The Lessons We Learn

How many times have you vowed to never make the same mistake twice? I’m guessing more than you’d care to remember let alone keep track of. You promise yourself that you have learned your lesson and you will do much better next time when you should find yourself in a similar situation. But, then you follow the same path down the wrong road again with the same results.

You might begin to wonder if this pattern will continue. Well, maybe it will, unless once for all you decide to follow a new path of response. And realize you need help to change.

In my own life I have found that if I do not learn anything from the mistakes I’ve made, God always arranges for me to go though them again and again. I have heard someone mention this before, so I am borrowing from their idea, but have clearly seen this in myself and I suspect this is all too common. We will keep being tested in areas that need work, until we “pass” the tests.

We all have the best intentions, but it seems as if God continues to provide situations to grow us and test our faith. We might believe that we have somehow mastered an area of our lives, only to have it made perfectly clear later that we have in fact NOT mastered it.

My example; I have a tendency to judge a book by its cover, not literally, but metaphorically. See, I grew up in a very homogeneous area in New England. Everyone had similar economic status, looked similar, dressed similar and spoke similar. There were only two extremes; the very rich or the very poor. These two groups of people were easily distinguished from the rest of the citizens by their appearance. The successful, wealthy citizens wore the three piece buttoned down suits, while the poorest wore dirty, ragged clothing.

If someone were to visit we could easily note a different manner of speech and make a mental note that they were not one of “us”. So, in my small isolated view of people I developed the habit of judging by the outside appearances of others.

And although I moved away when I got married and lived all over the world, this habit just remained. I wouldn’t admit it, but it had been such a part of my culture growing up that I hadn’t realized that it was a lesson I really needed.

In the past few years God has been giving me these important lessons on myself, digging deeper into my habits and mindsets that just do not help me, but have hindered my spiritual growth.

I always expected that the well -dressed were successful and wealthy. Those dressed roughly were probably homeless and poor. If someone worked an average to low paying job, they probably were uneducated.

But, as our culture as a whole has changed, the truth is multimillionaires do not always dress in suits, the educated need whatever job they can find to pay student loans, and we might mistake others for not being christian by their tattoos or piercings. What we might have expected from others by the way they appear is not what it is anymore. We can only really get to know someone better by listening to them and asking questions. It is a lesson we all need. – God Bless You – Nancy

The Right Ingredient

Do you have a favorite holiday recipe? The one that you found online? Or one that was passed down from your family’s best cook? We all seem to have that one special recipe that is our go to for the holidays.

Or if you don’t like to cook, it is the one special food you look forward to savoring. Your grandmother’s potato salad, your Aunt’s famous french cinnamon cookies, your husband’s egg rolls, or your daughter’s fried rice and chicken.

Whatever the dish, it usually has one thing in common; the best version of the dish requires the right ingredients. There is always choices to go cheap on the ingredients, but if you do, the dish just doesn’t taste the same. It is always best to use the best ingredients for the best results.

As a bargain shopper, I have learned this over the years that while some ingredients can be substituted, others cannot. The dish will be okay, but not quite right. It’s like something is missing. The right ingredient.

With holiday get together’s soon approaching, I thought I would take time to talk about another time when we should be choosing the right ingredient, instead of substituting; how we talk to others. Wait, what? I thought you were talking about food. What does ingredients have to do with speech?

Well, to answer you; everything. The holidays can be happy times to celebrate with others, but also times when we can really put our foot in our mouth. Or find ourselves speechless at others. Or maybe that is just me.

I’ll be honest, I am not a loud talker, which often results in people misunderstanding me. And I am not an extrovert. I tend to enjoy listening to others and secretly forming my own silent response to the conversations around me. This generally has lead to some people thinking I am a snob. Trust me I’m not. I’m just shy, but a great listener!

Is there some secret to engaging in speech that is meaningful? I know from a worldly perspective there is and I can find multiple answers from self- help books on how to win friends and gain influence. Or I could Google it and get many suggestions.

But, this is not really what I am trying to find. The question is, is there a way to engage in more meaningful conversation in our hurried, and usually stressful holidays that reflects our relationship with Jesus? How do we as believers create conversation that is just like those favorite holiday dishes. The ones we savor and enjoy. And ask for second helpings. Do we leave others wanting more?

How do we speak in a way that draws others into the conversation? How should we answers the comments of those with which we disagree? How do we open up conversations that leaves others wanting to know more about our faith?

Well, the best place to find the answers is not Google. Sorry Google. But, the Bible has a bunch to say about how we should talk; kindly, humbly, without any coarse language, demonstrating love and forgiveness towards others, patiently, without grumbling. It also encourages us to be prepared to give others an answer to the hope we have ( 1 Peter 3:15). I’m sure you can think of other ways the Bible instructs to speak. It’s a pretty long list.

I think the best advice is found in the letter to the Colossians. The Apostle Paul told the church there (and to us who read this letter) that we should “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone”( Colossians 4: 5-6, NIV).

