Friday, December 12, 2008

Secret Sisters Reveal

This fall, I dipped a toe into the "Secret Sister" waters for the very first time. The result? A soaking. I was drenched in God's humor and washed anew by a special sister's Grace.

Before unveiling my adventure, here is a link describing what Secret Sisters is all about in case you don't know.

Secret Sister Adventure Begins
"Yes I would like to participate". I am handed a half sheet of pink paper with the standard questions: name, birthday, anniversary, likes, dislikes. I go home and fill out the first part. I put the pen down and ponder the rest. Favorite foods? Hum. Not enough space. Hobbies? Definitely need to finish on the back - not enough room on the front. Favorite Scripture verses. Could write a book - a very good thing indeed. Done. I place the form in my lesson book. Note to self: hand in next week at Ladies Group.

The next week I pick a half sheet of pink paper with someone else's info on it out of a box and someone mysteriously picks my name out of the box. It's all a surprise! Shh - don't tell anyone who your Secret Sister is. But I can't let rules be rules. So I begin to believe I know who picked my name. Don't ask me details (listening to the wrong voice in my head now) but I convinced myself that my Secret Sister is the same Secret Sister I have been assigned to. Still with me?!

Days passed into weeks and at Church on Weds and Sundays gifts are secretly placed at the back of the Church. The fun had begun. I received an anniversary card in the mail from my Secret Sister. What a surprise! I had forgotten I was even asked my anniversary date on the pink paper. I compared the handwriting on the card to the handwriting on the half sheet of pink paper I picked from the box and was further convinced I knew who my Secret Sister was.

In the next three weeks I excitedly plot and plan gifts and surprises for my Secret Sister, all the while concentrating more on what my Secret Sister is wearing, just so I can match her gifts to her color palette. Yes, I address her spiritual needs through Scripture presented in a compilation book which I send her. I knew she would love this book because she is writing a book of her own and this book will give her that quick jolt of inspiration in the morning or be that quick pick-me-up in between morning devotions and dinner preparations.

Did I pray for her? Yes. In the first few weeks I did. I knew she was new in town, new to Cornerstone Church and adjusting. I knew we had a lot in common and that she and I would be life long friends. How could we not? After all, we were forming such a bond. At least I thought we were. I stopped praying for her after those first few weeks went by.

I began listening to the wrong voice in my head.
I was listening to my own assumptions. I was hearing what I wanted to hear. I was listening to me. No, I did not hear the still small voice of the Lord which was insisting I pray for the "Secret Sister" who was most likely praying for me though not buying me gifts or sending me cards to let me know she cared. The same still small voice that was saying, "Be quiet."

And I ignored God's chastening and my husbands godly advice. See, what I have not explained yet, is the fact that the Secret Sister designated to send me gifts, letters, etc. had not sent anything since the anniversary card. And that was the reason for my discontent. It was right about then that my prayers stopped ascending heavenward for a Secret Sister that had not even been revealed yet.

And since I was steadfast in my assurance that I knew who my Secret Sister was, I became bitter because I had not heard from her in awhile. There were no gifts for me, no cards in the mail. Instead of praying for my Secret Sister and seeking the Lord about how I could serve her, I decided to sin. I didn't stop buying presents for my Secret Sister, but I did become bitter and wrongly disappointed in many ways. I questioned the Lord as He continued convicting me during my morning devotions, "Why should I buy her gifts if she doesn't take time to acknowledge me? Why doesn't she share her trials if that is the reason for her absence in my life?" Again, I thought the Secret Sister I was buying gifts for was the same person that was supposed to buy gifts for me. Still with me?

I was so wrong. So terribly wrong. And I regret my sinful fleshly behaviour.

In preparation for our annual Women's Fellowship, I volunteered to send email invitations to all the ladies and requested they RSVP with the type of covered dish they would bring. So I got a call from a girl in the group named Lisa two days before the party. She asked me what she should bring. I simply said, "A vegetable dish". Then our conversation flowed and we began talking about Church and other things (we had gotten to know each other pretty well in a previous conversation so we had lots to chat about).

Soon, our conversation moved to the Secret Sister experience. Ugh. A floodgate opened and I shared my disappointment about my Secret Sister. I justified if my Secret Sister was having a hard time or sick or having a financial problem, didn't I need to know so I could pray for her? I felt my Secret Sister owed me that much consideration. Just like sprinkling confectioner's sugar on a cake, I dusted my words with a tiny bit of compassion for my absent Secret Sister. And you know how sometimes the sugar wafts a bit on the air and a small hint of it lands on your lips? And you lick it? And it tastes good. And so in the same way, I licked my lips as I experienced a tiny bit of sweet justification for my "being forgotten".

However, the flavor of my intentions was anything but sweet. That which I had not swallowed was my pride. Complaints announced. Gossip created. The fallout begins. The stench of my words and the foul intention of my heart no doubt filled Christ's nostrils. A spirit of pride in me spewed, ejected, and vomited while the demons smiled. Attending Cornerstone Bible Fellowship for seven months and making leaps and bounds in my faith has just come to a screeching halt. The angels in Heaven no doubt began a prayer vigil.

Lisa listened and in her wise manner guided me back to Scripture. For one ember of sin is often the start of a bonfire. And wise Lisa held high the candle snuffer because she knew the Word of God puts every fire out.

"Lisa, are you my Secret Sister?" I suddenly asked her. I don't know why I asked her that, but suddenly I was experiencing paranoia! She didn't answer, and then I asked three times in succession. "You shouldn't ask who your Secret Sister is!" That was the last thing she said before she changed the subject. "Christina, my Secret Sister has not sent me anything, not even a card." Silence. The saying I complained about not having shoes until I saw the man that didn't have feet hit me between the eyes in that split second. I felt really stupid. And sinful.

I should have stopped talking then but I forged ahead,"Lisa, aren't you going to be embarrassed to meet your Secret Sister at the party? What are you going to say?" Lisa replied, "I am going to be glad to know who my Secret Sister is. I am praying for her." Conviction. I tell Lisa she is a better person than me. Because I have not arrived with that type of grace or kindness yet. I was wrong. I was selfish. But I was honest. Painfully so. But honesty never does right a wrong. And so I still dwell in the lie I have created. And again, I ignored the voice of the Lord, "Be quiet."

On and on I droned. I was disappointed in the person who picked my name and who chose to participate but was not responsible in following through with their commitment. I felt justified in judging. I felt worthy of putting my standard of performance on someone who I did not even know. I continued to plead my case that I understood that that person may be having issues but I wanted to know so I could pray for them. I lied to myself because it was all about me and nothing about them. Yes, I would have prayed. But my real motive was to be acknowledged. Guilty. So very guilty.

We hung up and then she called back while I was in the kitchen and she told my husband, "I changed my mind. Tell Christina I am bringing a meatloaf."

I am telling you about the meatloaf because it was not really important what she was bringing in the eternal scheme of things - but - I found this out later. My husband Vinnie answered the phone when Lisa called back the second time. He told Lisa, "Lisa, I love you. Please encourage Christina about this Secret Sister thing. She really needs prayer." But Lisa had already been doing so.

Believe me, the Lord was working. That was so out of character for my husband to respond sensitively to someone he does not really know that well. It was the Lord's love conveyed in that second phone call. God was preparing my heart through the phone for a confrontation and a spiritual bath for me.

That nite in bed my husband and I talked about my bad attitude. He told me God was going to allow me to have the proverbial "egg in my face" splayed for all to see unless I confessed my unlovely behavour about this Secret Sister thing to Him in prayer. I listened. I began to feel the stirring of conviction for sharing my disappointments with Lisa. Then fell asleep.

