Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

Today on my morning run I had a revelation of the signage kind: there are more mileage markers on the trail than I previously thought.  I was accustomed to seeing the large, clearly visible signs that appear every half mile.  Since I don't wear a watch that tells me how far I've run, I depend on the markers to calculate my distance.  And I've often thought "I wish there were more signs, maybe every quarter mile, so I can get a more precise distance if I choose not to run in half mile increments".

Well today, I noticed there are more frequent signs, at every tenth of a mile to be exact.  Unlike their larger companions, they are nondescript, narrower in width and quite easy to miss.  They blend into the surroundings; you almost have to look for them in order to see them.  But, they have been there the entire time, lots of them, and I just didn't realize it.

So it is with God: He is everywhere.  He is in the big things that we can't help but notice, such as the sun beaming down on a clear morning over the water, when we get the new job we've been hoping for, when an illness is healed, or at the birth of a child.  Even when we get stuck in the daily, mundane routines of our lives and don't notice God at all, or start to question whether God is there, He is.  He's at each step, even if we don't see Him, even when we can't sense His presence.

'"Am I only a God nearby," declares the Lord, "and not a God far away? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?" declares the Lord. "Do not I fill heaven and earth?" declares the Lord.' Jeremiah 23:23-24

On the trail there was a cool breeze from I assume "Debby" out in the Gulf.  I was so thankful for it, making my run in the heat much more pleasant.  And my spirit was renewed by the reminder that came through ordinary trail signs: my God is with me, always.

Our precious Hannah-dog had surgery this week and is recovering.  Right now she's weak, unable to bark much (blessing in disguise), and unable to jump or climb stairs.  We have to carry her almost everywhere!  Thank goodness she doesn't weigh very much.  We're experiencing sleepless nights that will, hopefully, end in a week's time.  If you've ever cared for a sick pet, you know how things come to a stand-still as you tend to them.  Hannah is completely dependent on us, even more so than usual.  She needs care by the hour.

Not too long ago we were in a similar situation with Hannah, nursing her back to health.  She has been through more medical trauma than you'd expect a little dog could handle.  But what else do you do?  Hannah is the first pet we've had as owners, and at some point during the years she transitioned (at least in my mind) from "dog" status to...well...more than a dog.  Much more.  How can our hearts not be changed after having her unconditional love for so long?  So we do all that we can to care for her.

I don't mean to sound melodramatic, but with sleep depravity comes thoughts like "will I make it through this week" or even "can I make it through this day without being a total jerk to my husband".  It's okay to be grumpy when you're tired, right?  I remembered the last time Hannah was sick, and how we all made it through...not totally unscathed, but somehow we turned out stronger, only then knowing of what we were capable.  We can survive sleepless nights.  We can face the fear of illness.  We can manage, one day at a time.

Well, since I'm most definitely being melodramatic (after all, Hannah is "just a dog"), I can't help but reflect on other, past experiences.  The earth-shattering kinds.  The ones that rock your world and make you wonder if life will ever be the same.  I've had them.  You probably have to.

Each of those experiences was painful.  I would have never asked for them to happen, to me or anyone else.  But at the same time, in each situation, there was a silver lining, a glimmer of hope, and dare I say "good", that resulted.  That's not just positive thinking on my part.  I can see evidence of something or someone greater at work, something bigger than my circumstances.

Psalm 30:5 says  "weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning."  Our personal seasons of pain, grief and difficulty will happen, but they are temporary, staying just for the night.  On the other side is a warm, sunlit morning, where there is rejoicing.

Right now, looking down at our 15 pound ball-of-fur as she sleeps nestled in her bed, I'm holding on to that truth.

A friend of mine described a conversation she had with her toddler son recently and allowed me to share it with you.  It sounded like this:

Boy:     I'm the king of elephants. I protect the elephants.
Mom:  From what?
Boy:     MUD!
Mom:  How do you protect elephants from the mud?
Boy:    By holding the baby elephants.

Now, I'm confident he was talking about actual, larger-than-life elephants.  But sometimes when I hear words out of the mouths of children, I'm convinced they're straight from the heart of God.

Just for a moment, imagine that is true.

