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Living Within the Lines

Live Within the LinesWhen I was a kid, a box of crayons and coloring book could occupy me for hours on a rainy day. It was a free for all with crayons erratically scribbling outside any designated boundary. To stay inside the lines wasn’t a consideration; I was a budding artist.

When finished, the colored page was given to mom who praised me for a job well done and displayed it on the refrigerator door until she found a polite excuse to remove it.

In adulthood the only time I color is with my kids or grandkids and when I do, it’s rare to find a clean page to color. The kids have scrawled over every page in the book with total disregard for the printed lines or direction they move their crayons. When I do find a blank page, I am quick to exercise my proprietary rights and ban squatter privileges to anyone under the age of ten.

For me, a blank color page exemplifies a new start in life; a new beginning in my walk with Christ. It’s like a form of therapy in times of stress and uncertainty.  Every circular motion of the crayon is a reminder to stay within God’s boundary lines for the best outcome. I grow and flourish in my strengths, find comfort, serenity and healing when I choose to be obedient to God’s will.

There is a spiritual awakening that occurs when we discover God’s lines don’t confine or hinder us, but rather provide healing to do the impossible within us. His boundary lines are defined by grace, balance and love. To give Him control of our crayon box is to give Him control of our life.

Are you frustrated and confused about your circumstances and question God’s purpose for your life? Is your life going in every direction and cluttered with scribbles that extend outside the lines of grace?

I encourage you to ask God to help you color inside the lines of HIS will. Our Heavenly Father can color inside the lines of our life better than anyone else.

“Stay always within the boundaries where God’s love can reach and bless you. Wait patiently for the eternal life that our Lord Jesus Christ in his mercy is going to give you.” Jude 21

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MY CUP OVERFLOWETH

PoppyJuice“NeeNee,” shouted my youngest grandson at the top of his lungs, “I poured too much Poppy juice into my cup and it spilled all over.”

The grand kids coined the term Poppy Juice when they were old enough to drink from a sippy cup. It’s a blend of red fruit punch that Poppy mixes in a big jug; should it spill, you have one big sticky mess with a good chance it will stain whatever it penetrates.

I’m fairly certain permanent wheelie marks were left on my office floor as I flew out of my office chair in the direction of the kitchen. What I saw was a panic-stricken six-year old on his knees with paper towel stretched in every direction in an effort to stop the trail of red juice that covered the floor.

“I’m sorry, NeeNee, I didn’t mean to put that much in my cup.” The remorseful and tearful way in which he spoke those words resonated with me. In that moment, I saw myself at the feet of Jesus asking for forgiveness.

I can’t count the number of times my life’s cup has overflowed and required heavenly intervention and damage control to mop up my bad choice messes. Like my grandson, I tend to ignore the voice that continually calls out to be slow and careful and I find myself saying, “I’m sorry, Jesus. I wasn’t slow and careful like you asked. and my cup overflowed.”

With love and a forgiving spirit, my grandson and I worked together to bring restoration to a chaotic and messy situation. That’s exactly what Jesus does for us. When we cry out for help, He comes to us with love, mercy and forgiveness to clean the stains of sin that overflow from our life.

“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

Though we fall short of God’s glory, He made provisions to restore His glory within us through the cross of Jesus. He stands ready to restore our life messes and lead us in the paths of righteousness.

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SISTERS

3139_1074232579462_6883989_nI have only one sibling; a sister named Sharon, but I call her Sharrie or sissy. We are one year and two days apart in age, but our chosen life paths are about as far apart as you can get.

She is a pastor’s wife and that in itself speaks volumes about her. Not everyone is cut out to be a soul mate to someone dedicated to the ministry; certainly not me. My mom was one of those women, but God saved us all when I chose a different path.

My sister has a beautiful singing voice, plays the piano and effortlessly leads worship service every Sunday at church. She loves to hike trails, camp, bake, play practical jokes and hang out at their northern cottage which I have never visited (hint). Sharrie’s laugh is infectious; you have only to sit next to her while watching a comedy movie to witness her ability to unabashedly laugh out loud. She is our daddy’s daughter in that respect.

I, on the other hand, prefer hotels to camping; opt for motorized vehicles over bicycles and never hike more than up and down the stairs of my home. Church members would drop off the rosters if I led a worship service and all my baked goods are purchased at the local grocery store.

No one can keep a secret better than my sister or save money in a pillowcase like she is known to do. When I needed money to buy cigarettes in high school, her pillowcase was the bank that provided the needed cash.

She was the athlete and compliant child; I was the president of art club and a rebel. I married at 18, she married at 27. All ‘no’ answers from my parents were an open invitation to ‘do it anyway’. Anger was my middle name and I could bring conflict to a situation quicker than the blink of an eye. The Bible scripture blessed are the peacemakers did not apply to me.

