The image was quite striking. The concrete steps had what looked like a supporting frame on either side. Other than that, there was nothing attached to join these side pillars to anything else. The stairs were on an angle, tipped backwards into the sand. Abandoned.
I wondered what this scene had once looked like. Were these steps that led out to a world of adventure and later back to the safety and comfort of home? Did they watch children go over them to play on the beach? Maybe they welcomed guests to an outdoor patio gathering. There are many stories I could tell myself about what they had been. I have no way of knowing the real story.
Now they were a sad sight. They led to nowhere.
I could go over them and around them and still be basically in the same place. My steps would be wasted as they would lead nowhere.
This was a visual reminder of what can happen to me if I’m not careful. Without clear direction, my dreams of what life can look like remain only dreams. The plans I have for my life will not be fulfilled.
I think of times I’ve been disappointed when what I had worked towards did not bring about the results I’d hoped for. Sometimes I’ve abandoned my dreams the same way these stairs on the beach had been abandoned.
There is a better way. My direction needs to come from the Lord. I can make all of the plans I want but until I trust the Lord to determine my steps, they may be getting me nowhere.
We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps. (Proverbs 16:9 NLT)
The high winds we had been experiencing were unusual. It’s often breezy where I live, but gusts up to 100 kilometres per hour were definitely out of the ordinary.
One day a north wind blew in cold arctic air. Another, a Chinook wind blew in mild temperatures. Either way, it caused problems and was the topic of many conversations. The roar as it buffeted the house was enough to make me wonder if we’d be blown away.
The wind warnings had finally subsided when I heard someone on the radio talking about an experience from his childhood. I’m not sure where he grew up but he told of wind so powerful that it picked up the trampoline from the backyard and sent it over the top of the house where it came crashing down in the front yard. Needless to say, the trampoline was totally destroyed. From then on, his dad always made sure everything was well anchored.
Although the picture of a trampoline being tossed over a house was vivid, the term well anchored was what stuck in my mind. The storms of life have a way of tossing me around and then causing serious damage when I come crashing down. To stay safe I need to be well anchored in the Lord. Prayer and reading the Bible are the lifelines that keep me firmly connected to God.
There is no need to doubt I will be protected because I fully believe in His promise to care for me.
But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6 NIV)
The pastor started his sermon by telling us the choices we make shape our future and determine our destiny. This was something I already knew. The question remained; how often do I think about it when making my choices?
Life gives plenty of opportunity for making choices. I can face these with faith or with fear. I’ll admit, making choices is not easy for me. When it comes right down to it, I think the fear of making the wrong choice is what causes my inability to be decisive.
What I fail to remember is that the faith I need to move forward isn’t faith in my own judgment or ability. I only see the short-term and what looks like the easiest and most productive path for right now. God is the only one who sees the whole picture, beginning to end, and can guide me to make the right choice.
How strong is my trust in God? I know He can take care of me but do I fully believe that He will? Do I succumb to my fears or wholly trust in the Lord?
The answer to those questions will shape my future and determine my destiny. The decision is mine to make. God will never force himself on me. It’s my choice and I choose to trust in Him.
The Lord will work out his plans for my life— for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever. (Psalm 138:8 NLT)
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT)
It has become my tradition to share this poem with you as one year and we embark upon another. Every year I read it and appreciate what it has to say. My mother gave it to me many years ago and unfortunately, I don’t know who the author is.
My prayer is that each of you will be blessed this way in 2019.
NEW YEAR PRAYER
May God make your year a happy one,
Not by shielding you from sorrow and pain,
But by strengthening you to bear it, if it comes.
Not by making your path easy,
But by making you sturdy enough to travel any path.
Not by taking hardships from you,
But by taking all cowardice and fear from your heart.
Not by granting you unbroken sunshine,
But by keeping your face bright, even in the shadows.
Not by making your life always pleasant,
But by showing you where man and his cause need you most,
And by making you anxious to be there, and to help.
Over the years I’ve heard the saying, “Giving is receiving.” This is something I’ve experienced as I’m sure many of you have.
The fact our giving doesn’t have to be extravagant to have an impact is an added bonus. Sometimes all we need to do is show up. Our time is valuable and giving it freely to someone shows a commitment to that person they may not have experienced elsewhere.
Acts of service show we understand the needs of another and are willing to help fill those needs. In order to recognize them, we need to pay attention.
My husband is a master at this. He quietly takes care of things around the house to give me time to spend writing. By giving me the gift of his time he is also valuing mine. There is no way to put a price on this kind of gift.
His example makes me strive to cheerfully give my time and attention to others. By doing so, I am giving one of the most thoughtful gifts possible. No lineups to purchase are required. No fancy wrapping is needed. The ripple effect is far-reaching and can enable me to experience a little of Christmas in any month of the year. This may be the most perfect gift idea ever!
“It is Christmas every time you let God love others through you. Yes, it is Christmas every time you smile at your brother and offer him your hand.” Mother Theresa
My favourite Christmas concerts are the ones put on by children. They have several things in common with the first Christmas – music, drama, God, and the element of surprise! You never know quite what to expect at a children’s performance. I think the mistakes in the program provide some of the most memorable moments.
The Christmas I was six years old, I was given a major role in the school concert. I was to recite T’was the Night Before Christmas. My mother helped me memorize the poem. By the day of the concert I had it word perfect. That is, until I stepped up on the stage in front of an audience!
Part way through, I forgot my next line. I paused and then started again, unaware that I was repeating a previous line. Suddenly my three-year-old brother yelled out from the audience, “You already said that part!” My mother was embarrassed at his outburst, I was embarrassed by my mistake and my little brother stole the show!
