The Photo Challenge

Years ago, I was asked by my friend, Robin, to be part of a challenge and post a photo of myself that I thought was beautiful. I literally cringed when I read the request and told her I hate having my photo taken. She said that’s WHY she wanted to include me in the challenge. She was curious as to my response.
 
Robin, I’ve never forgotten. It’s taken me these past years to decide how to respond. I’ve finally got my answer.
 
This is the photo I chose. I know. It misses the point of the challenge. I saw others’ photos and they were truly beautiful. I understand I was supposed to find a photo that I felt was flattering or that I simply feel represents me well. I may have missed the first goal, but the second hopefully one nails it.
 
* This photo is of my wrist. A wrist with a bone chip floating around in it from a fall 6 years ago that has had flare ups since the accident. It represents that I am broken.
 
* The sun damage represents I am scarred. My life hasn’t been easy, but it has never been forsaken by God and for that, the intangible scars I have are being used for His glory and my good.
 
* The bead bracelet is the one we made and wore in Guyana last year and I’ve never ever taken it off since. We wore them to communities, churches and prisons to share the Gospel story of Christ told in colors as we tied them on wrists to all we met. Black = our sin, life without Christ. Red = His blood shed for the atonement of my sins. White = my new life in Christ by accepting Him as my Savior. Yellow = the promise of heaven for all who have accepted Christ and Green = our growing relationship with Christ every day.
 
* My $10 watch because #1 – I don’t store up treasures on earth that we can’t take with us and #2 – time is short. This life is not my own. I surrendered it to Christ and it is for God’s glory however He wants to use it. Time is short and I don’t waste it.
 
* More than anything, I don’t need my face (or my body, oh please!) to be remembered. I want His features, the fruit of the Spirit, to be remembered in me.
 
I didn’t post a photo of “me” because beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and beauty is also fleeting. As I age (which I will fight to the death) I want to become more beautiful in ways that time, age and experience cannot damage or destroy. I want to be a woman that, no matter what I look like, will be remembered for being beautiful because the light of Christ shone through me. And every time I blow it (embarrassingly often :O), let it be a beacon of hope to others that His grace and forgiveness is bigger and can cover any sin.
There ya go. A photo of broken & beautiful. Of scared and sacred. Of hope for today and for a time still to come and a passion to share this hope with others. ❤
wrist 

The path of a new year

New Year’s day seemed like the perfect time to take a hike. You know, fitness resolutions, take-more-time-to-experience life resolutions, all that jazz.

My husband and I went to a familiar park, but we decided to take a trail we’ve never blazed. This was an impromptu date, but we weren’t alone.

Just a short ways in, step-by-step, God began speaking encouragement over this new year. Receive it, friend.

Sometimes the path is uncomplicated and clearly marked.

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Sometimes it’s not.

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If I brought you to it, I’ll get you through it, under it or over it.

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I never promised the path would be easy. Keep walking even if you get dirty, really dirty.

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When the journey is effortless, remember me. It is my gift to you.

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Ask me when you don’t know which way to go. I will tell you.

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It’s possible I will bless either decision. I can do that. Include me.

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When you don’t know what’s around the corner, trust me and keep walking. I am with you.

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When life goes sideways, I’m still right here, walking with you. I haven’t left you.

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If the path seems exhaustively uphill, ask for my strength. I will give it to you. Just keep climbing.

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Sometimes I have a different plan than yours. Trust me. I know the best path for you.

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I am with you. Sojourners are also on the path. You are not alone.

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Leave your mark on the path…for my glory.

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I put people in your path for a reason. Some go before you to help blaze the trail…

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…others come behind you to follow it.

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Don’t be too proud to accept help. 

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You don’t always have to forge your own way.

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Follow my narrow path regardless of how narrow it gets.

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Sometimes you have to take a running leap of faith to stay on the path.

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When you’re between a rock and a hard place, my path will lead you through it.

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Look for my beauty along the path. It’s there to encourage you.

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In every season, follow me.

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Follow my path, but be smart about it. You don’t have to be the hero. I already am.

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A friend to walk with is a blessing from me.

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My children are rooted in me.

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The wind cannot blow over they who are grounded in me.

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 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

 

 

Rebuilding – lessons learned from change

In the past week, I’ve had two friends lose their fathers and one friend lose her mother. I’ve congratulated a dear friend on his engagement and received news of a friend’s health concerns. I’ve sent our oldest child to college, and feel like I’ve sent a dozen more young friends off to begin their freshmen years. Our other two teens prepare to change schools while my husband and I seek new employment options. So much change! Thought I’d repost this as an encouragement to all who are going through change… ~ Kristi

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Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. ~ Matthew 10:29-31

A year ago, spring brought us the most delightful surprise. A pair of birds decided to make their love nest in the beams of our front porch. We watched them toil for days making everything perfect. Their nest was strong – and beautiful.

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Over time, tiny, extraordinary eggs appeared. We could not get close to them, because Papa and Mama birds would have none of it. This was private, and they were quite territorial over their precious little eggs.

Before we knew it, baby birds burst forth from their shells. Their sour, grumpy faces made us smile. They huddled together for safety and warmth. With eyes still shut, they were a lump of feathers and fuzz with bulging eye lids and pointed beaks. Truly, they had faces only a mother could love.

As they matured, we enjoyed their incessant chirping, which kept Mama and Papa quite busy trying to feed them. It reminded me of when our teenagers were babies and the constant attention they needed – so helpless and soft.

In no time at all, these baby birds quickly grew up, outgrew their nest…and flew away. It was time for their own journeys to begin.

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I loved this small, beautiful nest. As far as nests go, these birds had a great flare for decorating. It hardly looked real it was so picturesque. I had plans to photograph it against the brilliant backdrop of the changing seasons and was so honored our front porch was chosen.

Months later, we had our home pressure washed. I gave instructions to leave the nest intact, even if it meant the wood and paint surrounding the nest stayed messy with splattered clay from the hard work of the birds.

The crew agreed to my request.

However, the man who came behind the crew to clean any missed spots of mold or dirt didn’t know about the nest – nor my desire to keep it.

Using his powerful pressure hose, he annihilated their love nest in a matter of seconds.

It was utterly and completely destroyed.

I stepped onto our front porch only to find small clumps of moss and pine straw lying wet and sad at my feet.

My heart broke.

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It was gone. The beautiful, nurtured nest was gone, and so was my hope to enjoy it every day.

Throughout the passing seasons, I looked up at the corner of pristine white walls and missed the splatter of mud and clay. I missed the fuzzy green moss and amber pine straw woven into a perfect circle.

It was something beautiful…and it was gone by way of a complete stranger.

A year passed since the pressure-washing incident. This spring, while working at my desk, I noticed more-than-usual activity outside my window. In addition to the many greedy squirrels that steal the birdseed from our “squirrel proof” bird feeders; the various songbirds birds that search our yard looking for hidden earthworms in their daily treasure-hunting; and the flocks of predatory ravens that descend in droves (and honestly freak me out a little as they stare bold-faced back at me as I pass them), I noticed one bird quietly perched upon our flagpole.

It wasn’t just any bird. It was a bird with a mouthful of gorgeous green moss larger than its head.

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It can’t be! I exclaimed to myself. I jumped up from my desk and hurried to the front door. Peering through the glass, I saw the makings of a new nest!

A huge smile swept across my face as I pressed my hands on the glass to get a closer look – careful to not be noticed.

Indeed, a new nest had been lovingly, painstaking crafted in the exact same hidden corner of our porch. One piece of moss and pine straw. One tuft of fur. One patch of mud and clay at a time.

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What could make this sight even more beautiful? A few days later – eggs!

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birds nest april 24 2014-003What could be sweeter than five new eggs? To see Mama herself guarding them, keeping them safe and warm under her protective wings and ever-watchful eye.

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Checking on the eggs one day, we were greeted with the sweetest surprise…new life!

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Days passed and all of the baby birds hatched. Faint chirping strengthened with each new sunrise. Tufts of fuzzy heads could barely be seen peeking out above the rim of the nest. Five little lives were growing.

