Inspector 25

This morning as I was getting dressed I noticed a small white circular sticker stuck to my knee with the number 25 on it. I knew it had come off of the inside of the new pj’s I’d worn all night and was now stuck on me.

Those pj’s had been inspected by “inspector number 25”. Who was that anonymous person? How many inspectors are there? Are all their standards the same? Is that the occupation they claim on their tax return?…Inspector 25.

Immediately I had this thought…I’m so thankful I know my inspector personally. Intricately formed. Creatively crafted. The Psalmist said we are fearfully and wonderfully made. And we are completely known by our Master Designer.

If you could see the tag on the inside of our soul it would read…Made in the Image of God. And when we receive the good news that we are saved through Christ, we receive His special seal. There is no number because there is only One who gets to do the final inspection and put His seal on us.

Ephesians 1:13, “You heard and believed the message of truth, the Good News that he has saved you. In him you were sealed with the Holy Spirit whom he promised.”

The Shepherd

A month before my brother, Brent, passed away, I began reading the 23rd Psalm from The Message. Multiple times that month Psalm 23 came up in things I was reading, sermons, social media posts. Lines of the Psalm were showing up in song lyrics. I mean I was seeing it everywhere! Whenever that happens I try to really focus in on whatever it is that God wants me to see and learn.

The last few days with Brent in the hospital I read that Psalm out loud multiple times in his room. He and I had both memorized it when we were kids in children’s church. Reading it from The Message brought fresh comfort. And so when we were asked if there was a special scripture we would like in his memorial bulletin I requested Psalm 23 from the translation called The Message.

Since then I’ve spent time with that passage. It was written by King David of the Old Testament in the Bible roughly 1000 years B.C. So it’s been around a LONG time. Probably MILLIONS of people have read it. Writing out each line and just spending time thinking about what it means to me or what I hear as I am waiting on Him is often how I linger over God’s Word. There are many ways to study the Bible. This is one of my favorites. I thought I’d share what came to my mind and onto my journal pages as I’ve spent time with it over the past two months. The Psalmist’s words are in BOLD print. My thoughts are in italics.

God, my shepherd! I not only admit that You are over me, I embrace it with great joy! A shepherd ‘guides and directs in a particular direction’. And I eagerly want to follow You in the direction You have for me.

I don’t need a thing…because I know that You are always for me. You know what I need before even I do and You take care of every need.

You have bedded me down in lush meadows; You find me quiet pools to drink from. In the middle of all the chaos life brings, even tries to suck me right into, You surround me with peace. Lush meadows may not be the Ritz Carlton, but it is a restful place with plenty of room for my soul to spread out. And those quiet pools…there’s no rushing, chugging, desperate attempts to hydrate my body and soul. Those quiet pools allow me to drink my fill. Not having to ration or drink on the go while managing the chaos and turmoil around me. IF I truly let You lead me You will provide those times of rest and deep hydration for my spirit, soul and body every time I need it. And because You are my shepherd You always know what I need and when I need it.

True to Your word, You let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction. You will never lie to me so I can trust everything You tell me. When I am overwhelmed You let me catch my breath. You know that I struggle to remain at Your pace but You give me the pause that I need to refocus and You make sure I’m not falling off course. You course correct when I need it.

Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I’m not afraid when you walk at my side. I’ve never been closer to that valley than those last few days with Brent in the hospital. The veil between heaven and earth, between my heart and Yours, has never felt thinner than in those days and the weeks after. I witnessed my little brother fearlessly go from this world into Your arms and it was hard for me to let go, but glorious to watch him finally arrive where he was always meant to live…fully in Your presence.

Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure. Wow. How do I say what I feel about this verse. At first thought I want to deny your shepherd’s crook. That would mean that I possibly could be in danger, either by my own doing or by accident. But KNOWING you can pull me out of difficult, treacherous, hard to maneuver situations and places…every time I need it…gives me great comfort. It means I can rest in Your care.

You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies. What??!! First, this means You are with me even when my enemies show up. And second, You are all about meeting my needs, not just minimally, but over the top, and making sure that my enemies know who I belong to and who is providing for me. And it doesn’t matter how many courses it takes to serve up that message. You’re not serving up fast food. This is a sit-down, extravagant, take your time banquet with the King!

You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing. I get tired. I get weary. And when I am about to fall out You breathe life back into me. And, when my cup is up to the brim…that means IT IS FULL…and full of Your blessings.

Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I love this so much about You, God! I want to be a reflection of Your beauty and love in my every day life. When You are chasing after me that means I have my back to You and that makes it almost impossible to reflect You. So I thank You for DAILY chasing after me. Every time I need chasing…it is not with anger or rebuke; but, with beauty and love.

I’m back home in the house of God for the rest of my life. My brother, Brent, is back home with You now and I am thankful to know that he is safe and whole in Your presence. I know that one day I will be as well. ‘The rest of my life’ isn’t about my short life on earth. It is about my FOREVER life in my FOREVER home with You, Father. And, if there ever was a doubt that we were with You before our birth on this earth…this verse confirms its truth. ‘I’m back home’ means I was there…with You…before I was here!

And so it is with the message of God’s love. His love for us never changes. But His way of delivering it to us, reminding us of it, over and over comes in fresh new ways because His Word is alive and always accomplishes the purpose for which it is sent. It is an honor to receive it and let it do its work in us.

Memorial Stones

“This is for you, LaLa!” My grand-sweet, Macey, held out her fingers to lay a stone in my hand. It was a small tan-colored stone. Nothing remarkable about it. But she is remarkable. Her sweet smile, petite hand, twinkling eyes…and more, her tender heart just makes mine melt. To this day, that stone sits on my kitchen windowsill. I see it every day. And every time it takes me right back to one of my favorite memories. Just her and I…on the porch steps…together. I remember how much I love her and how precious she is to me.

There are several other stones on the ledge in my kitchen. One from my trip to La Union Abajo in the Dominican Republic reminding me of how precious the people of the village are, of how much I want them to not have to struggle to eat or have clean drinking water, to be safely off the streets, and how I long for each one to know Jesus. Each day I look at that Dominican stone and feel a bit of a hole in my heart because I left a part of mine there. And I pray for them.

Sometimes reminders aren’t tangible things. I have a few memorial stones in the shape of a song. Sometimes we call it the right song at the right time. The lyrics break through the clutter and chaos of a thousand numbing anxiety producing voices to speak one singular message that is a direct hit to our mind and heart with a message of hope. Undeniably reminding us that God is with us…and that His presence brings us peace.

The morning after we heard the diagnosis that my husband, Ken, had stage 3 cancer, I started my car to go to work and I heard these words in a song on my radio ~ “I’m not gonna fear the storm. You are greater than it’s roar. Oh, I’m not gonna fear the storm. I’m not gonna fear at all. Peace be still…even when my eyes can’t see. I will trust the voice that speaks. Peace. Peace over me.” And, instantly, I knew peace. Intimate, fully immersing peace that only comes when we know our Father God and know that we are known by Him. To this day, whenever I hear Hope Darst sing “Peace Be Still” I am transported back to that morning, that experience of God’s presence, and I remember His faithfulness to never leave us.

Whether its a stone, maybe a photograph or a right song at the right time, it’s important to set reminders for ourselves of those times when we felt deeply the impact of a single moment or an answered prayer. Because sometimes life gets hard. The cacophony of voices threaten to drown out that still, small voice that resonates deep in our soul. We need a reminder that it won’t always be this way. That there is hope. It’s not the thing; the stone, or picture, or even the song…its the reminder of how it made us feel in that moment…when we knew we were loved. And we are still.

The Phone Call

I didn’t recognize the number so I let it ring. I mean let’s face it…most phone calls these days are telemarketers…or worse…scammers. So sorry, not sorry, if I don’t recognize the phone number, I’m not going to pick up.

In the middle of something I completely forgot to check back and see if the caller had left a message. Until this morning when I noticed there was a message waiting.

When the message began I was actually sorry for a few seconds that I hadn’t taken the call. I knew the caller. Not personally except to say that we had met a time or two but I admire his work and his heart for Jesus and would love to have had few moments of conversation with him.

His words were full of hope and encouragement and so timely for my heart. I listened to his message several times and because he had prayed for my husband, Ken, and my family I shared the message with them as well. We were touched by his compassion and his faith. At that moment I was thankful his message was recorded so I could share it to encourage the ones I love. At the end of his call, he said, ‘this is my cell phone so feel free to call anytime’.

It reminded me of this.

God left us a message. The most miraculous thing about His message, His Word, is that it is new and fresh every single time we read it or listen to it. It’s full of hope and encouragement, compassion and faith. Examples of great faith to help us grow ours.

His message in Jeremiah 33:3 is “Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wonderful things that you could never figure out on your own”. Notice there’s no caveat…only call during business hours…or when it’s an extreme emergency…or once you’ve tried everything else on your own strength. Nope. Just… call…and I WILL answer you. Oh and I will encourage you and give you the secret sauce to life…what you could never figure out by yourself.

