October 31, 2014

What will I do with my sparkler?


"There's something interesting about sparklers:
1. They're amusing.
2. They burn out super quick. (While my kids were still writing their name, the sparkler just became a smoking rod.)

David writes this: "God, teach me to number my days that I will live wisely"

And, I've come to a realization. We can choose to take out lives (which are burning like a sparkler right now) and run around and show people all the stuff we can do with our gifts and talents. We can treat them as if they are an audience to our show.

OR we can become igniters. With our sparklers (lives), we can begin to light everybody around us. So by the time our sparkler is snuffed out, we leave a world that is burring and alive. One that is writing their names in the sky because we choose to live a life to ignite others with the cause of Christ.

I choose to ignite."

(Read the complete blogpost by Pierre du Plessis!)

Jesus, you know how perfect this was for my heart today. Help me to not want to run around seeking to prove myself and my work. But rather see myself in perspective and remember how short my life really is, how small I am and how nothing I am without you. Yet with You I can light everyone around me:  my family, my husband-to-be, my friends, my students and my coworkers. Teach me to point others to You with simple acts of sincere love and care, dedication --doing all things to give you glory, and humility  --relying completely on You.

I'm left with a reflection on the analogy: What will I do with my sparkler? Will I show it off or will I multiply the light and enjoy every second of it?

August 30, 2014

Second things -My God is not a withholder


"When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly 

dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do 

now. In so far as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the 

expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving 

towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly 

dearest at all. When first things are put first, second 

things are not suppressed but increased."
C.S. Lewis

As I walked home after teaching a class, John Piper spoke through my earphones, reading the quote by C.S. Lewis written above. I found it so fascinating! So well-put, so wisely said. 
I think like everyone, I have problems putting God on the throne in my heart and not letting anything else take his place, be it my darling Kevin, myself, my family, my career or dreams. The reason I think the words are so perfectly stated is that often I confuse the priority that these other things must have in my life. Second, right? For God must be first. But I need my heart to remember that it doesn't mean He is a withholder, as much as the Tempter wants to draw the old trick from the garden. 
Yes, my King is jealous for my heart, zealous to guard it all for Himself. Yet my total surrender to His reign for my affections doesn't steal precious things from me but rather, purifies them and makes them completely beautiful. Once again, and always, when He's put in first place all else falls into place. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased. I think they become God-glorifying incense! 

How to build endurance


"When you feel you can't go on any longer but still go on is when you build endurance." Thoughts from Jesus as I run physically and spiritually, looking to Him.

"Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:1-2

May 25, 2014

Fighting for the land


Joshua 14:6-15 and 15:13-19 has an awesome story. The main character, other than God, is Caleb.
Caleb had received a promise from God years ago. In fact he says when it was: 45 years ago. This promise had his name on it; it was specifically designed for him, promised by God –the One who doesn’t break promises.
The interesting part is that Caleb goes to Joshua, the leader after Moses, and tells him essentially: “Give me the land God promised me.” Before that he explains that even though he’s 85 years old, he is as strong as when he was 40 and can go and war to get the fulfillment of the promise –the land.
It amazes me what he says next: “if the Lord will be with me, I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.” The “if” lets me know that he knows he cannot do it without God’s help, but with it he knows it’s a given. I love the fact that it hasn’t happened yet. Caleb can’t see the future. He just has a promise with his name on it. 
Another point that caught my interest is that I had wrongly believed that Caleb got the land because God gave it to Him, in other words, that He had dropped it on his lap. I somehow missed the part that he had to fight for it. 
The land was already his in light of the promise and the promise-Giver, but God expected him to go get it. It was already his but he wasn’t going to enjoy the land, taste its fruits, and see his children run and play in it and sleep under its trees until he had fought for it.
And there’s more. When Caleb goes to Joshua, he says: “So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke that day. For you heard then how the [giantlike] Anakim were there and that the cities were great and fortified; if the Lord will be with me, I shall drive them out just as the Lord said (Joshua 14:12).” The Amplified version helps us out with a fact we would miss if we’re not consciously remembering the rest of the story (found in Numbers 13:27-33): there were giants inhabiting the land!
Conquering giants isn’t easy. It’s already something to fight for the land, but what if giants are protecting it? “Oh boy, and you say the land is mine?” I would be tempted to say in Caleb’s place. But Caleb didn't think so. He fought those giants and won with God's help and asking others to help him do it (Joshua 15:16-17). 
I love the fact that he couldn’t do it alone, even though he had faith that God would do it because he had a promise with his name on it. I love it because it shows a bit of God’s heart: He’s all about relationship. 
I think that to fulfill His promise to Caleb God wanted Caleb first to stick to Him for help, advice and courage, among a million things he’d need from God. And secondly, He wanted Caleb to establish bonds with others. Essentially, I think God likes showing us that we can’t do it alone so that we’ll ask for help. His help most of all, but also the help of those around us. He’s a God that loves relationship, community and knows that the best stories one can live are shared.
I’m learning so much from Caleb’s story. As a way of recapping, I think Jesus teaches me these things through Caleb:
      God has promises with my name on them.
      Even though what is promised is mine I still have to fight to get it.
      God's promise normally looks impossible, like conquering giant dwellers in the land that God said is mine.
      The fight includes getting God’s help for it, sincerely believing He will come through and being willing to ask for others’ help.
      This creates a story of the kind God likes: where faith, courage to take action and relationship are keys to make it happen.
However I'm struck again by the point about going to claim the land and fight when I read: "And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, How long are ye slack to go to possess the land, which the Lord God of your fathers hath given you?" 
The question I'm left with is, what promises has God given me that I'm being negligent to claim and fight for? 
Warrior, I invite you to think on the answer as well. 

