, doesn't it?  We can make a difference in our families, in our communities and in our world.  In fact, we will never even know the extent of our influence until we are face to face with God and all is revealed.  I have a feeling we will be surprised at the ways that we have touched the lives of others. 

I think of my cousins who bring kids to the farm and teach them about the simplicity of good food.  The potential to make an impact on the lives of those who visit is great.  The kindness that is displayed can warm the heart of a child in desperate need of love. 

Likewise, when we encounter a person in need a prayer offered up could do so much to bring great light to a lonely soul.  I challenge each of you to be a light.  We don't even need to be a beacon!  We just need to bring Jesus to the people nearby, and then we can encourage them to do the same.  In fact, it may not be the huge assemblies that will make the most impact in the end.  It will most likely be the people like you and like me who have lived lives of example and gently led others to do the same who will impact this world in the greatest fashion. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Family Reunions

What shall I cook? We are headed off to Alabama for a family reunion.  As usual, someone will fry the chicken, etc, and we are to bring sides and desserts.  It sounds pretty easy, but I always wonder what in the world I should fix that would reflect who I am to the family that I only ever seen once in several years.  Should I make a more metropolitan dish with worldly spices? or something super healthy that nudges the larger members to make wise choices? or should I keep it real and make the home cooking that my grandmother would have done? I haven't been to this particular reunion in about 12 years, so these are the things that have crossed my mind on a superficial level.  But at the heart of things, I still miss my grandmother who passed away 24 years ago.  Many of my aunts and uncles are gone, as well.  And I worry about many of my cousins who had not previously made their faith known.  Do they know Jesus now?  Family reunions always bring up the many thoughts that lie dormant for most of the time. 

In truth, every Sunday at church is a family reunion, of sorts.  If we think about it, the Bible tells us that we are all joint heirs with Jesus...which basically means that we are adopted as daughters and sons of God, the Father.  With this in mind, we all get together for fellowship and the food of the Word - a family reunion!  When my family gets together, which is only once a year, everyone laughs and tells old stories and dreams of the future.  Not one minute is wasted arguing about what kind of background music we should hear...or when we should take up the donation for next year's paper goods.  No time is wasted thinking about why my dad may have prayed 30 seconds too long or why my dish is not the favored choice.  We don't worry about the trivial things; instead, we fellowship.  I just bet that this is what God is looking for when we gather together under His family name. 

1 Corinthians 1:10 say,s "I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought."  Wouldn't it be wonderful if all of our church family reunions were so orderly and godly?  And wouldn't it be perfect if our biological families could be so agreeable all the time?  This is our goal.  Instead of the continual problems between us, we should be growing up in our walk with God to a point where we can behave ourselves and get along.  This would please the Father. 

 I still don't know what to bring.  Since it will be in south Alabama, I'll probably just have to stop by a store and pick up fruit and dip.  I can't really make anything fabulous and ride in the car for 10 hours...so my dish will reflect my favorite food:  fruit! 

I hope your Memorial Day get together will be fun and agreeable! 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Incredible, Edible, Unmendable

If I'm in a hurry but still want a tasty meal, I almost always make something with eggs!  You can do anything to eggs!  When we visit Japan, my sweet friend scrambles them with a bit of soy sauce and whatever fresh veggies she has in her garden.  They are always perfect.  When I'm at my mother's house, we scramble them and put them between two slices of toast with a little mayo for an egg sandwich.  When I have too many veggies in the fridge that look like they might be on the verge of going bad, I make several quiches and freeze them for later.  And when we do any sort of stir-fried veggies, we top it with a fried egg and a little hot sauce.  Eggs are versatile, inexpensive and necessary to so many recipes, but once they are broken, they are broken.

When Matthew, our oldest, was about three, we visited a farm in the mountains in Japan.  At that time, my friend was farming chickens and pigs.  She had hundreds of chickens, and she had gathered the eggs for a few days - hundreds, possibly thousands of them - and stacked them in egg crates by the side of her house, waiting for the truck to come pick them up.  The home was an old Japanese home, complete with sliding doors all around the exterior.  Matthew wanted to see the eggs, so he opened the door just above them (the door was about 3 feet off the ground).  He leaned over to get a better view, and he fell out of the window onto all the eggs.  Almost all of them were broken.  I was horrified!  Sad to say, my first reaction was not concern for Matthew...I was thinking about my friend's income and how it was ruined.  I was so upset that we could do nothing to make things better.  I offered to pay for the eggs, but she wouldn't let me.  Instead, we took the crates and began to pour as much egg into bowls as we could.  We took the rest of the afternoon to make tomagoyaki, a Japanese treat where thin layers of egg are rolled into long jelly-roll looking shapes and then sliced into pretty pinwheels.  We gave tomagoyaki to everyone we could think of that day. 
My friend was so gracious, and, yes, Matthew was quite alright.  He cried a bit because he was so ashamed that he caused such commotion, but he was fine.  He found out that it was true, though, that all the king's horses and all the king's men just couldn't put those eggs back together! 

I don't know about you, but I have had quite a few days in my time where my heart felt like those broken eggs.  I have felt very unmendable.  And sometimes when I pray for people, I get the feeling that they, too, are looking at the tough situations in their lives and feeling this same way.  When our hearts are broken, no words can remove the pain of the moment.  We aren't looking for people to gather around and say a lot of things or give a lot of advice.  We just need someone to love us and sit with us, maybe give a hug or two.  As children of God, we need the compassionate arms of God to hold us. As ambassadors for the Kingdom of God, we have the ability to be those arms.  I really love Isaiah 61. There is such comfort there.
 1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
   because the LORD has anointed me
   to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
   to proclaim freedom for the captives
   and release from darkness for the prisoners,

2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
   and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
   instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
   instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
   instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
   a planting of the LORD
   for the display of his splendor. 

I don't know about you, but I'd much rather wear a crown of beauty than the ashes of mourning.  I definitely need a garment of praise instead of the heaviness of despair.  And my broken heart often needs binding.  The amazing thing about being part of the family of God is that we have each other to help us through trying times.  There are so many reasons to be part of a local church, and this one is a great one.  We can comfort each other like only family can.

For each of you who have been a source of comfort to me, thank you.  I have been refreshed and refilled by your side.  To those who have needed me and will need me yet, I love you and will pray for you and give you all the hugs you need!  I'm more of a "has-been" than a beauty queen, but I do have a crown of beauty and a garment of praise that I'll lend out any time you need it!

...and for those of you who just can't think of what to cook for dinner, try eggs!  Incredible and edible.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Youthful Zeal and Mermaid Fun

So far this morning, three little 9 year old girls have been outside playing, waking the neighborhood on a Saturday morning...eating a breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast...playing some more...making homemade cupcakes...decorating them...making homemade chocolate ice cream...cleaning up after everything...slathering on sunscreen and then playing some more.  It's 9:17a.m.  I can't even begin to think how the rest of the day will go.  If I had my "druthers", we'd all still be asleep, dreaming of being mermaids in a tropical ocean, but here we are, taking the world by the lead and swinging it onto our own course of frenetic energy!  If you've never had a house full of little girls, you probably have no idea what I'm talking about. 

