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Thursday, June 28, 2012

How's Your Balance?

On our recent trip to Pigeon Forge, Jason and I spent about half a day at Dollywood.  We arrived early (before the park even opened), rode the rides we wanted to ride, browsed a few shops and left before the surge of traffic we were sure would come in after 3:00 due to the park's "come in after 3:00, get in the next day free" offer.  We managed to get quite a few things packed into hours we were there, and a large chunk of that time was spent on Adventure Mountain.

For those of you who haven't been to Dollywood recently, let me describe Adventure Mountain.  It is a challenging two-acre course where adventurers traverse obstacles including narrow rails, swinging beams, suspension bridges, flying islands, and a tire traverse.  In one portion, adventurers traverse these obstacles through an array of erupting geysers.  The course is laid out with variations for each crossing ranging from easy to expert, and crossings range from those that are merely a few inches off the ground to those 26-feet off the ground.  It truly offers an adventure for the entire family. . . and a great challenge for those of us who are afraid of heights and are accompanying our fearless husbands.

Jason's goal throughout the entire course (and we were there for over an hour) was to choose the most difficult crossing at every turn.  My goal was to survive.  I confess that for the majority of the course, I chose the solid bridges and stairways, but occasionally I was ambitious and climbed a rope ladder or crossed a swinging bridge.  My greatest feat, I must admit was an accident.  It looked a little challenging, but it was only after I had started across that I realized I had picked the most challenging crossing.  It was much harder than it looked.  Picture it -- two ropes stretched taut, spaced about ten inches apart and spanning approximately twenty feet, with a single rope above to hold to for support.  My dilemma came when I realized that the ropes weren't as taut as I had supposed, and I found my feet drifting apart and my body settling into a rather uncomfortable split.  It took SEVERAL minutes after that crossing for my heart to settle down enough to allow me to "be bold" again.  (Even then, I wasn't really THAT bold.)

As I traversed narrow beams and climbed swinging ropes, one thought kept running through my brain -- I need to work on my balance.  Yes, my teetering and tottering reminded me that my balance and coordination were not all that they should be.  The funny thing is that I've come to the same realization in my everyday life.  With writing, teaching, housework, family obligations, church obligations, exercising, daily time with the Lord, and so on, I often feel like a dog chasing its tail.  Some days I feel pulled in so many different directions, I literally get dizzy.  Where do I begin?  How do I get it all done?  If I can't get it all done today (which I never can), what HAS to be done and what can be added to tomorrow's to-do list?  How do I accomplish all that needs to be done and still have enough energy to play with my dogs or go on a date with my husband?  It all comes down to balance.

Life is a balancing act.  There will always be more to do than there is time to do it.  That's just the way things go, but it is possible to find peace in the midst of the balancing act.  The key is to hand our agendas to God and say, "Would you take a look at this and let me know where I need to make changes?"  You may be amazed at what God will add or take off.  I know I have been.  But I also know that by turning my obligations over to Him, I get much more accomplished and feel much less stressed.  I only wish I would remember that on the days obligations overwhelm me to the point that I can think of nothing else.

So, how's your balance today?  Are you struggling to find time for work and play, family and friends, God and self?  If so, first know that you are in good company.  Second, know that God can help clear your calendar and give you the strength to accomplish the tasks that are left.  But you have to give Him control.  I know it's hard, but I've seen for myself that it's certainly worth it.  And it doesn't even involve uncomfortable splits!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tim Hawkins: Favorite Bible Verse

I came across this verse last week when I was preparing for my Sunday School lesson. I had a very hard time concentrating on the lesson because I kept thinking of this crazy video. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cleaning Out the Trash

There are a lot of great hiking trails in our area, but when we take the dogs with us, we try to find trails that follow a river. This gives the dogs ample places to get a drink, especially during this summer heat. Plus, I love the sound of a gurgling river. In fact, it's my favorite sound in the world. There's just something soothing and peaceful about it.

