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imag0562I was asked, what is the one thing in your closet you should probably throw out? If anyone else rummaged through my clothes, they’d most likely choose the ratty ol’ black sweater. It’s faded, a bit threadbare, and stretched out of shape. But it still hangs in my closet…for a reason.

When my mother passed away, my sister, niece and sister-in-law gathered with me in her bedroom to sort and pack up her things. What to give away and what to throw away? None of us felt we could handle the task alone. What began in solemn sorrow ended in tearful laughter. Morphed into little girls again, we tried on “mommy’s clothes.”  We shared memories of when she wore this or that.  We snickered over some of her choices in fashion. We paraded around the room in various items. In the end, we each took a few as mementos. I chose the black sweater, already worn with age.

Even now, years later, whenever I’m feeling a bit down, I slip my arms through that ratty old sweater. It is almost as if my mom is hugging me once again. I feel the secure warmth I felt as a child. When my husband passed away, I wore that thing a lot, even out in public. I didn’t care. Mom had become a widow far too early as well. I knew she’d understand.

Paul spoke of God’s comfort He give us to pass on to others. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 13:3-4  

My mother was a deep believer even though she suffered many sorrows including the death of two children and my father becoming a POW in WWII.  She lived with his resulting PTSD that turned into depression and alcoholism. Through it all, she used her experiences to God’s glory and comforted many during her 80 plus years on earth, especially the last few decades. At her funeral I heard many stories that testified to that fact. When I wrap myself in that sweater, I feel her God-endowed wisdom and comfort.

Yes, I should probably toss it away, but I doubt I will. In a way it has become my prayer shawl. One day, after I am gone, maybe the women in my family will go through my clothes. Someone will snicker and wonder why I kept that old thing. Then she will feel the urge to slip her arms through its sleeves. I think when she does, she’ll realize why.

 

 

 

 

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I shake my head and wonder how is this going to turn out? I don’t see how it can…

Lately I have been watching old reruns of the late Bob Ross with his reddish-brown afro as he painted his wet canvas masterpieces. You may recall his Joy of Painting shows on public stations as he donned his brushes and made happy little trees and mountains in the 1980’s and 1990’s. He blotched on color with a regular painter’s brush and as the Van Dyke brown, Titanium white and Phtalo blue splotches appeared on the liquid white or black gesso coated canvas, many like me wondered what on earth he was doing.  I found myself thinking, I don’t see how this will turn into a tree or a mountain. But it did.

watercolor-1968058_640Lately my life has been a grouping of blotches. Things are muddled, not really in focus.  Reading a Bible lesson a few days ago, one verse suddenly appeared in bold and a larger font in my mind. “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” (John 13:7)

I sputtered the sip of hot tea. Tingles zipped over my chest and up into my neck. Tears welled in my eyes. It was one of those God-zapped-me-with-His-love moments.

Often times I think we are not meant to see how the canvas of our circumstances will turn out. Instead, we have to trust the Master painter. Let the brushstrokes form the image He has in mind and watch the process, trusting He is the expert and knows what He is doing. Eventually a picture will emerge as a testimony of His handiwork. paintbrush-315638_640

As things take shape, then we will begin to understand. Oh, now I see how…

Lord, may my life be your blank canvas so all can witness Your work in my life and marvel at the masterpiece you are creating in Your timing and for Your purpose. Prevent me from the desire to snatch the brush from Your expert hands and finish it the way I think it should be in my amateurish mind.

 

 

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Do you ever feel stretched to the limit? To the breaking point?

At our family property on the river is a limb that stretches out over the water.  I used to hear my mother say her father swore it would break  off in the next flood…over and over. Then she said it. All my life I have watched it survive flood after flood. But it keeps growing and stretching out over the water.

13895276_10153954462103759_8859009914868406550_nWhen my mother was a child, it came out to the second tuft of branches you see, the ones hanging down toward the water by the backdrop of the white cement of the “old dock”. When I was a child, it had grown to the length of the third tufts, right under where you see the blue raft perched on the dock.  When my son was a child, it had grown to the little notch before it bows up again. He is now in his thirties.

