Monday, December 31, 2012

Look, Mom! No Hands!

© Johanna Goodyear | Dreamstime.com
This Christmas, I received some computer software that I've had my eyes on for a while now.  With this software, I can control my computer with mere words.  I can dictate my posts, my articles, and even my books.  Even now, my hands are nowhere near the keyboard.  In addition, I can give commands to my computer, such as open, close, delete and so on.  I am hoping this software will save me both time and energy.  The tricky thing about the software is that I have to train it to recognize my voice.  It must be trained to pick up on my pronunciations and inflections.  The process is a little tedious and time-consuming, but I know it will be worth it in the end.

Overall, I've discovered that the software works very well.  It typically follows my commands and understands what I am asking it to do.  Every now and then, however, it will make a mistake and type a word incorrectly or launch a faulty command.  Supposedly, I can continue to train the software so that it will make fewer and fewer mistakes over time.

As strange as it may seem, the entire process reminds me of my relationship with the Lord.  He, too, has trained me to recognize His voice and follow His commands.  Still, after all my training, I continue to make mistakes.  Like my software, I am sometimes confused about what my Master is asking me to do, and in my confusion, I perform the wrong action.  Sometimes, I understand what my Master is asking of me, but the instructions don't make sense, so I choose to do things my own way.  During these times, the Lord has to do some training of His own.  During these training sessions, He speaks to me and helps me to, once again, recognize His voice.  He drills me in following His commands without hesitation or complaint.  He reminds me that even when I don't understand, I must follow His instructions exactly, for He always knows best.

I'm looking forward to training my computer software to the point where it makes fewer and fewer mistakes.  But even more so, I am looking forward to being trained so that I will make fewer and fewer mistakes.  Yes, it is a tedious and time-consuming process, but as with my software, I believe it will be worth it in the end.

Friday, December 21, 2012

'Twas 11 Days Before Christmas

A friend of mine sent me this in an e-mail this morning, and I felt compelled to share it on today's blog.  Our hearts and prayers go out to all of those whose lives have changed because of the school shooting a week ago.  May God bring them comfort and peace.



Written by a Gentleman in Southern PA:
 
Twas 11 days before Christmas, around 9:38,
When 20 beautiful children stormed through heaven's gate.
Their smiles were contagious. Their laughter filled the air.
They could hardly believe all the beauty they saw there.
 
They were filled with such joy. They didn't know what to say.
They remembered nothing of what had happened earlier that day.
"Where are we?" asked a little girl, as quiet as a mouse.
"This is heaven." declared a small boy.
"We're spending Christmas at God's house."
 
When what to their wondering eyes did appear, 
but Jesus, their Savior. The children gathered near. 
 
He looked at them and smiled, and they smiled just the same.
Then He opened His arms, and He called them by name,
and in that moment was joy, that only heaven can bring.
Those children all flew into the arms of their King, 
 
And as they lingered in the warmth of His embrace, 
one small girl turned and looked at Jesus' face.
As if He could read all the questions she had. 
He gently whispered to her, "I'll take care of Mom and Dad." 
 
Then He looked down on earth, the world far below.
 He saw all of the hurt, the sorrow, and woe.
Then He closed His eyes and He outstretched His hand.
"Let My power and presence re-enter this land!"
 
"May this country be delivered from the hands of fools"
"I'm taking back my nation.  I'm taking back my schools!"
Then He and the children stood up without a sound.
"Come now my children let me show you around."
 
Excitement filled the space, some skipped and some ran.
All displaying enthusiasm that only a small child can.
 I heard Him proclaim as He walked out of sight,
"In the midst of this darkness, I AM STILL THE LIGHT."
 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Greatest Christmas Story Simply Told



Once upon a time, there was a great King. He was good, kind, holy, and just. He loved His people, provided for them, and kept them safe. But the people were not good people. They did wrong and lived wickedly. In the great kingdom, the punishment for these acts was death. But the great King loved His people and did not want them to suffer. Still, He was just, and He knew their evil could not go unpunished.

In His great love, the King went unto His Son and said, "The people of the kingdom have broken our laws. Punishment must be administered." The Son spoke up and said, "Then punish me, Father. I will suffer in their stead." This grieved the King, but He knew it was the only way to save His people.

And so, He sent us a precious Gift in the form of a babe. This babe would grow to become the Savior of our sins. He would die in our stead so that we would be able to one day live with the King. On a starry night over 2,000 years ago, the greatest Christmas story took place. The Son of the King left the splendor of Heaven to be born in a dirty stable so that He could relate to anything we will ever suffer. He became a son of man so that we could become the sons of God.

