Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Make Merry This Christmas


 Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks...This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the JOY of the Lord is your Strength. Nehemiah 8:10

The Christmas spirit seeped in early this year. Maybe it was watching Disney World transform into a Christmas wonderland over night on our Thanksgiving vacation or maybe my heart was so tired of grieving that it craved joy like never before.

Either way, I was humming Christmas carols long before Black Friday and it took all the discipline I could muster to keep the lids on our Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving. But at daybreak on Black Friday, instead of hitting the malls, I spun into a decorating frenzy.

First up were the lights: electric candles in the windows, colored bulbs strung 'round the front bushes, lighted garland on the piano, the mantle, and glowing lights beamed through every window of our nostalgic Christmas village. All this to announce, "CHRISTMAS IS HERE! REJOICE for the LIGHT of Heaven has come!"

And all this light? It pierces the darkness and adds JOY to our little corner of the world. When you live in the Light it drives away the darkness and the joy it brings is contagious. Our neighbor told us our lights brightened his heart so much that he wanted to spread the light, too. So, he strung his own lights "to add joy to the hearts" of those who pass by.

Our first snow fall created the perfect backdrop to reflect the light and created the perfect excuse to stay inside and bake sweet treats. The scents of sugar and chocolate, molasses and peppermint permeated our house all day long. And best of all? Sharing the first fruits of our labor at Sunday dinner.

Some might say I've given in to the commercialism or I'm missing the true meaning of Christmas. To that I say, "Bah humbug!" It's time to claim the hope that God gave us through the birth of his son, Jesus, and live in the joy of God's promise fulfilled and yet to come. Jesus is the Light of the world - the Savior of mankind - who drove out darkness, healed the sick, laid down his life for us that we might have eternal life and be called children of God. That, my friends, is worth celebrating!

Grief stops today, for today is sacred to our Lord. We celebrate the birth of his son, Jesus. So, "go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks...for the JOY of the Lord is our STRENGTH!"

Merry Christmas!
Dawn






Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Where is Heaven?



At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Matthew 11:25

“Where is heaven, Grams?” she asked. 

I nearly fell, head first into my car trunk as I neatly packed the grocery sacks, fumbling for just the right words. Her question wasn’t formed from a five-year-olds natural curiosity, but rather her heart’s longing to know Mammie’s new address.

It had been six months since Mammie’s unexpected passing and I’d been expecting this question, but hearing her vocalize it made answering it exceptionally daunting.  I knew my words would matter, because they would influence her hope and faith. I feared getting it all wrong and wondered how to explain what I couldn’t fully grasp myself. What simple, truthful answer could I offer her to this question that stumps even the greatest theologians?
 
I slammed the trunk shut, the question still hung between us. I swung the empty carriage around and lifted her into the car as I searched for just the right words. I breathed a desperate prayer heavenward, wherever that was, “Lord, I need your words…NOW!”

(Fill your favorite Christmas mug and join me over at the Christian Children's Authors blog for the rest of the story...)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

She Helps Me Count

"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Bubble-bath clean she looks up at me with her half-mooned baby blues spilling crocodile tears and my heart puddles on the bathroom floor. She pleads with pouted lips, "Grams, I'm too tired to go home. I've just GOT to sleep here at YOUR house, please? I've GOT to."

(Grab your hot coffee or tea and read the rest at {re}fresh? Just click here.)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Turn Around: Letting Go of Your Best Laid Plans

 
 
"I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you." Psalm 32:8 NIV
 
I accepted a job, against Godly counsel, that looked promising in every way: more money, better and cheaper health benefits, a lucrative 401K plan, and still close to home. Within eight weeks none of that mattered as I found every facet of my life turned upside down. My pride kept me going, holding onto this job that I just knew was right, but screamed, "TURN AROUND! WRONG WAY! DO NOT ENTER!"

Month after month things grew worse, at home and at my job, but I was in this job to stay, like I had something to prove to God, and planted my feet firmly under my desk. Then one day, I lost my footing...
 
(Slip over to Encouragement Café for the rest of the story, won't you?)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Notice Him

Image by RabbiaGale.com

“For everything God created is good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving…” 1 Timothy 4:4 

I stare out my picture window into the cold, gray November sky. Chilling winds bare the last golden leaves from the maple limbs carpeting the neighborhood streets and lawns. The first snow sneaks in early, barely visible, and almost undetected—or maybe I just missed it. 