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We are blessed to live in what feels like a bird sanctuary. There are more species of birds in our neck of the woods than I can name or count. Most of them are welcomed by our family. The ravens – not so much. The owl that has been known to sit outside our windows and hoot deep into the night is super cool. But, there is one particular bird that stalks the skies whose presence is daunting…our resident hawk. He’s not afraid of people and stared without blinking at me when I took this photograph only feet away from him.

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He’s lived here for years. Once, in front of a neighboring family he swooped down, hooked its claws into their family pet – their beloved small dog – and carried him away never to be seen again.

I’m not a fan of this hawk based on that reason, and on our own experience…

My family was enjoying supper on our back porch on a hot, summer afternoon. Amid rich conversation and a lazy ceiling fan slowly spinning above, we heard rustling in the overgrown bushes just a few feet away. We didn’t think much of it because squirrels, chipmunks and other woodland creatures are constantly up to something. However, the rustling grew louder and limbs and leaves began to vigorously shake. This mystery had our attention.

From of the dark shadows of the thick brush shot out this large hawk – and it wasn’t alone. In its beak was a baby bird. The hawk darted right toward us before jetting up into the sky at the last second. The baby bird cried for help. The father and mother birds were hot on the hawk’s trail. They also shot out of the brush squeaking and squawking and flying in frantic circles around the hawk. With silent, majestic wings the hawk continued on its steady path – laser-focused on the destination and dead-set on sticking to the plan.

For the small songbirds, it was a losing battle. They tried to fight. They risked their lives. They did everything they knew to do for their baby.

My family and I sat in horror as we helplessly watched these tragic seconds unfold that seemed to last forever.

As the hawk soared away in victory, the songbirds gave up and flew back to their nest. The last sound of this drama, which is forever recorded in my ears, is that of one last call for help from the baby bird. Then there was silence, and our half-eaten supper abruptly ended as we had suddenly lost our appetites.

Walking in our neighborhood the other day, I was content listening to my favorite music and being with my own thoughts. Suddenly I saw something ahead of me drop to the ground. It had fallen out of the clear, blue sky (literally). Weird! How odd for something to fall in the middle of the road. I couldn’t make it out so I moved toward it.

Ahead of me about fifteen feet sat a quiet, lonely miniature nest.

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Where in the world did it come from? I looked up at our tree-lined street, but leafy branches nowhere near extended over the road. Only a vast, sapphire sky above filled every inch of eyesight. I was totally bewildered. That’s when I heard it. Caws from a nearby raven – and boy was it mad! The closer I got to the nest, the more it yelled at me. The raven had stolen this adorable nest and accidentally dropped mid-flight.

There was something about how helpless and vulnerable this tiny, dainty nest sat in the middle of the road that touched my heart. I thought about the bird that made it, and how it would respond to returning to the place where now only emptiness waits. As for the nest, it was only be a matter of time before a car unknowingly ran it over – or the pirating raven would swoop down to retrieve his booty. I was compelled to save it.

Carefully, I picked it up and placed in my bag and took it home. No, the raven would not enjoy its plundering spoils that day. It was on principle that I rescued this nest from the street… as well as from the thieving raven.

Yesterday, I stepped outside to get our mail. Instantly, I had this eerie sense I was being watched. Looking up, there before me stood an enormous turkey buzzard in our front yard! I had interrupted its lunch – a small, lifeless turtle. At some point in the morning, a car had proven to be faster than the turtle. The turkey buzzard was all too happy to help clean up. Eww. I grabbed my camera before it flew away.

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All the while, our beloved baby birds had hardly looked like birds at all. Alien in appearance, their pink, translucent skin sprouted static fuzz and a random feather. However, before we knew it their feathers filled in and everything came together. This nest was filled with restless, hungry birds – not so much babies anymore.

DSC_0019They now noticed my presence and with weak stares they chirped when I came near, mistaking me for their mom. I saw on their faces new journeys that would soon embark.

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On a quiet Sunday afternoon, they began to hop out of the nest and stand along the porch beams. We knew this would be the day they would leave us.

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On the same day, I stepped into our backyard and found a sweet surprise. A different bird was building a different nest. I stood and watched for a while and thought about these nests popping up in unexpected places on our property and what a joy they are to our family.

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Throughout these experiences with various birds, God is teaching me lessons about seasons and the changes that come with them:

1. There is a purpose for our lives. Starting at the beginning with the original love nest, we also were designed and crafted for a purpose (Psalm 138:8).

2. As diligently as Papa and Mama birds worked to create their nest, so our Heavenly Father is preparing us for the plans He has for us. He stays diligent and focused on the task until it is complete (Philippians 1:6).

3. Bad things happen to beautiful things. But no matter how bad, God can make anything beautiful again (Ephesians 3:20-21).

4. God is our Redeemer. What has been destroyed can be rebuilt by He who promises to never leave us (Job 19:25).

5. There is no death with God, only life through the power of Christ who overcame death. What has been taken away from us, opens opportunity for new life (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).

6. God doesn’t forget about us. He sees. He knows. He cares. His work never ceases and He never grows weary (Psalm 121).

7. He sometimes allows the last thing we want to happen – to happen.  This does not change that He is good, even in the bad times. These are times that, despite unanswered questions and even prayers, we trust God that He is working and moving and is sovereign in the midst of they why’s (Proverbs 3:5-6).

8. As difficult as it can be to accept, sometimes a new season or purpose requires a new nest. Where once our old nest was right for a time and for its purpose, a new purpose may require a new nest (Hebrews 13:20-21).

9. God rebuilds our hearts to make room for His purposes. Just like the old nest was intended for those eggs and baby birds, a new nest holds new dreams and potential for a new season of growth (2 Corinthians 5:17).

10. God works in the same way and can use the same material in our lives for new purposes. What we think needs to be scrapped or re-designed, He can re-work it for the display of His splendor (Isaiah 61:1-3).

11. If we try to birth new dreams and plans out of an old heart, it won’t work. We can trust God to be gentle, even if life has been hard. He knows we are fragile. However, sometimes it’s in brokenness that we are made whole (Psalm 51:16-17).

12. Embrace the new season and let go of the old one. These birds came back to the same exact spot to do the same work, but for new babies. If we can’t release our dashed hopes, dreams and desires for what will no longer be, our hands will be too full of the past to filled with the future (Jeremiah 29:11).

13. It’s okay to mourn what is gone. There is a season of mourning and it is intended to help us heal so we can be strong for what is ahead (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

14. Embrace change. This one is so hard. It’s hard to believe anything could be as beautiful as what we had. If we trust God, however, He can make something beautifully new (Lamentations 3;22-23).

15. Don’t confuse letting go of the old with the old not being valuable. I often think of Job, and how in the end of his testing he was given new sons and daughter. For years I struggled with the idea that people can replace people. No. They can’t and that wasn’t God’s intent. Job’s children were gone, but  Job was still here. I believe God gave him new children – not to replace his past – but to redeem his future. If we live walking backwards, looking only at what we’ve lost, we cannot appreciate, or even recognize, what God is giving to us in the here & now. Jesus came to give us abundant life, and we can trust God that He will help us have that with the days we are left to live on this planet (John 10:10).

16. Let God get messy with our lives. May there be mud and clay from the Potter’s hands splattered all over us. This is a brilliant, magnificent sight. To the world His work in our lives may not look appealing (and some may try to help clean it up!), but He is diligently, purposefully crafting us so in the end we look more like His Son. There is nothing and no one more beautiful than our Savior (Isaiah 64:8).

17. When we let go of what was, and allow God to work something new in our lives, we can trust Him knowing that where His work is, His presence is. Like the baby birds, we can rest under the shelter and shadow of His wings (Psalm 91:4).

18. His watchful eye is always on those who love Him. He is seeking out His children who are desperate for encouragement, hope and a new filling of His joy to give them just what they need (2 Chronicles 16:9),

19. Good things. Beautiful things. Blessed things can be stolen from us. People. Memories. Holidays. Our sense of normal. Possessions. Homes. Cars. Trust. Safety. Security. Happiness. Traditions. Legacies. It can all be taken against our will in this broken world. God is the only One who can truly know and understand the depth of our loss. He is the only One who can truly pick up the pieces of our lives and give us hope for a future (Psalm 34:18).

