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

What Do You Love?

As the designated “love day” approaches, do we really need a Valentine’s Day to celebrate love? Every day offers pleasures and people, experiences and treasures to love. Sometimes they’re special gifts, but more often they are everyday blessings. For instance, have you ever stopped to think about the beauty color adds to life? There’s not one shade I’d like to be without, but today I’m going to focus on a color that may seem less exciting than others…

I Love Brown

rgbstock-comYes, you read that right. In the middle of winter with more gray skies than blue, grass shriveled or covered with snow, and flowers underground biding time before their colorful entry, I look out my window and see a lot of brown.

I love the sight of naked brown branches, their complex patterns silhouetted against the winter sky. They reach out in praise to their Creator, ready to catch the snow He may send, further enhancing their beauty.

I love brown eyes—my husband, four of our children, and many of our grandchildren have them—deep, sparkly, filled with wonder and wondering.

I love the rugged, shaded pattern of tree bark; the crunch of brittle, brown leaves; nuts—light almonds, dark Brazils, walnuts & pecans somewhere in between.

I love to run my fingers over the grain of wood wondrously created by the contrast of light and dark, forming unique patterns that remind me the Creator is amazingly artistic.

I love brown skin, soft and glowing in hues of chestnut, ebony and mahogany, wonderful and deep and rich.

I love black-brown coffee, friendly, steaming, glistening in my cup—a rich dark roast or hazelnut, no cream, thank you, Unless it’s iced or a latte, swirled with milk turning my caffeinated delight a beautiful caramel color.

I love brown leather (or faux leather) boots and purses, my husband’s brown Stetson, and the brown frame that encircles my family’s posed portrait.

I love the coarse earth—lush, dark loam and warm, tan sand.

I love brown horses—bays, roans & mustangs; the orange-reddish brown of Guernsey cows; the tawny golden brown of a lion; the spotted brown of giraffes (are they brown with tan pattern lines or tan, splotched with brown patterns?).

It probably doesn’t need saying, but I love chocolate— not Hershey’s or Nestles, but the good stuff, the darker the better. I love brown chocolate cake (with chocolate frosting), chocolate fudge, hot fudge on chocolate ice cream, and brownies.

And, I confess, I love mud puddles—the irresistible brown-watery, delighted discoveries that tempted my kids when they were little. Truth be told, there must still be some kid in me because even now (though I wouldn’t yield) I feel lured by the beckon of a mud puddle.

I love brown rocks with their unique shapes, smooth, jagged, pointy, each with a long personal history, like the large immovable ones in our yard, or those that create our property walls, or those tipped over by grandsons in search of lizards.

I absolutely love pinecones—long ones, squat ones, large ones, wee ones. They adorn my home all winter—on a wreath, in a bowl, on a sill—winter flowers, brown beauties that don’t wilt or drop petals.

I love brown! Do you? If I missed one of your favorites, please share.

Image courtesy of rgb.com

What No One Told Me

This is a public service announcement:

When my daughter and her family relocated to New Jersey this summer, I began watching my three- and five-year-old grandsons.

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Of course you may have ice cream for your after school snack!

It has been many years since I had full responsibility for two little boys and NO ONE reminded me of the basic knowledge needed for this job. In my desire to assist future babysitting grandparents (and new moms), I issue this public service announcement based on the wisdom I have gleaned over the past few months:

  • About sandboxes. When little boys ask to play in the sandbox and you’re overwhelmed by the sweetness of them asking permission, do not lose your mind. It is not enough to smile and say “Yes. Have fun!” You must qualify your yes—“Yes, but do not throw sand.” This directive will not be understood unless you clearly and emphatically state it. If you do not, you will pay for it.
  • About naps. When the three-year-old grandson lies down on your bed for a nap, be sure to put down a sheet first. If you neglect this step, the aforementioned sand will be waiting for you when you climb into bed at 11 pm. (A waterproof sheet is best, because even though the child sleeps dry at home, he is bound to forget that training at your house.)
  • About grocery shopping. You know those cute shopping carts for children with cars they can sit in? Do not be duped—they are not cute! Navigating them through the aisles requires the skill of a semi driver. Also, they are part of a scheme to get your money because when you pause to put something in your cart, little hands are conveniently positioned to reach the lower shelves and fill the child’s seat with items you have no intention of buying.
  • About grocery shopping, part 2. After you have learned the previous lesson, be warned about the traditional shopping cart. Your grandchild will want to throw your items into the cart, key word being throw. Do not give him a glass jar. Do not put bread in your cart until last. Do not linger within reach of hanging shelf displays, but do be prepared to explain what each dangling package is. By all means, bring a snack. Also, if you invite your grandson to choose a matchbox car from the display, he will think it is part of the grocery shopping routine and expect to stop at said display every week.
  • About shoes. If your grandsons remove their shoes when they come in, you will be putting them back on their feet within five minutes so they can go outside again. However, if they keep their shoes on, I can all but guarantee there is mud on the soles. It is also wise to remind their parents that Velcro is our friend.
  • About questions. If your grandchild is one of those curious individuals who asks questions (every waking moment) it is unlikely you can ignore him. I thought that by not answering, he would let it go. He will not. If the answer is “because” or “there is no answer to that question” it will be followed by subsequent questions. You must be well-rested and alert so you can answer questions you never ever considered. Remember, he is learning… and you are the teacher.
  • About the radio. If you turn on the car radio in hopes of averting the stream of questions, you will likely meet new challenges, especially if your grandchild is musical. During the Christmas season, I discovered that a three-year-old will say “Feliz Navidad” 40 times in a ten minute ride to master the “f” and “v” sounds. Once he has the pronunciation down, he will repeat the words endlessly. You will find yourself considering a call to the station to request banning the song from their play list.
  • About energy. They have it and you don’t. Give yourself a break. Be realistic. We’re not as young as when their parents were children. Rest when they do (and insist that they do rest).
  • About crabbiness. This came to me early on and has proven extremely successful, so I must share it. We were in the car and the boys started whining, as children do. In mock dismay I cried out, “Oh no! The crabbies are here! Who let those crabbies in the car?” I immediately opened the windows and told those crabbies to get out! The boys gaped in wonder, their complaints forgotten. Now I only have to say, ”Oh, no! The crabbies are here!” and the three-year-old runs to the door and shoos them out, reporting with satisfaction, “They’re gone now, Nana.” He also thinks they live in trees, waiting to sneak back in… I’ll leave that for his parents to straighten out.

I highly recommend that you print out and post these pointers because the minute they run through your door calling, “Nana!” as if you’re a super hero, you will forget everything I just told you. The sparkle in their brown eyes, the innocence of their questions and the tenderness of their hearts melt me everytime.

Please share your lessons learned and wisdom gleaned. United we stand, divided we fall into bed by 9.

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