If you want to read the whole story about the promise, 
you can find it in Numbers 13:27-33, chapter 14 and in Deuteronomy 1:19-36.

May 21, 2014

To live this way, God the only Fortress


"Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in thy tabernacle for ever: I will trust in the covert of thy wings. Selah. For thou, O God, hast heard my vows: thou hast given me the heritage of those that fear thy name. ... So will I sing praise unto thy name for ever, that I may daily perform my vows." Psalm 61:2-5,8

Uneasy, tired, tense. Situations can sometimes make you feel that way, don't you agree? I memorized this passage because I thought how amazing it is for God to lead me to a rock that's higher than me. Exactly what I want and need!, I thought.

"FOR GOD alone my soul waits in silence; from Him comes my salvation. He only is my Rock and my Salvation, my Defense and my Fortress, I shall not be greatly moved." Psalm 62:1-2

Did you notice the part of "God alone"? It took me a little while. And then the psalmist says, "He only..."! He only is those great things I need and look for in life every day: security, safety, strength, wholeness. And I'm struggling to feel at ease, to be strong, to feel secure and safe instead of insecure and uncertain and while this is going on, God tells me: "Steph, you can only find these things in Me. And you have Me. You don't need to wait for anything to take them now."
So, I can wait in silence and not in worry, knowing that my wholeness, my salvation comes from Him -and I have Him! He only is my Rock, my security, my strength. He only is my Salvation, my Defense. How about having God defending me? Nothing will overcome me for He has overcome the world! And He only is my Fortress, I won't be greatly moved. You know I'm dust. You know that in my humanness I fall, my heart can falter, my mind can worriedly run,  my body can be tired. But even taking all of that into account, I won't be greatly moved if You are my Only Fortress.
Please, Jesus, Papa, make Yourself my only Refuge, my only Rock, my only Fortress. Teach me what it's like to live this way.

Guess what, my soul? You have God! The Rock, the Fortress, the Refuge -the Only one!

March 17, 2014

The embodiment of love

What is it that I love the best about you?
There's no way I can pick.
All of you makes my heart tick.
The more I think about you, 
the more I realize I can't live with pieces of you.
I want all of you! I need all of you!

I dreamed of your eyes in your smile,
Total acceptance and love I see.
And how I love to see that you love me.
There I can, in those eyes 
that hold my gaze
and leave me amazed at a love so great.

How could I love without your lips?
The richness of love pours out from them!
Your tingling kisses, 
your words of desire I can hardly believe,
and the torrent of sweetness and power
you have in your lips.

I want all of you! I need all of you!
From head to toe.
Your feet, they're wondrous.
They walk on water 
and invite me to follow.
Your footprints I need. Thanks for your feet!

Oh, your hands! They assure, caress, hold.
They lift me up, protect, remind
that you know what it is to be human
and you payed the price 
for me to be forever with you. 

In all of your glory, 
your reign of the universe 
and lordship over all things
You make yourself my prize.
How small I am! Insignificant better said.
Yet so greatly loved by Love Himself.

