Simply Grateful

Photo by N. Dumlao (Unsplash)

The evening news featured a disturbing segment on a developing catastrophe in Madagascar.

Madagascar sits in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Southern Africa. Despite having considerable natural resources, it has the highest rate of poverty in the world.

For the last few years, the southern tip of the country has experienced unprecedented drought. What was once lush green pastureland has become desert. The water source is drying to a trickle and people, animals, livelihoods, and hope are dying.

The outcome of these dry seasons is acute food insecurity. Crops are failing. Mothers are feeding their children cactus leaves. Fathers have stopped eating.

Life is becoming unsurvivable.

The camera panned across a group of women sitting in the dust. Children wandered and paced. They squatted amid the dirt and rubble surrounding the village. Their faces showed desperation. Their eyes reflected the pain of hunger and disease.

The camera stopped, zoomed close, an emaciated 2-year-old girl. She lay in her mother’s arms, her body shaking violently as she cried. Her small hands formed fists. Her eyes welled with tears. The camera brought her reality into my living room.

1.6 million women, men, and children scan the distant horizon, searching for hope.

This story caught me off-guard. I know suffering happens around the globe. It happens in the streets and open fields of our community. I’m not naïve to this reality. But there was something different about this situation.

Perhaps it was a matter of timing.

I was sitting in the living room, listening to the television, and looking through cookbooks. I was planning the menu for Thanksgiving dinner. A time, for many, when we celebrate family, consume our favorite foods, and indulge in familiar traditions. We can sideline our challenges, the frustration of the pandemic, our inconveniences and find a little joy.

The contrast between what I was witnessing on the screen and what I was creating in my mind was unsettling. I have a choice. The women and children of Madagascar desperately wait. I have means. They live in empty-handed poverty. I have options. They willingly eat cactus.

I often tell myself that I need, deserve, more. Yet, I have a closet full of clothes and shoes, a pantry and freezer full of food, electricity, a warm home, two cars, and the luxury of a steady income.

They have a world that has dried up.

I carry no shame from this revelation. However, I do acknowledge I can’t see my life, or this world, quite the same.

Brokenness surrounds us and unfortunately, there are no quick solutions. But starting today, I can shift my attitude. I can be grateful for all I have been gifted. God has richly blessed this country, my little section of the world, and my life.

As I close my eyes, I catch a glimpse of an emotionless face gazing back at me. There is no judgment or blame, just a simple reminder – be thankful, simply grateful.     

Wishing you God’s blessings this Thanksgiving,


The following video is a beautiful reminder, regardless of how the year has been or how the future may be, we are blessed beyond our temporal understanding. We can walk through our lives missing the blessings but when we choose to open our hearts, turn our gaze away from ourselves, and look up, we begin to understand that,

We are greatly loved,

We have all we need,

Our lives are blessed!

Thankful

Photo by R. Christodoul (Unsplash)

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday!

There is no fan-fare, no gifts, and no pressure to out-perform last year. That’s probably why I like it so much – a simple holiday that asks us to take time to reflect and consider our blessings.

Thankful is defined in the Merriam Webster dictionary as,

“Conscious of benefit received, expressive of thanks, well pleased.”

To be thankful is practicing an acute awareness, recognizing the benefits we have received from our experiences. And then, expressing thanks, resting in the outcome.

It’s easy to be thankful when life is moving along effortlessly. But expressing thanks and resting in the outcomes is more difficult when there is a bump in the path and life is jolted off-course.

This year our lives have experienced some bumps and being grateful for outcomes seems a little much. But at the same time, the year has offered opportunities to appreciate the small things – time spent with family, a cup of tea with a dear friend, a long-over-due telephone conversation, a walk surrounded by the beauty of a Fall day.

Priceless gifts we often take for granted.

That’s the funny thing about adversity, the bumps we encounter in life, it brings perspective. With each new challenge, a new opportunity to trust God, reach out to loved ones, and wait for the thankful (the blessing will be revealed).

I challenged myself this week to take time and reflect on the year. Look for the blessings that resulted from this year’s bruises.

I am thankful for:

  • Jesus – He willingly sacrificed glory to occupy our world, die for my sin, and gift me eternity
  • A husband that is kind and gentle, a man that loves me unconditionally
  • Family, extended family, chosen family all filling me with joy, holding me accountable, and challenging me to listen for God’s leading
  • The ability to see the sunrise, smell the woody pines, hear the birds’ wings as they fly overhead
  • Writing, sharing words that hopefully inspire and challenge

Thanksgiving is a few weeks away. I encourage you to take time this week to find a quiet place and reflect on your year. Perhaps you’ve had a few bumps, some major challenges, or maybe life has been simple and kind. Wherever you find yourself, look for the blessings, identify why you are thankful, and then write it down. Consider sharing your list with those that mean the most to you.

