Fleas and…Thanksgiving?

I recently heard this funny little story at an event where I was singing:

There was a little old lady who woke up one morning to realize she only had three hairs left on her head. She looked in the mirror, smiled and said, “Lord, I thank you because I can braid my hair today.” So she did.

baby mirror

The next day she woke up and only two hairs remained. She looked in the mirror, smiled and said, “Lord, I thank you because today I can part my hair.’” And she did.

The third morning she awoke and looked in the mirror to see only one hair remaining. She smiled and said, “Lord, I thank you that I can put my hair in a ponytail today.” And she did.

The fourth morning, she woke up, looked in the mirror and, yes you guessed it, had no hair left. She smiled and said, “Lord, I thank you that I don’t have to fix my hair anymore!” 

Praise is a choice. It’s all about perspective. So many times we get focused on what we can’t have, on our limitations, we fail to see the tremendous opportunities God has placed in front of us. Sometimes He redirects us in a new way, setting our feet on an unforged path that will ultimately bring more honor and glory to Him. Some of the greatest adventures and rewards come when we are willing to embrace that step, or leap, outside of our comfort zone.

Consider Corrie Ten Boom. corrie ten boom 2She and her sister Betsy were prisoners in a German death camp during World War II. They entered their new barracks and were horrified to discover the bunkhouse was overrun with fleas. Fleas everywhere! Corrie began to cry but Betsy responded, “We are going to stop right now and thank God for these fleas!” Corrie, of course, thought she was crazy. But at her sister’s urging, they both bowed their heads and thanked Him for…fleas.

Over time, Corrie wondered why the rules were so lax inside their bunkhouse. No guards came to check on them inside and because of that, they were able to conduct a Bible study every night. Many women were saved as a result. Later, Corrie was shocked to discover the reason no guards ever came into their bunk house…they were terrified of the fleas!

Sometimes it’s the bad stuff that refines us, grows us stronger, forces us to learn lessons we never would otherwise, allows Him to work things out for the greater good. And it reminds us of our dependence on God. thankful 2

I praise You, Lord, when I’m hungry or thirsty, for it reminds me to hunger and thirst after You.

I praise You, Lord, even when I’m in pain because it reminds that I have a Savior who knows exactly how I feel and has purchased victory over sickness and death.

I praise You, Lord, when I’m exhausted because it forces me to stop and rest in You.

I praise You, Lord, for the disappointments that pepper my walk. They remind me that pursuing goals and personal satisfaction is not my main goal in life. But seeking You is.

Try it. Praising Him for the hard stuff will open your heart and spirit up to His touch in ways you’ve never experienced before.

So what are you thankful for today?

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Cover reveal…

Drumroll…

Some of you have seen it since it has hit Tyndale’s website, along with Goodreads, Amazon, and several other sites, but for those who haven’t, here is the cover of my upcoming release “Engraved on the Heart”, available June 1, 2018.

engraved on the heart cover photo

I love freedom fighters and those in the Civil War were among the very finest. Please pray for God’s divine favor as Keziah and Micah’s story is released. I pray God will use it to touch the hearts of people who are struggling with the lie “I am worthless”. May the truth of the cross set them free.

The Power of Pronouns

Last year I took a fascinating class at the national American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Nashville, Tennessee. It was taught by Carrie Stuart Parks, an author and forensic artist and was titled “Don’t Lie to Me”. The premise of the class was how language can be an identifier to recognize deception. When I realized I was sitting next to a bonafide FBI agent who was absorbing the information to teach to new recruits, I admit I felt a little thrill. lies

I’m learning the same stuff FBI agents know.

Coolness.

One thing Mrs. Parks brought out was the importance of pronouns. Honest people take ownership for their actions and feelings. “I came home at 6:30. I threw in a load of laundry and then took a shower.” People who have something to hide (or don’t want to admit to something), either change “I” for “you” or omit pronouns altogether. If asked about his evening, a deceptive person might say, “I guess I came home around six or so. You know you’re tired if you come right in, take a shower and go to bed.” Notice the difference? Not quite as direct. A little less ownership is involved.

These subtle signs are called language bumps.

pronouns“Consider this statement by a husband who claimed his wife was killed accidentally: ‘I picked up the gun to clean it. Moved it to the left hand to get the cleaning rod. Something bumped the trigger. The gun went off, hitting my wife.’ ” (http://www.fraud-magazine.com/article.aspx?id=4294971184) Notice how he dropped the use of “I” when it came down to accountability. He doesn’t want to hold the blame. Whether it was because he couldn’t deal emotionally with his guilt, or whether something more nefarious was at play, this guy inadvertently distances himself from admitting he is the one who squeezed the trigger.