Like I said, it's only minutes after 9a.m., and they are begging to get into the waves.  They have plans to tackle the tide, go to the neighborhood pool and try out a mermaid fin, eat at a local restaurant, go to the aquarium.... This could be an exhausting day, but I just bet that they'll be up until midnight again tonight, watching movies, painting fingernails and giggling like only 9 year old girls can do!  Oh, what I could accomplish if I had that sort of youthful energy combined with the maturity and vision that I now know! 

I do think, though, that there is a lesson to be learned from these little gals.  They attack everything with excitement.  They run towards the challenge with huge smiles on their faces.  It's a pleasure to watch them in their tireless pursuit of the next thing.   Romans 12:11 says it perfectly, "Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord."  What if we, like children, happily and energetically approached our Christian walk?  We could be so affective!  It seems that the older we get, the more and more complacent we become, but that is not the plan that God has for us.  He really longs for us to be like little children in our faith and our walk with Him.

Have you ever taken a child to Disney?  Do you remember the gleam in their eyes when they saw the characters come to life and experienced the excitement of Disney first-hand?  Do you remember the great pleasure that you knew just to watch the little one be so enraptured?  That is the sort of pleasure that God most likely feels when He sees our excitement in our daily walk.  I can only imagine that the Father is over-joyed when we are over-joyed! 

Well, it's time to get these gals to the beach.  We have waves to kick and mermaid suits to try!  I hope you enjoy your day as much as we will!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Smells Bad, Tastes Good

Several years ago, my family had to go to Thailand for a board meeting for a ministry that serves Asia.  We had a great time in that special country.  It was one of the trips that we will remember fondly forever, and the hotel where we stayed was an interesting part of those memories!  Back in its day, this place must have been spectacular.  There was so much carved wood everywhere we looked!  There were plenty of flowers - orchids, in fact - growing all over the gigantic lobby.  The rooms, though, looked like they had not been seen by management in 30 plus years.  But how much time do we really stay in a hotel room when visiting an exotic country, anyway, right? 

People who stayed in this hotel could bring in any food whatsoever that they liked....except...durian! 
The forbidden fruit.... There was a market outside of the hotel that sold pretty much anything that you could ever find in Thailand, and there was a fruit vendor there who was selling this large and unattractive fruit.  Yep.  It gave off a pretty fowl odor, but the vendor said (and I quote), "Smell like Hell. Taste like Heaven."  His mighty fine English said it all.  This weird fruit smells a bit like a port-o-john.  It's that strong, but it does have a strange almost cheese, almost fruit kind of taste that is pleasant enough.  I wouldn't call it heaven, exactly, but I'm not Thai. 

Maggie always asks, "Why do the things that are good for you taste so bad when the things that are bad for you taste so good?"  Well, why?  I don't know.  It's not always the case, but there are certain greens and possibly a rutabega or two that I know would be good for me, but I just don't want to taste them.  While that piece of chocolate and peanut butter fudge that I would love to eat just might be my undoing.  Thankfully, we have access to a nutritional value run-down on everything these days.  We aren't really kept in the dark, but no one posts signs telling us what is right or wrong, either.

Teenagers and rising adults sometimes have an almost disabled sense of right and wrong.  Not disabled, exactly, but at least desensitized.  I remember my younger years and cringe when I think of the truly stupid choices that I made.  So many of the things that I decided to do seemed like a good idea in the moment, but I knew better.  There's no polite way to say it: I was a fool for many of those precious years.  It wasn't that I didn't have access to a good values code.  It's really that I ignored the wisdom that my parents had been spoon feeding me for so long.  There just comes a time when we have to take that wisdom, ingest it and claim it as our own, but that doesn't mean that parents simply can overlook their children's unwise thought patterns.  We give them all that we can that is godly and good, but there comes a time when parents must begin to step back slowly and give their children a little more space to try out their own decision-making skills.  I made so many mistakes.  All of my friends did, too.  In fact, I haven't seen but a handful of teenagers who didn't trip terribly along the way.  The truth is, though, that almost all of the kids who have been raised well grow up to be wonderful adults, regardless of the foolish choices made.  This must have been true back in King Solomon's time, as well, because he felt it necessary to record a bit of wisdom on this: "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is older, he won't depart from it." Proverbs 22:6 

With a teenager in the house and another quickly following, I know that I will come to lean heavily on the assurance that God certainly will take over when I drop the reins in my children's lives.  They'll probably do a few things that carry bad "smells"...They may even look half rotten on the outside from time to time.  But I'm sure that the results will be heavenly when it's all said and done!  "Smell like Hell. Taste like Heaven." I'll just bet that my own parents can relate to that sentiment in my life!  I turned out OK, but, boy,  was I ever rotten in those in-between years! 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Crab Pot Attraction

We bought a crab pot 3 days ago.  We put in the bait and, within minutes, pulled up about 10 crabs.  We let them go.  We then repeated the same thing.  Every time we throw that pot in the water, crabs all but run to it, and we've baited it and caught about 60 crabs so far, but we keep throwing them back in.  Actually, Wayne and I are looking forward to a good steamed crab.  I want to pick the meat and make a seafood casserole or add it to an excellent gumbo.  But...every time we get ready to harvest our crabs, the kids get all upset about killing them.  They don't want to hurt the poor things....especially the ones who are obviously carrying roe.  Now I agree with them there.  Who could kill a mother and her young, right?  But so many of them are just there to be eaten!  There obviously are plenty of them if we have caught so many with so little effort. 

It's amazing, actually, how little effort is involved.  The pot smells like old fish, and the crabs just come running.  I get the feeling that there might be something akin to this principle at work in my own life.  It's funny in a way, but almost everywhere I go, people just walk up to me and start telling me the sad details of their lives.  I'm not kidding.  Total strangers have approached me in stores and told me about their divorces, their kids who are on drugs, their struggles with depression.  I usually get in the car and tell my husband or my kids, "Well, it happened again."  Or I'll call Jenny McN and let her know that, yep, I've still got it. 

I started noticing this phenomenon about 14 years ago.  Wayne and I were involved in a prayer walk that took 46 days to complete.  We were deep in prayer with our teammates all day, every day.  Every time we stopped somewhere, someone - usually a child - would come up to me and say interesting things.  These things were very indicative of spiritual awareness.  I was so surprised.  From that moment on, people have walked up to me and spilled their anxieties.  I've figured out that I'm just the crab pot, but the Holy Spirit is the bait.  There are so many hungry people everywhere that I go.  I don't have to say a word to them.  They don't have to be in a church.  All that happens is that I walk into a gasoline station, and they come to me.  It seems strange.  It seems unlikely, but the more that I think about it, isn't that what Jesus said?  "But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself."  John 12:32 

This phenomenon is, in fact, very likely.  The world is hungry.  It seems like there are plenty of places to get what a person needs, but if the hurting people out there never go in search of a Redeemer, how is He going to get to them?  Through you.  Through me. The truth is, people rarely search for the right things.  They just search.  It turns out that in my experience, what is really happening is that God is searching for them.  Why else would I be in the most unlikely places on the planet when random strangers approach me and tell me deep and personal things?  It has to be that the Spirit of God is at work in me.  I could stop at any gas station in town.  I could go to any grocery store I like.  But for some reason or the other, sometimes I do things just a little bit differently, and then people come to me and reveal their hurt.  At this point, I'm keen to what is happening.  I pray with random strangers regularly now.  I don't mind the awkwardness of supermarket stares.  I'm so over that. 