Be Blessed,

Thankful, Grateful, Satisfied

Photo by Unsplash

I looked at the small alarm clock sitting on the table next to the bed. 5:59 AM, a harsh reminder – time was already creeping away.

The sun was still hidden in the morning’s darkness but I needed to get moving, my day was filled with a long to-do list.

There was a dog to walk, errands to run, projects to complete, and an email inbox that had been sadly neglected. All important tasks, priorities that needed my attention.

I jumped out of bed, threw on something warm, and headed to my office. An hour spent reading messages, deleting, responding, and then I heard the repeated click-click-click of our dog making his way down the hall. His nails tapped to the cadence of each determined step.

The sun had lightened the morning sky and according to our dog’s appearance at the door, it was time for a walk.

CHECK – item #1 on the list in progress!

I attached the leash to his collar and we made our way out the door. We headed down the street to the intersection, a right turn at the corner, and a final turn to face the rolling hills that graced the horizon to the east.

The sun peeked eagerly over a bank of low-lying clouds casting an array of light – shafts of brilliance underlined by a hue of purple, orange, and yellow. The majesty of a sunrise was on full display.

We walked down the narrow trail that lined the river’s edge until we were stopped by the sound of a single trumpet. I searched the riverbank to find the origin of the sound and found a lone swan gliding across the water.

Geese lifted from their rock perch to meet in formation swooping low along the water’s surface. Trees unapologetically flaunted red, yellow, and bright orange leaves. This familiar path had taken on a new appearance –adorned in fall’s unique glow.

We’ve walked this path 100s of times, yet today everything felt different, more alive. I noticed, my to-do list had faded from consciousness, and in its place was a sense of peaceful calm. Joy had pushed out the rush and hurry. The chatter of a flock of quail replaced the repetition of mental demands. Quiet settled around me and replacing my endless longings came awareness.

Somewhere between exiting the garage and being overcome by the path’s beauty, I had shifted from preoccupied to thankful. 

As we walked up the hill, I felt a mental nudge. A simple suggestion entered my mind – what if my obsession with completing the day’s agenda was less about organizing and accomplishing tasks and more about keeping my life tidy. I don’t like surprises. I like being in control. I enjoy being accomplished. So perhaps the list is a way to control, keeping my life neat and protecting me from uncomfortable chaos.

As soon as I had settled from the prompting’s reveal, a single punch took my breath.

What if living isn’t about keeping my life neat or protecting personal comfort. What if it’s about having a grateful heart, a refocused mind?

Melody Beattie, a recovered addict and writer shares,

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity… It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

As I shifted my attention away from my agenda, my plans and refocused on the beauty of God’s creation, God’s provision, everything changed. I was moved from self-absorbed to satisfied. 

The river path ended.

We wandered through the neighborhood until we rested at the doorstep leading to the garage. I unleashed the dog, unlocked the door, and took a glance over my shoulder. The sun sat at mid-horizon, the clouds outlined the hills, and my anxious mind was calm. I took a deep breath and I knew this morning would be a precious reminder – stay grateful.

“In every situation [no matter what the circumstances] be thankful (be grateful) and continually give thanks to God; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
- 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Amplified Bible

Be Blessed His BeLOVED,


REFLECT:

Please read Luke 7:36-50 and reflect on the questions that follow.

Jesus Anointed by a Sinful Woman

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet,he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet,but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss,but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head,but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you;go in peace.”

New International Version

 CONSIDER:

Take a few minutes to consider the following.

  1. What do you think motivated the woman to adorn Jesus with perfume?
  2. These verses do not tell us much about the woman only that she was sinful. Yet, after meeting Jesus her life was changed, she was forgiven. How has knowing Jesus transformed you? Are you more satisfied, grateful, and thankful?
  3. What is one thing you can do to show your gratitude?

ENJOY:

Gratitude – Brandon Lake | Moment – YouTube

Seasons

Photo by J. Kemper (Unsplash)

I spent a few hours this week cleaning the garden shed, a neat little space in the stairwell under our deck, and putting the raised garden beds to rest for the winter.

I always have mixed emotions about ending the gardening season but the ground is freezing – it’s time to let the earth rest.

It’s interesting, every season has an end. A season of doubt succumbs to the truth. A time of pain and suffering gives way to healing. Broken dreams die only to be renewed by future promises. Abundance is replaced by want and need, life’s cycles ebb and flow allowing space for us to grow our faith, mature our character, and learn to lean more fully on God’s steadfastness.

As a country, we are in a season of change. For some anger and fear are consuming emotions. For others, there is hope and excitement for the future. Regardless of where you stand on the continuum of feelings, we all must remember that God remains in control.

