My Wall of Fame

Wall2With twenty-six letters in the alphabet and eleven grandchildren, I’m fascinated that none of their first names start with the same letter. Eleven grandchildren with eleven different first initials—and their uniqueness doesn’t end there. Like your children and grandchildren, each one has different strengths, distinguishing qualities and distinctive gifts.

Always on the lookout for ways to build them up, I recently created a grandchildren’s Wall of Fame. Each of their initials is featured on the wall and written on each letter, are five strengths the child especially displays. My desire was to affirm them and show them they’re appreciated for who they are.

It was precious to watch them search for their letter and then examine the words on their initial, sometimes heartily agreeing, sometimes asking the meaning of a word. As children, they didn’t hide their pleasure at being known and appreciated. Adults may be more discreet, but it’s no less important for us to be valued than it is for my treasured eleven.

Wouldn’t it be great if we were more attentive to the qualities of others—each one created in God’s image? And wouldn’t it be even greater if we expressed our appreciation for one another?

“So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”     1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NLT)

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Summer is Half Over

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Does that rouse feelings of disappointment or elation? For me, this is good news because summer is my least favorite season. However, I was checking my attitude as I laid awake the other night and I made a biblical decision. In line with 1 Thessalonians 5:18, I decided to give thanks in everything—even in summer.

How many things on my list resonate with you?

Watermelon. This has to be my favorite fruit. When I was a kid, eating watermelon included pit-spitting contests—there was no seedless variety. My daughter and I can finish off a small melon between the two of us (seedless, if you please) and a barbecue just isn’t complete without watermelon juice dripping from your chin.

Lightning bugs. If you’re not from New Jersey you might call them fire flies, but we’re talking about the same thing—those insects that fly and flash in the summer night, lighting hearts with their flicker and fascinating children who run in search of jars to hold them captive for awe-inspiring close examination.

Sparklers, sprinklers & s’mores. Kid-fun that’s right up there with lightning bugs. We use any celebration as an excuse for sparklers, any hot day to turn on the sprinkler, and any summer evening for s’mores. I’m strictly a toasted marshmallow girl, but I love to watch the kids make a mess sandwiching them with graham crackers and chocolate squares.

Pedicures. I get, maybe, three pedicures a year: June, July and August, making them a definite summer perk. For my July pedi I was daring and opted for my first blue polish job. Ugh—my toes are aqua! I hate it…but, hey, tomorrow it’s August.

Ice cream cones. Ice cream is pretty much a year-round treat, but put a scoop on a cone and it shouts summer. Ice cream licked from a cone simply tastes different, whether it’s soft serve or hard. My favorite is coconut with dark chocolate-covered almonds. So far, I’ve only found it at Bellvale Farms Creamery in Warwick. Yum! So worth the trip.

Barbecues. I’m not a cook but I can make salads so this is my favorite hosting venue. Everybody seems relaxed at a BBQ, spilled food waits for scavenging squirrels, and conversation mixes with easy laughter. And…even I can cook a hamburger.

Iced tea. I make the best iced tea. Period. When the kids were living home, I had to restrict them. We were going through a gallon a day so I insisted they drink a glass of water before guzzling my precious tea. Now they all use my recipe and I love having a cold glass of tea that they made.

Books. There’s reading, and then there’s summer reading. The lazy days without schedules and the stress-free atmosphere make reading in the summer delicious. I devoured the 550-page Poisonwood Bible without feeling guilty about spending hours engrossed in reading because, well, it’s summer.

I admit, this exercise in gratitude has improved my attitude, even if I still find air conditioning to be the best thing about summer. My outlook is more positive, I’m appreciative, and my heart’s lighter.

You are my God, and I will give you thanks; you are my God, and I will exalt you.      Psalm 118:28, NIV

And when I do, the benefit is mine!

What do you like about summer?

*Image from fastweb.com

The Discussion

I wasn’t exactly feeling smug. It was more like I was trying to justify my prayer life. I think I pretty much pray without ceasing, praising and pleading throughout the day. I realize that intercession is a spiritual gift I’ve not been given, but I also acknowledge that we are all expected to pray. Then I got real and had to admit that many of my prayers are sentence fragments, but that’s okay, right? I mean, God knows my heart and understands what I mean better than I do. If you think that sounds like an excuse, you’re right because a greater dose of honesty admits that most of my prayers seem to be incomplete phrases. These were my thoughts—and then I saw the picture.