I bet that if we took that crab pot out of the water and sat it up on the dirt, the crabs would still find it as long as the bait stayed in it.  They don't want the crab pot.  They just want the food that's inside. 

I hope that you'll keep the compelling "odor" of the Holy Spirit alive in your own heart.  Begin to notice the random conversations that you have.  Begin to follow those impulses that tell you to change up the routine a bit.  God is always searching for those who need Him, and we are always the vehicle for a move of His redeeming presence!  Don't be afraid to pray with people and to point them in the right direction.  You're just the crab pot.  The good stuff is God. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Birthday Choices

Today is a very special day!  On this day, we will probably eat chicken mini's for breakfast.  We will most likely have grilled cheese for lunch, and we will definitely have grilled salmon and strawberry cake for dessert this evening!  But not just any strawberry cake....birthday cake!  Our little girl turns 9 today, and we are going to celebrate all day long.  We probably won't stop there...we'll probably keep right on celebrating through the weekend!

A birthday is quite a special thing for a child.  I remember my own birthdays...I waited for them all year long.  I kept my mouth shut, not wanting to spoil any of the possible surprises that would come.  My family didn't throw parties, but we did celebrate with special birthday meals, cake and a really nice gift.  I was always so very thrilled to be able to choose the menu for dinner, and almost always, I chose roast beef with potates and carrots.  Believe it or not, on a few occasions, I chose fried liver and onions with mashed potatoes.  One of my sisters chose red beans and rice with sausage a few times.  And when we got older and went to restaurants, I chose a catfish house (that also served frog legs on the buffet) a couple of times.  To this day, the tradition remains.  We can chose what we want to eat if we are anywhere near our parents' house!  And now that I'm older, I usually want my mother to cook venison hash - I only get it about once a year since Wayne doesn't hunt, and we don't have a freezer filled with venison. In this same fashion, Miss Maggie has chosen her special celebratory meals today.  Like I said, chicken mini's, grilled cheese, salmon and cake.  With so many choices out there, this is what has been selected. 

We are surrounded every day by choices.  I choose the clothes that I wear.  I choose the things we will do for the day.  (I choose which privileges to revoke for homework undone....ha!) I choose the food that will be served for supper.  But when it comes down to what's really important in our lives, there is only one choice that will determine our eternal future.  Will you accept Jesus as your Savior and your Lord?  This is all that really matters.  Everything else is just "fluff and stuff"...Jesus is all that counts.

A friend of ours was telling us about the prayerful consideration on the purchase of a house.  He said he was agonizing over whether or not to move.  The Lord told him, "I don't care nearly as much about where you live as how you live."  That's it, isn't it?  God Himself isn't as bogged down in our details as we are.  We think that the world will come to an end if we don't get things right.  Not so.  God is more concerned with what is eternal.  He knows that all of this will fade away.

One of the verses that has been in the center of our home since Wayne and I were married is in the form of a beautiful paint and pencil original piece.  A friend of ours from California was in set design in the film industry.  He had lost his way in his life and found himself caught in an ungodly lifestyle.  He came to Jesus through Jack Hayford's ministry at Church on the Way and gave his heart and his art to God completely.  The picture that he gave us for our wedding was his life's story.  It is a field with an old home - the home in which he grew up.  The house represents the pain and old memories of his life, but the field around it represents the new life and the harvest that surrounds us all.  The sun is setting in a gloriously colorful sky, and the verse below it sums up the choice that our friend came to understand as the most important part of his life.  "Choose you this day whom you will serve.  As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." Joshua 24:15 Our friend made this choice very late in his life.  In fact, in his last few days, we brought him food, cooked for him a bit, helped him clean his house, but he ultimately died of complications with HIV.   That isn't the part that God counts, though.  The part that has eternal benefit is the moment where he chose to serve a risen Savior!  Our friend's earthly body bore the remaining bit of sinful decay, but his spirit bears the eternal righteousness that is ours when all is covered by the blood of a pure and spotless sacrifice, given for our cause.

It doesn't matter who you are.  It doesn't matter what you've done.  It doesn't matter how unworthy you feel.  All that matters is that Jesus died for you.  Jesus took all of our sins to the cross with Him.  He paid the price for us to live in freedom.  It's as if we were all on an auction block of slavery.  We were bound in ungodly service to sin and the world.  But Jesus said, "I'll pay."  His precious blood was all that was necessary to cover the terrible cost of the sins of this guilty world.  Your choice is all that you have to pay to find freedom.  The price was already given, just say yes. 

Once that weighty choice has been made, all else is smooth sailing!  Then life is filled with the simple and wonderful choices of...what will I have for my birthday dinner?

Happy birthday, Miss Maggie!  We are so glad that you were born!  And we are so thrilled that you have made the choice to let God live in your heart!  Have a wonderful birthday!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

From Root to Fruit

It is strawberry season now, and I keep looking for the perfect container of strawberries!  I have not found a pint that is sweet and tastes like strawberries; furthermore, I have not found a container that is exactly ready to be eaten!  It seems that there is an overripe berry or two in every box.  I'm not very happy about this.  Do you know how quickly one bad strawberry can ruin an entire pint?  It almost happens before my very eyes!  The same thing happens with raspberries and blueberries.  I bring them home, and before I can enjoy them for breakfast the next morning, they knit a little blanket of green fuzz. 

We went to an especially sweet service last Sunday.  The pastor was talking about knowing Jesus as King.  We very often look at the Bible as a great guideline for our lives without truly acting as if we know that this is the very Word of God, the mandate of a King.  That is so true.  I know that in my own life, I do a pretty good job of keeping the fruit of my life fairly clean and sweet enough.  Unlike those strawberries, I don't grow too much mold on the outside.  It's not easy, per se, but it's not too hard, either, to keep oneself pretty clean in the public eye.  In other words, the fruit sins of our lives - the sins that others can see, we can keep those at bay pretty well.  However.... what if the foundations of my life were rocky, slimy, moldy.  What if the roots of my Spirit were decaying?  It's easier to hide sins that can't be seen.  The root sins of my life are more stubborn to deal with.  Every now and then, I turn around, and great anger overtakes me.  I find myself wondering, "Where did this jealousy come from?"  or I may find myself dealing with greed in extra measure on another day.  These things are so much easier to hide, but they are sins no less.  In fact, the root sins are usually the cause of the sins that grow upward and outward and display themselves for everyone to see.

For example, pre-meditated murder can almost always be traced to anger, hatred, or jealousy.  Theft is always a greed issue.  Adultery is the culprit of lust.  The hidden sins that lie dormant in our lives, unchallenged, will always grow up into monstrous calamity for our lives.  Why don't we deal with those things as eagerly as we deal with the fruit sins that we see in the lives of others?  I know that most likely none of you will face murder in your own actions, but you will probably find yourself in a spot where you know the root of anger, the root of bitterness.  If we see these things surface from time to time, shouldn't we deal with them as vigorously as we do that crab grass that wants to take over the flower bed?  I stop at nothing shorter than hoes, shovels, picks and Round Up!  Shouldn't I go after the things that contaminate the roots of my life with the same tenacity?  James 4:17 tells us that, "If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them."  If I am aware of the thoughts and ideas that rage in my own mind but don't deal with those things, I am in sin.