With all our many differences you might wonder if my sister and I were birthed from the same parents. The God who created the opposing contrasts of night and day also created the opposing contrasts of Denise and Sharon and has allowed our different life experiences to work in unison. Our approach is uniquely different, but our lifelong goal has always been the same; to grow in the grace of Jesus.

My sister complements my shortcomings and remains my biggest cheerleader in helping me reach my goals. She prays, intercedes, listens and forgoes judgment when I make bad choices. When I reach out to her, she greets me with arms wide open; she is a friend in all seasons of life. There are no words I can pen to paper to express how much I love her.

And so, on my sister’s 58th birthday I give thanks for our forever friendship, the differences that join us as one and the many times she has been the beacon of hope in my darkest nights. She always believes in me; applauds my accomplishments and looks up to me, though I’m not sure why. Thank you for being my polar opposite. God knew I needed that in a sister.

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SOUP OR SALAD?

SouporSaladDevotionalI watched as a large group was seated at a nearby table in a restaurant where I was having lunch. As the guests studied the menu, the waitress asked, “Can I get you something to drink?”

Coke…water…coffee…nothing for me was some of the responses and as she left to fill the drink order, decisions were made about what to order from the menu.

“Is everyone ready to order?” As the waitress jotted down orders she presented each guest with a number of different choices.

What kind of bread, do you want soup or salad, which dressing do you prefer or how would you like that done? There were choices about side dishes, toasted or not toasted, desserts and whether one check or separate checks were needed.

The six people seated at the lunch table all made choices; some the same, but more often very different from others. That’s a lot like life. Every day is a soup or salad day filled with a host of choices that only we can make and the consequences of those choices are sometimes out of our control.

If you order a well-done burger and the short order cook prepares it medium, you must make another choice; eat the burger or send it back. Or, the chicken soup ordered turns out to be a bowl of clam chowder.

The table of life offers an endless number of soup or salad choices; some good, some not and some that are simply out of our control. And then enters Jesus with His mercy, grace and love. He takes control of our choices and works all things for our good if we consult with Him about our life choices and commit our ways to Him.

“And we know that for those who love God, that is, for those who are called according to his purpose, all things are working together for good.” Romans 8:28

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SHAKE DON’T SHUFFLE

oldwomanAs I gazed out my office window, I couldn’t help but fixate my eyes on the woman who moved slowly down the sidewalk; she walked as if the weight of the world rested on her shoulders. The methodical way in which she shuffled her steps and the downward creases at the corner of her mouth seemed to signify a life absent of joy and a hidden sadness she couldn’t share.

The woman seemed to sense I was watching her. She stopped abruptly and turned toward my office window. Uneasiness gripped me as the sun cast the outline of her shadow across my desk. It was only when our eyes met that I realized this woman was a reflection me and my uneasiness turned to panic.

With her forehead pressed against the glass and hands cupped around her face, the woman mouthed words I could not hear. I rolled my office chair over to the glass window and positioned my ear to the pane, but heard nothing. The woman soon turned away and continued to shuffle toward her unhappy destination. It disturbed me.

For the rest of the day the image of the sidewalk woman haunted me. Why had I felt such panic when our eyes locked? I longed to know why.

That evening, after dinner, I sat down and opened the newspaper to the Hometown section. I stared in disbelief as I locked eyes with the same elderly woman I had seen earlier that day. The news article was written by her oldest son and as I read the words, a shadowy picture of me began to unveil; I struggled to hold back tears.

The woman’s name was Sylvia. She held a graduate degree, married her high school sweetheart after college and together they raised three children. To the outside world it appeared to be a picture perfect life, but there was nothing further from the truth. You see, Sylvia didn’t love herself and her job only served to feed on those insecurities to cultivate an attitude of defeatism.

Because worry was a constant companion Sylvia wasn’t able to enjoy life’s moments. As her children grew in age, they adopted mom’s worries and insecurities as a lifestyle; and Dad began to distance himself from the family with extended work hours.

The son’s story spoke of the heartache of living with a loved one who is unable to fully embrace love and themselves. In retrospect, he listed those things he most longed for as a child:

  • For mom to have the courage to leave a job that fed her unhappiness
  • To play catch in the backyard rather than three baseball games every week
  • An acceptance that money worries are pointless; it will never create more income
  • That less is more
  • I’m not the sounding board for your unhappiness
  • 15 minutes of your undivided attention
  • That you loved yourself as much as I love you
  • When to say no to activities, events and things that don’t really matter
  • A clean house is not important to me if it means you can’t spend time with me

I folded up the newspaper and place it by my side. I quietly contemplated the story I had just read. In many ways it was my story and I didn’t want to end up as an unhappy, elderly woman who never stopped to smell the roses or took chances. The panic I had felt as I looked into this woman’s eyes was that very fear.

