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Below the Surface

below the surface

There’s a great big world out there with a lot of people quietly suffering. On the surface we see the happy smiles and we hear the “I’m fine,” response when we ask how they’re doing.  But below the surface there is great pain.

Maybe this is you.  Maybe you get up in the morning and go about your day, while beyond those shallow areas of your life, those areas you let others get a glimpse of, you’re agonizing.  Maybe you feel like you’re drowning and no one cares.  Maybe you’re overwhelmed with illness or debt or violence or drugs.  Maybe you feel trapped in a relationship that brings you pain or maybe you feel locked into a situation you can’t break free from.

Let me tell you my friend, God sees you.  He not only sees the surface stuff you show the world, but He sees your heart.  He knows what’s keeping you up at night.  He knows what makes you cry when you’re in the shower.  He knows what steals your breath and your joy and what’s suffocating you right there in the middle of your life.  And He cares about you so deeply, reaching far below the surface.

God is the One who never leaves you or forgets about you.  He promises.  And He never lies and He never breaks a promise. Thank you, Lord.

You may hear all sorts of things as you go throughout your day.  You may hear that you’re a failure and you’ll never amount to much; this may be all in your own thoughts or literally from others.  Perhaps you’ll hear that it’s too late for you; you had your chance and you blew it and you’re beyond hope.  You may hear you’re all alone and you’re going to stay that way because you’re pathetic and really unlovable.  Or maybe you’ll hear that people in your life would be better off if you weren’t around.

Those are lies.  Every one of them.  Don’t try to make them “half” truths either.  Like, “Well I have failed so many times so maybe I won’t amount to much.”  Did you ever think that those “failures” are part of a greater design for you becoming YOU.  If you hadn’t “failed,” you’d keep going in that direction and perhaps that is not what God wants for you.  So He allows you to stumble a bit so when you regain your footing, you have time to see another path, another door opening that you never would have seen if you ran off in the wrong direction.  Is that failure?  Not hardly.

I don’t know exactly why God led me to write this or who this is for.  But God knows.  And He knows you my friend.  Trust that He sees your suffering all the way down to the very core.  With God in your life, you never suffer alone and suffering is only temporary when you consider an eternity of peace with Him.  You have an amazing hope to live for now and to look forward to.  Don’t let Satan or anyone else steal God’s promises from your heart.

And if you’re reading this and you’re not one who is suffering below the surface, please take a moment to pray for eyes that see and ears that hear that you may be aware of those around you who are suffering.  Maybe God will use you to wrap your arms around them and whisper, “God’s got you my friend.”

Yes.  God’s got you my friend.  Wherever you are in this great big world, I’m praying for you right now.  You are not alone.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”  (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV.)

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Wake Up and Live Courageously

bold

Are you living courageously, boldly? Or are you hiding in the corner of your life, hoping those vultures circling overhead will move on, peeling away those cold shadows they’ve covered you in?

What vultures?

Fear, doubt, shame, anger, regret…calling.

Wait a minute. How did “calling” get in there?

Perhaps that’s what terrifies you the most and is keeping you cowering in the corner with your face buried against the wall, your hands over your ears. Perhaps you can live with a little fear or regret but God’s calling on your life is daunting, terrifying, and brings about some serious panic attacks while you’re hunkering down, praying for this calling to pass and land on someone else.

But don’t you know your calling is where God wants you to shine?  Your calling is what you were born for, what He created you to do, and where you will live with unspeakable joy.

God has matched your life with your calling. All of your past experiences and your current struggles are about to collide with the future God has planned for you.  Perhaps it will cause such a shockwave, such a shaking, that it will be felt clear across the world.

Sound a little scary?

Don’t worry, my friend. God is with you.  You know He promised He will never leave you, and He never breaks a promise.  Never.  He is the solid core of your calling.

