But Courage!

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Awhile back, a friend of mine told me she thought I was brave.  Although I love the idea of being brave, I certainly wouldn’t label myself that way…there are plenty of things that send me scurrying.  In thinking about it, though, my friend may have been referring to a time a few years ago when I was trudging through some very difficult days–personally, medically, and professionally–and the fact that I kept pushing through may have led her to conclude that I was brave.

Now that I’m (thankfully) no longer in that desperate place of barely making it through each day, I have a fresh perspective on “bravery”.  I’d say there’s definitely a difference between being brave out of necessity and being brave by choice.  Being brave out of necessity may not feel brave at all–it’s just survival.  It’s moving forward because there’s nothing else to do.  And even though it tends to be extremely stressful, it might be easier, because there’s no decision to be made–you just keep going.

But choosing to be brave is a whole different game.  Choosing to be brave means there’s something that doesn’t really need to happen but that might make things better if it did…and it might even lead to something amazing.

Not surprisingly, Doubt and Fear love to mess with these choices.  They team up and fill us with second thoughts and “what if”s:
-What if I ask…and the answer is No?
-What if I try…and fall on my face?
-What if I go…and can’t find my way back?
-What if I hope…and end up disappointed?

 

In January, I was reading through the book of John and I came to this:

” ‘In the world you will have trouble.  But courage!  The victory is mine; I have conquered the world’.”    – John 16:33

But courage!

I love that!
It’s the perfect response.

-If I ask, the answer might be No…But courage!
-If I try, I may fall…But courage!
-If I go, I might get lost…But courage!
-If I hope…
…if I hope…
…well, hope is courage, isn’t it?
Courage to ask and to try and to go.
Courage to love and to heal and to trust.
Courage to do it differently.

So I have adopted that as my mantra for the year.
To any doubt, to any fear, to all those second guesses…But COURAGE!

That doesn’t mean I’m suddenly fearless.  Sometimes I still have to take a deep breath and gird my loins, so to speak.  But when I find myself getting stuck in the waffling stage, I go to John 16:33…I go to Jesus’ own words:  ” ‘But courage!  The victory is mine; I have conquered the world’.”

And how can I argue with that?

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But COURAGE!

 

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70 cents

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“You are such a blessing to me and I pray that God will grant you all the desires of your heart for 2019.”

This was a handwritten note in the Christmas card I received this year from my co-worker, Kim.

It choked me up.

Partly because it was such a sweet sentiment from this beautiful friend.

And partly because I don’t spend much time thinking about the “desires of my heart”–or even acknowledging that they exist.  But I had secretly been moving closer to obtaining one of those desires over the past few months, and now my friend was unknowingly praying for it’s fruition.

I’ve always been a writer.  Not professionally, just for fun.  I honestly believe it’s something God has put in me–a need for and an understanding of words–and I’m so grateful for it.  I love having an idea come into my head and roll around incessantly until I have the time to get it down on paper (or laptop).  I love reading and re-reading a sentence and knowing one little tiny word is messing up the whole thing and figuring out what word needs to go there instead.  And I love the idea of writing something that someone can relate to, something that makes them smile–or better yet, laugh out loud.

Not surprisingly, then, one of the lifelong “secret” desires of my heart was to write a book and have it published.  I say “secret” because it wasn’t something I ever said out loud to anyone or even silently to myself.  Being a published author was a crazy dream, far fetched and frivolous.  It would be selfish to want to see my name on the cover.  It would be silly to think anyone would buy it.  There are millions of books out there; it would make no logical sense to add one more to the pile.

But Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

I am so thankful to say that God and I have really been enjoying each other the past couple of years.  My work schedule changed in a way that I started to have a lovely slot of time in the morning to read the Bible and to journal and to simply not be in a huge hurry like I was for so many years.  God and I just get to hang out, and that time together has absolutely been changing who I am.

About six months ago I quietly started writing a book.  Eventually, I told a couple of friends about it.  Then I told a few more.  Then, at Christmas, Kim wrote me that little note that said she was praying that God would grant me the desires of my heart.  Like I said, it choked me up–because I had been hoping that, too, even though I was hesitant to admit it.

Nevertheless, He knows the desires of our hearts even without us saying a thing.

I finished the book recently and a friend suggested self-publishing, which sounded scary, but I looked into an online company and it didn’t look too bad.  I played around with the program, stumbled through all the steps, and finally arrived at a button that said, “Submit Paperback”.

And I clicked it.

And a few days later I was holding a real-live book with my name on the cover and my words on the pages.

God had truly given me one of the desires of my heart.