Living a year of great extremes, my heart’s become a bit numb and I miss the obvious things sometimes, like the first fallen snow.  

Experiencing life and death, rejoicing and mourning all together and in multiples with little time for processing, my emotions hang in limbo. Days and weeks jumble together and the months flip forward like I’m thumbing my way through a magazine in the grocery checkout line. While I crave time to reflect, family needs fill my calendar—the young and old alike—and life moves forward.   

And so, on rare occasions when I’m alone and my “to do” list is empty I add to another—my One Thousand Gifts list. Ann Voskamp taught me this—how when your heart is heavy and your days are busy, consciously set your eyes on the horizon and keep watch. Keep watch for all the big and little gifts God bestows on you every day—unique pleasures that whisper, “I AM here and will never leave you” and “I love you.”  

Give thanks because as we express our gratitude, a wellness comes and joy erupts—lifts us closer to heaven. Then, write them down, list them out one-by-one because, as Ann admits truth, our hearts need reminding that God’s goodness surrounds us.

#571 First snow

#572 Fourth grandchild announced

#573 Husband’s victory

#574 African children’s God-joy

#575 Anticipating thanksgiving celebrations

#576 A father remembered 

Every day God’s blessings surround us. Notice them. Give thanks for them. Write them down so that on days when thanksgiving comes hard, your hearts will be reminded of at least a thousand different ways God loves you!  

To start your own One Thousand Gifts list, here's some help Ann gives. Just click here.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

My Children Taught Me How to Read

"Jesus taught them many things by using picture stories..." Matthew 13:3a NLV

My children cut their teeth on books like Pat the Bunny (Dorothy Kunhardt), The Little Engine That Could (Watty Piper), Goodnight Moon, The Golden Egg Book and Home for a Bunny (all by Margaret Wise Brown) and various nursery rhyme board books.
 
It all started when I received a lovely book basket overflowing with these colorful childhood treasures from my sister-in-law as a baby shower gift. I poured over every illustration and devoured every word like I’d never seen the likes of such playfulness. And, I hadn’t. 

Growing up just as television became a household item books went to the wayside in our home. Rather than a bedtime story every night, my sisters and I were sent off to bed after watching our favorite week night after-dinner sitcom or weekend variety show. On special occasions we stayed up past our bedtime to watch the latest Sunday night Wonderful World of Disney movie or holiday animated specials.  

I loved listening to stories: in school, during the flannel graph Bible stories at Sunday school and listening to family stories as we gathered around the dinner table. But, books just weren’t a priority in our house.
 
(Amazed that a children's author and writer didn't grow up loving books? Yeah, me too. Click here and join me at Christian Children's Authors blog for the rest of the story, won't you?)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Will He Love Me Forever?

 
"Has not the Lord made them one in flesh and spirit? And what does He desire but God-like children? Be careful then in your spirit, and stay faithful to the wife you married when you were young." Malachi 2:15

We savor slow mornings over steaming coffee and the local paper. My husband reads the facts while I pour over every misspelled word and poorly written sentence between bites. (If only I had a red marking pencil!). Hardly a word spoken between us except for grace, we find comfort just being together.

I grew up wondering if I'd ever know a faithful man; if living happily ever after was just for Disney films because growing up, my home was far from fairy tale perfection. My father walked away leaving my homemaking mom to finish raising three girls alone with no car, no license, no job.

Even so, I wished for the happily ever after ending...prayed for it...always...held onto hope that some day, somehow my dad would come home and we'd be whole again.

His leaving messed me up; made trusting people hard because I figured if I messed up they'd just leave me like he did. So, I built high walls all around my heart, allowing very few friends inside. My husband was one of the few.

We met over breakfast almost forty years ago at his mother's kitchen table. He was ten. I was twelve and in need of a ride to church. His mother volunteered to drive and that's when it all started. His mother bridged the awkward two year gap between us with her friendly smile and easy conversations until we could hold our own a few years later.

He and I talked for hours after school, at youth group, and walked downtown to watch 99 cent movies together now and again. But we never dated. At least we never called it that. We were simply good friends who could talk about anything and everything for hours and enjoyed being together.

Then on Sunday, June 7, 1981, eight years after sharing our first breakfast, everything changed...just like in the fairy tales. I watched him play softball from the sidelines that afternoon and I realized he was more than my very best friend. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him.