Secret Sister Reveal
We were told to bring a Christmas gift for our Secret Sister and we would introduce ourselves at the party. Ugh. I admit I did not care. During the worship music I determined to hold my Secret Sister accountable and confess my sinning against them. I felt sure the person I would hand my gift to would be that person. I felt sure this person would hand me a gift and make a lame excuse for not being a part of my life since the anniversary card.

However, God worked me over during the Christmas songs and "Breath of Heaven" brought tears to my eyes. The Lord was in that place as my Secret Sister's granddaughter Mercy danced in circles to the music, with her hands held high until she fell from dizziness. She then got right back up and spun and spun with a smile on her face. She smiled the entire time.

I was broken. I was so horribly ready to fall apart. The Secret Sister I had been buying gifts for all along is named Honor. And I felt anything but honorable as before my eyes her granddaughter danced the dance of joy. The dance of abandon to the Lord. The dance David danced. Honor. Mercy.

Soon after I approached Honor with her gift. She was so excited to know I was her Secret Sister. She had no idea I was her Secret Sister. None. Nada. Zilch. We discussed all the gifts I had given her through the weeks and how much she enjoyed them and then she left with her daughter Honor Jr and granddaughter Mercy. She was not the Secret Sister assigned to me after all! So who was? The question lingered as I walked back into the throng of women chatting amicably. The voice of my enemy, "So maybe Honor just blew you off after all. If not, your Secret Sister may be here and igoring you and you will never know who it was to begin with!" crashed into my heart. I accepted the lie. I figured I'd get my bags and go on home.

Lisa approached me gift bag in hand. "Hello Secret Sister!"

The room and everyone in it disappeared. Lisa again, "Hello Secret Sister!" "No! No! No! It can't be!" I thought she was kidding or just decided to take over that role to possibly - make me feel better? No. It was true. She was my Secret Sister all along. I was shocked and shamed. One big ball of shock and shame. My brain truly ceased to function for a full 10 seconds.

At once we both laughed. The awkwardness subsided. The Lord intervened. The understanding of God's precious gift of Sisters took center stage as we bonded in a new way. Realizations rose to our lips as we talked together loudly at the situation God had humorously allowed. The gifts in her hands were forgotten. The disappointment was forgotten and embarrassment took its place.

Allow me to share the irony. In our conversation two nights prior to this Secret Sister Reveal, Lisa had shared her journey of learning to trust the Lord for her financial needs since the Secret Sister Program began. Lisa and her husband have five kids. She had been trying to find a job. She was preparing to face the fact that they would not meet their rent that month and had even discussed with her husband the possibility that they may have to head to a homeless shelter. Not that the Church would allow that to happen, but it did enter her mind.

She shared that basically "in the eleventh hour" God gave her a job. She was surrounded by supportive behind-the-scenes saints. God answered their prayers in so many ways. However, she had spent many nights on her knees in prayer and had shed many tears while travelling through this financially challenging valley. All while wearing many hats - wife, Mother of five, job seeker, daughter, sister, friend. She was praying for me, though gifts were not purchased, cards not sent. Her prayers were the precious gifts I needed most. Her godly character humbled me. I apologized and she said I did not have to. I apologized anyway. Four or five times just to make sure she heard me - the first time.

Then we laughed. And laughed. And laughed. I ribbed her a bit because I pointed out that she had been sticking up for herself in our previous conversation! And we both knew how it felt to not receive monetary things from our Secret Sisters. But she already knew that the prayers were most important and I knew I would never be the same. Gratefully, I knew I was forever changed. The lesson learned that day was immense. Yes, I would have liked to have received a card from Lisa as my Secret Sister telling me she needed prayer. But, the lesson was, I should have already been praying for her. I confessed in my heart that in my pride I felt entitled to that knowledge, possibly as a way to excuse my love of self and love of things material. I was so sorry. So very sorry.

Lisa then presented me with a beautiful gift bag of yummy smelling lotions and gels. She said she had attempted to glean details regarding my favorite things from our conversation of two nites ago (she had lost the 1/2 page of pink paper with my details on it long before). She also bought me a smoothie maker which blessed me because it is something I had wanted for sometime but would not splurge on.

The True Meaning of the Season
There was a sweet fragrance coming from our end of the room and it had nothing to do with the vanilla sugar scented bath and body lotions that Lisa had given me. The fragrance was in the humble giving and accepting of those gifts. It was God's timing. He no doubt watched and laughed with the deep belly laugh that only comes with true comedy. We had entertained not just angels unawares, but assuredly the entire Kingdom of God was laughing with us. We were rejoicing then, not only because of the fact that Lisa had just landed a new job, but because Lisa had purposed in her heart to bless me despite the fact that I did not deserve it at all.

I don't know if she arrived at that decision to bless me easily. I will never know. I personally know myself well and know that I would eventually do the right thing, but not without kicking and screaming at the throne room doors of Heaven. My sinful, fleshly, self-absorbed personae is far too well known to me.

I am grateful and humble that Lisa had already forgiven me for my ungrateful heart - possibly long before the Secret Sister Reveal - or our phone conversation. I made Lisa promise that she would be the one to break the news to my Husband Vinnie. I knew he would laugh and eventually stop telling me, " I told you so." I wiped the egg off my face along with my tears which had fallen not from sadness, but from the laughter my Secret Sister and I shared in our precious time together that nite.

In Summary
There was joy abundant in Lisa's giving the nite of the Secret Sister Reveal. Joy but also with that joy a blaring reminder to me that I did not deserve those gifts at all.

However, the giver decided in her heart that she wanted me to have them because of love deeper than a human heart can express. That love Lisa displayed was only possible because of the Lord.

The Lord came to this earth for the same reason. 1 John 4:9 states, "By this the love of God is revealed in us: that God has sent his one and only Son into the world so that we may live through him".

Lisa chose Christ. Yes, she was saved by faith (Christ) but she is also living by faith (Christ). I am glad my Secret Sister was revealed. Some believe secrets are meant to be shared. Others feel secrets should remain secret. I choose the former in this case.

The morning after the Secret Reveal, as I was still contemplating the events of the night before, an email landed in my Inbox. It was a Max Lucado daily devotional which ended with this verse: Phil 1:6, "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus".

God's comfort through His Word always makes me smile. And His timing perfect. Always. For He knew when I accepted the Secret Sister adventure, I would not just dip my toe in those waters. No, He knew I would be showered - from head to toe. A shower of blessings from my Secret Sisters. And a shower of God's mercy for Sisters standing on God's Word. God honors His promises. And today I stand on the promise of Phil 1:6. Wash us afresh O Lord I pray!

And so Merry Christmas. And happy, joyful New Year Secret Sisters one and all. For we truly have been drenched by the love of God. We are fully immersed in our passion for Christ. The water's warm...don't just dip in a toe Sisters - Get Wet!

I'm glad I tested the Secret Sister "waters" this winter for I will never be the same. And that is something to celebrate! Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Financial Management - Hebrews 13:5

Many people who read the Bible are quite familiar with Hebrews 13:5. We quote it easily. It is a popular Scripture verse and undoubtedly all would agree comforting. However, what caught my attention today was the entire verse. See, I too knew the second half, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." This is God's promise straight from the throne room. And He states "never" not once, but twice just so we don't miss His vow!

And if you look up the word "forsake" in the dictionary most often one can find "leave" listed as a synonym for forsake. So in essence, God is repeating Himself! On purpose, people. On purpose.

And so why I mention this popular place in Scripture is that in my devotions this morning the Lord directed me to Hebrews 13:5 - the entire verse, which I realized for the first time - offered much more than God's promise (as if that were not blessing enough!)....

The entire verse, "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."

I so desperately needed to hear that today! I undoubtedly was handed a pearl upon reading the first part of Hebrews 13:5. I refer to this first portion of Scripture as a pearl because like the pearl in the oyster, the first part of Hebrews 13:5 is an unexpected gift. It is precious and just like a pearl - revealed at just the right time.

