Red-Letter Days

Well, it happened again. Right there in Dunkin Donuts this morning, while I was enjoying an oh-so-good vanilla chai and an oh-not-so-good chocolate mint oreo donut.  Serves me right for eating carbs AND refined sugar, I know.  But right there, in mid-bite, it happened: I had one of those “apostrophe” things.

Smee: I’ve just had an apostrophe.

Captain Hook: I think you mean an epiphany.

Smee: [gestures his fingers to his head] Lightning has just struck my brain.

Captain Hook: Well, that must hurt. (Hook)

It didn’t really hurt, but it *did* stop me, make me think, give me pause, and cause me to go “hmmm….”  And ultimately, it convicted me, which I am assuming was the point. Read the rest of this entry »

Bully for You

“You know,  you should really pray about your thighs.”

What? I stood there in disbelief, dumbfounded.  My tongue was tied, my brain on overdrive.  “What do you mean?” I managed to squeak out.

“Well, you know the Bible says, ‘If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain ‘Be moved!’ and it will be moved.’ So I think you should really consider praying about your thighs.”  And he laughed.  Caustic. Classless.  Mocking.

This so-called “friend” was part of my initiation group my freshman year of college, designed to be my support group, my “safe place” to share my fears, my struggles, my issues during my first semester away from home.  Seeing as how my family had just relocated cross-country a mere 10 days prior to my departure for college, I desperately needed someplace to call my own, a place to belong, a group to embrace me and be my family.  At that point, my thighs were the least of my worries.  Or so I thought.

It’s been over 25 years since that conversation and I can still remember the sting of his words.  I can tell you exactly what I was wearing, where I was standing, what he was wearing as he uttered that demeaning and belittling statement.  I can tell you how I stood there for what felt like hours after he turned around and left me on those stairs…in shock, incredulous that someone could be so cruel and at the same time so nonchalant.  That someone could be so insensitive and yet so ignorant.  That someone could think that pointing out my physical flaws – the same flaws I’d been teased about for years, the very thing I hated most about my body, the part of me that I believed kept me from being “beautiful” – was funny…and then wonder why I didn’t laugh, too.

It’s been over 25 years…but I still remember.

And it all came flooding back to me during this exchange I had with Crisana during her piano lesson today.  I could see in her eyes that something wasn’t quite right.  They were a little too red, a little too glossy.  She was a little to quick to react when I attempted to correct her mistakes, a little too defensive.  And so I looked at her, face-to-face, and asked, “Are you all right?”

And just like that, her face crumpled, and tears and words flooded out.

“My day was really good overall, but there was this one thing that ruined it…”

Go on, my child.  Tell me. 

“There was a boy at lunch who was being picked on by two other boys, and I stood up to them and told them it wasn’t right and that they needed to stop it.”

Good for you.  That’s my girl.

“Well, at recess, the boy being teased came and told me that the boys I stood up to were talking behind my back, saying mean things.”

What kind of mean things?

“They said…Crisana’s so FAT.  I can’t believe anyone would ever want to DATE her.”

Tears.  Sobs.  Shoulders heaving, ragged breathing.  Cutting to the very core of her self-esteem and sense of worth.  Belittling not only her physically, but also emotionally.  Unfair.  Unkind.  Unnecessary.

Oh, my sweet child.  I’m so sorry.

“Well, I *know* it’s not true…you know, the part about me being fat…and that didn’t really bother me.  What bothered me was that hey said no one would ever want to date me.  Why wouldn’t anyone want to date me?”

Oh, my heart.  Pierced clean through. Thank you, God, for protecting her self-image, for not allowing her to see her physical flaws as fatal.  For giving her confidence in herself and in who she is…and in how You created her.

“And I told him I was glad he told me…because if those boys were saying mean things about me, I would want to know.”

Pierced again, with the sword of maturity.  Thank you, God, for giving her the courage to face the arrows so carelessly launched her way by others.  For giving her the strength to stand up for herself rather than wallowing in self-pity and insecurity.

“You know, I know that one boy doesn’t get to see his real mom except maybe one week or one day a year.  And he lives with his stepmom and I’ve seen some of the texts she sends him.  I mean, she seems real nice, but some of those texts are harsh.  I bet it would be really hard not to live with your mom and I would probably feel like being mean to others if I were him.  It doesn’t make it right, but I can understand where he’s coming from.”