Sorry, Charles Dickens, but stories just don't get any greater than that!

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Hills Are Alive

Okay, okay.  Half of you have already burst into song, "The hills are alive with the sound of music!"  The rest of you are groaning.  I can hear it.  "This post isn't a musical, is it?"  (And yes, Jason, I know you're included in this groaning group.)  To ease your minds, no this isn't a musical. . . at least not exactly, but it does come straight from the Word of God.  What?  You didn't know the Sound of Music was in the Bible?  Well, the movie isn't, but the principle of the sound of music certainly is.  I know, you're on the edge of your seat in anticipation, right?  Okay, I'll tell you if you'll promise to stop singing.  (Just kidding!)

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. - Isaiah 55:8-12

See, I told you.  The mountains and hills are alive with the sound of music.  Not just any music, mind you, but songs of praise to the Lord God Almighty.  Praise to the One whose thoughts are above our thoughts.  Worship to the Lord whose ways are beyond our ways.  Thanksgiving to the Savior who is the Giver of life, love, joy and peace.  It is a sweet song that is accompanied by the clapping of the trees of the field.  (Oh, I just had the mental image of those scary trees from the Wizard of Oz.  I don't think those are the same trees.  Anyway. . .)

As much as I love that thought (of the sweet song, not the scary trees), I cannot escape the comfort I've found in verse 11.  You, possibly more than any others, understand the constant battles I face in my ministry.  You are aware of my struggles to follow the Lord's leadership to write, especially when I don't see any income or outcome from my efforts.  I cannot tell you how many times I've questioned the Lord about His plans for my life and wondered if I'm completely off the path.  When I read verse 11, the words hit me like a ton of bricks.  They were meant for me, to bring me comfort and assurance.

So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

God's words will not return void.  Not the words of the Bible.  Not the words that He has given me to share with others.  Those words will accomplish what He pleases and will prosper in the way He intends.   Over and over again, Satan tells me I'm a failure because I'm not successful according to the world's standards.  I'm not even successful according to my own standards.  But according to this verse in Isaiah, God's standards are the only ones that matter.  He has a purpose and plan for my ministry, and according to this verse, that purpose and plan will be fulfilled.  It may not be what I planned or expected, but I have no doubt it will be better.  I'm not a failure.  I'm a willing vessel, and I'm privileged to be used of God for His glory.  Talk about joy and peace!

Yes, the hills are alive with the sound of music, and I'm joining in the song.  You can join in too.  It doesn't matter if you can't carry a tune (Jason) or remember the words (Daddy).  All that matters is that you sing from the heart.  God is more than worthy of our praise.  Let's not allow the hills and mountains to out-praise us.  We have a reason to sing, so let's lift our voices in praise.  And if you don't mind, leave the lederhosen at home!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Die Already!!!

I am losing my mind!  My dogs (especially Mitch) have had fleas like crazy this year.  I've never seen such a case of fleas.  We've used every spray, shampoo and application imaginable, and they still have fleas.  I even broke down and bought a box of those expensive pills that are supposed to kill fleas within four hours.  It worked, we found dead fleas all over the place, and for a couple of days, the dogs seemed to be flea-free.  But after that, the fleas came back with a vengeance. 

Our best guess is that our yard must be infested with the nasty critters, so even though we've killed some off and have the dogs treated with medication that is supposed to repel others, there's just too many to fight off.  And that's exactly how I've felt for the past few months--like I'm fighting a losing battle.  Hopefully, sometime in the near future, we'll treat the yard with some flea spray and see if that doesn't do the trick.  Oh please, Lord, let that work!

Unfortunately, my fight with the fleas is not the only battle I'm struggling with, for I've found that killing off my bad habits and negative attitudes is just as difficult as getting rid of those pesky fleas.  Sure I've treated the problem with prayer and Bible reading.  I've made commitments to God and promises to myself to do better, but in the end, the problems still return.  As with the fleas, until I determine the source of the infestation, all the solutions in my arsenal are only temporary.  To rid my home and pets of the fleas, I have to first discover their location and then kill them.  To rid my life of bad habits and negative thoughts, I have to do the same.  I have to find their root and destroy it.  Until then, I truly am fighting a losing battle.