Many times we'll come upon a river that's not flowing properly because of debris that has lodged itself in the path of the oncoming water. Fallen logs, old leaves, grass, and branches can cause quite a clog, preventing the natural flow of the water. If we have the time, we'll sometimes stop and clean up the debris to restore the river to its unhindered condition. Once all of the "junk" is out of the way, the water begins to flow again, filling the river bed and winding its way downstream with its gurgling melody.

Our lives can be like those rivers. Sometimes they get clogged with debris in the form of worry, anger, bitterness, depression, etc. Before long, our lives are so hindered that the Lord can't flow through them the way He wants to. There's simply too much blockage. We've built a wall in our lives that He refuses to break through. He will, however, help us clean out the debris. He'll help us bear our burdens. He'll help rid us of our anger and bitterness. He'll help restore a right spirit within us. And, once the hindrances are removed, He will once again be able to flow through our lives, filling our spirits with His soothing melody.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Rest in the Lord

Last week was unbelievable!  Jason and I had such a wonderful time in Pigeon Forge, and I hate to see it end.  Still, I can honestly say that I feel better now than I've felt in a very long time.  And I'm not just speaking of the physical, although I do feel less achy and more rested.  But I also feel better emotionally.  By the time we were traveling home on Friday, I felt renewed and refreshed, ready to make a fresh start on a new week.  It's truly amazing the difference a few days of rest and lack of distractions can make.

If nothing else, this past week has proven to be a great reminder of how important it is to rest in the Lord.  The Christian walk can be tiring and often discouraging.  It's very easy to become weary in well doing.  And that's why we need to rest in the Lord.  It's only through that rest that we find peace and a renewing of the body, mind and spirit.  With it, we feel ready and better equipped to live each day to its fullest.  Without it, we feel stressed and overwhelmed.

You may not be able to get away for a vacation any time soon, but the invitation to rest in the Lord is offered continuously.  It is always available.  And I can tell you without a doubt, that it is a necessity for the Christian life.  So go ahead!  Grab a pillow, close your eyes, and find peace and comfort that can only be found in the arms of the Savior.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Price Can't Be Beat

Last Saturday, we held a huge yard sale at our house.  I was tired of the clutter in various rooms of my home, and I feared if we stored one more thing in the attic, there wouldn't be a place to stand up there.  Jason absolutely despises yard sales and would rather just haul everything to the Goodwill.  I understand his aversion, but frankly, I wanted to see if we could get a little money out of some of the stuff.  I mean, seriously, there was some really nice stuff.  We had furniture, scanners, printers, cameras, and much more, and everything was in really good shape.  In my mind, this was the opportunity to raise a little extra cash for our upcoming anniversary getaway.

And so, at 5:00 Saturday morning (yes, 5:00 comes twice a day, who knew?), we were out of bed and hauling stuff out into the yard.  We hadn't even gotten the first box set out before people were stopping by (we had advertised beforehand and had signs up on the major streets surrounding us).  This is great, I thought.  People are already pulling up. We're going to sell it all!  But as the first few patrons came and went without spending a single dime, we began to wonder if our prices were too high.  Before long, a woman commented that we had the best prices of all the yard sales she had been to that morning. . . but she still didn't buy anything.

By 10:00, we had sold a few things, but none of the major items I was sure would have been flying off the tables.  After a few moments of deliberation, we posted a sign stating that prices were negotiable, thinking that maybe people would haggle.  This helped some, and we sold a few more items, but still none of the bigger, more expensive items.  It was hot.  I was tired (and sunburned as I would later discover).  But above all, I was discouraged.

By mid-afternoon, we posted another sign which read, "Everything must go!  Make an offer."  By that point, we just wanted to get rid of the stuff and were willing to accept extremely low offers if people would just take the stuff off our hands.  We went in the house, leaving the screen door open so we could slip out if anyone stopped by.  Some of the bigger items finally started going, and I was thrilled, but things still weren't moving fast enough for me.  By 6:30, we decided to call it quits and brought tons of unsold items back in the house.  In the 13 1/2 hours we spent that day, we made a whopping $115.  Don't get me wrong, I'm pleased that we made that much.  After all, it's $115 we didn't have before.  But I was disappointed we didn't make more, and I was doubly disappointed that after all that work, we still had to make a trip to the Goodwill.

