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This is a Christian–one who dares to act as if God tells the truth.”  –Pastor Mark Bates

Faith means being sure of the things we hope for and knowing that something is real even if we do not see it.

His life reads like a Hollywood movie–the culmination of an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, forced to seek refuge in a distant land, and then offering his life in place of the soldiers who pierced his hands and feet…suffering for the sins of those who pressed a crown of thorns on his head…pronouncing words of forgiveness to a discarded, frightened man bearing the shame of Golgotha.

But, this is not a child’s fairy tale or a superstitious myth dreamed up to explain the unexplainable.  This is Biblical truth; the great love story of God rescuing His people from that great enemy, Sin. The beautiful giving of His life for those willing to risk belief.

Yet the world threatens to overcome…to overwhelm…to overpower belief.

A young man just beginning to live takes his own life–desperate for relief from consuming depression, a child’s small bones ache from arthritis, a next-door neighbor submits to another round of chemo and hopes she’ll have enough energy to play with her children tomorrow.

But there is a story much bigger than our smaller stories–these lives of struggle and prayer, tears and hope.  It is His story–one recorded for us–that tells of the Lion and the Lamb…the Beginning and the End….the Resurrection and the Life.

And while the world threatens, He promises to give abundant life (John 10:10)

…to provide freedom (John 8:36)

…and to love us with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3).

I dare to believe–to act as if what God says is true. Won’t you? Let us encourage one another to hold to our faith, dear Friend, even when we doubt.

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Van Gogh.  Picasso.  Cassatt.  The names alone evoke images of world-renowned masters and their work–each artist  sharing a glimpse of the world as he imagined it.  Some images are bold and colorful; others a melding of shadows.

In the same way, God is creating His own masterpiece in each of us.  Every experience, circumstance, or emotion we encounter becomes part of the canvas–representing our struggles and triumphs, joys and sorrows, secrets and revelations.

And, if we look carefully, we’ll notice the Master’s  brushstrokes.  Do you see them?  They’ve smoothed the rough areas and shed light on the dark places.  He’s taking painstaking care to create an amazing work of art–a representation of someone beautiful and unique–you.

…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6 NIV)

The work may not be finished yet, but the outline is clear.  And the artist?  He already knows who you’ll become.  Perfect…incomparable…transformed.

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His brow wrinkled in concern, Pastor Strutz revealed the results of our pre-marital personality tests. For every crest marked on my chart, Dave had a trough. If one area was my weakness, it was his strength. We were living proof of the old saying, “opposites attract”.

“Your differences could be a good thing…or not. How are you at communicating?”
“Oh, we’re great communicators,” I said.

Fast forward four months.  Dave and I had set up house in our first apartment–which was strategically located next to the railroad tracks.  (The managers conveniently forgot to tell us that when we signed the lease.)  Our decor was an eclectic mix of college-aged bachelor pad, family hand-me-downs, and bargain friendly purchases made on a newlywed budget.  Imagine a flag on one wall, a large wolf photo on the other, and a blue-and-white striped sofa in the middle of the living room.

One day when I was rearranging our wall hangings, Dave’s favorite framed piece of art–a work signed by the artist– slipped through my fingers.    Shards of glass lay scattered about my feet.  The frame was bent.  What have I done?  Dave’s going to be so upset.  I spent the rest of the afternoon dreading the moment of my husband’s arrival; imagining the worst.

At the sound of my husband’s footsteps I opened the door, offered a perfunctory kiss, and hurried to the laundromat below.  After folding a load or two of my own laundry–and offering to wash a neighbor’s darks–I finally made way back to our tiny home.

“I broke the picture.  I dropped it and now it’s ruined.”  The words sprang from my mouth as quickly as the tears spilled onto my cheeks.  “Is that what you’re upset about?  A picture?”  And, instead of being upset, my husband laughed.  A warm, I-love-you, it’s-not-a-problem sort of laugh. “We’ll just have it reframed, babe.”  “Oh, okay.”  Sniffle.  Sniffle.

Great at communicating?  Not me.

Even now, I sometimes struggle to express my feelings well.  I prefer sweeping things under the proverbial carpet.  But, my wonderful husband–being my opposite–thinks communication is great for a marriage.  And, he’s right.  No, I’ll never be as skilled a communicator as Dave, but I have learned a lot about  it through our years together.  Pastor Strutz might even be surprised to know our differences have been a good thing  (most of the time).