Another shot, courtesy of the spikes of understanding, compassion, and forgiveness.  Thank you, God, for keeping her heart tender, for not allowing bitterness and anger to create rough callouses in the soft tissue of her emotions.

“I stayed away from those two boys the rest of the day.  At P.E., I was with my friend and I told her we could go anywhere except near those two.  I just figured I didn’t need to be around that type of person.  They aren’t worth anything to me.”

And there’s the final blow…dealt by courage.  Resolve.  The power to move forward, to discard the negative and worthless and embrace the positive and uplifting.  To surround yourself with truth…about who you are, and where real beauty originates.

And with that, we were done.  All the necessary tears had been cried.  The words of affirmation, encouragement, and instruction had been spoken.  Hugs were given and received.  Smiles were shared.  Life was, once again, on an even keel.

Until bedtime.

“Mom, is it normal for it still to hurt?”

For what to hurt?

“For the bullying to hurt?  Is it normal for those words to hurt even after all this time?”

Oh, my sweet child, unfortunately yes.  Those words may hurt for a very long time.

Maybe even 25 years.  Or more.

“Goal” Post – The Year in Review

Well, 2013 is in its final, waning hours.  The year that for many of my friends was truly an “unlucky” 13th is poised to bid us a not-so-fond farewell.  We stand on the threshold of a shiny new year, a clean slate of 365 days that stretches before us with promises of new beginnings, renewed efforts, and untold opportunities.  Life just waiting to be lived.  Moments just waiting to be shared.  Time…unfilled, unplanned, unscripted…that beckons us to linger, pause, and breathe.  The anticipation of who we can become, what we can achieve, and how we can and will change our lives, our circumstances, and even our world for the better.  So much to look forward to…but first, a look back.

COMMIT.

That was my word for 2013.  Commitment – spiritually, physically, professionally, and personally – was my mantra, my guiding force, that essential principle that would help me navigate both the clear, sparkling, peaceful, tranquil waters as well as the murky, muddy, rushing floods that inevitably ebb and flow through those white calendar squares.  And I began strong.  Well-intentioned.  Purposeful.  Determined.

But somewhere along the way, as life crowded its way in, I lost my way.  Whether due to a legitimate physical condition, emotional overload, or simply laziness, I forgot God’s promise.  My commitment waned.  My vision clouded.  And instead of committing, I began merely existing.  Surviving.

Thankfully, through the glory of modern medicine and little “hugs” from my Heavenly Father, I’m working my way out of that place, back into a life of renewed commitment and focus.  But before I can begin to contemplate my next steps, it’s important to take a moment to evaluate the steps that have led me through the past 365…an honest look at the successes and failures of 2013.  Here are my goals, excerpted from my January 1 post, along with a summary statement of my progress.

Commit your [spiritual] activities to the LORD, and your plans will be achieved.

This year, with God’s help, I commit to reading through the Bible (again)….

  • Started…but only managed to get through Ruth.  Not even 50% completed.  Yikes.

to being part of a Bible study community…

  • Led women’s Bible studies in both the spring and fall semesters, in very different Bible study communities.
  • Regularly attended Sunday morning services, in the “attend one, serve one” model of Christ Fellowship.

to being active in a life group where we can learn and grow and serve as a family…

  • Made the difficult decision to join a new life group in September.  God has answered prayer in many ways regarding our new “family”, and we look forward to doing life together in the year ahead.

and to downloading and reading the weekly sermon study guides.

  • Downloading?  Absolutely, 100% committed.  Reading?  Not-so-much.  Guess there’s still some room for growth.

I also commit to helping my children establish regular quiet times

  • Helping? Yes.  Definitely.  Establish? Not yet. Looks like my knees need a few more callouses as I seek direction and guidance on this one.

and exploring how we as a family can incorporate prayer and Bible study into our busy and varied schedules.

  • Breakfast with Oswald, Saturday morning study guide discussions, Sunday brunch sermon review…exploration continues as we seek that perfect balance, that quintessential rhythm that keeps us steady.