The next day I went to the publishing site and clicked on the “Reports” tab.  The report showed number of units ordered and any royalties earned.  I, not surprisingly, had a chart of zeroes.  I wasn’t disappointed; this was never about making money, this was about publishing a book.

But then I noticed that one box in the upper right hand corner of the chart had something in it.

.70

Seventy cents.

My profit for one book sale.

I laughed out loud.

Not a how-silly-such-a-small-amount kind of laugh.
But an uncontrollable, burst of joy kind of laugh.

Not only was God granting me the desire of my heart, He was apparently going to pay me for it.

I know seventy cents isn’t going to buy a lot of groceries, but it was like a sweet little high-five from God saying, “You did it!”  It felt like Him cheering me on and encouraging me, “Keep going!  I got your back.”

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Delight yourself in the LORD and He will grant you the desires of your heart.

Absolutely.

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royalties 70

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Men’s vs. Women’s Breakfast

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I’ve mentioned before that my church hosts a women’s breakfast once a month which includes food, music, a guest speaker, and time for reflection and prayer.

One of our sister churches in the community hosts a men’s breakfast once a month, again with food, music, a speaker, and I presume time for prayer as well.

The women’s breakfast starts at 8:15am.  It’s a potluck.  Childcare is provided.  The Women’s Ministry Team starts announcing it three weeks in advance, stating the theme, the speaker, and enthusiastically, sincerely inviting everyone to bring a friend or neighbor to join us.

The men’s breakfast starts at 7:00am.  Breakfast is prepared by a crew of volunteers.  There is no childcare.  There is no theme.  They announce it the week before it’s happening.
You know what they announce?
Bacon.
Apparently, there is some amazing, to-die-for pepper bacon served every month and that’s all they need to say to get the guys there.

The women’s breakfast is a potluck.  That means 40 women are getting up extra early on Saturday to prepare the carefully selected recipe for which they ran to the store to buy ingredients earlier in the week.  Or if they’re not cooking, they’re trying to squeeze in a run to the market before 8:15, hoping there’s still at least one box of muffins or croissants left.  In December, there was also an ornament exchange–one more last-minute trip to Walmart.  And since childcare is provided, that means some of us are running around getting little ones dressed and fed while we decide if we can get away with just putting our hair in a ponytail.

In addition, the Women’s Team spends a couple of hours the night before setting up tables and getting everything decorated just so.  By 11:00am Saturday, everyone is exhausted.

Ladies, let’s learn from the men’s breakfast.

Just once, let’s agree to skip the make-up and show up in sweats.  Let’s make a big pot of coffee and sit around a table full of donuts and call it good.  Let’s forego the fancy table decorations and themes and extravagant recipes and use all of that energy to just be us…together.  Simply, lovingly, together.

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Above all, keep loving one another earnestly…    -1 Peter 4:8

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The Lord is My Beekeeper

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No, that’s not a typo.
It really says, “The Lord is my beekeeper”.  On purpose.

And that’s partly because I’m weird and partly because of something I recently figured out.

I was pondering Jesus as Comforter and Keeper the other day and I was getting hung up on Him being my keeper.  When I hear keeper I think of a beekeeper–or maybe a zookeeper.  I picture someone in a uniform or net-covered pith helmet, walking around with a big set of keys, one of which would theoretically lock or unlock my cage (or bee box) at the time of the keeper’s choosing.  Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of being locked up, but I could see the possibility that all of our prayers and concerns and complaints and day-to-day business are like stray bees buzzing around God’s head, emitting a constant, low-grade buzz:  my car won’t start… bzzzz…my daughter is sick… bzzzz… the neighbor’s dog is barking AGAIN!… bzzzz…bzzzz…

And even though I don’t think God would mind all that buzzing, I didn’t like that annoying image any more than the one of me in a cage.  So I went to the dictionary and looked up keeper.

“keeper:  noun  a person who manages or looks after something or someone.”

“The LORD is thy keeper…”    – Psalm 121:5

The Lord is managing and looking after us.

The Lord is managing and looking after me.

Oh.

Oh.  Thank goodness.

And that may have been totally obvious to you, but that was truly a light bulb moment for me.  The Lord is my keeper.  He’s looking after me.  He’s got my back.  What a relief!

I used to pride myself on self-sufficiency, thinking I was making it all on my own.  A while back I figured out God was really directing everything–He was just being super sly and humble about it.  Now I’m all too willing to embrace and be grateful for the fact that He’s managing my affairs.

And while He certainly has the ability to lock me up and keep me where He wants me, I know that’s not how He rolls.  He chooses to set us free and manage and look after us wherever we choose to go.  He goes before us and follows after us (Psalm 139:5), clearing paths and placing obstacles as needed, but not keeping us caged in–nope, not at all.