Three Important Communication Pointers

  • Pray together.  It’s tough to be angry if you are praying with and for each other.
  • Listen without interrupting.  This includes controlling your inner-monlogue–don’t prepare a rebuttal while you pause to “listen”.
  • Avoid trigger words.  Words like always and never are especially inflammatory when they’re attached to the word you.

What are your best communication tips?  Why not share them with us?

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart  be pleasing in your sight,  O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19:13-14

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As a young military couple Dave and I made four moves, had two children, lived through three hurricanes, and experienced two deployments–all within our first seven years of marriage.  Our life was exciting, tiring, and unpredictable--and we loved sharing it.

Until…a silent predator stayed for a visit.  It’s name?  Depression.  You see,  I had effectively submerged deep-rooted emotional scars left from an earlier time in my life but–for some reason–those feelings weren’t willing to be contained any longer.  I became someone I no longer knew.  Anger, anxiety, and fear became my constant companions.

At the same time, Dave began pursuing his post-graduate degree.  Any flux in his schedule was swallowed up by studying–after work and on the weekends.  My days were full of two rambunctious little boys, errands, and….those other constant companions.  Our once blissful marriage began to deteriorate.  Instead of building one another up, Dave and I exchanged sarcastic remarks or avoided talking altogether.  Rather than cuddling, we sat at opposite ends of the couch.  We were lonely–in the same house, in the same room, and even in the same bed.

One day, I walked into the family room and stood staring at my husband–this man I loved and adored–not knowing what to do.  Looking up, Dave asked, “What are you thinking?”   “Like something is dying inside.”

We knew something had to change and, at that moment, realized we were at a crossroads.  Were we going to choose each other or a road that led us in a new direction?  Dave and I chose each other.  We began practicing the best advice ever shared with us–always date each other–which we did (and still do–after almost twenty years of marriage, four children, two full-time jobs, and my impending return to school).  It wasn’t easy, it took work, and we found love was both a decision and a feeling.

A few of our tried and true tips?

  • Set aside at least half an hour each day for “couple time”.  Take a walk, sit beneath the stars, or just hold hands.
  • Institute TNC (better known as Thursday Night Club).  Choose one mid-week evening to spend a significant amount of time with each other.  Go out or stay in–but make that time about the person you love.
  • Take turns planning for dates no less than twice every month.  You can get creative–even on a budget. McDonald’s at the park, anyone?
  • Finally, get away from it all.  Stay at a quaint bed-and-breakfast or nice hotel three or four times each year.  (And, ladies, wear something pretty.)

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Frayed edges

 

I methodically fold each piece of laundry–bending, creasing, aligning edges–and wish life would align as closely to my hopes.  If only the loose ends left from the hard, dirty places of living could be trimmed as easily as the loose ends left at the bottom of my son’s jeans–clipped away they look almost new.  Nothing remains of the damage.  But there are frayed, raw edges and nothing is as neat and trim as the cotton or flannel I press beneath my palms. 

The danger is that I begin to confuse the Designer with the one who creates the damage.  I forget that the One who wove each piece of fabric lovingly in His hands–stitching together flesh and bone and spirit–would never destroy his masterpiece.  But that January afternoon twenty ago when the farm girl and the ensign made a covenant with God to honor Him in their marriage and family, the Destroyer grew angry. 

He threatens and roars–while He can.  But this home?  This marriage?  These children?  They were purchased for a price.  Stains, rips, and faded places will all be made new.  The Destroyer may try to damage, but the Designer removes every blemish and stitches the beauty of His redemption in their place.

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Now we see only an indistinct image in a mirror, but then we will be face to face. Now what I know is incomplete, but then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.  1 Corinthians 13:12

English: A roll of silver, Scotch brand duct tape.

English: A roll of silver, Scotch brand duct tape. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I had that uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach from the moment my son and I walked through his door.  It was all based on an impression.  The girl behind the counter couldn’t find a record of the appointment and the dank office reminded me of the spaces the Navy condemned when my husband was stationed at NAS Norfolk.  Not a great general impression, but I reasoned the appearance might not indicate the level of expertise.

I was wrong.  After several minutes my son, Connor, and I were escorted to a cubicle where a quick survey of the room only increased my concern.  The sink was decorated with white flecks of–well, something–while duct tape was wrapped around the base of a suction tube that looked as if it were a relic from the 1970’s.