20. Sometimes plans for our future unfolds in unexpected places. Like the hidden nest burrowed deep in my iron wall-planter, we sometimes can’t see a new opportunity until it’s fully ready to be seen. God can make a way both in the same place and in a new place. He can use the same materials or completely different ones to form our purpose. He can even bring a new plan by way of a totally different bird (Psalm 33:11).

Everyone has fresh or scarred hopes and lives that lay fallen on the side of the road of our journeys. Some lay barren, like an abandoned nest. Others, by our own doing or someone else’s, have been ruined when life was swept in the undertow of this broken world. Others were crushed, annihilated, destroyed, sabotaged, stolen or vandalized and it can feel like life is more than happy to pick at the broken pieces.

One thing is true. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. However, God uses time to help us to:

* Distance ourselves from the point of crisis.

* Allow hearts and minds and bodies to do what we were born to do, survive – and dare I even say thrive.

* Soften the sharp, jagged edges of the memories, flashbacks, and feelings.

* At the right time, begin to show the new work, the redemption, that can come out of unwelcome or unexpected change.

* Reveal a new perspective.

* Show us strength, both God’s and ours, that we didn’t know was possible.

* Allow opportunity for a new work, a new purpose to begin.

* Most importantly, although time doesn’t heal all wounds, it reveals the One who is our Healer, our Jehovah Rapha. Nothing, nothing, nothing is beyond His reach; too broken to fix; too complicated to be understood; or too hurt to be healed.

Change scares us. It’s not in our comfort zone and didn’t ask our permission to invade our lives. However, God can be found in change. His gifts can be found in change. Change does not have to kill, steal and destroy us. In fact, we can come out the other side stronger with His peace and joy in tact in our hearts until it spills over into the lives of others.

Just as these adorable baby Carolina Wrens sat day-after-day with mouths open to be fed, may we render ourselves open to God. May we wait for His redemptive plans with confident expectation; plans which are already at work so they can take on a life of their own and give us wings to soar. (Psalm 103:1-5).
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The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
    and faithful in all he does.
14 The Lord upholds all who fall
    and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
    and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
    and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cry and saves them. ~Psalm 145:13-19

May God’s deepest blessings be yours today and always, Kristi

 

 

 

 

 

Their idols were refreshing

Strange blog post title for a Christian to write. Allow me to explain…

While driving through the country of Guyana, it’s easy to see the differences between this country and America. For one, they drive on the opposite side of the road. Second, all traffic signs, etc. are merely suggestions. There are tons of small mom & pop shops – no Wal-Mart or Target to be found.  Dogs, donkeys, horses, cows, goats and chickens meander through the city and countryside at will, sometimes even in the road, with no fear.

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One huge visual that stood out was the architecture of the homes and buildings. There is both a Hindu and Muslim presence in Guyana. I didn’t see much of an overtly Muslim influence, but the Hindu influence was eye-catching.

After barraging our leader with a ton of questions (he was very patient with me), I learned some interesting things about Hindu homes. First, the small building in front of the home that looks like a security guard’s station is a prayer house. This is where the Hindu priest comes to pray with the family.

Second are the large statues of the gods those homes worship. Some are small and easy to miss. Others are very intimidating. Several of them made my eyes grow big and catch my breath. The time and craftsmanship put into these structures is enormous and detailed. These pavilions and idols are truly works of art.

One in particular, which I was unable to photograph due to poor weather, was massive. It was a huge pavilion at least two stories tall, and in it was an enormous statue of a terrifying-looking god. Completely black, with daunting white eyes and grimacing expression, it was an idol not to be missed. It stood far above the other houses and their gods.

I asked our leader if the size of the statue meant something, as in trying to please that god with its grand size. Or, was it just to impress neighbors.

He smiled and said, “It’s just to impress.”

Hmm…

In addition to the pavilions and statues (some homes had multiple statues in their front yards) were flags and poles. Again, I asked him what they meant and he said they also represented the gods that house worshiped.

Some homes had two flags, some had ten or more. Even businesses had them.,, 

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These statues were at least 6 feet tall and their pavilion dwarfed the home. At night, the spotlight illuminates the garments’ sequences and sparkling rhinestones. At first glance I thought they were real people standing there shining so brightly.

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I stared out the window (with camera in hand) on our many driving expeditions as we whizzed passed countless homes. At first, cold chills ran down my back when I saw these gods. They were daunting, larger than life, and not what I am used to seeing on a daily basis.

But, as the days went on, I had a different thought, “At least I know where these people are coming from. At least we have a starting point for discussion. ‘So you serve this god or those gods. Got it. Let’s start there.'”

Back in the States, Christians stare eyeball to eyeball and say without blinking, “I don’t have any gods. No idols here, I’m good.”

Really?

Where then are the gods you made for yourselves? Let them come if they can save you when you are in trouble! For you, Judah, have as many gods as you have towns. Jeremiah 2:28

Let’s talk about what’s parked in our driveways, our children, our jobs, sports, technology, vacations & entertainment, our relationships, accomplishments, achievements, what we eat, what we drink, what we wear, our work, our play, the size of our bank accounts, our social media, our hobbies, friends, family, church, our worship, what we watch, what we listen to, our volunteering, people’s approval, our fears, toys, plans, our talents and strengths, our agendas…and even ourselves. Even our faith can become an idol. And, the bigger the better!

…Their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk, nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.  Psalm 115:4-8

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. 2 Timothy 3:1-5

“Then they sweep past like the wind and go on—
    guilty people, whose own strength is their god.” Habakkuk 1:11

I’m not throwing stones lest I be hit by them. Trust me, I’m right there in the thick of dealing with my own stuff.

Seeing these homes, without ever seeing a person who lives in them, I already know who, or what, they worship. In the U.S., we deny deny deny with a confident smile on our face.

We are so blind to the fact that our schedules, properties and lives are littered with idols of every shape and size.

The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them. Psalm 135:15-18

We. Are. No. Different.

Because there is one Almighty God, any god/idol we have in our lives has the same craftsman of the one who inspires gods/idols of all other religions in the world. Just because our idols fit conveniently into our lives, seem practical or deserved or earned, doesn’t make them any less of a god.

Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. Daniel 5:23

Call a spade a spade. Call an idol and idol.

For Hindu people, that’s what they do. Back home, gods are fashionable, trendy, popular and useful. They are time-savers, little (or big) indulgences, and passions gone wild…but we would never call them gods or idols because that would be wrong in the Christian faith.

I came home with a whole new respect for pastors in America. How frustrating and draining it must be to stand at the pulpit week after week, month after month, year after year, trying to break through the idols – when for some the very building, pew, service hour, friends or worship songs are giant idols glaring back at the pastor from the congregation – while the people who make up the congregation sit silently and smile and insist there isn’t a problem.

So, yeah, their idols were refreshing because I know where they stand and that is an excellent conversation starter. Believers need to take a serious inventory of our lives and call out the idols right in front of us.

Oh that God remembers His children are made of dust and casts a broad net of grace over our lives. But make no mistake, if we do not surrender our idols/gods, He will come looking for them. He shares the throne with no one and no thing. He is a jealous God and commands we put no other god before Him.

The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.

“Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove them. “‘In the morning, present yourselves tribe by tribe.’

The tribe the Lord chooses shall come forward clan by clan; the clan the Lord chooses shall come forward family by family; and the family the Lord chooses shall come forward man by man. Whoever is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the Lord and has done an outrageous thing in Israel!’” 

Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and honor him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.”

Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”

So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath. They took the things from the tent, brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites and spread them out before the Lord. Joshua 7:10-15, 19-23  

It’s a lot easier, and less painful, to surrender idols ourselves, rather than God having to root them out of our lives, prying them from our hands. But, He will because He loves us that much.

And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. Exodus 20:1-6

Dear Almighty God, please give us eyes to see, ears to hear, a mind to understand and a heart to accept Your Truth, truth that sets us free. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Rebuilding – lessons learned from change

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. ~ Matthew 10:29-31

A year ago, spring brought us the most delightful surprise. A pair of birds decided to make their love nest in the beams of our front porch. We watched them toil for days making everything perfect. Their nest was strong – and beautiful.

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Over time, tiny, extraordinary eggs appeared. We could not get close to them, because Papa and Mama birds would have none of it. This was private, and they were quite territorial over their precious little eggs.