In that moment, I knew it was time to make changes, to love me and to follow my dreams. I needed it, my kids needed it and so did my husband. When the elderly lady peered into my office window she had said:

“Know what really matters. If your life is absent of joy, there is no one to blame but yourself. You get one chance at life so embrace it with everything you’ve got. You need to shake not shuffle your way through life.”

 

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LET’S TALK KARMA

I believe karma goes hand-in-hand with scripture,

fired

“Be not deceived; God is not mocked for whatever man sows that shall he also reap.”
Galatians 6:7

Each of us have faced situations that resurrect thoughts about Karma and how each of us has the potential to willfully use deceit to serve a personal agenda or vendetta. What might surprise you is what scripture has to say about our reaction to this bad karma.

“But I say unto you who hear, love your enemies and do good to them which hate you…”
Luke 6:27

“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.”
Matthew 6:14

Let me share a story:

At one time they were close friends. They worked together, shared family weekend excursions and had built a friendship on camaraderie and common interests. As educators, they considered themselves equal and gave no consideration to the power struggles that often occur in parallel careers.

But over time, one friend allowed envy to enter her soul. She noticed her friend’s leadership and administrative skills far surpassed her own. Staff and students loved her friend more than her and she quietly opened the door to jealousy.

Hanging out after work slowly ceased as did invites to social events.

As the jealous friend became self-absorbed a power struggle began to erupt within her and anger consumed her; it was her constant companion. Her good friend continued to have a heart bent toward goodness, kindness and forgiveness, but there was one thing her friend didn’t have and that was POWER.

The jealous friend held the reins of power with the decision makers. She would conveniently keep upcoming meeting dates, important emails and shared information from her friend to make her appear uninformed before peer groups.

But the jealous friend’s best revenge was not coming in to work, or responding to phone calls and emails. She left her friend alone to oversee two buildings, staff and students for days at a time; only to find her friend seemed to handle all the administrative duties without a glitch. In fact, no one missed the jealous friend at all; it was a welcomed reprieve from her angry verbal assaults and inept administrative skills.

I would love to tell you my story has a happy ever after ending, but it doesn’t.

In the end, the jealous friend dismissed her loyal friend. Of course, she lacked the backbone to do it herself and found it much easier, or perhaps it was to ease the guilt, to have her hand-fed HR members handle the duty. She stood nearby as her friend was summoned to a mock meeting. It was like a lamb being led to slaughter.

The sacrifice was to compensate for the jealous friends lack of integrity, leadership skills and administrative abilities. But the blood spilled that day will never atone for the lies, deceit and jealousy that brought an innocent person to slaughter. Only the blood of Jesus can do that.

So where does that leave the loyal friend?

In the hands of God who is faithful to those who believe upon His name. When God closes a door it means He is ready to open the flood gate on the dam. And with all this Michigan rain, the river is up and a flash flood is roaring. WATCH OUT, the floodgates of Heaven are about to open.

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” Malachi 3:10

God’s blessing reigns in our life when we are obedient to his call, seek to forgive others and give from the heart. As for karma, it is best left in the hands of God.

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THE HOUSE THAT’S NEVER CLEAN

IMG_9214As I survey my house this Mother’s Day morning, it is in total chaos. The grandkids have been here all weekend, and with friends, I might add. Every counter and table is cluttered with things I am working on for Olivia’s birthday party next Saturday, there is the lemonade stand and all the paraphernalia that entails…like cups, coins, candy and, of course, lemonade.

The hardwood floors in the kitchen have crumbs of every sort scattered beneath the counter stools and my back deck is covered with Xploderz pellets the kids shot from their Xploder gun. The laundry room overflows with dirty clothes, breakfast dishes fill the sink and clean clothes are strewn across my bed waiting for someone to fold them.

My daughter and son-in-law will be arriving shortly to spend a few hours with me and I’m not sure where there will sit. Let’s see, between the lemonade stand, art stand, forts that are inside, there are the Xploderz guns, bucket of pellets, new deck shades that need to be installed and flats of flowers that occupy the outdoor space. And we can’t use the front deck because it was just stained and still not dry.

Yet, even with all the chaos that surrounds me, I am happy and content as I watch the grandkids help Poppy wash cars and splash their feet in puddles of soapy water. The squeal of children as they ride bikes, skateboard and jump on pogo sticks is music to the heart.

My house and yard may be in total disarray, but my heart is merry. I regret that I couldn’t embrace this truth when my daughter was the age of my grandkids. She didn’t care if the floors were clean or the dishes were washed. A trip to the park was way more memorable than my obsession with organization and a clean house.

Take time to seize the moment. If your kids or grandkids want you to play, ride bikes or take a trip to the park, do it! When the house is a mess and there is laundry piled to the ceiling that’s the time to hop on a pogo stick, jump on a bike or head to the park with your kids. Life is too short to be obsessed with things that don’t make memories.

Happy Mother’s Day!