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haven in uncertain waters

“Some . . . were merchants . . .
They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
    in their peril their courage melted away. . .
    they were at their wits’ end.

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he brought them out of their distress . . .
 They were glad when it grew calm,
    and he guided them to their desired haven.
 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind” (Psalm 107:23-31).

The stock market plummeted today, while a bike builder announced his discovery of an eighteenth-century treasure. Gold coins sank into oblivion, failing to sustain the European seamen who once hoped in them. Today’s merchants sail turbulent waves of NASDAQ. DOW, and S&P riches. We venture into uncertain markets with a dubious eye on storms threatening a crash.

Shipwrecks remain inevitable. What rises must fall. Investors and businesses stake their livelihood upon determining when. Financial stability sways before us as a tempting foundation for security. The churning waters of business remain incapable of tethering an anchor for hope. Those who trust in money doom themselves to sink to the depths like an iron-banded chest.

In the midst of life’s uncertainty, God listens. He knows our need. Our inability to meet it on our own. He’s not waiting for us to disclose our situation, but to ask for His support. The instant an outcry rises from the heart, God shows up.

Sometimes His intervention isn’t what we thought we wanted. God doesn’t concern Himself with meeting our expectations. By nature, He exceeds them every time. Whether or not we recognize the amplitude of his work at first glance.

The Lord brings us through hardship and adversity. Not always around it. And not necessarily into material wealth. Christ affords us passage to wealth exceeding all earthly treasure. Regardless of swirling circumstances, our hope finds an anchor in solid Rock instead of the waters. Eternal life in heaven glows from the horizon with a glory eclipsing the sun. Despite the present seas, we fix our eyes on His peace sustaining us. And we’re glad when we grow calm.

Our Father guides us to His perfect haven, even before we understand our deep longing for it. While culture insists our well-being rests in a lifestyle money can buy, mortality and its trappings bear an expiration date. This temporary life, whether comfortable or not, will end. Eternity dawns with incomparable delight for those who cry out to the Lord and anchor themselves in His security. Then, real life begins. No dark waters. No instability. No. More. Devastation.

Whatever our seastorm rescue looks like today, let’s give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful presence forever with us and eternally blessing us.

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“Some became fools through their rebellious ways
    and suffered affliction because of their iniquities.
 They loathed all food
    and drew near the gates of death.
 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress.
 He sent out his word and healed them;
    he rescued them from the grave.
 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind” (Psalm 107:17-21).

I tend to be a clumsy sort of gal. Like epic Lucille Ball antics, but not on purpose. It’d be nice if I could get away with blaming circumstances, others, or even inanimate objects for my stumbles. Even if I could pretend some level of temporary comfort with the dishonesty, I’m too obvious a klutz to pull it off.

Excuses amplify the ridiculous, you see.

“The sidewalk jumped up to trip me!”

“Who moved that wall?”

If only my foibles were limited to physical falls. Sin causes deeper bruises and its consequences sting for longer than I’d like to recount. I hate when I’ve created afflictions for myself. No backward movement on the soccer field can be more humiliating than dishonoring the Lord.

I’m so thankful God saves me anyway. Even when I least deserve it. Especially when I’ve run out of ridiculous excuses. I need only cry out to Jesus. In the pit of my deepest failures, my Redeemer never fails to show up.

Whether or not it’s my fault, Jesus lifts me from the darkest distress. He brushes off the dirt of my sin and pours His healing love over my self-inflicted wounds. I get myself into the mess, but the Faithful Savior gets me out of it. I’m so thankful for His unfailing love.

Are you thankful for the Lord’s redeeming love today?

prison

“Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness,
    prisoners suffering . . .
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress.
He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness,
    and broke away their chains.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds . . .
for he breaks down gates of bronze
    and cuts through bars of iron” (Psalm 107:10-16).

My dad volunteers his time to guide incarcerated people toward transformation. He visits the jail at least once a week, and courthouse staff know him by name. Those who complete the Transformations Program have such a marginal rate of reoffending, judges recommend and celebrate their work. Dad often expresses the immeasurable rewards he experiences through guiding those lost souls to a renewed life. Their freedom extends beyond the removal of bars. Liberty defines their healthy lifestyle, a victorious state of the soul.

Bars and cell walls make some types of imprisonment clear. Whether or not the bars can be touched, other strongholds bind the soul with tenacious chains. Destructive thought cycles. Emotional quicksand. Toxic relationship patterns. We can step inside various spiritual strongholds and feel unable to escape on our own.

All the while, the One Who loves us most stands at the cell door. He extends the key in His nail-scarred hand. Our first step to freedom is reaching out in prayer to accept His help.

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Transformations graduates won’t testify to an effortless escape. Anyone with a life story of empancipation recognizes the journey’s challenges. Spiritual freedom requires us to change, which proves an intense challenge to habit-captives. Though we face tough work, Jesus Christ takes on the heaviest lifting. Soul liberation remains impossible without God’s power.

