A river rock path curved past the waterfall. Bloom-jeweled fronds waved at me from exotic plants. Sculpted shrubs framed the masterpiece gardens around my path. I inhaled the fragrance of evening and marvel at the awesome display of artistry I was so privileged to enjoy. Infinitely more wonderful than the garden.

Each pair of eyes glimmered with the unique flourish of their  Creator’s light. Brilliant stories poured from those to whom I listened. My Father’s signature artistry stirred my heart again and again.

How I love to see His work!

For weeks, I’ve searched and prayed in a desperate quest to discover my passion.  It’s here somewhere. In the appreciation of divine worth. In esteeming God-sculpted character traits. In encouraging sacred dreams tugging heartstrings.

I might continue squinting, unable to discern my entire path. A glimpse of my Father’s design nourishes my soul with joy. Whether I foresee my life’s purpose or not, it’s a fine day

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“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared” (Exodus 23:20).

I wiggled on the plastic seat and squinted toward the floor of the expo hall. Four hundred fifty-four square black caps huddled into rows of folding chairs. Red honor cords, white stoles, and baccalaureate medals flowed to the center of the black robed sea. One precious individual sat in the middle of the crowd awaiting his moment to cross the stage. Four years of excruciating work now hung as distinguished accouterments around his neck and lay as satin remnants over his shoulders. The moment of graduation hung within reach, with a few words to traverse on the way.

The principal delivered his congratulations and exhortations, followed by high-ranked students offering similar remarks. As the International Baccalaureate Valedictorian approached the podium to deliver the final speech, the expo hall went dark. No sound equipment. No lights. Shadows engulfed the commencement process.

The Valedictorian looked back for direction from the faculty, who turned to the school principal. The entire staff hesitated for a moment. The darkness caught us all off guard. Then, the IB administrator urged her top student to press on. As he proceeded to speak, the generator brought up a few stage lights. The sound system resumed. As the lead student offered his concluding words of encouragement to the graduating class, the house lights brightened. With minimized delay, light guided our commencement outward.

On the drive home, my son and I discussed future graduations. With college racing toward us in a  couple of months, we anticipated undergraduate and graduate commencements to outshine the one we’d just completed. Before striving onward, we gathered for hugs and copious amounts of chocolate cake.

Diverse events comprise threshold moments of our lives. Certainly not limited to school achievements, many kinds of commencements spangle our timelines. Periods of intense trial come to a close. Good things end, too, such as cherished bonds or occupations we enjoyed.

At the end of one season, we can often experience a moment of uncertainty. The next steps toward our calling fall under shadows. We hesitate, taken off guard by our blindness.

In the shadows of commencement lies an opportunity to tighten our grip on faith. Turn back to consult the Lord’s wisdom through prayer and Scripture. Even when we cannot see yet, the Spirit might exhort us to press onward. Persevere despite the dim lighting and poor sound reception. Take the next right step. The lights will return to guide us outward into fulfillment of our mission.

Commencement defines the growth stages of our spiritual journey. Challenges and suffering teach us volumes. Compassion and wisdom shimmer over our shoulders more brilliantly than a scholar’s garb. With each threshold crossed, we have an opportunity to deepen our trust in God, develop more Christ-like love for others, and emerge well-equipped for the next level of our mission.

So, let’s pause to pray for wisdom. Prepare with me through frequent meditation on God’s Word. And even if we don’t know it all yet, the Spirit will exhort us to commence. But, before we get going, let’s not forget to celebrate with excessive chocolate.

Seriously, we have way too much cake here for one family. Any volunteers to help with that?

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds . . .encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Hebrews 10:23-25, 35-36).

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).

suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

go and make disciples of all nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

“‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven'” (Acts 1:8-11).

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“Wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons;
    he deposes kings and raises up others” (Daniel 2:20-21).