I go back to the fact that Jesus is our King.  He's not some great prophet who lived and gave wise words as others might say.  He is, in fact, our God and our King.  His law is not suggestion.  We do not live in the democracy of Christiandom as some might suppose; rather, we live in a Kingdom.  We serve a King.  His Law is law.  We should take the Bible as absolute mandate in our lives and live by it as if our very lives depended on it.  We follow our King because of His great love for us, which is so compelling.  But we cannot make any mistakes about it, He knows our hearts.  He sees both the good and the wickedness concealed therein.  He is thorough in His examinations of our thoughts and intents.  "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? 'I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.'" Jeremiah 17:9-10  I do everything in my power to make sure that people perceive me as a moral, upstanding Christian.  All along, all that really matters is what God sees when He looks at my heart.  It's not about the visible external life that I lead...it will always be about the internal condition of my heart and whether or not I am submitted to the King.

I have no idea why the strawberries in this particular area of the state seem inferior to the other two places I've lived in NC.  Is it the soil?  Is it mold spores that have grown deep in the earth and on the roots that contaminate the fruit before its time?  Is there something innately bad about the particular plants that they use?  Are their harvesting methods less sanitary? or is this a season of undesirable circumstances? I have no idea, but the fruit is not exemplary.  It can't be the fruit's fault.  There is a deeper cause than just the fruit.  But I am so very glad of the reminder to examine my own heart.  I want to be pleasing to my King.  I want the fruit of my life to be sweet and clean in His eyes.  We can hide the roots of our actions from the world, but we can't hide anything from the Lord.  It is best for us to deal immediately with the things that subtly enter our minds than to let them grow into roots that are bitter and ugly.  In the end, aren't we all wanting to offer sweet fruit to a perfect King?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

I am "Miss Communication"!

Yesterday, my family stopped in a tiny little Asian market in Havelock, NC.  I was in desperate need of miso paste, sesame oil, soy sauce, fish sauce, Sriraca Rooster sauce and gochu-jang (Korean red pepper paste).  It's impossible to cook decent Asian food without these ingredients, in my opinion.  My kids want a decent plate of food, so we drove over to the nearest military town.  Nearby was an Okinawan restaurant.  This restaurant used to be owned by a retired US military man and his Okinawan (Japanese) wife, so Wayne wanted to try out his few Japanese phrases.  We stopped for some takeout, and we discovered that the restaurant had been sold to a Chinese couple.  I know this is confusing, but that's the whole point.  Wayne had ordered the food over the phone, and the lady who took the order told him that she was Taiwanese, so he threw out the only phrase that we know in Taiwanese, "Jin ho ja!" - which means "good food".  She didn't really respond.  When he got there, he asked about her background again.  She had only lived in Taiwan for a while.  She was not, in fact, Taiwanese so she didn't understand our brilliant language skills, after all (she was Chinese).  This explained her polite silence and, "Yes, yes."

Immediately after I graduated from college, I headed off to Japan by myself to teach in a group of private schools.  On the airplane there, I sat next to a very kind Korean man.  He asked if I spoke Korean.  No, I didn't.  So he asked if I spoke Japanese.  Well, I had studied for 8 months before I relocated to Japan, so I had a very basic understanding of the language.  Keep in mind, though, that an understanding of syntax is not even remotely near an understanding of the language.  I told the man, "Yes, I understand some Japanese."  He went off into a very long and incomprehensible soliloquy.  I couldn't keep up.  I didn't understand a word he said beyond, "Do you understand Japanese?"  So...I did what my sweet Asian friends might have done to save everyone the embarrassment.  I nodded my head and from time to time said, "Yes."  The ride ended, and I changed planes to head on over to my final destination.  We exchanged business cards.  It was the first time I had the opportunity to use my new cards, so I was very proud of myself.

One month later..... I came home from work and found the man sitting on my from porch.....in Japan.  I was more than confused.  When I got inside, there were multiple messages asking me to call the school office.  I called, and the secretary was trying to figure out what was going on.  Apparently, the man came to the school office and told them that he was my fiance' and that he was there to visit with me.  Everyone in the office knew about my boyfriend (and future husband), Wayne, so everyone was confused!  ...most of all, ME! 

It turns out that the nice man had been talking to me in the airplane about marrying me to obtain a green card.  I had agreed, unknowingly of course, with my silence and head-nodding and interjected "yes-es".  Wow!  Of all the misunderstandings I have ever had, this one proved to be the most magnificent.  I sent the man away and let him know that there was no possibility of this arrangement, whatsoever!  I felt absolutely awful, but he said that he had business in Japan, anyway, so the trip was not a complete loss for him. 

My life has been lived in the shadow of church business, so I have seen the nature of so many exchanges.  It is my very humble opinion that most disagreements within the body of Christ happen because of miscommunication or misunderstanding of motive and intent.  So many people get side-tracked thinking that someone doesn't like them or what they're doing.  Feelings get hurt because we think that we are no longer  appreciated.  We are certain that so-and-so has bonded with that person over there, and that they are now in cahoots against us.  The enemy's main goal is to get us off of our purpose of working together to advance the Kingdom of God by getting us to bicker amongst ourselves, harboring hurt feelings. This same idea applies to friendships and family relationships.  Think of the magnitude of my miscommunication and apply that same out-of-proportion misunderstanding to the issues you've faced with others.  The enemy wants to destroy your fellowship with each other.  If he can confuse our conversations and keep us from growing in communication, he can destroy our fellowship with God.  We will approach communication with God with the same amount of fear and insecurity that we feel with others. 

It is so much more important to please God than to please man.  There is so much value in maintaining godly communication. We need to take care to keep our mouths closed when we aren't sure what should be said.  Proverbs 21:23 says, "He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity".  I need to remind myself of this within my home, my friendships, my ministry.  I don't need to fill all empty space with the sound of my own voice.  The same is true when I come before God.  I don't need to feel fear in communicating with Him, but I also need to quit filling all the empty space and let Him talk for a while.  This is the best way to communicate effectively with God.  

 Now...the next time you are on a plane anywhere in Asia, don't smile and nod.  Let them know that you don't understand!  You never know what you might agree to otherwise! 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Spiritual Fitness

Before we moved, Maggie was in dance at a sweet little studio that only had about 4 parking spaces for about 300 girls on any given day.  The place was located in an alley behind restaurants, art shops, etc., so I normally ended up positioned right up against a dumpster while I waited for her to come out of class.  The dumpster definitely belonged to a restaurant.  There is a distinct odor that is unmistakable when it comes to restaurant dumpsters, and if you've ever passed one in the summer, you know exactly what I'm talking about.  The aroma will all but knock you off your feet.  It's the smell of good food gone bad.

We have been in so many church environments in our marriage and ministry, and we've been able to observe so much.  The majority of what we've seen has been encouraging and fruitful, but we have been in some places where it seems like people are all too comfortable, filling pews and getting fat on good teaching.  There is a lingering "odor" that reminds me a bit of a restaurant dumpster.  Now, when I say this, I'm not referring to the actual smell of churches or people, but I'm remembering the funky atmosphere that lingers around Christians who are constantly feeding themselves but never exercising their faith.  If we, in the natural, sat around all day shoveling good food into our gullets and never got up and walked around or interacted with others, can you imagine the grotesque appearance we'd take on?  I think of the super large and very sad and sickly people about whom revealing documentaries are made.  You know the ones...the World's Largest Woman...the World's Largest Man.  We feel so sorry for these people because the quality of their lives is all but gone, and they can't enjoy their families.  They have no friends.  It's a very sad existence. 