Before we knew it, baby birds burst forth from their shells. Their sour, grumpy faces made us smile. They huddled together for safety and warmth. With eyes still shut, they were a lump of feathers and fuzz with bulging eye lids and pointed beaks. Truly, they had faces only a mother could love.

As they matured, we enjoyed their incessant chirping, which kept Mama and Papa quite busy trying to feed them. It reminded me of when our teenagers were babies and the constant attention they needed – so helpless and soft.

In no time at all, these baby birds quickly grew up, outgrew their nest…and flew away. It was time for their own journeys to begin.

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I loved this small, beautiful nest. As far as nests go, these birds had a great flare for decorating. It hardly looked real it was so picturesque. I had plans to photograph it against the brilliant backdrop of the changing seasons and was so honored our front porch was chosen.

Months later, we had our home pressure washed. I gave instructions to leave the nest intact, even if it meant the wood and paint surrounding the nest stayed messy with splattered clay from the hard work of the birds.

The crew agreed to my request.

However, the man who came behind the crew to clean any missed spots of mold or dirt didn’t know about the nest – nor my desire to keep it.

Using his powerful pressure hose, he annihilated their love nest in a matter of seconds.

It was utterly and completely destroyed.

I stepped onto our front porch only to find small clumps of moss and pine straw lying wet and sad at my feet.

My heart broke.

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It was gone. The beautiful, nurtured nest was gone, and so was my hope to enjoy it every day.

Throughout the passing seasons, I looked up at the corner of pristine white walls and missed the splatter of mud and clay. I missed the fuzzy green moss and amber pine straw woven into a perfect circle.

It was something beautiful…and it was gone by way of a complete stranger.

A year passed since the pressure-washing incident. This spring, while working at my desk, I noticed more-than-usual activity outside my window. In addition to the many greedy squirrels that steal the birdseed from our “squirrel proof” bird feeders; the various songbirds birds that search our yard looking for hidden earthworms in their daily treasure-hunting; and the flocks of predatory ravens that descend in droves (and honestly freak me out a little as they stare bold-faced back at me as I pass them), I noticed one bird quietly perched upon our flagpole.

It wasn’t just any bird. It was a bird with a mouthful of gorgeous green moss larger than its head.

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It can’t be! I exclaimed to myself. I jumped up from my desk and hurried to the front door. Peering through the glass, I saw the makings of a new nest!

A huge smile swept across my face as I pressed my hands on the glass to get a closer look – careful to not be noticed.

Indeed, a new nest had been lovingly, painstaking crafted in the exact same hidden corner of our porch. One piece of moss and pine straw. One tuft of fur. One patch of mud and clay at a time.

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What could make this sight even more beautiful? A few days later – eggs!

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birds nest april 24 2014-003What could be sweeter than five new eggs? To see Mama herself guarding them, keeping them safe and warm under her protective wings and ever-watchful eye.

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Checking on the eggs one day, we were greeted with the sweetest surprise…new life!

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Days passed and all of the baby birds hatched. Faint chirping strengthened with each new sunrise. Tufts of fuzzy heads could barely be seen peeking out above the rim of the nest. Five little lives were growing.

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We are blessed to live in what feels like a bird sanctuary. There are more species of birds in our neck of the woods than I can name or count. Most of them are welcomed by our family. The ravens – not so much. The owl that has been known to sit outside our windows and hoot deep into the night is super cool. But, there is one particular bird that stalks the skies whose presence is daunting…our resident hawk. He’s not afraid of people and stared without blinking at me when I took this photograph only feet away from him.

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He’s lived here for years. Once, in front of a neighboring family he swooped down, hooked its claws into their family pet – their beloved small dog – and carried him away never to be seen again.

I’m not a fan of this hawk based on that reason, and on our own experience…

My family was enjoying supper on our back porch on a hot, summer afternoon. Amid rich conversation and a lazy ceiling fan slowly spinning above, we heard rustling in the overgrown bushes just a few feet away. We didn’t think much of it because squirrels, chipmunks and other woodland creatures are constantly up to something. However, the rustling grew louder and limbs and leaves began to vigorously shake. This mystery had our attention.

From of the dark shadows of the thick brush shot out this large hawk – and it wasn’t alone. In its beak was a baby bird. The hawk darted right toward us before jetting up into the sky at the last second. The baby bird cried for help. The father and mother birds were hot on the hawk’s trail. They also shot out of the brush squeaking and squawking and flying in frantic circles around the hawk. With silent, majestic wings the hawk continued on its steady path – laser-focused on the destination and dead-set on sticking to the plan.

For the small songbirds, it was a losing battle. They tried to fight. They risked their lives. They did everything they knew to do for their baby.

My family and I sat in horror as we helplessly watched these tragic seconds unfold that seemed to last forever.

As the hawk soared away in victory, the songbirds gave up and flew back to their nest. The last sound of this drama, which is forever recorded in my ears, is that of one last call for help from the baby bird. Then there was silence, and our half-eaten supper abruptly ended as we had suddenly lost our appetites.

Walking in our neighborhood the other day, I was content listening to my favorite music and being with my own thoughts. Suddenly I saw something ahead of me drop to the ground. It had fallen out of the clear, blue sky (literally). Weird! How odd for something to fall in the middle of the road. I couldn’t make it out so I moved toward it.

Ahead of me about fifteen feet sat a quiet, lonely miniature nest.

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Where in the world did it come from? I looked up at our tree-lined street, but leafy branches nowhere near extended over the road. Only a vast, sapphire sky above filled every inch of eyesight. I was totally bewildered. That’s when I heard it. Caws from a nearby raven – and boy was it mad! The closer I got to the nest, the more it yelled at me. The raven had stolen this adorable nest and accidentally dropped mid-flight.

There was something about how helpless and vulnerable this tiny, dainty nest sat in the middle of the road that touched my heart. I thought about the bird that made it, and how it would respond to returning to the place where now only emptiness waits. As for the nest, it was only be a matter of time before a car unknowingly ran it over – or the pirating raven would swoop down to retrieve his booty. I was compelled to save it.

Carefully, I picked it up and placed in my bag and took it home. No, the raven would not enjoy its plundering spoils that day. It was on principle that I rescued this nest from the street… as well as from the thieving raven.

Yesterday, I stepped outside to get our mail. Instantly, I had this eerie sense I was being watched. Looking up, there before me stood an enormous turkey buzzard in our front yard! I had interrupted its lunch – a small, lifeless turtle. At some point in the morning, a car had proven to be faster than the turtle. The turkey buzzard was all too happy to help clean up. Eww. I grabbed my camera before it flew away.

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All the while, our beloved baby birds had hardly looked like birds at all. Alien in appearance, their pink, translucent skin sprouted static fuzz and a random feather. However, before we knew it their feathers filled in and everything came together. This nest was filled with restless, hungry birds – not so much babies anymore.

DSC_0019They now noticed my presence and with weak stares they chirped when I came near, mistaking me for their mom. I saw on their faces new journeys that would soon embark.

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On a quiet Sunday afternoon, they began to hop out of the nest and stand along the porch beams. We knew this would be the day they would leave us.

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On the same day, I stepped into our backyard and found a sweet surprise. A different bird was building a different nest. I stood and watched for a while and thought about these nests popping up in unexpected places on our property and what a joy they are to our family.

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Throughout these experiences with various birds, God is teaching me lessons about seasons and the changes that come with them:

1. There is a purpose for our lives. Starting at the beginning with the original love nest, we also were designed and crafted for a purpose (Psalm 138:8).

2. As diligently as Papa and Mama birds worked to create their nest, so our Heavenly Father is preparing us for the plans He has for us. He stays diligent and focused on the task until it is complete (Philippians 1:6).

3. Bad things happen to beautiful things. But no matter how bad, God can make anything beautiful again (Ephesians 3:20-21).

4. God is our Redeemer. What has been destroyed can be rebuilt by He who promises to never leave us (Job 19:25).

5. There is no death with God, only life through the power of Christ who overcame death. What has been taken away from us, opens opportunity for new life (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).

6. God doesn’t forget about us. He sees. He knows. He cares. His work never ceases and He never grows weary (Psalm 121).

7. He sometimes allows the last thing we want to happen – to happen.  This does not change that He is good, even in the bad times. These are times that, despite unanswered questions and even prayers, we trust God that He is working and moving and is sovereign in the midst of they why’s (Proverbs 3:5-6).

