Devotion published today!

Just wanted to post that a devotion of mine was published today. I began writing for these great folks years ago, but it’s been a while since I submitted anything so I was a bit nervous submitting a piece. It’s always a privilege to serve with them. To God be the glory!

Here is the devotion url –

Sweet Dreams

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.  1 John 3:16-18 NIV

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and kconnors.)Our youngest son’s bunk beds are gone. His bedroom feels so different now. This was no ordinary event; this was God on a mission. I remember years ago when we assembled our son’s new beds. There was much excitement about moving into his big-boy bed. His bunk beds hosted sleepovers with family and friends for years. Now, the top bunk is rarely used and our youngest one isn’t so little. His teenage body outgrew his bed, but his heart had not—sentimental as he is.

It breaks my heart to think of children in our city sleeping on the floor every night. A year ago, I asked our son if he would consider donating his beds. He wasn’t ready. How does a mother take her son’s bed right out from under him? I let it go.

Recently, the same tug came back to my heart. With the top bunk unused, and our son’s body still growing, God made it clear that giving them away was His plan. We read today’s verse in 1 John and I explained to him that, as believers, we have a responsibility to help others—even when it costs us personally. I asked our son to pray about it and wait for God’s reply. The next morning, smiling, he said God gave him a peace about giving them away. I immediately called for a pickup from a local ministry which specializes in beds for children.

That same day, our van broke down. The repair came with a hefty bill. Reluctantly, I postponed the donation because we couldn’t afford to replace the bed and fix our van. Days later, we made a family decision not to replace his bed. Instead, we bought a simple frame for his mattress so both the donation and van repair could continue. I asked our son to give up his bed, not old clothes or discarded toys. I wrestled with my heart over this as his mom, but God’s patient persistence gave us peace and joy that He has a plan for those beds.

We should share what we can live without, but we should keep our hearts open and look for ways to freely give—even when it hurts. This is the generosity Jesus gave us through His sacrifice on the cross. When we give out of excess, that’s great. But when we give out of sacrifice, we become God’s heartbeat for the world.

Don’t hesitate. Give.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and kconnors.)

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Kristi Buttles

Kristi Buttles has been married for twenty-five years to her best friend and is the mother ot three amazing teenagers. She writes devotions for and is a contributor to the book Faith & Finances: In God We Trust. Her blog, walks the journey of a woman saved by grace and captivated by God’s mercy and hu


A place to belong

A thought occurred to me the other day – I have finally found a place to belong. A place where my heart beats in sync with those around me. Where I feel accepted. Beneficial. Wanted. A place where I am not judged or misunderstood. Quite the contrary, a place that wants to hear what I have to say. What I think. It wants to hear my voice.

I’ve waited my entire life to feel like I was actually a part of the conversation. Not being humored. Ignored. Tolerated.

I can count a thousand places where I didn’t fit in – no matter how hard I tried. No matter what I wore. How I spoke. What I owned.

And the things that make me unique are celebrated and encouraged – not snubbed, laughed at, or discounted.

This place fuels the fire in my soul that perhaps I have found a way to be myself and feed the God-given passion inside me at the same time. Neither part of me has to sit down and be quiet. For the first time, these two parts of me work together…in tandem.

But lately, this place has been judged. Criticized. Spoken harshly about. I get that there are people who won’t agree with my place, but do they have to be so vocal about it? Are generalizations beneficial? Even if some of their stereotypes are true, they may not be true about me, personally.

And, to my utter surprise, this hardness comes from those I thought would support this place. They come from the same team.

The other night, when I had enough of hearing their unwanted opinions, I began to cry. Once I started to cry, I couldn’t stop.

My teenager came over and held me the way I used to hold him when he was little and his feelings were hurt by this world. He whispered in my ear, “It’s okay, Mom.”

He held me in his long, lanky arms.

Tears of a broken heart are very different than tears of anger, bewilderment or shock. When a heart cries, it cries deep. The tears it spills replace words we can’t find to express the pain.

When a heart wells with tears, and fills to overflowing, in that moment no words are necessary.

Eventually, Humpty Dumpty’s heart was put back together and the tears stopped. It doesn’t mean my heart was never broken. The fracture lines are still there. And, it will probably break again.

But for now, I have a choice. Do I listen to the critical judgments of others, who paint with a broad brushstroke of generalizations, or do I believe what my heart knows is true and press on?

This is really hard. Discouragement is a weakness for me and it can make me quit faster than just about anything.

