Category Archives: Uncategorized

Add This One to Your Must-Read List!

This weekend I had the pleasure of reading a new novel (The Senator’s Youngest Daughter by Kelley Rose Waller) that was such a page-turner, I finished the entire thing in a 24-hour period. It was not only an easy read (with suspense, action, drama and a little romance weaved in), it was also a novel that really makes you think.

Is America today what our forefathers envisioned? How have we gotten to a place where someone’s name recognition means more than what he or she stands for when running for political office? What happens when America sits back and refuses to vote or be heard because what can “just one person” do? What happens when we believe we are entitled to rights versus working hard for earnings? Are programs offered by the government really “free”? What happens when we believe all the lies the media spoon feeds to us?

This is a story in which absolute power corrupts absolutely. We see inside all the propaganda and political lies. Sadly, we also see the results of the masses being discontent with what government is doing but not willing to act on their convictions. Both disbelief in the power of the people and sheer laziness make this nation waver toward an extremely destructive path.

In this novel, one family works together to try to stop the madness and bring true liberty back to America. The Senator’s Youngest Daughter is captivating and fast-paced and makes you want to finish the next page and then the next. Just when you think that the good guys are about to win, a powerful turn of events makes you gasp and shudder. A family’s love and conviction for our nation (and true liberty) help inspire us to be more aware of the current political climate – and decide which side of the fence we want to be on.

This one is a must-read! Whether laying on the beach or curling up next to the fireplace, this book will hold your attention and make you thirst for more…

For God’s Sake, STOP Whining!

Have you ever read a passage in the Bible and immediately felt convicted and the need to repent?

I typically read my Bible in the morning, and I’ve read it so much that at times I think that I’ll know what the chapter is going to say. But even with my familiarity with the stories and verses, the Holy Spirit can highlight verses and bring new revelation that brings me to my knees (or truly on my face).

I’m currently reading in Numbers again about how the 12 spies went to explore the Promised Land and came back to give their report of how amazing and fruitful the land was but how big and strong their enemies who lived there were (Numbers 13). While ten of the men spread discouraging reports, two of the spies went against the crowd (Joshua and Caleb, who my two oldest boys are named after) and said “…if the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey, and he will give it to us! Do not rebel against the Lord and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!” (Numbers 14:8-9).

How did the people respond? They talked about stoning these two men (verse 10). The people began “weeping aloud” and “they cried all night” (Numbers 14:1b, emphasis mine) and their voices rose against their leaders in complaint. They started planning on going back to where they came from. Even though they had lived in slavery and seen God’s miracles in their escape, their memories of the past, their hardships of the present, and their now lost hope for the future clouded their thinking, making them strongly desire to go back to the past. They were not trusting God and were looking at their current circumstances rather than the bigger picture of who God is and what He had planned.

I wrote in my margins: “Please forgive me for wanting to go back.” I’ve been homesick this week. Facebook memories of special times with family and friends in the summer, remembering running with friends on the weekends, reminiscing about how much I enjoyed the classes at my gym, thinking of the produce stands where the kids and I would buy fresh fruits and veggies for dinner for cheap, special kid-friendly adventures we used to do regularly … EVERYTHING was making me want to go “home.” Like those Israelites, I too was contemplating my return, even though I KNOW that God had told us to come here. It was a humbling moment to read these verses and know that my reading was not coincidental that morning. I immediately got on the ground in prayer and then afterward called my husband to ask for his forgiveness as well.

How did God respond to the Israelites’ complaints, whining and disobedience? He offered to kill them all and make Moses a great nation instead (Numbers 14:12). But, Moses was humble and reminded God that He was showing the world His power, His unfailing love, and His forgiveness. The Lord graciously pardoned the people’s sin in Numbers 14, BUT He said not one of them would see the fulfillment of His promise, except for Caleb and Joshua. The rest would die in the wilderness and their kids would be the ones who would inherit the land. It made my heart sad, for the people realized they had angered God. But, He did what He said He would do. Only Joshua and Caleb lived to see the Promised Land out of that entire generation.

Today and going forward, may we not be quick to complain but rather have hearts of thanksgiving. May we be joyful ALWAYS. May we spend enough time talking with God and in His Word that we TRUST everything He says. If God promises to move mountains, close the mouths of lions or part the seas, may we automatically believe not only that He can but also that He will! And for the times that we have failed to recognize His goodness and instead look back, may we fully repent and change our thinking by the renewing of our minds. Let’s pray together!

Father God, thank You so much for the truth in Your Word. Thank You that these words are life and written for us to read and get to know You and Your heart. Please forgive our disobedience, our unbelief, our looking back and our loss of hope. Will You give us a fresh revelation of what You desire for us? May we be thankful rather than grumbling, joyful rather than miserable, and in constant communication with You as we navigate the journey You have for us. Keep us from looking back, from longing for the past. Help us remember that Your promises are for our good. You have given us hope and a future! May we rest in Your unfailing love and forgiveness. Help us teach our kids and the next generation the truths of Your Word. We praise You, Lord. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!