God:  I'm the king of elephants, and all things that move and breathe; I gave them life.  To mankind I gave my thumbprint, so they might glorify me.  I love them; I protect them.
Me:    From what?
God:  MUD!  ...dark, sticky mud...the kind that doesn't easily wash off.  They are surrounded by mud everywhere they go.  It disguises itself as envy, jealousy, bitterness, deceit, to name a few.  It makes them loathe others and themselves.  There is nothing they can do on their own to escape it.
Me:    How do you protect them from the mud?
God:  By holding my children up high.  That's why I sent Jesus into the world: to rescue my loved ones from the mud.  I don't care if they're covered from head to toe.  All I ask is that they trust me; trust that Jesus can wash it away.  Then they'll know what it's like to be free, no longer getting their feet stuck with each and every step.  Then they'll know...me.

Friends, that's the heart of the Christmas story: Jesus was born so that we can be pulled out of the mud and held high by God.  His birth was a gift, yours for the taking.  My Christmas wish for you is to simply accept it.  It's the greatest gift you'll ever receive.

"Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord." Luke 2:11

Merry Christmas,

Christina

This weekend Chad came back from the store, telling me how shocked he was to hear Christmas music playing throughout the place.  Christmas music...on only the first weekend in November.  And then I couldn't believe the words that came out of my mouth in response.  It was like an out-of-body experience, watching and hearing myself say the words as if I wasn't an active participant: "I finally get it."

I have always been the person who refuses to start decorating for Christmas until after Thanksgiving.  If I hear Christmas music on the radio before then, I turn the station.  I'm in shock when I see Christmas decorations on full display in retail stores...in July.  And if the eggnog hits the shelves too early, I wonder "who is actually going to buy that"?  If I sound anti-Christmas, don't be mistaken.  I love it.  It's just that time goes by so quickly to not enjoy each holiday that comes, especially one where we celebrate by being thankful.

Now to "finally get it"?  I had to think about why that was true.  For the first time in my life, before Thanksgiving, I had the thought that Christmas was only a few short weeks away.  7 to be exact.  I need to only blink, and the day will be here.  Christmas has so much personal meaning to me, I want to enjoy it for as long as I can.  And so I decided the answer is: it's an age thing.  The older I get, the more I view large blocks of time at once, instead of individual days.

I am so sorry Thanksgiving, I love you too, but Christmas has my whole heart.

I confessed to Chad I had thoughts of getting out a few Christmas decorations right after Halloween.  (Seriously, who am I?)  I haven't done it yet.  But I'm thinking about it.  And excuse me while I make a run for my favorite Christmas drink.

I was on the running trail the other day (I'm back, by the way!) when I saw a woman on her bike coming from the opposite direction.  She was adjusting her music player that was attached to her left arm, looking down, not watching the path in front of her.  Her bike veered over to my side, putting me in sudden doom.  Thankfully, I saw her approaching several seconds before she realized what was happening.  I quickly slowed to a walk, at which point she looked up, saw me, adjusted her bike, quietly muttered a word, and shook her head in frustration at either herself or her music player.

Have you ever noticed that your body tends to move in the direction that you're looking, even when you don't realize it?  That's why the biker crossed over onto my side.  This also happens when you're driving a car and reach for something on the passenger's side without looking in front of you: the car tends to veer off the road.  (None of us is guilty of that personally, but we've seen others do it plenty of times. :))  And it's not just a physical thing.  Sometimes what we see causes us to move toward it emotionally.  That's why you didn't realize you needed an iPad until you saw it for the first time.  Suddenly, you had a new gadget obsession.  Naturally, you made a special trip to the Apple store, but only to see how the iPad felt in your hands, right?  Of course I'm not saying technology alone is bad.  I'm sure you can think of much worse things to take in with your eyes, things deep down you know aren't good for you.

Because I'm a visual person, this is especially true for me.  The things I see with my eyes cause me to react and have the potential to be etched on my brain forever, good or bad.  I need to choose carefully.  Once the biker crisis was averted, a scripture verse came to mind:  Luke 11:34 - "Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness."  There's a direct correlation between what we see and whether we are full of light, or darkness.  And what we have inside of us has a direct impact on the people around us.

Even though I don't get this right all of the time, I want to be full of light.

I didn't plan to blog today.  Not for any particular reason; I've just had other things to get done.  But just now in a moment that caught me off guard, I found myself reflecting on the meaning of Good Friday.

The term "Good Friday" has always been interesting to me, since the events behind it were not necessarily "good".  In short, the Bible describes how Jesus was handed over to authorities, flogged, and hung from a cross to die.  If I close my eyes and imagine that scene before me, it brings tears.  Literally.  It is one of the most gruesome and horrible deaths I can imagine.  The intense pain and suffering seems so extreme, I can't imagine why even the worst of criminals would deserve to die that way.  Imagine if that was your son.  Or your brother.  It would be unbearable.  And yet for those of us who believe what the Bible says about Jesus, we call today "good".