And of course, I reaffirm my commitment to leading Moms in Prayer…

  • Thursday mornings and now Friday afternoons, though not as consistent as I’d like, keep my children covered in a blanket of God’s protection and care, and shine the light of God’s love into the dark places of their schools.

strengthening the ministry of Promiseland through my role as Worship Director…

  • Expanding my ministry wasn’t exactly *my* idea…but God thought it would be a good one, and I’m learning to embrace the challenges and rejoice in the successes.

and supporting the mission of Village of Hope, CASA, and other outreach efforts in the community.

  • “Support” was mostly financial, though we did enjoy the opportunity to get our hands and feet dirty at CASA during “Go and Be” weekend in May.

Commit your [physical] activities to the LORD, and your plans will be achieved.

In 2013, I reaffirm my commitment to overall health and physical fitness, through developing a workable exercise plan that balances cardio, flexibility and strength training in both group and individual settings… 

  • A for Effort.  Attempts to work boot camp class into my schedule, early morning solo and group runs, total body workouts and weights with my 13-year-old “gym buddy” before school…the commitment was there.  Results are still pending.  *sigh*

This year, with God’s help, I will work to finally achieve my goal of running a sub-30? 5K, a sub-60? 10K and a half marathon in 2:20 or less.

  • Again, A for effort.  Though I did not achieve these goals, I did PR on a 5K and placed 3rd in my age division, and completed two half-marathons.

Through a commitment to healthy eating, I will reach my goal weight and help my children make healthier food choices.

  • A trip back to South Beach during the summer brought results that were *close* but still fell short.  However, purchasing my first size 10 jeans and shorts since high school was a huge moral victory.

 Commit your [professional] activities to the LORD, and your plans will be achieved.

This year, I commit to honoring His leading and direction by working to improve not only my studio, but also myself as a teacher and pianist.  The first step will be to join a local piano teachers’ association and become an active member in their meetings and activities. 

  • I downloaded the application and have a commitment for a letter of recommendation.  Partial success.  Now for the follow-through.

In addition, I commit to studying and interacting with other professionals online…

  • Three online list groups, two facebook groups, and a partridge in a pear tree.  Check.

organizing my studio…

  • Have you *seen* my closet and my new shelves?  Trust me, it’s spectacular.  Portfolio folders for my students to maintain records and materials. Online spreadsheets to track payments/income/expenses.  Check.

and creating games and activities to strengthen my students’ technique and theory.

  • Yes, yes, and yes.  Not only have I created the games, I’ve actually used them.  To rave reviews from students and parents alike.  And they are all neatly organized, tagged by objective, and stored on my fantastic new shelves in my super-organized studio.

Commit your [personal] activities to the LORD, and your plans will be achieved.

This year, I commit to producing a manuscript for publication.  Not on my blog, but on real paper.  Not self-published, but produced through an actual publishing house.  And to anyone who is still reading this blog, I promise a free, autographed first-edition copy.

  •  The proposal is in the works…submission to a publishing house by the end of January.  Though it wasn’t the project *I* had envisioned, it’s the one God chose for me.  Let the Wild Goose Chase begin!

So there it is.  Commitments fulfilled.  Commitments forgotten.  Commitments achieved.  Commitments strived for.  And though there’s no glory in failure, there’s also no shame either.  May 2014 bring renewed efforts for growth, for focus, and success.  And through it all, may the God who is faithful be the One who grants success.

The First Word of Christmas

I know Christ will always be in Christmas because He is the first word.

So read the message my daughter wrote in her Christmas card to our pastor.  And once again, just like that, God spoke His truth out of the mouth – or the pen – of a child.

I know what she meant.  I know what she was trying to say.  But there’s a truth here that’s bigger than a compound word.  It’s a truth more profound than simple verbal arithmetic.  It’s a truth deeper than semantics or spelling or etymology.  It’s a truth as old as time…no, make that older than time.  It’s a truth begun in eternity past, birthed in history, bound by a promise, framed in humanity, experienced by eyewitnesses, and breathed to life by God Himself.