Who knows how to count your mercies? 
Who knows how to sing you praise?
Who knows how to worship you as you deserve?
Not any human, not any angel.
But we try anyway, because aghast you leave us, God.
Aghast at your love.

And your hair, it blows with the wind.
It smells like freedom! And when you're with me, 
you leave your aroma with me.
It's so human and divine at the same time.
Thank you for being, fully human, fully God.
I cannot comprehend all that it's done for me.

Jesus, I love your arms. Strong, large, cozy.
You guard and protect me.
And your hugs are the best thing.
If I should remember anything 
every day that I live, is that 
I live by your hugs and live for your smile!

Thank you for your legs. Your lap is perfect.
Thank you for your shoulders. They're a dream!
Thank you for your chest. It's what I need.
Thank you for your nose that snuggles me.
Thank you for your ears that listen to me.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for each part of you!

March 13, 2014

Joy today

I’ve written before about grace today. But “joy today” just might save my life.
I’m living a chapter in my life in which God has made me feel that it’s autumn because I gotta let go of many things. Sometimes I feel it’s a good thing to be pruned by the wind, like the autumn leaves. But another side of me cringes because: What will I have to give up? Will I make it out alive? And then comes winter, what will I do then?
The autumn colors are glorious but the crisp cold air of change has been making me shiver these past two days. Fear of the unknown has been enveloping my mind, causing me to think things I’m embarrassed of. I’m afraid of the future and how I’ll fare in it. I’m afraid of not making the right choices. I’m afraid of moving away from people that I love dearly. I’m afraid of new things and of not being able to manage them.
Last night a red nose nestled my pillow and a bit of tears still flowed. I cried out silently. And as I warmed myself under my blankets, the words “Perfect love casts out fear” rang in my head. They’re from 1 John 4:18. And I could almost hear God tell me “hide in my love” after I had just said “I want to hide in a cabin forever!”
This morning I was translating a message by John Piper for my mom. And at some point I clicked on another message I had never read and found something perfect. Piper is talking about using acronyms to help him remember what he ought to. This is his description of one:
AIMS: For Christ-consciousness Throughout the Day
This is what I need all day long. Reminders of massive truth. If my mind is empty or worldly, my faith languishes. My joy in Christ weakens. I need truth. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
My mind needs glory: “Set your minds on things that are above” (Colossians 3:2). I need to think on excellent praiseworthy reality: “If there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). But my mind drifts into banal and trivial things. And my soul shrivels.
What shall I do? I “will call to mind” amazing things about God (Lamentations 3:21). I will “remember” his all-gracious covenant (1 Chronicles 16:15). I will set my mind on “the things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:5). I will “consider his wondrous works” (Psalm 106:7).
How? Among other ways, with AIMS. Through the day I will pause and ask, What are your AIMS? And I will answer:
A Alive. I will call to mind the stupendous truth that Jesus is alive. (Luke 24:5–6)
“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”
I In. I will remember the breathtaking reality that Jesus is in me. (Romans 8:10).
“Christ is in you.”
M Mighty. I will ponder the all-comforting fact that Jesus is mighty. (Matthew 28:18).
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
S Satisfying. And I will savor the sweetness that Jesus is satisfying. (John 6:35)
“Whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
(Taken from Desiring God Ministries, found in "Santification in the Every-day life")

I’m imagining what will occur in me if I know and remember not just that Jesus is alive but that He is in me and He is mighty and He is satisfying. What a life I’d live! Definitely devoid of fear because while fear is human, He has not given me a spirit of fear for I have become his adopted daughter. Look at this awesome verse:
"For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father" (Romans 8:15).
His children shouldn’t be afraid of anything. He’s the boss of the Universe and all things! Could it be then, that I am really afraid, not because He’s not in control, but because I question His love for me? I think so. And the rest of the "perfect love" verse tells me so: "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love" (1 John 4:18).
While His love may prune me and send winds and storms to shake me, His love makes me strong. While in His love He may hurt me, like he wounded Aravis’ back in The Horse and His boy, He knows what is best for me and why He does it. He knows what I need to learn, where I need to go, with whom it’d be best that I get there and He doesn’t want me to be afraid. He comes to comfort me!
I just reread The Horse and His boy and if you haven’t read that book of the Chronicles of Narnia, then this might be quite unclear. I’d love for you to read it. If you love Jesus or wonder if God is real and about His dealings with your life, seeing He is God, that book is a beautiful and fun way to help us grasp the fact that God gives and He takes away, God blesses us and gives us hardship. He does both in love.
And so why does joy today save my life?  Because today I remembered, as I prayed through that acronym and my mind could see sunlight, that God doesn’t leave the key to tomorrow’s joy in today. If I’m fretfully looking for it today (which is all I could do, I can’t go to tomorrow yet), I won’t find it. What is in today is today’s key for joy.
So maybe I can be very afraid about the future, about how I’ll fare then, if I’ll be happy with my choices. But I can only know that true Joy is found in Jesus and He only gives tomorrow’s joy key tomorrow. But He has promised to give me today’s joy key today.
All in all, I hope reading this has helped you a little in dealing with fear, finding joy and remembering that He who is in you is alive, mighty and satisfying. Let’s swim in His love, as autumn leaves fall. 