But maybe you’re looking back and seeing all the things you tried to do and failed: that college class you took and dropped, the job you quit after a month, the new bowling league or softball team. Maybe you’re even looking back at the way you worked so hard to plant a garden a few summers ago only to find little critters chewing the vines of your cantaloupes and testing every strawberry.  Perhaps you wondered, “Why can’t I do this?  Everyone else can.  I tried so hard.”

Why?  Because God doesn’t want you to be like everyone else. He wants you to be like His Son, Jesus:  obedient.  And that means obedient to your calling.

You see, your calling isn’t something you try just because everyone else is doing it or something you believe in because your neighbor’s brother’s nephew’s wife thinks you’d be good at it. And it’s not some vulture waiting to strike and pick you apart, leaving you shredded and desperate to return to the safety of your corner.

That would be the enemy trying to scare you off. Satan would rather see you trembling in the corner than living out God’s calling for your life and shining for Him. Remember, your calling could possibly shake the world.

So what exactly is your calling?

Your calling is God’s hand working in your life through your past and present and reaching out to you as He whispers, “This way.  Come see what I have for you.”

It’s time to take His hand. It’s time to wake up to your calling and live courageously.  And it’s time to wake up the world.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  (Joshua 1:9 NIV.)

“He created each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.” (Ephesians 2:10 MSG.)

“The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” (Proverbs 28:1 NIV.)

A New Year and a New Road

the-road

I’ve got a problem. I live in the past too much.

There’s nothing wrong with turning around and looking back.  It’s like using the rearview mirror when you’re driving.  You need to look back to see what’s going on for safety reasons, just like it’s important to look back at your past to learn from your mistakes, to protect yourself from making the same blunders.

But what if you’re actually staring back, your eyes fixed or glued on all you’ve done wrong and you keep reliving your mistakes over and over again?  It can be just as detrimental as driving while fixating on the view behind you.  You’d miss your turn, swerve into a ditch, or possibly rear-end the vehicle ahead of you.  Having your eyes glued to the rearview mirror is like living in the past.  It’s a dangerous way to live.

Are you reliving some of your relationships from your past, how great they were and how things have drifted so far?   But the sad truth is those people you remember so fondly don’t even know who you are anymore.  And really, you don’t know them either.  The whole thing can leave your heart aching for the past or harden it because the drifting has made you angry and you refuse to let something like that happen again.

Eventually, you start to drive faster to escape it all but you still keep looking back and you miss what’s right there in front of you, some wonderful blessing God has for you.

I went to God with all of this.  Like I said, I’ve got a problem with living in the past.  I remember things, people, and I ache for the way things used to be sometimes.  Do you know what God told me? Look for Me back there.

Really?  Why didn’t I think of that?  I started looking back specifically to search for God.  And He was there.  He was there when I was so depressed during junior high school, when I would sit on the top of this huge hill in our back yard and cry.  He had His arm around me.

He was there when I went off to college and thought drinking was a huge part of being there.  He was there protecting me, leading me back to my dorm room every time.

He was there when I was smiling at graduation, the sun skimming the top of the building and landing on my face.   His hands were warm on my cheeks as He kissed me on the forehead, only I didn’t know it was Him at that moment.  But I know now.

God was there when I met my husband, making my heart swell, and He was there in the hospital room when our daughter was born and she cried, strong and loud.  And again, He was with me in a hospital room years later when my Mom had a massive stroke, and again when my Dad had complications after quadruple bypass. He held me tighter than ever on those days, listening to my prayers, my tears, as I begged Him to help them.  And He did.  And He held me so gently, warmly when I stood at my Grandpa’s funeral in December years ago, and again in the warmer Missouri air at my Grandma’s gravesite in April.

So all the moments in my past when I really needed someone, God was there.  And yet, I see Him there by my side the countless times I’ve washed dishes or folded laundry, when I got up in the middle of the night all those times to give our daughter medicine, and every morning when I fixed coffee.  He’s always there when I look back, at every memory.