But I feared my mother's fate. Although my father DID return home, I wondered if  my chosen one would  be faithful, trustworthy and loyal. My heart wondered, "Would he love me forever?"

While our wedding and honeymoon rivaled the best fairy tale, our marriage (now almost 30 years strong) has been far from perfect because we are imperfect people. But one thing I've learned: He is NOT my father. He is trustworthy, faithful, loyal and still my very best friend. He loves the Lord and with God, we tackle the hardest pitches life throws our way. He never gives up on me, always believes the best of me and I love him more today than I did when I watched him slurp his Cheerios at his mom's kitchen table.

And today, when I bridge the awkward gap between my father and the nursing home staff - when I hold what's left of his life between my hands - and cry real tears that only forgiveness allows- I realize how blessed I am with a husband who loves me...forever. 

Thank you, Father, for tearing down our high walls through the power your forgiveness brings. Thank  you for loving, God fearing, faithful husbands who bring great joy and call out the best in their wives. I pray for those suffering from father wounds that you would rescue them, bind their wounded hearts, restore them so that they, too may know the freedom you bring. Release us, Father, from the chains unforgiveness holds tight around our hearts. Help us to love as you love, to offer forgiveness as you freely gave, and to walk fully in your Light in all our relationships. Amen.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Dreaming in Living Color


My husband thinks in cartoons and dreams in living color. The first time he shared that with me I laughed out loud thinking he was trying to impress me with some foolish fiction, but when his cheeks flushed, I realized he was serious.

His imagination plays out life’s foolishness like his favorite Sunday comic strip. You’d never know it until you road-trip with him and his chuckling breaks the silence between you begging the question, “What’s so funny?”  

His dreams, on the other hand, are serious and drenched in living color. God’s gifted him a visionary – one who sees ten thousand feet above the chaos – who sees the end and brings order.  

He dreams BIG. 

But he feels so small. 

When God sets a dream deep inside him it thrills him until distractions come and he sees only the impossible. And when this dream goes unrealized for years (even decades) he begins to think it was all in his head, a fairy tale, or a wish.  

Don’t we all? 

Times like these we need reminding that our visions – our living color dreams – are God’s dreams; something God wants accomplished specifically through us. And when we feel small, or face insurmountable challenges or distractions block our progress we need encouragement – to know that God equips those He’s called and will accomplish everything He’s promised.  

Where do we find encouragement to keep moving forward?  

1.      In God’s word. Scripture is God-breathed and used for teaching, discipline and encouragement. Immerse yourself in God’s Word prayerfully asking the Holy Spirit to encourage your heart.

2.      In prayer. Spend time alone seeking God, surrendering your dreams and asking for wisdom to discern your next step. Listen more than talk.

3.      In community. Pray for God to surround you with a small community that will encourage your heart, hold you accountable, and covenant to pray for you as you step out in faith. 

Ephesians 3:20 tells us God “is able to do immeasurably more than we can think or imagine” and I can imagine quite a lot! God desires to move in us and through us to do GREAT things for His Kingdom. Trust the dream He’s planted within your heart—that crazy, living color, impossible dream—and trust God to equip you and see it through to the end. 

## 

What are some of the impossible dreams God’s planted within your heart? What’s the biggest obstacle you’re facing right now?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Training Kids to Rule the Playground


 
I sat sunning myself on the park bench watching her almost-five-year-old self scoop and sift sand through her fingers while eyeing the boy across the sandbox digging holes with his long-handled shovel. She offered small talk but he'd have none of it and pushed his shovel deeper into the sand as though flexing his muscles to impress her.

Amused by their interplay, wondering how it might end, I kept a watchful eye.

More impressed with his shovel than his underdeveloped biceps, she asked if she might have a turn digging holes with the coveted tool. Still speechless, he shook his head, "no" and she frowned, crossing her hands across her chest. Silence polluted the air between them and sent him running to his mother's side, leaving the long-handled shovel behind.

I held my breath...

Sure enough she seized the opportunity, grabbed that shovel and dug in deep.

...and I watched.

Like a silent picture show,  I watched as he returned to the sandbox, held out his hand and demanded she return his shovel. She feigned deafness and dug her heels (and his shovel) deeper into the sand. He stood resolute and determined - hand still extended.