Allow me to expand on that comparison. Pearls are formed inside the shell of certain mollusks: as a defense mechanism to a potentially threatening irritant such as a parasite inside its shell, the mollusk creates a pearl to seal off the irritation. These small particles or organisms enter the animal when the shell valves are open for feeding or respiration.

And so - just like the oyster, we often choose to be vexed by the Word rather than surrendering to the potential God has hidden in our shells. If only we would surrender to the Word and not fight it!

I am so happy to tell you that today I chose not to rebel but to submit to God's Word (though quite convicting and a charge to say the least!). However, like the mollusk which ingested something foreign, I ate my Daily Bread (which is foreign to my natural sinful man condition). And as a result of reading all of Hebrews 13:5, my eyes were opened to the first part of Hebrews 13:5. I saw this venture into my Bible today as an opportunity to take in sustenance which God will one day produce in me a pearl.

Yes, I know that though I may temporarily fail in my flesh, I will one day enjoy spiritual victory! In the case of the pearl, its very existence is due to its irritating that which it inhabits. What enters the oyster is actually of an extremely vexing nature! And in the same way, if the Word didn't charge and challenge us to change - and at times irritate (okay I said it, but I say that respectfully), we would not grow. And the result - so few precious gems in this world!

I began searching all of Hebrews and was blessed to realize one key word in Hebrews. That key word is the word "better".*

Christ is better than the angels (Chapters 1-2)
Christ is better than Moses and Aaron (Chapters 3-6)
Christ has a better priesthood (Chapter 7)
Christ has a better covenant (Chapter 8)
Christ has a better sanctuary (Chapter 9)
And Christ gives His people a better life (Chapters 11-13)

Christ gives a life of faith - Christ offers us heavenly pearls at a great price - His life. According to Wikipedia, The Parable of the Pearl or the Pearl of Great Price is a parable told by Jesus in explaining the value of the Kingdom of Heaven, according to Matthew 13:45-46

You will understand what I am saying if you have made the choice to repent and surrender all to the Lord Jesus. I have made that choice (Romans 10:9-11). Now I must heed all of Hebrews 13:5 as I am not only saved by faith but I must live by faith.

Lastly, I know the writer of Hebrews made it a point to remind us to follow our spiritual leaders. If we do, we will love the brothers and sisters (v.1), help strangers (v.2) and prisoners (v.3), live above lust (v.4) and covetousness (vv.5-6) and not be led astray by false doctrines (v.9).

*Reference pgs. 822-823 Nelson's Quick Reference Chapter-By-Chapter Bible Documentary by Warren W. Wiersbe.

Lord, today I surrender my will and ask for Your will be done for my finances. If I take back the worry or fear, I know You will never leave me nor forsake me, but gently bring me back to the beginning of that verse. I will undoubtedly be reminded - I am a pearl which has forever forsaken that cold, ugly old oyster shell. I now sit securely in the palm of Your nail-scarred hand. I am precious in Your sight. I am Your beloved. I am pressing ahead. Never looking back. Thank you for Hebrews 13:5 - all of it. Amen.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Find A Penny Pick It Up

Today I found a penny. Heads up. "In God We Trust" etched atop the President's head. The date was 1976. As I walked the beach with the penny in my palm, my mind wandered. What was I doing in 1976? Clearly, I remembered the bicentennial celebration we had that July at our beachhouse in Long Beach Island, New Jersey. My parents were so excited to be celebrating 200 years of our country's heritage!

I remember my Dad teaching us about the founding fathers and the Judeo-Christian values that the framers shared. The fireworks were the least of my memories, as that year I had a newfound respect for America. I never had thought of her as an individual nation. I was 10 years old that year. This was the first time I had thought about belonging to something other than my family. I watched as my Dad screwed the flagpole to the top deck and then ceremoniously hung the American Flag. That year was the first year we had ever seen a flag hang from our house. Something changed in my father that year. He became more patriotic, almost pensive about our country's past and future.

This morning, as I held that dark penny with copper flecks, I realized those were much better days. I hunger for the simpler days of running down the beach chasing seagulls with my sisters. Those beach weekends were the best days we shared as a family. I walk the beach today with a heavy heart.

Will "In God We Trust" be included on the next batch of pennies to come from the Treasury Department with the next Presidency? Will one world government and federalization convince us that paper and coin are inferior to a chip in my hand or on my forehead? Will true liberty exist or will we lose our superpower status and thus our alliance with Israel will be forever broken.

These are very real fears I have. As a born again believer, as a child of the Lord Jesus I know God is in control. He is head over government, rulers, kings, nations,head over all. He was in control, is in control and ever will be.

My heart grieves over this past election moreso because the topic of life never was an issue. As a believer, the number one deciding factor for decision of Presidency should be life. Sadly, life was not as important as coin. And so as I have pondered this penny in my hand, I have decided to place it in a jar high atop a shelf - just so no one will tip it over. See, this penny is very important. Though it's value is quite small, it's meaning is not. This penny represents a life. A life that had no vote. A life that no one spoke up for. This penny represents a nation that still claims, "In God We Trust" but kicks God to the curb. This penny will forever be representative of a life that never took its first breath and so was spared the sad statement that its life was not valid unless someone (not God) decided it was valid. It's life was negotiable, like a pair of jeans at the end of a garage sale. And above the candidate's "pay grade" to decide if it had meaning or not.

For voters did not put God's commandment first to Love God, Love your Neighbor as yourself, never mind protecting the poor, widows, infants. "You have taken notice, for you always see one who inflicts pain and suffering. The unfortunate victim entrusts his cause to you; you deliver the fatherless."(Psalm 10:14). And so I continue to believe "In God We Trust" though it may be removed from the public square.

My Dad continues to hang the flag at sunrise and take it down before dark, we hope and pray for racism and double standards to decline. We pray for our new President though we do not agree with his theology and never will. We pray for his two precious daughters and his wife. We hope for peace but know that even Jesus came with a sword and never to establish an earthly kingdom of peace. We know our Bible and we agree "In God We Trust." Come what may, we know the end of the story. And for now, we know why Matthew 24:4-14 this world is groaning. We do not place our trust in men for solving the world's ills. Only God.

Today I found a penny. And I picked it up. It's value is immeasurable. As I leave the beach, I look up and see the sparkling sea, with gulls in the distance. I am grateful for this day. I am grateful to be alive and well. I am grateful for my freedom. I am thankful for the good memories of days gone by. I am proud to be an American. I will never give up on hoping for all the best.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Testimony. One often associates this word with court proceedings. In Church, a testimony is given to glorify God. It helps others to get to know you a bit better as well. A testimony may encourage others.

Here's Random House's definition:
8 dictionary results: tes·ti·mo·ny
1. Law. the statement or declaration of a witness under oath or affirmation, usually in court.
2. evidence in support of a fact or statement; proof.
3. open declaration or profession, as of faith.
4. Usually, testimonies. the precepts of God.
5. the Decalogue as inscribed on the two tables of the law, or the ark in which the tables were kept. Ex. 16:34; 25:16.
6. Archaic. a declaration of disapproval; protest.
[Origin: 1350–1400)

Wow! A testimony formed before Jesus walked the Earth. The Old Testament declared witness! The Old Testament proved God's love for His creation and declared the proof that we would testify to His Goodness.

I offered to give my testimony this Thurs at a women's Bible Study Group. Yikes! Making the commitment to do so took some stress off but just for a few hours.

Yesterday I sat under a tree. I had pen in hand, poised to write. Nothing flowed. I continued to sit. I decided to lay on my side. After my arm cramped, I switched positions. I moved to lay on my stomach. In proper prostrate position I lay face down. Head in both hands I rubbed my eyes and waited for words to come - for what seemed like hours I waited. The paper remained blank. I placed the pen behind my ear. Birds chirped. Palm trees swayed and I listened to the whoosh whoosh whoosh overhead. Still the words did not come.