He causes the sun to rise and set, allows the waters to flow toward their shores, causes the rain and snow to grace the ground, and guides the wind’s current. It is with this same power that he guides our lives and directs the affairs of this nation.

We may not understand what He is doing. If we’re honest, we may not even agree with His decisions. Why would He make changes, why didn’t He respond sooner/later, why didn’t He … But I suggest we have a very limited, earth-bound perspective that doesn’t allow us to fully understand or appreciate His actions.

Until.

We see them in hindsight.

Looking back, remembering, and reflecting all help us see God’s work and appreciate how closely He orchestrates circumstance.

Theologian and Pastor John Piper shared,

We look at life from the backside of the tapestry. And most of the time, what we see is loose threads, tangled knots and the like. But occasionally, God’s light shines through the tapestry, and we get a glimpse of the larger design with God weaving together the darks and lights of existence.

We can’t stop God’s inevitable changes. We can’t demand, manipulate, or fret to influence God’s plan but we can find the faith to trust Him, muster the courage to patiently pray, and anticipate seeing Him weave beauty from what we perceive is brokenness and failure.

Romans 8:26-28, encourages us that God is with us regardless of the circumstances.

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

The Message (MSG)

BeLOVED, please know that it’s okay not to understand the “whys” of life – it’s human to doubt and question. But please know that God is working, orchestrating, coordinating, each aspect of your life working them collectively into something beautiful.

Be Blessed,


REFLECT:

Please read Romans 8:22 – 37 and reflect on the questions that follow.

 22 For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children,including the new bodies he has promised us. 24 We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hopefor it. 25 But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)

26 And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. 27 And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believersin harmony with God’s own will. 28 And we know that God causes everything to work togetherfor the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. 29 For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstbornamong many brothers and sisters. 30 And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.

31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

CONSIDER:

Take a few minutes to consider the following.

  1. What encouragement do you find in these verses?
  2. Is there reassurance in reading, “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” What steps can you take to cling more closely to this truth when facing obstacles in your life?
  3. What did you learn from Romans 8:35-37?  

ENJOY:

Steffany Gretzinger – No One Ever Cared For Me Like Jesus Lyrics – YouTube

A Sober-Reflection (AKA Pity-Party)

Photo by A. McCormick

I spent a few days planning a party. It was simple really – no guests, no extravagant decorations, no elaborate meal, just a simple cup of tea, a pencil and journal, and my favorite music. A time set aside to celebrate all the ups and downs of life. Some would call it a pity party. I called it a sober-reflection.

The solo gathering was scheduled for Saturday. The weather forecast predicted showers, lending itself nicely to a cozy sweatshirt – fuzzy slipper socks – hair pinned in a bun day.

Over the week, I inventoried and categorized my thoughts. All the positive events captured on the right side of the paper, written in fancy cursive – those that lead to brokenness, written on the left in large block print. The left side of the list ran the full length of the page and onto the back. Pity began to creep in.

As Saturday approached, the tension in my shoulders increased. I noticed tears came a little more easily and I started prioritizing that list of broken above the victories.

Somehow, by reading and rereading the list, I became convinced that the broken defined me. I believed that my limitations and disappointments would bury me, and the chatter in my mind confirmed all that I feared. I am inadequate at best and insignificant at worse.

Saturday morning broke with cloudy skies and soft rain, party as planned. A brisk walk, a leisure breakfast, a few emails, an unexpected phone call, and then a trip to the mailbox.  

As I opened the mailbox door, a large cardboard box was wedged in the empty space. I pulled until the edges were free, an unexpected package, a surprise from my sister.

I rushed home, grabbed the scissors, and tore through the tape that sealed the sides. The label indicated the contents were “FRAGILE,” so I was careful as I opened each flap.

Sitting prominently on the top of the bubble wrap was an envelope. I quickly peeled the flap open and pulled out a beautiful card. A simple message graced the cover, “THANK YOU.” Inside a simple sentence that reminded me, I am loved, valued, extremely blessed.

I unpacked the box – cookies, scones, my favorite tea, amazing pumpkin crackers, and a jar of homemade peach jam. Each item thoughtfully selected and lovingly packed. I placed all the treasures in the pantry, made an extra-hot cup of tea, and made my way to my office.

The perfect time for reflection.

Sitting in my oversized chair, I picked up the list. Reading the right-sided blessings, I thought about the smile that must have graced my sister’s face as she packed the box. Then I turned to the left side of captured pity, reading down the front side of the page and turning to the back. As I flipped the paper, my mind caught a glimpse of my sister picking peaches from her small trees, peeling them at the kitchen sink, and standing at the stove, stirring love into the bubbling peach goodness.

And it became clear, all those negative broken reflections I held in my hands, were not who I am. In fact, my positive affirmations are my biased self-perception. I am a woman blessed by the love that surrounds me, strengthened by the God who lives in me, and made confident by the knowledge that my future is secure.