I choose to look at three little sticky posts I keep on my desk: One from my husband that says, “I love you!” Another is a quote I wrote down from a speaker, “Lean into the discomfort. Let yourself be seen.” And the last one that has been a go-to for a long time now, “Breathe.”

More than these, I read again the Scripture that sits apart from these sticky notes on the other side of my laptop by itself, “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.” – Proverbs 3:6

It won’t be easy. Pressing forward feels like when I’m at the beach and am trying to break through the tide line to get to deeper water. With every step a wave slams into me and knocks me off my feet. Sometimes I fall on my bum. Other times I get a mouth full of salty water and can’t catch my breath. Other times they slap me square on my back and sting my eyes.

But, I know very well that the way to get to the beautiful deep, where mysteries are discovered and God’s will is revealed, is only possible by pushing through the pounding waves.

I will keep pushing. There is a place where I finally found I belong, and it’s worth fighting for. Any place that’s worth it, is worth the effort to get there.

No sooner did I…

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.   Isaiah 43:18-19

In 2010, our lives were unexpectedly flipped upside down and inside out.  Unbeknownst to us, a series of events, divinely timed, methodically unfolded.  However, we were completely unaware of what God was up to.  What began as a normal Sunday at church turned into an eternal change in the direction of our family.  The words of guest speaker, David Stevens, uprooted my entire way of thinking of what faith looks like in a person’s life.  Challenging, penetrating words from a woman advocating for African orphans rocked my world one night as we watched them joyfully sing and dance and give their testimony to God’s faithfulness.  Then, through God’s providence, He brought Dr. David Platt’s book, Radical, into our lives.  Like birth pains, our lives were quickly becoming uncomfortable to say the least.  We were compelled to examine our lives and ask God if there was anything He’d like to change about them.  Do NOT ask that question if you’re not ready for the answer!

The next thing we know, we’re on a plane with our children 10-14 yrs old, headed to Africa on our first international mission trip (and our first trip out of the country).  The next summer, we found ourselves in Ukraine on a different mission trip.  This past summer, we were speechless as our passports were stamped in Asia on yet another different mission project.

Everything we knew normal to look like was so far in the rear view mirror we couldn’t even see it anymore.  In between those times, we continued with local work in our community.  I thought what God had planned to change in our lives had happened, and even though I certainly felt out of my comfort zone, I had no idea that was only the first phase of the transformation.

I really believed the “change” had happened.  And it did.  But, God never said anything to us about that being the only change.

Once again, I find myself being shaken. I am currently taking the Bible study, Interrupted, by Jen Hatmaker.  What began as a desire to take this study from an alumni stance of, Oh I know what she is talking about!  Been there.  Done that! quickly became something different.

One day of homework shook me to my core.  I admitted to my small group that God had radically shown me a peek into phase 2 of the transformation and it deals directly with me.  I have a thing.  Everyone has a thing, and we are quick to judge others’ things because either they makes us feel better about our thing, or their thing is just plain weird in our own eyes.

My thing has to do with my hands.  It is a sensory issue mostly.  My hands must be clean.  I don’t wash them 18 times a day, but they must stay generally clean or the epicenter of my sanity is rocked off its axis and I cannot focus on anything until I wash them.  Okay, so that’s my thing.  I said it.

What does this have to do with the transformation of our family’s and my faith?  A lot.

This oddity about me with my hands has held me back from experiences in life.  I love nature, animals, and all of that.  Love it!  But, as much as I love to get up close and personal with insects, please do not ask me to touch them.  I will look at them, photograph them and appreciate their place in our ecosystem, but their legs and exoskeletons make my skin crawl to imagine them touching my hands.

I love sharks.  Okay, so I am a little obsessed with them!  Have been my whole life.  I’ve read books about them and watched nearly every documentary on them.  A few years ago, I had the opportunity to touch one.  I was allowed to stroke its back and dorsal fin.  A moment I had waited for my entire life!  As I reached into the salty water, I felt a swell of adrenaline and nausea roll over me.  As much as I wanted to enjoy the moment, the slick, leathery skin that I had waited forever to touch also made me weak in the knees.

The other day, I was trying to catch a large lizard that found its way into our home.  However, it wasn’t the lizard’s size, speed or agility that made me shriek like a little girl every time I missed, it was knowing it would be in my hands and I would feel every toenail, its chest heaving in distress (scared of me!) and its lose, cool skin.  I think lizards are so neat!  But handling them is something different.