And when His message touches our heart we will want to share it with others. Just like the message I got from a fellow traveler, reminding me that God is faithful and very near, I want you to know that where you are and what you are going through is no surprise to God. And even more, know that if you will let Him, He will tell you the things your heart desperately wants to know. That you are loved, really loved, and that there is no where you can go in this life that He won’t walk with you through it. Just call.

Set It & Forget It…Or Not?

We love things we can set and forget, don’t we?! Why else do we want electronics with multiple user settings and pre-sets on our radio? It’s one less thing we have to think about. Just set it…and forget it!

But not everything is made to set and forget. Like US, for example! Living day to day on autopilot isn’t healthy. Yes, it’s important to maintain good habits; but even good habits may need to be tweaked from time to time. What’s good for us at age 20 may not be the best for us at age 40. Setting life goals is excellent but without taking time to re-evaluate things regularly we may end up way off base down the road.

Making time to evaluate and re-set our routines is critical to the fulfillment of God’s plan for our lives. Because LIFE happens. Relationships shift. Jobs end and new jobs begin. Health crises arise. Financial situations upset the bank account. Anxiety. Loss. Unforgiveness. All of these are life situations that create change. Some forced. Some necessary. But change requires response. Even ignoring these situations (aka doing nothing) can cause us to drift or move away from where we need to be.

We all need a “re-set” moment. The moment we recognize where we are and where we need to be…and set a determined course to get back to center. Not necessarily to the place we were before but always to the place God created us to be. Exactly in the center of God’s will for our lives. That’s our sweet spot!

Well Watered

It really was the trip of a lifetime. A pilgrimage. Spending just over a week in Israel and a few days in Jordan changed my life forever. One thing is certain, from the moment our flight landed in Tel Aviv, my journey as a believer had connected with a land and a people closer to my real ‘home’ than ever before or since. The Word became even more real to me and its never read the same to me since.

Today, I was reading Isaiah 58:11, “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” A couple memories from that pilgrimage came back to me so clearly. One day while traveling through a desert area our tour guide pointed out areas of green that stood out against the mostly dry, desert land. He said ‘wherever you see green, vibrant, lush vegetation and flowers that is how you know there is a water source below.’

It doesn’t rain much there. So in the cities and in the villages you will see barrels, tubs and pots on rooftops to catch whatever rain they can. Water is a commodity. At one restaurant I noticed the waitstaff pouring any leftover water from glasses into the planters around the patio, not wasting a drop. In fact, when we were leaving after dinner one evening, our waiter actually followed me out to the sidewalk to hand me my bottle of water that had an inch or so left in the bottom. Water is vital to sustain life. And often, I have taken it for granted.

I admit, this weekend, I let my attention be captivated by the ‘sun-scorched land’ and not nearly enough focus on the One whose waters never fail. I heard the whisper today…’whose report will you believe?’. I know that Voice. That’s the voice of my Father. And as I sat with this promise for awhile today I am thankful for His peace that speaks over the noise and waters my soul.

We could stop with the first part of that verse. ‘The Lord will guide you always‘. That means there is never a time when He is not leading us. That alone can bring us comfort.

But, let’s continue. ‘He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.’ He knows we are needy and that we sometimes find ourselves beat down by our environment, our harsh circumstances, the voices that try to quench the life in us and around us. But, if we are open to Him, He will not leave us needy and He will add HIS strength to ours to uphold us.

And finally, ‘You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.’ I LOVE that, don’t you?! In my mind I could see that desert in Israel again. So much desert for miles and miles. And dropped right in the middle of that sun-scorched land….areas of lush, green flourishing gardens…an obvious outward sign of an unseen water supply deep below the surface.

Dig deep. The green vegetation experiences the same harsh environment that the brown, dead desert plantation does. But the thriving garden digs down deep and stays connected to the water source. Dig deep and stay connected to the source of the water for your soul. Even from a distance your well-watered roots will be undeniable and your fruit will be beautiful…even in the desert.

I Like Roomy

Psalm 118:5 reads, “When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; he brought me into a spacious place. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.”

I’m so taken by the phrase ‘spacious place’. I looked up spacious in the dictionary: Roomy. Having ample space. Larger capacity than normal. Vast. Of a great extent or area so that you can move around. I suppose fighting claustrophobia much of my life might have something to do with my love for wide open spaces!

