The Christmas Story

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My daughter performed in the Christmas program at church. The orchestral music soothed my soul. The choir sang of truth and hope and gave God praise. The play, interspersed between poignant songs, told the true meaning of Christmas. The finale touched my heart and lifted my eyes to God as the entire congregation joined the performers in singing Joy To The World. I felt God’s presence in that moment.

Christmas time is when the world sings our songs – the songs of believers. It is a time when Christians have it fairly easy to speak of what they believe. God sent His son, Jesus, to earth to live as a human. After 33 years, and only a few years of actual ministry, Jesus was killed, buried and rose again to return to heaven to prepare a place for us. His death paid for our sin – our disobedience to God. If we believe in Jesus, the precious baby whose birth we celebrate on December 25, we have eternal life.

I speak at churches and retreats for a living. I am very comfortable being an evangelist. I talk like this all year-long. I know that I am not the norm. Most followers of Jesus aren’t as outspoken. Their faith is shown through their compassion, service and love. However, this is a time of year when you can share more freely. Share with others why you care, serve and love those in your sphere of influence. Take a step out of your comfort zone this Christmas and speak of your faith.

My son went door to door with his youth group to invite neighbors to a Christmas Eve service. All the junior high and high school kids did it. Most were wayyyyyyy outside their comfort zone. He told me that their group took turns speaking at each house. My mom-heart was warmed by his bravery. My spiritual-heart was excited that the next generation is being taught how to be bold, verbally, with their faith.

I encourage you to be bold verbally this Christmas. Pray before you open the buffet at gatherings in your home. Read someone your favorite verse in the telling of the birth of Christ. Ask your friends if they have a memory of attending church during the holidays.  You may be surprised at what spoke to them as a child. When the new year begins, revisit these conversation if you feel brave. If not, return to your love language for God – compassion, acts of service and love. He uses all these ways to draw people into relationship with Him.

Dream Big! Pray Big!

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Fix Your Gaze

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I take yoga at the LA Arboretum. We lay our yoga mats on the grass and gaze at the beauty of nature while we stretch our muscles. It brings me great delight and peace. I remember the first time I attended. I was so nervous. I didn’t know what Down-Dog was or Warrior 1. I figured I would be laughed at or told I was doing it wrong over and over again. Thankfully, my instructor explained every position in great detail so I could follow along. I felt comfortable at day 1 of yoga and have continued with it ever since.

Every session, we attempt a balance pose. An example would be when you put your foot on your opposite thigh or in your hand stretched out to the side. It can be as complicated as it sounds. The process involves us getting into tree pose then we find a spot on the ground in front of us to focus on. Our instructor will say “fix your gaze.” Then we go into our balance pose. We usually can keep balanced if we keep focused. For me, whenever she says “fix your gaze,” I am reminded of a simple worship chorus written by Tommy Walker.

I fix my eyes on You, the author of my faith
Casting aside every sin and every weight
I fix my eyes on You, I lay my burdens down
Letting the cares of this world now fade away

During my yoga practice, I am in constant communication with God. I am praying requests, praising Him for the beauty of His creation I can see right in front of me and listening for His responses. If I haven’t yet focused my mind on God, the balance pose always gets me there. I fix my gaze. I usually sing the song above and relax into His peace. I use my yoga time to focus on God and let the cares of the world fade away. It’s an hour of pure worship and connection with God for me.

There is an old hymn that says something similar to Tommy’s worship chorus.

Turn you eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.

When you are overwhelmed with the cares of the world (the busyness of the holidays, the deadlines, the stress of daily life, the financial burdens, the health concerns, etc.), turn your eyes upon Him. The cares of the world fade and grow strangely dim when you are fixing your gaze on Him. I encourage you to fix your gaze this week. Take time, daily if you can, to focus on Him. When you find you are carrying a load, fix your gaze. The cool thing is, you can be at yoga, in the line at the grocery store, at your dinner table or sitting on the couch when you fix your gaze. He’s everywhere and always ready to receive your attention and return it with His peace.

Dream Big! Pray Big!

Tomorrow

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Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday. – Dale Carnegie

Are you familiar with the Bible verse in Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”? I had the opportunity to see this verse in action recently.