What if, like those sad people, we are becoming this way spiritually?  What if we are feeding on good teaching and ministry with a "give me, give me, give me" kind of attitude that is causing us to be grotesque instead of sleek in our faith?  I am asking God to open my eyes to the people around me.  If there is a person in the grocery store who looks like they need an ear, I should give it.  If someone needs help with something, I should do it.  I need to get out of my bubble and notice the people around me.  God does nothing by accident; instead, He purposefully aligns our paths with people who need Him.

The kids and I were passing an elderly man recently who had his riding lawn mower wedged in a ditch.  He was trying with all his 80-something strength to pull it out.  I turned the car around, and we got out and helped him out of the ditch.  With all the praise he gave us, you'd think we had donated a kidney to his cause.  He brought over a homemade apple pie to thank us and told us that people who would help are few and far between. 

Where have we gone, if a small act of kindness is abnormal?  I'm afraid that we approach God as if He just exists to fix us, to meet our needs.  But I want to approach Him with the thought that His mercy exists in me to reach outward to people around me who do not have the blessings of His presence yet.  Matt 22:37-39 "Jesus replied:  'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.This is the first and greatest commandment.And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.'"  Of course, I need God to work on the places in my own life that need attention, but I cannot sit around absorbing every good teaching that comes my way without putting it into practice and sharing what has been given to me with others. 

I encourage you to be in three different kinds of relationships: 1) be around someone who can speak into your life. 2) be around peers who are on the same path as you. 3) be around someone into whose life you can speak.  These relationships keep us from getting spiritually bloated.  There is a give and take that is represented that keeps us sleek and refined in our faith.  I want to do everything in my power to avoid all the good food going bad in my heart.  In short, I want to avoid the odor of deterioration! 

Even as I try to maintain a healthy outward appearance, I hope even more so to obtain and maintain a superhuman strength and agility of spirit.  Exercise is key!  If I put all that I have learned into practice, I will be in great shape.  I hope you'll do the same.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What's for Supper?

Every now and then, an evening comes along, and I haven't made plans for dinner.  I haven't thawed any chicken; I haven't purchased any particular vegetables; No rice has been made.  Sometimes supper time just rolls around, and I haven't given a single thought to putting food on the table.  Have you ever had a day like that?  One where you open the pantry or the refrigerator and just stare at the contents, half expecting a ready-to-heat meal to jump right out at you?  To make matters worse, there will always be several members of the family who walk by asking, "What's for supper?"  And then I'm caught.  I didn't really plan well.  I have had quite a few of those days in my time, and let me tell you, it's hard to make a meal with an egg, a zucchini and some cheese, but I'm sure that it can be done!  Sometimes we have to take inventory of our supplies and get creative.

Today I was reading in 2 Kings 4:1-7.  I love this story.  It's a story of multiplication.  The poor widow went to the prophet Elisha and told him that her husband, his student, had died and that now creditors were coming to make slaves of their sons because of outstanding debts.  Elisha was moved and asked her what he could do.  And then he asked a far more interesting question: "Tell me, what do you have in your house?"  And as the story works its way, she has a jar of oil, and the prophet tells her to go and gather as many jars as possible and to fill them and sell the oil.  She is then able to pay her debts, and she is able to live with her sons.  Deliverance came in the form of multiplication. 

The part that I love the most about that story is that it is a hopeful story for all of us today.  We didn't see God swoop down and create for this woman something that she never had before that day.  He didn't come on the scene and do an unthinkable thing.  He used what she had to aid in her deliverance.  Sometimes, we are waiting for a new thing to come along to set us free from our difficulties.  We pray and wait, wait and pray, but the new thing just never shows up.  So we wonder...is God coming for us?  The enemy takes these thoughts and has a heyday with them!  He has you in exactly the right place to put doubt in your mind that God even cares about you and your situations.  But if we are waiting for a source of provision that poofs out of thin air into our laps for our salvation, we'll most likely be waiting for a very long time.  That's like me telling my family, "Oh, I don't have anything for supper, but I'm sure that if we sit here long enough, someone will simply bring a meal to our table.  Don't worry.  It may take some time, but I'm sure that food will show up."  It's never gonna show up.  Never.

The prophet asked the widow, "Tell me, what do you have in your house?"  She told him, "I have nothing there at all....except a little oil."  It's almost an afterthought, that little bit of oil.  But it is something of value that she has, and he sees that as the opportunity that she needs.  God loves multiplication.  He loves that we have with us something useable.  I think He likes that even more than Him creating something out of nothing, because in multiplication, we also play a role in what He is doing.  It's an inclusive miracle!

I see this passage as a push to gather into my spirit all that I need.  If I store up in my heart the Words of God and the wisdom of His Spirit at work in my life, then when times of trial come, I will have something that He can use.  It's like canned jars of vegetables on a shelf.  I don't run around thinking about them all day long, but when all the fresh veggies are gone from the kitchen, and I have a house filled with hungry people, I can always open a can or a jar of vegetables that were stored up earlier and use that to start a meal. 

So...when you find yourself wondering how will I handle this situation?  Take inventory.  Find out what is already stored up in your heart.  Lean on the knowledge that God has worked things out in your life in the past, and use that to boost your faith in the present.  And if you are in a time of spiritual plenty, store up all that you can gather, spiritually speaking.  We can never understand too much about God's Word.  So just keep studying.  When trials come, you will have something in your heart that God can use in His glorious way to work your miracle!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Grown Up Taste Buds

Well, we finally have our tomato plants in their pots, and little Miss Maggie is hoping that we'll have a bumper crop!  I can't imagine why this is so important to her!  She doesn't really like tomatoes, but this may be the year that her taste buds come alive and surprise her with the many things that taste good, after all.  As far as our children go, it's funny to watch how their personal tastes develop.  When Matthew was little, he went from fresh juice and barley green to yogurt to grits and eggs.  He stayed there a while and then moved on to chicken and broccoli.  He left that and headed towards asparagus and stir-fried veggies.  He is currently loving anything that has a hint of exotic or foreign spice.  Miss Maggie's taste buds went from grits and eggs to chicken to broccoli.  She then went through a phase where she only loved hot dogs.  This was difficult for me because I think they are scary, so I had to go organic and vegetarian on her (she still doesn't know).  The few things that I know will always be enjoyed by her are rice, miso soup with tofu and seaweed.  Well, a more Japanese child rarely exists.

Once, we were watching some sort of fast food expose' on TV, and the guy talking was giving us the run down on hot dogs.  He said that a diet of hot dogs on a white bread bun would kill you.  Maggie turned to me and said, "And that is exactly why I don't eat the bun!"  I'm laughing now just remembering it!  But as she grows, her taste buds are becoming more and more sophisticated.  They ask for more vegetables and different fruits, and they want special birthday meals like grilled salmon with roasted asparagus and a spinach salad.  I'm so surprised when I think of how they started out!  There was a time when I thought chicken nuggets would be the end of us!