What was I doing? What was I doing? How could I condense 42 years into 10 minutes or less? Impossible.

Yes, it is impossible,the Lord quietly whispered through my hand-covered ears. He spoke, but with Christ all things are possible. You are not going to do a thing. Just step aside. Let the words flow. The page will be full before you know it. It will be filled with what I want to say.

I slowly rolled over onto my back. As I looked at the sky, big tears escaped and ran freely down my temples. No need to wipe those tears as God was one step ahead of me and had already caught my tears before they even hit the ground (Psalm 56:8).

I gratefully envisioned my Lord Jesus inhaling the sweet perfume as it emanated from the palms of the woman's hands. Nothing needed to be said. Her service said it all. She sinned much. He forgave all. She pleased Him. Her pure gift delighted. He smiled. She had done something great for God. No shame or condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.

Jesus died on the Cross of Calvary. He carried my burdens and pain today as I lay in the grass, just as He did each and every day of my 42 years of life - no matter what I lay in or on or around. He nailed all to the Cross. He saved every tear I shed and will shed. In a bottle. A bottle made for tears which He will present to me one day in Heaven.

Still enjoying His presence I ask, "Where do I begin? What do I share? How do I overcome this fear of failing this challenge?"

Deep sigh. I began to watch a plane overhead. It shone brightly in the sun as it slowly made its way toward a bright fluffy cloud. A silvery flash and was no more. Something clicked. I saw that plane for a short time and it was gone. was still there, just not in my immediate sight. That is because a plane is designed for flight. It was designed for a Pilot to take over and guide it to its destination. The plane did not run itself! It could not and was not designed to fly as an entity unto itself.

I compared these women to the plane overhead. For these women will go to other destinations, fly other missions, and do many things for the Lord. But that fact does not change the Truth that there will only be one Pilot and a Pilot never loses sight of his plane. He guides, directs, maintains and values this vessel. He controls everything regarding His plane.

I would give this testimony before these women - some of which I may see for just a season and then they may disappear from my life. It did not make a difference in how I would present my testimony after all! It just mattered that I gave it. I felt the fear of man slip from my shoulders in that instant and it felt wonderful.

This Thursday's destination will be a roomful of women eagerly seeking God. God's love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, redemption, hope. They are: women who do not yet know tears matter to Him, women who do not trust anyone - let alone God, women who have been hurt - rightly so and still harbor bitterness, and anger which leads to rage. They are women who fear failure on a daily basis and live in fear and women who wear all the latest Spring Fashions each year but have not allowed God to spring clean their closets in decades.

Christina, can you hear me? "Yes, Lord I do". The Lord spoke to my soul one last time and said, The Women of Cornerstone Bible Fellowship I will deliver and equip for battle. This is their victory song!

On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this victory song: “When the leaders took the lead in Israel, When the people answered the call to war
Praise the Lord!
Hear, O kings!
Pay attention, O rulers!
I will sing to the Lord!
I will sing to the Lord God of Israel
O Lord, when you departed from Seir,
when you marched from Edom’s plains,
the earth shook, the heavens poured down,
the clouds poured down rain.

The mountains trembled before the Lord, the God of Sinai; before the Lord God of Israel.
In the days of Shamgar son of Anath,
in the days of Jael caravans disappeared;
travelers had to go on winding side roads.
Warriors were scarce,
they were scarce in Israel,
until you arose, Deborah,
until you arose as a motherly protector in Israel.
God chose new leaders,
then fighters appeared in the city gates
but, I swear, not a shield or spear could be found,
among forty military units in Israel.
My heart went out to Israel’s leaders,
to the people who answered the call to war.
Praise the Lord!
You who ride on light-colored female donkeys,
who sit on saddle blankets,
you who walk on the road, pay attention!

Hear the sound of those who divide the sheep among the watering places;
there they tell of the Lord’s victorious deeds,
the victorious deeds of his warriors in Israel.
Then the Lord’s people went down to the city gates –
Wake up, wake up, Deborah!
Wake up, wake up, sing a song!

I brushed the grass off my jeans, hastily grabbed the empty page and headed for the front door. Forget the pen and paper! My fingers would move much more quickly over a keyboard. I had so many thoughts busting to come out. Yes, I assuredly had been given an outline to draft. The Lord had shown up and given me ideas. And direction. He would keep my tank full. He would program my navigation system. He would perfectly pilot this vessel. He would get me to my destination. Turbulence woudn't surprise me! But, I am prepared. Inflight activities still unknown, but packed and ready to go. The Pilot will adhere to this flight plan.

"Lord, I willingly surrender my agenda to you. Thank you for this trip. It no doubt will be an adventure. Thank you in advance for safe travel. And for securing my final destination. I will be wearing the purest of whites and purple and gold of course. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to add a sparkling jewel to the Crown which I will one day present to You. Amen"

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

I Am Your Dog

Been busy with other things. Wanted to share this. Not sure who wrote it, but it is so true and worthy of sharing....

I am your dog, and I have a little something I'd like to whisper in your ear. I know that you humans lead busy lives. Some have to work, some have children to raise. It always seems like you are running here and there, often much too fast, often never noticing the truly grand things in life. Look down at me now, while you sit there at your computer. See the way my dark brown eyes look at yours? They are slightly cloudy now. That comes with age. The gray hairs are beginning to ring my soft muzzle.

You smile at me; I see love in your eyes. What do you see in mine? Do you see a spirit? A soul inside, who loves you as no other could in the world? A spirit that would forgive all trespasses of prior wrong doing for just a simple moment of your time? That is all I ask. To slow down, if even for a few minutes to be with me. So many times you have been saddened by the words you read on that screen, of others of my kind, passing. Sometimes we die young and oh so quickly, sometimes so suddenly it wrenches your heart out of your throat. Sometimes, we age so slowly before your eyes that you may not even seem to know until the very end, when we look at you with grizzled muzzles and cataract clouded eyes. Still the love is always there, even when we must take that long sleep, to run free in a distant land.

I may not be here tomorrow; I may not be here next week. Someday you will shed the water from your eyes, that humans have when deep grief fills their souls, and you will be angry at yourself that you did not have just "One more day" with me. Because I love you so, your sorrow touches my spirit and grieves me. We have NOW, together. So come, sit down here next to me on the floor, and look deep into my eyes. What do you see? If you look hard and deep enough we will talk, you and I, heart to heart. Come to me not as "alpha" or as "trainer" or even "Mom or Dad," come to me as a living soul and stroke my fur and let us look deep into one another's eyes, and talk.

I may tell you something about the fun of chasing a tennis ball, or I may tell you something profound about myself, or even life in general. You decided to have me in your life because you wanted a soul to share such things with. Someone very different from you, and here I am. I am a dog, but I am alive. I feel emotion, I feel physical senses, and I can revel in the differences of our spirits and souls. I do not think of you as a "Dog on two feet" -- I know what you are. You are human, in all your quirkiness, and I love you still.

Now, come sit with me, on the floor. Enter my world, and let time slow down if only for 15 minutes. Look deep into my eyes, and whisper to my ears. Speak with your heart, with your joy and I will know your true self. We may not have tomorrow, and life is oh so very short.--Love, Karamel 7/9/88 - 2/14/08 (and on behalf of canines everywhere)
Also dedicated to Hemi Angelo rest in peace 1/22/06 You were a wonderfully special feline with the loyal spirit of a canine.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Deeper Love

I have a heavy heart today and really that is the reason for my need to blog. I need to share what is on my heart today. I want to tell you a little bit about a wonderful creature with a big heart who I miss tremendously.

I miss Hemi Angelo! You can see him here in this photo above . He died two years ago on January 21. We had him just a year. He was snatched out of the cage at a Kill Center in Broward County Florida by a cat rescuer named Tamera Gibson Tamera inquired as to why he was there at Animal Control to be euthanized in the first place. They did not know. So she grabbed him and called us and we took him home a few hours after we received her call.