Did you catch that? Paul mentions salt. Now, that is a food item, so what does that have to do with speech? Apparently to Paul, it was important. And grace. How many times have we offered grace towards others in our speech? Are we quick to judge? Be critical? Condemn the other person impatiently, before we know the whole story; their story, and not the one we wrote in our minds for them? When the other person has made a mistake? When we are shopping for the holidays, and the salesclerk makes a mistake, resulting in over charging us? When the waiter/ waitress gets our food order wrong? Or when our spouse forgets an important task we needed them to do? Can we talk and respond in those situations with grace? What words do we use? What tone of voice do we use?

It isn’t as easy as it seems. We get stressed out at the holidays. And instead of reflecting Jesus, we reflect Scrooge. We argue with others online to hear our own voice. We send our food back to the restaurant’s kitchen and write bad reviews. We call the sales clerk out on their mistakes.

But, yet we want to share Jesus with the world. Our actions are like the substitute ingredient. It just doesn’t work. As they say actions speak louder the words. And our choice of words can either enhance the speech or ruin it. We can condemn or redeem. We need the right ingredient; grace.

We need to demonstrate this grace. We also, according to Paul, need to season our words with salt. Salt makes every dish better, and often has the effect of making us want more. Think of potato chips. Or crisps for my UK friends. It is difficult to stop at eating just one chip.

I challenge you this holiday season to read Paul’s letter to the Colossians. And then ask yourself ; Am I making the most of every opportunity? Are my words filled with grace and salt? Do I know how to answer everyone? The difficult people? The people who have made mistakes? The ones we disagree with? Am I offering others grace? Do my actions reflect this special ingredient? Am I impatient? Am I careful with the words I use? Are they building up the other person? Or tearing them down?

Jesus looks at the other person with love, and has offered them grace, the same grace He offered us. The same forgiveness that He offered us.We need to go and do likewise. – God Bless you – Nancy

What Are You Thankful For?

Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song “( Psalm 95:2, NIV).

Here in the United States we are preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving next week. But, you probably wouldn’t know it if you were to walk into any store here. Or in my neighborhood. Oh, there are the usual food items stacked up high on the shelves: pumpkin pie filling, cranberry sauce, gravy, bags of bread crumbs for the stuffing, appetizers, turkey themed decorations. But, if you were to look next to these displays you would also notice the Christmas foods and decorations, given equal shelf space.

In my neighborhood I’ve noticed people have put up their Christmas trees. This juxtaposition of two holidays, each vying for attention, has created a bit of a controversy. Some people embrace the early decorating for Christmas, while others, like myself, believe we should celebrate each holiday as it comes and to not rush things.

Is it possible that we have chosen to rush past Thanksgiving, because we aren’t thankful? Or because it is only a single day, not an entire season. I have heard arguments for both viewpoints. But it has paused me to think about it.

And I have to admit, I have not been in a very thankful mindset lately. I have complained about everything costing so much, thanks to inflation. The budget gets stressed and pushed and tested. And although I try to look past it, I finally realized that it has taken a toll on my joy and my thankfulness. I’ve tried to ignore for awhile, just rolling with it all, all the while thinking I was handling it all. Managing the budget and my soul.

That is until I was reading my morning devotional, while enjoying my morning cup of coffee, and it was like boom! Time for an attitude check. I realized that I was missing something in all my “managing” of myself. My joy. My peace. And most importantly; my thankfulness. I had replaced all of these with worry, anxiety, and complaining. Nothing extreme, nothing I would speak out loud to many people, but something I knew in my soul. The thoughts I was thinking to myself. The complaining that there wasn’t much extra spending cash available. But, I still want stuff. But why are there so many other necessities to buy? Why does it cost so much? Why aren’t the politicians understanding this is a big deal to most people. We are not rich, but I know it has been a stressor for us. I can only imagine how single parents and the elderly are dealing with all this inflation.

Maybe that is it. The reason for the early invasion of Christmas over Thanksgiving. People are wanting hope. Wanting peace. The peace that the birth of Jesus brought. And how are we supposed to be thankful anyway. What is there to be thankful for? Houses are not affordable. Food prices are high. Gasoline is expensive. Covid is still around.

But, Jesus’ birth is the reason we should have a grateful, thankful heart. He is our peace. He is our hope. He is our salvation. We are not helpless. We are not hopeless.

I have realized that this is what I have forgotten. Well, not forgotten per se, but just set aside, while I turned from my focus on Jesus, to my focus on myself, my stresses, anxieties and worries. It can be so subtle. Like when driving a car, and you see something on the side of the road. It catches your attention, so you turn towards it, only to quickly be brought back to the task at hand- driving- when the car ahead suddenly stops. You immediately are brought back to focusing ahead, rather than to the side of the road.