Where Is Your JOY?

When recently asked my personal vision statement, I immediately thought of my favorite verses that have served as my “motto” since high school: “Be JOYFUL always, PRAY continuously, give THANKS in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus our Lord” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). People often question what God’s will is for their lives, and the above verses are clear. No matter what direction we head, no matter what challenges we face, no matter what our present or future circumstances, we are to have joy, we are to talk to God and we are to be thankful.

When we moved to Michigan, I was (ahem) not thrilled. A friend gave me a book on giving thanks and I began writing down throughout each day the things that I was thankful for – little and big things. As I stopped each moment to give thanks, my heart changed and I felt more satisfied and less entitled to “better.” Really, I have been given far more than I deserve. Haven’t you? I bet you could name ten things that were worthy of thankfulness that happened to you within the last hour.

That said, I’ve been sensing a lack of joy in my life recently. I am deeply in love with my husband (something I don’t take for granted), I treasure our three children, I have a great house in a fantastic neighborhood, I don’t question where my next meal will come from, I have friends in multiple states, I am pursuing my dream of getting my PhD, I’ve conquered many items on my “bucket list,” etc. So, why is it that I still struggle with feeling down at times? Why do I get homesick or look back and wish I could go back? I began to realize that I wasn’t experiencing deep inner joy but rather fleeting happiness.

Then I read Leviticus 9:24: “Fire blazed forth from the Lord’s presence and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When the people saw all this, they shouted with joy and fell face down on the ground.” It stuck with me all day that JOY comes from being in the Lord’s presence.  Joy is what comes from being in a relationship with God where you are praying continuously and reading His Word. Joy is when life throws punches but God reminds you that He is fighting on your behalf. Joy is that voice inside you that reminds you that God created the whole Universe for you, died for you and loves you despite your worst mistakes. Joy doesn’t come from attending church on Sunday. It doesn’t come from doing or saying the right things. Joy doesn’t come from trying to do everything on your own. Joy doesn’t come from family or friends. Joy doesn’t come from work accomplishments or skills you’ve been given. Joy comes from the presence of the Lord. Joy is not happiness but goes much deeper as we connect with God.

So, practically speaking, how do you find God’s presence? If you’re missing joy and you feel like you’re being tossed and pummeled like a rag doll in the ocean, then pick up God’s love letter to you – the Bible. Pick up and devour His true word. Soak up His story and purpose. Listen to music that glorifies Him. If you play an instrument, worship Him with your talents. Basically, spend quality time with the Lord just like you would if you were trying to get to know a friend better. If you’re starving for joy, spend time in His presence. Saying “thanks for this food” before dinner likely isn’t enough to truly bask in His presence and experience the joy that comes from seeing God move. Taking time to seek the Lord while He may be found will bring you the joy you crave – joy to live another day to the fullest, joy despite what your day looks like, joy when milk spills on the floor and your car gets a flat tire, joy when your spouse is traveling and you miss him (or her!) like crazy, joy when it’s hot and joy when it’s not, joy that God is great and part of your life.

If you’ve never experienced this joy, if you want to know more about having a relationship with the Lord, please send me a message. I’d be happy to talk with you or help you get connected. If you’re struggling with joy and you would like me to pray for you, let me know! We need to hold each other up!

Heavenly Father, thank You for the joy that we experience when we’re in Your presence. God, we are grateful for Your Word and we want to give thanks in all circumstances, we want to be joyful ALWAYS and we want to pray continuously. I ask that You would provide peace, love, comfort and joy to those dear ones who are struggling as they read this. May they come to know You more fully and enter a deeper relationship with You. Please provide joy as they continue on this journey You have called them to. Please keep us from temptation and deliver us from evil. May we do Your will as we live for Your glory. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!

Feeling stressed? Worried? What are you forgetting?

“Tell the people of Israel to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between me and you forever. It helps you remember that I am the Lord, who makes you holy.” Exodus 31:13, emphasis mine

The other morning before reading my Bible, I asked God to speak to me through His Word. He continues to be faithful!

I have found myself in a season of worrying again. Fear grips my heart often at night as I toss and turn. I’ve been dreaming of my boys drowning. Why? I have no idea! But when I have this nightmare, I wake up with my jaw clenched so tight that my entire head aches. And I continue to worry and feel sick even after I’m fully awake and realize that it’s just a dream. What if something happens to them? What if I can’t protect my little ones? Then I worry, what if I’m not making the best choices to raise them? Then I continue to worry, what if I’m spending too much time at home and not getting enough research done? Then I worry that I’m juggling too much… and yet another night of sleep is lost…

As I’m reading in the Old Testament right now, I came to Exodus 31 where God is speaking to Moses. He notes that He has a man in mind to do the work who He has filled with the Spirit of God, and who He has given great wisdom, intelligence and skill in all kinds of crafts (verse 3). God continues to talk about this gentleman’s skills and abilities and notes that he is a master at every craft  (verse 4) and that He (the Lord) has given special skills to these naturally talented craftsman (verse 5). As I underlined these verses, I thought about how it is God who gives us our skills and abilities. Those things that we’re good at are not for our own glory or because we are ‘good’ but because God has given us gifts for His work. We can trust that if God is calling us to do something, He will provide the skills and abilities necessary to accomplish the task. (That includes raising children, I think!)

