My reflection in the mirror reveals disheveled hair and a face devoid of makeup. Wrinkles that never used to show now line my forty-something skin. Dark bags hang beneath my insomnia-racked eyes. Man, I’m a mess!
This is not who I think of when I think of me. Where have I gone?
Do we all get to that place where what we see in the mirror is not who we remember being? Age, time, and life happens, and suddenly we don’t look the same. Don’t feel the same.
“Mirror, mirror on the wall…” I whisper.
Although I write fantasy, I know there isn’t a voice that will answer my question of where the fairest me of all went.
I point to my reflection and stick out my tongue.
Are you not created in my image? I can hear God asking me midst my frowning dismay. That head of gray hair? It is your glory.(Proverbs 16:31) Wisdom can be found among those strands and those lines. (Job 12:12) Look not to your outer being, but seek that which is inner to judge your beauty, child. It is worth more than you know.(1 Peter 3:3-4)
I glance in the mirror one more time and to try to look beyond my blemishes and gray hair. Why is it so hard to give myself the same grace I give to others? Is it a plot from the beauty industry that makes me believe I need to use this cream or that new and improved dye to color my hair? Is it a societal flaw that we don’t respect and honor ourselves when we begin to show a little wear and tear?
I’m so glad God doesn’t judge me on such a superficial basis. I’m so glad He looks at my heart and sees my intentions. Time can be a thief, but only if we let it be. I make another face at myself in the offending mirror.
“Mirror, mirror, on the wall. You’re not so truthful after all.”
A few weeks ago, I was feeling apprehensive. Depressed. Fearful.
I knew why: It was shortly after the presidential inauguration. Political leanings aside, the past election year and subsequent inauguration showed that the United States is deeply divided over serious issues. Every time I turned on the news for the first month after January 20, I saw hatred, name calling, fear mongering, and lying, on both sides of the political aisle.
It felt like the country I had grown up in was no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave, but a land of the people who yell the loudest and are scared of anything different from their beliefs.
I literally went to bed each night with a sour feeling in my stomach, only to awaken with dread at what the next day’s news cycle was going to bring. I wasn’t sure what to say to my coworkers or what to write on Facebook, as it seemed whatever I said would be met with either scorn, apathy or more hate.
I felt this way for probably about a week of more. In fact, I found myself at church early one morning, rehearsing for that morning’s worship service with the praise team, not feeling I was in much of a mood to praise anything or lead anyone to the Holy Spirit.
It bothered me a lot, because worship through song is how I feel closest to God. The feel of air rushing through my lungs, my voice rising through the notes to form words is the way I can express my thanks, my praise, the feelings of my heart to my Savior. Not being able to do so just felt wrong.
One of the songs we sang that morning is called “The Same Power,” by Jeremy Camp. I had sung it many times before, but that morning, my heart actually listened to the words I was singing. Here’s the chorus:
The same power that rose Jesus from the dead
The same power that commands the dead to wake
Lives in us, lives in us.
The same power that moves mountains when He speaks
The same power that can calm a raging sea
Lives in us, lives in us.
He lives in us, lives in us.
Such an incredible message! The same power that pulled a man from hell and the grave to resurrected life, the same power that brought creation into being and flooded the earth and parted a sea, and gave an old woman a newborn child, and a virgin a baby, and healed the blind and the sick, and cast out demons, and a thousand other miracles– that same power lives in me as the Holy Spirit.
That was a message I sorely needed to hear that morning. I wrote in my journal during the sermon: “The same power can give me strength to stand up to the political rhetoric. To speak out for those who can’t. To be strong when things are wrong and the rest of the world is against us. God’s power lives in me, so I shouldn’t be afraid to stand up. Lord, help me to feel your power in me, and to have the confidence to express it. I will not be silent, or be cowed by hate. Hate cannot win, and will not win.”
I hope that no matter what you are fearful of, that you can take heart and courage knowing that God’s power lives in you as His Holy Spirit.
If you’re so inclined, give a listen to the whole song by clicking on the photo below, and take heart: He has overcome the world, and so can you.
Beautiful strains of music filled our church building last night as the York College Concert Choir performed. The fifty plus a capella chorus sang songs of praise that brought tears to my eyes.
I was blessed to once be part of this choir, as were my son and daughter, and Dawn’s son. Next year, our youngest, Emma, will be on their risers. All of this reflection made me think about how important music is in our worship.
In Col. 3:16 it says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Did you notice the types of songs are differentiated? I believe that’s because all three types of songs feed a different part of our souls. Let’s take a look.