As the psalmist proclaims, the Lord never ignores a heartfelt cry submitted to Him. When we lay ourselves out in surrender, acknowledging our need for Christ’s transforming power, He shows up. Every time. Regardless of the circumstances, which might not change, Jesus renews, sustains, and frees each soul to the extent of its surrender to Him. The deep chains fall away, and His children celebrate inner victory.

What’s holding you hostage today? Will you consider praying to surrender all before the One Who waits to set you free forever?
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wasteland

“Some wandered in desert wastelands,
    . . . hungry and thirsty,
    and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord . . .
    and he delivered them . . .
 Let them give thanks to the Lord  . . .
 for he satisfies the thirsty
    and fills the hungry with good things” (Psalm 107:4-9).

Fear clinches her stomach. Emptiness rises like bile to burn in her chest. She staggers through weeks and months as if trudging across endless sand dunes. Daily stress rises to sear her skin like desert sun rays. As she parts her lips, the dry world of her wasteland burns into her throat. With a gasping plea, she at last musters a simple prayer. Help me, Lord.

The blaze persists. Dunes still overwhelm the view. Yet, her escape has begun.

She wriggles outstretched fingers toward the sand-walled horizon, anticipating mist from an unseen waterfall. With a dry, cracked hand, she picks up a branch for a staff. Peace floods into her spirit, soothing away the thirst of emptiness and fear. Her pace quickens. She might not sprint, but she now marches. To the streams she knows from within her. Where answered prayers have begun to lead her onward.

Ever felt lost in the wasteland? Hunger and thirst roil from physical needs, spiritual angst, or both. From health problems or financial devastation to inner storms of depression and stress, life can leave us feeling stranded in a desert-like existence. When despair overwhelms us, we recognize our inability to escape on our own strength. We can either succumb to its ravages or cry to the Lord for help.

A heartfelt prayer, no matter how simple or weak, vaults to heaven. God hears. And the escape begins.

The wasteland will not vanish in a moment, but you will gain resources to sustain you. Peace and hope nourish the soul, equipping you to march toward something beyond your view. A fresh draft of God-supplied faith empowers you to take the next steps. The cross beam becomes a staff to steady you on the way to fulfilled hope. God’s answer to your prayer for rescue has come, even as you await the answer of full deliverance.

Our miraculous answer to prayer is thriving, not only after our deliverance from the wasteland, but also during the journey of our escape.

What’s your miraculous answer to prayer today?

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Redeemed

“Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—
    those he redeemed from the hand of the foe” (Psalm 107:2).

Facebook overflows with national headlines about politics and tragedies. Celebrity quotes buzz from Twitter as if it were a beaten wasp nest. Instagram, Periscope, and Pinterest offer the newest trends and latest tips on how-to anything. Blogs on every subject abound. I’ve shuffled through Books-a-Million’s vast aisles, wondering how many e-books exist for each tome on their shelves.

The overwhelming volume of written messages can bog the motivation of writers like me. Has it all been said? Maybe my time would be better spent folding laundry–again. At least my lips can be put to better use eating chocolate. After all, what words can I offer a world inundated by stories?

Scripture insists the world needs critical stories which I alone can share–my stories. Jesus redeemed me. The Lord crafted me as a vessel for a specific message to be poured out into a thirsty world. No matter how many books, blogs, or tweets flood the media, His words remain significant.Christ’s transforming breath deserves sharing. I must not prioritize laundry, chocolates, or statistics ahead of those still needing His rescue.

Telling my personal tales scares me a bit. I never feared speaking before hundreds, but was terrified the first time I shared my redemption story before dozens. Even if I weren’t a blogger, writer, or speaker, the Lord would still call me to share His effect on my life with others.

We’re all vessels, crafted with a unique God story. Each testimony carries a critical taste of antidote for the world’s terminal illness. Someone needs your message. A neighbor. Blog readers halfway across the world. Only God knows whether your outpoured life brings His rescue to one or to many. Either way, it’s certainly worth saving them.

Start where you are. With those in your immediate community. Include His praises in conversation. Pray for the Lord to create opportunities and guide you to share more.

Redeemed (1)

We each have inspiration which no one else can offer. Let’s encourage one another, and refuse to be stingy with our stories. Please comment about the Lord’s impact on others through you (past, present, and upcoming). I look forward to reading your testimonies!

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Untitled design (1)

“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).

Magical characters reach from movie screens and beckon me into their world. Theme parks offer fresh visits to childlike wonder. Incredible masterpieces fill museum halls and garden paths. I relish each chance to drink in the inspiration of imagination.

The Father molded each of us in His image. He crafted unique works of art, kissing individual personalities with a different spritz of His creative sparkle. In a delightful chat with a 72 year old Christ-sister yesterday, we explored our different means of reflecting God’s ingenuity. When I shared my work as a writer, she first defined herself as devoid of creativity. Yet, as we talked, her amazing talents with children shone (along with other strengths) as brilliant examples of imaginative gifts. The Lord engineered our differences to glimmer in harmonizing shades as part of His glorious design.