It is not until you are forced to turn back, that you realize, you head drifted your focus to the side of the road. Hopefully you stop in time to prevent a collision with the car ahead. So, my devotional was like the stopping of the car ahead of me. Whoops!Time to focus back on God, instead of allowing it to drift towards complaint, worry, stress, anxiety. I traded joy and thankfulness for a brief side view of my problems.

The problems will still be there. Inflation. Holiday stress. Traffic. Difficult people. They are still vying for my attention from the side of the road.Waving at me to look at them. But, just like safe driving; I must keep my eyes fixed on the author and perfecter of my faith; Jesus. The journey ahead is what I need to focus on- even though some might think this means to race past Thanksgiving, it doesn’t.

I am not giving permission to race ahead of Thanksgiving to celebrate Christmas already. I want to take my time. Be still. Keep each holiday to itself. And quiet the complaining thoughts in my head. Remind myself what I have to be thankful for this year. Change my perspective.

When I change my perspective, shifting my eyes back on Jesus, my attitude catches up and I realize I have a lot to be thankful for this year. My budget is squeezed, but I can still travel to the store and buy food. My family is coming to celebrate. I have lost loved ones, but also celebrate the newest family member, my granddaughter. These problems will pass by, and will probably be replaced with problems. But, I can always choose to keep focused on Jesus to get through it all. Jesus is the best reason of all to be thankful this year. He is with me. He knows my problems, nothing comes as a surprise to Him, so I can rest and trust He has got this.

What are you thankful for?

God bless you- Nancy

When Should We Pray?

“In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly” (Psalm 5:3, NIV).

When should we pray? That might sound like a simple question with a simple answer, but if you have ever struggled to figure it out, then read on.

Most people, whether faith people or not, would probably answer the question like this; “When someone is sick, or when I need to make a big decision.” Just as some kind of good luck charm. So, we better ask for prayer in case there is really some cosmic power that can alter the events we find ourselves (or others we care about) are in. And of course those of us who are faith people and hold onto tightly and unswerving to our faith in God, knowing He does exist, would answer the question; “always”.

But, what I am really trying to find the answer to, is when, personally, should we pray? Is there really a better time to come before God with our thanksgiving and requests? Is there a better time of day to pray? Or read God’s Word?

I pose the above question because I have been struggling with it myself. And not because I do not want to, or because I believe it is unimportant (it is not unimportant!). On the contrary, it is because I know it is important, that I am struggling in the first place.

Here’s the deal; my husband recently changed shifts at his work. It has had a rippling effect on my schedule, and in particular, my devo time. (Devotional time- i.e. reading my Bible, praying, and reading a short devotional book).

I used to have a few uninterrupted minutes to read, reflect and pray as my day begun- always after my coffee though; I need my coffee before I come before the throne of God. It was a good time of day for me to focus and present all of my cares and concerns before God and lay them at His feet. The devotional book brought my worries and anxiety down as I listened to the gifted writing of a fellow minister of the Gospel.

I traded this time of quiet and pause for something as equally great; a chance to sit down at breakfast with my husband and talk before the toll of a long day at work stole the best of conversations. We found ourselves talking, eating and planning the day’s errands and chores. Before I knew it, the time had flown by and with it my devo time.

So, after all my work was done and I was completely tired from a long day, I tried to read and pray at night before I fell asleep. Let me tell you that midnight is not the best time to pray for me. But, I am sure Jesus knew what I meant as I fell asleep- note to self, avoid praying while laying down!

I also felt a bit of guilt for not praying for others earlier in the day. I wondered if my lack of interceding for them had an effect. But, I quickly corrected myself when I realized it wasn’t all up to me, but in God’s hands anyway. But, still, I felt kinda bad for falling asleep while reading the Bible and praying.

So, I am trying to be more intentional in the mornings, now that I realize how much I missed praying and reading in the morning. As much as I want to spend time with my husband and enjoy this season of second shift, I need to make time for myself; for my own spiritual growth.

Maybe you can relate to this, especially if you have children at home. There is hardly moments of peace and quiet. But, I have been there too, and I remember the struggle is real. Hang in there! Remember it is a season and it will be over before you know it. When our children started school I really found a new sense of freedom as I could pray out loud in the empty house.

And that also reminds me of a recent conversation with my brother in law and he shared about his own prayer time; while driving his truck. I had to agree with him, as I too find drive time to be one of the best times to be alone with God and pray. It might seem that it would be a distraction with all the traffic, but I have found I feel free to raise my voice and share all my concerns with God, in my private car space. Are you with me?

Whatever the time that works best for you, just keep at it, not because its an item on a to do list, but because we need to present our requests before God, and also our thanksgiving. God cares and wants this communication with us. The time of day does not matter to Him. He is always there, waiting on us.

The length of time we read and pray does not matter either. It is not a competition with fellow believers. One minute or sixty minutes does not matter. Allowing God’s Word to settle into our hearts and minds, and giving our cares to God are what matters. We might only have a short time, or maybe it is all day long in little bites, but find the time to listen and to speak to God.