The story doesn't end there.  We're told Jesus suffered and died.  But after 3 days the tomb where his body was placed was found empty.  What?  That sounds crazy I admit.  But there were eyewitnesses of that same Jesus, who they watched die on a cross, standing directly in front of them.  He was alive and well.

Christians all over the world celebrate Easter Sunday to commemorate Jesus' resurrection.  Why is it such a big deal?  The Bible says that Jesus' entire life, death and resurrection occurred for one very specific purpose: to reconcile mankind back to God.  He took the sin of the world on his shoulders and paid its price, once for all.  For me.  I can live a life where sin has no power.  I am completely and utterly, free. 

That is why today is good.

Our miniature schnauzer Hannah is a funny little thing.  Lately we've caught her getting "stuck" at the bottom of the stairs, afraid to climb up.  My guess is she tripped one day coming up the stairs and is afraid of a repeat.  She acts in a similar way when she crosses the hardwood floors in the kitchen: one clank from a glass or pan, and she freezes in place for a millisecond with legs sprawled across the floor, before she scurries to get the heck out of there.

The funny thing is, she has nothing to fear.  Well, in her mind she does, but in reality neither the stairs or a clanking dish is going to hurt her.  I can call her to come up the stairs as she looks at me from the bottom, tell her it's "okay", but in the moment she's unconvinced.

Recently I had my own bout with fear and realized how sometimes I act just like our pup: paralyzed in place, unable to see past the thing that scares me.  If only I could stop thinking about it, then everything would be okay.  But it's near impossible to just stop thinking about something when the big monster is looming in front of you.

The last time I found Hannah whimpering at the bottom of the stairs, I tried the usual reassurances, which fell on deaf ears.  And then it occurred to me: why not shift her focus?  This time I told her "C'mon, let's go see daddy", to which she found a new energy in response and bolted up the stairs.  She began to focus on the one who could rescue her instead of her fear.

The same is true for me: when I shift my focus from the thing or thought that frightens me, to the One who can rescue me, there comes an incredible sense of peace.  A peace that says I don't have to be afraid, I can move forward with confidence.

I wish I could bottle up that peace...

...and just maybe I can.

This past Sunday at church, our senior pastor Andy Stanley made a special announcement: the U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama was going to be in town on Wednesday speaking about her "Let's Move" initiative, and she requested that our church host the event.  Andy said the church was informed only 5 days prior but after discussion with other leaders in the church, they decided to do it.  On top of that, tickets were being made available to those interested in attending.

My initial thought was: Wow.  First Lady.  Here.  I wonder what security will be like.  And then my thoughts turned to: should I attend?  Do I want to attend?  And finally: what an awesome opportunity for our church...not only to host the President's wife, but to show the kind of love that erases political lines.

So I picked up a ticket and made plans to attend.  The day of the event, security was just as I imagined: everywhere...on the roads surrounding the church, in the parking lot, at each doorway.  For a few moments I felt like I was in one of the safest places on earth.

As we waited for Mrs. Obama to make her grand entrance, we were entertained with killer music fitting for the event.  And when she finally appeared, there were cheers, applause and flashing cameras.  A common sight for her, no doubt.  Her message was succinct and informational as she spoke to parents on ways to help their children lead healthier lifestyles through exercise and good nutrition.  Not surprisingly, she was an eloquent speaker.  When she finished her speech, she spent a few minutes shaking hands with those in the audience before she was brisked away by those whose mission it was to keep her safe.

As I walked back to my car, I felt a sense of pride.  Not because I had the honor to see the First Lady in person (though that was cool), but because I was proud of my church: what it represents and, together, what its members can accomplish.  One of the things they do best, Sunday after Sunday, is create irresistible environments so that those who don't like going to church, actually like going to church.  Wednesday was no exception.

I called my husband on the way home to share my experience.  He was on the road too, having just left the office.  I wondered out loud if the First Lady was still inside or if she had already left the premises.  Almost as a direct answer to my question, my husband spotted the cavalcade of police cars escorting Mrs. Obama down the interstate to, I assume, the airport.  I asked if he could see her inside the car.  That's when he noticed a helicopter overhead and answered "No.  But I'm pretty sure that's her."