When pumping gas, or in the salad bar line, I use my less dominant hand so the hand I use for everything else is still clean.  It’s a right-handed world, and that’s fine with me!  Shaking people’s hands with my right hand keeps my dominant left hand clean for everything else I need to do.  A couple of times for my children’s birthday parties, I made mystery boxes that everyone stuck their hands into and had to feel their way to the items on the list. I made the box.  I knew what was in it.  I knew it was only spaghetti noodles hiding things like pencils, plastic dinosaurs, and bouncy balls. But, for the life of me, I could not stick my own hand in the box!  Yeah, that’s me.

When we were in Africa, I really struggled.  For 2 weeks, I couldn’t practice the hand-washing methods, etc. that I do here in America.  However, I did embrace bucket showers and thought that if America could do this one change we’d have no more worries of clean water shortages. As much as I loved Kenya and its friendly, hospitable and warm people, being there was a huge mental obstacle for me because of my stupid hand thing.  I carried so much guilt and shame around with me as I wrestled to assure myself this wasn’t a case of me thinking too highly of myself.  Like, I would never touch something or someone less than me.  Oh my word no!  That’s not it at all.

It’s a sensory thing.  Like I have 10 little brains attached to my hands.  Weird, I know.

When I hold my husband or my children’s hands, I feel an emotional electricity connecting us through touch.  When I knead dough, there is a feeling of workmanship and family (it’s a very old family recipe) that affects me on a deeper level.  But, don’t even get me started on public door handles and bathrooms.  It isn’t pretty.

So in Africa, as well as the other two countries we served in, because of this secret, odd thing, I found my place comfortably behind the camera.  As a freelance photographer, I was more than happy to be the team historian for these trips.  I was also very happy to load and lug equipment; produce and carry-out VBS with the team; harvest corn; help with soccer clinics, help start-up community playgroups, etc.  I was very happy to serve in ways that made me comfortable.  I even told myself that according to 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, we all have different gifts and talents God uses as a collective body to serve in His name.  That is true, but hiding behind those talents is not the same as using them for His glory.

Enter the Interrupted study I am taking.

On this particular day of study, God showed me that what I have known my whole life as “good enough” service to Him was no longer good enough.  He wants to move me from from a place of comfort to a place where I will serve Him even if – and especially if – it is uncomfortable.  It’s about living in His strength and not my own.  It’s about overcoming our fears with power and victory believers have in Christ.

Sure, it’s okay to continue to use the stuff God hard-wired in me for His work, but He is now gently pushing me toward new work that requires more than I have to give.

He lovingly told me that I have been hiding behind my camera; hiding behind the title of organizer in different service projects both local and worldwide; and hiding behind my writing.  Why?  Because in all of those cases I get to appease my hand issue.  I don’t have to necessarily be hands-on in the uncomfortable work.

I remember watching my daughter, then just 12 years old, swing, hold and play with precious children on the African mountainside completely uninhibited.  I was envious of her.  She sat on the ground while they braided her hair and rested in her lap.  I stood on the sidelines watching through the lens of my camera – wishing I could be like her.  Watching my sons hold hands with children who had an enormous amount of mucus and drainage running out of their noses, wiping it with their hands, then again taking the hands of my sons again – never to be denied and always welcomed with a smile, tears filled my eyes as I hoped those same mucus-filled hands wouldn’t find mine.  If they did, I would certainly not turn them away, but it would push me right to the edge of my personal cliff.

In Asia, we worked with children who couldn’t care for themselves, and I repeatedly had to silently stop and breathe because again, as I adjusted my normal to meet theirs.  I guess it turned up the fact I have the same issue with my feet.  Removing my shoes, as is custom, meant I had to sometimes walk barefoot on strange floors that had many bare feet on them.  The crunch of unknown substances I stepped on, or someone else’s hair getting stuck to the bottoms of my feet made me want to run outside and rub my feet in the grass.  Oh the shame to feel such things on mission trips!  But, I would just as quickly feel them at home, too. My oddity shows no discrimination of people, place or circumstance.

This is real. Raw. Sobering.  Embarrassing.  So why write about it?  Why risk being judged by the big world we live in?  Why set myself up for possible critique or criticism?

God is doing a new work, and I guess I want to give a very clear “before” picture, so He can get the glory for the “after” picture I trust is coming.

In our study’s small group, I confessed these things with bated breath not knowing how I’d be received. To my pleasant surprise, my humbling words were met with beautiful grace.  Every single woman was so gracious!  It is their response that gave me the courage to write this on a public blog.  I left that morning with hope that God can change even the strangest things about people.  We are, in fact, a work in progress.