Imagination inspires, motivates, uplifts–a fantastic blessing. My coaching and writing professions require consistent supply of this priceless resource. I cannot inspire unless I drink copious doses of inspiration. My incessant thirst deems me ever thankful for each sip of creative fuel.

While magnificent, imagination fails to bless us as an end unto itself. Creativity must encourage the soul to seek something greater. Inspiration toward anything less than true hope leaves us empty. Our sparkling kisses of ingenuity must reflect the Father’s love to others. Each imaginative work which honors His touch will transform others’ souls.

In the midst of a bleak, discouraging world, we need splashes of inspiration more than ever. God designed us to “poke holes in the darkness until light bleeds through,” as Margaret Feinberg so eloquently put it. Hope must radiate from the edges of all our creative endeavors. Imagination glimmers with us on earth for a season, a beautiful tool to point others toward eternal hope.

What creative works will God use from your spiritual and natural gifts to offer hope? Comment and share with all of us, so we can inspire one another to persevere in His work of providing hope.

8554_Hold_on_

Cakes, red meat, and fresh neckties fly off the shelves this week. I’m grateful for the ease with which I could choose a card for my wonderful dad. But many struggle with this weekend’s holiday. I heard a comedian wish aloud for a card without overstated accolades, reading something like, “Well, Dad, I guess you did the best you could.”

Others experience deeper strife than choosing an appropriate card. Father’s Day torments the orphaned, abused, or widowed. A strong sense of loss comes with grieving a beloved man or aching over the empty hole never filled by a father’s love.

God never designed fatherhood to hurt us. Nor did He intend for the role to fill a permanent need. Fathers were built into our life cycle design as a model to help us better understand significant aspects of our relationship to the Ultimate Father. A temporary model to help explain the source Who fulfills our needs forever. The Creator employs earthly dads to point their children toward relationship with a heavenly Father. Dads are meant to serve as imperfect place-holders to demonstrate the role of Our Perfect Father who will fulfill our needs forever. Where humans can only attempt to provide, God sustains us with a sufficiency beyond our expectations. Whether you have a good, hurtful, or missing one, Christ offers us all access to intimate, fulfilling relationship with a Perfect Father. No one needs to remain fatherless.

Mothers raise and nurture children, also conveying certain God-head characteristics when fulfilling their roles well. Some of the Lord’s qualities can be modeled by both parents, in different ways. For the sake of Father’s Day, let’s focus on specific divine attributes reflected in the ideal design of a father’s role.  These include protection, provision, discipline, and fatherly love.

“The Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went” (Deuteronomy 1:31).

In Deuteronomy, we see the Lord’s provision and protection described in tandem. Earthly fathers are engineered for provision and protection, but cannot meet all physical or spiritual needs for a growing individual. Human insufficiency illuminates our need for God as the ultimate resource. Like a good dad, God doesn’t indulge our every desire, but only He can sustain us by identifying and meeting our true needs. Responsible fathers try to protect their kids without insulating them from opportunities to grow. While we might experience hardship, the Lord can use our struggles toward increasing our strength. He alone can guard us against the forces of evil.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    as a father the son he delights in” (Proverbs 3:11-12).

Discipline wasn’t fun when our parents delivered it. We often shrink from the notion of loving rebuke from God. Unlike the unreliable outcomes of human correction, our heavenly Father only sets boundaries which offer increasing benefit to us. His guidance prevents disaster and steers us toward glorious, abundant life. Sinful tendencies resemble nits in our hair, and the Lord removes them as often as we allow Him to comb them out.

As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13).

Ideal dads show some compassion to their kids. Many never experienced this quality during childhood. Even those who had caring fathers didn’t get selfless adoration at all times. People in this broken world love imperfectly. Why did Scripture offer this insufficient analogy? Because the ancients living in Old Testament period needed a relevant starting point for understanding their relationship with God. Before Christ set aside His glory to dwell among us in human form, nothing on earth came close to the love of God. Jesus alone offered exact representation of the Father’s love.

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Unconditional. Suffering when we hurt. Willing to suffer for us. Selfless. Unlimited. Over-the-top. Amazing. Beyond all our imagination can comprehend. Blowing all other concepts of love out of the water. THAT is the love our Father extends to us.

This weekend, while honoring those designed to point toward heaven, consider the gift of the cross. Christ’s outstretched arms leave no one excluded from access to a perfect Father. If you’ve never accepted the ultimate love gift of eternal life, let this be your opportunity to respond to Jesus’ scarred hands and receive His embrace. It only takes a simple but sincere prayer, like, “I need You, Jesus. I’m all yours.”

Today could begin your endless Father’s Day.

2015 class

“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).

“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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8554_Hold_on_

“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

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