We read this truth in the book of John, chapter 1 verse 1:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God….and the word WAS God.  (emphasis mine)

That Word, the Word that was not only with God but was also God Himself, that word was “Christ.”   A word that in its holiest form means “anointed”…the Lord’s anointed.  Messiah.

Long before the creation of the world, long before anything we know or understand existed, Christ did.  He existed as God, but also as God’s anointed.  The chosen Messiah.  The one who – when the time was right – would be sent to redeem a fallen world and give us hope and life.  He was that as-yet unspoken word, the Word of God, the word of truth and sacrifice and victory.  And it was “Christ’s Mass” – his advent, his spectacularly miraculous appearance on the earth He himself spoke into being, using the very creatures He himself created to give Him human life – that literally spoke God’s Word into being.  He was the first – and final – Word of salvation, of restoration, of reconciliation between God and man.

For 33 years, He lived as God’s word in our world.  Through His ministry, His teachings, His example, and His life, He spoke God’s truth and taught God’s way.  And as He drew His final breath, He proclaimed these words, “It is finished.”  The first word of Christmas – Christ, the anointed one, the Messiah – had completed God’s story of salvation.  A story that ended not with defeated resignation but a victorious proclamation.

Yes, Christ will always be in Christmas.  He is the first word…as well as the final word.

And, as far as I’m concerned, the only Word that matters.

What Matters Most

Hoo-boy.  What a week.

And not in that “Christmas-is-a-week-away-and-I’m-not-done-with-my-shopping” sort of way.  No, this is far more serious.

It’s been a week where “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” has been replaced by division and strife, and ugly words – words like “racist”, “intolerant”, “hater”, to name a few – have been hurled across social media.

It’s been a week where “all is calm, all is bright” has been drowned in a deafening chaos of opinions and accusations, accompanied by darkly illumined knee-jerk reactions.

It’s been a week where “joy to the world” has been turned into anger, disappointment, and bitterness.

It’s been a week where gentlemen have been unable to “rest ye merry”.  It’s been a week where “all ye faithful” have been less “joyful and triumphant” and more  defensive and defeated.  It’s been a week where it’s been difficult to hear those angels “sweetly singing o’er the plains”, where “tidings of comfort and joy” have been few and far between, and where “God and sinners” are far from reconciled.

I say again, Hoo-boy.

This morning, a friend of mine posted a response to the famed Duck Dynasty GQ interview titled “What You Believe About Homosexuality Doesn’t Matter.”  In a matter of minutes, this link was popping up on various friends’ status updates and comment threads, with one friend-of-a-friend introducing it as “from a TRUE Christian!”

Yet again, Hoo-boy.

So I took a deep breath, and with much prayer and what I believe was the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I offered this response.  Maybe it will help some of my fellow Christ-followers navigate these murky and messy waters called “life” and shine a bright light into a dark place.  Maybe it will help us be “wise as serpents and gentle as doves” as we speak truth, extend grace, and offer hope to a world that is in desperate need.  Maybe it will help us be “true Christians” as we follow our Leader with humility and faith.

I realize I don’t know you personally, but I do know that we disagree on this issue. Your words about a “true Christian” wound me deeply. Because, you see, I love Jesus more than anyone or anything else. And I have devoted every day since I was 5 years old to knowing Him better, seeking to honor Him in all that I do, and helping others to experience the joy and peace that He brings me. And to think that because I disagree with you on the issue of homosexuality, you would cast judgement on me for not being a “true Christian” is hurtful. However, in love, and with the goal of seeking understanding, I offer my response that I shared on another friends’ wall to this same article.

Dear Mr. Blogwriter,
Please don’t ever tell me that my convictions “don’t matter.” That God’s word and His truth “don’t matter.” That His standard of righteousness and purity and holiness “don’t matter.” That Paul’s words to the Corinthian church – or any of his other churches – “don’t matter.”

What you can do, however, is to remind me that we are called to “love one another deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” You can remind me to do this because we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” You can encourage me to extend grace and “put away all bitterness, malice, wrath, slander…and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” You can remind me that love is first “patient and kind, not self-seeking”, but then “does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.” You can remind me to “speak the truth in love.” As I recall, those words are in Paul’s letters, too – some of them were even written to the Corinthian church – and I would say that yes, in fact, they do matter.