As I continued reading, I came to the verse above that notes that the Sabbath is a day to REMEMBER that God is the Lord who makes us holy. I think we forget or neglect that the Sabbath is a special day and assume that because Jesus healed on the Sabbath that it’s no longer a rule. But I fear that we have missed that the Sabbath was actually a gift from God. Sure, it was a requirement, but when God talks about the Sabbath in His Word it’s for our benefit. It’s a day of rest and a day to remember that God is the One in charge; a day to set aside responsibilities and worry and to rest in Who God is and what He has done.

Why do I worry when God is the One who gives us our skills and abilities? Why do I worry when it’s God who is ultimately responsible for all creation? I obviously need to do my part in obeying His voice and commands, but then I need to rest in Him. I need to put everything aside and focus on the One who answers prayers and lovingly guides us.

This morning my devotions included Exodus 34:21-24 “…but on the Sabbath day you must rest, even during the seasons of plowing and harvest…” Even in our busiest times when we feel like we must keep pressing on, keep going, keep toiling, keep getting just one more thing done, don’t let anything fall through the cracks, keep pushing… God tells us that we are to stop, rest and REMEMBER that He is God. He also notes that no one will attack or conquer the land when His people obey His instructions to appear before Him (Exodus 34:24). In other words, He is the One who protects and provides and will honor our obedience to His commands.

When we feel overwhelmed at all that we have to do, concerned that we’re not doing enough or doing things perfectly right, or even downright worried about how to be everywhere at once as the protector of our kids, we’ve missed an important life lesson. God is the One who gives us our skills, abilities and gifts. God is in charge of us and our protection. God Himself tells us to rest and REMEMBER Him by keeping the seventh day of the week holy and set apart for Him. Exodus 34:14 reminds us that God is passionate about His relationship with us. Are we as passionate about knowing Him? Can we take one day a week and remember Who our help comes from?

I have not been great at honoring this command, but I’m going to try to be purposeful in REMEMBERING Who God is when I start to worry. I will cast my cares on God who cares for us. While I’m doing my best with my kids and with my research, I’m going to give all of it to God, as He is the One who provides the skills and abilities necessary to do what He’s called us to. And if you’ve found yourself in a season of worry and fret, anxiety or fear, or even just feeling down like there has to be more, then I want to encourage you to take a day of rest to intentionally REMEMBER who God is. He is passionate about His relationship with His people, and He is our protector and provider and more…

Dear Heavenly Father, please forgive us that we’ve treated your holy Sabbath as just another day to get work done. Forgive that we have not been intentional in remembering your covenant of love. Thank You for providing healing, forgiveness and life through the blood of Jesus. We don’t want to forget what You have done or take it for granted. And we don’t want to worry when You have everything in Your hands and in Your control. Help us to do our best with the life You have called us to. Please provide us with the skills and abilities we need to do what we need to do. But, help us remember that You don’t guide us to where we will flounder, if we will obey Your instructions and Your Holy Spirit. We ask You to continue to lead us on this journey – may we follow where You call us and enjoy a relationship with You forever. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!

A Day to Remember, a Day to Teach

When you enter the land the Lord has promised to give you, you will continue to observe this ceremony. Then your children will ask, ‘What does this ceremony mean?’ And you will reply, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt. And though he struck the Egyptians, he spared our families.’ When Moses had finished speaking, all the people bowed down to the ground and worshiped.” (Exodus 12:25-27)

Monday morning, I read Exodus 12 and 13 and saw parallels to the holiday being observed, Memorial Day. I saw many folks post things online that said something to the effect of not taking the day for granted as just another day off, but think about those who died for our freedom. Sadly, for many holidays, we just go through the motions of our typical holiday activities (for example, grilling out and going swimming in the freshly-opened pool) without stopping to fully appreciate what the day means. We LOVE the day off work and the time with our friends and family and give perhaps a two-second thought to the real reason for celebration.

The Bible gives very specific instructions for remembering important events. Each year, the Israelites were to take off work and celebrate a ceremony. This time was important and the instructions were to be passed on permanently throughout the generations. Specifically, it was a time to pause and reflect. Children would notice the difference in activities and ask why. Their hearts and minds would be open to learning what was going on, and it was the parents’ responsibility to reply with the truth about what God had done. Each generation was to tell the next of God’s faithfulness – how God rescued the Israelites from slavery, how they lived in freedom because of God’s mighty power and generous care and concern for His people. The parents were to use these celebrations to teach their children, who would teach their children, who would teach their children, and so on…forever!