8. As difficult as it can be to accept, sometimes a new season or purpose requires a new nest. Where once our old nest was right for a time and for its purpose, a new purpose may require a new nest (Hebrews 13:20-21).

9. God rebuilds our hearts to make room for His purposes. Just like the old nest was intended for those eggs and baby birds, a new nest holds new dreams and potential for a new season of growth (2 Corinthians 5:17).

10. God works in the same way and can use the same material in our lives for new purposes. What we think needs to be scrapped or re-designed, He can re-work it for the display of His splendor (Isaiah 61:1-3).

11. If we try to birth new dreams and plans out of an old heart, it won’t work. We can trust God to be gentle, even if life has been hard. He knows we are fragile. However, sometimes it’s in brokenness that we are made whole (Psalm 51:16-17).

12. Embrace the new season and let go of the old one. These birds came back to the same exact spot to do the same work, but for new babies. If we can’t release our dashed hopes, dreams and desires for what will no longer be, our hands will be too full of the past to filled with the future (Jeremiah 29:11).

13. It’s okay to mourn what is gone. There is a season of mourning and it is intended to help us heal so we can be strong for what is ahead (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

14. Embrace change. This one is so hard. It’s hard to believe anything could be as beautiful as what we had. If we trust God, however, He can make something beautifully new (Lamentations 3;22-23).

15. Don’t confuse letting go of the old with the old not being valuable. I often think of Job, and how in the end of his testing he was given new sons and daughter. For years I struggled with the idea that people can replace people. No. They can’t and that wasn’t God’s intent. Job’s children were gone, but  Job was still here. I believe God gave him new children – not to replace his past – but to redeem his future. If we live walking backwards, looking only at what we’ve lost, we cannot appreciate, or even recognize, what God is giving to us in the here & now. Jesus came to give us abundant life, and we can trust God that He will help us have that with the days we are left to live on this planet (John 10:10).

16. Let God get messy with our lives. May there be mud and clay from the Potter’s hands splattered all over us. This is a brilliant, magnificent sight. To the world His work in our lives may not look appealing (and some may try to help clean it up!), but He is diligently, purposefully crafting us so in the end we look more like His Son. There is nothing and no one more beautiful than our Savior (Isaiah 64:8).

17. When we let go of what was, and allow God to work something new in our lives, we can trust Him knowing that where His work is, His presence is. Like the baby birds, we can rest under the shelter and shadow of His wings (Psalm 91:4).

18. His watchful eye is always on those who love Him. He is seeking out His children who are desperate for encouragement, hope and a new filling of His joy to give them just what they need (2 Chronicles 16:9),

19. Good things. Beautiful things. Blessed things can be stolen from us. People. Memories. Holidays. Our sense of normal. Possessions. Homes. Cars. Trust. Safety. Security. Happiness. Traditions. Legacies. It can all be taken against our will in this broken world. God is the only One who can truly know and understand the depth of our loss. He is the only One who can truly pick up the pieces of our lives and give us hope for a future (Psalm 34:18).

20. Sometimes plans for our future unfolds in unexpected places. Like the hidden nest burrowed deep in my iron wall-planter, we sometimes can’t see a new opportunity until it’s fully ready to be seen. God can make a way both in the same place and in a new place. He can use the same materials or completely different ones to form our purpose. He can even bring a new plan by way of a totally different bird (Psalm 33:11).

Everyone has fresh or scarred hopes and lives that lay fallen on the side of the road of our journeys. Some lay barren, like an abandoned nest. Others, by our own doing or someone else’s, have been ruined when life was swept in the undertow of this broken world. Others were crushed, annihilated, destroyed, sabotaged, stolen or vandalized and it can feel like life is more than happy to pick at the broken pieces.

One thing is true. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. However, God uses time to help us to:

* Distance ourselves from the point of crisis.

* Allow hearts and minds and bodies to do what we were born to do, survive – and dare I even say thrive.

* Soften the sharp, jagged edges of the memories, flashbacks, and feelings.

* At the right time, begin to show the new work, the redemption, that can come out of unwelcome or unexpected change.

* Reveal a new perspective.

* Show us strength, both God’s and ours, that we didn’t know was possible.

* Allow opportunity for a new work, a new purpose to begin.

* Most importantly, although time doesn’t heal all wounds, it reveals the One who is our Healer, our Jehovah Rapha. Nothing, nothing, nothing is beyond His reach; too broken to fix; too complicated to be understood; or too hurt to be healed.

Change scares us. It’s not in our comfort zone and didn’t ask our permission to invade our lives. However, God can be found in change. His gifts can be found in change. Change does not have to kill, steal and destroy us. In fact, we can come out the other side stronger with His peace and joy in tact in our hearts until it spills over into the lives of others.

Just as these adorable baby Carolina Wrens sat day-after-day with mouths open to be fed, may we render ourselves open to God. May we wait for His redemptive plans with confident expectation; plans which are already at work so they can take on a life of their own and give us wings to soar. (Psalm 103:1-5).
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The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
    and faithful in all he does.
14 The Lord upholds all who fall
    and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
    and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
    and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cry and saves them. ~Psalm 145:13-19

May God’s deepest blessings be yours today and always, Kristi

 

 

 

 

 

What’s different about Easter this year?

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This year, Easter feels very different.

When I was a little girl, it was about fancy dresses and how much a of twirl they could spin. It was about The Bunny, coloring eggs and photographs my mom used to make us take in front of the best flowering bush in our yard.

It was about Jesus in a white robe, an empty tomb and angels on a flannel board.

It was about going to church, beautiful old-school corsages for Mom and Grandma, a huge ham dinner and the adults napping in the afternoon. I remember being bored out of my mind having to play “quietly” by myself so my mom (a hard-working, single parent) could take a much needed rest at our grandparents’ home.

Fast forward and I’m a young, married adult. Easter was still about a new dress, going to church, a huge ham dinner and a lazy afternoon basking in the fullness of the meal.

Over the next six years our three children were born and Easter reverted back to childhood traditions of colored eggs, Easter baskets, The Bunny, the huge ham dinner, a fancy dress with a twirly skirt for our baby girl and matching outfits for our boys.

It was the only day, apart from Christmas, that we could convince our oldest son to wear formal clothes.

Easter was about photographs taken in the prettiest spot in our yard, new recipes to try out for the big meal, and of course a backyard egg hunt.

We added more traditions to an already full plate: Resurrection Eggs, several picture books about the real meaning of Easter, making Resurrection cookies, and letting the kids have a ball decorating an Easter cake, which varied every year from an empty tomb to a head bust of The Bunny, Jello eggs, watching Passion of the Christ as a family and attending the Tenebrae service at our church on Good Friday.

As a mom, I confess, Easter became a scrap-booking event.

I was more caught up in the hoopla, bells and whistles of Easter than why we were really celebrating it.

One year, it happened…the worst thing EVER! It rained! The yard was too wet for photos and egg hunts. The house was dark from looming, full clouds. I remember thinking, “No! It can’t rain on Easter. You know, the empty tomb on a glorious morning. What about the pastel dresses and flowers posed for pictures? Easter is ruined.”

Wow.

I get it. As a mom who loves squeezing out every possible moment of holiday fun, I was devastated that so many plans had to change and I. Couldn’t. Control. It.

This year, however, the advent of Easter has been radically different for me. Why? We still can’t wait for our family to come visit. We still plan to color eggs and have an egg hunt and enjoy a huge ham dinner. New yearly devotionals will be discovered in baskets for our teens.

Today, my girl and me will go buy her an Easter dress, even as an older teenager.

So what’s different?

The work God has done in my heart.

A heart that has lived through the highest of highs and lowest of lows in the past year. A heart that has been both tenderly held and drop-kicked to the ground. Love has been both celebrated and tested. Hope has shown up and has hid in the shadows. Joy has met us in the most unexpected places, but seemed nowhere to be found when I was searching desperately for it.

This past year, my faith has been put in a blender and what has poured out is one single thing that makes this Easter different than any other Easter I’ve lived –

Grace.

Grace has been the underdog that wins the battle for me.

Grace advocated for lost causes.

Grace believed in the impossible.

Grace strengthened the weak.

Grace fought for the voiceless.