You can tell me it’s okay to rub shoulders with so-called “sinnners”…because I am one, too. You can tell me it’s perfectly acceptable to get my hands and feet dirty as I reach out to those who are “unholy”…because someone once did the same for me. You can tell me it’s my divine mandate to love the unlovely, validate the unworthy, encourage the downtrodden, and support the weak…because that’s what our Savior did for us.

And yes, what He did matters. It matters A LOT. It matters for eternity.

The Umbrella: An Anniversary Story

In the corner of our bedroom sits a large black umbrella.  Though now over twenty years old, it has never been used…and most assuredly will never be.  In fact, it’s only been held once: on a clear and sunny Texas summer afternoon.  Sadly, this umbrella will never serve the purpose for which it was manufactured.

It will, however, serve the purpose for which it was intended. Namely, reminding us what marriage should be.

You see, on that July afternoon – Saturday, July 31, 1993, to be exact – my dad walked me down the aisle of Scofield Memorial Church in Dallas.  There was no umbrella.  He was asked, Who gives this woman to be married to this man?  And still, no umbrella .  In a clear and unwavering voice, he responded with probably the most difficult five words he’d ever spoken, Her mother and I do.  His hands, void of an umbrella, let go of mine so that Matt’s could take their rightful place.

And suddenly, there he was, onstage, with an umbrella.

Her mother and I do, he began.  Five simple words, but with a depth of meaning – and here, for the first time, his voice faltered.  Cracked.  Wavered, just a bit.  A slight pause while he regained his composure.  - that I’d like to explain a bit.  And if you’ll allow me the wisdom of over 30 years of marriage, I’ll share some advice with you.  To do that, I thought of my trusty umbrella.

As he spoke, it became clear that for the first 2 1/2 decades of my life, my dad had been my umbrella-bearer: my shelter, my protector, my safe haven from the storms of life.  He held that umbrella for me during times of blazing sun as well as pouring rain.  He ensured that as long as I remained close to him, I was protected.  I was safe.

One final thing about umbrellas is that they only come with one handle.  As of today, my hand lets go of it so that yours, Matt, can take hold.  I think an umbrella would be an awkward thing for you to take on your honeymoon, so I’ll just hold on to it for a bit longer, but it will be waiting for you when you return…

And in that instant, our world changed completely.  My dad was, of course, right.  About the umbrella, about the handle, about it being awkward to take on our honeymoon…but especially about it being here when we returned.  When we arrived home, there it was.  In our apartment, nestled against the wall in the living room.  Waiting.

Since that day, you, Matt, have been my umbrella-bearer.  You have been the one to offer protection, safety, and tender care during the storms of life.  You have been the one I’ve run to when the clouds form and rain begins to fall.  You have been the one to provide relief when life blazes with white-hot intensity, and my mind and my nerves are frazzled and weary.

Sometimes, the winds blow.  Your strength to hold that umbrella steady strengthens me.

Sometimes, the lightning flashes and the thunder booms.  Your fearlessness to hold that umbrella firmly gives me courage.

Sometimes, the snow and ice pelt and sting.  Your faithfulness to hold that umbrella willingly inspires me.

Sometimes, the gentle rains fall.  Your thoughtfulness to hold that umbrella gladly encourages me.

Sometimes, the sunshine blazes.  Your forethought to hold that umbrella patiently comforts me.

May God bless you as you use this umbrella for the care and protection of this lovely woman.  His final words to you.  He shook your hand, you said, Thank you, and he sat down.  It was over.  His responsibility – as father of the bride, but also as my umbrella-bearer – was complete.  Your responsibility – as my husband, my new umbrella-bearer – had just begun.

And if I’m honest, there have been times when perhaps you’ve raised that umbrella too hastily.  There have been moments when – as cautioned – you’ve been tempted to rush to my aid when perhaps you shouldn’t.   To be fair, there have been times when I’ve resisted your encouragement to come under the umbrella, defiantly asserting my own opinions and ideas rather than listening to reason and responding to your loving concern.  But as time has passed, we’ve learned, through experience, how to get the best use out of the umbrella, when it’s needed and when it’s not, and how to raise and lower it carefully so as not to inflict harm or hurt.