Wondering how this all turned out? Bring your pail and shovel and join me in the sandbox at the Christian Children's Authors blog.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

No More Facebook Fuming


...so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. Philippians 2:14-16a
 
 
Five years ago, I created my Facebook account just to share photos of my granddaughter with extended family members. No more waiting in line for my one-day-developing at the local pharmacy or stalking the mailbox for that thick envelope of glossy paper prints. Facebook and the Internet brought instant cyber-satisfaction.
 
Daily cyber reunions filled my evenings as one-by-one I reconnected with high school and college classmates I hadn't seen or spoken with since graduation. After a few weeks and lengthy notes our daily (hourly) FB status reports kept us connected and informed. It was like reading Christmas letters in little daily spurts.
 
Welcomed or not, Facebook not only gave me a daily dose of friendship, but it gave the writer-me an instant platform from which to share my wordy-passion. Where else could a no-name author share her opinions and stories with an instant world-wide audience? So, I started blogging and thinking out loud on Facebook.

So did the rest of the world.

It's crazy out there in Facebook-land. Everyone has an opinion and many aren't so kind or wise or thoughtful. Many just grumble. I call it Facebook fuming. Some people just love to share the awfulness of their day in hopes that misery loves company and somebody will join them. I don't know. I mean, sometimes it does feels good to vomit all the negativity in some pithy post, but seriously, on a daily or hourly basis? It's just not healthy.

While I mostly process life on my blog, I carefully choose words that tell truth in love and encourage one another because that's how Jesus instructs us to speak. As believers in the gospel (good news) how much more important to encourage one another in the "permanent" written words that can be read repeatedly? We are called to be the Light in the darkness that bring hope to this lost earth. Why then, do some feel it necessary to add to the darkness?

While I'm willing to share life on a heart to heart level - and life doesn't always come with rainbows and roses - let's share life's journey in such as way that encourages one another and brings God glory?

Paul says, "...encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." I Thessalonians 5:14b-18
 
Let's make a conscious effort, whether in a blog post or a status update, that all our words reflect God's goodness in EVERY circumstance, encourage our readers and shine God's Light. Join me?
 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Endless Possibilities

Photo from The United Reformed Church UK
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." Jeremiah 1:5 (NIV)

The moment the obstetrician pronounced me mother-to-be my mind swirled with questions and endless possibilities. What will I have, a boy or a girl? Will he favor me? Will she wear her father's dimples? What will he become? Will she chase after God's heart?

Through both pregnancies, I realized I was only a vessel, carrying a child created in the image of my husband and myself, but ultimately formed for God's predestined purpose. They carried an individual purpose planted deep inside that held God's unique fingerprint. It wasn't always evident the first few years of life where innocence prevailed, but rather revealed itself through life's messiest experiences and spiritual battles.

As much as my mother's protective instinct kicked in during their messy brokenness, there were situations where I had no control.

(Fly over to the Christian Children's Authors blog for the rest of the story, won't you?)
 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Final Chapter


You show that you are a letter from Christ...written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God... 2 Corinthians 3:3 NIV
Bent over two bowls of soup, we share lunch on the hospital tray. He doesn't say much, for what's there to say when you traverse between the bed and a wheelchair day after day? We'd all hoped for a better outcome - one that found restoration either this side of heaven or the other. Instead, I share soup across the table from the shadow of a man I call "Dad." 
He sips and labors over every bite like he's plowing through a banquet-sized meal and I sense his frustration - how little pleasures like eating aren't pleasures anymore, but rather, struggles that steal his breath and I know what he's thinking - "Why go on living?"
My spirit cries within me, "Take him home, Jesus. Take him home!" But Jesus answers, "I'm not finished writing his story just yet. Keep reading." 

I read between the lines through the silence - flashback to a time when I would have wished him gone - not to relieve his pain, but my own - to suffer the same pain his abandonment caused me - wished he'd simply disappear. But he came back. 

And now.
Now, I stand at the bathroom sink scrubbing his dirty dentures and bend over the laundry basket folding his shirts wondering from where in his story this love comes? What makes me want to do these things for him? It's no love I conjured up on my own for this dying man; nothing I ever wrote down or plotted.
This is all part of God's story written between us. The story where forgiveness dissolves diseases like anger and resentment and where Love rewrites the ending, not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God.
And, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom to love as He loves; to see others as He sees them; to restore all the time and circumstances once stolen. This Spirit breathes warmth and light and new life into our cold, cold hearts, our deepest, darkest thoughts and our shattered families and redeems all things through Christ.
While it's difficult watching Dad slowly whittle away, I pray for patience to watch and wait for God's perfect ending to this final chapter. 