I offered my head to the young apprentice. She needed to practice, so I would become the lab rat of her experiment. Few had seen the procedure and my outcome was difficult to predict. Bowls of gel mixtures littered the small table. Countless paint strokes surrounded me. After an hour, I resembled an alien with head of silver tentacles sprouting hair. A cosmic halo orbited my noggin, projecting heat onto the foils. A tiny flutter stirred in my belly, churning a bit of acid to rise into my throat.

It’s only hair, I told myself. No matter how this turns out, I will be okay.

This year brings a variety of changes for me, all more significant than last fall’s balayage venture (which proved less dramatic than I anticipated, by the way). My son leaves for college. I’m handing off an officer position. At the same time, church and career undergo major transition. I’m not sure how the results will look, but a different world is shaping up around me.

Change shakes up our lives in a myriad of forms, and can often prove refreshing. Some novelty brings joy, hence the constant trend shifts in technology, fashion, and adventurous recreation. New movies rock. Hidden waterfalls delight the soul. Who doesn’t love a fresh outfit?

The transitions we don’t seek will occur, too. We age. People leave us. Security blankets blow away in one strong gust of calamity. Expected or not, certain life-upheavals rattle our roots from their comfortable places. From relocation to chronic health issues to grief, uncomfortable transitions stretch across differing levels of life’s Richter scale. They all begin with a similar emotion, as the first thing felt in an unwanted quake is loss. Pain screams to the forefront of human awareness, blocking other details from our perspective.

The time varies with the impact, but painful aftershocks begin to diminish. The dust settles after a while. If we choose to open our eyes, we can see. Before surveying the land, we know it has changed. We don’t need to look to acknowledge the change affected us. Life shifted, and things are not as they were.

I cannot move on from a state of loss until I open my eyes and accept the new reality. I must survey the landscape to identify my resources. A strange realization dawns in the moment of clarity after the impact has subsided. Despite the change, all is not lost. My greatest resource remained with me even when I could not see Him.

In the tumult of life in this errant world, God remains steadfast. He never leaves us. His love gushes endlessly over us whether we sense it or not. Often, He brings our sweetest blessings in the times we feel most lost and alone. Regardless of the many transitions and losses we experience, God never changes.

As my maturing sons depart and work and worship landscapes transform, these changes occur on the temporary plane of my existence. Even if I lose all I hold dear, the Lord will sustain me with His precious loving presence to the end of mortality. And then, all be restored. Adonai, Whose every work surpasses excellence, revitalizes life with extra gobs of glory lavished on top. Eternity will gather my entire spiritual family to worship and serve together. Ultimately, nothing will be lost forever. I will be better than okay.

What changes are you experiencing today? Try offering a prayer of trust and praise with me. Choose to believe in God’s steadfast nature, despite the shuddering earth. Let’s cling with all our faith to the Rock in the midst of life’s quake.

  “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deut. 31:6).

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

“He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4).

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
    your justice like the great deep” (Psalm 36:5-6).

He rescues me unharmed
    from the battle waged against me,
    even though many oppose me.
God, who is enthroned from of old,
    who does not change” (Psalm 55:18-19).

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“Now remain in my love…

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

Greater love has no one than this:

to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”

(John 15:9-13).

He grinds his jaw as his blistered soles pound the trail. His gear weighs as much as a man’s corpse, and the load drives an ache through his spine and knees. Perspiration stings his eyes. His lungs heave in a steamy breath. Five more miles before the downhill slope. Must. Press. On.

“Let’s go, soldier!”

Ears clogged, he can’t tell if the raspy command comes from behind or ahead of him. But he knows that voice.

The crack of gunfire shatters the air. An explosion rattles through the earth into his weary bones. He stumbles in the plume of smoke, but does not fall. Adrenaline pulses to steady his gait. Chaos dulls his pain and drowns the officer’s words. But he knows his mission. Heart bearing the worth of his people, the soldier plunges headlong into the deadly fray.