So thank you, Matt, for being my umbrella-bearer these past two decades.  It’s not always easy to share space under its canopy, but there’s no one I’d rather have holding the handle than you.

Great Expectations

You’ve heard it said God moves in mysterious ways.  But what you probably didn’t know is that He also speaks at mysterious times, especially to me.
Not like Moses, who witnessed the miracle of a bush completely on fire yet not burning up.  Not like Joseph the carpenter, whose dreams blurred the line between imagination and reality.  Not like Peter, who had the incredible privilege of face-to-face time with God Himself.
Nope, my messages come quite differently.  Sometimes in the shower, sometimes over a sink full of dirty dishes.  A couple of times while I’m enduring the monotony of driving on Texas highways.  But today, it was over lunch.  Actually, it was in the midst of slicing cucumber next to a partially made turkey wrap.
But first, the backstory.  This summer, we’ve been studying the Fruit of the Spirit on Sunday mornings.  This past Sunday the message happened to be about faithfulness – our faithfulness but more importantly, God’s faithfulness.  I’d had my appetite whetted beforehand when I saw a dear friend – I call her my “cup filler” -  in between services.  As we talked, she told me that the message had been really good, something that deeply resonated with her, and that she was still processing, still thinking through much of what our pastor said.

I went in.  I listened eagerly.  I knew I needed this message, based on a situation that had arisen the previous week.  A situation where – in all honesty – though a decision has been made, God still has a hold on my heart and I am still struggling, wrestling, and earnestly seeking peace.

So now we get to today’s lunch.  As I prepared my wrap, my thoughts were filled with the blessings of VBS last night, anticipating tonight.  And then I happened to catch a glimpse of our dog.  CeCe the Wonder Dog, we call her.  She is an amazing blessing to our family – a godsend in the truest form.  I was reminded of our pastor’s example of dogs, how they teach us about loyalty and what it looks like, what true faithfulness is. When I saw CeCe, it hit me.
You see, whenever any one of us goes into the kitchen and stands at the island, CeCe shows up.  She sits.  Right there, at the corner between the island and the sink, she sits.  And she waits.  She doesn’t bark, she doesn’t whine, she doesn’t put her feet on the island to sniff around for scraps.  She simply sits, patiently…and looks.  EXPECTANTLY.  Because even in her short time with us, she has learned: we can be trusted.  We are good.  Whether it’s a word of praise, a pat on the head, or a scrap of yummy people food that “accidentally” happens to fall off the island, she knows when she sits there that something good is coming…at the hand of her Master.
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That’s when I heard the gentle promptings of my God.  Do you do the same with Me?  Do I sit at His feet, patiently, waiting for the good things He has promised?  Do I sit, quietly but expectantly, knowing that He is good and believing His promises, His word?  Because He is far more good than I am to CeCe, far more faithful, far more generous, far more loving.  Our “BIG GOD” is not only the God of an uncertain future, but He is the BIG GOD of love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  The Bible says, “against such things there is no law”…but “against such things” there is also no limit.

Last week we went on a family vacation to – of all places – Albuquerque, NM.  No reason – just a fun word to say and it’s where the dart ended up on the map.  :-)   While we were there, we visited quite a few museums. Outside the Albuquerque museum there is a sculpture by Glenna Goodacre depicting a slice of everyday life.  A couple, locked in an embrace, looks lovingly at one another, a mother reads to her young daughter, a business man checks the local paper…and this:
7-16-13 Adoring dog
I see in that dog the same expectancy I see in CeCe.  I see the same absolute belief in his goodness, the same unwavering confidence in his kindness, the same adoring love, the same trust.  And in the gentleman I see love, concern, and tenderness.  Exactly the same way God sees us.
My pastor was right.  We need to be more like dogs.  Humble.  Expectant.  Trusting.  Knowing our Master is good, and believing He will give us good things, if only we will wait patiently…and with great expectation.

Be the One

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Several years ago, I was given a book entitled 212: The Extra Degree.  The basic premise is the following:

At 211º water is hot. At 212º, it boils. And with boiling water, comes steam. And steam can power a locomotive. The one extra degree makes the difference. This simple analogy reflects the ultimate definition of excellence. Because it’s the one extra degree of effort, in business and life, that can separate the good from the great.