Abba, Father,
While we watch and wait for the end - whether in our own lives or a loved one's life - help us to always look for your story you're writing in the midst of all the suffering. Fill us with your Spirit that helps us see others through your eyes and love as you love. Grant us the patience and understanding during these most difficult times and where forgiveness needs granting, humble us to offer it as it has been freely given to us through your Son, Jesus. Amen


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Spinning Free


"Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." 2 Corinthians 3:17

Her supple, young hand clasped mine as we wound our way through the back streets to the wooded neighborhood park. We marveled at the sunshine and painted autumn leaves that crunched underneath our feet and agreed, spring was still our favorite season. We claimed our own swing and flew higher than this middle-aged body could stand. So I spun instead; spun on that swing 'til the chains twisted together and my feet rose higher and higher off the ground.

And then, I let go.

(Spin over to Christian Children's Authors Blog for the rest of the story, won't you?)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Cast Out All Fear

"There is no fear in love. But
perfect love drives out fear..."
1 John 4:18a

The shadows rise tall above her bed in the purple room as the night light bleeds shadows across the ceiling. Blessed with an active imagination, monster pictures squelch sleep from her eyes.
 
She braves the shadows and tries to shut them out, but soon her tiny feet pad across the carpet and into my bedroom next door.
 
"Grams? I'm scared," she whispers.
 
(Psssst! Tip toe across the blogosphere with me and read the rest of the story at refresh, won't you? Click here.)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Does God Play Favorites?

"Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings..." Psalm 17:8

 
Let's be honest, we all have our favorites - we like one thing better than another. We prefer blue over green, corn over cauliflower, summer over spring, bugs over baby dolls, and.... well, you get the idea.
 
When it comes to our kids, however, we simply cannot choose one over the other. How can we when they're part of us - a mini me or a mini him - created in our image? Wouldn't that be rejecting ourselves? But, it is possible to make each child the apple of our eye - to know they are precious in our sight - because that's how God treats us.
 
Yes, God plays favorites:
 
"For the Lord's portion is his people, Jacob his alotted inheritance...
He shielded him and cared for him;
he guarded him as the apple of his eye,
like an eagle that stirs up its nest
and hovers over its young,
that spreads its wings to catch them
and carries them aloft
." Deuteronomy 32:9-11
 
(Pssst! Meet me over at the Christian Children's Authors blog with many more of God's favored ones, won't you?)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Greatest Lesson From Fifth Grade

 
 
"Then I’ll tell the world what I find, speak out boldly in public, unembarrassed." Psalm 119:46 The Message
 
Shy. Bashful. Sensitive. These words defined my early childhood and restrained my voice until I met Mr. Peterson, a month after my parents divorced.

I stepped off the noisy yellow bus for the first day of school, careful not to scuff my new shoes on the metal steps. I toted a square metal lunch box that sported the flying car from the latest Disney movie, Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang in one hand and an empty red book bag in the other. I scurried past the grin of the nodding principal, up a short flight of stairs into Mr. Peterson’s fifth grade classroom. The familiar scent of white chalk dust, yellow number two pencils, and pink rubber erasers greeted me along with Mr. Peterson’s warm laughter as I took my seat near the windows.

Laughter filled his classroom and washed over my heart like a healing salve. His silly antics relieved the pain I carried from my broken home. For a few hours a day, I remembered that joy still existed. But there was one problem. Mr. Peterson soon discovered I didn’t laugh out loud.

(Shuffle over to Children's Christian Author's Blog and find out what Mr. Peterson taught me. Just click here.)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

God’s Dream for Our Children



“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”
Luke 2:52 NIV
 
I placed my daughter on a plane with strangers heading due east across the Atlantic to Uganda. Luckily for her, the organizer limited parental good-byes to the church parking lot where I choked-back fears and sobs.