Psalms: Psalms are scripture, and besides singing the Psalms in the Bible, I think this idea can expand to all scripture. Singing songs based on scripture helps us commit them to memory and recall God’s word when we need it. Many psalms are also songs of praise, and nothing is more important in our worship than praising our Creator.
Hymns: A hymn is song a praise, but unlike psalms, they were not written under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Hymns are filled with important spiritual truths. We might be singing about the power of God, the joy of our salvation, His amazing grace, or recalling the sacredness of a rugged cross.
Some people think of hymns as “old” songs, but that isn’t true. They are as relevant today as ever. They provide a depth and wisdom. They help put spiritual truths and doctrines into our hearts and minds that we will never forget. They touch us intellectually.
Spiritual Songs: Spiritual songs touch our emotional core. Whether it’s a praise song or needing the Lord, our modern praise songs “move” us. We can express our joy or praise or brokenness through these songs.
The Bible repeatedly encourages us “to sing a new song to the Lord” (Psalm 96:1, Isaiah 42:10, Rev. 5:9, Rev. 14:3). Our God is a God of creativity and He continues to bless His children through creative expression. Psalm 40:3 says, “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.”
By singing all three kinds of songs–psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs–in our worship, music finds its highest purpose. It allows us to glorify our God. Nothing else moves us or lets us express our adoration and thankfulness like music.
And the best thing is that God doesn’t care whether your notes are pure or a little off key. He hears the song in your heart.
Let’s chat now. What’s your favorite hymn or spiritual song? What role does music play in your worship?
38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. Luke 10:38-39 ESV
Mary and Martha. Just reading those names evoke images of a bustling Martha making her home perfect and welcoming for her Lord, Jesus, as Mary sits at his feet drinking in the teaching of her Savior.
40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” Luke 10:40 ESV
Bless her heart.
She meant well.
She had all the best intentions of the world.
She was doing what she had been taught was “the right thing to do,” and she was doing it with all her might. It was the way she could show Jesus that she loved Him, right?
But the love she meant to show soon became tempered with self-righteousness and pride. She couldn’t figure out how Mary, raised in the same household as she, was just sitting there, doing nothing, while she, the good daughter and sister, acted as servant. Their mama taught them better than that, didn’t she?
What did Jesus say to Martha?
41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things,42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42
Mary was learning that the only way to truly be in tune with Jesus was to be still.
Martha, ever the pragmatic sister, had to be reminded to stop, and to open her heart and her mind to Jesus. She had to be still in order to hear Him, and to let Him into her heart.
I have always struggled with the “should” and “ought to” tasks in life. If I do good things in my own power, who gets the glory? If I’m constantly trying to take care of the messes before I have to admit them to God, what am I gaining? He knows the number of hairs on my head. Knowing what is on my mind isn’t much of a stretch.
If I experience a form of success, I learn to depend on my own brand of “goodness.” If I fail, I wonder why God wasn’t listening. Bitterness seeps in. Oh, but I kind of forgot to consult You, didn’t I? Hmmmm . . .
When I reach this point – and I do, often – I have to remind myself to BE STILL. God is there. He hasn’t moved. I have.
Psalm 46 takes my eyes off of myself, and puts them squarely where they need to be – on God.
1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.[c]
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells. 5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day. 6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth. 9 He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields[d] with fire. 10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
I found the following video, and I hope you enjoy it. It’s an acoustic version of “Be Still” by Steven Curtis Chapman that is on the album “Deep Roots,” in which he is accompanied by his father, brother, sons, and other instrumentalists. It’s a blessing to me, and I hope to you, as you strive, along with me, to BE STILL.
I was pleasantly surprised with how many times God was mentioned in the inauguration today (Friday January 20, 2017). The amount of prayer and scripture allowed into the event is encouraging, even if you didn’t vote for Donald Trump. Can this be a year where the religious persecution that has been building in the United States finds a low tide? I certainly hope so. It feels like it will be a year for change. Maybe one that holds some unity. I’m thankful to God for that.
This year is going to bring some change for me as well. I’m still working on getting my first book, Knee High Lies, published. I have joined a women’s ministry group called Wholly Loved, whose mission is to embrace women and show them they are loved, unique, and have purpose in Christ. It’s very exciting.
Personally I’ve been studying deeper on faith. Faith that can spur the Spirit to do things in my life that I couldn’t even begin to imagine. I felt the Spirit begin to move last year with a simple act by Allen Arnold at the ACFW conference. For information on this check out my blog article I Got This God.