No more pity.

No more pride.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling you not to make a list. On the contrary, make the list – life’s celebrations on the right and the disappointments detailed on the left. Put the list aside for a day or two then recheck it. Make certain you’ve captured everything that weighs you down or lifts you high and once complete post it in a prominent location. A place you can easily see throughout your day and the next time you meander into that space where pity knocks on your door and tries to forcible take-up residence in your heart, pray.

Pray that God can show you how he orchestrated every tear, your pain, and those joyous events into the majestic tapestry that is your today and tomorrow. 

Open His gift of mercy and grace and remember that He died to heal this world, our minds, your heart

Be Blessed His BeLOVED,

Allison

This post is dedicated to my sister. A woman that teaches me how to be courageous, generous, and available.


REFLECT:

Please read Colossians 3:1-17 and reflect on the questions that follow.

1 Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. 10 Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. 11 In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile,circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.

12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.

16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 17 And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

New Living Translation (NLT)

(Colossians 3:1-17 – Bible Gateway)

CONSIDER:

Take a few minutes to consider the following.

  1. According to verses 1-4, who are we as believers in Christ?
  2. Verses 12-17 provide direction on how we are to live our lives. Summarize that direction in your own words.

ENJOY:

Keep Praying (feat. Doe Jones & Ryan Ofei) | Maverick City Music | Tribl – YouTube

An Honest Evaluation

Photo by K. Turcios – Unsplash

It is a curious thing, how our life circumstances teach us about the hidden aspects of ourselves. Those inconsistent behaviors we can easily see in others but remain a mystery as we review our own lives.

Last week, I had such a revelation.

It was early in the week when our lawyer called to let us know our documents were ready to sign. We made an appointment and headed to his office. The signing process took less than 20-minutes and we were back in the car headed home.

A few days later, my husband received a very formal email from the law firm. It informed us that during our brief stay in the office, we had “potentially been exposed to COVID.” One of the office staff lived with roommates that had both tested positive.

Everyone wore a mask, my husband and I are vaccinated, we stayed a good distance apart, and our exposure was short. Nonetheless, bomb dropped, message delivered, and all our meticulous efforts to protect those around us and ourselves, gone in one 20-minute encounter.

We communicated our potential exposure to those we had spent time with and waited the prescribed 5 days before testing. God is so good, we both tested negative, and here is where the reveal unfolds.

I started thinking about the past few months. The times I knew, I should wear a mask but didn’t want to appear rigid or offend others. The times I attended gatherings, took walks, or chatted over tea, mask-less. I succumbed to the perceived pressure of not wanting to appear inflexible or fear-filled. Perhaps I just wanted to fit in. Perhaps, just wanting to “fit in” is a masquerade for pride.

And there it is. The truth – I knowingly compromised to protect my pride.

As I reflected on my willingness to step around the truth in this situation, I thought about other times in my life when I willing gave away my integrity and placed my soul, my very essence, at risk.

Drumroll please, because this is where the revelation bounced hard off my forehead, hit my chest, and bruised my heart. If I am willing to take off a mask (or in some cases put on a façade) to maintain my image or keep my pride in tack, what else am I willing to concede?

Am I willing to compromise my,

Principles?

My faith?

My witness?

God’s truth?

After all, it is easier, safer, less stressful to blend in. I don’t like being perceived as unloving or self-righteous.

This unveiling has caused me to stop and wrestle with a single question. Are my convictions, my core belief system, in jeopardy when it becomes inconvenient, uncomfortable, or unpopular?

And this is what I am uncovering,

Pride is a powerful emotion. It can shift logical rational thought and objective decision-making to a desperate irrational reaction. A reaction that compels me to ignore the truth of who I am in Christ and be laser-focused on the desired outcome - protect image, maintain status, and feed other’s perceptions.

A poor reflection of the Christ that lives in me.

But there is a path that leads to freedom from our need to shelter and negotiate with ourselves. Paul offers this encouragement in the book of Romans,  

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.

Romans 12:2-3 NLT

In place of our frantic rationalizations, God offers transformation – a new way of thinking, the ability to honestly assess our motives and make lasting change. We do not have to be held hostage to our emotions, fear of rejection, or desire to be more. We can gain freedom and train our minds to be more concerned about whether our behaviors and actions align with God’s design than protecting our vision of who we would like to be.

BeLoved, please “be honest in your evaluation of yourself.” If you find inconsistencies, a willingness to compromise God’s truth, take a minute to reflect, pray, and refocus.

God can change the way you think.

He loves you.

Be Blessed,

Allison


REFLECT:

Please read Ephesians 4:22-32 and reflect on the questions that follow.

22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.”Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

New Living Translation

(Ephesians 4:22-32)

Consider the following.

