Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

I felt inspired to make a cross again. Maybe because Christmas is approaching. Maybe because Jesus has been at the front of my mind as I get ready to serve in El Salvador. Maybe because these days, I'm highly aware of the sacrifice He made on my behalf, even though I can't fully comprehend it.

On paper it begin as a simple, hammered cross. But that alone didn't convey the message wanting, needing, to spill out from my fingertips. Jesus gave His life so that we can be in a right relationship with God. No strings attached. No prerequisites requiring us to change who we are. No way to pay Him back. Just immeasurable love and the promise that He is with us.

Let that sink in, my friends. Once you do, you can face this life with peace, confidence and joy, regardless of your circumstances. You are free to love, because you are loved.

And so I finished the cross...with a heart.

Hammered Silver Cross Pendant w Heart 4
Hammered Silver Cross Pendant w Heart 2

"Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends." John 15:13

~ Christina

Psalm 19:1

I've thought on this verse many times, looking up at the tops of the trees and puffy clouds gracefully gliding across the sky.

Even if we (humans) say nothing at all, the rest of God's creation speaks on His behalf.

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands."

Sky

This post has been on my heart for a number of days, but I'm only now able to articulate it.  The past year has been difficult, personally, as I've lost a number of loved ones - far too many.  Most recently, I said goodbye to my precious Mom Steward.

We met almost twenty years ago, and one of my first impressions of her was her gentle kindness.  When Chad and I would visit from college, she often had a single rose, clipped from her garden, waiting for me on the table.  Before she really knew me, long before Chad and I were married, she treated me as one of her own.  I used to love the large, crumble-top blueberry muffins she baked for breakfast, and the strawberry "salad" that went with dinner, which was really dessert-before-the-dessert. ;)  Her eyes lit up when she showed me the various flowering plants inside and outside her home, explaining the varieties and how to care for them.  Everything she touched, flourished.  And when it came to serving others, I'd get mentally tired just thinking of all the people she reached out to.  She never stopped caring and doing for her family, neighbors (and their furry friends), church family and those who couldn't help themselves.  She poured herself into others.

Mom was such a special lady, it's no wonder that Dad Steward is a special guy to have won her heart so many years ago; he is one of the finest men I know.  Through our loss I've had the chance to spend quality time with both Mom and Dad Steward's families, getting a taste of their upbringing and the legacies of their own parents and grandparents.  At one moment I looked at Chad and asked "How did I get so lucky?".  While I don't really believe in luck, when I first fell for Chad, I had no idea the caliber of his family, immediate and extended.  They know how to treat others, and how to love.  And by God's grace, I met and married a man who has those same traits and outstanding character.  As Chad's cousins so succinctly stated, Mom and Dad Steward's legacy has been passed down to their families, and to mine.

I've been soaking up a Bible study by Beth Moore, and one of her statements really spoke to me this morning: "God knows how everything will turn out.  And, for every single person who belongs to Him, it turns out well."  This truth is comforting for two reasons:

1) I've learned that as long as I lean on God, He will heal even my deepest sorrow.  Mourning will again turn to joy (Isaiah 61:3).

2) Mom Steward lived her life well.  And she finished well.  As a child of God, she's received the ultimate reward of eternity with Him.

It doesn't get better than that.

Rose

Roses were Mom's favorite. This is a snapshot from Chad's and my rosebush that she gave to us when we first moved into our house. Its blooms will always remind us of her.

"By Your Grace": these are words I've uttered out loud, and in my head, too many times to count recently.  I say them when faced with circumstances I can't navigate on my own, especially when major change occurs and I don't know how to move forward and adapt to life that is forever altered.

My precious grandfather went Home to be with Jesus on October 27th.  He was 94 years old and spent that time, even to the end, loving and serving others.  As I reflect on the many hours I spent with Grandpa (and Grandma), I realize I've been strongly influenced by his character.  He was kind and gentle, always happy to see me, with a large smile on his face as he exclaimed "Hello Chrissy!".  He cared about family, and treated others as if they were family.  To quote many who have used this term in recent days, he was "fearless"...quick to reel in a thrashing bass from the water, grab a large snake by its tail or even attempt to tame an alligator back in the day.  (No alligators were harmed, but apparently Grandpa met his match. ;))  He served our country in the US Army Air Corps.  He loved God and the church, and his actions showed it.

His was truly a life worth celebrating.