In the few days since our yard sale, I've wondered if I could have done anything differently to have achieved better results.  Should I have advertised more?  Should I have started with lower prices to begin with?  Should I have done this?  Should I have done that?  But in the end, I came to the conclusion that if all the items had been free, we probably would have still ended up with stuff left over.  Strange, huh?

But do you realize how many people, on a daily basis, pass up the greatest offer of all?  Salvation is a free gift.  Jesus purchased it for us with His blood, but it doesn't cost us a dime.  Yet still, many shake their heads and say, "Free?  No, thank you!"  I just don't get it.  The price doesn't get any lower.  They'll never find a better deal.  Why, oh why, do they pass it up?  Perhaps it's because they realize that while salvation is free, living the Christian life is not.  I don't know what it is that causes people to turn their noses up at the free gift of salvation, but I do know this, we need to be advertising for the Lord.  Some truly don't know what salvation is all about.  It's up to us to tell them.

Jason and I put up signs for the yard sale on Friday evening.  All day Saturday I updated my Facebook and Twitter posts, letting people know we still had quality items for sale and where they could find us.  I'm ashamed to say, however, that in all my advertising, I didn't tell one person about Christ.  I was dedicated in telling others what I had to offer, but I neglected to tell anyone what He could offer. 

Are we advertising for Christ?  Are we telling the world about His love?  Are we talking about His free gift?  We should be!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

To Heaven and Back by Mary C. Neal

To Heaven and Back is "a doctor's extraordinary account of her death, Heaven, angels and life again" and is supposedly true is all aspects.

Allow me to preface this review by stating that this opinion is coming from a born-again, fundamental, Bible-believing Christian.  As such, I found this book very disturbing and feel that the best place for it is in the garbage can.  I know that sounds harsh, but I feel this book contains several elements that could prove to be extremely hazardous to Christians and non-Christians alike.  Allow me to state a few examples:

1. Ms. Neal gives readers the idea that a Christian following God's direction will not encounter troubles.  In her words, "when you are doing God's will, everything seems to happen without much effort or many obstacles".  Say what?  Read the Bible, and you'll discover the exact opposite is true.  David was a man after God's own heart, and he faced obstacles.  Job was a good man and full of integrity, yet he lost everything he held dear.  Paul was the greatest missionary to have ever lived, yet he was imprisoned countless times, stoned, beaten, shipwrecked, and the list goes on.  Satan knows how to put obstacles in our path too.  He doesn't want us serving the Lord.  I fear after reading this, there will be Christians doubting their life's direction because they've run into an obstacle or two.  My dear Christian, if this is the case, please know that those obstacles are a pretty good sign that you are on the right track.

2. Ms. Neal claims to have experienced salvation during her baptism.  Salvation occurs when you accept Jesus Christ as Lord over your life.  It has nothing to do with baptism except that baptism is an outward show of an inward change.

3. Ms. Neal admits that she felt God was a "Sunday thing" and spent the majority of her early life ignoring Him.  Yet every time she found herself in a difficult situation, she "remembered" to pray and God jumped in to meet her need exactly as she saw fit.  Again, I fear we have Christians reading this and wondering why God doesn't work that way for them.  God doesn't work that way for anyone!  God is not a genie in a lamp.  He is not at our beck and call.  We either have a relationship with Him or not.  We can't ignore Him and then expect Him to jump every time we call.

4. Ms. Neal uses quite an imagination in describing how children actually abide in Heaven before being sent to earth and that they remember Heaven when they're young.  So if that's the case, child-like faith isn't faith at all.  It's just memories.  Additionally, she tells of communicating with angels and of others who communicated with their dead loved ones.  Okay, if you say so.