I agree with the psalmist when he said, Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)  In fact, I like to go even a step farther:  

Search me, O God, and know my heart:  try me and know my thoughts:  And let me see if there be any wicked way in me. . .  Point it out to me, Lord.  Help me not only to see what I'm doing wrong, but also to track down the root of that thought, attitude or action.  Help me, Lord, to treat the cause and not just the symptoms.  Help me to die daily to my own selfish desires and to live a life that is pleasing to you.  Give me the strength to fight these daily battles and help me remember that my efforts are not in vain.  And if I may, Lord, may I ask one more thing?  Please, oh please, help me get rid of the fleas!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Becoming the Christmas Grinch

I made a comment the other day that I had to retract as soon as the words left my mouth.  The comment was, "I hate this time of year."  But as soon as I had voiced the words, I realized that wasn't true.  I don't hate this time of year.  I love it.  I love the Christmas season.  I love bundling up in my favorite snowman sweater, hanging Christmas decorations, buying (and receiving) gifts, and spending time with family and friends.  What I meant to say was "I hate myself this time of year."

As much as I love the season, I find myself so stressed out.  Trying to find the time to get everything done and the money to buy gifts drives me crazy.  The number of events I feel obligated to attend grieves my spirit.  The growing commercialism and the lack of "good will toward men" aggravates me.  To put it bluntly, I become the Grinch.  It's not that I hate Christmas; I just hate the person I become this time of year.

Because of the overwhelming stress and the many obligations, it doesn't take much to send me into a whirlwind of despair and self-pity, not to mention anger and bitterness.  "What do you mean I have to give up two of my Saturdays to come to play practice?"  "Don't tell me I have to buy a gift for her too."  "Sure, I'll put together that Christmas presentation.  After all, I don't need sleep anymore, do I?"

See what I mean?  Things have already been so bad this year that I was beginning to think I'm a truly horrible person.  What kind of Grinch complains so much at Christmas time?  The one who has lost sight of what Christmas is all about.  Christmas is not about programs, presents and cards.  It's not about finding the best gift for each person on your list or doing up the house with a boatload of decorations that are going to have to come down again in a month.  It's not about presenting the perfect cantata or Christmas program.  Christmas is about Christ.  It's His birthday.

It's easy to get so bogged down with all the to-do lists of Christmas that we lose sight of why we're celebrating.  No wonder I've lost my Christmas joy.  I've had my priorities all messed up.  So I've decided to make a few changes.  First of all, my friends, I will not be sending Christmas cards this year.  I don't have the time and money to invest in them, so I'm not going to stress about it.  Second, I made a point to not volunteer for any programs or presentations this year (although I've been drafted for a couple).  Third, I decided to shop from my heart.  No, the gift may not be expensive, but the recipient can rest assured that the gift came from my heart.  Lastly, every time I start stressing about how much I still have to do before December 25th, I'm going to make myself stop and think about the Reason for the season.  After all, the celebration is for Jesus.  Shouldn't He get something out of the deal?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Friday, December 7, 2012

Things Your Dog Doesn't Want You to Know by Hy Conrad and Jeff Johnson

Why do dogs turn around in a circle five times before they lie down? What is it in the toilet water that is so attractive to our canine companions? Why do some dogs howl while others bark? And what is it that makes those little breeds shake? These questions and many more are answered in the book, Things Your Dog Doesn't Want You to Know, where eleven courageous canines step up and tell all.

This book is set up unlike any book I've ever read before. There are eleven dogs, each with their own story, personality, and "pet" peeves. The dogs take turns answering some of the most intriguing questions we have about man's best friend, and each does so in his or her own hilarious way. For example, Orson is a bulldog, and most of his commentaries revolve around food. Sarge is a German Shepherd who gives insight into a dog's life while detailing his many employment opportunities. Each pet is unique, and each one has his or her own spin on what it's like to be a dog.

In addition to the style of the book, the layout is both entertaining and inviting. Each page is done in full color with pictures, captions and lots of little extras to add that bit of eye appeal. Various fonts match both the colors on each page as well as the personality of the dog featured on that page. The artwork is fun and varies throughout the book, enticing the reader to turn page after page.

When I requested this book, I didn't know what to expect. I knew it was a dog book, and for me, that was enough to invest my time in it. Things Your Doesn't Want You to Know was so much more than I could have possibly anticipated. I laughed. I cried. I nodded my head as canine tales reminded me of my own furry friends. If you're a dog-owner, I guarantee you'll enjoy this book and relate to the many tales within.