On the seventh day you must explain to your children, ‘I am celebrating what the Lord did for me when I left Egypt.’ This annual festival will be a visible sign to you, like a mark branded on your hand or your forehead. Let it remind you always to recite this teaching of the Lord: ‘With a strong hand, the Lord rescued you from Egypt. So observe the decree of this festival at the appointed time each year.” (Exodus 13:8-10). Again in verse 14, the Bible says that children will ask “what does this mean” and again it says that that the ‘holiday’ or festival was a visible reminder.

We have been given a challenging and awesome responsibility to raise our children – not just keep them fed, keep them safe and keep them well-behaved. We need to teach our children about what God has done. We need to instruct our kids about why we observe holidays and ceremonies. We need to show our children the truth and give them opportunities to ask questions to lead them on the right path. Parenting is hard, but it’s of utmost importance. Sadly, it can be easier to focus on ourselves – to check out on electronics or spend our time selfishly pursuing our own passions and goals without giving our little ones the necessary quality time to truly teach them. Recently I’ve seen so many folks saying “what has the world come to?!?!” I think teaching the next generation to fear God and honor the Bible is where a change for the better can take shape. These boys in my home will be part of the leadership of tomorrow. If I want to see the world change, I need to do my part in teaching, reminding, encouraging, and remembering…

Father God, thank You for Your mighty acts and strong power. Thank You for what You did and who You are. Please help us teach our children about You and to fear You. Please reveal Yourself to them through Your Word and Holy Spirit. May we not forget why we celebrate holidays or why we take days of rest. Help us instruct and encourage our little ones to make godly choices for Your glory. May the world be changed for the better, and will You help us as You did the Israelites. Break any ties of slavery to sin and help us live in freedom, light and love. We thank You and praise You. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!

Rising Above Discouragement

“So Moses told the people what the Lord had said, but they wouldn’t listen anymore. They had become too discouraged by the increasing burden of their slavery.” Exodus 6:9

Have you heard the expression, ‘it might get worse before it gets better?’ The above verse in Exodus jumped off the page to me this week as I read it. The people had recognized that God had “seen their misery and was deeply concerned for them” so they worshiped Him (Exodus 4:31b). But, they weren’t immediately rescued. Instead, their situation got considerably worse. They were ordered to make the same quota of bricks and needed to go gather their own straw and got punished for not being able to keep up with the increased demands.

“So Moses went back to the Lord and protested, ‘Why have You mistreated Your own people like this, Lord? Why did You send me? Since I gave Pharaoh Your message, he has been even more brutal to Your people. You have not even begun to rescue them!” (Exodus 5:22-23, emphasis mine).

When life gets harder, we tend to point our finger at God. Why, oh Lord, are YOU doing this to us? We know that God is all knowing and all powerful, so we believe that hardships we face must be His fault. How often we miss seeing the bigger picture! Moses accused God of not even beginning to rescue His people. But, was that the case? NOT AT ALL! God had a plan. God had a purpose. God had heard His people’s cries. God did not allow His people more hardship than they could face. And God had already sent Moses to begin the process. It got worse (and it was going to get worse still) … but God knew the ultimate outcome was that His people were going to be free. Plus, He was going to “multiply [His] miraculous signs and wonders in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 7:3) and show everyone that He alone was God.

We have read this story before, and we know the ending. But His people didn’t at that time. They had no idea why God would allow their suffering to increase. In fact, when Moses went to tell them the following message from the Lord “I am the Lord, and I will free you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with mighty power and great acts of judgment. I will make you my own special people and I will be your God. And you will know that I am the Lord your God who has rescued you from your slavery in Egypt. I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It will be your very own property. I am the Lord!” (Exodus 6:6-8), they wouldn’t listen because they had become too discouraged.

My dear discouraged friend, let me speak this into your very being, “NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR GOD!” When your circumstances show that only God can rescue you, that’s when He has your attention – and even the attention of those around you – to display His awesome signs and wonders. We serve a living God! A God who is still in the miracle-working business. A God who is still GOOD. Still TRUSTWORTHY. Still full of MERCY, GRACE and COMPASSION. We serve a God who still sees the suffering of His people and remembers His covenant of love. We can call Him Father and trust in His good plans and purposes. If you are feeling utterly discouraged, then I encourage you to shift your focus from yourself to the Holy God of the Bible. The Israelites quit listening, quit believing… but that didn’t stop God from moving.