  1. Have you ever compromised God’s truth, your beliefs, or given away your integrity to protect your image, pride, or status?
  2. If yes, how did you deal with the resulting war that waged within – the conflict between God’s truth that lives in you and your pride? Did you come to a new reckoning through the experience?
  3. Do you sense God is moving you to respond differently when faced with compromise in the future?

ENJOY:

Pat Barrett – Sails (feat. Steffany Gretzinger & Amanda Lindsey Cook) (Live) – YouTube

Made in His Image

Unsplash

I recently listened to a podcast [*] where the speaker asked a question that made me stop, replay, and consider. She asked, “Who were you before anyone told you who you were supposed to be?”

Who.

Were.

You?

I have wrestled for decades with this question. Who was I before innocence was interrupted and the concept of brokenness entered my mind? Who was I before a failed marriage at the age of 17, a lost baby, a second marriage, infertility, a career that climbed and then tumbled? Who am I, as I settle into retirement?

Who was I before my experiences jaded my perspectives, before the world influenced my heart?

I can confidently say that I am not what the world tries to tell me. I am not defined by success; my value does not come from my possessions. I am certain I am more than the collection of social media posts, comments stored in my mind, or the carefully airbrushed images I try to emulate. Today’s cultural norms don’t fit – I’ve been uniquely knit together.

So,

Who

Am

I?

Jo Saxton, author, speaker, podcaster, and leadership coach, offers

“The good news is that God already knew who we were before life happened to us. God already knew who we were before anybody told us who we were supposed to be.”

God has an answer.

Before my self-image was formed, God’s desire was for me to reflect His image.

26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us…”

27 So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

28 Then God blessed them…

Genesis 1:26-28

We were designed in our creator’s image. We are image-bearers, reflections of our Father’s character to the rest of the world. His intentions were not for us to lose ourselves in the distractions of this world or try to navigate life distant from Him. Rather, we were built for close intimate relationship. God offers purpose. He defines our value. He directs our path, as we faithfully trust Him with today and the future.

BeLOVED, you are so much more than the image you’ve created. You are more than the lies you’ve learned to believe and more than the definition placed on you by the world.

You are God’s image-bearer!

You are greatly loved.

You are His beloved.

Be Blessed,

Allison

13For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:13-14

 [*] To access the full podcast, please click this link (The Labels that Define You).


REFLECT:

Please read these passages from Psalms 139 and reflect on the questions that follow.

13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. 15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16 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. 17 How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! 18 I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!

New Living Translation (NLT)

(Psalm 139:13-18 NLT – Bible Gateway)

CONSIDER:

Take a few minutes to consider the following.

  1. As you read the verses above, how does it make you feel to know that the God of the universe has made you “wonderfully complex?” You are marvelously made.
  2. Verses 16 and 17 tell us that God knows the details of each of our days. He knew them before we were even born. It also reminds us that God thinks about us. In fact, His thoughts are too numerous to count. How do these verses encourage you?

ENJOY:

Pat Barrett – Canvas and Clay (Live) ft. Ben Smith – YouTube

When Our Ordinary Turns Into The Unthinkable

Titus – Photo by A. McCormick

The day started like any other. An early morning walk followed by breakfast, a mid-morning nap, and then things swerved off course.

Titus became anxious, slower than normal, and by the evening, he refused to eat. The following morning, he could barely walk.

We knew something was terribly wrong.

A trip to the veterinary revealed a liver abscess, a small mass in his abdomen, and a gallbladder filled with fluid. He needed emergency surgery.

We transferred him to a specialty clinic. My husband and I hugged him, hesitantly handed his leash to the technician, and watched him walk through the kennel door. His big brown eyes caught mine. I tried to reassure him, I think he was trying to do the same. A few hours later, the surgical team surrounded him.

To say we were concerned would be an understatement.

Titus is our fur-baby, an important member of our family. As a puppy, he wiggled his way into our hearts and before we knew it, we were hostage to his mischievous spirit.

For several days our house was quiet. The click of Titus’ nails on the hardwood floors was temporarily silent. There was no barking at the television. No begging for cookie crumbs at the end of the day. No cute doggy greeting when we entered the door.

But now he’s home, curled up at my feet, resting peacefully in a drug-aided sleep. It will take several weeks for him to regain his strength and return to the dog that controls our lives. Yet, we know we are blessed.

He is home.

During the many hours we sat in the veterinary office, we met a man whose best friend had been run over by a road grader. She was a small dog that couldn’t put up much of a defense against heavy equipment. He sat frozen as tears ran down his cheeks. He was losing his companion.

She had helped him through a heart attack and warned him of a pending seizure but today she was fighting her own battle.

Their day started normally until it wasn’t. And then, this man’s world crashed. His best friend was gone.