The ESV Bible says, “out of my distress I called on the Lord; he answered me and set me FREE!” Talk about spacious! It doesn’t get more spacious than free! The Message Bible reads, “pushed to the wall, I called out to God; from the wide open spaces, He answered. God’s now at my side and I am not afraid.” How interesting that He answered FROM the wide open spaces. I thought God never leaves us. It’s true! God’s promises are absolute. He said “I will never leave you or forsake you.” If I am in a tight place, and He is with me, how can He answer me from the wide open space?

You know what I think? I think when we are hard pressed, pushed up against the wall, in a tight place that causes us anxiety…that’s where our focus gravitates. On the pressure. The pain. The illness or loss. It threatens to smother us. But God cannot be contained by a small space. He is God. Greater than the universe. He is not overcome by suffering or depression or loss.

When we cry out to Him we make a decision to stop looking at the hardship and focus on God. He never left our side…but we lost sight of Him. Opening our mind and heart to His presence blows out the walls that threaten to smother us. Keeping our focus on God helps us to live free in that spacious place and gives us the faith to not be afraid.

Falling In Love

Remember when you first fell in love? I couldn’t do one thing without thinking of him. I could make a grocery list and find myself doodling his name before I could get the list together. Every conversation contained something about what he said or did…or how he made me feel. And almost every thought took me right back to…him. Every decision I made I began to base on his influence on me and whether it would make him happy or not.

Then, I started to notice that things didn’t always go the way I wanted or expected them to go. In the early days, we would have the ‘I’m sorry’ conversation right away. You know. Keeping the lines of communication clear. There were times I thought he must be angry with me, or worse, he’s finally seen the real me and I’m not worthy of his love. The irony of that is my mind could so easily convince my heart of that lie when he was only ever steadfast in his love and care for me.

I discovered that every time I’d call him or sit with him, he was always there. The truth was that I looked for him less. I spoke of him less in my conversations with others. My to-do lists hardly ever included his name let alone something I could do for him. Decision making was much more self-centered. What would make me happy? We had conversations so seldom and then mostly a quick thought here or there. In fact, I really didn’t listen to what he had to say. I only focused on telling him what I wanted or thought I needed.

Then one day I was reading one of his letters to me. It read, “I know all that you’ve done for me—you have worked hard and persevered..I also know how you have bravely endured trials and persecutions because of my name, yet you have not become discouraged. But I have this against you: you have abandoned the passionate love you had for me at the beginning. Think about how far you have fallen! Repent and do the works of love you did at first.” *

I remembered the excitement and joy of those early days when my heart had been wooed by Him. The delight I had in spending time with Jesus without distractions. Telling Him how I was feeling and what I was concerned about, and then, waiting and listening, for what He wanted to tell me about each of those things. It didn’t change overnight. But it can change over time. Just because I realized how far I’d moved away didn’t mean that I snapped my fingers and dropped those habits that kept me from Him. It’s a choice. Every. Day. Moment by moment. Choosing to want Him more than anything or anyone else.

Remember how much lighter your heart felt when you first gave it to Him? Today is the perfect day to choose Him all over again. This moment is the perfect moment to repent. Let go of every thing that keeps you from putting Him first. Every little thing. Every big thing. Hit reset. 2020 has been a hard year for all of us! It may have left you hurting, wanting, wishing, maybe even afraid to hope again.

But it’s time. It’s time to remember your first love. It’s time to let go of what you’ve held so tightly it blocked your awareness of the presence of your Love. And it’s time to reset your priorities. Your first love has been waiting. His love has never waned. Let 2021 be the year we fall in love all over again. We may even find ourselves doodling His name.

*Revelation 2:2-5 TPT

Where You Sit

I heard a statement in church Sunday that really resonated with me. “Where you sit determines what you see; and what you see determines what you do.”

Come and sit with Jesus for a few minutes this morning. Ask for wisdom and to be able to see through His eyes what is before you today. You can react to the worries and stresses of this day out of fear or you can choose to shut out the chaotic noise and focus on His voice. His voice that says, ‘I am with you always. Don’t be afraid.’

It starts with where you choose to sit. Where you sit determines what you see and what you see determines what you do.

That Voice (How I’ve Heard Him Speak)

Lately, I’ve been thinking of ways God communicates with me. If you’ve ever heard someone say “God spoke to me…” and thought ‘I wish I could hear Him speak to me!’; the truth is, He probably has and you may not have even realized it. We are His kids and He WANTS to communicate with us.