Since then it has seemed that Satan was working hard against me. I had some issues in my marriage. There were some personal issues I’ve had to deal with. And each time I took a step, something would happen to make me take two or three steps back. It’s been very frustrating. I’m sure many of you have been in the same position where no matter what you do everything around you continues to trip you up.
But, I am confident after all I’ve been through that God is going to finish this good work in my life, both in my ministry and in my writing life. I’m not making any new year’s resolutions, but am opening myself up to whatever changes this year brings. May my faith grow deeper as the year rolls by. I wish the same for you all as well.
In this year of refocusing, the scripture that won’t leave my head begins with a request that would be impossible for anyone but God. Psalm 51:10. “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” To be truthful, this verse rattles around in my head in a musical fashion, because it was part of the weekly liturgy in the Lutheran church of my childhood. When I sang these words, I thought they probably applied to someone else, someone with a lot of issues. With a very filthy heart.
But, if I am focusing on changes that need to be made in my life, I will first have to recognize what needs to be changed. I have never enjoyed having my failings pointed out. I am very good at rationalizing, at justifying. You see, it isn’t my fault. I always mean well. It’s me, not someone else. I am really a good person.
From past experience, though, I know that when there is a problem in my life, coming clean hurts, but it feels so good when it is over. The best thing is, I know that once the sin or shortcoming is recognized and confessed, my heavenly Father forgives me. There will still be earthly consequences. And God expects me to work hard at correcting the problem. His advice to the woman at the well in John 8:11? “Go and Sin no more.”
So, I am in a period of evaluation. What things need to be purged from my life so that I can make room for this new, clean heart? My list will include being more honest about my faults, my bad habits, my sins. This will allow the rest of verse 10 to happen, as he will “Renew a right spirit within me.”
What better way to refocus. With a clean heart and a right spirit. Amen, and amen.
Anyone remember the children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day? In the book, everything seems to go wrong for Alexander, from the petty to the annoying to the plain not good: he wakes up with chewing gum in his hair, there is no dessert in his lunch bag, he gets a cavity, he gets soap in his eyes during bath time, he fights with his siblings. He laments that he just wants to move to Australia, sure that no one has bad days in the land Down Under.
At the end of the book, his mother reassures him that everyone has bad days, even those who live in Australia.
Sometimes I feel like 2016 was just one terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year.
Like all new years, it started out with promise: fresh dreams, reaffirming goals to accomplish in the next 12 months, plans to travel, make lifestyle changes, etc. And for a while, it seemed like everything was going well. But, as they say, LIFE happened.
It seemed like every day seemed to bring new frustrations, things that hampered the accomplishment of goals, old enemies that didn’t want to stay down. Doubts of my future as a mother. As a writer. Loss. It sometimes felt like nothing was going right.
And that’s just on the personal side. Worldwide, it seemed like 2016 was the beginning of the End Times: every other day the news was full of violence and death, hate and prejudice, cruelty and evil. The US election cycle was particularly vitriolic, and the outcome remains so.
I’m an eternal optimist, and try to see the good in every situation. But by the end of 2016, I was ready to throw in the towel. It didn’t help that my husband got sick over Christmas, I got sick shortly after, and my beloved dog Bazinga suffered some burns in a cooking accident. It felt like 2016 was just kicking me while I was down, and I felt myself crying out to God, “What did I do wrong? Why is all of this bad stuff happening?”
As Anne Shirley says, I was having a “Jonah Day,” only it felt like a Jonah year.
I’m sure Jonah thought he was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day when he was swallowed by the whale. He hung out in a fish’s belly for three whole days. In Jonah’s case, he suffered because he didn’t heed God’s commands. But in the case of Job, he didn’t do anything wrong. He suffered because God knew that no matter what Satan threw at his trusted servant, he would withstand it. And after losing everything and still not cursing Him, God doubly blessed Job for being a good and faithful servant.
I’m not like Job. I definitely haven’t lost everything, and my 2016 was certainly not as bad as it could have been. But even if it had, that’s no excuse for me to whine and complain and give up. The Bible promises us that “In all things God works together for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) I might not be able to see the big picture of what God is doing in my life, and I might not EVER be able to, but I cling to the promise that something good is happening all along.
And you know what? When I think about it, there were some pretty great moments in 2016: wonderful times hanging out with my family, hearing some pretty incredible music from my symphony, some breakthroughs in my writing, brainstorming with a wonderful group of writers and friends, joining the church choir and rediscovering my love of singing. Gaining a niece. Making new friends. Renewing old friendships. Learning to lean on God in the hard times as well as the good.