This week, our church has been focusing on that one degree of change, that one single degree that makes a world of difference.  Whether it’s the pinpoint accuracy of an arrow shooting from an archer’s bow or the meticulous charting of a navigator on a ship, one degree can mean the difference between reaching your goal or straying far from it…and ultimately between life and death.  Spiritually speaking, that one degree of change have a tremendous impact on not only our daily lives but also on eternity.  And this morning, the question was asked:  will you be the one God uses?

That question – those 7 simple words – challenge me deeply.  Because I can never fully know God’s plan this side of eternity, I must constantly follow, obey, and submit my wants and desires to His will and His plan.  Because I can never fully see the far-reaching effects of my words and actions, I must continually be on guard against unkindness, favoritism, or hypocrisy.  Because I can never completely anticipate God’s timing or comprehend the scope of His knowledge, I must actively take advantage of opportunities that He brings my way.

Often, that’s hard.  I get tired.  I get overwhelmed, emotionally and spiritually.  I’m afraid of what the commitment will cost.  I don’t have time.  But in the grand scheme of eternity, those are sorry excuses.  And quite honestly, God doesn’t ask of me what He’s not willing to provide.  I’ve got the resources of the King of the Universe at my disposal.  All I have  to do is ask.

And so that questions stirs my heart again:  will I be the one God uses?

As I ponder this question, I’m reminded of a song that was released shortly after I graduated from college.  Despite the mullets, big hair, shoulderpads and pegged jeans depicted in the video, the message still challenges me even after all these years…will I be the one God uses?  

The answer is, simply, yes.  May my heart remain yielded, willing, and ready.  Ready to help.  Ready to serve.  Ready to do the work.  Ready to be the one degree of change that can make a difference in the world.

 

 

Fight to the Finish: A Non-Running Story

Once upon a time, there was a girl who wasn’t a runner.  She decided one day to start not running and she didn’t like it so much, she kept not doing it.  After awhile, another friend started not running with her, and eventually – in January, 2012 -  they didn’t run a 5K together: The American Cancer Society’s inaugural Relay for Life Fight Back 5K.

1-14-12 At the starting line (r)

The next year, the two of them decided not to run this same 5K again, but this time with their families.  On this chilly, grey winter morning, they didn’t get up early and meet at Stonebridge United Methodist Church for the American Cancer Society’s 2nd annual Relay for Life Fight Back 5K.

1-5-12 The whole gang

The girl who doesn’t run didn’t stand in line to pick up her son’s registration packet, and she didn’t help him get his bib number attached to the front of his sweatshirt.

1-5-13 Early morning registration

1-5-13 Registering Trey

Her friends and family didn’t stand in the cold, impatiently waiting for the starting gun’s signal.

1-5-13 Waiting to start

When the gun sounded, the girl who doesn’t run started out first.  Knowing that she *really* hadn’t run in over a month, her main concern was simply finishing.  She *really* wasn’t trying for  a personal record, and since last year’s event ended with plantar fasciitis in both feet, she knew she would easily beat her previous time.   But also recognizing the significance of this cause – fighting back against cancer – and having a personal connection to it, she also wanted to push herself…to “fight back” in her own way.  The course was hilly and challenging, every step reminding her why she doesn’t run.  But as she found herself surrounded by other non-runners, she discovered that strength, that desire, that thirst for victory, for personal achievement, for making it count.

So she didn’t push herself to run hard, and she didn’t keep running when she felt like walking, and she certainly didn’t dig deep running up those steep hills.

1-5-13 Going uphill

1-5-13 Almost to the top

And when she didn’t cross the finish line at exactly 32:00, it wasn’t a mere 30 seconds off her official PR from last year.  She certainly wasn’t proud of herself.

Her husband wasn’t pumped about the chance to participate in his very first 5K.

1-5-13 Game faces on

And he definitely wasn’t excited to do his victory dance over cancer.

1-5-13 Matt's victory dance

Her family didn’t enjoy the chance to walk/run with friends along the course.

1-5-13 Crisana & Lauren

And when they didn’t cross the finish line, they certainly weren’t proud of their accomplishments…or ready for the breakfast of champions at McDonald’s.

