Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Frustrated over your web site? A New Perspective

Tonight I'm cooking New England boiled brisket with baby carrots, onion, red potatoes, and cabbage. The meat is boiling, and I can relate. I've been working on the web site today to try to find a new, pretty skin for it that is more "me," and to work on the margins (the margins need to be left justified, and tech support won't get back with me). It's been a frustrating afternoon, and it seems as if little was accomplished. But let's put things into perspective here. I just got a phone call that our friend's daughter Stephanie, who was in labor since 8 a.m. today, just had a C-section. She's in a lot of pain right now. Stephanie has had a heck of a time with this pregnancy with pre-eclampsia, was admitted to the hospital a month ago to monitor her and keep her on constant bed rest. She was only 36 weeks along today, but now at least 7 lb 4 oz, healthy baby girl Erica is here! Praise the Lord! The web site irritations seem minor now, and I am taking a moment to adjust my vision and to focus on the more important things like prayer.

"Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things, But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her." Luke 10: 41

Brisket boiling, with baby carrots, onion, red potatoes, and cabbage.

Don't let your troubles cause you to "boil over" with frustration....choose like Mary did, and sit at Jesus' feet, listening to Him, and pray.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tapping into and using your gifts for God

Our oldest daughter Heather loves photography and over the last year, she has been pursuing that passion by buying a good Nikon camera, various lenses, and camera bag, practicing her skills on family and friends at church, starting a website and blog, and going to photography shoots with professionals. I am thrilled to see Heather using her talents for God, and gleaning all she can from others who are a success.

We all have gifts, talents, and skills that God has richly deposited inside of us for His glory. We don't need to hide our talents like the lazy servant in Matthew 25: 14-30, but draw them out of our hearts and minds, and bless others with them. God has great plans for our lives, if we will just believe and obey Him (Jeremiah 29: 11). The acronym WATERS describes how women can discover and then use their gifts to further God's kingdom on earth.

W. Whet your appetite for God. I just can't get enough of God's presence; He is so awesome. Develop a hunger for God and His presence. He is the one who gives us our gifts!

God wants to use you, but do you want to be used? If so, how? Do you want an enriched, exciting life, living it to your fullest potential, or a mediocre, boring existence?

Psalm 37: 4 says, "Delight (take great pleasure in, enjoy) the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart." What are your desires? Take them to Him, and then as you follow Christ, He will bring those things to pass!

A. Ask God, yourself, and others what your spiritual gifts, talents, and skills are. What are you really good at? I've had at least three people tell me that I would be a great wedding coordinator. I love weddings ~ planning them, shopping for them, decorating, organizing, serving in them. One of my favorite movies is The Wedding Planner with Jennifer Lopez. So I am toying with the idea for the future.

Are you naturally good with computers and an excellent artist? Then you would probably be good as a graphic artist. When you speak at retreats, do you receive positive, encouraging feedback? Then you are skilled in communication.

Do you love to have friends over for dinner and spend time with them? Then you may have a gift of hospitality. Do you feel deeply or cry when people are hurting, and try to comfort them? You probably have gifts of mercy and compassion.

The spiritual gifts can be found in Ephesians 4: 11-12 (five-fold ministry gifts), 1 Corinthians 12: 4-11 (manifestation gifts), and 1 Corinthians 12: 28. Some churches or online sites have tests you can take to find out your spiritual gifts. Find out what yours are, and begin to walk in that authority and anointing!

T. Tap into your creativity. Vicki Caruana says in her book, Giving Your Child the Excellence Edge (Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton IL, p. 49), "Much creative thought requires remaining detached enough from any one idea to allow others to be considered. This may not come naturally to us, especially if we are used to censoring our ideas, as most of us are."

In other words, thinking outside the box. Allowing your mind to go wild. Telling the inner critic to shut up, and daring to write that story about what happened in your bedroom one night when you were 5 years old, or that you had an abortion when you were 21. Driving past the "nice and safe" zone in writing and speaking, being real, going for the jugular in yours and your audience's emotions.