So, instead of making a new year’s resolution or choosing my “one word” for the year, I’ve decided to do something even simpler: focus on the good that I CAN see. For every week this year, I’m going to write down at least one thing good that happened in my life that week in my journal. The first week of January, it was praying in the new year together with my husband. Last week, it was the sense of accomplishment on a video I produced for work. This week, I’ve already included the very long phone call I had with one of my best friends on Sunday night.
No matter what 2017 holds, good or bad, I’d rather focus on the good and make it a year of promise.
Due to the holidays, this short story is a repost from a blog I did a couple of years ago. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas.
The Christmas Wish
Pearlie travelled across the quiet neighborhood, gathering the prayers and requests from the children in her care. This was her first Christmas season as a guardian angel, and she wanted to do a good job for her boss.
Most of the prayers were simple ones, thanking God for their parents, or their pets. Since this was December, more prayers turned to requests for toys or specific gifts. Pearlie shook her head, her creamy white curls swishing across her velvet wings. Kids didn’t always understand that prayers were not like wishes to be granted. However, she wrote a few requests down in her notebook, and continued on.
Moonlight glittered upon the frost which blanketed the streets and houses. Only fifteen more children to go and her night rounds would be complete. She could go back up to her heavenly home and watch over the slumbering children.
Pearlie reached the last house on her list. It was a small home, with two little girls—five-year-old Holly, and seven-year-old Noel. Their mommy and daddy usually sat with them each night as they said their prayers, and tucked them in before wishing them both sweet dreams. Pearlie smiled, she liked this family.
But, when she floated into the bedroom, she heard it. Soft cries echoed between the girls. Pearlie realized something was wrong.
“Okay, Holly, Noel. It’s time for bed, girls. Do you want me to read you a story?” The girl’s Aunt Joy came in and crouched down in front of the bookshelf by the door, leafing through the girl’s books. “How about the night before Christmas?”
Holly and Noel sniffled and shook their heads no.
“How about the Twelve Days of Christmas?” Aunt Joy sat down on Noel’s bed. The seven-year-old’s lip quivered. She shook her head no again.
Aunt Joy thumbed through the books. “Hm, here’s a couple good ones. How about A Christmas Carol? Or The Grinch?”
Holly and Noel hung their heads. “We don’t have a gift to give mommy at the hospital for Christmas.”
Pearlie frowned and her chest squeezed tight. Their mommy was gone because she was sick. That hadn’t been on her roster when she’d left earlier.
Aunt Joy set the books aside. “Oh, guys. I know. Hey, the best gift your mommy can get is you being there at the hospital with her tomorrow.”
The girls didn’t look up at their aunt.
“How about if I tell you some Christmas stories from when your mom and I were kids?”
Holly wiped her wet cheeks on her sleeve, and Noel blew her nose in a tissue, both nodded their heads yes.
Pearlie sat up on their dresser and waited while Aunt Joy tucked the girls into their beds and sat down on a chair between them.
“When your mom and I were little girls, we loved wintertime. We would catch snowflakes on our tongues, make snow angels. We’d build snow men, and sled until it was dark out. I remember one Christmas your mom and I got the flu” Aunt Joy cringed and then laughed. “We had really bad sore throats. It snowed, and snowed, and ssssssnnnnnnnnoooooooowwwwwweeeeeddddd that day.” Aunt Joy tickled them and the girls giggled.
“It snowed so much we got stuck in the house. But guess what your grandma did?” Aunt Joy’s eyes sparkled as she looked first at Holly and then at Noel. “She made us snow cream. Grandpa gathered up a bucket full of fresh snow, and grandma made the snow cream. Oh, it was absolutely the best ever.” Aunt Joy flung her arms open wide, a big smile filled her face.
“Yum!” Noel giggled and kicked her feet beneath the blanket
“Yay!” Holly squeaked and clapped her hands.
Pearlie smiled. She liked their Aunt Joy.
“And the best part,” Aunt Joy tweaked the girl’s noses one at a time, “is that the very next day we were better. But now, it’s time to say your prayers.” Aunt Joy folded her hands and bowed her head as the girls said their prayers.
Pearlie took notes as they all prayed together. At the end of their prayers Noel and Holly asked for it to snow so they could make their mommy some snow cream to take to the hospital the next day as a special Christmas gift.
Pearlie hurried back home. Her boss smiled at Pearlie when she told Him about the girl’s sick mother and what the girls had requested. He nodded His magnificent head, and winked.