5. Beyond that, there were events that were described that were beyond miraculous; they were downright fictional.  Please don't misunderstand me.  I believe in miracles, and I believe God can do the impossible and unfathomable.  However, for one person to have experienced so many HUGELY miraculous events is just very hard to believe.

6. Last, but certainly not least, Jesus was hardly mentioned at all in the book.  Yes, this woman went to Heaven, but yet angels and light and gardens get more mention than Jesus.  And the few times she did mention Jesus, His name was used interchangeably with "the angel".  Jesus is not an angel.  He is the Son of God.  Surely, a book about heaven should have more focus on Jesus and less on self, right?

I hope that you understand why I'm so emphatic about my opinions on this book.  It is "feel good" fiction like this that is leading hordes of people away from true salvation and a true knowledge of Christ.  And as a Christian, I feel it is my responsibility to warn others of the dangers I see lurking in these areas.  I do so with love, for I want to do as God commanded and speak the truth in love, seasoned with grace.  And so, my friends, consider yourself warned!

I received this book from Waterbrook Multnomah for the purpose of this review. Obviously, I was not required to write a positive recommendation of this book. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Want Greener Grass?

Did you know that there are twice as many shopping malls in America as there are high schools? Why? Because we are a people who are never satisfied with what we have and are always in search of obtaining more. We've all seen the bumper stickers. “More is better.” “He who dies with the most toys wins.” “Who says money can't buy happiness?” More, more, more. It's all about wanting more.

I wonder how many people are over their heads in debt simply because they weren't satisfied with what they had. Now, don't get me wrong. I personally know some people who are in a lot of debt because of physical illness, job loss, and things of that nature. These are not the people I'm talking about. I'm talking about the ones who have to have the latest and greatest. And, I'll admit, I've been down that road. Some purchases were legitimate needs. Others were things that I felt I should have either because someone else had it or because I told myself that I could be more and do more if I had it. Discontentment can lead us down a VERY long road!

Look at the crimes in the world today, and you'll see a pattern. Adultery occurs when someone is not content with the marriage partner he/she has, so that person goes looking in “greener pastures.” Theft happens when someone feels they are entitled to more than what they have. Murder is often the result of arguments that revolve around issues of discontentment. On and on the list goes. When we focus on what we don't have instead of what we do have, trouble is bound to show up.

Discontentment isn't always based on material things. Often times we are discontent about the circumstances in our lives. We have a plan for our lives, and we get very upset when things don't work out the way we think they should. When illness strikes or a job is lost, discontentment can set in. When our new job is not as great as we thought it would be, our heart begins longing for more. In this way, discontentment causes us to lose precious hours playing the “what if” and “if only” games. You know, the ones where we say, “What if I had a million dollars in the bank account?” or “If only I were in better health. . .” These thoughts, though entertaining, do nothing but drain us of time and energy and cause us to sink deeper in our discontentment. We must be on guard. If we want greener grass, we should try planting some where we are!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Are You Kidding Me?

I want to quote an excerpt from a book I'm currently reviewing, and then I have a couple of comments to make (which will probably give you a pretty good idea what kind of review this book is getting).

Everything fell quickly into place. . .It was a good example (retrospectively, of course) of how easily things come together when one is moving in the direction of God's will.  It has taken many years to truly learn that when everything seems difficult and feels as though you are swimming upstream, it is usually because you are not following the direction of God's will.  When you are doing God's will, everything seems to happen without much effort or many obstacles. - Mary C. Neal, To Heaven and Back

I have one very pertinent question for Ms. Neal -- have you ever read the Bible?  I'm sorry, but this lady has no idea what she's talking about.  And I'm not saying that as destructive criticism towards her, but rather as a warning.  A warning?  Why?  Because as I was reading this, before her statement had fully sunk in, thoughts from the devil were surfacing in my tired, little brain.  You see, Dana?  That's why making a living as a writer has been so hard.  All this time you've been going against God's will.  You've been doing your own thing, and it's gotten you nowhere.