We openly discussed the topic of helping the homeless and the poor and all that surrounds these desperate circumstances. Yet, as I confessed my shortcoming of the hand thing, even the nurse and occupational therapist in our group were merciful to me – and never made me feel like I was less of a believer or a person due to this obstacle that they obviously don’t share given their lines of work.

I told the group, God revealed to me with fresh eyes that I have been hiding in ministry because of this.  With sincere motives, giving money, donating clothes, and serving in a food line is comfortable.  Joining my kids and their friends in nursing homes to sing Christmas carols, making and donating gift baskets for women’s shelters and organizing bake sales to benefit world relief efforts is comfortable.  Doing yard work and attending luncheons for widows is comfortable.  Soliciting contributions from businesses for the different charities we work with is comfortable.

God is clearly telling me that while those things are good, if I am doing them to partly hide behind what isn’t comfortable, then that needs to change.  I accepted His loving discipline and offered Him an open heart as best I could.

I left our small group to run a few errands at my familiar stomping ground.  No sooner did I pull up at the same old three-way stop, than I immediately saw a woman standing at the stop sign holding a sign asking for help.  At her feet sat two children.  It was chilly, windy and drizzling.

In one motion of heart and head, I instantly knew this was God placing me there to practice this new lesson of serving in the discomfort.  We keep gift bags in our car with bottled water, cans of soup and Scripture for such an occasion, but this mom and her kids needed more than that.

I cannot describe how 100% confidently sure I was that God called me to this intersection for such a time as this.  Normally, we would hand them the gift bag, ask their name and tell them we would pray for them all before the light turned green and off we’d go.  For years that has sufficed.  Not so this day.

It was a well-trafficked intersection, in the middle of the day, in a familiar part of town, and it was a mom and two young children.  I felt very safe (an important aspect). I drove right by her without a word, but pulled into the first open parking space at Wal-Mart.  God clearly told me to get them a gift card.  I found a pretty gift card with pink flowers on it, checked out and walked with haste back to the van.

Looking back to see if they were still there, I circled the van to the closest parking space to them.  I sat in the van and prayed.  Of all the times I’ve tried to help people standing on the street corner, I’ve never gotten out of my car to do it.

That instant, the bondage of fear left me and I knew I was walking in God’s strength and power – not mine.  I walked up to the mom and her kids and asked them if I could take them to lunch.  I offered that the kids could play on the play set while we could just relax and eat.  As soon as I offered, she broke down and cried and thanked me.  However, someone before me had already given them lunch.

Okay.  So what now? I prayed.

I remembered Jen Hatmaker’s words in the study, Ask them their name and their story, because they never get to tell their story.  

So I did.  And, with all glory to God, I held out my hand to shake each of theirs.  (Not a big deal to 99% of the population, but it’s a big deal to me.)

Suddenly, we were just two women smiling and talking with no regard to the many cars passing by.  Her daughter had a beautiful, captivating smile and her son was incredibly polite.  I offered her the gift card and she began to cry again.  I gave her the name of our church to see if they could help in any way.  Then I did something I’ve never done.  I gave her my cell phone number.

Physical touch and sharing personal information were on my list of no’s.  And, I would never blankly say it’s okay to do this in any situation, but it was okay in this one.  God had given me an indescribable a peace about it.

I listened to her story and offered to pray for her family.  She gladly accepted.  In our home, we always hold hands when we pray no matter where we are.  I reached out my hand and asked if she would hold mine for the prayer.  She held out her hand, and in the moment we touched I felt a 1,000 pounds of guilt and shame I have carried my whole life over this hand thing drop like a rock.

I was a new person before we said Amen.

This mom was so sweet.  Her children were precious.  I could have stayed with them all day. Before leaving, I shook both of her children’s hands and gave the mom my number. I didn’t have much to write on, so she offered me the back of her poster she was holding asking for help.

I mentioned earlier that physical touch is a big deal for me, and as we both held the large poster board, and my left hand drug across it as I wrote my number on it in ink, it changed me.  In a  way, I had become connected to her board – her situation – her.  It became very personal in that moment.  It’s difficult to put into words.  It wasn’t a typical drive-by/drop-off of goods and well wishes between strangers.  It was two women helping each other.  I hope I was a blessing to her.  For certain she was to me.

When she accepted the gift card, the first words she spoke were, My children have almost nothing to wear.  Now I can buy them some clothes. It pierced my heart that her first response was to take care of her children.

Driving away, it dawned on me that she never asked me for anything.  Strange!  I asked her name and her story; offered them lunch; gave her a gift card; gave them our church’s number and my cell phone number; and asked if there was anything else I could do.  She never asked for anything, but was so appreciative and teary.