February 15, 2014

Rethinking Valentine's day

Valentine's day has left an echo on facebook and all around, like the chocolate in my bag. I just read two blogposts written by Jarrid and Juli Wilson that I loved. They have food for thought and I want to share them with you.
Look at this:
"My wife and I have come to the realization that the only way our marriage will last 'until death do us part' is with constant and relentless pursuit, no matter the time and day. This means that we encourage ourselves to treat every day like its Valentine’s Day." -Jarrid Wilson {I love it! It sounds like treating every day like it's Christmas. I'm so blessed that my honey actually thinks this way and prays to do it always.}

"Sometimes love doesn’t come delivered to the door covered in glitter with flashes of bright red and pink. It doesn’t always smell like roses – especially if you choose to serve at a shelter or two. It may not come in a heart-shaped box of chocolates, but I can assure you that it’s the sweetest thing you’ll ever experience. Love goes beyond personal preference and convenience. It’ll always cost you something, but it’ll just as surely will give you back everything you could ever hope for in life as well." -Juli Wilson

I don't know you, but I had to make a conscious effort to think of others this Valentine's and not of myself. That's why this is worth remembering.

Dear Jesus, please help me and every person who reads this to discover the wonder of serving others, being there for them, giving out of our hearts to them, loving them like You do. Please shoot love to the proper place in our priority list. And thank you that as we take time to care for your own, the people around us, in all ways that we can, you bring into our hearts that rich fulfillment found in loving someone more than ourselves. We ask for your help because we can't do that on our own. We want to rediscover the power and transcendence of love! A little love can go a long way. Thank you for creating such a wonderful bomb {love} to change the world with and for inviting us to be a part of it with You! I love you!

February 3, 2014

Better than you dare think

"Give what you have; to someone it may be better than you dare think." -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It could be as simple as a smile, a heartfelt hug, a touch on the shoulder, a happy disposition, a "Have a nice day", "I hope you get better". Things we do that we think are too ordinary to make a difference. They do make a difference.
By Marcie Dixon
I was going through a very tumultuous time, listening to a lot of heavy metal music, which seemed to express the anger, frustration, sadness and turmoil that I felt inside. One day I went into a diner to be alone in my darkness and despair.
Hopelessness and depression were overwhelming me. I had been asking myself what was the point of my life and my future and had come up with a big fat zero. Dark and negative thoughts and feelings had been swirling around me like a whirlpool of thick, black darkness, threatening to suck me into its vortex. I wondered what would happen if I just let myself fall into it, if I gave in to it, if I just let it take me away. I had been toying with the idea of taking my life.
I wondered if God—if there was one—would care enough to stop me. What would He think—if He existed—if I took my life? I knew one thing: I would be free of the relentless pain and torment that was going on in my heart and mind.
When the waitress came, I ordered a coffee while doodling on the back cover of one of my school notebooks where I had drawn a mosaic of sorts—faces, symbols, objects, expressions; most of them dark, lonely, melancholy, and fearful. They came from within, from the feelings in my heart, as well as the expressions of the music I listened to. In the midst of all of the art confusion I had drawn a small flower, hardly noticeable amid everything else.
The waitress returned with my coffee and set it down in front of me, giving me a warm smile that seemed to reach out and embrace me through the fog of depression that had engulfed my soul. It was like a small ray of warm sunshine on an otherwise overcast day. But I had grown so used to hiding what I felt deep inside that my reflex action was to shift my view down to my notebook. I felt embarrassed and a bit surprised that someone was focused on me. The waitress glanced down at my scribbling and said, “I see you are an artist.”
As I took a sip of coffee, she paused for a brief moment, her eyes skimming across the doodles. Then pointing to the tiny flower, she exclaimed, “Oh, there you are! Such beauty can't be hidden even amidst all this!” She smiled again as I looked up at her. And then she was quickly off to wait on another table. I marveled that she had noticed that tiny flower so quickly. To me it seemed nearly buried in the midst of the mass of confusion of images. I looked at the little flower. Was that really me?
Finishing my coffee, I gathered my things to leave. I was digging into my bag for some money for the bill when the waitress returned, placing a beautiful long-stemmed rose on the table in front of me. I was shocked! But before I could react, the waitress quipped, “Remember, you are that rose to someone.” She then reached down, touched my hand and said, “The coffee is on me,” and disappeared to take care of another table.
As I walked out onto the street, the sky didn’t look so gray and gloomy anymore. It felt crisp and fresh. What just happened in there? I wondered. A total stranger, who knew nothing about me or what I was thinking, had pierced my bubble of darkness with warmth and kindness and hope. Was that God? Was He there after all, and did He care about me? All I knew was that I felt different and the heaviness I had felt in my heart was gone.
Maybe there is a God after all. Maybe He does care and have a purpose for my life. I couldn’t say for sure, but that day I decided to find out if He did have a purpose for me. A tiny seed of hope grew from that experience and became a turning point. Eventually I found Jesus and His love and hope and comfort. That waitress’s encouragement to me started me on my journey which led me to Jesus and His eternal love.