What am I getting at here?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of words, of speech, of our tongues to heal or destroy. Just as lack of pronouns can signal deception, I think they can also inadvertently cheapen affection. Speaking for myself, I’ve noticed I have a bad habit of typing, “Praying for you” to friends and family. Nothing wrong with that. But how much better would it be if I were to add the simple pronoun “I”?

“I’m praying for you” is far sweeter than “Praying”.
“I’m lifting you up to our Father” is so much stronger than “Hugs”.

“I love you” is infinitely deeper than “love ya”.

See what I mean?

love of Jesus crossI want to be authentic. I want to take ownership of my emotions, my motives and treatment of people. I want to love them the way Jesus does. He never shies away from loving with complete abandon. He displays His affection with lavish, scandalous splashes of delight.

Speak life. Own your emotions. Love like Jesus. You’ll find your words will be a healing balm to more people than you could ever imagine.

 

The 30 Day Attitude Challenge

Words are powerful. They can build up a life through language doused in love, or they can cut a life down like a scythe slicing through brittle grass.

When I recently asked my oldest daughter what she loved most about her two best friends at school, she replied, “I’ve never heard either of them said a bad word about anyone. Ever. They are always kind. Not just to people’s faces, but all the time. It’s hard not to love being around girls like that.”

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Her reflection caused me to evaluate my own life. Jesus told us what comes from our mouth is an overflow from our heart. (Luke 6:45) If I say ugly words about someone, it’s because I have an ugly heart. And this doesn’t just have to be ‘mean’ words. It can be any form of backbiting: the times we gossip about someone (whether the information is true or not), every time we aren’t honest with a person to her face but tell everyone else how much her behavior annoys us, talking to our closest friends about the ‘problem person’ in our life, or however we may try to justify it. We can say we’re ‘venting’, but backbiting is the result either way. Worse yet are the moments we actually share a juicy tidbit about someone and thinly wrap it in the disguise of a prayer request.

Our words should bring life, and only life.

“Do not let unwholesome [foul, profane, worthless, vulgar] words ever come out of your mouth, but only such speech as is good for building up others, according to the need and the occasion, so that it will be a blessing to those who hear [you speak].” ~Ephesians 4:29

I’ve been keeping a mental note of how often I complain about people who irritate me, whether it be the bad driver in traffic or people I tend to think of as daily “thorns in the flesh”. I didn’t like what I saw, so I spent a day purposefully focusing on using my words only to encourage and uplift. I refused to be drawn into any negative talk about others, gossip or the like. The change in my attitude was amazing.

proverbs 18 21As I’ve continued to discard complaining in my life, I see God softening the hard edges of hearts around me when I respond with gentleness, instead of feeding the monster of negativity. (Instead of being the person folks would come to so they could ‘vent’, I became the person who flipped the conversation and said, “So how can I pray for you in this situation?” Remember, gossips can’t do much damage unless they have a listening ear.)

We’re going into November, the month of gratitude. Social media is usually flooded with 30 day gratitude challenges and posts but I’d like to offer up a different kind of challenge. A 30 day Attitude challenge. No complaining or speaking poorly of others, no matter how badly your nerves are frayed. No yelling at drivers in rush hour traffic. No griping about people during Black Friday shopping. No gossip, venting or negativity. Only love.

You might be as surprised as I was by the amount of negativity creeping into your day. Speak life. Speak love. Are you willing to take the 30 day Attitude Challenge?

A Word for People Pleasers

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Sometimes I don’t have much to say. Not enough words to fill up a haiku, much less a blog. Life gets busy, my body runs on fumes and caffeine, kids scream for attention…you know the drill.

Yet despite the normal grind of living, the fear never completely goes away. The enemy is always lurking, ever hissing and flinging his accusations, preying upon my darkest secrets and coldest fears.

There are some battles that must be fought over and over again. That’s okay.

If you’re a recovering people-pleaser like me, remind yourself of this truth today:

“Some people will like me, some won’t. Others will love me no matter how many things I do wrong, and some will despise me no matter how many things I do right. None of it changes my worth in the Father’s eyes. I am loved. I am treasured. I am His. Living to please Him is all that matters.”

Rest in Him, my friend. He has already declared you to be more than enough.

 

An Open Letter to My Girls: Here’s What to Look For When You Date

kids

It seems like yesterday I was welcoming you into the world. I thought you would always be in diapers, watching Sesame Street and learning your alphabet. I blinked and suddenly we’ve traded Cheerios and sippy cups for makeup and iphones. And now, much to your father’s dismay, your heads have begun to turn when a handsome boy gives you a wink and a smile.