In case you’re reading and you need to hear this, the people saw the plagues (even experiencing some of them). They had more lows coming, but when they left Egypt, not only were they free, they had ‘plundered’ the Egyptians who had given them gifts of riches and clothing and wealth. They left on a high note with God in their sights. They were FREE… but may we not forget that there was a time where they didn’t listen when God said, “I’m here. I’m listening. I haven’t forgotten. My time is perfect. Trust me.” Today, let this seep into your soul when discouragement sets in. Remember God’s perfect Word and that His story in your life isn’t finished yet…

Father God, we ask You to open our eyes that we may see You. Open our ears during times of discouragement that we may hear Your truth. Open our hearts that we might feel Your love. Open our mouths to praise You alone. We believe that only You are God. We believe that You alone can rescue and save. We believe that You can free us, heal us, make us who You desire us to be. And we believe that Your timing is perfect. May Your Name be glorified in our lives as we wait for You. We trust You to act as only You can. We worship You today. Please forgive our sin that we may worship in spirit and truth. We love You. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!

The Paralyzing Fear of…FAILURE!

“But who am I to appear before Pharaoh?” Moses asked God. “How can you expect me to lead the Israelites out of Egypt?” Exodus 3:11

Moses was one of the greatest leaders of all time, yet when he was first called, he protested to God that he wasn’t good enough for the job. When I was reading from Exodus this week, these verses resonated with what I’m beginning to recognize in myself. I have an extremely deep fear of failing. And I doubt I’m the only one.

Sadly, if I don’t believe I can successfully do something, I’m likely not to try at all. Recently I was invited to do a program that would be good for me, but I didn’t sign up for it for fear that I couldn’t stick with it. I read in a psychology book that there’s something deep within us that feels like we need to stick with our commitments. If we don’t, we experience internal turmoil. I definitely feel that – to the point that I won’t even try to commit if I don’t believe in my heart I can finish.

Why do people not run for political office when we need good candidates? Why do folks not try out for plays or team sports? Not move to a new area for a potentially great life change? Not try to achieve their dreams? I think it’s a fear of failure that paralyzes us from moving forward. We’ve pushed this fear down so long that we don’t even recognize it as such and instead make up a million excuses as to why something won’t work for us, for our schedules, for our lives.

Recently my family went to a water park and my oldest son and I went down this huge tube slide. At the end of it, the force of the water shoots the raft out of the slide and straight down into a long lazy river that keeps looping around and around. If you would rather slide down the tube again instead, there’s a sign that says to get off immediately and get the ladder. The problem is that there is a STRONG undercurrent pushing all the rafts away from the ladder toward the lazy river. I climbed off the raft and lunged for the ladder with all my might to get out, thinking my son was right with me. He was trying but called out, “HELP ME! I can’t fight this current!” I grabbed his arm just in time and told him to hold onto the railing with me to get out. We made it safely to the edge without going around and around again. He was pleased that I was able to help him and he quickly walked up the steps again toward the slide. However, if he would have hesitated even for a moment, he would not have been with me. He was struggling on his own – he needed my help and knew when to ask, with his eye on where he wanted to go.

This describes life in so many ways. Do you ever struggle going round and round with the same old habits? Do you want to get out of the same patterns but the current is STRONG? Do you fear that trying may lead to failure on your own? Perhaps you’ve tried before, only to go under water with the current that continues to take you down stream, around and around again. This time is different, though. Because this time, you can call out to God who is there encouraging you to GET OUT! On your own, you can’t break the cycle. But, with God’s mighty arm, He can lead you to safety. There is nothing impossible for God.

Moses pleaded with God to pick someone else, noting that he wasn’t a good speaker and was “clumsy with words” (Exodus 4:10). You know God’s response? I love it! He asked Moses “Who makes mouths?” (Exodus 4:11). We may believe that we will fail if we try. We might be right! But, we should try anyway, because God can change both our circumstances and our own abilities! Are we able? Not at all! Is God able? YES! And if He’s calling you, He will lead you.

I also love that God sent Aaron along with Moses (Exodus 4:14). Sometimes we are less likely to stick with something new if we’re on our own. Ask God to show you who you can talk to about your situation. Chances are, He already has someone in mind to pray with you and encourage you or to travel with you through your circumstances. And feel free to email me (or drop a comment below), and I will pray for you as well. If you think of it, please pray for me, too. May we do what we know God is calling us to do without hesitation!!!

Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for Your timeless word. Thank You that Moses wasn’t perfect, but the Bible isn’t about him. It’s about You and YOUR ability to lead Your people. Moses was simply Your instrument, and we humbly ask that You enable us to be useful instruments as well. May You be glorified in all we say and do. God, I specifically pray for anyone reading this right now, that they would break free of the fear of failure and take that small step toward Your healing and grace. May we realize that failing is just quitting. If we fall, we need to get back up by Your power alone. If we try and don’t succeed, may we trust that Your plan and Your timing is wonderful. May we sense Your heart and what You have in mind. Please speak clearly to us and remove our fear of failure. May we trust in You fully. In Jesus’ powerful and precious name, AMEN!

Bring Your Best Offer(ing)

Have you ever read a verse in your Bible that you keep thinking about over and over again, almost like a song getting stuck in your head? My reading has progressed to Revelation again and I read these verses from the fifth chapter a couple days ago:

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. And when He had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
because You were slain,
    and with Your blood You purchased for God
    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

The following day I read from the eighth chapter:

And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.

Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand.

Let me pause and say that I recognize that Revelation speaks of end times and heavenly beings and is a lot to comprehend, even for devout Christians. But did you notice in both those chapters that the prayers of God’s people were being offered to God with incense as an offering (likely a pleasing aroma)?

It made me think about what my prayers typically consist of. We give thanks at dinner, but it’s become more of a ritual than true thanksgiving, if I’m being honest. We are thanking God for our food, but there are times that we’re more focused on what’s in front of us than honoring God for giving it to us. Then there are the typical hurried prayers, “Lord, please find me a parking space! I hate that there’s never enough parking on campus!” or the prayers for safety “God, please keep my kids safe at school and please keep us safe as we drive on these slick roads. AMEN!” I honestly believe God cares about the details of our lives (Psalm 37:23) and that when we don’t have something it’s because we haven’t asked God for it (James 4:2). So praying without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17) is important – we can talk to God about what we need and what’s on our minds because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7)! But is prayer solely to be about our needs, wants or demands?

In looking at how Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He began with saying “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” (Luke 11:2). This prayer started by declaring the holiness of God, the greatness of His name, which leads us into a mindset of declaring that God is righteous and holy. Our Heavenly Father is loving and cares deeply for our needs – doesn’t that inspire us to thank Him with truly grateful hearts and declare His praise? Do we honor Him with our prayers, our mind, our speech and our lives? Or have we gotten so busy that we have come down with a bad case of the “gimme gimme’s.”

When the prayers mentioned in Revelation are offered to God along with incense, I want there to be an offering from me, from my family, from my friends and from anyone reading this post. Take a moment to praise God, to offer a prayer about His awesomeness, to thank Him for all He is and all He does. He is worthy of our time and our sincere affection!

Father God, thank You for Your holy Word. Thank You for reminding us of who You are and all that You have done. God, You have continued to bless us from the moment time began up until this very second. Your plans for our lives are good, and Your timing is perfect. Your plans for eternity will come to pass, and nothing can stop You because You are Lord over all. May Your kingdom come and Your will be done. Thank You for being holy, honest, pure, true, loving, gracious, compassionate and merciful. We praise You, glorify You and love You! Please receive our prayers as an offering that pleases You. In Jesus’ name we pray, AMEN!

One More Time!

Yesterday as I was reading a familiar story, one line stuck out to me so much that I thought about it all day (and thought it was worth sharing with you). Luke 5 (NLT) begins:One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon (Peter), its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”

“Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.

When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m too much of a sinner to be around you.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. 10 His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.

Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” 11 And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.”

This time as I read the story, I thought about the fact that these men had worked hard all night long. They were likely exhausted and perhaps even frustrated that they had been working and yet unsuccessful. I think it would be safe to say that they were ready to go home, give in the towel, call it a day. But Jesus said to go deeper and try again. Simon Peter told Jesus (humbly, I will add) we already tried that, Lord! And it got us nowhere!!! We’ve already worked ALL NIGHT and caught NOTHING!!! But instead of quitting because of his present reality, he obeyed, noting “But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.”

We know the rest of the story – they weren’t just successful, they were overwhelmingly successful! So much so that Simon Peter recognized Jesus as Lord.

But, what if instead of obeying the men had said, “This sucks, I quit!” What if in their exhaustion of working hard and having nothing to show for it, they gave up? What if they didn’t listen when Jesus beckoned them to go deeper, to try again, to listen to His calling…

There are many times I want to give up in my own life when I don’t see progress. Lord, I’ve tried! I’m done! But, instead God gently says…”go deeper, try again.” My lifelong struggle has been losing weight, including eating healthier and exercising. I’ll have success and then slide back into old habits of finding emotional comfort in food and drink or enjoying sleep rather than exercise. I want it to come easy and it just doesn’t. I continue to find myself in a place where I need to ask the Lord for His help and His healing. It’s easy for me to say “God, I tried really hard and I just couldn’t…” but He sweetly beckons and reminds me that success comes when He is part of the solution.

My struggle may not be an area that you wrestle with, but I think this applies to more than just being healthy. Rocky marriages, balancing a budget, parenting, getting along with others… it’s easy to say “I tried. I gave it a good effort. It still didn’t work,” and then give up. “I tried showing my spouse I love them, but they still don’t listen to me… I worked really hard this month and I still can’t pay the bills… I tried to give my kids loving attention and they still acted out…. I tried to be forgiving to that person and they are still awful…” DON’T GIVE UP! Instead invite Jesus into your boat. Ask for His help and guidance. Where can you go deeper with Him? How can He help you succeed?

Did the men’s successful catch come from their efforts? Hardly! While they did the work, God receives the glory for turning the situation around. And I believe wholeheartedly that He can do the same today.