My life has been in the church completely.  My parents are pastors, as were my grandparents.  Our childhoods were spent within the walls of a church.  And in all of my experiences, I have seen every sort of person come to Christ, and I have witnessed the process of maturation from any number of angles.  What I have learned is that people do grow up.  Some grow more quickly than others, and some take their time chewing on the "baby food" of the Spirit.  Sometimes we just want to shake somebody and say, "Enough, already!  Grow up!"  But then I stop and remember the patience that God has had with me and my own maturation.

We aren't meant to drink milk forever.  In fact, the goal is to be able to sit down to the table with God and chew on a sophisticated feast, but it takes some time.  When we pray for the people around us, we should realize that everyone is on a different level of maturation.  I would never expect my 9 year old to behave in the same fashion as my 14 year old.  I have different expectations of each of them because they are in different places in their growth.

I often pray for people who are self-centered and problematic, thinking that one good zap from the Spirit could fix them right up, forgetting that this is a process1 Peter 2:2-3 says, "Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good."  But just like our babies grow and their tastes and abilities expand, so does the life of one who has come to Christ.  There is a time for the selfish ways of infancy, but this is not where we are to stay.  We are to continue to grow in the Lord and get to a place where we can find food, eat it and share it with others. 

I hope that Maggie's tomatoes produce plenty this summer.  I would like to make salsa.  And I hope that she learns to love a BLT, but we'll see!  I'm just so happy that the days of chicken nuggets are gone.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Eater's Remorse

Today is Mother's Day, and I went with my family and mother-in-law to a local club where we enjoyed a feast!  The perfectly prepared dishes were all that a mother needed to make her happy!  But the dessert - oh, that's where the mom in me wanted to stand up and do a little jubilee dance!  I tasted a bit of my son's cheesecake - heavenly!  I took a bite of my daughter's brownie - to die for!  But the thing that I got truly excited about was the perfectly tart and tangy key lime pie!  The chef at this particular restaurant has perfected this recipe.  The filling is thick and heavy, and the flavor of the lime is over the top.  I tried to eat it slowly so that the moment would last, but I just don't have that kind of will power.  Right about the time I put the last bite in my mouth, I experienced "eater's remorse"...a sensation that leaves one feeling regret over having eaten too quickly and now realizing that there will be no more left to eat. 

Do you know that feeling?  It seems to happen to me all too often.  When I've eaten the perfect burger, an amazing steak, a perfectly baked sweet potato...I put the last bite in my mouth and suddenly realize that there will be no more!  How sad.  This feeling kind of spills over into other areas for me.  I love to read, and I especially like series of books.  I get so sad when a series ends.  I feel like I've been left out of the rest of the story.  TV series and movies are the same way for me.  I don't think I'll ever get over Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman ending so abruptly!  We were invested in their lives, and then the show got canned!  It wasn't that I was all too in love with the show, it was that I was a part of what was happening! 

Our lives are like such an on-going saga.  We weave in and out of the experiences and relationships in our daily lives, and then so suddenly, it ends.  I've been to a few funerals lately, and I think about how our lives continue, but it seems so sad that we don't really have the opportunity to see what would have played out in the lives of our precious friends who are gone so soon.  But the good news is that as children of God, we will get to join in on an everlasting story!  It may seem that life ends abruptly here, but it is not as horrible as it seems.  We have the opportunity to enjoy an eternity in the presence of God. 

Galatians 6:8b tells us that "whoever sows to please the Spirit will reap from the Spirit eternal life."  This is such a comforting thought when we face moments of separation here on the earth.  We know that our stories continue eternally!  How amazing!  I will finally get to see the unfolding of a story that never ends!  ...and the really fun part of that for a foodie like me is that there will be a feast!  A never-ending feast in the presence of the Lord!  Talk about long-lasting key lime pie!  I just can't wait!

Happy Mother's Day!  For those of you whose mother's have gone on, you will see your sweet mother again if the two of you have loved the Lord! What a glorious thought. 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Fresh Fruit

I have in front of me a bowl of shriveling fruit. Tangerines and kiwis to be exact. I bought plenty of fruit because I would rather my family snack on that than other sugary options; however, here half of it sits...shriveling. I just can't stand the thought that money is being wasted, so I'll probably make them all eat a piece for breakfast. But this isn't just a one-time event. This happens every time I buy a bag of those little easy-to-peel seedless tangerines. We dive right in and love eating them in the first few days and then forget that they are here and let them go to waste. Uneaten fruit rots. It's just the way it is.

I look at every single moment in my life and wonder what I can learn. In this case, I started thinking about that idea...that uneaten fruit spoils. I think I've stumbled onto something here.  I know that the fruit of the Spirit comes directly from staying on the vine of Jesus, but do I take advantage of the fruit that exists for me?  I like to look back now and again to really see if I'm living the life that I should. Galatians 5:22-23  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  I like to think that I'm walking in all of these, but just one recap of a day's events will always show that I have had moments throughout that day where I did not move in the joy or peace or gentleness or patience, etc, that was required of me.  The interesting thing is that I don't grow these fruits.  They are the fruits of the Spirit!  It is intended that I eat of these fruits and let them transform my life, my environment, my family, my world.  If I am letting this fruit rot in my heart without eating and enjoying it, I am remiss. 

Just like the bowl that is permanently fixed on our kitchen table, there is a bounty of good fruit available for those of us who want to live life in the Spirit.  Jesus presents all good things to us, but we have to reach out and partake.  He is such a good host.  He won't force us to eat what is before us.  But why would I come to the table of Christ and let good fruit go bad? 

I will spend the rest of the day (and hopefully much longer) trying to keep the fresh fruit of God's Spirit in my mouth!  I encourage you to examine your own words and actions and to do the same.  It's always so much better to serve fresh fruit than a shriveled, rotten mess.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Blackberries vs. Mosquitoes

It's a scorcher outside!  We tried to eat our breakfast on the back porch, but the sun got a little too intense for me and my age-spotted-without-sunscreen face...and it's only early May!  This year promises to be one that will literally fry eggs on the sidewalk!  This heat reminds me of all the things that we like to eat during Summer. We pull out the popsicle forms and crank up the ice cream freezer.  Wayne starts wanting BLT's, and I start looking for fresh zucchini and yellow squash.  And we begin, once again, to think of all the things that can be grilled. 

But one thing that I really, really look forward to is blackberry season!  I love blackberries!  Since I was a very small girl, I've taken great pleasure in picking berries from wild bushes that grow alongside country roads.  I don't even mind the scratches that I get.  I even know that I'm bound to pick up a chigger or two along the way.  It's just part of the game.

Recently, my mother and I were visiting with a lifelong family friend, Mrs. Rose Marie.  She has always seemed like a second mother to me, as my sisters and I were raised right along with her five children.  In fact, for several years, we lived directly across the street, and I thought that their home was just an extension of our own.  While we were visiting, they remembered a time when our landowner let us go onto his property - a place that had a very old cabin - to pick the biggest juiciest blackberries you've ever seen.  On this occasion, we all went... husband, kids, everyone.  When we got there, sure enough, the berries were prize-winners!  But almost immediately, we began to be attacked by mosquitoes.  When I say attacked, what I mean is attacked.  They were relentless.  They not only went after the men, but they focused their efforts on the women and children, as well!  It was brutal.  We had gone out in a pickup truck (we kids probably sat in the back), and it was probably before all cars were equipped with AC, but my mother, Mrs. Rose Marie and the children sat in the cab of the pick up with the windows up.  Only the men and the other family's son had on long pants and could stay outside long enough to gather some fruit.  In the end, the ladies remember that we might have been able to get about a gallon of fruit for each family - a pitiful offering from such amazing bushes!  The mosquitoes were just too offensive to get much more than that!