However, truly I also received something I needed.  God broke the stronghold of the hand thing. His love superseded my hangup and His mercy and compassion won out.

I pray He continues to meet the needs of this family, as I look for them now every time I pass that intersection.  I know He will.  This experience was also a blessing to me because it showed me that God hasn’t given up on me and my hangups.  He loves us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3) and will finish the work He started in us (Philippians 1:6) even if some of us take a little longer.

Because of this experience, God has given me a new hope and fresh excitement for what phase 2 may hold.  Before, I had some sticky reservations, but I am reminded that God can do the impossible – He can change us – creatures of habit that we are.

Serving where He has me, in the roles He has me in, is great.  But, now I look forward with curiosity at what in the world He may have in store.

He is good.  Patient.  Kind.  Perfect.  Forgiving.  We are made in His image.  Fragile.  Sinful.  Beautiful.  Only He can put Humpty Dumpty together to create a new work with the same broken chards of the past.  We are new.  Whole.  Lovely.  Even though it is the same ol’ us.

What is He nudging you toward today?  What comfort zone is He moving you away from?  As we live and breathe there is a plan for our lives. The Potter continues to sculpt us into the image of His Son for plans no eye has seen nor ear has heard (1 Corinthians 2:9).  Do I wish I could redo all of the times my shortcomings sabotaged a moment of ministry?  Absolutely.  But I will not stay in the guilt of the past because God’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3;22-23).  If He can forgive and forget, so can I (Psalm 103:11-12; Isaiah 43:25; Hebrews 8:12).

However, I don’t want to completely forget so I will remember to let God keep pushing me out of my comfort zone and draw me toward wherever His heart is at work.  I don’t want to miss a moment.

The Watermelon Perspective

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On this rainy morning, I slipped into my faithful parka and baseball cap and turned on the van to warm it up.  My tween and his friend piled in and off we went to school.

On the way, my son said a math joke, Math is the only subject where when someone buys 20 watermelons no one asks why!  Really?  Twenty stinkin’ watermelons??  That’s crazy!

His friend chimed in, It’s so they can cut them up, put them in a tennis ball shooter and shoot them out for target practice! Ha!

All the while, my mind is contemplating another use for 20 watermelons – to sculpt them into pretty fruit baskets and fill them with delicious fruit.

One woman.  Two tweens.  Twenty watermelons.  Three different perspectives.

After dropping them off I drove home smiling at the prospect of what the world would be like if we all listened a little more to those around us instead of just hearing ourselves.  Personally, I never would have questioned why someone needed 20 watermelons in a math problem, nor would I have ever shot them out of a tennis ball shooter for target practice.

These silly guys made me think outside my box this morning and I love it!  (However, I decided not to bore them with my fruit basket idea. :))

Today, I’m going to focus on listening more to others around me and make an intentional effort to see things from a different point of view.

Not only will I never look at a tennis ball shooter the same way again, but I’ll not be able to help myself from questioning why someone needs 20 large fruits when doing a math problem.  But, I also learned more about how these guys think, therefore I learned something new about them – all because I stopped talking and listened by opening my ears to what they had to say.

If this short conversation had such interesting (and amusing) results, just think what could happen if we talked less and listened more in the big stuff of life.  It would rock our world!  I will stop writing now because…I’m listening.  What do you hear?

The Bake Sale Lesson

2012 8th annual samaritan's purse bake sale

Eight years ago, a gift catalog appeared in our stack of December mail.  This one was unlike any I’d ever seen.  It was from Samaritan’s Purse.  In it, gifts could be purchased for people all over the world.  However, the gifts surprised us.  No jewelry, trendy clothes or home decor items.  The catalog offered basic needs that much of the world goes without every day.  Water, dairy animals, blankets, mosquito nets, medical supplies…you name it.  Our family was instantly captivated.

Sitting at the kitchen table after school, I showed our children (then ages 4, 6, and 8) the catalog and told them they could each pick out an item.  Their three items equaled $39.  Just then, the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, Make this a teachable moment.  

How? I replied.

He sort of just spilled the words out of my mouth when I asked the kids, How are you going to pay for this?

All three of them pointed their fingers at me and said, You?

Ah!  Now I understood the teachable lesson part.

If I pay for these things, then the gifts are from me.  Giving a gift has to cost you something – time, energy, or money.  So, how are you going to pay for these?