I have had a few health concerns and the doctor wanted to do an endoscopy to get some answers. My initial response was no. I freaked out at the idea of a camera going into my stomach through my mouth and esophagus. My desire for health trumped my fear. However, every day leading up to the endoscopy, I woke up with fear and thoughts of “what if?”. I battled it with reading scripture, listening to a sermon, watching a worship video on YouTube and surrounding myself with praying friends.

The day of the endoscopy, I woke up without any fear. What?! Then I remembered this verse. Worrying about tomorrow led me to daily fear. When tomorrow was today, I was OK. God provides what we need when we need it. I didn’t need peace the day before or the day before that. I needed peace the day of the procedure. He gave it.

When I sought out this verse for today’s blog, I discovered the verse before it.

Matthew 6:33 “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Every day I had fear and worry, I sought Him. His kingdom and His righteousness were my focus. I had done what the Bible instructs. I never knew those 2 verses were connected. I knew them, but separately. I applied verse 33 and my days didn’t stay in worry.  Our best weapon against worrying about tomorrow is to seek! It seems simple because it is. Sometimes we need to seek Him hourly to battle our worry. Maybe even minutely. That’s OK. Just seek!

He knows our frailties. He knows our weaknesses. He knows us. So, He made it simple. Seek!

Dream Big! Pray Big!

(Health update: we got some answers that day and have a few more questions to answer but so far I’m doing OK.)

Thankful for our catfish

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I read a devotional written by Chuck Swindoll. In it, he shares a story about codfish. In order to keep them fresh when they transport them across the country, they found they needed to be shipped alive. Not just alive but in a tank with their natural enemy – the catfish. The fish had to fight for their lives all across the country until they end up on your plate. The fight kept them fresh.

What catfish is in your life that is keeping you fresh? Who or what is challenging you daily and forcing you to stay close to God in order to handle daily life? When we sit in our tanks and swim around all comfy and cozy, we rarely think to connect to God. We just enjoy the leisurely swim. We enjoy the view and casually interact with others in our tank. When that catfish enters the tank, we are on our guard. We are fighting to stay alive or at least, whole.

This season of thanksgiving I am challenged to be thankful to the things that are keeping me on my knees and in front of God’s throne. I am not thrilled to face health issues but I am. I daily lean on God for strength and to keep my focus on today not “what if.” I am not comfortable releasing my kids more and more into the world but I am. They are teens and tweens and need to experience life a bit more on their own. My girls are often gone the entire day exploring their passions. I miss them but pray for them to grow, cling to God, and be His light in their sphere of influence. I am not eagerly awaiting the next big confrontational talk in a relationship that is tough right now but I show up. I seek God’s wisdom when I speak and seek Him for the next steps to healing.

Those are just a few catfish that swim in my tank. Some days, surprise catfish show up. Do they keep me on my toes? Yes, indeed! I can almost say I am thankful for the catfish. I’m working on that. I know they make me stronger, more faithful and a better person.

Romans 5:3-4 NIV says “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know tha suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

A speaker in my Bible Study gave a great tip to remember the benefits of suffering (a.k.a. catfish) for those of us in California. Think of PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) – perseverance, character, hope. Catfish lead us to PCH. PCH leads us closer to God.

This thanksgiving, thank God for the catfish and the perseverance, character and hope that comes from their presence.

Dream Big! Pray Big!

Soccer Mom

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I am a soccer mom. 2 of my kids play soccer. One is in AYSO and the other is in club soccer. It is one of my favorite sports to watch. I love the fast paced game and the amazing skills these young kids already possess. I have been known to yell at referees and am usually one of the loudest cheers you can hear from the sidelines. I attribute that to my cheer leading days where I learned to yell from my diaphragm.

This past weekend, my daughter’s club team went from Sweet 16 to Elite 8 to Final 4 in Cal South’s League Cup. So exciting! The match-up for our Final 4 game was against the number 1 Premier team in our league. They were undefeated all season. Our team is Silver Elite. We were playing a team 2 levels above us. We fought hard and at half time it was still 0-0. Great way to spend a Sunday morning at 8 am. (I even made it back in time for church, too.) Our team played amazing and were not dominated. However, we lost 0-1. Our parents cheered and applauded. It was a victory for us. As I glanced to the other side of the field to the “winning” team, I noticed no cheers or high fives or any sign of celebration. They were mad they only won by 1 because we were a lowly team. Their coach had made several threats to his team during the game at how much trouble they were going to be in at their next practice.