How can you best use your creative skills? If you've been cutting someone's hair since you were 12, enroll in cosmetology school. If you love to bake or cook, start a catering business. Think about horses the first and last thing of every day? Take riding lessons from a good trainer, and begin showing in English horse shows. Sometimes our best creative thoughts come when we're just having a lot of fun!

Creativity also means giving yourself permission to try new things and feel new sensations, like going on a hot air balloon ride in New Mexico, or skiing in Colorado. Color outside the lines; use the big box of crayons with colors like Fuzzy Wuzzy Brown. Buy the new outfit for your wardrobe that you admire, but have never dared to try before.

To get the wheels moving, turn off the dvd player and go for a walk in your neighborhood, really seeing it for the first time. Look, listen, smell, touch, taste. Too often we zone out and don't notice our surroundings. Do you know what kind of car your neighbor drives? For that matter, do you even know what your neighbor looks like or speak to her? Have you ever noticed that around your block is a home with Spanish style architecture and an enchanting, almost-hidden outdoor garden like a miniature of The Secret Garden?

Go to a large zoo, and just watch the animals and people. Do home-made science projects. Read about weird things in space like the roar scientists are saying is coming rapidly toward our galaxy. Start a flower or vegetable garden and play in the dirt. Reading good literature and listening to classical or some type of relaxing music each day feeds our brain with creative, new ideas.

E. Exercise your gifts diligently. Muscles atrophy when they are not used regularly: "Use it or lose it." Do we really want to bury our talents for 40 years, and wake up one morning, realizing we're old, it's too late, and we are not what we ever really wanted to be ~ an artist, a singer, a soldier, a missionary, a writer, a dolphin trainer? As we find out what our gifts, talents, and skills are, and begin cultivating them, they will flourish. They will also create inner happiness, and bring joy to God and others.

We need to prune those things that hinder us from maximizing our potential. Why are we wasting time working at the hardware store, when what we really want to do is go to law school and be an attorney? If solving crimes fascinate you, and you've always wanted to be a detective, then why are you coaching basketball for middle schoolers? If you feel stuck in your job or role, get unstuck. Take action. Pay attention to what is in your heart.

The Lord gives us certain desires, for a good reason. Interestingly, these desires are often related to our spiritual gifts, talents, and skills, and ultimately to our calling. I have several friends who love working with children, and are gifted at teaching. So they work in a Christian school, and are totally happy and fulfilled doing this.

If you are just getting started in your craft, learn all you can from those who are successful in your field. Strive for excellence, not perfection. Give yourself growing room. Set high goals, and discipline yourself to pursue more education, write that article, speak at the small church, or work on your website to improve it.

It's like getting into shape. If you're 40 pounds overweight, you will not lose it overnight. Several years ago, I began making healthier choices to lose weight - eating more salads and less fast or processed foods, drinking more water, taking vitamin supplements, using hand weights. Aerobic exercise is the main area I need much more discipline in, to drop to my ideal weight. But I've got to do something, instead of nothing. Start where you are to use those talents. And see how God will make His glory garden grow!

R. Reach for your dreams. Be determined to live a full, beautiful life, and not waste a second. Life is just pregnant with possibilities and adventure! One of our family's favorite movies is "Secondhand Lions." A young boy whose mother abandoned him to live her own, fun life dropped him off at a strange house to live with his two old, grumpy uncles, who did not want him there. But eventually their relationship grew close, and he learned a lot from these larger-than-life men. One of the lines we love from the movie is after the uncles had died and left the nephew with all their inheritance (which was substantial). Telling another man about his two uncles, with great admiration, he said, "They really lived."

Are you really living ~ or just existing? Is this the life you really want? If it's not, when are you going to start?

Take the ceiling off your thinking, the limits you have conditioned yourself to, that comes from others' perceptions and from negative self-talk. Listen to what you tell yourself. Our thoughts have a great influence on our lives. Learn to train your mind to think positive thoughts of success, instead of poisonous, defeating thoughts. Latch onto a scripture such as, "I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me!"