They decided on a lemonade stand.  Great!  So we mixed 2 pitchers of lemonade and a couple dozen chocolate chip cookies, set up a cardboard table and sat on the corner of our yard and waited for passers by. By the end of the afternoon, our goal of $39 was blown away with a grand total of $370!

Fast forward 7 years.

Each year the bake sale has grown as more people want to be involved.  Every year is filled with heartfelt stories, and how I wish I could write forever and tell them all. However, this year was different than any other.

We love hosting this bake sale.  And, we are extremely grateful for the whopping 29 bakers that contributed to it this year.  We are thankful for Starbucks and Great Harvest Bread Co. who generously donated to the cause.

In the early planning stages, people who visit the sale every year began to show their excitement, asking when it would be and if we needed any help.  I was home recovering from foot surgery, so I had much free time to spare while stuck on the couch so plans kept rolling on.

This sale has become such a beautiful event.  People bring their children, their dogs, and their donations, and we love serving them with a smile as 100% of their money goes to purchase items from the Samaritan’s Purse gift catalog.  Even Samaritan’s Purse calls us each year, once they receive the grand total, and chat about how the bake sale went.  God’s blessing on this sale is apparent.  But, this year there was a problem…

The problem was me.

Here at RealDeepStuff, everything written is real whether it’s deep or just stuff.  My problem was real and it is deep.

It is the main sin I struggle with on a daily basis.  Everyone has them.  Sin that seems nearly impossible to separate from who we are.  They are our weaknesses.  Chinks in the armor.  Achilles’ heel.  For me, this major player is the sin of self sufficiency.

It is a daily struggle in my prayer life, personal life, marriage, parenting, relationships with friends, work, etc.  This two-headed dragon seems to creep up everywhere.  I know the Scriptures about God must be more and we must be less and how we should rely on Him, but honestly the familiar Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, somehow became I can do all things through Christ – period!  

This year, I felt pressure to get my foot healed up (which it still isn’t) so I hit the ground running twice as fast.  After all, it’s a good event for a good cause to expand the kingdom, help others, glorify God, and teach our children it is better to give than receive.  So when the Holy Spirit reminded me that we needed to pray about the bake sale, and seek God’s will for it, I remember the moment as if it were yesterday.

I stood in my kitchen at the sink when His words came to me.  My sinful response?  Eh, it’s not really necessary, and I continued my work.

Whoa.  Why did I say that?  Easy – because I’ve put this sale together for 7 years.  It’s practically on auto-pilot.  We tweak it every year with what we learn, but planning it in general is second nature.

I actually found myself wondering what there could be to prayer about other than wanting His desired items being ordered from the catalog.

I had fallen hook, line and sinker for the enemy’s trap of self-reliance.  It’s as though I said to God, It’s okay, I got this.

How dare I leave His voice out.  It’s like throwing a birthday party and not inviting the guest of honor.  I broke His heart in that moment, and He began a teachable lesson for me this time.

Plans continued, but it seemed so flat.  Buy the correct permit – check.  Arrange for parking signs – check.  Notify a friend who is a police officer of the sale – check.  Make sure all bakers have what they need – check.  Borrow tables, cabanas, and buy cabanas – check.  Run a ton of electrical – check.  And so on and so on.  However, no one else knew this, but preparations were dry to me.  Numb.  Same ‘ol same ‘ol.  And, the bread company didn’t return my 4 calls, 2 personal visits or the 1 flyer we left with them.  I just couldn’t understand it.  They’ve partnered with us for 3 years.  What changed?  I found the planning to be frustrating and unfulfilling.

God had not left the bake sale.  This is His baby!  He was definitely in it, but He was silent.  When I ignored praying to Him because I had the audacity to think we could do this on our own, but for His glory, He said, So be it.  And let me be.

His silence was deafening.

One day, while running errands, I couldn’t ignore it anymore.  The guilt   The shame.  The sin.  Tears welled in my eyes as He let me experience His broken heart.  My heart nearly burst from the overwhelming sadness He allowed me to feel.

Oh God, I am so sorry.  I left You out of the plans because I thought I can handle it.  But You want to be a part of this.  This event thrills Your heart, and I’ve denied Your voice, opinions and direction out of relying on myself.  I am so sorry.  I can see now what it’s like to serve You without You, and I don’t want to do it this way anymore.  Will You forgive me, God?  Will You be the focus of this bake sale in guiding, directing and planning every part of it?  I need You and can feel how much You want to be in this.  God…I’m really sorry.

In an instant He forgave me, faithful to Himself and His covenant to us, even when we are unfaithful to Him.  It’s like He rolled up his sleeves with a wide grin and said, Alright then.  Let’s get to work!  