Boyfriends will come and go. You’ll face heartbreak and joy, tears and laughter. As someone who is, ahem, a bit older than you, here is what I want you to know, so you’ll have the happiest and best life possible.

  1. Look for a guy who respects his parents.

vinicius-amano-145607If a boy doesn’t respect his parents, he won’t respect any authority figure. That includes God. (Newsflash: Neither will he respect you.)

  1. There is a big difference between a Christian “boy” and a Christian “man”.

I’m using “boy” and “man” in the spiritual sense here. A Christian boy is one who goes to church, who can stomp everybody in Bible trivia and may do all the right Christiany type of things. A Christian man is different. He doesn’t just know the Word. He puts it into action. He treats his family, his neighbors and his enemies with agape love. He’s not concerned with keeping a Christian checklist of “do” and “do nots”. His sole purpose in life is to grow closer to Jesus. There is a world of difference between the two.

  1. Tread carefully around the guy who “wants to make his mark in the world”.

This may sound like a good and noble thing, and it can be. It can also be a huge pitfall. As someone who spent ten years in the Christian music industry, I’ve seen horribly sad stories of souls who gave their lives away for the pursuit of fame, even though they slapped a Christian label on it and declared their desire would be so they could help others. Yet, when their ship never came in, they wallowed in bitterness, anger and despondency.

Dreams are wonderful things. The problem is they can become idols if we let them. If a guy is primarily focused on going pro with his athletic skills, being known for his musical talent or any other sort of fame, be careful. He’s probably got some growing to do.

  1. Look for someone who exemplifies 1 Corinthians 13.

anne-edgar-119383If a young man is seeking God, truly following after Him with all he is, these traits will be present: patience and kindness. He won’t be jealous, a braggart or prideful. He won’t try to make himself look good but will be focused on lifting up those around him. He’ll be sweet-tempered, not angry, nor will he keep a record of the times you were crabby. He’ll stay as far as he can from evil. He’ll protect you, always trust in God, always hope and always persevere.

I know what you’re thinking. “Uh, problem. No one can possibly measure up to this.” You’re right, and that’s kind of the point. No human can fulfill your needs. No one except Jesus.

Don’t look to boys to fill the longings in your heart. The only One who can fill it is the One who made it. Romantic love is a beautiful thing, a God-ordained thing, but I promise, there is no rush. Spend your time getting to know God. He is crazy about you. And then, as you seek His heart, He’ll bring along a guy who is doing the same. One day, you’ll realize this friend of yours is more than just a friend and BAM! It’s kismet.road

Whenever that niggling urge digs at you that says, “You need a boyfriend. You’re missing out. All your friends have one,” pray for your future husband. Keep a journal to give him one day. Tell him how much you’ve prayed for him. Write down verses. Tell him your dreams. More importantly, talk to God about him. Ask Him to reveal His perfect plan in your life.

Enjoy each moment and cover it all in prayer. You have plenty of time.

 

Las Vegas and God

As I watched the footage of the horrific shooting in Las Vegas, my heart ripped a little further. Senseless. I can’t understand the hate that would fill a mind and heart so completely that they would shoot into a crowd of happy, oblivious people. Not just one shot, not two, but over and over and over again. vegas shooting

My chest aches and my throat swells as I relive the terror captured on screen.

No sooner had I posted my condolences and prayers then I saw it. Wave after wave of posts along these lines…

“It’s Sin City. Sin always exacts a price.”

“This is what happens when we take God from our land.”

On and on they went. My grief soon turned to anger. Why? Because such sentiments indirectly assign the blame to God instead of where it belongs…in the hands of a cowardly murderer.

Satan is the great accuser. Not only does he accuse us before God, but he accuses God before us. We are the reason for the hate and violence in this world. We are the reason cancer and war and disease exists. When Adam and Eve chose to disobey, they flung the human race onto a collision course of chaos and destruction. And where chaos reigns, it’s hard to distinguish the still, small voice of Truth amid the screams of panic.

Jesus loved you, loved me so much He willingly let Himself be stripped, whipped, beaten and crucified to die for the very sins we wallow in. He died for you and me. He died for those who attended the concert. He died for Jason Aldean. He died for the shooter. He paid the price for any who are willing to come to Him. Such love is incomprehensible.

We have had murderers from the beginning. (All the way back to Cain, in fact.) To lay the demonic, evil actions of a psychopath at the nail-scarred feet of the Savior must grieve His heart. I know it shreds mine.

