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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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“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.

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).

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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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“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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“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.

“Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation.’ He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed,  ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation’” (Luke 22:39-46).

On the eve before His crucifixion, Jesus knew each detail of the unprecedented suffering awaiting Him. Jeering pagans would scourge him until near death. The priests who claimed His Father as God would insist they strip and kill Him. He would drag a beam through the dusty streets, as those He suffered to rescue spat upon His battered body. His raw flesh nailed to rough wood, He would hang to suffocate in the blistering sun. And that wasn’t the worst of it. He would also bear the immeasurable weight of every sin from the advent of time until the distant end of all days. Incomparable physical, emotional, and spiritual agony.

Jesus foresaw all this as He poured the Passover wine. Three years of cherished moments with these men culminated in this final message.He ripped the bread and explained its secret meaning to blank stares. In conclusion, He handed the elements to the dear friends who would soon abandon Him.

The scent of roast lamb floated through the streets. Jesus led them beyond the hard-packed roads until the murmurings faded and lush grasses eased their steps. With the steep incline, His legs strained under the added weight of His coming journey. They settled under a favorite cluster of trees in the garden. Gentle breezes lulled His full-bellied companions into repose. Jesus offered a vital exhortation to his too-comfortable students.

“Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”

He surrendered Himself in a crucial prayer. Angels responded to strengthen Him. Christ continued His fervent interaction with the Father. Until—

Every nerve and hair prickled as He recognized this moment. The time had come.

Jesus returned to wake his dozing supporters. Yes, He realized their frailty. But He must impress the concept of crucial prayer. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

Christ’s insistence upon prayer at this moment renders it a crucial matter. The word ‘crucial’ derives its significance from its parent term, crucifixion. Though comprehension eluded the disciples until after the resurrection, we now benefit from Christ’s magnificent teaching delivered on Maundy Thursday. He

  • Forgiveness. He fulfilled the secret meaning of Passover as the Messiah Lamb Who redeems us from the consequences of sin. Despite impending betrayals and our continued undeserving nature, He demonstrated ultimate grace.
  • Service. He modeled the nature of a servant, explaining an additional impact of His coming sacrifice as providing inspiration for selfless living.
  • Submission. He surrendered Himself in prayer to the Father, Who strengthened Him to face unimaginable agony. During His crucial prayer, the Lord sent angelic support.
  • Crucial Prayer. He exhorted His followers to pray against temptation. He knew the trials awaiting them in the coming season. He knows prayer is our essential resource to fortify and equip us foll all that lies ahead.

This Maundy Thursday, as you reflect upon Jesus’ message to the disciples at the Last Supper and Gethsemane, will you join me in committing to a discipline of crucial prayer?

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