If you don’t know where to start, try Psalm 5. Break it into small paragraphs and let it settle. Think of one praise, or one thing you are thankful to God for. And one worry you can cast on Him. Find a quiet place- maybe your car, or maybe even lock yourself in the bathroom- heard that idea from a mom of toddlers! Make the time that works best for you. Anytime is best for God. He’s waiting.- God Bless you – Nancy

Letting Go of The Past

The wooden posts were firmly embedded in the dirt. They were joined together by another beam of wood across the top of the posts. But the sign that should have hung to these posts was missing. The sign that should have been advertising the business to the traveler along the roadside. The car moved quickly past the barren sign post and on to the next view; the torn and tattered awning, now fallen in front of the door. The windows were dingy and the outline of a florescent sign “pizza” could be found through the dirty glass. I turned my head and saw another view across the street as a freshly painted building gave hope that there was still life in this town. It was a familiar town to visit as I had grown up here. But it had changed; I had changed.

I smirked a bit, not in a bad way, but just to acknowledge the irony of the situation. Death had brought me here on this trip and it was the death, or near death, of my hometown that I saw all around me. Someone once wrote that you can’t go back again and I now realize that they were right.

At least partially. YOU can go back, but it will never be the place you left. It always changes. Sometimes there is growth as a town expands and becomes a small city. But at other locations, like my hometown, there is death. The town once had a fundraiser to fix up the town park. Families were invited to purchase a brick that would form a pathway to the refurbished gazebo in the center of the park. Now, the bricks are faded, names on the bricks barely able to be read. There are weeds between the bricks and areas that have been heaved and shifted as the trees and their roots disturbed the once straight, smooth path.

I often consider finding our named brick and digging it out, now that we no longer live here. But, I never can seem to find it. The name must have faded too. And as we moved further away, the connections to the town faded as well. Until death brings us back.

This trip would be a trip to see family that remained in the town and to retrieve a small desk that preserved my memories of my Aunt who had passed away. This little desk had been a piece by her front door, that for as long as I could remember was always by her front door, even in her previous house, a house I often visited as a child. It kept things in order for me. And I guess having this little desk would keep a little piece of her, or at least a memory of her close to me. She had been an important and inspiring part of my childhood. She was a world traveler and a university professor. I loved visiting her classroom on campus and walking around this huge school. She would always send me postcards on her travels and bring back souvenirs for me from all these neat places. She inspired my own love of travel.

Since we were in town, we also learned of the death of a young man, that through marriage had been our niece’s husband. The calling hours would be when we were visiting, so we went. Once again death seemed to be all around this trip. The young man had lived in our town and many of the people he had grown up with; classmates and school teachers, were all there. Our old neighbors were there as well.

Just for a moment as we struck up conversations and reunited with our neighbors, our children’s teachers, and family there, the gap of time seemed to have disappeared. It was like we had time traveled. Some had changed, with more gray hair and more wrinkles than I had remembered, but they all recognized my husband and I. It was both reassuring, yet different. We were not a part of their town anymore; we had moved and moved on. But it was still nice to hold on to this piece of nostalgia of neighbors, friends, and community. The community that can be missing now that we live in a larger city.

But things change. No matter how much I want them to stay the same, everything seems to change. Businesses close, businesses are bought, names fade, memories fade, paint chips and fades on buildings, people we love pass away. And through it all, we must move on, moving forward.

Moving forward is not a bad thing if we realize the growth we can find in the process. The past is full of memories of people, places and events that have shaped us. They have made a difference in our life and of whom we have become. Life is a journey and our faith grows in the journey.

But what makes the most difference is how we let our circumstances affect us in this faith journey.There can be pain in the past, or joy that we can learn from. We will make mistakes as we travel on this journey of faith and growth, as we are not perfect people.

When I think about moving past the past, as growing in our faith, I think about the apostle Paul who said, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” (Philippians 3:12-13, NIV).

So, even an Apostle, who wrote most of the New Testament, admitted his own need to keep pressing on past the past to grow in faith. Growing in his relationship with God. And he had quite a bit to move past, as a former persecutor of the church. He was himself responsible for the imprisonments and deaths of early church Christians, even women. On one of his rounding up of Christians,he met Jesus, and his life was forever changed. He would no longer attempt to stop a movement that he once considered blasphemous, but actually grow the church. His past was in the past, as Jesus called him to move forward into his new role as evangelist to the Gentiles.

And after several years of preaching the Gospel, he still realized he had more growth to go as he wrote to the church in Philippi to encourage them. He realized that his faith journey was not an instant perfection, there would be growth and a need to move forward. Straining forward as he writes, similar to a runner reaching out to the finish line of a race. He couldn’t stay attached to the past, whether to mull over all the terrible things he had done to Christians in the past, or to bask in his own accomplishments of planting churches and preaching. There was more to look forward to.