Hemi hid behind the toilet, we found him behind the washing machine, he was so scared and would not even look at us. Well, I was not going to accept that, so I got him comfy in the guest bathroom with snuggly blankets and our tshirts (after we had worn them), yummy food and fresh water, a nightlight - and the radio playing classical music. I would come in and visit every hour and tell him he was safe, that we loved him and all would be well now.

After a few days, he looked me directly in the eye. I broke down. I cried. And cried. I cried because I could not believe this gentle creature with eyes bigger than his face was afraid of man. What had this beautiful cat gone through? I could not even imagine. I was overhelmed by the God-given maternal instinct to protect him now. The tears came because he had taken one small step in trusting me - he looked me right in the eye instead of cowering in the corner looking at nothing.
Now encouraged to take one step further in forming the bonding process, the next day I began to gently pet him with a rubber brush. Baby steps. He seemed to like it. So I began to make my way through his matted, soiled, smelly fur. More baby steps. I had to restrain myself from wanting to take him to the groomers. I could not do that because I did not want to stress him.

Happy to report - a week later the mobile groomer did a fabulous job bathing and blow drying him. And he did so well! I think he actually liked it!

A few weeks later we had a blood panel done on him and got his teeth fixed. His teeth were protruding from the side of his mouth and made his mouth droop. He also drooled quite a bit and so we wanted to get his teeth in tip top shape. He passed the blood panel and came home groggy but oh so adorable! Hemi was like a big stuffed animal. He had begun to adjust to our home. He claimed the couch shortly after returning home from his dental procedure. We laughed because he sat in the VERY middle of the couch! We allowed him to do whatever he wanted. I was so thrilled to have him blend with the rest of our animal family, which at that time consisted of 1 other cat and 2 humans and a very old dog Karamel (see pic) :)

I remember when we first got our front loading washing machine, Hemi sat in front of it and tilted his head as he watched the sudsy clothes spin. And spin. And spin. He sat there for so long. He was so interested! A far cry from the first few days he first came home. I was thrilled to see him face the washing machine as opposed to hiding behind it.

Hemi loved to lounge in the sun on his back on our screened-in patio. He would lay with all four paws to the sun. He sought warmth this way every day. See the lizard on his back? We teasingly joked that Hemi had staged this photo op and we fondly refer to this picture as Hemi's lizard impersonation!

We hung a bell on a ribbon which we placed on the doorknob of our french doors. We taught Hemi to ring it when he wanted to go out on the patio. He learned so quickly! Our Himalayan Angelina learned from watching Hemi! She now rings the bell when she wants out.

Days passed and Hemi became the "king of the castle" We thought he was going to be the Alpha and take over the dominant role from our other cat Angelina. He was extremely verbal. The first time we heard him "speak" my husband and I were so amazed. The words actually sounded like, "IIIII'mm good!" Honestly! We would answer him everytime, "We know you're good Hemi. We know you are good." He would belt this out often in the middle of the night. That cat made us smile - any hour of the day or night.

We made a trip to Georgia to adopt a kitten. Well, we came home with a 1/2 brother sister team which we named "Vidalia" and "Dubya". My husband picked a boy and I picked a girl and they ended up being related. Aren't they precious?! They were 1 year old and 10 months.

Little did we know that they would give our two cats fleas and sniffles, and as a result Hemi ended up getting a cold. Hemi's nose became bloody because he was rubbing it so hard. We took him to the vet and got very bad news. Hemi was in renal failure. My husband gave me the bad news sitting down. I was crushed! I then had some idea of why someone had possibly "thrown him away". But even that did not add up because his blood panel was fine 6 months prior.

Allow me to share my fear of needles. Since childhood, I would faint at the suggestion of blood or needles. I was a very sick child from birth and because of being exposed to all things medical, I had adopted a squeamish side. Say "needle" and watch me hit the deck.

I tell you this because my husband explained that the vet told him the only way to save prolong Hemi's life was to inject a "Ringers" solution from an IV bag into Hemi's neck. Daily.

No matter. Instantly, I pleaded for my husband to learn this procedure at the vets office and then teach it to me. There was no hesitation on my part. I would do whatever it took to keep my Hemi alive. As it turns out, I chose not to hear that Hemi would not live long but the Ringers would prolong his life. I guess I ignored that part. I believe instinctually, I refused the death sentence that so many seek to impose.

Yes, I did it! And I did it for many months. I overcame my fear of needles because love won out xoxo

Hemi liked to be in the car. He loved to be anywhere we were and did not fear anything! One day when my husband had to go to the bank, me and Hemi waited for him in the car. Hemi was on the back seat. It was just after we had realized his condition was worsening despite the treatment. He popped his head up as I began to speak to him. He looked me in the eye. I don't know why I felt the need to tell him this but I spoke, "Hemi, I am going to take care of you. You don't ever need to worry again. I am going to take care of you and you are going to be fine. I promise. You will never suffer again. You will be with us always."

Hemi took a deep breath and then exhaled. He kept eye contact with me for a full 10 seconds. In those seconds, a knowlege connected with my soul. He understood! And he needed to hear that. As soon as he finished exhaling, he put his head on his front paws. And went to sleep. I felt a connection that I cannot explain. The love passed through time and space and this earthly plane. The love and understanding was so powerful. I know, I know, it is hard to describe. My husband didn't understand and I believe that is what is so special about those 10 seconds. Maybe you have had a similar experience and can relate. I only hope you have because it was such a blessing to experience that level of love.

Genesis 1:26 tells of man taking control of the creation God has given man. I feel the bond we have with all of creation is God-given. I believe our animals are gifts specially chosen for us. That day I felt blessed. Content. And completely at peace for whatever we would face with our precious Hemi Himalayan.

Hemi did well for the next several months with the Ringers fluids. Every day I would pray during the few minutes with the needle in his scruff. He always sat still even when I missed the mark and had to inject him again. Some days I lost my confidence and I would cry and throw the cap of the needle at the wall. It just seemed so unfair that this animal had to go through this - after all he had suffered. I would cry and ask, "Why?" and Hemi would quietly look up at my with his ever- changing brown green eyes and look wisely at me as if to ask, "Why are you crying Mom?" He understood more than me that these days were the best days and that soon he was going home - to his eternal home. Tears were healing and freely flowing in those last months with Hemi.

One day Hemi had a stroke. Within hours faded before our eyes. We could not treat his heart because his kidney was failing. I learned you can only treat one organ to save a life. If you have two failing organs you are going to die quickly. He stopped eating. I fought it and tried to feed him through a rubber syringe. I plunged water into his mouth. And cried as he gulped a bit and then let the liquids fall onto the floor. My spirit hit the floor then as I knew Hemi's last day was that day.

We prayed. I held him as my husband chose Romans 8:38 to comfort me in my sorrow, "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." That verse has become my special verse to remember that one day I will be with Hemi again. No matter what - - I believe that Truth with all my heart.

In those last few moments before handing him over, I cried and pretended Hemi was just fine as I held him in my arms. My husband took him from me and as I watched him carry Hemi to the car, I said quietly to myself, "You are good Hemi. You are good."

And he was.

Talking about Hemi helps me to keep his memory alive. And to remind myself that Hemi was not only good, but very very good. See you in Heaven my precious boy. Keep the couch warm in our Heavenly Mansion as you await my arrival.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Process of Flight

Flying is a process. First, we make the arrangement. We show up at the gate. We decide to be on time or late.

Then we enter the aircraft and soon after buckle up. Many of us take a deep breath and wait expectantly for takeoff.

The process of flight is well underway and there is now no turning back. Next we decide if we will relinquish all control to God. Then control is consciously surrendered to the pilots. We have no choice. We are not in control. We consciously determine not to fear - to not panic. Seems the initial surrender and search for courage is often a challenge. For a moment we may dig deep within for the courage that is always somewhere inside.