Thankfully, I caught the thoughts before they had a chance to sink in.  Those were dangerous thoughts, and they were perpetuated by a single false paragraph.  How many Christians are wandering around today, defeated and discouraged because the path they're on is filled with obstacles and because of messages like the one above, they've concluded that it's because they're not in God's will and they feel they've wasted precious years on the wrong track?

It's imperative that we realize that God will guide and direct us to His will, and sometimes He accomplishes that by closing doors.  That is not to say, however, that every closed door or obstacle we encounter is God re-directing our paths.  Look in the Bible.  Read the story of Job or Paul.  Were they living right?  Yes.  Were they doing the Lord's will?  Without a doubt.  So, according to Ms. Neal, their lives were full of everything seems to happen without much effort or many obstacles.  Right?  Absolutely not!  Their lives were full of troubles, heartache and discouragement.  Satan was fighting against them because he was offended by their faithfulness to God.

Allow me to use my own situation as an example.  If my writing career was against God's will, and my actions were outside His will, do you think Satan would try to point that out?  Of course not!  He wants me outside of God's will.  He desires for me to do my own thing.  He wouldn't point out my mistake in hopes that I'd get right.  That's utter nonsense!  Building a career in writing has been difficult. . .very difficult.  But it's because of the obstacles that I know I'm on the right track.  If everything was smooth sailing, I'd be very concerned.  After all, Satan has no reason to bother those who are already off track.

I apologize if I seem a little over-adamant about this, but I'm so tired of "feel good" theology.  I'm sick of reading books by best-selling authors that are filling people's hearts and minds with lies.  Being a Christian is hard enough without being constantly bombarded by false information.  May I urge you to please be on guard?  Take everything you hear and/or read, and compare it with God's Word.  If it doesn't line up, toss it.  Then, go a step further and warn others.  We need to look out for one another.

Now, I have some more reading to do.  Pray for me that I'll make it through this book without slinging it across the room.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Dog Called Namaan by Susan Barnett Braun

What an adorable story! A girl with a desire for a dog of her own. A teacher grieving the loss of her own pet. Parents striving to instill in their daughter a sense of responsibility. And a Sunday School teacher who helps bring them all together.

Ms. Braun has written a fantastic story and has woven in morals and Bible verses without coming across as "preachy" or condescending. Being an animal lover, I don't usually like stories where an animal dies, but through the devastating circumstances in the book, an even greater miracle takes place. Additionally, the book shows children that God can use them, no matter their age. He only requires their willingness, which Megan is willing to offer.

The book was easy to read and understand, yet entertaining enough to keep the attention of less-eager readers. I recommend it for children of all ages since even the younger ones who may not be able to read it for themselves would enjoy the story itself. Yes, if I were still teaching, this book would definitely be on the shelf in my classroom.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Booth Brothers - Don't Fence Me In

I had the opportunity to see the Booth Brothers perform this live a couple of weeks ago.  I laughed so hard I thought my jaws would never stop hurting.  In this video, they follow their comical version of "Don't Fence Me In" with one of their most requested songs, "Still Feeling Fine".  Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Spending or Investing?

It's the beginning of the month again.  I hate the beginning of the month!  Why?  Because that's when all my bills are due.  Mortgage, power bill, cell phone bill, gas bill, water bill.  Yep, they all pile up the last week and first week of the month.  And it never fails, that Jason's paycheck is always the lowest at that time.  And so, once again, the balancing act begins.  It's stressful and discouraging, and I keep telling myself that one day things will get better.  One day, we'll have a little extra money in the bank account, and it won't matter that all the bills are coming out at once.  Yep, that's my dream.  But I know it will never become a reality until we learn to invest rather than spend.

I consider myself to be a very thrifty person, but if I were to look back over the past month, I would probably be appalled at the amount of money I've spent on things that I didn't need and that were fleeting.  A candy bar here.  A soda or tea there.  That cute little shirt because it was marked down to $3.  Dinner out because I just didn't feel like cooking or messing up the kitchen I had finally cleaned.  Little things in and of themselves, but they add up over time, and none of them had any lasting value.  The food and drinks are long gone.  And the shirt, while I am actually wearing it at this very moment, was not something I needed.  I have plenty of clothes.  It's so easy to spend, but investing is hard work.