And as much as I would like the landmarks of my own hometown to remain untouched, so I can go back a visit with everything remaining intact, I know it is impossible. It makes me sad to see the death of the past, a past that brings happy memories, but I trust God has even more new memories that I can make. Someday, I too will be a part of someone’s memory. I hope I will affect others and point them to Christ so that they will will remember me. Maybe they will remember a desk by my front door. God bless you – Nancy

Burning The Midnight Oil (of Worry)

My friend Melinda owns a store in my hometown and like any business, she and her husband spend many hours at the store. It’s a huge responsibility and often requires them to “burn the midnight oil” restocking the shelves so they will be ready to open the next morning. This is particularly true when the seasons shift. They sell home decor items that tend to follow the seasons and holidays, so every time there is a changing of seasons, their store must change its stock.

If you have ever worked retail, or even food service, then you understand what I mean by this change of decor. It is a team effort and often done through extended hours, either before or after your usual shift. When you own the business, like my friend, there are no shift hours, its get the job done regardless of the hour- even if it is literally past midnight. She is the owner so it falls upon her to make sure it all happens on time. It is her responsibility.

I was reminded of this as I checked my Facebook this morning and Melinda had posted late last night, while restocking the store, and while I was apparently blissfully sleeping. But, actually, I admit I wasn’t. I too was burning the midnight oil, waking up in the middle of the night and thinking. And thinking. Have you ever been there, done that? When your thoughts are keeping you awake way past midnight?

I would like to say that once my head hits the pillow I drift off into sleep without a care in the world. And most of the time I do. But, when there is so much happening in my life I either find that I am having trouble falling asleep as I play the events of the day that has just passed over and over again. Trying to decide if I handled it all correctly. Or previewing all the events that will take place the next day, or next week, or even next year. Pondering it all. Working my mind out, while it should be resting.

It is too easy to let this happen isn’t it? To be fair, I do believe it is a good idea to think back on the day that has just passed. But, instead of a critique,why not a gratitude check? Instead of focusing on whether or not we did everything right, why not focus on what God did. Did you see the work God was doing?

Reflecting at night with a thankful and grateful heart forces me to stop and think productively. Not focus on whether I did everything right- which I’m pretty sure I didn’t, but looking at the little things that worked out beyond my expectations and realize God was in it. In the smallest detail. The ones we might overlook because of our busyness and hurried lifestyle of 2022.

And what about tomorrow’s worries? Instead of thinking and overthinking about events that usually do not happen like we think they will, let’s try really giving them to God. We can make our plans, and be organized, but, we really are not in control of everything. We are not the owners of this world, just the caretakers. We can give all the worries of tomorrow and all of our plans to God.

Jesus knows that we would worry when he said; “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25, NIV). He points out that God knows what we need and since God takes care of the birds and the flowers, surely He can take care of our needs. So why should we be worrying?

And if we are still unclear about what Jesus says about worry, He adds in the last verse of chapter 6 of Matthew; “Therefore, don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Mt. 6:34, CSB).

Ouch. I am definitely guilty of worrying too much about tomorrow. I need God to remind me often, that I just need to stop and be still. Stop my over thinking and over analyzing, long enough to relax, let it go and let Him work it all out. It takes the Holy Spirit to nudge me and remind me to give it to God. To stop focusing on what has passed already and what may or may not happen tomorrow. To be reminded that I do not need to burn the midnight oil worrying.

I hope this will be a reminder to you too. Stop focusing on your problems and start focusing on God. – God Bless You – Nancy

Keep Moving Forward

So, do you think God still speaks to us today? Or do you believe He just created the world, set the auto pilot, stepped back and let it run? Maybe, if you are like me at times, you begin to believe the latter. God seems to be silent. You pray and seek His answers to your requests. Maybe you ask for His direction. Or maybe for something you want desperately to happen- like a job, a healing, a home, a baby. Or maybe its for someone else. Maybe you just want to know if He is there and listening. But, it seems as if Heaven has shut you out.

If you are persistent, you keep on asking. I mean, that’s in the Bible, right? Knock and keep on knocking, ask and keep on asking. In your mind you might think; “I will pester God enough that He will answer with what I want.” Instantly. Or at least in your idea of the right time. We start to recreate God into what we think He should be; our own cosmic Santa Claus, or magic genie in a bottle. Our personal wish giver, or personal shopper.

It seems to me that part of our problem is not whether God is listening and communicating with us, but our own impatience. We just want to rush and get things done. We hate being still and waiting.

The waiting and the silence are uncomfortable. Like a blind date, or first date that isn’t going well. The silence is awkward. We make up things to say. Trying to spark a conversation with the other person.

In our asking, knocking and seeking God’s answers we can start out asking the “If you will just…., then I promise to….. for you God” As the time drags on without a return reply, we even offer to up the ante with Him. “I promise God, I’ll go be a missionary, or give all my money away, just please, please give me this one thing.”

Waiting is difficult. I’ve been there. Praying for the healing of friends and family. Circumstances got worse, not better. I’ve doubted my own prayer “worthiness”. “Maybe God is upset with me” or even “Maybe I’m not praying right” To the dreaded comparison trap that wonders why others can hear from God, or get their requests answered and I don’t.