So I began writing down different ways I’ve experienced God in my life and four distinct things surfaced. Oddly enough, I saw a pattern of words that began with the letter “S”. Before I go any farther I want to be sure to clarify that these are not the only ways God speaks. God is GOD! And He can do anything to get our attention, change our direction, answer our prayers and completely set our hearts at rest.

SENSE. When you’re putting a puzzle together and trying to find the right fit for a puzzle piece, you know it when you find the exact spot that piece belongs. It just snaps into place. Even when you feel surrounded by chaos and pieces that don’t fit in your life sometimes you just sense God’s presence and He hasn’t even spoken a word.

About six weeks ago my husband, Ken, and I received a medical diagnosis that we certainly didn’t want to hear. This part of our journey is not going to be easy. But from the moment the doctor said ‘I wish I had better news’ we felt the presence of God settle over us like a thick, warm blanket. Like a familiar loved one coming alongside us. Sometimes no words are necessary to say ‘I’m right here and I’m not leaving you’.

SEEK. Jeremiah 6:16, “Stand at the crossroads and look, ask for the ancient path (some translations say the ‘tried and true’ path), ask where the good way is, and walk in it. And you will find rest for your soul.” Remember when Abraham & Lot stood overlooking all the land and Abraham let Lot choose which land to live in. He looked and chose which one LOOKED better. Turns out it wasn’t the better land and he paid dearly for it later.

This verse says ASK where the good way is and walk in it. I’ve learned that good doesn’t always mean happy. Sometimes the ‘good’ way is hard. But God knows what we really need. We often quote Romans 8:28, “And we know that in ALL things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” It doesn’t mean that everything will work out perfectly in our lives. It does mean that God will lead us through life to become the very best version of ourselves we can be in Him. I especially love that at the end of Jeremiah 6:16 after seeking and walking in His good way…we will find rest for our souls.

SCRIPTURE. I’m not talking about randomly opening the Bible and letting our eyes fall on a verse although God can certainly speak to us that way. If you’ve ever read something in the Bible and all of a sudden a specific verse seems to jump off the page at you and it resonates with what you’re going through at the time…that’s actually God using His Word to speak to you.

Here’s an example of how that has happened in my life. A number of years ago at a routine doctor’s visit something came up out of the ordinary. The doctor gave me possible reasons from minor all the way to worst-case scenarios. By the time I left his office I was completely freaked out! I was praying on my way home and when I got there I began to read John 14 which has always brought me a lot of peace. I kept reading into John 15. When I got to verse 3, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you”, I got so excited! I knew that God had shown me that promise for that exact situation. And I knew I was healed!

SPACE. Create a space in your day to listen for His voice. I love 1 Samuel 3:1-10 when the boy Samuel who is living in the house of the Lord is trying to go to sleep and he keeps hearing someone call his name. He keeps going to Eli and I think its because the Lord’s voice is familiar to him. And since the first verse tells us that the word of the Lord was rare in those days I think Samuel had not experienced hearing God’s voice in quite a while.

I believe that before we are born we are known by God. Psalm 139 says that we were not hidden from Him. He saw us before we were formed in our mother’s womb. And so I believe when we begin to listen for God to speak to us our spirits will begin to recognize His voice.

Back to Samuel’s story when Eli realized that Samuel was hearing God speak to him, Eli told him to go back to bed and the next time he heard the voice call to him, he should answer, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

We can ask Him to speak to us. But we have to choose to stop looking and listening to the chaos and the crowds of voices around us. 1 Kings 19:11-13 is Elijah trying to hear God’s voice on a mountain. While Elijah was listening he experienced a great and powerful wind that tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks. He encountered an earthquake followed by a fire. Talk about chaos! But as loud and powerful as all those things were, God was not in them. It says ‘after the fire came a gentle whisper.’

We can be so overwhelmed by the chaos and so busy with our to-do lists and responsibilities that we forget to be quiet. Be still. Just listen. That still, small voice, that gentle whisper – is intimate. You can’t whisper to someone on the other side of the room. They have to be near for you to hear. Think about this – the whisper of God over your soul means that He is NEAR. So near you can lean into His presence. And hear His heart for you.

Create a space in your day to listen for His voice. Write down what you hear. John 10:27 is Jesus’ words saying, “My sheep know my voice, and I know them. They follow me.” Keep listening. Practice being in the presence of Jesus. Regardless of what we face in life, in our most mundane days and our most extraordinary moments, hearing God speak to us, however He chooses to do it, is an exceptional gift He wants us to open! Keep listening!