The next morning Pearlie smiled when she landed in her neighborhood, smiling at the mounds of snow that had fallen overnight. Several of those shoveling the sidewalks and driveways murmured about the freak snow storm the weather men hadn’t predicted. Pearlie just smiled.
She headed for the small house at the end of her list first, and found Aunt Joy, Holly, and Noel with three buckets full of snow in their back yard. The girls, dressed in their snowsuits, were on the ground making snow angels, and Aunt Joy was rolling a snow ball into a large ball for the bottom of a snow man.
Drifting over the houses, Pearlie continued her work, jotting down prayers and special requests. It was dark before she got back to the small house to check on Noel and Holly. The girls were being tucked in bed by their dad.
“Can you believe how much it snowed today?” Their daddy asked them.
The girls nodded, their blue eyes wide with happiness.
Holly’s face grew serious. “It snowed for mommy.”
“We prayed for snow cream to make mommy feel better.” Noel stated.
Their daddy grinned at them. “You did? That was the best Christmas present ever.”
Big smiles covered the girl’s faces.
Warmth filled Pearlie. She was so glad she could help make this one Christmas wish come true.
Snow Cream Recipe
1 gallon of fresh snow ¾ c. white sugar
1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk 2 eggs beaten
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
In large bowl, combine evaporated milk, eggs, vanilla, and sugar until smooth. Gradually stir in snow until mixture reaches desired consistency. Eat at once.
This isn’t about a book….but it starts with one. Are you surprised that I seem to find books at the source of every aspect of my life? No? I didn’t think so.
And this isn’t really a review – that will come on my review blog next week – but I wanted to share a bit of what impacted me as I read Made Well : Finding Wholeness in the Everyday Sacred Moments by Jenny Simmons.
So, basically this is a book about looking for God’s healing beyond the big and bold miracle moments we all hope for. It’s about the quiet, unobtrusive things that gently carry us through the pain, supporting us in the midst of darkness. As Jenny Simmons says: “…God is often quietly at work behind the scenes answering in ways we would never expect or pray for.” (p 32) I’ve had so many of those quiet moments during my 6+ years dealing with chronic neuropathic pain.
Like the church plant that started up in my backyard this year. I live in a downtown neighbourhood where churches are closing down not opening up. Because of my disability I wasn’t able to take the long bus rides out to the suburbs to attend church and I ached for a church family. And there was God working quietly behind the scenes preparing the way and a church plant opened this year within walking distance of my house!
Of course, just because God plopped a church into my ‘hood, doesn’t mean I wasn’t filled with angst over attending it. I didn’t know a single soul and I was really self-conscious about the ‘new’ and definitely not improved me I’d be presenting to complete strangers. I felt broken and I looked broken – shuffling in to church that first day – legs and feet wrapped in compression bandages, wearing old hospital slippers because my feet were too swollen to fit into any kind of regular shoe. Not to mention the walker I had a white-knuckle grip on. Oh, I hated making that kind of first impression because, honestly, that broken outer shell didn’t match the ‘me’ inside.
But there went God again, working quietly behind the scenes, prompting two women to befriend me that very first day. Ladies who readily looked past my physical barriers and actually connected with the ‘inside me.’
It’s eight months later and I’m settling in. Made some friends, joined a small group in my neighbourhood. Gathered my courage and shared my story and my struggles. And I have been so encouraged by the acceptance I’ve received. From prayers to service to reserving accessibility seating for me every Sunday – I’m being blessed abundantly in ways I never dreamed of. Yes, I’m still in pain and I struggle with the enormity of that and how massively it has changed my life but God keeps showing up in awesome ways, meeting me where I need Him most through the actions of others.
Less than a week ago I fell down the rabbit hole. Seriously. Somehow I woke up in a world turned upside down, and I’m sitting at the table with the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. I stare at the goings on, trying to make heads or tails of the riddles, going from bemused to completely disgusted with it all.
We’re all quite mad here.
Lucky for us we serve a God who is in complete control. No matter who wins what contest, God knew it from the end to the beginning. The Bible tells us not to fear 365 times. That’s once a day for a year, and then we can start it all over again.
Our teacher this Sunday morning talked about if we’re fearful and don’t know what to pray, or how to pray. He said to start by praying the scriptures.
Is your heart heavy with the burdens this country is under right now?
1 Peter 5:6-7 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.
Do you have doubts about what’s going to happen?
Matthew 28:17-18…but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
Is your heart troubled by the acts of people around you?
John 14:27 Peace I leave you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid.
Philippians 4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Ah, sweet, glorious peace. And one last scripture to get you through all the negative thoughts that threaten to crowd your mind.
Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think on such things.