On a personal note, as a Christian, I feel it necessary to mention that this is not a Christian book and does contain some elements that may be offensive. While the majority of the book is clean and suitable for all ages, there is some mild swearing and suggestive language. It is definitely advisable that parents proof the book before allowing their children to read it.

Overall, Things Your Dog Doesn't Want You to Know, was an enjoyable read. The short, individual chapters made it easy to read just a little at a time, and the gentle touches of humor encouraged my heart and brightened my day. The Bible says, "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine." I would prescribe this book to any who need a laugh or merely enjoy reading about the crazy antics of the hound kind.


I received a free copy of this book from the authors in exchange for an honest review.  The opinions expressed in this review are my own.  I was not required to write a positive review.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

What's On Display?

This time of year, with the Christmas holiday rapidly approaching, you'll find it difficult to find a store that isn't displaying their many wares.  Blinking lights, the latest gadgets, trendy clothing--all clamoring for our attention.  One display draws our eyes toward chocolate delights of every shape and size.  (I have to be very careful to avoid such displays, for my willpower isn't what it used to be.)  Another tempts us to sample the sweet fragrances of the many perfumes and body sprays.  And, of course, most stores have displays of the variety of Christmas decorations that are guaranteed to brighten our homes for the holidays.

Years ago, when I worked retail, I was always in charge of putting together the displays.  My manager was quick to recognize my creative skills, so when it was time to create a display, he pulled me from the registers and put me to work.  I loved it!  I was allowed to use anything in the store.  In fact, the more merchandise I used, the more effective the display would be.  I have fond (and somewhat comical) memories of building life-size scarecrows, ridiculous-looking snowmen, and Christmas displays that were the envy of many other stores.  My goal, no matter the display, was the same--make a statement!  The intention of creating such a display was to cause people to stop and pay attention, to pause in their hurried shopping and take notice of something out of the ordinary.

As I reminisced about the many displays I had created over the years (both in retail and in my nine years as a teacher), I realized that I have neglected the most important display of all--my life.  I am a Christian, which means "Christ-like".  I am a walking advertisement for the love, mercy and grace of God.  But I can't help but wonder, what do I have on display?  When people pass me, do they stop and pay attention?  In this hurried world, do they notice something out of the ordinary?  Is there something about my life that makes the world pause and stare in amazement?  Not because of me or anything I have done, but because there's something about me they just can't figure out.  Because there's an unnatural joy radiating from my smile.  Because there's unconditional love portrayed by my words, actions and attitudes.  Because there's a power that tugs at their hearts every time they are near me.

It's nice to have a display of Christmas lights or funky ornaments, but how much more important is it to have a daily display of the attributes and attitude of God?  Just as my manager entrusted me with the vital task of creating a crowd-stopping display, my Lord has given me the same instructions.  My goal with this display is the same as the ones I created years ago--to make a statement.  And that statement is this:  "I am not what I once was.  I've been redeemed and set right in the eyes of my Heavenly Father.  I am His child, and He loves me with an unconditional love.  He leads me and guides me, protects me and provides for me.  He's my closest Friend and my shelter from all harm.  Life in Him is full of joy and peace, and there's nothing like it in all the world.  Jesus is the name of my Friend and Savior.  Would you like to meet Him?"

Whether we're aware or not, something is always on display in our lives.  The question is, what are we showing the world?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Remember Who You Are

Last week was just one of those weeks.  It started off well but went rapidly downhill.  On Monday, Jason and I took the dogs on a very pleasant hike and then just spent some quality time together in the afternoon.  Great day!  I was looking forward to Tuesday because I had a couple of writing projects I was eager to get back to after the long holiday weekend.  Unfortunately, I awoke Tuesday morning with a terrible headache.  I was able to get a few things done, but overall, my plans for the day were ruined.

On Wednesday, I ran errands which took up the majority of the day and left very little time for much else.  Thursday, I was determined to get some work accomplished, but try as I might, problems popped up one after another.  By Friday, I was tired, frustrated and ready to do absolutely nothing!  I had struggled all week long to put my motivation to work, but by Friday, that motivation was long gone.  In short, I didn't care anymore.  I just wanted to sit down and have myself a royal pity party.  Unfortunately, I did just that.  You see, the frustrations of doing my work weren't the only things fighting against me last week.  I was fatigued by the headache early in the week.  I was frustrated that my plans were not going as I wished.  I was discouraged by my many fruitless efforts.  And to be honest, I was envious of the success of others around me, including some of the writers I have coached who now seem much more successful than I am.  All together, I had a recipe for a world-class, bring on the chocolate, "why me" kind of pity party. 