Now I can look back and realize that mistakes actually help teach us the real meaning of Christmas. They allow us to see that true joy comes from being loved by God, no matter how many mistakes we make. That’s what God’s love was telling us more than 2,000 years ago with the arrival of Jesus. He’s still telling us that today.
His love is there when we follow the script and when we get mixed up. He’s there cheering us on, just like the loving parents watching their children in the concerts. When we make a mistake, he picks us up and encourages us to try again. He delights in our enthusiasm and rejoices with us in our accomplishments. His unconditional love always meets us exactly where we are.
Not only at Christmas but throughout the year, I want to be like a little child, basking in the love of my Heavenly Father.
Some precious gens are well known and others are more like hidden treasures. One of my favourites, the opal, is often overlooked.
An opal is made out of desert dust, sand and silica and its beauty comes not from its perfection, but because of defects. It is a stone with a broken heart. An opal is full of minute fissures, or cracks, that allow air inside. This air then refracts the light, creating swirls of colour.
An opal will lose its luster if it is kept in a cold, dark place, but that luster is restored when it is held in a warm hand or when the light shines on it.
By comparing the opal to myself I see that when I am warmed by God’s love I reflect His colour and brilliance. When I am broken inside myself, through my defects, I can give back the lovely hues of His light to others. Only then can the lamp can burn brightly within me and not flicker or go out.
Still, there are times when I lose the luster in my life and wonder how to restore it. What can I do when I need to bring back the shine?
I can pause early in the day to seek God’s guidance. Counting my blessings also helps me see that I am held in His loving hands.
This attitude of gratitude rids my life of the film of frustration, the rust of resentment and the varnish of vanity.
Without God’s touch our lives, there is no sparkle. When we allow Him to work within us, His warmth and light restores our luster. In His hands, we become precious gems that beautify His kingdom.
My husband and I attended a church service in another city and encountered something we’d never experienced before.
We were confused by signs proclaiming this was an upside-down church and wondered what that meant.
Someone quickly came over to introduce himself and explain the concept of an upside-down church.
He said they run on a four-week rotation that includes not only Sunday but how the congregation views the rest of the week as well.
Week one was UP, in which their focus was on new and growing relationships with God. Week two was SIDE, in which they came alongside each other in accountable and supportive community. Week three is DOWN, when they reach down in humble acts of service to bring justice, hope, joy and peace to their community. Week four is PARTY. This is when the church as a body celebrates what God has done during the previous weeks.
I thought of the difference I could make in the world if I was turned upside down.
Personally, I would spend more time getting to know God. When I focus UP, God is a priority and not simply an afterthought.
SIDE can be a challenge for me. I often come and go, make small talk and then have no further contact with these people until the next Sunday. It is up to me to make the effort to get to know people in order to build a supportive community.
DOWN is when I take time from my busy life to reach out in acts of service to those around me. It is incredibly rewarding to experience what happens when the love of Jesus is shown in practical ways.
Next, we come to PARTY, which to me means to celebrate. God does great things in and through us. These deserve to be celebrated.
It’s very possible the visit to this church will turn my world upside down.
I had been advised to check my blood pressure on a regular basis. Due to circumstances, this hadn’t been done for more than two months. The day a follow-up medical appointment was scheduled, I set up my portable machine. Sometimes the reading is higher in a clinical setting and I wanted to have a realistic comparison before I left home.
I secured the cuff on my arm and started to read my morning devotions while the machine did its work. The results were not what I wanted to see. Maybe I hadn’t put the cuff on properly.
The procedure was repeated and the outcome was just as discouraging. I was relaxed and felt no stress so how could my blood pressure be so high? This wasn’t looking good.
I cleared the machine and started again. This time I prayed for God to give me peace about whatever the results may be. I felt fine and didn’t want an increase in medication but if that’s what I needed to stay healthy, I would accept it without a fight. When I opened my eyes and looked at the screen I saw my blood pressure was perfect this time.
Just to be sure, I took it twice more, once while reading and once while praying. The positive impact of prayer was undeniable.
Many times I have experienced peacefulness envelope my mind during and after prayer. What I hadn’t realized was the effect this also had on me physically.
I now had undeniable evidence of the positive effect of prayer on mind, body and soul. No matter how I look at it, prayer is good medicine.
My husband and I were attending a church service when we heard the cry of a child. The fussing became muffled but didn’t stop.
A few minutes later we could hear the child being removed from the sanctuary. That is when things intensified. Not only did the crying get louder, but a little voice also started yelling, “No daddy. I don’t want to go out.” The wailing and pleading continued as the father moved to exit the building with his distraught child.
Later, upon reflection, I recognized that I have shown the same type of behaviour with my heavenly Father. When I choose not to behave the way God wants me to, I am being rebellious. I fuss and complain because I’m not getting my own way.
God may choose to remove me from the situation but that’s not what I want. Instead, my desire is for things to change to accommodate me. I let it be known that I want to stay where I am. In essence, I’m also saying, “No daddy, I don’t want to go. Let me stay here.”
In this state, there is no reasoning with me until God has my full attention. If I’m not focused on Him, I’m not hearing or understanding what He wants me to know.
God is not surprised when I act this way. Although this behaviour seems to be an inherent part of human nature, it doesn’t mean any of us are given permission to act as rebellious children.
It is only when I am still, quiet and completely focused on the Lord that my rebellious thoughts will be captured and I will no longer act like an unruly child.
“We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5 NLT)