From that moment on, this bake sale was unlike any we’ve ever had.  He breathed life into the sale and into me.  He was all over it, and the joy He ignited in my heart was uncontainable.  Such enthusiasm I have not felt in a long time.  He blessed this day with so much love, compassion and excitement it was all I could do to stand and soak it in.  I can still barely talk about it without emotion.  Perhaps in my flesh I could have prepared a bake sale.  But, by God’s power, people’s lives were changed.  His Spirit was so present, I could barely find words to speak throughout the entire 8 hour sale.

In my next post, I will share some of the stories of the people who were a part of the sale.  I invite you back here to read them, and know you, too, will be changed.

For now, I will once again offer the prayer that I’ve said a thousand times, but at first neglected to do this year – and my sin nearly made me miss the blessing of this bake sale.  Whatever ministry you are a part of, whether it be personal toward family and friends, in your job or in volunteering, don’t make the mistake I made thinking I could do it on my own.  It is a sin that America has believed for far too long.

May we never be found guilty of refusing God’s help because of self-reliance, pride, ignorance, callousness or indifference to what He wants.  May what He wants be what we pursue.

In the words of Moses, we pray… Then Moses said to (the LORD), “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.  How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”  And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” Exodus 33:15-17

Would you like to know how He made these verses real to me?  Tangibly real?  Two days before the bake sale, in a last-ditch effort, I called the bread company again – just to see.  The manager ever-so-casually told me that they indeed had been preparing for our sale and I could come pick everything up.  I was shocked!  But not really.  I believe with all my heart that God intentionally let me sweat it out.  A good parent appropriately disciplines his child, and God is a good Father.  I think He allowed the silence to draw me to Him, but in the moment I was too tangled up in the details and missed His cue.

However, I was totally unprepared for what met me at the store when I went to pick up their donations.  There they were…bags and bags and bags and bags of delicious treats.  My breathe caught in my chest as I stood utterly speechless, fighting a tear trickling down my cheek.  It took 2 trips to the store to collect it all.  They had, all along, been in communication with the other store location, and had agreed to combine their efforts and gave us a massive amount of beautiful baked goods.

I…I don’t know what to say, I stuttered to the owner.

It’s just so much more than I ever thought, I said, staring at the counters full of bags.

The owner simply smiled and gave me a hug and wished our bake sale well.

I got in the van and rested my hands on the steering wheel.  Pausing before I turned on the ignition, I said to God with a tearful smile, You did this. You had this planned all along.  I was so worried.  So stressed out.  So anxious.  And here You are.  You delivered and You delivered big.  Thank You, Lord.  And God, I get Your point.

Ephesians 3:20-21 immediately came to mind, Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

It was a great day that God just blew the doors off of.  I can’t wait to share with you in my next post the fingerprints He left on this bake sale and on the hearts who were touched by His vision…

Family Jewels

“Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:32

I had the most delightful conversation with my stepmother yesterday.  We have been playing phone tag for quite some time, and finally we were able to catch up.

She is an incredible woman of strength and even temperament.  Even with losing my dad in December, she remains faithful to our Christ and is slowly finding a new sense of normal – though she misses him terribly.  We chatted about everything we could think of.  I loved listening to her talk from her perspective about the important things in life.  Wisdom that only comes from having lived through it.  It’s like a sneak peak at the future with tips and advice on the tough stuff.

After our conversation, I thought about my family and pondered how important the generations ahead of us are to us and those coming behind.  They have so much insight and wisdom to share.  It is, indeed, their priceless legacy.

My grandmother was a woman of incredible strength and poise.  She was a southern lady – soft as a flower with the tenacity of a tiger.  She taught me invaluable lessons about relationships, cooking, budget-keeping, well, almost everything!  Her mother, my great-grandmother was also a beautiful and strong woman.  I was 12 when she passed away, and growing up my claim to fame was that I knew someone born in the 1800s.  1899 to be exact.

My great grandmother and I sat together many summer afternoons on my grandmother’s couch and snapped green beans.  And I loved sleepovers with her.  As she got ready for bed, I was amazed at the regime of hair rollers, facial cream, etc. she performed every night.  When it was time for bed, she and I would lie there and play “Guess Whose Sleeping?”  A game (I think she made up) where we had to be completely quiet, and the first person to fall asleep would say, I’m asleep.  Silly.  I know.  But fun.  Our generational gap showed once when I was a tween and came over to visit in my brand new bleached jeans.  They were my favorite birthday present!  She looked at them and said, Why I wouldn’t have even picked corn in those pants.  Ha!  We agreed to disagree. 🙂

My grandmother was my second mother.  She made the best blue cheese dressing and was my daycare because my mom worked.  She was a very funny lady, and family meant everything to her.  When she grew older, she sat me down once and showed me the linens that had been in our family for generations and told me what was what and who it was from.  Family was her heart.  Mess with any of us, and you had to reckon with her!