Who lets this dentist (a term I use loosely) stay in business?  Unfortunately, I’m a lot like the duct tape dentist.  I bear a title–Christian; can use all of the right terms–bless, pray, forgive; and give an impression of living my life a certain way.  But, really?  I’m just a duct tape believer–held together by Christ.  Thankfully, one day He’ll make me complete–at least on the other side of heaven.

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The four men encouraged their friend, “We’ve heard of his miracles—healing you will be a simple task.”  Resolute, they hoisted their companion and his bedroll on their shoulders.  Navigating the crowded streets of Judea without dropping the bundle became increasingly difficult as they neared the house.  Men, women, and children; rich and poor; religious leaders and rebels pushed and prodded to gain access to the one called Rabbi.  There was no more room and no way to get any nearer.

Unless….well, it was a longshot.  Without hesitation, the men gathered the mat and its contents; maneuvered up the stairs to the roof; and with bare hands ripped each tile from its place.  Finally, they glimpsed him below—there, in the midst of the crowd, preaching.  Would he resent their boldness?  Grow angry at the desperate need of their friend?  Glancing nervously at one another, they slowly lowered the bedroll and the man lying upon it at Jesus’ feet.

Undisturbed by the interruption, Jesus glanced upward and then at the weeping, paralyzed man.    “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”

Like the paralyzed man and his friends, Jesus calls us to live a life of faith.  We can go boldly before Him, lay our “mat” at his feet, and rest in the knowledge He will meet our needs.  Put aside your burden today, dear friend.  Trust in Him for restoration.

Scripture for Reflection-“I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home. He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all.”   Mark 2:11-12

Action Step Make a list of five areas, concerns, or struggles you are managing today.  Pray about them and give them to God–all day long.

Recommended Books

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For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  (Ephesians 2:10)

The stranger’s kindness impacted me for the rest of the day. She hadn’t done anything life-changing or radical, but–in that one moment–made me feel as if I mattered.   I still don’t know her name, but I did catch a glimpse of her license plate as she pulled away from the drive-through window.  “I’d like a tall mocha, please.”  The barista smiled and said, “The lady that just left paid for your drink.”

Surprised by such a thoughtful gesture, I wondered if she was a Christian or just someone who wanted to make a difference.  Whatever her beliefs, political affiliation, or socio-economic status, she challenged my thinking.  Do I make a difference?  Do I make other people feel important?  Do I love them deliberately and with purposeful intent?

My hope is that I will learn to live each day intentionally.  Purposely.  I want to make a difference.  Don’t you?

Just for today…look for one opportunity to be the difference in someone’s life. 

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…you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow.  You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. (James 4:14)

Please, mama?  Come on a walk with me.  These words had become the day’s mantra and finally I said, “Let’s go.”  After crafting the perfect insect-friendly habitat–complete with sticks and grass–in his new bug-catcher, we set out on an adventure.  Twenty minutes later, Seth had forgotten about searching for bugs.  Instead, he navigated the unexplored boundaries of the small creek as it wound its way through our neighborhood park.  The mud encircling the bottom of his pant legs was as much evidence of Seth’s delight as the grin spilling across his face.  I wanted to capture that joy– the gleam of pleasure in his eyes–and hold on to it forever.

I wished I hadn’t waited all day for this moment.  We’ll go later, honey.  I’m too tired right now.  Let me finish these dishes first.  It’s easy to push aside the special moments–thinking there’ll be another just around the bend–when life is pressing in on every side with the “important”.  But, important won’t matter when I’m looking back on my life.  Instead, I’ll cherish time invested in those I love.  Exploring creek banks with my son, tea parties with my little girl, quiet walks with my husband…this is what really matters.

Scripture for Reflection 

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. (1 Peter 1:22)

Recommended Reading

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Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.  (1 Cor. 13)

I wander through the aisles of Hallmark cards and wonder if I’ll find a card that honors her– without extolling the sort of childhood that never existed.  God nudges my heart. “It wasn’t what she wanted for you, either.”  I pause long enough to stop feeling sorry for myself and remember…chocolate chip cookies, coloring together, and all of the basketball games/recitals/plays/track meets she attended–proud I was her daughter.

I pass by the drippy sweet cards lining the shelves and choose one that thanks her for who she is.  She’ll like this one; it’s sincere.  I smile, knowing that –for a while–she’ll forget the sadness and just remember chocolate chip cookies.  And, maybe, she’ll know I’m proud to be her daughter.

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