Grace tended to wounds no one else can see.

Grace spoke sweet dreams over a restless body.

Grace talked a weary soul off the ledge.

Grace cared enough to speak the truth…in love.

Grace buffered my heart in the decisions and circumstances I didn’t want.

Grace held my hand in the decisions and circumstances that I wanted, but couldn’t have.

Grace has been the only thing to make sense in times when nothing else did.

Grace. Beautiful. Eternal. Grace.

When I have literally fought for loved ones to the gates of hell and back. When I have mourned and wept over loss. When I have felt like dying to myself in Christ was going to kill me. When I couldn’t come up with one stinkin’ reason to get out of bed. When I’ve been pummeled by anxiety over situations out of my control. When I’ve been so furious I could spit nails…

Grace reminded me the nails have already been used – on the cross.

Jesus, grace personified, willingly took everything life could throw at me, and everything I could throw back, and diffused the bomb of my ticking heart. He replaced all the ash of this past year with mercy and hope and love that this world cannot take away.

I continually stay in an attitude of awe at the daily miracles He is doing to redeem this life. He is making a way in the wilderness one step at a time. He is providing streams in the desert one drop at a time.

I am grateful.

Grace has become my oxygen, my sustenance, my hope for the future and my reality for the day.

I am also happy to let Costco help cook Easter dinner and to put down the camera and enjoy the thrill of the day that came by way of grace because of Jesus.

These days I burst into spontaneous tears of joy because of grace and the Creator of it. I say to myself, “EEK! I’m becoming more like my mom who cried so easily and my mother-in-law who still does.” But, smiling through the tears, I get it.

When a heart truly, fully understands the need for grace, and accepts this free gift wholly into itself, the overflow of tears are of gratitude and thankfulness and joy. Unspeakable joy.

This Easter, Kristi has put down the plans. Let go of the expectations. And disbarred the bar that must be reached and exceeded over last Easter.

Instead, I’m lifting up hands to He who has the whole world in His hands – the beautiful and the ugly and every single moment in between.

Only when we really know that it is by grace we live, move and have our being can we really live. Only when we begin to accept how deep and wide Christ’s love for us is can we embrace it.

This Easter, join me in a new tradition – grace. Receive it and give it. Enjoy the beauty of it and behold the power of it.

It’s a free gift with purchase – our salvation purchased with the payment of Jesus’ own blood.

Pretty eggs, baskets full of surprises, and delectable side dishes all sound good, but they don’t make or break Easter. Rain or shine, warm or cold, celebrating Easter is celebrating Jesus, God’s grace, and forgiveness that comes through salvation.

More than the momentary delight of matching outfits, finding the last egg, or colorful jelly beans, love, joy, peace, and grace are the sweetest gifts we get to experience on Easter and every day of the year.

God has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. ~ 2 Timothy 1:9-10

 

 

 

 

Tourist in my own hometown

Recently, my husband and I set off to be tourists in our own city. Fun! There were several reasons we took the day off, one of which was our 25th anniversary (we got married really young 😉 ).

Another reason was to play with my new camera lens. As a photographer, I run my equipment into the ground. One time the repair man said I “killed my camera” from taking too many photos. Ha!

My equipment has ways of meeting their untimely demise, like the elbow at Disney that sent my camera flying off the table and cracking on the concrete. Another time, I turned my head for a minute and a curious pair of hands picked it up…and dropped it. Once upon a time, my neck strap snapped and in a split second the camera spiraled to the ground. There was nothing I could do but watch in horror. Arg! I could go on. Needless to say, extended warranties are my friend.

Anyway, thought I’d post some fun shots of a super great day.

If you haven’t taken time to rediscover your city or town in a while, I highly recommend it. In our daily routines, we miss so much of the flavor that makes our hometowns unique.

Taking a day to see our city as a visitor gave me a new appreciation for where we live. Sometimes a new perspective in the same place is just what we need to feel like we’ve gotten away without ever leaving the city limits.

Wherever you live, embrace all that makes it home to you. ❤

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I prayed the wrong prayer

I’ve had missions on my mind heart and mind so much lately as sign-up deadlines approach.  In the post, An honest look at missions, I divulged some of the fears I’ve felt this year about returning to the global mission field.  In, The day I touched fear, I explored more deeply what those fears look like from the inside out.

Today, it’s a totally different story.  Just when I thought things were beginning to settle down in my mind, God had something unexpected prepared for last Thursday.

It began on Wednesday night.  We were at church for dinner before nightly activities began.  Serving the salad bar was a man I highly respect and admire (though I am not sure he knows it).  His and his wife have dedicated their retirement years to taking their grandchildren, one by one, on mission.  It is their gift to them.  I had never heard of this, but now, Lord willing, Bruce and I would love to do the same thing one day.  So my dear friend, Kermit, said Hello – always with a smile – when he saw me approach.  Hi Kermit!  I replied cheerfully, always happy to see him.

When I see him I think of one thing…Kenya.  He and his wife were part of our team in 2011 that went on mission to Kenya.  Let me just tell you that this man was incredible throughout the entire journey.  He never uttered a complaint, never said No, never looked tired, nothing!  He trucked on every day with whatever the agenda was.  Our team leaders, Don and Pat, also grandparents, as well as Kermit’s wife, Kay, were exactly the same way.  They have no idea how much I watched them work through every unexpected trial and celebrate every great moment.  Kenya was my first global mission trip as well as the first time I had ever left the States.  I was wide-eyed at the whole thing and loved every surreal moment.

Kermit was a mentor to me on that trip whether he realized it or not.  Whether it was sawing wood at an orphanage, washing feet at a children’s school on the side of the mountain, digging trenches for a foundation, or harvesting corn for an orphanage, his attitude was always an enthusiastic Yes.  At any given time you could find him quietly working – never for accolades, never bringing attention to himself.  He simply did what he came to do – serve.  And serve with a joyful heart he did.

Copyrighted photos for Real Deep Stuff - Page 194

Copyrighted photos for Real Deep Stuff - Page 195

He and his wife brought one of their grandsons with them who was graduating high school and wants to go into medicine.  He was able to observe surgeries at the only hospital in the entire area servicing 850,000 people.  So in addition to tireless efforts of physical work and long van rides across unbelievable bumpy roads, Kermit and Kay spent quality time with their grandson in the evenings encouraging him in his passion for medicine.

You can see why I am so taken back with them.  Role models.  Inspirational.

A few Sundays ago, when I was really struggling with feelings of fear of going on global mission, I stood with the congregation at church while everyone sang – but me.  Tears streamed down my cheeks.  I could not utter a word.  I was overwhlemed with emotion because in the choir stood men (including Kermit) and women who have been on mission all over the world, and yet they were able to stand and smile while singing Chris Tomlin’s song Whom Shall I Fear…

You hear me when I call, You are my morning song, Though darkness fills the night, It cannot hide the light…

Whom shall I fear?

You crush the enemy, Underneath my feet, You are my Sword and Shield, Though trouble lingers still…

Whom shall I fear?

I know Who goes before me, I know Who stands behind, The God of angel armies, Is always on my side.  The One who reigns forever, He is a Friend of mine, The God of angel armies, Is always by my side…

My strength is in Your name, For You alone can save, You will deliver me, Yours is the victory

I know Who goes before me, I know Who stands behind, The God of angel armies, Is always on my side.  The One who reigns forever, He is a Friend of mine, The God of angel armies, Is always by my side…

Whom shall I fear?  Whom shall I fear?

And nothing formed against me shall stand, You hold the whole world in your hands, I’m holding onto Your promises, You are faithful, You are faithful, You are faithful

I know Who goes before me, I know Who stands behind, The God of angel armies, Is always on my side. The One who reigns forever, He is a Friend of mine, The God of angel armies, Is always by my side…

I know Who goes before me, I know Who stands behind, The God of angel armies, Is always on my side. The One who reigns forever, He is a Friend of mine, The God of angel armies, Is always by my side…

The God of angel armies is always by my side.

(Read more: CHRIS TOMLIN – WHOM SHALL I FEAR (GOD OF ANGEL ARMIES) LYRICS)

 It has been people I know who have inspired me the most to take our family on mission.  Celebrities make headlines and win humanitarian awards, but far and away it is people who quietly go about the Lord’s business, sacrificing their hard-earned money and vacation time, who I look at and think, Maybe I can do it, too.