Soldiers. Willing to lay down their lives for our people, they represent the utmost fulfillment of Christ’s call to all of us. This Memorial Day, many of us will offer our respect to the soldiers who have offered the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. Active duty service men and women also deserve our thanks, for they lay aside peace and comfort most of us take for granted. Many in our military face unimaginable horrors in battle, continuing years afterward to fight for emotional survival.

We owe them thanks in many ways.. Verbal gratitude, assistance, and favor provide a good start. Tangible appreciation must never be neglected or diminished one iota. There remains an even more significant means of honoring our troops–join them in answering the call.

Christ commissions all of us to lay down our lives in love for one another. If we rise to follow His example, setting aside our comfort to plunge forth in the fight against evil, we adopt the soldier’s mission. Carrying out acts of love despite hardship will honor the soldier, for we rise to a value more worthy of his or her sacrifice. More worthy, though it remains difficult to imagine we’ll deserve what our fallen troops have offered.

We’ll never deserve the sacrifice Jesus offered for us. No manner of thanks, no acts of service can make us worthy. Grace cannot be earned. Yet our grateful hearts prompt us to follow His example and love others. Like these noble soldiers, we, too, can grow selflessly loving hearts. Far away from perfection, long before we reach our destination, God awards us, both spiritual and tactical soldiers, an amazing distinction. He calls us friends.

This Memorial Day, join me in the ongoing practice of thanking God’s friends. And becoming one of them.

Blessings to all who have offered service to our country and our King.

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“Sacrifice thank offerings to God . . . and call on me in the day of trouble;

    I will deliver you, and you will honor me” (Psalm 50:14-15).

Heels bouncing. Arms upraised. Palms waving. I did the happy dance today. Full-on, Snoopy-style. A long wait sweetens good news, and I had waited over a year for an acceptance letter. Could’ve sworn I tasted chocolate while reading.

I love champagne truffles as much as any girl, but I’m more thankful for achievements. Success and answered prayers fire up my worship to a near-charismatic levels. Hand-raising tends to linger outside my comfort zone. When gratitude for provision and healing bubbles up from my soul like a wellspring, I can hardly help myself.

Christ receives my best praise when things go well. Do I offer the same level of gratitude during tough times? I pour out passionate prayers, declaring the power and perfect nature of God. I cry out, reach out, and plead. But days of trouble don’t bring out my Snoopy-style, charismatic thankful dance.

Eternal, indefatigable blessings remain with me at all times, bright or dark. The Holy Spirit promises never to leave me. Christ redeemed my soul and declares me an heir to heaven. The All-Powerful Creator adores me as a Father. Whether I see circumstances working out in my current moment or not, the Lord assures me of His presence. God promises to work out the big picture for my good, and I can trust Him with the immediate details. His goodness never fluctuates. Christ’s most significant blessing remains with me always. Jesus deserves my happy dance every day.

In Psalm 50:14-15, the Lord promises two bonuses if we offer thanks when we’re in trouble. He first assures our deliverance, a cherished gift of His grace. A grateful attitude provides additional perks. Praise shifts our mindset toward hope. Faith grows and strengthens. We secure our footing in the awareness of God’s presence. Thankful prayer offerings sustain and support us through trying circumstances. The privilege of new status gleams on our souls like a crown, for He lifts us up as those who honor Him.

I’m a fan of pleasing my Lord, so I set a new prayer objective. Every day, rejections and life-worries notwithstanding, I plan to fire up some thankful Snoopy waving. I’m working on my “Woot!” Will you join me?

“give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

“I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving: (Psalm 69:30).

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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.”

– Philippians 4:6-7

Afternoon rays highlighted splatter-spots dappling my kitchen window. I corralled piles of dishes toward the sink. The third time since breakfast. My hands trembled as I scrubbed the grimy counter. Why is it always such a mess? Recurring, ugly streaks, just like my failures in business and publishing. I tossed the rag at the sill.

I marched out the front door with an announcement to any ears in range. “I’m going for a walk.”

As I strode under the oak canopy, I grasped the air at my side. “Walk with me, Jesus.”