But I can’t live back there because the bad finds a way of mixing in with the good, and that’s where the pain can take hold and sprout into something ugly and harmful.  It’s time to take hold of those memories I have of God and all the good, the lasting relationships He’s brought into my life, and bring them with me as I look forward; like snapshots I can tape to the dashboard.

A new year is coming and I love the idea of new; a clean slate, endless possibilities on the horizon as I drive forward on this new road.  I can still glance back and remember the lessons I’ve learned from my mistakes, but it’s time to let my failures go, leave them in the dust, let them fade.

I’ve asked God to forgive me for all those things I’ve messed up and He has.  So now it’s time to drive, to put the windows down and feel the freedom rush over me.  No more regrets.  No more guilt.  No more shame.  Now it’s just the touch of God on my heart as He tells me which way to go.

And with His direction, my friends, we won’t miss our turn.

“But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 3:13b-14 NIV.)

 

 

 

Turn Around

turn around

Imagine that you’re staring down a closed door. You knock and knock hoping the door will open.  But it doesn’t.  You feel stuck, your face against the wood, your breath returning to you.  You whisper up a prayer for the door to open.

But it remains shut.

What’s on the other side of the door? It could be an opportunity you’re hoping will open up to you.  Or it could be a person.

A person?

That’s right. It could be a person you’ve been wanting to talk to, someone you’re wanting to walk beside and help carry the load, or someone you’ve drifted apart from. But this person simply won’t open the door.

You stand there staring at the door, waiting to see it pull away and open, waiting to hear the click or movement on the other side.

But there is only silence.

You pray and ask God for wisdom, to help you understand this closed door. And when you do you hear, “Turn around” gently whispered to your heart.

Waiting behind you are the people longing to be with you. They are the ones God blessed your life with and they’ve been waiting for you to turn around. You can hear them, but you’ve been too busy focusing on the door to really see them.

So you turn around and you step away from the closed door, away from the opportunity or the toxicity of a relationship beyond the door that God is trying to protect you from. Perhaps you need to guard your heart from what’s beyond the door. And trust God and His plan. He knows what He’s doing.

God doesn’t want you banging your fists, bloodying your knuckles on a door He’s keeping closed for your own good.  With His help you can turn around, walk away, and let go of what you think you should be doing or who you think you should have a relationship with.  And while you’re walking away, pray for the situation.  Pray for the person.

It’s time to let go of the guilt that was never yours to hold onto in the first place and extinguish those flaming accusations of a liar who wants nothing more than to render you useless. Satan would be thrilled to see you standing like a little kid in time-out with your nose stuck to a closed door.

But you are not in time-out. Actually, you need to get ready.  A new plan is in the works.  New and exciting times are coming.  And if you’ve got your face stuck to a door, you’re going to miss it.

Let God protect you, my friend, and enjoy the life He has waiting for you. Love and cherish those He’s brought into your life and let them love you back.

It’s time. Turn around and walk away from the door.

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” (Proverbs 4:23 NLT.)

A Christmas Story

I started writing Christmas stories in 1996 just because I loved to write them.  (There were a few years I regrettably didn’t make time to write one.)  The stories evolved into raising money for various charities or families in need.  So this year I pray you enjoy the story and if it blesses you, please reach out to those in need…a charity, a family, or an individual God places on your heart.  Thank you and God bless! 

 

A Gingerbread House: Under Renovation

gingerbread no words

The last thing I wanted to do after work was stand in a long line at the store to buy a gingerbread-house kit hours before the contest, but Tommy was worth it.  I shifted the box in my arm, tugged at my scarf, and tried to hold my breath when I neared the case of cinnamon-scented pine cones.

“Rebecca?  Rebecca Trenton is that you?”

I hadn’t heard anyone call me that name in years.  I thought about ignoring it but decided eventually my home town would know I’d come back to live in my deceased parents’ house, so I gave in and turned to face my past.

“I thought that was you!” she squealed.  “It’s me, Mallory Westfield.  Spryer now.”  She held up her ring.  “We went to school together.  Remember?”