With that thought, an unexpected conversation came up between my husband and me.  I was sitting in the Wal-Mart parking lot with the bright morning sun beaming into the van last Thursday.  I called him to briefly chat about missions.  We’ve been so upside down and inside out about it that we seem to talk in circles.  Frustrating.

I told him that I felt a new passion to go back to Ukraine.  As for Kenya, that is still undecided.  I heard myself say to him with confidence and certainty, I’m going to Ukraine.  He basically said, Okay, but I’m not sure what I’m doing.

After the phone call, I sat silent in the van.  Something didn’t seem right.  Why wasn’t I excited that half of my decision for this year’s missions had been finally – at long last – decided?  I should’ve felt relieved, joyful and sure.  Instead, I felt very anti-climatic about the whole thing.

God spoke to me in the van and said, Why is this only about you?  Are you not half of a whole?

Immediately, my heart understood.

To know me is to know I’ve struggled my entire adult life trying to live a life of biblical submission to my husband.  It’s not how I was raised, as my biological father and step father both left my life at early ages.  I grew to be a headstrong, independent and self-reliant woman.  Partially out of mistrust of men, and partially because I never wanted to be hurt again and believed people will only let you down – especially those who are supposed to have your back.

I have such a stubborn, independent streak in me it is nearly impossible to ever ask for help of any kind from anyone.  It’s not a control thing.  It’s an I’m going to end up having to do it anyway so why go through the grueling process of involving others because they are only going to let me down thing.

So, without me even realizing it, missions had become yet another area where I took the ball and ran.  Rather than looking at these opportunities with my heart toward my husband, I was peering through the glasses of practicality and reasonability.

I had been praying the wrong prayer of God, where do You want to send me?  Instead of, God where do you want to send us?

I didn’t even realize I had morphed my independent nature into missions!  Bruce and I are different people with different passions.  But, we are two halves of a whole.  When we made a covenant oath at the altar almost 23 years ago, we were joined into one flesh.

Leaving consideration for him out of my prayer was selfish.  And it was the feeling of, I got my way, that I felt in the van that left me celebrating alone.

Despite my good intentions of doing God’s kingdom work here on earth, my carnal nature creeped into my thoughts.  Here’s why…the first two mission trips were very scary for me.  I am not a seasoned world traveler.  I am not bilingual.  I am not proficient in cultural differences around the world compared to my own – other than the obvious ones.

It was all of these I’m nots that kept me from feeling qualified or invited to go on mission for my entire life until now.  Fast forward – jumped those hurdles, but it still took more courage than I could muster up to commit, particularly because these mission trips involved taking our children which I take very seriously.  I needed Bruce to make the final call.  As the leader of our home, I needed him to say yes or no.  So for both trips, I passed the baton to him to decide.

This year, however, it felt very different for me.  I’ve been to both places, so there aren’t near as many unknowns.  I also understand more what is expected from me from the team.  I simply feel more prepared than before – as much as it is possible to feel.

Enter my stubborn independence.

I was ready to possibly take an entirely different mission trip from my husband, without ever hearing his final point-of-view…and God let me feel every last ounce of that loneliness.

There is a time and season for everything, and I am sure there will come a time when we do participate in different mission trips, but neither one of believe that time has come yet.  It was out of sheer self-reliance that I went ahead and told him what I was going to do.  Hmm.  Then God brought to mind our crazy life.  Between work, kids, and all of our commitments, we have to scratch and claw for anytime together.  It could always be worse, but it’s not ideal.  We know this is a season of life, and all too soon our house will be deafeningly quiet and I will mourn for the wonderful chaos that greets me in the morning and tucks me in at night.

Given that, why would I not bat an eye at the possibility of spending weeks apart?  I believed my own lie of being too independent.  God brought to mind my biological father and his wife.  You’ve never seen a closer couple.  They were best friends.  Inseparable.  Loving.  Considerate.  Two halves that made a beautiful whole.

I want that.

Watching her care for him in his last days, the intimacy they shared – the eye contact, touch, whispers, – was the result of many years of building a marriage that was committed.  Resolute.  I used to think it was a little over the top that they always had to sit together, go places together, etc.  Now that he is gone, I see that they were intentional about making the most of their time together.  There were their own persons, yes, but they never forgot they were two halves of a whole.

After pondering all of this, still sitting in the parking lot, I texted Bruce.  This is what I wrote, Hi Honey, I wanted to tell you that after giving it a lot of thought, I would rather go with you on mission to wherever than without you on mission to wherever.  I often think about Ray and Gail and their relationship.  They were inseparable.  They were best friends and did everything together.  I would like to see that for us in missions, so I concede to wherever it is you want to go just as long as we can be together or unless God says differently.  We are one flesh, one team, and I don’t want to break up the team.  Think about it and let me know.  I love you.

That text was surprisingly freeing for me!  I felt like my heart was finally in a place of peace.  Funny, the first two years I needed him to make the decision as to where to go. This year, I asked him to.  I may have felt my inner wild horse buck and kick, but my heart knew that missions isn’t one more thing I want to lead us on different paths.

Yesterday, a dear friend of mine (who went to Ukraine with us last year) asked me if we were going to sign-up for it this year.  With a calm, peaceful smile I was able to genuinely reply, I’m waiting on Bruce to make that call…and if so, I’m leaving it up to him to sign up us.

That, friends, is the work of the Holy Spirit because the independent woman writing this would normally take matters into her own hands.

She smiled at me and said, Oh, you’re working on the “s” word, huh?  I laughed because I knew what word she meant – submission.   Indeed I am.  Waiting for Bruce to write our names down is very important to me for whatever reason.  I suppose it shows his iniative after much prayer and discussion, though I haven’t told him this is my wish.

Last night, before we left to watch the Superbowl with some friends, Bruce casually told me as we gathered coats and a chocolate cake,  Oh by the way, earlier today I put our names down for Ukraine.

His words stopped me in my tracks in the middle of the kitchen.  Later, I circled back with him and inquired.  He agreed that this is the only option for our family to go on mission all together.  He feels a peace about it and we are all excited.  God knew my secret wish for Bruce to write our names down on any of the trips we take this year, and He directed Bruce to do so out of loving consideration for me.  God is the good God and knows our secret thoughts.  Incredible.

So, one decision down and one to go – Kenya.  God has given us much peace that this decision will come in His timing, not ours.  So be it.  For now, I look forward to going back to people we fell in love with in Eastern Europe; to work with a team we greatly admire; we get to take all of our kids; and…most of all…Bruce and I have the blessing of going on mission together.

God is good.  Actually, He is amazing!  Every year, the decisions we have made about missions have been completely unique to the trip.  This year is no different.  God’s ways are not our ways, and His timing certainly doesn’t hold itself to our society’s demand for instant information, but His ways are best.  Had He given us the answer early on, I would have missed a teachable moment to see that in this process, Bruce and I walked dangerously close to the line of separating our longitude and latitude, once again, for the good of the cause.  We do enough of that in our daily lives.

When the time comes to travel separately for missions, God will give us a peace about that and we will perfectly okay with it.  For now, I write to testify that Philippians 4:6-7 really works in and through all things – even with a strong-willed, autonomous person like myself. 😉

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Today, and on mission, I won’t forget I am half of a whole.  Colossians 3:15 reminds us – Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Thankful, indeed.

Psalm 139…Amish-Country Style

Psalm 139 has been my life Scripture.  While in Ukraine, I relied heavily on God’s message in this Psalm for courage and strength.  For instance, I don’t mind flying, but it’s not on my list of favorites by far.  When I fly, I always recite verses 9-10, and it helps me remember who is in control of the plane and the journey.  Or, when I walked 32 flights of stairs to visit with some precious Ukrainian people in their apartment because the building’s elevator was iffy, I heard verses 2-3 roll around in my mind.  God continues to speak to me through this collection of verses, so thought I would share this post again and hope it speaks to you, too! 🙂

This passage has shared mountain-top highs with me and pulled my soul out of the pit.  It is a joy to offer a visual perspective of David’s incredible, tender heart seen through the eyes of the Amish country.

Psalm 139: 1-18, 23-24

Oh LORD, you have searched me and you know me.