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It popped up on Instagram, labeled The Discussion. The photo showed a couple on vacation, sitting across from each other in deep conversation. The picture touched me because, unlike usual vacation photos that capture playing and pampering, this one illustrated the real value of time away with one you love—conversation. Let me digress.

My husband and I share Mondays together, his day off. We usually allow ourselves the luxury of sleeping in and then go out for a late breakfast before taking a long ride. Whether we travel Seven Lakes Drive, ride to the Jersey shore, or wend our way up to Sussex, what makes this day special is uninterrupted, unrushed discussion. We have time to let the outflow of our hearts spill out—which is what the discussion photo captured.

As I looked at The Discussion with appreciation, it abruptly became a gentle means of conviction in the hands of the Holy Spirit. If I would not be happy without open conversation and deep discussion with the one I love, why do I accept a mediocrity of words with the One I love? Why do I content myself with fragmented sentences when He has offered me a chair at the table for a lengthy discussion? Even if He knows what I think, He wants to hear me say it, just as I want to hear words from those I love.

I transparently share this because I hope that you, too, will pull up a chair and settle in for a discussion. Let’s make time to sit with the Lord and allow our partial phrases to develop into meaningful conversations. May the next snapshot of your prayer life be labeled The Discussion.

A Timely Snow Day

I have a hand soap in my bathroom called Snowflake. A few weeks ago I picked it up and considered replacing it with Fresh Pear because who wants to think about snow? But, although it was an unseasonably warm day, the hand soap did start me thinking about snow. And then I wanted to blog my thoughts but, as I said, who wants to think about snow?

Right about now, if you’re living in North Jersey, you are definitely thinking about snow so, woo-hoo! I get to blog about it. My thoughts are neither remarkable nor original but, on that day, for me, they were profound.

I love a snow day. I love being housebound. I love sipping a cup of hot coffee as I watch my husband clear the snow without my help. Whether you share my passion or dread the digging out, you have to agree with the me about the beauty of a fresh snowfall. It’s so quiet and so white, unspoiled, clean, glistening. It seems to gentle the world and transport us to a peaceful place.

On the day of the hand soap quandary, it was thinking about the whiteness of snow that impressed me. I washed my hands with what was supposed to smell of snowflakes, knowing that it didn’t wash away all the germs. It certainly didn’t wash away wrinkles and for sure didn’t wash away the sin within. The thought of Jesus forgiving me and turning my sins from red to white overwhelmed me. To think that I am made unspoiled, clean, glistening like the snow. Instantly I am in a place of peace, no tire tracks marring me, no dirt kicked up from the plow, no pebbles embedded in me—I’m pure white. I have to admit, I can scarcely comprehend that depth of forgiveness or that thorough a cleansing.

This afternoon, before the traffic resumes and the quiet disappears, pause at your window for a few minutes to take in the beauty and purity of the fresh fallen snow.

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“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…” Isaiah 1:18

Help! Where Did my Passion Go?

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We’ve all experienced the excitement of a great idea, solution to a quandary, or brilliant inspiration that gets us psyched. We’re ready to conquer the world, right the injustice, and solve the problem, but by the time we get around to it, we find there’s been a slow leak.

What once inspired us, is no longer compelling—and we miss the passion. The problem is that passion is heavy with emotion and emotions vacillate. Life gets in the way and immediate needs clamor for our attention. This doesn’t mean our cause is dead! I believe we can reignite our passion in three specific ways.

  1. Passion takes up space—so make room for it—in your mind and in your moments.

In other words, be intentional with what you put in your mind and allow to take up your moments. Don’t crowd out passion with lesser pursuits. Ask yourself Isaiah’s question: “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?” Then he adds, “Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare” (Isaiah 55:2). Make room for your passion—it is the richest of fare.

  1. Passion fades, so fan it.

Talk to yourself; talk to God; talk to others. Look for opportunities. Journal your thoughts. Don’t content yourself with what once was, but follow Paul’s advice to Timothy and “fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you….” If God has stirred passion in your heart, trust that the rest of that passage is also true for you: “…God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline“ (2 Timothy 1:6-7). Passion is not given to be put on a shelf but to be confidently stoked to be a powerful, loving force.

  1. Passion subsists on truth, so feed it.

What we feed grows, so let’s feed our passion—not with a diet of vacillating feelings, but with the sustenance of truth. It’s not a matter of getting emotionally pumped, but being deeply balanced. Let’s feed our passion with truth. Read; learn; practice. Matthew tells us that what we take in will come out: “…For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34 NIV). Read it again in the NLT, “…For whatever is in your heart determines what you say.”