Life has a way of knocking us off our feet. Our days start ordinary only to have them disrupted by the phone call you never want to receive, the knock on the door you didn’t anticipate, or the encounter that changes the trajectory of your life. A faithful companion, lifelong friend, spouse, or child, gone…

Far.

Too.

Soon.

What do you do when life gets hard? How do you survive when the unthinkable occurs? When the ordinary every day turns into the nightmare you repeatedly battle, how do you recover?

There is a story in the Old Testament that might help us answer these questions. It can be found in the book of Job.

The account tells us about a man named Job. He was the richest man in the region. He had seven sons and three daughters and within the span of a day, he lost everything – riches, livestock, sons, daughters, all was gone.

I’m certain when Job woke that morning, he didn’t expect his world to come to a sudden halt. So, what was Job’s response to the devastation that engulfed his life?

Job 7:6-21 gives us a glimpse into his reaction.

Job cried out to God. He voiced his frustrations and pain. He verbalized the anguish of losing all he had acquired, his family, and his dreams for the future. He wrestled with the “whys.” Why is the unimaginable happening? Why am I being tormented, punished, unfairly targeted? Why? In the midst of the searching, he also examined his life, looking for any unconfessed sin. His searching came up empty and he concluded by asking God “why won’t you leave me alone?”

In God’s great love and mercy, He responded to Job’s questioning. He put the devastation into perspective and as the conversation ended, Job’s attitude took a subtle shift.

Job 42:5 – 6, reveals Job’s changed perspective,

5I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.”

Through Job’s trials, he realized that God had a bigger plan for his circumstances, a plan beyond Job’s comprehension. He learned that with the suffering came a greater need to lean into God and his eyes were slowly opened. Opened to the truth of who God was and he chose to trust and believe.

Perhaps this can be true in our lives. When the phone rings, or that knock wakes us in the early morning, or our dreams are radically shifted maybe we can acknowledge that God is working. He is working in ways that today we can’t understand and even with incomplete understanding, we decide to trust Him.

I encourage you if you are facing the unexpected and your world feels like it is coming undone, remember Job and cry out to God. Tell Him about the pain and fears you are facing, and then trust Him to take care of you as you navigate the difficulties. It’s not easy, in fact, God never promised easy. But He did promise to be with you and to never forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Be Blessed His BeLOVED,

Allison

27 “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. John 14:27

REFLECT:

Please take a few minutes to read these passages from Romans 8 and reflect on the questions that follow.

31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

New Living Translation (NLT)

(Romans 8:31-39 NLT – Nothing Can Separate Us from God’s – Bible Gateway)

CONSIDER:

Take a few minutes to consider the following.

  1. What does it mean to you that God is for you and that no one can condemn you?
  2. In verses 35 through 39 we are assured that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Not our circumstances, our fears, the current culture, or political climate – nothing separates us from our Father. How does this knowledge help you navigate life?

ENJOY:

Another In The Fire (Live) – Hillsong UNITED – YouTube

For more information on how Job navigated his suffering, access the link below.

Job: Reverent in Suffering | Desiring God

Unity in Christ

Photo by W. Suhendra (Unsplash)

As a child, I didn’t think much about race. I knew I looked different from most of the kids in my elementary school but I made friends across the spectrum of faces and colors. I lived with an innocence that allowed me to be unburdened by the hue of my skin.

I entered Junior High with the same naive perspective. But three short years later, my innocence was replaced by a startling awareness that who I was, how I was received by my peers, was influenced by my skin color and the texture of my hair. Race had become an entry requirement for social groups and defined my allegiances.

My High School was predominately African-American with a sprinkling of Hispanic, Asian, and White. Just enough of a mixture to make us multicultural yet not enough to balance the population. I was the black girl with white skin, curly hair, and wire-rimmed glasses. I felt like a foreigner walking the halls.

I was frequently asked, “What are you?” A question that always seemed to cause an uncomfortable feeling to wash over me. I responded, “black,” the answer I had been conditioned to give. Yet every time I looked in the mirror, my reflection caused confusion.

Mom was an English-born white woman. My father, an African-American with Chinese ancestors. So, what do you tell a racially focused group of peers? It usually went something like this, “My mom is White, and dad is Black and Chinese.” And often the follow-up question was, “Right, what are you?”

Somehow, that lingering question left me thinking just a little less of myself. From where I stood, I didn’t fit anywhere.

Then I met Diana.

Diana’s mom was white, her father African-American. She shared my white skin and watched the world through beautiful green eyes. Her blond kinky hair enveloped her face, highlighting the freckles that graced her nose and cheeks.

There was a sense of connection when I saw her walking the corridors. A comradery when I heard kids ask her, “What are you?” I was no longer the isolated oddity.

We were sisters, finding comfort and strength in our common bond.

Yet it was funny, even having a comrade didn’t lessen the impact our peer’s comments made on my heart.