I remembered.  I remembered how she ruthlessly picked on me all through high school.

“You look so…different,” she said eyeing me up and down.

Of course I didn’t have a bit of makeup on and was wearing one of Greg’s old ball caps.  Wonderful.  I should have just written “total wreck” on my forehead to clear things up.  Mallory, on the other hand, hadn’t changed a bit: tan in the middle of winter, dark red lips, and enough flashy jewelry to blind you when she stood in the sun.

“I heard you got a…”she leaned in to whisper, “divorce.  Is that true?”

“Next, please,” the cashier said.

I shrugged at Mallory and placed my box on the conveyor belt.  I quickly paid, smiled when Mallory mentioned getting together, and bolted to my car feeling both exhaustion and relief.

Tommy was waiting at the door when I got home.  “Did you get it?”

I handed him the bag and smiled.  He was such a good kid, always positive.  No easy task considering the divorce and how he had to leave all of his friends behind.

I paid the sitter, took off my coat, and stuck a frozen pizza in the oven.  Guilt washed over me.  Tommy deserved better than eating cheap pizza with his mom, sticking candy to gingerbread, and hurrying off to some small-town contest.  I knew Greg would have planned more.  He would have taken his son sled riding or to see some extravagant Christmas lights.  Something grand.  Something more memorable.

“Can I start now?” he asked, his hazel eyes pleading.  The freckles on his cheeks made him look younger than his ten years while the braces on his teeth made him look like a teen.

“You better,” I said, noticing the time. “But you’ll need to eat dinner when it’s ready.”

He tore open the box and dug out the bags of assorted candies and gumdrops.  And when I returned from tossing a load of laundry in the washer, kicking it and begging it to run just one more time, he’d already covered a cookie sheet with tinfoil and was reading the directions.

I opened a bag of chips and cut the pizza when it was ready.  We ate off of paper plates and drank warm root beer from the cans.

“Did you read all of the directions?” I asked in between bites.

He shrugged and swallowed.  “Did you ever enter the contest when you were little?”

“Once,” I said, stopping there.  My pitiful gingerbread house with the tiny candy cane fence must have looked like a run-down garden shed next to the mansions some of the other kids built.  One girl even had a gingerbread town and airport using her brother’s toy plane.  Of course she won.  After that, I never wanted to do it again.  But I couldn’t tell Tommy that.  He’d been so excited to build one, especially when he realized the grand prize was three-hundred dollars.  I shook my head.  I should have bought another kit and made one myself.

The washer was off balance and rumbled.  I hurried to the basement, lifted the washer lid, and repositioned the load.  “Okay,” I said.  “Now one more time.”

Tommy had already wolfed down his dinner and was kneading the bag of frosting when I returned.

“Do you want some help?”

“No. You told me I could do this by myself.”

I held up my hands. “Sorry.  I was just checking.”

I finished my slice of pizza, stuck the rest in the refrigerator, and went upstairs to take a hot shower to wash off the grease from working as a fry cook all day.

Tommy was shouting for me to hurry when I finished blow drying my hair.  I spritzed a little perfume on, hoping I wouldn’t have another Mallory episode, and rushed downstairs and into the kitchen.

My heart sank and I tried to hide the look of horror on my face.  His gingerbread house was anything but a house.  It was a total wreck.  The walls were leaning inward, one caved in all the way as if hit by an earthquake.  The frosting looked as if it had exploded on the tilted roof and gumdrops were stuck together in a pile as if he didn’t have time to use them.  The colored candies were scattered like confetti in the wind all over the structure. More guilt came as I realized the ridicule that was to come.  I should have skipped showering and helped him build the thing.

“Come on, Mom.  I don’t want to be late,” he said zipping up his coat.

“Do you…”  I cleared my throat.  “Do you have a name for it?” The rule had always been that you had to name your gingerbread creation.  Some fancy lodge or ski resort name usually ended up winning.  Winter Crystal Chalet or something like that.