My morning time of prostrate meditation remains a precious way to center myself before the day’s mission begins. Bedside prayer also offers great benefit, laying all needs and offenses in divine hands. Sometimes, I wrestle with overwhelming angst and need to break out of my conventions to better connect with God. Fresh perspective unstops the ears of my soul.

This common need resounds from world headlines to the soul cries of our neighbors–financial crises, illness, general household chaos. Circumstances shatter our peace. Life whirls around our heads, distracting us from intimacy with the Lord. In this tumultuous life, we need help centering our spirits in prayer.

Kelly O’Dell Stanley’s new book, Praying Upside Down, offers novel tools to uncork conversations with God. She expands our view of divine interaction beyond the formulaic ideas of conventional prayer. A graphic designer, she crafts an artistic pathway to spiritual intimacy. Her analogies and suggested applications prove easy upon a reader’s eye and attainable to a beginner’s soul.

Have you ever struggled to focus? Railed at the ceiling as if it were a blockade? Or felt your heart too overwhelmed to summon a prayer? Upside down experiences might just refresh your mind and reveal the path to renew your weary soul.

If you’re interested in Praying Upside Down, find out more information from Tyndale or check out Kelly O’Dell Stanley’s website http://www.prayingupsidedown.com/

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“Put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity” (Colossians 3:12-14).

Genocide ravages our eastern neighbors. Oppression torments those to our south. At home, rioters crawl in under the shadows of corruption to raze cities. Power-crazed leaders clamor to bathe in the spotlight, spurring world citizens with rallies to “do something” against injustice. Armed with fresh rage, the masses rise to wreak destruction.

Thus humanity declares enmity with itself. War spreads like a cancer. In its wake, monuments erected by our creative souls lie in ruins. The earth reddens, awash in the blood of our brothers and sisters.

From the surface, many declare us a planet of incompatible nations and divergent races. Unique cultural shimmers harden into blade-like divisions. We reject a blend of spices which could enhance nourishment, and instead burn one another’s food.

All people hunger. Regardless of our native continents, we thirst. In our many-faceted ways, we yearn to reflect the Creator’s nature. And we all need togetherness. We are, in fact, more alike than different.

Fundamental sameness resounds in our design. First and foremost, we belong to the human race. All nations rest under the authority of One King. God’s authority isn’t dependent upon acknowledgement.

Christ rebuked division, yet stood against injustice with His Father’s perfect resolution. He responded to poverty, imprisonment, and affliction with loving service. He declared war against evil and forged a path of mercy for people. Without His deliverance, we all remain in the clutches of darkness and death. Our true battle must be as His, against the enemy behind all this destruction and not waged against one another. Jesus’ ministry rejected rioting in favor of healing, provision, and liberating souls. The King of Kings vanquished evil and remains Prince of Peace for humanity.

Let us follow in Christ’s footsteps, viewing our brothers and sisters as precious to our Father. Let us strive to celebrate our divinely sculpted variety while embracing the unity of God’s design. Will you join me in prayers and efforts toward peaceful healing? We cannot conquer the world’s darkness on our own, but each of us can act as a candle to dispense a circle of it with His light.

How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

“With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.” – Dr. Seuss

“The heavens are telling the glory of God; they are a marvelous display of his craftsmanship. Day and night they keep on telling about God” (Psalm 19:1-2).

Tender grass bursts from the earth. Glimmering beetles scurry up to lily pinnacles and raise their antennae. My favorite gnarled oak ascends from a velvety ring of petunias. Its branches wield leafy poufs as live, rain-guzzling, sun-swallowing pom-poms.

Meanwhile, a masterpiece rolls overhead.

Coral rays claim the heavens, staking dawn’s entry. Glorious brilliance floods the earth with awesome energy, both life-sustaining  and requiring the respect rather than scrutiny of mortal eyes. The light reigns undaunted, despite the morphing hues of its backdrop and fleeting clouds to veil its position. Ten thousand bird species laud the majesty in song and aerial dance. Crimson explodes across the skies as the sun descends to meet the edge of our perspective. The world blackens against a fabulous gleam of twilight. Predators crawl out into the shadows, anticipating easy prey in the sun’s absence. The light never abandons us. A silver orb rises against the darkness to reflect the sun’s continued presence. Crickets and cicadas praise its faithfulness. It continues to guide and shine upon us in this new form as we hope for the new dawn.