Our daughter Leah has a little sign in her room that has a bright yellow star on it: "Wish upon a star." What are your three biggest wishes? My first would be to have more wishes. :)

What do you want to do? What do you love to do? Your passion is the key to understanding your gifts and abilities!

Marnie Swedberg summed it up for me in her recent Writer's Radio Show with author/speaker Cindy Rushton, when she said that she never feels more alive, than when she is speaking in front of a large group of people. I really related to that! It used to scare me to death to stand in front of people and speak. I literally used to physically shake and stammer, and felt like I was going to faint. To be honest, I still get a little nervous just before speaking, but as soon as I step up to the platform, it melts as the anointing of God kicks in - thank God for His grace and that precious anointing ~ I never want to do it without Him! And I LOVE it! It's the way God created me!

What is that God is calling you to do that is MUCH BIGGER than you are? Nothing is impossible with God. And He wants to do the impossible through you and for you!

S. "Study to show thyself approved." (2 Timothy 2: 15) This means learn everything you can, to bring honor to God and to obey Him. Stay in God's word daily. Proverbs 4: 7-8 says, "Wisdom is the principle thing; therefore, get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding. Exalt her, and she will promote you." Find daily quiet time with God, and let Him speak to you and guide you. His Holy Spirit will teach you all things. (1 John 2: 27)

Pursue more education, classes, training, seminars. Find a mentor to disciple you. Be like a sponge and soak up everything you can from people who are successful in your field of interest. How did they get started using their gifts or talents? What were the practical steps they did? Extract the precious from the worthless. God has a unique blueprint for your life that He wants to accomplish. He is the master mentor.

Be humble and receive help from people, even family and friends. Relationships are invaluable, not only for the intimacy and pleasure they bring, but also for networking. Not burning any bridges is always a good idea, unless it's absolutely necessary for your safety, sanity, or sweetness. It's a very small world, and I have been amazed at how certain people have come back into my life years later (some whom I wish wouldn't have, but maybe they feel the same way!). Sometimes, though, these are divine connections. A good rule of thumb is this: be as nice as you can to people. Don't you appreciate nice people?

Rudeness is not a sterling trait. And it may come back to haunt you later, especially when they find out you're now a Christian speaker and writer. Most of all, God is love and we as believers want to be like Him and show others that wonderful love. Our gifts are for God's glory and to further His kingdom. We want to model Jesus, to be His hands, feet, and heart to a lost and dying world. Our gifts are like Christmas presents, eagerly waiting to be opened by God. He has many beautiful surprises in store for us and others, as we seek His face, unwrap the gift, and then with gratitude enjoy them and use them for Him and to bless others.

Friday, March 27, 2009

She Loved Much

The story of the woman with the alabaster jar is one of my favorite in the Bible (Luke 7: 36-50). Jesus had been out on one of his typical days, preaching the good news, raising the dead, healing the sick, casting out evil spirits, and healing the blind. One of the Pharisees, the religious leaders, asked Jesus to come to his house to eat. It would be like being at a dinner party of well-known pastors and tv evangelists, seminary professors, and theologians today. The Pharisees were the well~ educated, the law~observers and the law~abiders. And yet they missed the very heart of the law, which is love.

Luke says that a woman in the city, who is identified as a sinner, knew that Jesus was at the Pharisee's house, eating, and came there. We don't know what this woman did, what her specific sins were. The culture then was male-dominated, and a woman with a bad reputation as a sinner usually meant she was a prostitute or an adulteress. Whatever her sins were, we can be sure they were significant for Luke to use this term, sinner. I identify with this woman, as she represents the way I used to be when Jesus found me: desperate, bound, and nowhere else to go, because I had hit rock bottom. She saw that only Jesus could help her, and when she found Him, she was so very grateful.

We often see art pictures of this story, showing the woman kneeling down in front of Jesus' feet, kissing them or wiping them with her long, beautiful hair. Yet Luke says the woman stood behind Jesus at His feet, and she then began washing His feet with her tears, kissing and anointing them with the fragrant oil. She was behind Jesus because she knew her place ~ to follow Jesus. It was a position of revelation, humility, and brokenness.