To be clear though, I have also been the one with the answered prayers for jobs, food, pregnancy, and a home. And healing. But being true to my own human nature, flawed as it is, I remember the silence more than the answers. Why is it we tend towards the negative anyway?

The reality of it all, is that God does speak to us, but we are too busy to observe the answers. Sometimes it is as simple as rainbow in the sky, a sign on a business, a rock in the shape of a heart, or a kind word from a friend. Or a scripture that jumped off the page of the Bible. Giving us a confirmation that God is still concerned with what concerns us.

Four years ago, the encouraging words from a college professor propelled (and challenged) me to begin a blog. A blog that was intended to help others through the difficulties and challenges of life as a Christian. Life keeps moving forward and we must work through it all. Having faith in Jesus does not shield us from pain, sorrow, stress, anxiety, difficulty, or grief. And it is not a guaranty of happiness and joy 24/7. It gives us hope that we are not alone. And that this life with all of its difficulty is only temporary. We have an eternity that will make this life and all its problems a distant memory someday.There is something more we were created for. Someone more we were created for. To love and be loved by. Forever.

I have heard many of your stories of how the blog has helped you and encouraged you. I am encouraged by the stories. God always knows the right topic for me to write. I hope my own struggles will encourage you to keep moving forward. We are in this all together. “And let us consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds” as the author of Hebrews reminds us. We encourage each other as we grow and go through difficulties that we can share with others. I am definitely a work in progress and I too struggle to wait to hear from God. But my struggles can encourage you that you are not alone.

But just like I hope the blog encourages you, I too get my encouragement from others blogs and podcasts. And God reminds me to keep writing to encourage you in your faith. Keep going on and do not give up. God is listening. He cares. He knows just what you need to hear from Him and He waits until we are paying attention enough to hear. Be still. Even for a moment and listen and watch. And read His word. Let Him speak to you in His own words. God Bless You – Nancy

What Is Good, Anymore?

“Would you like some more coffee?” ‘No, I’m good” “How are you doing today?” “I’m good, how about you?” “Are we good?” “Yes, it looks good” “God is so good, so good to me!”

You can probably think of the multiple ways you have heard the word good used. It seems to be a generic, catch- all word to describe everything from the ripeness of fruit, to relationships, to our state of mind, to the accuracy in a construction project. The number of times the word is used makes me wonder if everything can be called good. If everything is so good, why is there still bad in the world?

In Christian circles the phrase “God is good” is used many times. I’ve even heard it used in a mocking way, towards believers by unbelievers. Perhaps they too have heard it so many times uttered by Christians that they have witnessed the insincerity of the phrase.

To be sure the word good is used many times in the Bible, beginning in Genesis when God called each of His created things, good. And what God calls good is good. It is His standard, not ours.

Yet, if we are honest, we prefer our standard definition of good, rather than God’s standard. We tend to measure goodness, in terms of contentment, satisfaction and blessing. If it is good for us, than it must be declared good. When God blesses us in our finances, work, families, or generally answers our prayers in the way we want, well, then we declare “God is good!”

If we are honest, we mistake our feelings, for a true declaration of God’s goodness. God’s goodness does not depend upon us calling Him good, based upon our understanding of circumstances, but rather, on who He is. He is good because it is His character. He is still good, whether our circumstances align with the goodness or blessings in our lives. God is still good when a tornado strikes. God is still good when someone is taken from this life too soon. God is still good when we lose everything.

If you visit any book store and search for inspirational stories, i.e. the “religion” section, you will find plenty of Christian books on living the good life. All promise a better life than what you currently live, if only you will buy the book, follow the easy five step plan and in an instant your life will be good. If you follow this direction, I’m sad to say, you will be disappointed. Life is not always good. Life is not always blessed in the ways we want and desire. God is not so much interested in a financial blessing as a spiritual growth blessing in our lives. Growth can mean pain and difficulty. My son suggested a better book title to more accurately describe life as “Life sucks, but it still goes on anyway” I wonder if a book with that title would sell, or if we are too conditioned for the “good life” of ease and blessings.

When children grow, they often experience growing pains. This is not a bad thing, but rather good and necessary. In our darkest, loneliest moments is when grow and increased dependence upon God occurs. We draw closer in our relationship with Him. We cling to Him and call our to Him. Yet, do we ever exclaim “God is good” in our pain?

Yet, so many false teachers are out there in the world, claiming that God wants to make us rich and happy. Reality is, the only ones getting rich and happy are them, selling their books and programs. They have taught us that goodness, and in particular, the goodness of God is to be measured by our own standards, based on our own contentment. We have become the ones who declare God is good, if He meets our standards. We call ourselves good if we do our good works and are recognized for them. We call ourselves good when we reach our personal goals. We call ourselves good when we are content.