Diana’s friendship provided solace but it didn’t negate that little voice that echoed in my brain, “You’re different.” And somehow me being “different” equated to me be weird. Not the creative kind of weirdness that leads to artistic masterpieces but the awkward, uncomfortable kind that causes you to trip over your own feet.

We were not black enough to be embraced by the blacks in our school and too black to be accepted by many whites. So, we clung to each other and forged our way through our teenage years.

Fast forward, college opened doors I never knew existed. I was surrounded by people that looked like me. The racial blindness I experienced as a young child returned as racial acceptance. I began to celebrate the rich diversity that makes me the woman I am today.

I want to believe that as a society we have become more open and sensitive to racial differences. But what I’m learning is that we haven’t moved too far away from my teenage experience. We continue to deal with the wreckage resulting from cultural insensitivity, feelings of racial superiority, and a hatred of all that is different. Yet as believers, we are called to a higher theology. A belief that can only be fulfilled by God’s unconditional love.

Billy Graham, one of the most influential Christian leaders of the 20th century, offers,

“The closer the people of all races get to Christ and His cross, the closer they will get to one another.”

Paul, in his writings to the churches in Galatia, reminds us,

“26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

There is a unity of race, socioeconomic class, and gender in Christ.

Regardless of what the world tries to tell us, we can confidently stand together, embracing our uniqueness and loving others as we’ve been loved – unconditionally, unencumbered by fear, and in deep reverence for God’s sacrifice for our unity.

Be Blessed,

Allison

REFLECT:

Luke 10:25 – 37 (New International Version)

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’”; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” 28“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

For additional reading – Luke 10:25-37 NIV – The Parable of the Good Samaritan – On – Bible Gateway

CONSIDER:

Take a few minutes to consider the following.

  1. Take a few minutes to consider who are your neighbors? How can you increase your neighborhood?
  2. How can you reach out beyond your comfort level and show mercy for those different than yourself?

ENJOY:

Mandisa ft. TobyMac, Kirk Franklin – Bleed The Same (Official Lyric Video) – YouTube

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: If you are interested in learning more about what the Bible says about racism, please access this link 50 Epic Bible Verses About Racism Discrimination & Prejudice (biblereasons.com)

One Choice Encounter at a Time

Photo by C. Costello (Unsplash)

A girlfriend and I were scheduled to walk. An early morning rendezvous that would allow us to catch up on life and spend a little time planning our next adventure.

But she woke up not feeling 100% and wisely stayed in bed to get some needed rest.

So as I often do, I found the dog’s leash and headed out the door.  With no walking route in mind, I let him lead the way. This decision meant we were headed for one of two locations – the local dog park or the golf course. He headed towards the golf course.  

We crossed the street at the bottom of our hill, walked through the neighborhood until we arrived at the pathway that leads up a steep embankment that would ultimately lead us home. The path followed the fairway, bordered by tall pines and juniper trees. The morning was quiet except for the occasional sound of a ball being hit or the laughter that followed a missed shot.

I was watching our dog search amongst the rocks for prairie dogs, chipmunks, and the random ground squirrel when I heard yelling behind me. I turned to see where the noise was coming from, thinking it was a golfer angry at his performance, only to be faced with the screams of a groundskeeper. His maintenance cart screeched to a stop in front of me as he continued to yell and curse, “What are you ******* doing on the golf course. You people never clean up after your ******* dogs. Can’t you….” The rant when on and on and then I noticed his jaw. It was quivering. The junction of his jawbones trembling in anger.

He took a breath and before he could start again, I said in the softest voice I could find, “I can see that you’re angry.” I went on to explain that I did clean up after my dog, showing him the used bag in my hand and the stash of unused bags tucked in my pack. I watched his eyes as they shifted just so slightly, softening. His jaw loosened its grip. He remained silent allowing me to continue, “I can only imagine how frustrating it is for you, people can be irresponsible.”

He acknowledged the truth of my statement and for the next 10 minutes, a transformation took place. The young man continued to relax. He shared his story of dedication to his job, his feelings that his actions are being taken for granted, and he spoke of the awful endless frustration of not being able to fix the disrespect and lack of gratitude he encounters.

And just as quickly as the conversation started it was over. He apologized for boiling over and directed me on how to safely maneuver wayward golf balls and reckless golf cart drivers. I tightened my grip on the leash and headed up the hill to home, navigating the obstacles just as the young man suggested.

A God encounter, that special interaction that touches all the lives involved.

God knew the young man needed someone to listen to his boiling frustrations, a calming amid his internal storm. So, He kept my friend nicely snuggled in her bed, and sent my dog on an adventure, down the hill, across the street, and through a golf course, we had walked 100s of times before. Yet, this time I faced one of my greatest fears – an angry, screaming man.