The plane quickly ascends and through the clouds we go. Many would not voluntarily choose to hover this high above the earth, but the necessity of travel often allows no other option.

For the next several hours we can choose to do nothing or ask, "Nap? Read? Stare at the clouds?" And this is the time we often realize the process of flying is not so stressful after all. The process has become a routine and somehow that routine is comforting because we already know the process.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Journey Toward Life!

I received email below from UpWords today. I just couldn't shake the need to share it. I believe the necessity of sharing it will result in a positive takeaway and a reexamination of our true home, which as a Christian - I believe to be Heaven. After all, according to the Bible, hell was never intended for humans. But that topic is for another day's blog....Today I want to focus on the journey toward life!

My hope is always to share comfort with someone in the midst of loss. No, none of us have all the answers and often the question "Why?" goes unanswered when tragedy strikes. The question, "Why?" may never be answered until we appear before our Creator. And so, the goal of this life is to make sure we DO end up before our Creator - not for judgment which leads to eternal death, but for judgment that leads to eternal reward. I hope the words of Max Lucado below will encourage you to ponder the reality of a spiritual world in which our earthly eyes just don't see. But a world which exists 24/7 nonetheless.

Be blessed! And thanks for visiting my blog! ~ Christina Grace
When Death Becomes Birth
by Max Lucado

You live one final breath from your own funeral.

Which, from God's perspective, is nothing to grieve. He responds to these grave facts with this great news: "The day you die is better than the day you are born" (Eccles. 7:1). Now there is a twist. Heaven enjoys a maternity-ward reaction to funerals. Angels watch body burials the same way grandparents monitor delivery-room doors. "He'll be coming through any minute!" They can't wait to see the new arrival. While we're driving hearses and wearing black, they're hanging pink and blue streamers and passing out cigars. We don't grieve when babies enter the world. The hosts of heaven don't weep when we leave it.

Oh, but many of us weep at the thought of death. Do you? Do you dread your death? And is your dread of death robbing your joy of life?

Jesus came to "deliver those who have lived all their lives as slaves to the fear of dying" (Heb. 2:15).

Your death may surprise you and sadden others, but heaven knows no untimely death: "You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed" (Ps. 139:16).

Dread of death ends when you know heaven is your true home. In all my air travels I've never seen one passenger weep when the plane landed. Never. No one clings to the armrests and begs, "Don't make me leave. Don't make me leave. Let me stay and eat more peanuts." We're willing to exit because the plane has no permanent mailing address. Nor does this world. "But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior" (Phil. 3:20).

Why don't you do this: give God your death. Imagine your last breath, envision your final minutes, and offer them to him. Deliberately. Regularly. "Lord, I receive your work on the cross and in your resurrection. I entrust you with my departure from earth." With Christ as your friend and heaven as your home, the day of death becomes sweeter than the day of birth.

Come Thirsty
© (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2004) Max Lucado
* Copyright 2008 Salem Web Network and its Content Providers. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Judge a Book By Its Cover

Sure...go ahead...judge a book by it's cover! Just make sure you read the book to confirm or dispute your original assumptions. And then once you have decided if your original impressions were wrong or right, learn from your mistakes or give yourself a pat on the back for being so intuitive. But realize you may often be more wrong than right in your premature assessments. And then ask yourself, "Is this pondering productive or even prudent - or merely prejudicial?

This phrase according to Wikipedia means, "The very common English idiom "don't judge a book by its cover" is a metaphorical phrase which means "don't determine the worth of something based on its appearance".[1] It is probably the most common expression used in English to convey this idea..[2]

Wikipedia also gives the origin of this idiom "The phrase first appeared in 1929 in the American journal American Speech as "you can't judge a book by its binding."[3] In 1946 the phrase appeared in the murder mystery novel Murder in the Glass Room (by Edwin Rolfe and Lester Fuller) as "you can never tell a book by its cover."[4]

While the phrase itself may be born of the 20th century, the idea has existed much longer. In the introduction to François Rabelais's La vie de Gargantua et de Pantagruel (written in the 16th century), he writes: You, my good disciples—and other fools with too much time on their hands—reading the cheerful titles of some of my books, like Gargantua, Pantagruel, Guzzlepot, The High Importance of Codpieces, Peas in Lard (With Commentary), etc., can more easily perceive that they're not just about mocking and scoffing, full of silliness and pleasant lies—having seen, without having to look any harder, that their outer image (that is, their titles) is usually received with mocking laughter and jokes. But it's wrong to be so superficial when you're weighing men's work in the balance. Wouldn't you yourself say that the monk's robes hardly determine who the monk is? Or that there are some wearing monks' robes who, on the inside, couldn't be less monkish? Or that there are people wearing Spanish capes who, when it comes to courage, couldn't have less of the fearless Spanish in them? And that's why you have to actually open a book and carefully weigh what's written there.[5]

In the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, the Roman author Juvenal wrote in Satires, "Fronti nulla fides," which translates as, "Never have faith in the front."[6]

And so, why would I encourage someone to go against this English proverb? I do so for one reason. We live in a society which makes determinations about a person often within the first five seconds of face time. Or within a second after hearing a particular voice. An email or other vehicle of communication most likely will take a bit longer for the casual observer to make a determination. It is much easier in certain ways to take a deceptive tack and hide behind a facade(i.e email, facebook intros, dating forums, resumes). But judgments are made nonetheless - often prematurely and many times prejudicially and very incorrectly.

Don't misunderstand - just because the societal norm dictates this to be true does not make judging a book by its cover right. In fact "judging a book by its cover" is very wrong. And so, the first step in any journey to betterment is admitting we have a problem. "Houston, I have a problem!" Yes, Yes and yes I have already faced the fact that I have been guilty of "judging the proverbial book by reading solely its cover." Whew!

Let me share. I was convicted of my unconscious decistion to avoid those women not "like me."

My home Church is Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale . This is a mega church with over 20K attending Sunday services every weekend. The first women's Bible study I attended was overwhelming. Humbling, too. Overwhelming in that I entered the conference room not expecting 50 circle tables with ten chairs at every table. Mostly every chair was taken though I arrived on time. Add to that I did not know a single soul. I felt very alone. It was the first time I ever felt alone though surrounded by many. Add to that, all the women seemed to know one another (and probably did :) and I felt like I was in first grade again. And no one picked me for dodgeball. I felt like a Loser! I stood just in front of the entrance for a minute as I toyed with the idea of leaving. After all, there were no vacant chairs. No one would miss me after all. Truly. Or so I thought.

But no, God humbled me in my pity party moment. I was not in first grade and this was not a dodgeball game! The still, small voice which often calms my soul spoke to me and me alone amidst the chattering women, "Find a group of women not like you. A table where you will learn to love those very much unlike you. They will love you unconditionally no matter your skin color, your age or your background. Then, and only then, will you learn to love as I love you." Deep sigh. Wiped away a tear. Walked into the sea of women and found my group. No, it was not like the parting of the Red Sea. Not by any means. I had to go grab a chair in the hallway and the table of 10 soon became twelve as we all scooched in.

Just before the study began, I glanced to the table next to mine and smiled at the 30-somethings in their blue jeans and layered ts. They contentedly chatted away, deep in 30- something style. Conversation I knew well. I moved my chair closer to my table as I realized deep down inside I was where I was supposed to be. It was worth it, though as I later learned. For, I had found the table where I would soon bond with women with which I would glean much wisdom. I realized I was unlike the women at my table in every way and it was wonderful.

This fact was confirmed as the weeks unfolded. Women came and went, each leaving an indelible impression on my heart. I thrived and grew in God's Word. I was so blessed by those women's stories and their pure love for God. I still keep in touch with Beverley, the leader of that group who has since moved back to her native South Africa.