And we lie to each other as well. How often have you answered someone who asked how you are with, “I’m good” when inside you are actually a mess. Why not be honest with each other. If you are not okay or “good” say so. Let’s share each other burdens and pray for each other, you know like the Bible instructs us to do.

Finally, we should be aware that our own definition of goodness is very skewed. look around the world and it does not take long to see a shift to the acceptance of bad practices becoming the accepted and normal. Life is not protected and cherished, relationships are temporary and used for pleasure rather than long term commitment. Life is about what we call good. Whatever feels right or convenient. We do not want pain, or worry or difficulty. We want our good. We want our brand of happy.

The prophet Isaiah mentions “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” (Is. 5:20-21, ESV). Apparently, this has been a problem for mankind for awhile.

I do not have a definition of woe but I’m pretty sure it’s a warning. Yet, mankind still tries to substitute evil for good. We attempt our own definition and usage of good. But, this becomes a problem when your definition of good does not match my definition. If I call something good that you find bad or evil, how can we find resolution? Do we simply isolate ourselves? What if there were an arbiter? To settle the dispute over definition?

Well, thankfully, there is; God is the arbiter to decide what is good. Let’s follow His definition and think twice before we proclaim “God is good!” only when everything is going our way. Let’s allow the Bible to define good and evil. Let us keep on our course and finish the race set before us, whether that means blessings or difficulties. God is still good, and not by our standards, but His. -God Bless You- Nancy

Held Back

I walked down the aisle and found my seat. I sat down and stared out the window as the early morning sun streamed across the wing. The glare of the sun was bright, but I watched as the ground crew busied themselves with pre-flight duties. I was ready to get home. This was the second flight of a two flight journey that would bring me home after two weeks overseas. My husband and I had just landed an hour before from a red eye overnight flight and we were both tired.

It was then that the pilot broke the silence and informed us that there was a slight delay due to waiting on bags from connecting flights. I breathed a sigh of relief, as I thought, well, maybe the bags are from our flight. So, I guess I don’t mind the wait.

A few minutes later the captain once again spoke, and yet there would be another delay. This time for aircraft maintenance. A seal needed checking. It is at these times that I am glad to be traveling with my husband, an FAA aviation mechanic. He turned to me and said”It’s probably a door seal” What!? yeah I think that would be important at 30,000 feet. Better check that before we take off. So, I didn’t really mind the delay. I was glad they were holding back the flight. As much as I wanted to get back home and rest from my jet lag, a delay for safety was understandable.

But, I have to admit, I don’t like delays to my plans, otherwise. I like everything to follow my action plan, without delays. My plans, my way, in my time table. Funny thing is, that is not how this world works. I apparently, am not in charge, even though I deceive myself into thinking that way at times.

Have you ever felt like something was just holding back your progress? Whether at work, life status, or spiritually? We want to make our plans and stick with them, but many times we might feel like it is one step forward and two steps backwards. Part of the focus of this blog is to explore growing in faith through the challenges of life. And there will be challenges in this life. We simply cannot escape them. Life is full of change. We grow as babies into children, into preteens, young adults, adults, and finally senior adults. There are many changes and challenges. Likewise, we grow as Christians from baby,into newbies, and then into mature Christians. But this journey takes the rest of our lives. It is not a quick growth track. God uses all of our challenges to mature our faith. He has a plan to help us in our journey. And it is always in His timing.

When I think about timing and the Bible, I think about two stories of two different Bible characters. Character might not be the right term, because these involve real people, not just fiction characters.

The first is from the book of Ester. If you are familiar with this story, then you might recall a well quoted verse from the book. “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” This is an often repeated verse from Ester’s uncle, Mordecai. Mordecai was attempting to encourage Ester to go forward and meet with her husband, the King, in order to reverse a law that would have wiped out the Jewish people, Ester’s people. Ester, a Jewish young woman had been chosen to be Queen after a long preparation time. It is an interesting account of faith and trust in God’s provision and His timing.

The second I am reminded of is from the Book of Acts and involves the Apostle Paul. Acts 16:7 records this; “When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.” (NIV) Luke, the author of the book adds; “So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.” (vs. 8) I’ve always wondered why they were allowed to go to Mysia and just how were they stopped. No clear explanation is given, but later we read that Paul had a vision after this that called him to Macedonia. Still, it is one of those interesting passages to consider.

The first example is clear it was the right time for Ester to speak up and perhaps was the very reason why she was chosen as Queen, instead of other women who were also in the running for the position of Queen. It was the right timing. In the second example of Paul, it clearly wasn’t the right timing or the right place, so they were held back from visiting Mysia ( now Turkey).

We might find ourselves in a situation in which God says you are where you need to be ( the right place, for such a time as this) or even: not now, wait, this isn’t the right time or place (being held back) just like my flight home. What I couldn’t understand, sitting there, waiting to taxi out, the pilot knew, the ground crew knew, and the mechanics knew. I just did not know. I could only speculate. I was just waiting for it to be the right time to move forward.