As a young child, my father was this man. As a young adult, my first husband was this man. Both taught me that screaming angry men are not safe and I learned quickly to retreat – disengage emotionally and physically disappear. Somehow, as I matured, my mind began to associate any voice elevation, any appearance of anger or disapproval with retreat and take cover. The boss that would scream when dissatisfied – run. The girlfriend whose excited animated gestures and a voice that could set off decibel detectors – avoid. The husband that had 6 brothers and 3 sisters and raised his voice just to be heard– withdraw.

So this God orchestrated meeting, this chance but not really intersection, forced me to stand and face the demon that haunts my mind. I needed to stay calm in the ranting. Find my feet, my courage, and stand strong as the turmoil erupted around me. Face the screaming of an angry man, look him in the eyes, no retreating, no hiding. Face–to–face seeing the hurt and fear that drives people to lash out, to cry out.

God allowed me to learn courage this morning in a random chance meeting. There was a peace that slipped into the exchange, a calm reassurance that I was not facing the hostility alone. I would have never thought that a walk on a golf course would help me understand what I had been running from all those years. The shouting, the anger, the trembling all signs of their brokenness. I don’t need to allow that memory to impact my relationships today.

The young groundskeeper found a little calm. I experienced a single step towards freedom. A freedom that can only be found when we choose to allow God to lead us, teach us, transform us. One choice encounter at a time.

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

Be Blessed,


REFLECT:

The Apostle Paul had a life-changing encounter with Jesus. Please take a few minutes to read these verses from Acts 9 and reflect on the questions that follow.

Saul was still talking much about how he would like to kill the followers of the Lord. He went to the head religious leader. He asked for letters to be written to the Jewish places of worship in the city of Damascus. The letters were to say that if he found any men or women following the Way of Christ he might bring them to Jerusalem in chains.

He went on his way until he came near Damascus. All at once he saw a light from heaven shining around him. He fell to the ground. Then he heard a voice say, “Saul, Saul, why are you working so hard against Me?” Saul answered, “Who are You, Lord?” He said, “I am Jesus, the One Whom you are working against. You hurt yourself by trying to hurt Me.” Saul was shaken and surprised. Then he said, “What do You want me to do, Lord?” The Lord said to him, “Get up! Go into the city and you will be told what to do.”

Those with Saul were not able to say anything. They heard a voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground. When he opened his eyes, he saw nothing. They took him by the hand and led him to Damascus. He could not see for three days. During that time he did not eat or drink.

10 In Damascus there was a follower by the name of Ananias. The Lord showed him in a dream what He wanted him to see. He said, “Ananias!” And Ananias answered, “Yes, Lord, I am here.” 11 The Lord said, “Get up! Go over to Straight Street to Judas’ house and ask for a man from the city of Tarsus. His name is Saul. You will find him praying there. 12 Saul has seen a man called Ananias in a dream. He is to come and put his hands on Saul so he might see again.”

13 Ananias said, “But Lord, many people have told me about this man. He is the reason many of Your followers in Jerusalem have had to suffer much. 14 He came here with the right and the power from the head religious leaders to put everyone in chains who call on Your name.” 15 The Lord said to him, “Go! This man is the one I have chosen to carry My name among the people who are not Jews and to their kings and to Jews. 16 I will show him how much he will have to suffer because of Me.”

17 So Ananias went to that house. He put his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus has sent me to you. You saw the Lord along the road as you came here. The Lord has sent me so you might be able to see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 At once something like a covering fell from the eyes of Saul and he could see. He got up and was baptized. 19 After that he ate some food and received strength. For some days he stayed with the followers in Damascus.

20 At once Saul began to preach in the Jewish places of worship that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All who heard him were surprised and wondered. They said, “This is the man who beat and killed the followers in Jerusalem. He came here to tie the followers in chains and take them to the head religious leaders.” 22 But Saul kept on growing in power. The Jews living in Damascus wondered about Saul’s preaching. He was proving that Jesus was the Christ.

23 After some days the Jews talked together and made plans how they might kill Saul. 24 He heard of their plans. Day and night they watched for him at the city gates to kill him. 25 So the followers helped him get away at night. They let him down over the wall in a basket.

New Life Version

 (Acts 9 NLV – Saul Becomes a Christian on the Way to – Bible Gateway)

CONSIDER:

Take a few minutes to consider the following.

  1. Paul had an intimate encounter with Jesus that changed his life, his focus, his purpose. How has encountering Jesus changed your life?
  2. Can you think of a time when your daily schedule was interrupted by a God-inspired meeting?
  3. How did that interaction affect you? How did it influence the other person?

ENJOY:

Way Maker and Cornerstone (Acoustic) – The McClures | Moment – YouTube

Finding our true value and purpose in Christ – 2 Corinthians 5:17