Before a single word of Scripture inked the ancient papyrus, God authored creation as a living testament. The Bible anoints modern Christians with immeasurable benefits and deepens our understanding of God, but He foresaw those without access to the written word. The Father did not leave anyone bereft of His message. Creation’s magnificent design proves His sovereignty. He reveals Himself and His attention to us in the artistic, majestic, and whimsical elements of nature. The progress of each day reflects the gospel, a Son who remains with us and bestows His life upon us that we might represent Him to the world.

As we continue to cherish Scripture, let us also remain aware of its earliest writing–God’s love letter crafted upon the world around us. The story nature has read aloud since the dawn of creation.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

Refugees abandon homes in pursuit of it. Defendants empty bank accounts to negotiate it. Acquisition offers empty promises of it. Anesthesia poisons the flesh with temporary illusions of it. A mother of toddlers looks for it in the bathroom.

Peace lingers in the desperate pleas of souls worldwide. From those enduring brutal oppression to those overwhelmed with daily stress, a valid strain proves critical within each experience. Humanity cries for an end to war with one another, heart-breaking circumstances, and ourselves. We struggle to cope and survive. A greater need pervades and exceeds all others. And it has already been offered to us at the grantor’s expense.

No change of address. No attorney fees. Debt-free and without side-effects. Not even confined to the powder room.

Peace with God provides hope beyond this heart-wrenching world. While refugees flee torment to dwell as outsiders in poverty, we leave behind a broken mortality and return home to the splendor for which we were created. Jesus, having paid our expenses with His suffering, also serves as our advocate to free us from judgment. We can trust His sufficient payment and negotiation has secured a brilliant future.

Our hope isn’t limited to the future.  Though salvation doesn’t eliminate earthly challenges, peace with God equips us to cope with our current struggles. Acceptance of Christ into our hearts brings His presence into our daily lives. We can neither survive this mortal life nor cope with it on our own. Thanks to Jesus, we don’t have to. His indwelling Spirit offers a constant resource of divine wisdom and strength, awaiting our requests for support.

Paul reminded early Christians of this, since they endured severe trials.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Will you take a moment today and thank God with me for His beautiful gift of peace?

Thank You, Jesus. For Your grace which secures our hope. For Your reliable presence that sustains us with precious, incomparable peace.

“Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3).

I once wondered if I could live without coffee. Clearing my sluggish haze each morning requires considerable effort. Anticipation or sunshine might spring some folks from their beds, but it takes more voltage to prod my toe out from the sheets. Despite my penchant for java, a brief fast proved certain substitutes offered the same boost. I could, in fact, live without my roasted bean beverage.

My cell phone consumes each free moment. Facebook posts MUST be checked for vital updates on loved ones. I dare not miss an email, lest the answer to my dreams awaits among the forty-plus daily sales pitches. While serving at retreats, participants fully engage my heart so my fingers never miss the phone.

Surely I need a full night’s rest. I HAVE to make sure the kids are okay. Personal space ranks high on my list of must-haves. And adequate food. Of course I need a hot shower to cope with life, and a clean environment, too . . .

I believed I couldn’t live without many things. Some trifles, like coffee. Some significant, like loved ones or rest. None of these can sustain me. My survival depends on one resource. He extends the brilliant energy of the Father’s glory to fill the universe. His verbal authority spoke all things into existence–past and future, sub-atomic to planetary, living and inanimate. Christ’s word continues as the empowering force which sustains everything.

While I’ve been tempted to believe I depended on other things, I now recognize the truth. The one thing I can’t live without will never run out, lose energy, or fail me. Thank you, Jesus, my infinite sustenance, power, and life.