It got me thinking about success. Is it always winning? Of course not. Is it playing your best or giving your all? It can be. For our team, success was only losing by 1 to this advanced team. For the other team, success would have been winning by a landslide, which they normally do. What are you striving for in your life right now? How will you determine if you are successful?

Relationally: success may be a restored and/or thriving relationship.

Professionally: success may be financial gain or completion of a major task.

Financially: success may be making your payments with money to spare.

Spiritually: success is having a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Our success spiritually is easy to define. You know Jesus and have a relationship with Him or you don’t. If you do, you have success. Knowing Jesus and leaning on Him through all areas of my life (relationally, professionally, financially, etc.) brings me great joy. I hope you too can find this type of success in your life.

Dream Big! Pray Big!

Toaster

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I bought a toaster. I haven’t owned a toaster since, I don’t know when. I have always used a toaster oven. But lately, our toaster oven isn’t toasting our toast well (3 toasts in one sentence – yikes). I was at Wal-Mart and saw one for $15. Done! Let me tell you, our toast is better. Our frozen waffles are fantastic. It’s worth the lost counter space.

You may be asking yourself, why is she blogging about a toaster? What does that have to do with anything? Well, it has to do with simple pleasures. For $15, our breakfast is elevated to a new level. That’s a simple pleasure.

I just found a bag of tea I forgot I had – Vanilla flavored black tea, decaf. I am sipping it now. It’s fabulous. Simple pleasure.

I am blogging a day late because I enjoyed an extended cup of tea time with a friend yesterday. Simple pleasure.

Simple pleasures are just what they say they are:

Simple (Oxford dictionary says) – easily understood or done; presenting no difficulty: “a simple solution” synonyms: straightforward, easy, uncomplicated, uninvolved, effortless... (Funny side note – Webster’s Dictionary had 10 definitions for simple which was in no way simple.)

Pleasures (Oxford dictionary says) – 1. a feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment: “she smiled with pleasure at being praised” synonyms: happiness, delight, joy, gladness, glee, satisfaction, gratification, contentment, enjoyment, amusement.

So what easy, uncomplicated delight can you add to your life or your family’s life? Maybe you can bake a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies (store-bought dough counts). Or tie a cute bow around your dog’s collar.What would make you or someone you love smile today? Indulge in that simple pleasure.

Psalm 16:11 – “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

Dream Big! Pray Big!

Halloween

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For over 10 years we had a carnival in our backyard to provide a safe, scary-free zone for Halloween. When my son hit 4th grade, we ended the event. I missed it the past 2 years. I didn’t miss the craziness of preparation but the delight in seeing my kids’ friends and their families enjoying themselves. We put on a great party.

This year I had the opportunity to help run the games at our church’s Trunk or Treat. The event was last night. I stepped in about 2 weeks beforehand so it was a bit of a rush to figure it all out. However, all my years of training in our backyard, paid off. It all came rushing back. One thing that didn’t return, the stress. I must admit I was a bit nervous yesterday. My nervousness stemmed from the fact that I’m still new at this church and didn’t know many people. The setup and tear down physically exhausted me. The people and the event energized me.

I noticed something during the process of serving at a new church – it’s different. It didn’t have the dynamics past events had for me. I didn’t have to fall into the old patterns that surrounded other large parties I facilitated. I saw the rhythm of my new church shine during this event. The main focus clearly was outreach and connection. God threw a huge party yesterday and we just set it up for Him. I loved that. I saw His spirit move in conversation. I saw Him bring joy to children and their parents when they won a cupcake. It’s the simple things He was working in. It was fine that a few signs fell down and that I got feedback over the sound system. God was present. Our community saw Him at His best – loving people through His people.

Serving God doesn’t have to be as big as overseeing games for a Trunk or Treat. He used the generous families who opened the trunk of their car, set up a few decorations and greeted members of the community. He used Boy Scouts, who don’t even attend our church, to run games and find joy themselves. The brave ones who manned the food stations were heroes. God used the sweet families who donated a bag of candy to hand out but couldn’t be at the event. Each piece “counts” as service. God used it all.

What is holding you back from stepping into service at your church or in your community? Start small. Just start. I know you will find joy in unexpected places.

Dream Big! Pray Big!