“I got it, Mom.  Can we please just go?”

I took a deep breath and silently prayed that the contest would be cancelled.

The community hall was packed and I felt the stares, heard the whispers, and even caught a few laughing as we walked by.  My face burned.  Not out of embarrassment but out of something else entirely.  I wanted to protect Tommy.  But once he registered his gingerbread house, it was too late.

He settled his dilapidated house beside a three story gingerbread restaurant, complete with sugar-glass windows.  And to make matters worse, the owner of the restaurant was Mallory’s daughter.

“My, is that…unusual,” Mallory said, holding her hand over her mouth as she stared at Tommy’s creation.  Her daughter stood quietly at her side, not cracking a smile but looking to the floor.

I ignored Mallory and sat on a plastic chair beside other parents as we watched the judging begin.  We were informed that each contestant needed to state his name, age, title of creation, and inspiration.  I wondered if Tommy were regretting his decision to be a part of this.

Mallory’s daughter began.  “I’m Sylvia Spryer.  I’m nine and my title is, ‘The Shimmering Chalet.’”

“And your inspiration?” the judge asked.

Sylvia shrugged.  “My mom.”

The judges took their time inspecting it and then moved on to Tommy.  I held my breath as he took the microphone from the judge.  A few parents around me snickered.

“My name is Tommy Sullivan.  I’m ten years old.  My title is, ‘The Master Carpenter’s Project” and my inspiration is Jesus.”

The judge asked, “Can you elaborate on that?”

“Sure.”  Tommy held the microphone boldly, like this was second nature to him.  His voice didn’t quiver but held solid as he said, “Our lives are like projects or houses in Jesus’ hands.  He is the Master Carpenter and He fixes what is broken and rebuilds us.  No matter what damage has been done and how bad things look,” he said looking at me, “Jesus can fix us.”

The whispering and the giggling stopped.  No one said a word. The microphone squealed when Tommy handed it back to the judge.  I did my best to stifle my tears but obviously failed when another mom seated beside me handed me a tissue, keeping one to dab her own tears.

As we walked to the car after the contest, Tommy said, “I’m sorry I didn’t win the money.  I really wanted to buy you a new washing machine.”

“Oh, Tommy,” I said, the snow falling gently around us.  “You gave me so much more than a washing machine.”

“What? A free large pizza for coming in second?” he said grinning.

I smiled back.  “You made me realize everything is going to be okay.  We’re just under renovation.  And we’ve got the Master Carpenter on the job.”

Don’t Forget the Forgotten

don't forget

I once had a writing teacher who taught to look for the unnoticed, the dismissed things in life and write about them. He explained writers are to use peripheral vision.

I thought about that for a long time. How do we use peripheral vision?

In writing, it means to catch those hidden gems, those tiny details in a scene: the smell of fried potatoes as they hiss from a cast-iron skillet, the man wearing a suit and tie who digs into his pocket, pulling out a fifty-cent comb to smooth his already sleek hair, or the sparrow hopping in the slushy parking lot who stops to peck at a piece of plastic.

But what if God wants us to use our peripheral vision for His purpose?

Maybe He wants you to notice the elderly man who can’t reach a bag of potato chips and not only help him with it but talk to him; you may be the only person he’s talked to in days. Or maybe the teen across from you at the gas station just learned his parents are getting a divorce and he could really use some kindness.  Perhaps there is a woman you see every day who is hiding behind her smile, loneliness slowly breaking her apart.

They are out there. And it’s no accident that you are out there with them.  Let God use you to reach them.

But the forgotten are not always those we’ve never met or those we believe society has dismissed. Sometimes they are those in our lives we simply get too busy to remember.

I know, it’s the Christmas season and you’ve got a million things to do.

But what if instead of worrying about all of those things, you honor Jesus’ birthday by remembering those He came to save, those the world seems to have forgotten.

“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (Hebrews 13:16 NIV.)