She’d been born for this—appointed in my womb for this day—I knew it full well. She befriended the needy since kindergarten and shared the gospel during childhood sleepovers. At age fifteen she announced her call to go to Uganda after two weeks of summer camp. I pondered all these things in my heart. Like Mary mothered Jesus, I didn’t quite understand.
God appoints all of us to a specific purpose – one that corresponds to our heart’s deepest desire – in order to advance His kingdom on earth.
So, as parents, how do we recognize and nurture God’s call in our children’s lives?
Today is a double header...join me for this discussion at Encouragement Café. Just click here.

One Day At Band Camp



"No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." Hebrews 12:11 NIV

Familiar melodies - the likes of John Phillip Sousa with brass horns and big bass drums - waft through my open windows. I stop whatever I'm doing as memories barrage my mind and listen with a smile.

While some preferred football or field hockey, my kids chose high school marching band. Armed with their brass instruments, a fat chalk stick, and a water bottle they took the field and marched their August days away with precious few hours to spare before the night session began. Fourteen straight days  of band camp in all types of weather, this little army of instrument-playing soldiers followed orders and practiced routines until their music and marching synchronized into one harmonious movement.

Some might argue that marching band is not a sport or that playing music and marching does not afford your child the same disciplines as other sports. I beg to differ.

Put on your marching shoes and join me over at Christian Children's Authors blog for the rest of the story, won't you? Just click here.

Today's a double header. In an hour, you can join me at Encouragement Café for my second blog on nurturing God's dreams in our children. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I'm No Super Mom

Her short, honey blonde bob swayed back and forth as she skipped down the hallway toward her preschool classroom. Fully equipped with a purple, patent-leather, Beauty and the Beast backpack, she greeted her teacher with a dimpled smile and her brown-eyed twinkle. But, on the way to her cubby she noticed something was missing. Everyone was wearing a silly hat...except for her. It was "Silly Hat Day" and we'd forgotten to pack hers.

Now, I'm no Super Mom. I'm sure my first reaction was, "Oh dear. I'll be late for work." But deep down inside this mama's heart I knew what had to be done.

(Speed over to Christian Children's Authors blog to find out what happened next, won't you? Just click here.)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Living Beyond the Curse

 
"Instead of the thorn bush will grow the pine tree, and instead of the briers the myrtle will grow." Isaiah 55:13


Triple H Days - hazy, hot, humid - hung thick like stew for days. I camped out inside with the AC except for occasional runs from the cool car to the grocery store and back. It was even too hot for my Maine Coon cat who sprawled tummy-up on the kitchen floor in direct line of the artificial arctic blast, too hot to care about chasing mice in our neighbor's yard.

It was hard waiting for the promised cold front because here in New England weather changes every ten minutes (or so it seems), but when it finally arrived, we both welcomed it with all its loud booming and glorious lightning flashes accompanied by monsoon rains and lower humidity. Ahhh! Paradise.

But with relief came hard work. Every shrub and fruit bush showed burned leaves or shriveled fruit. Weeds grew taller than the day lilies, crab grass flourished,  and spider mites webbed their way through our ornamental spruce trees. Time for some low-to-the-ground calisthenics!

I worked for hours tugging, sweating, pulling out 60 gallons worth of weeds from my garden beds. And as each bag overflowed I thought about God's curse on the land found in Genesis 3:17-18 NIV:

“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field..."

After my four hour weeding frenzy my little piece of paradise was restored, but not without sweat equity dripping from every pour. I wanted to give Adam and Eve a little piece of my mind! I often wonder what it was like living in the Garden of Eden prior to the Fall, before God cursed the land, don't you? I imagine temped air, gorgeous blooms in rainbow colors and lush green foliage; gigantic shade trees, delicious fruit trees bursting with food, and wooded paths along a cool river where God and man met on a big flat rock at the end of every day.

My heart longs for Paradise lost, doesn't yours? The perfect place where order rules and all is right between earth and sky, man and beast and his Creator.

Jesus came, not only to restore man to the Creator-God, but to restore the whole earth as well. In Matthew 27 we read that the Roman soldiers crowned Jesus with thorns. An elder in my church recently pointed out that these thorns represented the curse of toil, weeds, and thistle. When Jesus' blood flowed over his thorny crown, it redeemed us from the curse of toiling - not from work - for work was good - given to us by God after Creation:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. Genesis 2:15 NIV

As followers of Jesus, we are Kingdom people - holding the glory and goodness of God within us. Therefore, everything and anything we do is sacred - done unto the Lord himself. As we make things "right", (whether we weed our gardens, change our baby's diaper, steady our aging parents, organize our office desk, smile at the postal clerk, whatever it is), we are agents of God's Kingdom through our actions and attitudes.