I'm deeply saddened by the absence of my grandfather, but it's by God's grace I have confidence in where he is now.  He has met the Creator face to face and is finally reunited with my Grandma.  And as it was so eloquently stated at his Celebration of Life, it's guaranteed he's already found a fishing spot somewhere.

Grandpa

I love you, Grandpa.  I'll see you in Heaven.

~Chrissy

Worn

In:Faith

When I was a child sitting in church on Sunday and listening to the pastor speak, I'd notice the Bible he occasionally picked up and held in his hands.  It always looked gigantic, full of thousands of pages I could never imagine having enough time to read.  And I wasn't even sure I wanted to.  I had heard some of the stories in the Old Testament, in the King James Version mind you, like how so-and-so begat so-and-so and had no interest in reading those for fun.  But one of the things that frequently caught my eye was how worn his Bible was.  It wasn't like mine, bright and shiny with crisp, white pages.  No, his was practically falling apart, the pages a muddy gray from having been turned over and over again.  Thinking back, I probably should have expected that to be true.  After all, he was the pastor.  Even still, I admired the discipline he must have had in order to spend that much time in his Bible, and even more, his desire to keep reading it.

I never expected my Bible to look like his.  After several failed attempts in adulthood to intentionally read it from cover to cover, I resigned to the idea that I'd never be able to do so.  Given enough time, I simply lost interest.  Instead, I relied on reading whatever scripture was being discussed during Sunday services (usually up on a screen), or would occasionally open my Bible to read passages relevant to my small-group study.  Of course reading online was an option, too, but that wasn't enough to entice me.

Things have a way of changing, though.  I vividly remember when suddenly, the word of God became alive, really alive, for the first time in my life.  I attended a Glory Revealed concert with Chad and some good friends, listening to phenomenal musicians sing worship songs that were rooted in scripture.  It ended with a challenge to really dig into God's word, with the conviction that I had learned and memorized a lot of things, but the Bible wasn't one of them; the One who deserved my full attention, wasn't receiving it from me.  But even though God had every reason to give up on me, He didn't.  That's not His style.  Instead, He changed my heart.  He gave me a thirst to know Him more, a thirst that could only be satisfied by reading the words He ordained before the world even existed.

That was six years ago.

The other morning as I flipped through my Bible, I noticed the way it freely opened and conformed to my hand, with crinkled pages that meant they no longer laid completely flat.  Without realizing it, over time, my own Bible acquired that weathered appearance of a book that couldn't be mistaken for brand new.  I had something in my possession I never thought I'd have.

All I could do was thank God for the gift I held in my hands, for His words that have been preserved all these years, for changing a life like mine.  I finally understood what it was like to have that desire to just be in scripture, to let God's truths permeate my mind and soul, and simply know His...

...love.

Bible

Yesterday's acts of violence at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon sent me reeling.  I watched video footage in horror as fellow runners and their supporters, with no warning, were physically assaulted by two bomb blasts.  This attack happened on people that I love, in a city that I love.

Running is not just something one does to stay physically fit, though that's a big part of it.  There's also a spiritual aspect to it: running pushes the limits of the human body, making you realize with each accomplishment there is something larger than yourself at work.  I believe this is why many runners choose to run a race on behalf of a loved one who has suffered an illness or injury.  The months spent training for a race are meant to be celebrated when finally, exhausted but triumphant, you cross the finish line, maybe even seeing familiar faces in the crowd cheering just for you.

I can't comprehend why anyone would want to devastate such a beautiful picture.

From the time I've spent in Boston, one thing is for certain: those who live there, love it.  Since yesterday I've heard many Bostonians say they never expected this type of violence to happen in their city.  I wouldn't either.  My heart is hurting for those who lost a loved one, the injured and those caring for them, and for each person who is now worn and tattered from what they saw and felt in those moments.

You are being lifted up in prayer.

State Capitol Building 2011

"Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Psalm 90:12

From the very start of our lives, our days are numbered.  Even though we don't typically think of this concept on a daily basis, it's an indisputable fact: nothing that is living will be on this earth forever.  In light of that, how we use our time and the choices we make while we're still here, are of utmost importance.  This was the message I heard at church on Sunday a week and a half ago.  The following day Chad & I received unexpected news: our precious Hannah-dog has congestive heart failure.

If you've ever cared for a pet then you can relate when I say receiving the news has caused some of the deepest sorrow I've ever known.  We raised her from a puppy and have enjoyed her for more than 10 years. She's been with us through the majority of our marriage, and I honestly can't remember being in our house without her.  She is the sweetest miniature schnauzer I've ever met, and many people have told us the same.  She has an extraordinary medical history, so though we knew our time with her was shortening, hearing she is in her final days was heartbreaking.