But all the Pharisee, the religious leader, could do was stand and judge Jesus and judge this woman. You would think someone who had studied the law so diligently and heard of all Jesus had done would know the truth. Verse 39 says, "Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, "This Man, if he were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner."

The law is a harsh task~master where grace is absent. The Pharisee was secure in his own law~honoring position with God, not realizing that he was a sinner, too, and desperately needed God's forgiveness ~ he should have been at Jesus' feet! He was like the Pharisee in Luke 18: 10-14, who prayed at the temple, saying, "God, I thank You that I am not like the other men ~ extortioners, unjust adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I possess." But the tax collector beside him stood far off from the altar, not even able to raise his eyes to heaven, beating his breast and crying out, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!"

The Pharisee was self-righteous. How often do we as Christians look down at others who we think are "greater" sinners than us? And yet all things are level at the Cross. We cannot judge others, because there is only one Judge, God, and His judgments are true and just (Matthew 7: 1, John 5: 30).

Jesus rebuked this Pharisee, and commended the sinful woman. He asked the Pharisee, "Do you see this woman?" See her? The Pharisee was blind with pride. But she was a godly example to others!

Jesus knew how the Pharisee had judged him for allowing the woman to touch Him and said, "Simon, I have something to say to you." So he said, "Teacher, say it." There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?"

"Simon answered and said, "I suppose the one whom he forgave more." And He said to him, "You have rightly judged." Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil."

"Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little." Then He said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" Then He said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."

I love how the Pharisee answered Jesus, "I suppose." It sounds like he knew the correct answer and was just hedging, because he could see what was coming ~ he needed to deal with his own heart, not hers! How often we do look at others, point the finger, blame, accuse ~ when we need to look within our own hearts and confess our sins there!

In those days, the roads were not paved like they are today, and were dusty or muddy. Shoes (usually sandals) were made of soft or hard leather, and were easily dirtied, so people left their sandals outside the door of their host's home. Foot washing was an important custom in Jewish culture. If someone had slaves, the slaved washed the feet of the guest ~ the one washing the feet being the lowest member of society. And yet Jesus Himself washed His disciples' feet as an example to them and to us, of servanthood and of love (John 13: 3-17). If the host did not have any slaves, he offered a bowl of water and towel for the guest to wash his feet.

The Bible says that a woman's long hair is her glory (1 Corinthians 11: 15). Yet this woman used her hair to wipe Jesus' dirty feet. A sign of respect for guests when greeting them in Jewish culture was to give them a kiss and to anoint their forehead with oil. The Pharisee did neither, even though Jesus was his special guest and he knew that Jesus was a distinguished teacher.

Have we made Jesus our special guest in our homes and in our hearts? Do we treat Him with the respect and honor He deserves, through obedience to God's word?

What are we doing for God? What are we offering Him? And what are we withholding from Jesus?

This woman knew who Jesus really was, and was aware of how much He had done for her ~ and she did these things to show Him her deep gratitude. Despite her sins, she loved much. She had been forgiven, and Jesus gave her peace.

If we have been forgiven of so much and loved so deeply by God, if we have this peace from God, then we too should share this same forgiveness and love with others. Let us not be Pharisees, who look down on and judge others, but be like this broken, thankful woman, staying at the feet of Christ, pouring out our love on Him and others as a demonstration of our gratitude to God ~ our lives saturated with the fragrant anointing of Jesus. Broken and humble before Him, that we might be used by Him for His glory.

An alabaster jar

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lessons in patience

Last night and today I got some things accomplished; I figured out how to put a signature on my blog, registered for Feedburner, added an email subscription on this blog site, and an RSS feed. This morning I moved my RSS feed (Feedburner) over to Google, but from some posts I read after this apparently irreversible step, there are still some problems that Feedburner and Google are working out and it may take some time to resolve. Once again, the Lord teaches me lessons in patience.