God calls us, through Jesus, to partner with Him to restore His Kingdom on earth (full of thorns and thistles) as it is in heaven (perfect order). We can't do it alone - not by the sweat of our brow or our limited resources - but through giving God all that we are and letting Him and His limitless resources flow through us.

Are we willing to live beyond the curse? Rather than toiling (grumbling) through our jobs, household tasks, or yard work, let's give thanks for God's provision - call forth His Kingdom in our bosses, our families, our bits of property - so that everything we have and do shines God's glory.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Fanning the Flames of God-Sized Dreams

"For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands." 2 Timothy 1:6

I know disappointment of unrealized, childhood dreams. As a young girl growing up in a single-parent home, there wasn't much dreaming going on beyond my own head and heart. I learned a dream spoken met the breath of impossibility until all that was left was a smoldering wick. I thought keeping quiet and stuffing my dreams deep kept them safe and alive. Quite the opposite. It snuffed them out.

Then, I had kids of my own.

I'd sit for hours, like most new mothers, staring at my sleeping babies wondering, "Who are you? What will you become? What dreams will you dream?"

It was fun watching them grow, finding our similarities carried in their DNA, discovering their peculiarities and listening to their dreams - silly ones and serious ones. And, I allowed them room for BIG dreams - fostered their imaginations, encouraged them to follow that pull - taught them to stare-down impossibilities. 

(Bring your candle and matches and join me over at the Christian Children's Authors blog for the rest of the story, won't you?)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Freedom In Three Little Words

 
I forgive you.

Three little words hardly spoken, hold great power. They tear down walls, mend broken relationships, and free the heart. Yet we trade freedom for pride, swallowed hard behind tight lips, clenched fists, and bleeding hearts.  We hang onto blame with pain rather than releasing forgiveness.

We suffer long and hard in quiet desperation or spewing anger wondering when the pain will dull just a little--when will we 'get over it' once and for all? No matter how hard we try, the pain continues, rears its ugly head at all the wrong moments and we hit the wall.

(If forgiveness comes hard, take my hand and join me for some {re}fresh-ment)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Summertime, Summertime, Sum, Sum, Summertime!

It's summertime, summertime, sum, sum, summertime here in New England and kids can't wait to shut their books and head outside! With the prolonged winter storm closings this year, summer vacation got a late start.

Growing up here, always meant a short summer, so we jammed it full of outside fun, family trips up north, and a week or two away at summer church camp. Nestled deep inside our Connecticut forests or along the southern Maine border, my husband and I attended summer church camp or brigade camp since we were ten years old. And, we passed our love for camp onto both our children.

Camp not only offered time away from home, new friends, and fun, but with every camp stay we gained confidence, independence, life skills, and experienced spiritual growth spurts like no other time during the year.

(Pack up and join me for the rest of the story at Christian Children's Author's blog today!)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Retreat!

 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.  Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!" Mark 1:35-37


 When life comes at you like a freight train - full speed ahead - it's all you can do to hang on tight. There's barely time to think, no warning, no preparing or packing a bag - only time to react and latch onto whatever is in front of you until the train stops.

The unexpected happens all the time - life and death - but when they couple themselves together and come one after the other, our minds can't catch up with our hearts. In every crisis, whether good or bad, there's always stuff to be done - responsibilities and loose ends to tie up - for those holding up the arms of loved ones.

And when that freight train comes to a screeching halt - even for a brief moment - we find ourselves disheveled, speechless, utterly weary and maybe even a bit numb. We feel neither joy nor sorrow because we've been so busy caring for others that we pushed our own emotions aside. All we want is solace. Quiet. Retreat.

Isn't that exactly what Jesus felt? After a day of teaching and healing and crowds pushing in he rested. And in the dark, just before sunrise, he retreated to a quiet place, alone - far away from the crowds and people who needed his touch. And while he was there? He spent time alone with his Father - where I imagine he cried, prayed, received encouragement, refreshment and empowerment to see things from heaven's perspective once again.