When I was young, these ladies told me a true story that defines who they both were.  Back in America’s unfortunate days of segregation, my grandmother and great-grandmother went shopping in downtown Atlanta.  While in a clothes store, they saw a young African-American girl who was in distress.  They approached her and asked her what was wrong.  She had to use the restroom really bad.  She was desperate, but the only bathroom was for white people only.

In the days of great hostility and shakeup, these ladies decided to buck the system and help this young girl.  My great-grandmother hid the young girl under coat and assisted her to the store’s white’s-only restroom.  My grandmother stood guard outside.  Trust me, no one was going to get past my grandmother.  She was too smart, too sweet and knew how to use both to help this precious girl.

Hearing their story showed me how to put the Bible into real life practice.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

My grandfather was an upstanding man in our community.  Everyone knew him and liked him.  He knew how to stretch a dollar and make touch decisions as the leader of the family, but he had a real soft side that only a few of us saw.  I would describe him as a pillar.  Strong.  Unwavering.  Kind, generous and practical.

The best financial lesson I ever received was from him right after Bruce and I got married.  I was a young 19, and had lived with my grandparent s for 3 years following my mom’s death.  I visited them one day about a year after the wedding, and my grandfather surprised us with a washer & dryer for the tiny foreclosure we bought.  However, he sat me down at the table on the back porch and took out his wallet.  He opened it (never taking anything out of it) and said, This is the last time we will help you.  You are married now, and it’s up to Bruce and you to handle your finances.  Then, he literally, physically, shut his wallet and put it in his back pocket.

Wow!  How’s that for an object lesson?  There was absolutely no ambiguity of where he stood, and it was the best thing he could have done for us.  From that day forward, 22 years later, we have been completely on our own financially, making good decisions and accepting the consequences for the bad.  I learned in about 30 seconds that my life was my responsibility.  It is one of my life’s greatest learned lessons.

Our society truly undervalues the older generation.  However, they are an untapped resource of knowledge and strength from which to draw.  During my mother-in-law’s recent battle with cancer, she told me one day while we sat together, I’m not ready to go yet.  I have so much to still teach you guys.  Like how to use newspaper for lining the insides of your shoes when they wear out.

That conversation stuck with me.  We have thousands and millions of people right at our fingertips who know what it is like to live through rationing; to work as a community for the good of the whole; to give us advice on self-sacrifice (something my current generation and the one after me doesn’t know) and leadership.  We need people to tell us how to live within a budget, how to work hard – even if it is for the benefit of someone else, and that less truly is more.  We need to be told the beauty of appreciating simple moments and be admonished on just how short life really is – something those ahead of us have much to offer to the conversation.

The way things are in the world right now, we should be having lots of conversations with those who know how to survive and thrive in the face of unpredictable hardship.

On thing I love is that we worship at church with the elderly.  We have Widow Sunday periodically where the widows are given a white rose to wear, and everyone who sees them gives them a hug.  This is respect that is biblical and esteemed by God.  I love to watch the older generation at church.  Sometimes I glance around and watch them sing, with their eyes closed, hymns like It Is Well and Amazing Grace because there are decades of history in their voices.  Decades upon decades of living in God’s faithfulness – and in theirs to Him.  I study their faces and think of the hard times they’ve survived, loved ones they lost, and health crises they’ve faced – yet here they are, every week, worshiping God. I think to myself, Teach me.  Show me.  Guide me.  They are an example I want to follow.  One I want my children to follow.  Inter-generational worship, be it in church service or spending time with those of the older generation, is extremely important for everyone’s benefit.

My heart was so touched when my oldest teen told me that he saw our special widow friend at church and went up to her and gave her a hug and chatted – all on his own.  They were both blessed.  We live in such a “me” generation, and the one coming behind is even more so.  We as parents must teach our children the value of all people – not just those who are in the same season of life as us.

Studies show that communities where the elderly are honored, respected and highly regarded have a considerably longer life expectancy.  Interesting.  The fact is, we will all be there one day, hopefully, and it will be our turn to share advice, stories, and life lessons.  Will anyone listen to us?