Go deeper. Try again. Obey God.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank You that Your Word is alive and meaningful. Thank You for providing practical tips to us. Lord, we’ve worked hard for a long time. We’re tired and ready to give up. But, we hear You say “Go deeper and try again.” We desire to obey. But, Lord, our success only comes from You. If you’re not with us in the boat and helping us, we will only fail again. We humbly ask for You to draw near to us and be part of the solution. May You receive the glory for the turn around in our situation. May we be so overwhelmingly successful that we call to others to join us! May we live for You… In Jesus’ Name we pray, AMEN!

The Worst Day…With a Happy Ending

Yesterday, friends invited us to check out the East Lansing Art Festival. Their family has three little boys similar ages to ours, and we truly enjoy hanging out with them! We were both impressed at how large this event was. Multiple streets were lined with tents and vendors offered items ranging from homemade crafts to unique art pieces. Ryan went from being held by Daddy to walking hand-in-hand with me to holding hands with Joshua. The kids were all happily playing together and the parents were chatting and keeping an eye on the larger group. I was impressed with not only the size of the event but also the number of people who were in attendance! It was a pretty crowded area.

After walking a block or so and looking at the “artsy” side, we purchased some water bottles (it was a hot day!) crossed a very busy intersection of the main street of traffic to the other side that offered more crafty-type wares. We stopped for our friends to buy yard stakes, and then we walked a bit for me to buy a personalized wooden flag sign. Ryan had been playing with his water bottle, walking next to Joshua but not holding his hand. Shawn was right behind him and Sandy went into the tent with me to help me pick out a sign. Their 4-year-old son accompanied us gals while the men stayed out with the other kids. Shawn thought Ryan went in with us and saw what he thought was the top of his head in between Sandy and me. While the man personalized my sign, Shawn came in to make sure Ryan wasn’t being a handful. He realized that Ryan wasn’t in the tent after all (their son who’s roughly the same size had already left to join the other boys).

“Where’s Ryan?” Shawn casually asked. “With you,” was my casual response. I paid the man and thanked him, and turned my attention to Shawn, who now looked a little distraught. “I’m going to go back the way we came and look for him.” I now realized Ryan was really not with the men. Still, I wasn’t panicked. I assumed he was nearby and we just didn’t see him in the crowd. Sandy offered to go another direction to look. I demanded of Joshua, “You were holding hands with Ryan the last I had looked.. Which way did he go?!?” Joshua was still having fun with the other boys and shrugged, “I don’t know. He wasn’t with me.” Of course an 8-year-old isn’t responsible for his younger brother. Still, I would have thought one of the kids may have seen him walk away. Which way? They shrugged. I went forward a bit while the boys stayed at the tent where we had just made a purchase with Tim. Meanwhile, Shawn and Sandy went through two separate rows of vendors. I love Ryan dearly but I didn’t think he would have the wherewithal to go back the way we came to try and find us. I assumed he got lost in his own little world of tossing his water bottle in the air like the older boys had been doing and he kept walking when we stopped. I also thought he would probably find one of the many, many dogs that owners had brought to the event and stop to pet it.

I very casually walked up and down looking for him, calling “Ryan! Ry?” to see if he would hear my voice and come running. I also listened for his little voice as he’s not typically too quiet. No one answered. I walked back, thinking Shawn must have found him and brought him back. I saw both Shawn and Sandy circle back, still with no Ryan in hand.

We all started looking a little more panicked as the minutes since we had last seen him were starting to tick by. I didn’t like the look on their faces that was mirroring what I felt in my heart. I quickly and definitively grabbed my older boys and insisted that they walk with me rather than wait by the tent where I had made my purchase. If Ryan were in that area, he would have come out by now. At this point, I didn’t want to be separated from any of my babies.

I continued with my instinct that he had kept walking, dreading that we were coming up to another intersection (although a less busy road). Tim walked back to the road we had crossed. He wanted to make sure Ryan didn’t try to cross the street that had heavily congested traffic. Sandy started talking to vendors, describing Ryan and asking them to hold onto him if they noticed him walking by. I started to yell louder and louder for him, not caring if people thought I was crazy. I didn’t want to sound upset, but I desperately wanted him to hear me and come running to me. I was also listening for him in between my calling his name. “RYAN! RY?!?! Where are you, buddy?”

At this point, I told my other two boys we needed to pray together. We immediately did out loud “Please, God, protect Ryan. Keep him safe. Bring him back to us quickly. Please help us! You’re our only hope. Please God, this is my son…he’s just a baby!” At this point, I realized Ryan had been gone too long. Our chances of finding him were getting less and less with every passing minute. As I rounded the corner I saw even more tents lining the next street with even more people. But I didn’t think he would go this far happily on his own without recognizing we weren’t there with him…

For the past two weeks, Ryan hadn’t slept very well. Shawn and I had had a conversation about feeling like Ryan was scared to be alone. He wouldn’t go into another area of the house by himself even and was barely sleeping, crying out for me in the night. I had asked my little man what was going on – why was he crying at night when he needed his sleep (and I did too!). His response had been that he wanted to snuggle me. I had told him to save his snuggles for daytime hours… Now I desperately wanted a snuggle from him!