As a result of this experience, I have learned to look at the heart first. I now shed my tendency for superficiality first. I am so blessed. I am glad I listened to that still small voice of God in that room full of women that day. Because of it, I found a table of women that taught me how to read the book before judging it by its cover.

Yes, we all fall short of what we know to be right. But we can learn how not to "judge a book by its cover" if we are open to change. I now endeavor to read the entire book first. Then report my findings. And even then, I may be wrong. After all, it is right to admit when we are wrong. And sometimes, reading the book is prudent and anything but prejudicial. It is a good starting point - to get to know someone. To hear their heart, to spend time with them and be open to change.

I can tell you from my own experience, that there is nothing as wonderful as hearing someone's heart. And as a result, realizing they are not just a book at all - but a novella with many exciting adventures to be jointly shared. Their "book" may contain tales of the past, present and future. And we learn that never ever would the cover have been sufficient enough to read - for everything in between their cover is wonderfully and perfectly what we needed to hear. The cover was merely the facade that contained the rest. We miss the entire story when we merely read the cover. So read the book and save the judgments for later!

Thanks for listening.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Thorny Areas

Half the day is over. That is, half of my business day. It is Friday. I am facing the temptation to grab the car keys and go. Or forget the car - the park's a stone's throw away and calling my name. My jogging shoes are read to be jumped into.

I am blessed as well as challenged by the many choices of my 8 hour workday. See, my husband and I run a manufacturing business . The factory that makes our fishing harnesses is an hour north. So I don't actually have to be here in my office to get work done. A laptop travels. A phone or email gets the job done. So really, I could climb Mt. Everest and not be missed!

However delightful my situation seems, it really does cause slight angst at times. I don't know why, but I always enter Fridays with a sense of entitlement followed by procrastination. This is the broken record I allow entrance on Fridays, "You can just wind down and ease into the weekend. You deserve it! Look at how much you got done all week. Carp Diem!" (and all that - ugh)

The ever present "put off today what you can do tomorrow" rages its ugly head and comes back to bite me (on Mondays). Daily I purpose to avoid the tug of war which exists between my personal and business life but Fridays always challenge me more. Unlike the yin and yang symbol - there are many gray areas or overlapping areas that challenge business owners. Today, I hope to share my Friday struggles in order to help those of you out there with the same "thorns" in the proverbial "side". My goal is also to share some solutions I have found valuable in helping to address my Friday struggles. I said helping. I want you to know I am still a work in progress re Fridays. And know this, it is Friday and this blog is a great excuse for not getting my work done. Really. Blogging is a great reason to not get my work done and then go have lunch!

From here on out I will refer to overlapping business and personal time as "thorny areas". Thorny areas take us away from uninterrupted, productive business. Thorny area number one for me is email. Because I have one Outlook Express but many email addresses, I added many folders to my In Box. Just like filing papers away, I immediately "file" emails into the proper folder. So, boom, boom, boom! I only had 10 emails to read from the entire week. Friday is my email reading day. Feels so good to see white space in my In box. However in James 5:16 fashion - I have a confession to make! I entered a thorny area when I read my pet newsletters and submitted just a few pet products reviews. I also emailed my Mom and searched an archive for a really really good sermon message from many months ago. Unproductive. Yes! Resoundingly yes - I am guilty as charged.

Thorny area two today? I surfed the net - for news even though no news is good news. My business is unaffected directly by who is accompanying who to Iraq. And I did not really need to read the article on Fox News about how we appear to Aliens. But the article entitled Drowning Man Reeled In by Fisherman was worthwhile. I am a sucker for human interest stories and it was about a fisherman! I hope that man is going to be okay.....

As soon as I turn my computer on for the first time every day, I allow myself 10 mniutes of "web hopping". Sometimes I already have a website written down that I wanted to check out. Sometimes I want to see a website for a personal reason and it's okay during the first 10 minutes of my business day. I have allowed myself this freedom so I don't interrupt the productive time I will spend at my computer. This system works pretty well for me everyday!

I am not a phone person so score one for me! But the last thorny area I would like to share with you is lunch. I believe in Siesta! Can I hear an Amen?! Whether a siesta takes place under a tree or in a car, on the beach or the chair - I like my siesta anywhere!! My Friday mind has run off to Dr. Seuss land and I am wondering if this is because I am thinking of food - the thought of Green Eggs and Ham Sam I Am is causing me to sign off sooner than planned. After all - - it's lunchtime and I am meeting friends to talk about what else? Weekend plans - after all it is Friday! Gotta go....

Thursday, July 17, 2008

James at LA

I am Bible Study Instructor for Crossroad Bible Institute . This organization provides many levels of study for those in prison. It is solely a correspondence ministry and very safe as everything goes through the Institute. Thankfully, lots of rules. This organization loves God and His people!

This morning I reviewed a new student's lesson. This student is newly enrolled in what is called Tier 1. I receive two Tier 1 lessons every week. This is a student who is most likely new to God in his/her life and new to the Bible Study. So, I always get excited to receive a Lesson 2! I have the blessing of welcoming the student to CBI and encouraging them in their decision to study the Bible. I will never "hear" from the Tier 1 student again, meaning this is the only lesson I will get from them. I am always challenged to do my best to mentor and encourage Tier 1 students because it is my one and only contact with them.

James from a detention center in LA's lesson appeared before me. His handwriting made me smile as it resembled a child's scrawl. However, the content was anything but childish. Yes, the tone was pure and resembled an obedient child, a dependent child looking to do things right this time. But the depth and understanding of a personal God did not escape me as I read through his essays. And very soon into his lesson the realization that he wanted to live solely for God jumped off each page. I enjoyed my sweet time of fellowship with James.

The prayer request page is always the last page the Instructor reviews. This time, I was surprised by the instantaneous waterworks effect John's prayer request had on me. Yes, I am often moved by a student's prayer request. Often moved to tears and often, joyously celebrating their committments to wanting to live for God. But James's prayer request caught me off guard because my emotions hit the deck like a lead sinker! I was balling like a kid. My heart broke for him as I grieved with sadness and joy because his faith in prayer was so evident.

Here it is and I quote, "Pray for my family and frinds and there enemy's. And pray that God makes me an up right man. An man of GOD I relly want to be a man of GOD. I wount to know the Bible I do. Thank YOU ;) I love you And pray that my grandmother stay in good health. And my mother Sugar stay down. And her husband too. And one day I can see my kids. I have not seen my little girl in 5 years and I have not seen my sun in about 12 or 13 year's They have not seen each other befor I won't to dring them together to see one another when I get out that is why I have to get right for them and for me."

Oh bless his heart!!! James scored 100% on his lesson. He nailed the "roadmap" which is a daily devotion in which he looks up and reads three theme verses and then practices personal application, which is explaining how that day's teaching can make a difference in his life. I am sure I don't need to tell you I did some damage to the Kleenex box this morning.

James is special. However, he is not alone. Every week, every month and every year for over five years, I have had the priviledge of spending time with people I would never get to meet face to face. I am often amazed that they trust a stranger with their daily struggles. I am so grateful. For I so relate as often their struggles are not much different than my own. They miss loved ones, they reach out to others and get no response, they made mistakes and were punished, they ask for forgiveness from a big God and receive it, they cry salty tears and bleed red blood. They realize the need for fellowship in the Body of Christ. I am so not much different than they and I get so much more from them than I feel I give. The blessing is all mine and I love this ministry! The tears are all good and I am so grateful....