In fact, it wasn’t so much fun, they can’t wait to not do it again next year, when perhaps they’ll all be a little better at not running.

Committed

Ah, January 1.  That glorious day when we say “good bye” to the old and “hello” to the new.  That day – that singular day – on the calendar when the blank space of 365 unknowns spreads out before us like a book waiting to be written.  That day, much like the first day of summer vacation, when the mere possibility of what could be brings forth hope, optimism, and the belief that one year from now we can be so much more, so much better, so very different from what are – and where we are – today.

After 4 decades of new years, you’d think I’d develop some cynicism.  You’d think I’d have learned from all my past efforts.  You’d think that after living the repetitive cycle of trying and failing, trying and failing, trying and failing innumerable times that I’d be “over it”, that I’d chuck all those good intentions into the trash bin along with last night’s noisemakers and confetti poppers.  And yet, I find myself here, sitting at my computer, dusting off the old blog, somehow believing that it is possible – and even probable – that THIS year becomes the year I finally achieve.

I confess.  Last year, I didn’t even make resolutions. My philosophy for the year was summed up in one word: “REAL”.  My reasons were personal.  The meaning was private.  My goals were simply between me and God, and I can honestly say He brought me to that place of “REAL.”  Through experiences that were painful, humbling, exhilarating and beautiful, God allowed me to become more “REAL” in my relationships with Him and others, in my work and ministry, and in my personal pursuits.

The simplicity of a single word appeals to me.  Amidst all the clutter and busy-ness of my daily life, I like the focus of one word to direct my energies and efforts throughout the year.  One word to hold me accountable.  One word to gauge my progress.  One word to challenge me to step out, yet reign me in.  One word to inspire.  This year’s word is simply: COMMIT.

Commit your activities to the LORD, and your plans will be achieved.  (Proverbs 16:3, HCSB)

In the year 2013, I commit the following activities to the Lord, trusting Him to achieve these plans:

spiritual activities:

This year I was deeply inspired by the book Wild Goose Chase by Mark Batterson.  This book describes the kind of Christ-follower I want to be: free to follow where God leads without being caged by fear or responsibility or guilt or failure, or anything else that Satan uses to try to discourage me.  This year, with God’s help, I commit to reading through the Bible (again), to being part of a Bible study community, to being active in a life group where we can learn and grow and serve as a family, and to downloading and reading the weekly sermon study guides.  I also commit to helping my children establish regular quiet times and exploring how we as a family can incorporate prayer and Bible study into our busy and varied schedules.  And of course, I reaffirm my commitment to leading Moms in Prayer, strengthening the ministry of Promiseland through my role as Worship Director, and supporting the mission of Village of Hope, CASA, and other outreach efforts in the community.

physical activities:

2012 was  a year where I saw many physical goals set and achieved.  In 2013, I reaffirm my commitment to overall health and physical fitness, through developing a workable exercise plan that balances cardio, flexibility and strength training in both group and individual settings.  This year, with God’s help, I will work to finally achieve my goal of running a sub-30′ 5K, a sub-60′ 10K and a half marathon in 2:20 or less.  Through a commitment to healthy eating, I will reach my goal weight and help my children make healthier food choices.

professional activities:

With the incorporation of my studio, God has certainly affirmed His plan for me professionally.  This year, I commit to honoring His leading and direction by working to improve not only my studio, but also myself as a teacher and pianist.  The first step will be to join a local piano teachers’ association and become an active member in their meetings and activities.  In addition, I commit to studying and interacting with other professionals online, organizing my studio, and creating games and activities to strengthen my students’ technique and theory.

personal activities:

Perhaps my biggest – and most ambitious – goal for this year is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.  This year, I commit to producing a manuscript for publication.  Not on my blog, but on real paper.  Not self-published, but produced through an actual publishing house.  And to anyone who is still reading this blog, I promise a free, autographed first-edition copy.

Some people think 13 is an unlucky number.  But in this “unlucky” year, it’s nice to know I have a sure guarantee.  If I commit these ways to the Lord, and allow Him to accomplish His plan through me, I am assured success.

Those are pretty good odds.

 

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