I thought of Ryan’s fear of being alone and I started feeling sick in the pit of my stomach. “RYAN! RY!?!?! WHERE ARE YOU, BUDDY?!?!?” I continued to call for him. We continued to search the area. A woman came up to me and said “Can we help you?” I burst into tears and blurted out “My 3-year-old son is lost and all alone and we can’t find him anywhere!” This sweet shopper started mobilizing a team. “Her son is 3!” she shouted. “Help find this lady’s son!” More and more people came up and offered to help. Angels, I tell you! It takes one person to make the choice to help that leads others to recognize that help is needed and pitch in.

“What is he wearing?” someone asked. I described his very simple navy blue shirt and jeans. I groaned inwardly and thought to myself, why don’t I dress him in neon yellow? I heard people say, “Wow! He’s only three?” Folks who had heard me calling a name before suddenly realized how serious the situation was. People started looking and calling his name – he’s 3, wearing blue and his name is Ryan – GO! A woman sent her teenage kids to start looking for a 3-year-old blond boy with blue eyes. Minutes continued to fly by… “RYAN! RY?!?! WHERE ARE YOU, BUDDY?”

I tearfully continued searching until someone said “A boy that fits that description is with a police officer in the information tent.” I felt a surge of hope! “Don’t worry, Mom, he looked very happy and peaceful,” they consoled me. This is what didn’t sit well. Peaceful? Ryan wouldn’t be peaceful without us. Even at night he cries if we’re not in bed next to him. Truly, he’s not even peaceful with us at times. He had been whining how hot he was and how he wanted a balloon yo-yo much of the afternoon. Happy and peaceful…was this found boy the same kid we were looking for? Still, I had to find out! I had to hope it was, even though I was a little doubtful. Where? Where was the information booth? Even if it wasn’t Ryan, that might be a good place to check and get some help.

No one seemed to know where the booth was. I followed a woman who was trying to get her bearings with all the tents and people and we walked all over and through a large building to the other side…on and on we kept going. As we raced, my older boys complained that they were having a hard time keeping up. I was pulling them along, anxious to find the information booth and my Ryan! As we kept walking and walking, the strong doubts that this was my son started to creep in. Really? This far? He wouldn’t have gone this far on his own… I heard people tell each other “They found him. You can stop searching.” I wanted to scream “Don’t stop! What if this isn’t the same child?!?” I literally felt sick. What if this wasn’t my son and I was being led far away from where we had last seen him? I was starting to panic, but this was the only “lead” we had.

The thought crept in, “What if someone took him?” We hadn’t found him after searching a long time in that area. He wouldn’t go this far. What if…I tried to push those thoughts out of my head. If this boy wasn’t Ryan, I wasn’t sure what I would do….I couldn’t think about it. I had to keep pushing.

We arrived at the information booth, and there was no police officer and no Ryan waiting for us. WHAT?!?! The woman there said, “Someone told us that a frantic mom was searching for her missing son on the other side, so the police officer was walking the boy over that way to try to find you. Stay here, and he’ll come back eventually. Don’t worry, the boy is calm and fine.” Minutes passed. No Ryan. Do I wait here, far away from where I felt we should be looking? Yet, the three of us (Shawn, Sandy and myself with my other kiddos) had walked up and down that area with absolutely no success. Others were looking and hadn’t spotted him. Tim was still stationed with their kids by the busy street, not thinking that strangers would allow a small child to cross alone but not wanting to take the chance…

I texted Shawn that they may have found Ryan, and he came running to where we were, only to find no child. I wanted to leave, but everyone cautioned, “Stay.” What seemed like an eternity later, Sandy tearfully came up with the police officer and with a very calm Ryan who was happy to see us. My rigid body relaxed as I let out a gleeful sigh and scooped him into my arms. I tearfully told him “Mommy was lost! I was sad I couldn’t find you!” I didn’t want to make him panic but he said “Yeah, I couldn’t find you either.” We thanked the police officer and I hugged my boy! Sandy said she ran into the police officer who was bringing Ryan around to the area where we had been. When she saw the officer and Ryan, she started to cry and explained to him, “I’m not the mom but I’m with her!” She had also started fearing the worst and had suggested earlier to her husband that we should call the police. Now she was able to tell him that Ryan had been found. Tim went with his kiddos and bought them all the balloon yo-yo’s that Ryan had been asking for since he had seen theirs.

Their family continued to look around as I told Shawn that I had had enough excitement for the day…we headed back home, and then their family came over later to hang out. I told Shawn it had been a rough day (even with our car battery dying…another story!). But, it was a good day when we realized that all of our kids were home safe with us. Thank You, God, for protecting our boys!

The situation made me think about parents whose story doesn’t have a happy ending…how do you reconcile that in your mind? I don’t have a great answer, but I still trust that I have a great God. I am humbled and grateful that our boys are okay.