When I think about that story and about all the girls and the ladies in the cab of the pick up, I have to laugh!  Our families have so many stories that are filled with laughter.  Mama and Mrs. Rose Marie were always carrying on about something that made them chuckle.  It is still the same today.  When we get together, laughter fills the air.  A much better environment than air being filled with mosquitoes!  The mosquitoes were on a mission to keep us from gathering the berries.  And the more that I think about it, the more it occurs to me that there will always be something that fights us when we are close to gathering fruit.

Have you thought about that?  The times that are filled with the most intense battles in our lives are the times when the Holy Spirit has deposited in us the deepest riches.  Your enemy knows when you are getting close to those sweet deposits, the fruit of your walk with God, and he does everything in his power to get you to turn away and miss the blessing that is rightfully yours.  Don't fall for it!  If you feel nasty little spiritual mosquitoes targeting your life, press in!  Don't run!  Persevere!  Mosquitoes stay near things that are blessings to us: water - our life source, fruit - our sustenance, shade - our refreshing.  In that same way, attacks from your enemy tend to focus on those places in your life where you will gather one of those things.  Sometimes, you need to pull out all defenses!  Stand your ground and get what God has for you.  If you are to claim a prize, it won't be without a battle!  The ones who get the trophies are the ones who fight the hardest and persevere through every situation.

I encourage you to press through the difficulties in your life so that you can gather the great things that God has for you!  "Therefore, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith." (Hebrews 12:1-2a)  This is not a nail-biting battle, one where the outcome is unclear.  We're not even on the edge of our seats here! We know that victory is ours!  We never fight for victory!  Instead, we fight from victory!  The enemy's plot is to aggravate you enough to where you'll turn back and walk away from your prize.  Keep swatting the mosquitoes, though!  The fruit is yours!...now go get it!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Baiting Turtles

My children are still trying to fish in the back yard.  They go out there almost every day and throw some food or the other into the pond.  The turtles have a kind of Pavlovian response now...they come swimming every time Maggie approaches the water's edge.  They feed them hotdogs, bread, old fruit.  Whatever we have on hand becomes turtle food.  The problem with this is that when they want to fish - for actual fish - the turtles come over, thinking that a free meal is on hand.  It's impossible not to snag a turtle or two in the process.  One would think that the little guys would wise up to the hook, but they haven't.  Somehow two and two don't equal four for them.  If it were me, I would begin to put this together: food on a line equals a hook in the cheek.  We are on a catch and release program with them now. 

All of this has me thinking about bait.  Almost anything at all can be bait.  I've seen people fish with everything from white bread to filet mignon, from shiny aluminum to squishy rubber.  Apparently fish (and turtles) aren't too discriminating.  But along those lines, neither are we.  When I think back in my life and reflect on the moments when I've "taken the bait" that was dangling in front of me, I am embarrassed.  Just this morning, an incident occurred that got me to thinking about how we react to offense.  I also wonder how many times we think we are being offended when the other person has no intention of causing pain whatsoever - they are utterly clueless about the offense. 

Jesus Himself tackled this issue in Matthew 18:7-9.  "Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!  If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.  And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell."  In verse 7 alone, the word "skandalon" is used three times.  This word refers to bait...and more specifically to the trigger that snaps the trap shut when the bait is taken.  Jesus is warning us not to take the bait of offense.  He is letting us know that taking that bait is bad but that setting that trap is terrible.  

John Bevere wrote a wonderful book that everyone should have in their library!  It is called, quite frankly, The Bait of Satan.  I found a great review online at the following link:

In our maturity, we are called to walk out our lives alongside of other humans.  There are bound to be offenses, but the way we handle these situations determines our Christ-view on relationships.  What is more important?  My feelings? or my eternal soul?  And shouldn't I be handling the relationships in my life in a way that reflects the grace offered by God Himself through the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ?  I think we all know the answer to this, but it's really hard to see the priority when we are caught in the stuff.  I just need to remember that God will never call me to be responsible for another person's actions.  He will always call me into responsibility concerning my own behavior. 

I think those turtles in the backyard are idiots.  Why can't they see the hook?  Are they only looking for the food without concern to their "mortal" flesh?  This line of questioning causes me to step back, though.  Am I not seeing myself in these senseless creatures?  Do I not take the bait as easily?

I pray that God will do such works of grace in each of our lives that we become mature individuals who weigh everything against the Redemption of the Cross.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Christ in You

I have just finished walking my son through a recipe for Machaca Beef.  He got it into the crock pot, and now we will wait for the next 10 hours to see how it turns out.  Already, in the first hour, it is smelling a bit like a South-of-the-Border Heaven in here!  When it's done, we'll shred it, pile it between warm corn tortillas and top it with their choice of homemade salsa - either the one with black beans or just the regular pico de gallo.  Next, they'll probably add a bit of cheese and some sour cream.  And the final bit of our Mexican feast will be fresh corn-on-the-cob....the beautiful white kernel corn.  I just can't wait for dinner! 

I am a true fan of a crock pot.  I enjoy the aromas that waft through the house all day, and I like the fact that at the end of the day, I don't have to figure out what's for supper!  It's already done for me.  Sometimes, I feel a bit like I'm in a crock pot myself.  There are seasons in our lives where we feel the heat of difficult circumstances for a much longer period of time than we feel is comfortable.  In those times, though, if we keep our eyes fixed on Christ, I think that we can acquire much more flavor and tenderness than if we just worried and stressed over the moment. 

Romans 5:3-4 says, "We glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character and character produces hope." Perseverance is not easy.  If it were, more of us would be doing it....and then we would see more character in the world around us.  But character is lacking in the world.  Quitting seems to come so easy.  Divorce is the norm.  Job changes are expected.  It is so easy to move on to something new, rather than to stay with what is no longer fun and simple.  But it is interesting to see the progression...we can move from suffering to perseverance to character and then to hope

Colossians 1:27 says, "To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory."  This verse gives a bit of insight into the hope that is available to us.  It defines this hope as the "glorious riches of the mystery".  The hope that we can acquire is "Christ in us."  Isn't that such a beautiful thought!  All along, I've wanted more of Jesus and less of me, but the how of that is always puzzling, isn't it?  I mean, we know to read the Bible and pray, but beyond that, we are often lost.  All along, we ask God to remove the difficulties from our paths so that we can walk more easily through our lives...when it would seem that His plan is one that produces perseverance...character...hope.  Christ in us. 

All day long, I will smell this amazing beef as it cooks!  And all day long, I will think about the hope that I have in Christ.  What a blessing--and to think that it all comes from the difficulties that we encounter.  What a glorious plan!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Be Prepared

My friend, Jenny McNeal, and I have been talking a lot about disaster preparedness lately.  As you know, I was caught off-guard in Haiti when the terrible earthquake of 1/12/10 occurred.  I went to Japan after their massive quake and tsunami occurred.  In my homestate of Alabama, nearly 400 people died and thousands of others were injured in last month's tornadoes.  It seems that all around us, we are being accosted by natural disasters unlike any other time... 