It seems floods give it even more gumption to grow! A tree expert once told us the branch’s strength is in the fact that it has kept stretching. It remains pliable and can bounce and dip with the waves when the flood waters rage.

It makes me think of our lives as believers. If we can keep stretching towards Christ (The Living Water) and still stay attached to Him (The Vine), even if our lives flood with stress and bad happenings, we can bounce back time and time again.

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.  Psalm 1:3

Prosper as in grow.

Swimmers and canoers stop by our branch daily during the summer months and can’t help but grab onto it.  Fishermen dangle traut lines off of it hoping to catch dinner. Daring folk, young and old, try to tightrope walk it. Generations have grown up watching that limb, fascinated by it. Strangers point at it and marvel.

May my life be like that.

Lord, keep stretching me to reach out to You, knowing that You will be my strength despite the odds. Keep me pliable to Your will. Help me to stay anchored to You, the eternal vine- trunk, no matter what comes my way or what others say. In You alone can my hope be found. Let me branch out and draw others to you, fascinated by my growth. To You be the honor and glory. Amen.

 

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A post-Christmas God-lesson: It looked so bare!

The Twelve Days of Christmas came to an end. So with a heavy sigh, I boxed up all the Christmas decorations. The tree, the wreaths, the garland and stockings on the mantle, the potted poinsettias (fake because the real ones are highly toxic to cats), and of course my two Creche scenes with the Holy family and my advent wreath and candles.

space-1715058_640I stacked the boxes in the back of my closet, stretched the kink from my lower spine, and walked back into the living room.

My heart sank. It appeared so bare.

Okay-maybe not as bare as in this photo, but in my mind it looked about the same.  Perhaps you have had that experience.

It made me wonder how that manger over 2,000 years ago looked after the Holy family vacated it. Did the innkeeper scratch his head in confused wonder and whisper to the livestock, “Funny, it never looked this barren before.”

As I pouted, God tapped my soul’s shoulder. Julie-I’m still here.

“I know, God. You are always there. It’s just at Christmas it seems we can see You more easily. Joy and good cheer, charity and giving make the season bright. It is as if we finally take being Your light in the world seriously.”

I heard His celestial chuckle. Christmas is the incarnation of me coming into the world, dwelling in flesh. Now, I dwell in you, and every Christ believer. You carry on my incarnation, guided by my Holy Spirit. Right before I ascended into heaven I said, “Lo I am with you always.” I meant that. You don’t need to see a figurine of me as a baby lying a manger to remind you of that fact, do you? You don’t need a candle flame or a star topping a tree to know I am the Light, correct?

I cast my gaze downward and dug my toe into the carpet. “No, Lord.” Then my mood brightened. I glanced around my living room, and then to the ceiling.

“Lord, may my life, as it begins 2017, be a bare room. May You, as the months go by, fill it to Your glory so everyone I meet knows You are here, even it is is not the Christmas season. Decorate it as You please.”

I think He smiled.

After all that is the theme of this blog, which He inspired, and ID-100141400it has been for the past four years. May this blog be filled to His glory this year with ways I’ve found God in my daily journey so you can be encouraged to seek Him in your day as well.

 

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There are many posts, blogs, articles and thoughts about the New Year. Make a resolution or not. Turn over a new leaf. Find a meaningful word. What is our focus?

ID-10018835If it is on us, then perhaps it is why we seem to fall short each year. After all, Paul reminds us that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

I once heard that both SIN and PRIDE have “I” in the middle. In today’s “me-ism”  world of selfies and all-about-me introverted thinking, our society suffers from too much of a focus on ourselves and not others. Whether we meet our goals or not, the focus is still the same…it is on us. How quickly that can absorb us, right?

In contrast, the Christian is supposed to strive to be more other-focused. Paul also told the Philippians, and tells us –

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!  (2:3-8)

ID-10024045Perhaps, instead of focusing on how we should change, become more aware, adjust our weight, habits, etc. we need to shift our focus to the Cross. Not rely on our own strength, or even ask God to give us strength, but for Him to be our strength. May we choose to be other-orientated and open to being used to His glory. Let God set the path, and be pliable enough to be molded in the way He wishes so we can be His hands and feet in this world and point others to Him, not ourselves.