The good news is the doctor assures us that Hannah isn't in any kind of pain.  Uncomfortable at times, but not in pain.  Today I've watched her wag her tail, bound up the stairs (as best she can), grab her ball and show love the way she usually does.  For today, we still have our "baby girl".

Imagine if we lived each day with full awareness that our time is limited.  Would it change the way we treat those in our lives?  Would we say "I love you" more often?  Would we find ways to help others more often?  I think it would, and we would.  I've noticed a shift in my mindset in recent days, letting go of the small things that aren't so important after all.

A friend of mine shared these words with me yesterday and it was exactly what I needed to hear:  "I just pray that God will give you the ability to separate the worrying from the enjoying.  Leave the worrying to Him and just LIVE these times with her."  She's right.  I can easily spiral into a frenzy of worry over Hannah (which helps neither of us), or I can make the most of these days and cherish each moment I have with her.

I can finally say I'm choosing the latter.

Teach me, God, to number my days, that I may gain a heart of wisdom.

While driving through town recently I read a church sign that said "Cake Lighting Service - 7:30pm".  Cake lighting?  On second glance the sign actually said "Candle Lighting Service".  I laughed for a moment; maybe I had a sudden attack of the sweet tooth.  But given that Christmas is only 4 days away, a cake lighting service would be appropriate too, wouldn't it?

Imagine if a (chocolate) cake was constructed, inscribed with "Happy Birthday, Jesus" in brightly colored icing, large enough to hold 2000+ candles.  And imagine if people gathered one dark night, just to sing Happy Birthday and light up that cake, one candle at a time.  The surrounding darkness would gradually fade until the sky was aglow, the light so bright that it couldn't be contained.

And so it was, many years ago.  Mary held her newborn son and looked down into the eyes of Jesus.  So unexpected, God in flesh was right there with her, destined for a life that would pierce the darkness of this world.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1DZA_TdBBI

Merry Christmas.

Days after Thanksgiving, I'm still having moments of full-to-the-brim gratitude.  Christmas jewelry orders are coming in, and as if that wasn't enough, I've had the pleasure of hearing back from many of my customers.  When I hear they're satisfied with their purchase, that they're sure the gift recipient will love it too, that they want to do business with me again, well, that just makes me feel incredibly...good.

In my years of working in software, because I wasn't customer-facing, I typically heard customer feedback secondhand.  I've always believed that as part of a business, customers are of utmost importance; without them, there would be no business.  So although accolades (or other) were received through the grapevine, I still felt it necessary to put the customer first.  But now that I'm the sole person directly responsible for how customers feel about their purchases, and I hear firsthand what they think about my art and jewelry (part of my heart), it makes me want to do more.  Be more.  Make them the happiest customers on the planet.

After all, when you're happy, I'm tremendously happy.

Thankful.

Back in 2007, Dave Ramsey, who is known for his expert advice on managing money and staying out of debt, made a guest appearance at North Point Community Church to speak on his "Momentum Theorem".

It looked like this:

Focused intensity over time, multiplied by God, equals unstoppable momentum.  At the time, I was in the middle of a challenging year of both working and taking classes with the Art Institute, and these unexpected words were like refreshing rain for my soul.  Momentum isn't something that just happens; it's created.  My efforts in response to God's calling to pursue a more creative life, sometimes difficult and casting doubt, were validated.

To dissect the equation a little further:

Focused Intensity - the relentless, unceasing kind of work toward your goals, where you keep distractions to a minimum.

Over Time - momentum doesn't happen overnight (though I often wish it would).

Multiplied by God - He is essential to the equation.  Proverbs 16:9 says "In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps."  Proverbs 21:5 says "The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty."

Momentum - when you see things start to happen as a direct result of the focused intensity you've applied over time, all the while trusting in God for the outcome.

That Sunday we were given a small, wooden "coin" with the formula stamped on it to serve as a reminder.  I kept it attached to my computer monitor at work for the next 4 years, until it was finally time to leave my role there.  Over time.

What I love about this formula is that it applies to many areas of life: you can build momentum in getting and staying out of debt; saving for a new car, college tuition or retirement; becoming a better mother, father or friend; learning a new language; making a career change; building a successful marriage; becoming physically fit.  The list goes on.

In what life area are you building momentum?