This is not only true with our finances, but it's also true will all our other resources, especially our time.  What are we spending our time on?  Are we investing our time and energy into things that will matter tomorrow, next week or next year?  Or are we simply spending our time doing the things we want to do, knowing that one day we'll look back and wonder, "What did I do that matters?"

I know I often have days where I stay busy all day, but when I look back, I can't help but wonder, What did I get done today?  Sure, I may have gotten caught up on the laundry, but did I send those notes to the shut-ins, reminding them that they aren't alone and forgotten?  Yes, I wrote the next chapter of my book, but did I take the time to tell my husband how much he means to me?  My time was spent, but was it invested?  There's a big difference!

I challenge you today to make a difference.  Don't just live today, doing what it takes to get by.  Make a point to invest your time and energy (and money) into things that really matter.  I can guarantee you it will save you a lot of regret in the future.  Are you spending or investing?  The choice is yours!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Compare and Contrast

I'm going to do something a little different today.  I don't usually send readers away from my blog, but today I just felt led to do so.  I read an article last week that really hit home with me, and I felt it needed to be shared.  The article is entitled "Measuring Up" by Renee Swope.

"When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise." 2 Corinthians 10:12 (NIV)

Do you ever compare yourself to other women and feel like you don't quite measure up? Maybe you feel like you're not as smart, pretty, fun, organized or as good at _______ as they are.

It is so easy to think that if we had more or knew more, we'd be secure. But the truth is, even people who "have it all" still struggle with feelings of insecurity. The Bible opens with the story of a woman who had everything but it still wasn't enough (Genesis 2).

Click here to read the rest of the article.  I promise you it's worth it!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Never Enough

May I be honest with you?  I didn't feel so great this morning.  Physically, I was okay (not great, but okay).  But spiritually and emotionally, I felt like I was drowning in a pit of despair.  In my morning prayer time, I found myself at a loss for words.  I poured out my heart the best that I could, but in the end, I felt like all I could pray was "Help me, Lord."  The more I tried to put my feelings into words, the more I saw a common theme:  there's not enough.

There's not enough money in the bank account.
There's not enough time to get everything done that needs to be done.
There's not enough strength to accomplish the tasks of the day.
There's not enough discipline and motivation to perform the "yucky" duties, like cleaning the bathrooms or sticking with a diet plan.

Yes, the theme of "not enough" became very evident.  No wonder I'm so discouraged, I thought.  I'm like a car trying to run on empty.  It just doesn't work.  But then I remembered to whom I was praying.  I was talking to God. . . THE God. . . the God who has proven time and again that He is the God of enough.

Remember the children of Israel and the manna that fell daily to ensure they had enough?
Remember the widow of Zarephath who only had enough food for herself and her son's last meal?
Remember the little boy who offered his meager lunch of five loaves and two fish to feed thousands?
Remember tiny David as he faced the mighty giant?
Remember Peter when he pulled the nets of fishes to land after the boats pulled them to shore because they were too heavy to be lifted by all the disciples on board?
Remember Jairus who thought time had run out when he received the news that his daughter had died?

Oh yes, THAT GOD!  God specializes in making something out of nothing.  Where it seems things are lacking, He can multiply blessings.  The God of the Bible is the same God I serve today, and if He could provide for these others (which we know He could and did!), then He can certainly provide for me.  He can take my few dollars and make them stretch.  He can touch my body and give me the strength I need to accomplish the day's tasks.  He can help me to work more efficiently to maximize the amount I get done in a single hour.  He can fill my mind with His words and fill my heart with a renewed desire to serve Him in all things, thus giving me the motivation I need to see to the "undesirables". 

Not enough?  Am I crazy?  Sure, it may seem like there isn't enough time, strength, energy, motivation, money and so on, but the fact is this:  I've got God, and He's all I need! 

Hmm, I guess I have enough after all.