On the contrary, the door is wide open as He waves us through, calmly saying,
“It’s okay.
Go.
Don’t worry…I got your back.”

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The Lord is my keeper.

Absolutely.

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Flight Plans for Christmas Eve

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I work as a secretary in a church office.  At last week’s staff meeting we were chit chatting about this season and all the things happening in relation to it.  My boss, the pastor, mentioned that he and his wife were watching a Christmas show on TV and how it just felt kind of flat.  It was carols and glitz and smiles and hoopla, but the “reason for the season” was nowhere to be found–except for a token singing of “Silent Night” by a young woman who had just been gyrating to “Santa Baby” only moments before.

The pastor suggested that, initially, celebrating Christmas was like a plane taking off, with the central focus of Jesus as the driving energy source getting the plane up off the ground, propelling it forward, and keeping it aloft.  He made the point that when we take Jesus out of the celebration, the plane (Christmas) basically loses its “engines” and can only glide along for so long until it starts to descend and finally hits the ground.

“Charlie,” I said softly, “you might want to avoid the plane crash metaphor for the Christmas Eve service.”

We laughed but his point has stuck with me all week:  You can’t have Christmas without Jesus.

I know this firsthand.  My grandparents were the “religious” ones in our family.  They went to church every Sunday, my grandpa said a blessing at every meal, and they always went to Christmas Eve service, even back when the candlelight service was at midnight.  I loved our family gathering and spending Christmas day with them.

My grandparents aren’t here anymore, so I say the blessing at Christmas dinner.  Now that’s the extent of “Jesus” when celebrating Christmas with my family.  And I must say, it feels kind of silly, and definitely a little flat, to sit in a room full of grownups dutifully unwrapping presents merely for the sake of unwrapping presents rather than with any sense of gratitude or awe at how this tradition came to be.

The wise men.
When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.  Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.   –Matthew 2:10-11

They were overjoyed.
They worshiped him.
They presented gifts.

Joy came first–before the presents.

And JOY is the only thing that’s gonna keep that plane in the air.

So on Christmas Eve I’ll celebrate with my church family and be overjoyed and worship Him.  And I’ll continue the party all week long, oozing peace, joy, and love all over my unsuspecting relatives.

Fasten your seat belts–let’s get this baby off the ground!

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Merry (Joyful) Christmas!

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Grace upon Grace

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I love the word grace.

There’s just something lovely about it…and calm…and soothing.  Grace.

I think there’s also an appeal to it because I don’t see myself as possessing much grace.  I’m not exactly streamlined (my son laughs when I run).  Plus, I’m pretty straightforward with my opinions, not rude, but not shy either.  Full of grace I am not.

But I love the word grace and the soft, flowing sound of it as you say it…grace.  I would have loved for my parents to have named me Grace.  Even if I was in trouble and they were yelling at me, “Grace!  Grace!” it would have sounded gentle and beautiful—although that may not have been much of a deterrent for getting in trouble.

Anyway, it’s no wonder that I love this verse:
   …For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.  (John 1:16)

I read that yesterday morning and couldn’t get any further.  I just had to stop and let it soak in.

Grace upon grace.

It almost hypnotizes me.

Grace upon grace…grace upon grace…

It quiets my mind,
slows my spinning thoughts,
and simply overwhelms me with thankfulness.

For oceans and mountains,
Grace upon grace.
For sunshine and rain,
Grace upon grace.
For yesterday and today,
Grace upon grace.

For Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Grace upon grace…upon grace.

Blessing upon blessing.
Forgiveness upon forgiveness.
Sacrifice upon sacrifice.

Grace upon grace.

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Amen.

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He is the Yes

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He is the Yes pronounced upon God’s promises, every one of them.
-2 Corinthians 1:20

I read this verse yesterday, and despite having read 2 Corinthians many, many times, I would swear I’ve never seen it before.

He is the Yes.

How could I have missed that?

And how can that not be on a cute magnet on my refrigerator and on a note taped to my mirror and embroidered on a throw pillow sitting on my couch?

He is the Yes!

He is the High-Five!
The Thumbs Up!
The Boost Over the Fence!
The Pat on the Back!
The Big Bear Hug!
The Strong Shoulders that Carry It All!

He is the YES!

And that pretty much sums it up.

He is the Yes to every question.
The Yes to every doubt.
The Yes to every fear.
The Yes to every hope.
The Yes to every…every.

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For all God’s promises…He is the Yes.

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New English Bible Oxford Study Edition translation of 2 Corinthians.

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