Please be encouraged to pursue your passion—make room for it, fan it, feed it. I can’t wait to see the wonderful results that are to come!

Article adapted from my devotional for the North Jersey Christian Writers Group
Graphic compliments of pintrest.com/stickmancliff

A Love that’s More than Emotion

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Emotional love is lopsided. For instance, a friend recently said he wouldn’t go to rehab because he loved his wife too much. Wouldn’t love propel a person to go to rehab?

How about this? “I love you so much, I want to be with you all the time.” The unspoken sentiment being, “Don’t go anywhere without me.”

Or the husband who says, “I’m so thankful God gave you to me as my helper,” but means, “Put your personal desires on the back burner because I need you.”

No matter what feeling is involved, this is distorted love,
a twisted version of its true meaning. These behaviors don’t line up with the love described in the Bible.

Because we hear it so often, it’s easy to gloss over I Corinthians 13, but let’s pause a few minutes on this Valentine’s Day to think about what love actually is.

Love is patient — with you and all your foibles, but not with your sin or abuse.

Love is kind — but there are times when tough love is the kindness you need.

Love doesn’t envy — it roots for you when you do well and encourages you to go further.

Love doesn’t boast or act proudly — it is humble, thankful, reasonable.

Love isn’t rude — it treats you with respect.

Love isn’t self-seeking — it defers to you, promotes you, blesses you.

Love is not easily angered — with shortcomings or annoyances, but when it comes to sin, reread patient and kind.

Love keeps no record of wrongs — it forgives and has a big eraser.

Love doesn’t delight in evil — it doesn’t make excuses but works to overcome evil, personally and in others. What it does delight in is truth & righteousness.

Love protects — a protector will be inconvenienced without conplaint and even put himself in danger for the sake of the one he loves.

Love trusts — it doesn’t have to agree with you, but will trust you enough to let you try — and is there to help with the clean-up if things don’t work out.

Love hopes — it doesn’t get discouraged with your quirks, failures or lack of progress; it doesn’t give up on you or your dreams.

Love perseveres — it just keeps going— you know, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness & in health, in job loss or foreclosure, in debilitating disease or extra pounds, through rebellious kids or no kids, through in-law issues or legal issues, through bad habits and embarrassing moments — till death do us part.

This is way short of what I Corinthians 13 says about love, but I promised brevity. Please comment with an aspect of love that is precious to you.

Graphic compliments of pintrest.com/stickmancliff

A Big, Little Word

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Love. Four letters, one of which is not often used. The average English word length is 5.1 letters, which puts love below average. In texting and on Valentine hearts we even reduce it to three letters: LUV. It’s a small word but highly cherished. Who doesn’t like to hear, “I love you”?

Depending on the trustworthiness of the speaker, those three words will either satisfy our souls or alert our defenses because, of all the words in the English language, that one must be spoken sincerely.

We use it lightly to describe our affection for things, such as the beach or chocolate or a favorite restaurant. Last week I wrote about loving brown. We can be flippant and careless and funny with love, but when it comes to people we had better be sincere.

Love for a person is more than warm feelings. It speaks of commitment and service, sharing and sacrifice. But even that doesn’t paint the whole picture. Perhaps two of the greatest components of love are acceptance and forgiveness, which go hand in hand and challenge us the most.

When I love you, I accept you if you don’t think or act like me. Not only am I okay with that, I appreciate it and you. I value your differences, which means that somewhere in my weird psyche, I forgive you for being you. I live and breathe forgiveness, never taking offence at your unique self or opinions or mannerisms. I forgive the hurts, even when inflicted purposefully, spitefully, meanly, because I have decided to love you.

And you is more than singular. It’s also plural—whole people groups, religious groups, national groups, language groups, political groups, ethnic groups, crazy, out-there, nothing-like-me-groups. I forgive you, I accept you, I love you. At least I want to.

I want to live love because I have received love. I know the joy and soul-satisfaction of being actively accepted and fully forgiven, even when I’m nothing like the One who loves me. Too often I’m not at all like the Father who gave me life and love because, unlike Him, I cling to grudges and call bitterness sweet and find satisfaction in withholding forgiveness. Still, He accepts me, forgives me, loves me—and I’m changing. Day by day, I’m becoming more like Him as I accept, forgive and love others because He’s showing me how to do it.

It’s a little word, love, but it’s packed with all that nourishes, satisfies and fulfills us. Karl Reden wrote a song in 1880, Love Makes the World go Round, and I think it really does, because giving love is giving life.

Image compliments of SantaBanta.com

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