Thank you James at Riverbend for your prayer request and willingness to truly change. Thank you for trusting me with your prayer request. For encouraging me to knock on the throne room door on your behalf. Thank you for the knowledge that I touched the very heart of God. I prayed for your little girl and "sun" to meet for the very first time - for your kids to get the chance to stand with their daddy. A godly daddy who has a big heart for God and for forgiveness. A daddy who believes in second chances and prayer.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Potato Vine

My friend Debbie was recovering from a hysterectomy. I went to her house to visit. Of course I brought her cut flowers from my garden. See, Debbie is the original flower child. She loves all living, breathing things. She truly enjoys gifts others have enjoyed ie. books read with missing covers, blankets with holes from many warm winter nights, thrift store finds such as sweaters with mismatched buttons sewn on by an unknown wearer, threadbare curtains that still sway. You get the point. My friend Debbie is a rare find and I treasure her joi de vivre and "down to earth" style.

After giving Debbie the cut flowers, I assumed in her weak physical state she would merely ask me to put the flowers in a vase. However, she clutched them in one fist and proceeded out the back door into her garden. Debbie's garden is fun! She tells stories of who gave her which seedling and which plant she found curbside and nursed back to health. Literally, every plant has a story. After taking a quick breath as a short pain made its way through her midsection, she asked me to go back inside and get the scissors. I came back and she was on her knees in the dirt, smelling a flower's face that had peeked out to catch a ray of sun. Debbie made me smile. Seeing her on her knees reminded me that even in her weakened physical state she loved to be in the garden!

Debbie cut a long vine and handed it to me. She had cut the only vine with a fuschia lavendar mix of flowers at the very end. She had given me the best cutting. I remember her calling this particular clipping a "potato vine". I put it in water when I got home but did not hold much hope because my thumb was anything but green. But the flowers sure were pretty. That is, until they turned brown and died.

Needless to say, that glass sat on my kitchen counter for many days doing absolutely nothing but forming a slimy green layer around the mouth of the glass. I kept adding water to it when I remembered to do so and the rings formed many times around the glass as the days passed and the water level went up and down as I added water and as the water evaporated. I never did think of cleaning the glass.

I got sick of looking at that ugly lifeless vine. It was not beautifully flowering and was no longer even green. It became a sad shade of greenish black. I decided to plant it in a clay pot. I set it in the dirt outside the patio. Out of sight and out of mind. Two hurricane seasons passed and our yard was pummeled by high winds and heavy rains. However, that potato vine was unaffected. It was not giving up but it was not really growing at all. I did not have the heart to give up on it. Somehow it seemed an affront to Debbie to lose hope on ever seeing it bloom again. So I just left it there.

A year ago, I looked out the same kitchen window where the vine had sat in a glass on the counter. I was quite surprised to see a tendril of the vine reaching heavenward. The vine was making it's way up the patio screen up into the eaves! It was so pretty with the northern sun lighting up the green leaf from behind. I appreciated how fast it was growing. I smiled every day as I did dishes. One day fuschia lavendar flowers bloomed. The flowers dangled just above the window. Just a whisper of wind would cause them to move slightly back and forth. I had fun pretending they were dancing! Debbie came over one day. She looked out the kitchen window and saw the flowering vine. She said, "I love your garden! You have such pretty wildflowers and so many different colors." When I pointed up at the potato vine she exclaimed, "It's so pretty!" but did not remember giving it to me. We laughed. Debbie is such a blessing. She gives so much all the time it is no wonder she forgets giving. She remembers who gave what to her but not who she gave what to.

Just recently, after the flowers bloomed, the vine got a bit messy. Dead leaves began to form. I toyed with the idea of getting up on a ladder and trimming the dead leaves. I had good intentions to do so, but never did get around to it.

This morning, with cup of coffee in hand, I walked to the center of the patio and for no real reason, looked up at my vine. When I looked up I immediately spotted a bird's nest in the highest part of the vine - in the dead leaves where the vines twisted and became messy. I had seen a cardinal playing in the vine for a few days up til today, but not a nest. I was so glad I did not clean up the vine, because I most likely would have ruined this creatures plans! The nest was perfectly formed. It securely sat amidst dead leaves and vines.

I stood in awe as I realized what that vine represented. What I had seen as bothersome and ugly many times over, was truly an amazing work of art that only the Master Artist God could have created! Debbie had known the possibility that I would not take the vine if it did not have a flower. So from her garden she gave me the only vine with a flower. I had forgotten the potential of that vine to flower as it sat on my counter in a glass of water and became ugly and sadly, annoying to me. Then as it sat in a clay pot in the dirt out of sight for two years doing seemingly nothing. It endured two major storms and still refused to give up.

The vine had the potential to do many things even though it was not evident to me visually. Then today, as the three vines grafted into one leafy mass, it allowed for a safe haven for a family of birds. It did not matter that my cats sun themselves on the patio every day just mere yards from the nest or that I clatter pots and pans and make noise in the kitchen below. That vine always had potential and so many more reasons to thrive and exist in my yard. Its purpose is evident for now. I am glad I did not give up on it. I can't wait to see the cardinals there and watch their baby birds be born. I can't wait to hear them sing their birdsongs and chirp for worms. I can't wait to witness life and all the wonderful things in store....

My friend Debbie knew the potential of her gift. She is a wise wonderful woman. Even though she forgot she gave it to me that day, she gave it willingly. I am wondering what the vine will do next. If the birds decide to leave the nest, I just may decide to take a clipping to a friend. But I want to make sure it is a clipping with a flower. For I know it will get ugly. But the memory of that blooming flower will help to get it through the next seasons of it's viney life. The purple flower will help it make its way to the glass on the counter and the legacy of the potato vine will hopefully live on to house birds for many seasons to come.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Out of the big blue sea

Out of the big blue sea today I was given two gifts and was reminded about not having to travel alone....

We live a stone's throw from the beach. For ten years, my husband has been walking the beach in the early morning. He walks up in the fine, sugary sand with weights in hand. He prays as he goes and meditates on the day ahead. He always has looked so peaceful when he gets back home. For ten years he has wanted me to go too. However, I am not a morning person and for ten years I have heard him lock the door as he leaves the house and come back in. I am still in bed.

His prayers for me to become a morning person have finally worked! I am now working out with trusty Gilad on FitTv every morning at 6:30 and then off to the beach with Vinnie. Unlike my husband, though, I walk in the water with light weights. So refreshing! No sweating and I get my heart pumping quickly!

Today, the big blue sea gave me two special gifts. I was walking, wading, walking, fighting water up to my waist. I got a bit bored and so I began to look down to see what shells I could see just ahead of me as I strutted along. Out of nowhere, a little fish appeared. His coloring was equivalent to a tabby cat but of course he was a fish. He was swimming just inches ahead of my legs. As I walked and made a bit of a wake, he kept up with me. Whether I went fast or slow, he kept up. I smiled as my new friend spurred me on. However, I was quite surprised when another tiger striped fish showed up and began weaving across the path of my first fishy friend. Together, they kept bobbing and weaving, just ahead of my legs. They were swimming just ahead of me. I decided to challenge them to find out if they even knew I was there. I stopped and went the other way. In the blink of an eye they were there and in short order back in sync with me. I turned around again and again and every time my fishy friends kept up with me!

I wondered if they would jump onto me remora style if I stopped. No! They disappeared and I panicked because they were gone. After walking a few steps they were back and off we were once more in perfect harmony. Needless to say, I did not want to get out of the water this morning. I was having too much fun with two of God's littlest creatures from the big blue sea.

Just before stepping out of the surf, I realized my two fishy friends were symbolic of people I have been walking with for a short time. People that traveled a short distance with me. They kept up for awhile then when I stood still they swam off. Or possibly a friend whom I stopped calling or emailing or never went back to where I found them and as a result lost touch with them forever. I am sad those travels ended , but I now accept that that part of the journey is over. I need to be glad to have travelled it at all. In the Bible, the book of Ecclesiastes reminds me there is a season for everything. I rejoice in not having to travel certain roads alone in many seasons of life. I am so blessed to have company. And this morning I was unexpectedly blessed by company in the form of two fish from the big blue sea.