Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Garden of My Mind

On my knees in the soft ground of my perennial garden, I pushed my trowel down deep to uproot each thriving weed, removing the entire unwanted growth. Looking back over the ground I had covered, I admired my work. It would be so rewarding to have a garden free of weeds (at least for a few days)!

But as gardeners know, early in the season it can be hard to tell which are weeds and which are new perennials just starting to show. The cunning weeds often sprout near similar-looking plants, camouflaging themselves and crowding out the more desirable plant species.

Rather than risk pulling out something that I want, I find it safer to let the young plant be until it has grown enough to know for sure what I am uprooting. (I once pulled out my lemon thyme ... until I smelled the fresh lemony fragrance on my hands and quickly replanted it!) I started to think that I should study weeds so that I could accurately identify what needs to stay and what needs to go.

I quickly decided against that, remembering what I had learned about how the Royal Canadian Mounted Police train "the Mounties" in anti-counterfeiting work. Instead of studying the counterfeit, they carefully study the "real deal" -- a genuine twenty-dollar bill -- so that if a counterfeit appears, they immediately recognize that it does not measure up.

So it is in the garden of life. I focus on what I want to grow, not on what I don't want to grow. In the same way, I prefer to study God, not the enemy. If what I see does not measure up to God and His Word, I know it is not of God. The weeds in my life (superficial things that "pose" as authentic and significant) can be just as cunning as the weeds in my garden. How they can grow and spread before I recognize they are not the quality I desire. And if I'm not careful, they will crowd out the more beautiful things I want to grow.

Rather than dwelling on the enemy or what he might be doing, I choose to focus on what God is doing. I focus on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and/or praiseworthy! (Phil 4:8 NIV)

These are the things I want growing in the garden of my mind.

Lord, You are all good and my eyes are on You. Lead me in Your truth. Let me not waste a moment in distraction.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Humble Beginnings

A young Minnesota man with a very noticeable speech handicap has now risen to success as a vocalist and musician. His voice is smooth and rich with a wide range -- and no sign of stuttering when he's doing what God designed him to do! According to Christianity Today, "he is one of Christian music's best kept secrets." As a stutterer, Jason Gray's music focuses on finding strength in weakness. He shares his stuttering story, reminding us that God can make beautiful music out of our brokenness. I recently fell in love with Jason's hit singles, "More Like Falling in Love" and "Blessed Be (All the Lonely Losers)." Jason is a vibrant picture of God's love in action. He's been recognized for his civic leadership and humanitarian work through World Vision with children orphaned by AIDS in Africa.

A North Carolina farm boy was expected to follow in his father's footsteps, taking over the farm someday. He was once rejected for youth group membership, then was almost expelled from a Christian college and told by his superiors, "About all you could amount to would be a poor country Baptist preacher out in the sticks." Ah, but God knew the potential in this humble man! Who was this farm boy? None other than the Reverend Billy Graham, who is one of the most admired people of the 20th century, who has preached in person to more people than any other preacher in history, and who has been spiritual advisor to 12 U.S. presidents! Now in his nineties, his life continues to be one of the most compassionate examples of humility, love and grace available in our time.

More stories like these abound in the Bible. As a young boy, David killed a giant with a simple stone in a slingshot when all the brave warriors' tactics failed. Moses killed an Egyptian in his early years, but later was used by God on a huge mission. A prostitute named Rahab offered shelter which saved lives at a critical time. Saul (Paul) persecuted Christians, but when the scales fell off his eyes, God used him to save souls all over the known world and to author half of the New Testament. John Mark deserted Paul on an early missionary journey, which caused a huge argument between Paul and Barnabus about trusting him on another trip. This is the same man who later wrote the Gospel of Mark.

We have many reminders of how God uses weakness, humility and brokenness. The Bible says, "God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong." (1 Cor. 1:27 NIV). He does this so no one can boast. "We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us!" (2 Cor. 4:7 NIV)

So what about you and me? Whose lives will be impacted by ours? Where will our feet carry the good news? Who will experience God's love administered through our hands, His grace through our kind words? Don't you wonder what treasure lies within, just waiting for God to call it out?

The common denominator here is that we need to be yielded, surrendered and willing to let God use us in whatever way He chooses... and to God be all the glory!

Oh Lord, I want to be fully available to you -- no hesitating, no "gatekeeping" of my talents. It's all from You. It's all about You. Let me be Your hands, feet, voice... wherever You lead me.

Monday, May 17, 2010


My husband is a Canadian hockey nut. We started hosting players for our local hockey team four years ago and it didn't take long for me to "catch the fever." Having the boys in our home is great fun and the games are that much more fun because we personally know several players on the team.

Well, our team just finished up a dream-come-true season! Best record in the regular season won them the Anderson Cup (right). Then after a very tough battle in the post-season tournament, they secured the coveted Clark Cup (left), the top honor for junior hockey.