You know when I sit

and when I rise;

you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out

and my lying down;

you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue

you know it completely, O LORD.

You hem me in – behind and before;

you have laid your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens you are there;

if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”

even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you

when I was made in the secret place.

When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!

Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.

When I awake, I am still with you.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

Test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

Living the Dream

There is an image I cannot erase from my mind.  Travel with me for a moment to Kenya.  At the end of the safari, my family rode in a gutted JEEP back toward civilization.  Our driver, an authentic Masai warrior, barrels over rough terrain, nearly missing zebras, antelope  and wildebeest.  The JEEP throws us around, like an amusement park simulator ride on massive steroids!

(Our wild drive across the Mara.  The dark dots are all kinds of wild animals traveling together)

I look behind me, and the rest of our crew is closing in on us in their JEEPs with their drivers.  It looked like a scene from Indiana Jones with 6 stripped down, dirty JEEPS blazing across the Mara leaving thick dust trails behind them.  Like stunt drivers performing a rehearsed routine, our Masai drivers were in a race to get their JEEP back to the main road first.  This was our amazing adventure for at least 2 hours.  It was the most freeing ride I’ve ever taken.  Wide open plains dotted with wild animals.  Full throttle.  Full sun.  Then…the most unexpected thing EVER happened.

(A sample of the open plain we traversed)

Music!  Music began to play.  Not just any music.  Our Masai warrior hits a switch, and amidst the loud, rushing wind and hair slapping me in the face, Justin Bieber’s song, “Baby” began to play.  What?  Our entire family busted out laughing and asked how in the WORLD did this warrior, who kills lions with his bare hands, get a hold of this music?  I commented that Bieber would probably never imagine his music being the backdrop for a crazy thrill ride across the Mara in Africa.

Our driver, donning his personal machete and gorgeous, exquisite Masai garb, told us that previous travelers turned him on to it.  After “Baby” was done, Jamaican island music rang out over the whistling wind.  Wrong landscape, but surely more fitting than American pop music. Again, a gift from previous travelers.  Bruce asked him how he was playing music in this old, gutted JEEP.  He explained that he had made a homemade iPod of sorts and hardwired it to the vehicle.  We were impressed with his ingenuity!

But, I digress.

As we embraced the rocky, grassy, unmarked plains of the Masai territory working our way back to Kipsigis country, in the far distance we saw the most unbelievable sight!  Every time I think about it I get chills.

Far off on the horizon, we saw a dark figure moving very fast.  Squinting my eyes, straining to see, I caught the glimpse of  a man.  Running.  Foot travel is the mode of transportation for most people in Kenya, but there wasn’t anything typical about this man.  He was wearing athletic shorts, a crisp, white tank top, white knee socks and running sneakers.  None of which had we seen anywhere in our time in Kenya.  Where had he come from, and where was he going?

We all gasped at the same time and said, Surely he is in training!  For the Olympics, perhaps?  We asked our Masai driver and he concurred.  He didn’t know the man, but said Olympic hopefuls do, in fact, train in this terrain.  Our jaws fell agape as we watched, mesmerized, at this mystery man’s grace and speed.  This man was the fastest runner I’ve ever personally seen with my own eyes.  And poise!  His long legs stretched out before and behind him, back straight, arms taut – he didn’t even seem real.

No one has bright, white clothes in the Mara.  They wear native attire.  No one has shoes and socks so brilliantly crisp we could easily spot them from a distance. They are barefoot.  Oh yes, he was training indeed.

And, think about where he was running!  Most runners I see run in the city, suburbs or on greenway trails.  This man was completely alone, running in the land of hungry lions, temperamental Cape buffalo, sly jaguars, wicked- fast cheetahs, territorial hippos, elusive rhinos, venomous snakes and audacious hyenas.  As much as that thought would make ME run like the wind (for my life!), I still could not have done what he did.  He had a goal and was training for a dream.

Did he realize he was living his dream?  How about us?  Are we?  Do we?

For this man, he was already living his dream.  At some point, he stopped his normal day’s work, put on his training outfit (perhaps sponsored by someone?), and took his first step.  That step led to more, quicker steps, and those led to miles and miles of lightening fast, all-out running – racing the wind and daring the company of wild beasts.

I have never seen anything so inspirational of the human spirit.  I’ve watched Dateline and 60 Minutes who produce shows based on the one in a million who beat all odds to compete in sports, music and fine arts.  But, those shows have an ending.  There is closure when the man or woman, child or adult proves they have accomplished their goals.  I never have I witnessed the dream in play.

This man’s race has not yet happened.  Does that make him less of a runner?  Or, does working hard every day – rain or shine, sick or healthy – running the Mara make him a runner?

The answer is obvious.  He is, in fact, a race runner right now.

For those of us who most likely will never train in the Mara, what are the dreams that stir our heart?  They are just as important as this man’s, but do we give them the same credit?

Or, do we choose to let the mundane monotony of life be our excuse for not suiting up (be it arming ourselves with a paintbrush, a pen, a camera, a tool, a musical instrument, or our voices) and accept our place on the sidelines?

God gives us dreams.  Dreams spur on hope, give us reason to fight against hardships and ignite purpose on our lives.  Once we have given those dreams to God, asking permission to pursue them in His timing and for His glory, what holds us back?

I think the biggest thing that holds us back is – us.  We feel our limitations.  We listen to the doubt inside us that reminds us of our inadequacies and past failures.  We measure ourselves against the world and believe that we have nothing to offer.  Surely we are not as good as the next man or woman or child.

This happened to me just recently.  I was trapped in a conversation with someone who made me feel really bad about myself.  The topic was photography.  I will spare you the long story, but suffice it to say I told him, in an effort to end the conversation and diffuse his temper, that I was not a real photographer.  When I said those words, a part of me died.  I totally sold myself out because of a man I barely knew.  I went home and sobbed to my husband that my entire history of photography, that began when I was 10 years old when, for my birthday, my great-grandmother put a 110 instamatic in my hands and instantly I found my voice to the world, was gone.  All of my work, albeit unpaid, was suddenly worthless.  Because I don’t have credentials behind my name, or awards on my bookshelves, or a paycheck to prove it – I sold my dream for the price of exiting a conversation.

I felt numb for a few days.  Perhaps, deep down, this is indeed how I felt about myself, and it took verbally cornering me to bring it out?  Or, perhaps, I reduced myself to the world’s standards and realized I didn’t measure up.  Or, perhaps still, I caved under the pressure and said something I didn’t really believe.

For me, I know it was the third choice. In the days following, God had to show me, in His own unique way, the truth of who I am.  He proverbially picked me up, brushed off my knees and wiped the tears from my eyes.  He showed me who I am in Him, and that person is someone who believes in her dreams and wants to enjoy every part of the journey, whether anyone else believes in me or not.

Ironically, not by coincidence, God recently put me in not one, but two situations where my being a photographer was validated by two separate people – on their own initiative, not mine.  I don’t even know these people.  God caused our paths to cross, and I believe it was to reinforce exactly what I felt about the race runner I saw in the Mara.  Because, what I felt about that man was that although he had not yet won the public affirmation for which he was training, he was absolutely a true runner in my opinion.  No doubt.

The same takeaway is for us.  Perhaps more than a single race to prove who wins; it is ignoring what others say about us; it is the numerous days, months and years of practice; it is the countless miles we run in our own way that validate our dreams.

I once ran a 5K cold.  My daughter was entered in the race, but when we got there, we were surprised to see hundreds of runners and hundreds of their family members and friends.  My daughter didn’t have a cell phone and wasn’t familiar with the trail.  All of her fellow group runners had already begun.  She was alone.  There was no way I was going to let my daughter disappear into a crowd of a sea of people and weave her way through 3+ miles of unfamiliar roads.  Spontaneously, I signed myself up, pinned a number to my shirt and off we went.  We ran the whole thing, but unlike her, I had not trained for it.  Did that race make me a runner?  No!  It made me a protective mother.

My point is, even some who show up for the race aren’t necessarily runners at heart.  Many people have many motives for why they do what they do.

It’s those of us who forge on, despite criticism, despite our own self-doubt, despite the rough travel and slim odds – who are truly living the dream.  The dream is the journey.

Are you living your dream today? 🙂