In the face of tragedy, a plethora of thoughts and comments will abound. Things like, “This is terrible, but good will come from this.” Sometimes that’s true, although we often wonder what kind of good can possibly be birthed from something so crushing, something so horribly evil. A wise pastor at Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro challenged us yesterday.

“Perhaps, instead of looking for the good when tragedy strikes, we should focus on looking for God.”

Those are words to cling to. Search for God. As we do that, our attitudes will change. The same heart that climbed on that cross to give His life for a world of uncaring people will shape our hearts to be like His. Bitterness and vengeance will dissipate. Peace will replace chaos. Hope will replace anger. Love will replace hate.

Don’t look for the good that might come. Look for God.

Give Way

While in Great Britain, I noted many peculiarities in speech and customs different from my own—the use of a “water closet” instead of a restroom, tea rooms on every corner instead of Starbucks (although I did find a few of those too), cornish pastyCornish pasties instead of sandwiches, and my favorite…the moment a bakery worker stared at me in utter confusion when I ordered a “cocoa” instead of a “hot chocolate”.

When he finally realized what I meant, he slapped his knee and belted out a booming laugh.

“A cocoa, says she? Funny word for a chocolate, that. You Americans are such fun.”

When my order was ready, he gave it to me with a bow and a wink.

“Your cocoa, miss.”

I grinned and tipped my head. “I’m sure it’s the best hot chocolate I shall ever enjoy.”

We parted as friends.

Colloquialisms are fun, and there was one sign in Great Britain I admit I prefer over its American counterpart. Instead of the yellow “Yield” signs that pepper our roadways, the British counterpart reads like this: “Give Way”.

give way 2

Give way. It has a much different connotation than “yield”, doesn’t it? When I think of “yield”, I think of being temporarily inconvenienced, forced to slow down but without much need to sacrifice on my part. “Give Way”, on the other hand, conjures up images of putting down my own wishes and desires so another may have them instead.

Many in our tour group noticed the road sign. One wise lady named Joyce observed, “I want a picture of their ‘Give Way’ signs to put on my refrigerator. It’s such a great reminder. Give way to God today.”

give wayI love that. Give way to God’s plans over my own, especially when mine are comfortable. Give way to the unexpected, even when it rattles my well-laid plans. Give way to seeking the presence of Jesus instead of busyness. Give way to sacrificial love instead of anger, compassion instead of bitterness, forgiveness instead of revenge. Give way to Love. Die to myself and give way to Jesus.

What a great way to live…no matter where you live.

What I Carried Back from the United Kingdom: Angeles

united kingdom 2I spent last week in the beautiful hills and hollows of the United Kingdom. Quaint villages and ocean-side drives by enormous bluffs greeted us at every turn. We visited lovely towns like Lacock, Bath, Cotswold, Lynmoth and Lynton, to name a few. We witnessed stunning vistas where movies like Disney’s Cinderella were filmed, as well as Harry Potter, Downton Abbey and Poldark. There was history and beauty in every moment.

However, it was one single soul in the bustling city of Oxford who captured my heart and overshadowed all else.

I had just finished a walking tour through the cramped town,  a city rife with memories of people like William Shakespeare, King James, Bloody Mary, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tokien, William Tyndale and countless others. Oxford’s infamous colleges rose up on every side. People of all nationalities clogged the sidewalks as they scurried from store to store, their sacks bulging with brand name apparel, souvenirs and other trinkets.

I had just passed “The Eagle and Child” pub and was admiring the spiraling cathedrals and abbeys, the monuments and statues on every corner. A steady rain began to fall. I pulled out my umbrella, looked down the congested street and that’s when I saw him.homeless man

A homeless man sat huddled under a blanket in the pouring rain.

His shoulders were hunched as if he were too weary to fight. An open duffel bag rested near his bent knees. Its contents boasted a folded tarp, a few paltry coins and an empty soda can. Nothing else.

As I passed his slight form, I heard his soft plea.

“Could you spare a coin or some food, me love?”

dirty fingersI dug through my wallet and handed him a few pounds. His dirt-crusted fingers reached for the coins. “God bless ye.”

“God bless you too.”

I walked away but my heart twisted. Suddenly all the shopping I wanted to do, the sights I wanted to see paled in comparison to the emaciated form sitting in the deluge. I tried pushing him from my mind, but I couldn’t. After several minutes, I whirled back and walked up to his hunkered body. After long moments, he blinked up at me and I noticed how incredibly blue his eyes were.

“Yes, me love?”