"There are so many all around us who feel about as small and overwhelmed by life as that tiny flower. When the darkness is so great, even a little light can do miracles! A little word can be a lifeline that leads to hope for a lifetime." -Maria Fontaine

This is a post that stayed a draft since 2010. I was looking through drafts today and found this to be a great encouragement. I was just thinking how I want to do some things that require money that I don't have. "That's fine" this story tells me, "You need to wait to have money to do some things, but making a difference is not one of them, you can Give what you have."

The leash: A reflection about a healthier Life

Last Sunday I had a very vivid picture of what it means to have an unhealthy relation to someone else's emotions.
It all started with a nice walk with my dog, Charles. We walked near my house, which is perched at the top of a hill. Some dogs came along and attempted to claim the front of our house as their territory. This wasn't something Charlie would allow. I shooed the dogs away and as they left, Charlie ran after them with all his might. The strength of a well-fed 1-year-old lab took me extremely quickly down the hill trying to stay on my feet. Soon enough the inevitable happened. I fell flat on my face in a mixture of concrete and dirt. I know it was the latter as well because some of it was on my mouth and nose.
I'm happy to say my bruises are no longer dark purple and it's a miracle nothing was broken or sprained. Yet, there was a question that made me think, "Why didn't you let go of him?" my sister asked. "Oh, I did! Once I was on the floor!", I responded at first. But then I felt a little glimpse of realization. Aren't my relationships with people sometimes that way? If my loved one is sad, and if I choose to attach an unhealthy emotional tie between me and him or her, my spirits will come tumbling down, no matter how great of a day I was having. Similarly, it can happen with happiness, and fear, and jealousy and all kinds of emotions.
The problem is that I let others guide my emotions, when I should be in charge. Just like with Charles, I was supposed to be in charge!
It's a weird phenomenon I'm still learning about but I know there are healthy and unhealthy responses that we can have to others' emotions. And it's tricky for me to get rid of some of these habits. Yet, I've taken it to Jesus and asked for his help and I can say He has been working!
For instance, if X is having a terrible day and chooses to look at the negative side of everything, before I would say, "Poor X! He's in a bad mood again." Finding out why was my mission, and then I would try so hard to revert X's mood. This wouldn't work most of the time of course, and if it did, it was short-lived. And the situation with X would continue, which would sadden me and make me unhappy for days until magically X had a happier day cause he finally decided to look at the bright side of life. This is taxing. Not the way I want to live.
Now, when X is having a bad day I'm not happy for it, cause I love X. But I know that X has a choice: to get himself out of the pit. He knows I'm here if he needs me, but if he doesn't want to come that's his decision. I'll still pray for X. Yet I'll be having a merry day because I choose to. I might be saddened that X doesn't want to join me, but my joy cannot be lost because of X. The joy of living is much too precious to tie it to the emotions of a mortal which I have no control over. I know I have to be mature enough to accept that every person makes decisions and I cannot make them for them. They have a choice and I have my own.
And the choice I have to consciously make every moment is to tie my joy to Jesus, and not anything of this world, including people.

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