My plans are to begin podcasting soon. Ray and I are waiting on an email reply from the "skin" designer, about some technical difficulties with the left margin justification on my web site, so that is "under construction" right now. Hopefully this week, we will get some of these minor problems worked out, and I can begin blogging to my heart's content with no more techy~hold-ups. God has laid some things on my heart to blog about, and I am excited about sharing them with you!

For now I will share Psalm 37: 4~7: "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him."

My Willow Tree Angel of Patience

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Blogging is like a different culture

Last night and today I spent a lot of time researching blogging, Feedburner, ads, etc. Blogging is like a completely different culture with its own unique language, and various dialects within the language.

Several years ago, I finally got to go with Ray to Haiti on his third mission trip there, for him to do some work for a pastor there for a week. I helped to teach in the Christian elementary school, while Ray trained security guards for the pastor's compound there. French, Creole, and English are the primary languages in Haiti. Creole is a combination of French and several African languages, and it is very different from the textbook French I barely remembered from high school many years ago. It was difficult to understand... and all this stuff about blogging is as well!

And yet I am so excited to join other bloggers and learn all I can about this new, adventuresome place. I have been finding other mom bloggers online, reading their blogs and articles, and it's been like drinking a cold, refreshing glass of Coke (or lemon-water or sweet tea, for you non-Coke drinkers). Eventually I will have to get off my laptop and stop feeding our daughter so many peanut butter-honey sandwiches, paying more attention to her. :)

Soon I hope to find someone to help me design a new, professional-looking blog site that is more my personal taste, with a signature, and have an RSS feed on here. My husband Ray and I are working on my web site this week, and hope to have it finished soon (having some technical difficulties with the margins!). I also plan to begin doing podcasts through my web site soon. Meanwhile, walking through the streets of "blogging," getting a new view on life, is lots of fun!

Common "tap-tap" transportation in Haiti

Monday, March 23, 2009

becoming one flesh

Next month Ray and I will be married 16 years. Hard to believe it's been that long ~ and the man STILL does not understand me! :) Successful marriages require a lot of prayer, love, forgiveness, communication, frequent and passionate sex, financial agreement, understanding, and most of all, occasional dinners out to eat Mexican or Mediterranean food with no kids!

Marriage is just not easy, and many couples decide it's too much hard work and quit. The divorce rate even among Christians is at least 30%, and some statistics say even 50% today. When the Pharisees quoted Moses allowing a man to divorce his wife, Jesus answered, "Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote this precept. But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no man separate."

I believe that becoming one flesh is a lengthy process. Have you ever noticed that couples who have been married for years seem to be able to read each others' minds at times, sense what one another is feeling without a word being spoken, and even can finish one another's sentences? This is the one flesh God was speaking of - a unity of minds, bodies, souls, and spirits. Psalm 133 says, "Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments. It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion; For there the Lord commanded the blessing ~ life forevermore."

Unity brings the blessing of God. There is no strife, no division, no hurt, no unforgiveness, no control or vying for power. But only love, joy, peace, and an abundant, happy life with a common goal ~ to glorify God. No longer two, but one. Becoming one flesh is not easy, but God can help us to do just that ~ after all, He is the potter and we are the clay, the pinnacle of His creation. He wants our marriages to be the beautiful, mysterious picture of Christ the Bridegroom and His Bride the Church, to a lost and dying world.

When Ray went to Haiti several years ago for a mission trip to train security guards for a pastor there, he was gone for nearly a week. He brought home wonderful souvenirs to make it up to me and the kids for his long absence. One of my favorite souvenirs he gave me was a soapstone sculpture of a man and a woman. They are two seperate people, and yet are intertwined as one. This really spoke to my heart of how God desires us to be as a married man and woman. It is my passionate prayer that Ray and I will continue to become one flesh throughout the rest of the years of our marriage, and will become that perfect picture of Christ and His Spotless Bride to others, for God's kingdom and His glory.

The soapstone sculpture Ray bought me in Haiti

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Using material from this blog site

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