That is the thing about our faith journey, we do not fully understand why there are delays. But, God knows. Maybe we are not yet ready for the next growth step. Or maybe the others around us are not ready.

If you’ve ever been grounded on board a plane, you probably waited it out, trusting the pilots, crew and ground mechanics. So to speak you placed your complete trust in them. You had to, unless of course you know how to fly the plane yourself, but even then you would need to wait. And by the way, on our flight, there were other pilots and crew onboard, flying as passengers to their next airport assignment. They could have taken over, because they were qualified. (How many times do we think we can take over for God and can manage our own lives?) But, without the mechanical go ahead, and the place in line to take off down the runway, even the other pilots on board had to just sit and wait it out. We were all held back for a few minutes on that flight.

Trusting God should be as easy as trusting pilots and mechanics with getting our flights safely off the ground. The struggle we have, or at least I think I have is letting go of my own control of my life and my time table. I want to go ahead and fly my own plane, so to speak. And most of the time I do not understand the hold backs in my life. I probably won’t fully understand most of them until I can personally ask Jesus why someday. But, by then I probably won’t care. So, if you are like me, then let’s just pray for each other to stop and quiet our busy thoughts that drive us crazy about why life feels like we are being held back. Remember its not our timing, but God’s. We might not fully understand, but we can sit back and trust God. God Bless You – Nancy

Expecting Empanadas?

Are you looking for your empanada wrappers? If you are, I have your order. I’m sure you were disappointed when you received my chicken, carrots and cucumbers. Not what you were expecting from your grocery delivery. You were expecting your ice cream, cereal, milk and bread. And your empanada wrappers. Were you going to make them for your family?

To be honest, I was frustrated and tired when I opened the door and found the wrong grocery order. I had just returned from a long plane ride and was feeling jet lag. The last thing I wanted to deal with was the customer service department of the delivery service. But, I found myself calling the number, seeking my food and questioning what I was supposed to do with the wrong order, now melting on my front steps.

Two calls later and I was reassured that my money would be refunded and I could either keep the wrong food, or throw it away. Thankfully, it hadn’t melted too much and I brought the bags inside to inspect the mystery food. I didn’t know what to expect and it felt a little like Christmas, except I was opening someone else’s presents.

It felt so strange to open someone else’s order and find out what they had bought. There wasn’t a name or any address given, so I decided to make the most of what had randomly shown up at my door. If you have any empanada recipes let me know. I’ve never made them myself, so I’ll need to google a recipe.

Have you ever had this happen to you? Maybe it wasn’t an order for food, but maybe something else? We all have certain expectations that when they are not met, we are disappointed. We expect everything to happen in a certain way, at a certain time. But, then the appointed time passes and nothing. Or maybe its something as simple as getting in our car, or grabbing a bus or train, when we find our selves stuck. The train is broken down, or the bus, or our car suddenly won’t start, or there’s a flat tire.

I’m sure you have plenty of stories you could share of these missed expectations and delays. But, how do you deal with them? Can you find any humor in them? Can you see God’s handy work? Was your train or bus or plane delayed, saving you from an unseen tragedy? Can you make lemonade from life’s lemons? Or in my case, empanadas.

Perhaps, what happens after depends upon on our attitudes. Can we find the good in it all? Can we trust God with it all? Can we trust Him that in all of this life’s unmet expectations He has a clear plan? That maybe He knows what we need better than we do?

In the two weeks I was on my trip, God taught me quite a bit about my expectations. Two days into my trip and I received word that a friend had collapsed and was near death. I joined others in praying for her recovery and was brought back to thoughts of going through a similar situation with loved ones.

I expected to relax and rejoice on my trip, not find myself crying. Sadly, my friend passed, as had my loved one years before. For a moment life seemed out of control, and not making any sense. I had just received a message from this friend a day before I left. And now, in a quick turn of events, she was gone. I felt a twinge of regret that I hadn’t spent too much time with her. Our correspondence was mostly through social media.

I know it will be difficult on her family. Grief isn’t easy and it is a journey to go through. A journey, that as I get older, happens more frequently as older relatives are passing away. But when it happens to someone young, it is completely unexpected. My friend was young. If anything hopeful that has come from her death is all the stories her friends have told of her encouragement. She would often share her faith and specific Bible verses to her close friends. I wasn’t in the group of her closest friends, but it was encouraging to hear of her kindness and generosity. And her faith.

I realized that my expectations of life, what constitutes a long life, and what is fair or not fair in this life, are skewed. I cannot understand the big picture, the way God see it. I was reminded of a verse from Isaiah; ““For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD” (Is. 55:8, NIV). We don’t always understand why our expectations aren’t met. Our expectations reflect our own limited view of life.

It took a wrong order to help me understand that there will be many times when my expectations are not met. My view of life is limited; God’s is infinite. His perspective is perfect. I wanted my needs met, but God knew what I needed- a wrong order that reminded me that I am not in control of it all and I do not always understand, but I can trust Him. – God Bless- Nancy