Who knows. In the process, we might discover by the end of 2017 we met our original “goals” after all. I personally pray I will have done infinitely more than just that – because my actions and reactions will have eternal consequences either way.

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I strolled up the sidewalk to the church and noticed a grackle (Texas black bird and all around menace) pecking at side exit  door as if it wanted inside. It was the fellowship time between Sunday school and worship. That side door led into the room where people gathered for snacks and coffee.

grackle-591594_640Perhaps the grackle saw it’s reflection in the sunscreen-filmed glass, or maybe a juicy bug crawled up the door. I couldn’t be sure. But the bird pecked on the door then waddled back a few steps, cocked its head, and once again approached and pecked the glass.

What seemed odd is that there weren’t ten other grackles around. They usually flock together. This male seemed to be all alone. That’s when I noticed one wing dangling at a weird angle. It didn’t tuck in like the other one. My heart sank. The poor thing probably couldn’t fly. He’d been abandoned.

Then an unusual thing happened. One of the elderly men of our congregation wedged the door open. I watched as only his head and one arm peeked out. He crumbled part of a cookie onto the ground at the stoop. It took a half a second for the grackle to grab a piece.  Maybe I am personifying, but to me the bird’s demeanor did a 180. Crumb in beak, it held it’s head high and hopped under the safety of a parked car to gobble it’s meal. I couldn’t help but smile. Later I caught up with the man and thanked him. He seemed a touch embarrassed that someone had seen his gesture. He shrugged. “It looked hungry.”

324In our worship, right before we receive communion, there is a prayer in which we tell our Lord we know we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under His table, but He always draws us near in mercy. It is in reference to the Canaanite woman who boldly told Jesus even dogs get crumbs from the master’s table. (Matthew 15:27) Jesus commended her for her faith and answered her prayer. It reminds us worshipers that we also are in need of mercy but must have the bold faith to ask for it.

I thought of that grackle. And I wondered about all the broken people out there who feel all alone and abandoned. Ones who are not as bold as this injured bird to beg for help. Ones who may feel hesitant to tap at our church door.

Lord, may we seek out the ones in our communities who also feel they are unworthy to eat the crumbs. May we show them mercy, tend to them, and then bring them into Your midst to Your table. Amen.

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I looked at the Psalm for the day and snickered at the appropriateness. He shall come down like rain upon the mowed field, like showers that water the earth.”  Psalm 72:6

This week I felt as if a giant lawn mower had plowed over me. My publisher gave official notice it would be closing. That meant all of my books published with it would now be as if they did not exist. I’d been an author with this company for four years and produced seven fictional works, with two more in the works.

If I wanted to self-publish these works or seek a new publisher I could buy the edited, proofed and formatted manuscript, and also the cover design– for a very fair price.  But, the two others I had under contract would not ever come to fruition. The two after that I’d queried in hopes of contracting…poof.

lawn-1812944_640Like a mowed field…

The editor in chief said she’d prayed about it and felt God calling her to close the doors, even though she knew our hearts would tear as much as her own. But she went ahead and put it into motion. We all prayed mightily for her future and our own.

God took that obedience, that freshly mowed to the roots field, and showered it with a new blessing. One that will make this publishing company, and our books, grow and flourish. Had she not made public its closing, it never would have been snatched up by a well-renown publishing house.  All of our books and contracts are in tact, and will have much more exposure to the reading public. All because she agreed to let the company she’d grown from tiny seeds be mowed down, and trusted God had a plan.

My father always rushed to mow the lawn before a thunderstorm. He said it actually would help the grass grow more lush and strong after the rains came.

DSCF8863Sometimes, does not out precious Lord do the same for us? This week, a group of authors were mowed down – now we will be more lush and perhaps a bit stronger in our faith. I know soon we will all blossom in ways we never imagined.

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