And the worst part was that I couldn't get out of it.  I felt trapped, imprisoned by emotions that I couldn't figure out how to process, and overwhelmed by the continuous stream of circumstances that were beyond my control.  Have you ever been there?  You want to be happy.  You want to snap out of it.  But for the life of you, you just can't figure out how.  That's where I spent the weekend, but thankfully, I was not alone.  There was Someone else there in the darkness of the pit.  There was a Voice that offered both encouragement and instruction.  There was a Hand that held me tight and reminded me that I was loved.

This morning, as I finished my devotions, a phrase from the Disney movie, The Lion King, came to my mind--"Remember who you are."  I was nearly out of my pit of despair, but those words gave me the extra push to finish the climb to safety.  "Remember who you are."  Well, who am I?  I'm not a best-selling author.  I'm not a world-famous speaker.  I'm not a concert pianist.  I'm not the ultimate housekeeper.  I'm not even the perfect wife, daughter, sister or aunt.  So who am I?

I am a child of God. - John 1:12
I am an heir to the kingdom of Heaven. - James 2:5
I am a friend of Christ. - John 15:15
I am the temple of the Holy Ghost. - I Corinthians 6:19
I am a saint. - I Corinthians 1:2
I am part of the body of Christ. - Romans 12:5
I am a sheep. - Psalm 100:3
I am forgiven. - I John 1:9
I am free. - Romans 8:2
I am redeemed. - John 3:16
I am a new creature. - I Corinthians 5:17
I am God's workmanship. - Ephesians 2:10
I am alive. - Ephesians 2:4-5
I am loved. - Romans 8:37-39

I could go on, but I think you get the point.  I know I did.  So, I may not be as successful as I want to be.  So, I may not be as talented as I wish.  So, I may not be the best at everything I set my hand to.  Does any of that really matter?  I am what God made me to be. . .nothing more, nothing less.  Maybe if I spent less time focusing on who I'm not, I would be able to accomplish more towards being who I am, or even better, whose I am.  After all, by God's standards, success is defined by obedience.  He doesn't need us to be famous, only faithful. 

Remember who you are. Who knew we could glean such valuable insight from a cartoon character?

Monday, December 3, 2012

New Sheets by Cindy Sproles

Out with the old and in the with the new, right? Sadly, that's often easier said than done. Sure, it's a cinch when we're tossing the worn-out tennis shoes or replacing the dying laptop. But what about when dealing with broken hearts, relationships and dreams? Is it possible to simply toss them aside like the aged, yellowed lampshade from the deceased great aunt?

The truth is that life is a journey, and as with all journeys, not every mile will be pleasant. There will be traffic jams and harsh winds, sour attitudes and torrential rain, flat tires and dead batteries. But in the midst of it all, there will also be God, giving us strength to make it another mile and then another and then another. Many choose to commemorate the end of such a journey, but as this journey will not end until our arrival in Heaven, author Cindy Sproles has decided to take a different approach. In her book, "New Sheets: Thirty Days to Refine You Into the Woman You Can Be", she opens her heart and exposes her method of marking each new milestone with a fresh set of sheets. From the cheapest of muslin to the most extravagant silk, Cindy's sheets tell the story of one woman's journey from pain and heartache to joy and acceptance.

What I love most about this book is that Cindy holds nothing back. She bears all, tells all, and explains all. She opens the eyes of the readers, helping each to understand that she is not alone in her struggles. While it pains us to read of another woman's heartache, there is also great comfort to be found when we realize, "It's not just me. I'm not the only one who feels this way!" In her own unique way, Cindy displays the disappointment of a life that didn't turn out according to plan followed by a hope that comes from the knowledge that God has a plan for our pain and that He is working all things for our ultimate good.

Written in a conversational style, this book is a joy to read. Whether you need a boost to begin your day or a word of encouragement to calm your mind before bed, "New Sheets" will do the trick. Each of the thirty devotions is short, making it easy to fit into even the busiest of schedules.

Does life have you down? Are you at a crossroads and unsure which way to turn? Have you reached a new stage in your life and fear you don't have the strength to carry on? If so, I urge you to pick up a copy of Cindy's book, "New Sheets". I promise you that you'll not regret it.