I felt so happy for them that they persevered. They had been down two games in the "best of five" ... then in the third game, they were 49 seconds away from elimination when our top scorer tied it up, forcing overtime. The team gave it all they had until another of our boys finally sunk a goal in the third 20-minute overtime period. Exhausting, but exhilirating!

Game four was another struggle, and game five was the final fight. Our team came from behind twice in the deciding game, then sealed the deal as a crowd of more than 8,000 roared! What a thrill ride it has been for us to see them tenaciously hold on and fight for what they wanted! It felt so good to know they never gave up; they never let the goal out of their sight.

What a great example it was for me. It reminds me not to ever listen to the little voice that wants to tell me, "let it go... you'll never pull it off." But instead I will tell myself that "I will run in such a way as to get the prize." (1 Cor. 9:24 NIV)

Whatever game you love, I'll bet you can identify. It takes a great team of everyone giving their best for the team to reach their potential. I'm so glad each was willing to give their strengths for the greater good.

We each have a role that way, too. In our families, in our jobs, in our churches, in our lives. Are you giving your "full strength" every day? Are you "in strict training" for the things that really matter? Can you persevere against the odds; hold on by a thread for the promise of victory?

Our boys can tell you that winning is oh-so-sweet, and worth every bit of sweat and grit they put into it! As the coach said, "Fifty years from now you will still have a bond with your teammates because of what you worked for."

So true. And as big as that game was, we're working hard for something so much bigger! Our reward is much greater, there is no comparison! We make our bodies our slaves; we do it for a prize that will last forever! (1 Cor. 9:25-27 NIV)

Heavenly Father, give me the courage and strength to run in such a way as to get the prize. Renew me, day by day. Help me fix my eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary and what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16, 18 NIV)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Beside Restful Waters

From the moment we entered the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we meandered next to sparkling streams. Surrounded by seas of green budding trees and tiny forest flowers, it was immediately refreshing. The water's edge beckoned, so with cameras and a picnic lunch in hand, my husband and I found a flat rock to relax on. It was near another large rock in the stream that looked like a crouching cat (do you see him?).

I felt the sun on my back and the tickle of the breeze as I watched the water gently weave its way through everything in its path. I felt free as I listened to the whooshing of the current flowing over the rocks, and it seemed to wash my cares away.

I knew what David was describing in Psalm 23 when he said the Lord leads us beside restful waters and restores our souls. What a blessing to be able to take a vacation! We had our own little soul-restoration project going on in the mountains of Tennessee.

It reminded me of how important it is to take time to just be still. Our lives are busy and full and we are energized by so many things. But we can't be filling our calendars with 90 million things to do and then praying for peace! God gives us the wisdom to choose where to best spend our time, if we ask Him. And, I think the best way to hear His answers is to preserve a little quiet in each day ... when my mouth is closed and my ears and my heart are open.

We enjoyed a week of listening to the babbling brooks, the whispering trees and the melodious harmony of a myriad of songbirds we weren't accustomed to hearing. We were captivated by lush green pastures with abundant wildlife grazing contentedly. It was a little taste of heaven and my soul was at perfect peace.

On the last night of the trip, we reminisced about the beauty we had taken in, and all the peace and tranquility we had enjoyed. "God is so good," we agreed. It felt like I didn't have a care in the world and the whole universe was in order.

After all, the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Be Not Dismayed

After attending her grandfather’s funeral in Wisconsin, a young woman drove seven hours to return to her home in Iowa. I’m sure the trip seemed even longer this time, as she was alone in her grief.

The next night, she was working the late shift (alone again) at her job in a fast food restaurant, attending to the drive-thru window. Toward the end of the shift, a friendly young person came through the drive-thru and handed her an envelope, saying, “I’m supposed to give you this.” The young woman accepted it and set it aside because she was busy in her duties.

When she finished the orders and completed the closing process, she finally looked in the envelope. To her surprise, she found $25 and no explanation…just a magnet that contained a website address. A little research online told her this was a project of a church youth group. They were making sacrifices, pooling their savings and giving it out in $25 increments to people who they thought needed it.

She said, “I was so surprised. They probably thought I needed it because I’m working in fast-food… Mom, I didn’t even spend it yet! There are so many people more needy!”

As a mother, it warmed me knowing that God was reaching my dear daughter with a little TLC at a rough time, especially when I couldn’t be with her. And in spite of her own concerns, I was so pleased she thought of others more needy than herself. It reminded me of one of her favorite scriptures as a young teen:

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Is. 41:10 NIV

{Note: dismayed is defined as a sudden loss of courage, resolution or initiative from anxiety or fear; to become unnerved or deterred by arousing fear or apprehension.}

Dear friends, remember God has every means of sustaining you, whatever you’re going through, wherever you are. Won’t you cast your cares on Him?

Father, we are thankful that Your Word tells us to cast our cares on You and that You will sustain us; You will never let the righteous fall (Ps. 55:22 NIV). You also told us to come to You, all who are weary and burdened and that You would give us rest. (Matt 11:28 NIV) Help us to trust those wonderful promises so that we may love one another as You have loved us. (John 13:34 NIV).