...Which brings me to disaster preparedness.  I am not even remotely one given to sensationalizing the times, but I don't mind being prepared to a reasonable degree.  It's not beyond reason to have a filtration system that you can control manually.  A few good coolers, some cans of food and maybe a generator aren't ridiculous.  I happen to have a little camp stove, and I'm hoping to get my hands on a solar oven...just because I like the idea of using solar energy to cook, but I'm not opposed to the fact that it could cook if our power sources were gone.  I'm also given to learning what sorts of local wild plantlife can be eaten.  In fact, just last weekend, I learned about 2 little things that grow along the NC coast that I can pick and eat at any time.  Why, did you know that you can eat kudzu?  I'm not joking.  We ate the young and tender shoots stir-fried when we were in Taiwan.  It's actually pretty good. 

Jenny and I are trying to think wisely without going overboard.  Do I have a closet where I am hoarding end time supplies?  Not even slightly.  But I am making a checklist in the back of my mind of the items I have on hand that can be useful if needed.  During the storms of last month, we had 4 people over 75 (actually 3 of them were over 88) and 2 kids in the house, and the power went out.  We have to think about these sorts of things.  Suddenly, the responsibility of people who couldn't fend for themselves was in our minds.  Wayne and I are not people who fear, so we don't worry about these kinds of things, but it doesn't hurt to think ahead a bit. 

Be wise.  Don't be desperate.  Seek God and follow His instructions.  Trust in the Lord to lead you in the ways that you should be prepared.  Power will be sure to go out from time to time.  Easy to prepare food is never a bad idea.  Don't forget that water is a staple and that there are simple ways to have clean water. 

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and don't lean on your own understanding.  In everything that you do, submit to God, and He will tell you which way you should go." Proverbs 3:5


Straight from the Ocean

It's time to roll out the grill, brush off the dust and fire it up!  The weather has been absolutely perfect for the past few days - now that the rain has passed over - and I have such a yearning for anything grilled!  I will eat just about anything at all that has been cooked over fire.  One of the more memorable grilled foods I've eaten would have to be the lobster that Wayne and I ate on our honeymoon in Mexico....

We had rented a little Volkswagen beetle...I'm not even going into that story because it has a life of its own...and we drove out to see Tulum, one of the most beautiful spots on the planet.  We had such a great time on the coast there that we decided spontaneously to stay overnight somewhere nearby.  We stopped at a few places but settled in on a site that had a few grass huts directly on the beach.  (You should be picturing something along the lines of "Gilligan's Island" here).  It could not have been more primitive.  We arrived after dark, and the kitchen was closed, but we wanted dinner, so the little Mexican man who checked us in ran out to the ocean, lifted a lobster trap and pulled out 2 lobsters.  He ran back to the fire and laid them on and went after some butter.  That was it.  We ate fresh lobster, straight out of the ocean, grilled over fire and dipped in butter.  It was heavenly!  The location was amazing, the food was great...even the little huts were so romantic that we almost forgot that we were completely covered in sand...that is until the deafening roar of the ocean woke us up around 4:30 and sent us on our way back to our original hotel suite.

I am amazed at the abundance of seafood in the ocean, and all of it is spectacular when prepared over fire.  The combination of the water, the salt and the fire are wonderful, aren't they?  If you think about it, that's always a good combo.  We are to be the salt of the earth, the ingredient that brings purity, stability and health.  The Spirit of God brings a refreshing, not unlike water, and the power of God's infilling presence is a fire that ignites our spirits and brings life to every situation.  What a great recipe!  When we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and allow His work in our lives, we become efficient in our saltiness!  We bring life and refreshing everywhere we go.  And just like seafood, the closer we are to the source, the better.  If we begin to wander too far from the life-giving Spirit of God, we tend to get that lingering odor of something gone bad.  But when we stay near to the presence of God, we become the spectacular sustenance to the hungry world around us.

Crispy Fried Bottom Dwellers...

Every time my parents and I head back to Alabama, we try to stop somewhere and have a big catfish supper.  I know that many of you have issues with catfish...the bottom-dwellers...but I love fried catfish!  I don't know if it's the actual fish or if it's the cornmeal batter that's so special.  We don't really batter anything else like that except for the occasional tangy green tomato or garden fresh okra, so it's hard to say. 

When I was very small, we lived in the tiniest towns possible.  One of these had a quasi-famous restaurant nearby called Ezell's Fish Camp.  Ezell's was built right along the river - over the Tombigbee River, to be exact - and they serve the best catfish platters you ever sank your teeth into!  Through the years,franchises of the restaurant have popped up throughout the State, but the original location in Lavaca remains the one that we remember fondly. 

Among other catfish favorites, we also like to visit Anniston, AL's Top of the River.  My sister isn't too far from that town, and we go there nearly every time we stop over.  And for a while, we had a favorite spot called Cock of the Walk in Birmingham, but it appears to have closed.  Catfish isn't the only draw here... there are usually tasty little hush puppies, beans of some sort...but the really fun addition to most any catfish menu would have to be the fried dill pickles!  (I know, I know.  It's sounds a bit weird, but think of your local State Fair.  You hate to admit it, but those deep fried Snickers Bars aren't that bad, are they?) 

The thing that most people can't get over when it comes to catfish is the fact that they are bottom feeders.  They have heavy skulls, as opposed to most fish, and a relatively small air bladder.  Therefore, they are prone to sink to the bottom.  Their heads are flat with wide mouths so that they can feed on whatever lies below - however disgusting that may be. Their skin does not have scales.  They are "naked" fish, covered in a light mucous that helps them in cutaneous respiration - they breathe through their skin. 

It's an interesting thought - breathing in the atmosphere around us through our skin.  But, you know, I have been in certain atmospheres where I could feel the effects immediately.  I would like to say that I am only ever around godly people and in godly atmospheres, but that just isn't true.  We have been all over the world and even in places here the States where the air around us is filled with bitterness, jealously, hatred, among other things...  There are certain places where it seems like my spirit drinks in so many negative things that I feel like I have to get out as quickly as possible.  By contrast, though, there are places that hold the presence of the Lord in such a palpable way that all I want to do is breathe. 

Being in the presence of the Lord is like being in a pure, clean atmosphere.  My husband loves the idea of hiking a mountain in Switzerland and breathing clean air.  But being in places where God is not...well, that's like the choking, black air of large, overpopulated cities.  We've been there.  It's not fun.  People wear masks and battle lung illnesses.  But even in those places, we carry our own air, of sorts.  Do you remember Michael W. Smith's song that says, "This is the air I breathe...your Holy Presence living in me."  I really do love that song.  It is so worshipful, and it describes fully how I want to live.

Psalm 16:11 says, "You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand."  Joy and true pleasures come alongside of the presence of God.  I think that it is impossible to live with full joy or peace without that all important ingredient - God.  I have seen people who live in terrible family situations still experience the joy of the Lord.  It is possible to be in hard places and still breathe the air of God's presence.  We invite Him to be around us.  We bask in His fellowship.  He gives us what we need...and beyond that, He gives us great pleasure simply because we are in His presence. 

Yes, we are all something like bottom dwellers, aren't we?  We sulk along, feeding on the sludge that lies around us, breathing in the tensions and pressures of our atmospheres.  But... there is hope for us, yet!  We can allow God's precious presence to create for us an atmosphere of joy.  We can breathe in His sweet Spirit and lift our heads.