We all need those times, don't we? Time alone with our Father to cry it all out, to share what's on our hearts, listen for his voice and receive the encouragement and empowerment that comes only by spending time in His presence; time to refocus, zoom out from the immediate circumstances and refocus on God's higher perspective.

That's where I'm at now - needing a retreat away from the crowds, away from everyone who needs me and soaking up every drop of God's presence and encouragement. I need physical, emotional and spiritual rest, so if you don't find my words sprawled across the page as often, it's because I'm retreating and seeking God's higher perspective on life.

See you soon,
Dawn

P. S. When you feel spent, what's your favorite place to retreat? How do you draw God close when you can barely utter a word?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

When More is Too Much and Prayer is Hard

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"Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief." Psalm 143:1 NIV

He pitched a tent and spent a sleepless night beside his crumbled home protecting what little earthly possessions remained. In early morning light while he awaits help to gather his things and leave town, a single reporter asks him, "What's next?" He simply and emphatically answers, "pray."

I feel helpless watching images of ravaged homes piled high like pick-up-sticks and listening to reports of school children still missing or worse. Reports tell of parents calling out their children's names into the night in Moore, Oklahoma. I swallow back tears from fresh December memories of our own Newtown tragedy and wonder how much more can we handle. More storms. More tragedy. More loss. More.

What do you do when more is too much?

My family's experienced its own personal crises this year; losses that left our earthly possessions in tact but splintered our hearts. Our losses happened too close together, scrambled my thoughts and my words. Getting it all down on paper seems harder these days because I think, "who wants to drink up my grief when the world's got plenty more to offer?" So I close the page and surf Facebook in search of some joy, knowing full well I won't find it there, but it's easier than praying right then.

Bored from re-reading all the same posts, I sit and jot down my thoughts - like this blog is my form of prayer. There's nothing more I can do but cry out, "Mercy! No more, dear God. Mercy, please." And God reminds me of Paul's words in Romans:

"...but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope."
Romans 5:3-4 NIV

Perseverance. Character. Hope. All qualities that separate thrivers from survivors - qualities that only come through suffering and loss.

And our hope? While we stand amidst our splintered lives - God is faithful and righteous and provides relief. First, he sent his one and only son, Jesus who died for us, becoming our Way of adoption into God's family. And through his resurrection, our hope of life eternal is fulfilled. Second, he sent us one another to help carry us through tough times.

Even while I finish these last few lines, my phone rings. A dear friend smiles on the other end of the phone and simply speaks encouraging words. My lips curl up and my heart feels just a bit lighter than before. I breathe a prayer, thankful that relief came in such a loving package. Thank-you, Lord.

When life is hard, when more is too much and you've found prayer hard, how has God shown his mercy and faithfulness to you?


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Remembrances

"I thank my God every time I remember you." Philippians 1:3

I slipped a pussy willow sprig from her funeral basket and whispered my plans in our granddaughter's ear. "We'll plant it soon, in remembrance of Mammie."

So, I set that brown twig with soft-as-a-kitten buds in a bottle of water near a sunny kitchen window and prayed it grow roots. Buds continued erupting from the base of that brown stick to the top as it simply sat and drank.

Every time our granddaughter visited over the next few weeks we talked about that pussy willow branch - touched the soft buds, looked for roots, and remembered Mammie in heaven. And, every day I washed the dishes it caught my eye and I'd remember Mammie - giving thanks for the godly daughter she raised for my son and the times we celebrated our grandchildren together.

Soon, all the buds dropped and scattered across the kitchen counter leaving a lifeless looking branch. But, I still hoped and let it sit and soak - scheming to buy one at the garden store if this poor branch never rooted because I promised we'd plant our Mammie bush.

Roots appeared just in time for Mother's Day!

 
 We planted them in fertile soil...


 
...poured living water all around...


 
...and remembered Mammie.

Just like this branch, when we sit and soak and drink in God's presence - our Living Water - we grow and bear much fruit.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
 They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.”
Jeremiah 17:7-8 NIV

Mammie planted her feet deep near the stream of Living Water, Jesus Christ. She never feared the heat or drought and the standing-room-only attendance at her memorial service testified to her fruit bearing life.

Now as summer approaches and the grandchildren we shared play in the shadow of this bush, we'll stop and give thanks for every remembrance of her.

What are some ways you help your children or grandchildren remember loved ones who've passed?

(Please stop by Christian Children's Authors blog today).