“May I ask you something, sir?”

“Of course.”

“What’s your name?”

“Angeles, me love.”

“Hi, Angeles. My name is Tara.”

I smiled at him then and he returned it slowly. I eased down next to him on the wet pavement as we shared an umbrella.

“Angeles, do you mind telling me how you came to be in this condition? What led you to these circumstances?”

He sighed and blinked slowly, before a rattling cough shook his chest. “I’ve no one to blame but meself. I’m a recovering alcoholic. I’ve made some bad choices, for sure and certain, but now,” he shook his silver head, “I have pneumonia. I can get medicine but I need money to save for proper housing, food and clothes. No one wants to take a chance on someone who looks like this.” He gestured to his filthy clothes.

Then he smiled before I could respond. “I know what you’re going to say next. Yes, I believe in God.”

I returned his smile. “I’m glad. He loves you so much. So many people believe there is a God, but only a few know Him. I wanted to make sure you know Him.”

We swapped a few more stories and I took care of as many of his physical needs as I could. After we prayed together, I bid Angeles goodbye.

“Thank you for chatting with me, me love. The people here,” he waved his hand, “they don’t see me. They don’t care. Their focus is only on the new thing they want to buy or the site they want to see.”

I blinked back thick tears. “God sees you, Angeles. Always.”

king james oxfordAs our tour group departed Oxford, all I could think of was Angeles and all the other things I should have managed to do for him. As our bus passed by the stone buildings, the hypocrisy slapped me hard. Underneath the haughty eyes of the stone faces staring down from their lofty heights, and the carved inscriptions in Latin declaring the cathedrals were erected “to the glory of God”, a homeless man sat shivering and coughing in the cold. It was obvious from his physical state he was slowly dying.

“Has the Lord as great a delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obedience to the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice…” ~1 Samuel 15:22

“Now, suppose a person has enough to live on and notices another believer in need. How can God’s love be in that person if he doesn’t bother to help the other believer? Dear children, we must show love through actions that are sincere, not through empty words.” ~1 John 3:17-18

Oftentimes we think of ministry in terms of numbers, additions and programs…technical, business-like terms we put on a spreadsheet. Real ministry, authentic Christ-like love looks altogether different. It’s sitting in the mud with the broken, seeing those the world ignores, and emptying ourselves for the good of those who can do nothing for us. As God’s kids, may we never forget our economy is people and our currency is love.

In the end, all that will matter is how deeply we love God and how we show that love to others. When we love Jesus as we should, loving the unlovable becomes easy.

Love never fails…even when stone buildings and monuments have long crumbled away.

lee abbey

Mouths and Hearts

Want to know what a person is like? I mean, what their real, true character is inside? Pay attention to what they say. More specifically, how they talk about others. lips heart

My oldest daughter recently became friends with two girls in her new school. Right from the beginning, they seemed to hit it off and became inseparable. I was soon peppered with stories like, “We had so much fun in volleyball…”, or “You’ll never guess how hard we laughed at lunch.” When I asked my daughter what it was that she loved about her two new friends, she paused for a moment before answering.

“You know, in the all the time we’ve spent together over the past few weeks, I’ve never heard them say one bad thing about anyone. Not one word. They are always positive. Always kind. Always encouraging. Not only that, when we are in chapel, they are fully engaged in the worship service. They aren’t squirming or whispering like some of the kids. They are too busy praising God to be distracted.”

Jesus said, The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” (Luke 6:45 NASB)

exploding soda

What spills from our lips tells the world what is bubbling inside, just like an exploding bottle of soda.

As my pastor often says, a potty mouth is a sign of a potty heart. Likewise, a complaining mouth is the sign of an ungrateful heart, and a mouth who constantly criticizes is the sign of a heart who doesn’t love people as he ought.

“If anyone thinks himself to be religious [scrupulously observant of the rituals of his faith], and does not control his tongue but deludes his own heart, this person’s religion is worthless (futile, barren).” ~James 1:26

My friend recently posted this on her social media page and I thought it was a beautiful challenge.

stop complaining

The opposite of complaining is gratitude. The opposite of criticism is love. Love for people who are struggling along, just like we are. One of the best ways to use our lips to build each other up is to surround ourselves with friends who do the same.

1 corinthians 15 33

Speaking for myself, I need to do better but I should not make the mistake of patching the symptom and missing the illness. The answer is not found in my feeble attempts to muzzle my mouth or control hasty words flung during frazzled days. The issue is always found in the heart.

To have a mouth change requires a heart change. When we love Jesus more and yield ourselves to Him, everything else falls into place.