Welcome to my blog...

Green trees, cool water, a gentle breeze...the perfect place to sit at the feet of the Master and learn. Jesus taught so often on the shoreline, and He's still speaking today.

This is where I share the lessons He teaches me, often during the time I spend on the shores of a local lake. I don't have all the answers...and some days I don't have any. But I go here when I need to draw near to Him in a tangible way. Come with me...

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Hide and Seek

More often than not, I arrive a little late.

It didn't used to be that way. It's a bad habit that developed over time.

I don't mean to do it, I just think I can accomplish more than is humanly possible in a finite amount of minutes, hours, or days, and as a result, I get caught short.

I can joke that the laws of space and time don't apply to me, but the deeper truth is it's probably rooted in pride. I suffer from Super-Toni syndrome. A friend even gave me a picture once that said "I'm fairly certain, if given a cape and a nice tiara, I could save the world."

But this time, my reason for being "tardy" is different.

I did wait on purpose.

I waited because I didn't want it to be about me and what I thought God wanted. I waited to listen to what He actually had to say. I've been in a dry place and my hearing hasn't been so good lately.

Truth is, I wasn't just in a dry place, I was completely dehydrated. 

Even in a year when my "one word" was balance and I worked hard to fill my soul by more learning ABOUT Him, I wasn't really spending time WITH Him. In my last post, I wrote "I said 'no' to activities in order to spend time alone in reflective quiet..." And I did say no to outside activities. I just whittled a lot of that reflective time away not reflecting so much as vegging out internally.

Doing nothing and spending deliberate time waiting in God's presence are two entirely different things.

I need to spend quality time one-on-one having casual conversations and heart to heart talks.

Instead, I've been hiding from Him like the squirrel in the picture hiding in the grass, grasping the "nut" of my heart for dear life, not wanting to let go. Why? I'm not sure I could articulate it.

What I can say is that it's not the first dry spell I've been through and it probably won't be the last. I've lived in God's presence and I've lived on the outskirts and the former is infinitely better than the latter.

But I'm human.

It's not an excuse, just an observation of our fallen condition. We strive to be like Him, but we fall short. We've ALL fallen short of God's glory.

So all that to say a few weeks after others have talked about theirs, I'm finally ready to reveal my "one word" for the year.

Seek.

I want to seek His presence, His love, His grace, His mercy, His wisdom, His forgiveness. His peace.

Seek is a big word.

Only four letters long, it encompasses a lifetime of longing. A lifetime of pursuit. A lifetime of discovery.

While I was still waiting on the word, I went back to an app I'd used sporadically in the past year called First 15. I knew from years of walking with Him that the hiding needed to stop. I needed to start the day in His presence. I had to push through the dry to get back to the well of living water.

The very first devotional for the year was entitled "What Does It Mean to Have Time Alone With God?"

Day after day, I saw the words "seek" and "presence" in everything I read.

Although Matthew 6:33 was rolling around in the back of my mind - "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.", it sounded so huge. The kingdom of God. AND His righteousness. Tall order. How vast is God's kingdom? How all-encompassing His righteousness? Where on earth would I start? (no pun intended!)

Then God opened my eyes to a verse yesterday I've read many times.

"You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart." (Jer. 29:13)

Simple. Direct. Seek Him. He'll make Himself known. He wants to be found.

God's not hiding and neither should I.

This year, this month, this day, this hour, this minute...I will seek.









Sunday, December 31, 2017

Balance




Consistency. Trust. Abundance. Wisdom. 

Since 2013 I've chosen "one word" for the year. 

Some years I do better than others writing on the topic and meditating on the word. 

In February of 2013 I wrote "The Consistency of Being Inconsistent"...a lament on how quickly I'd fallen away from that year's word, "Consistency."

Yet in 2014 "Trust" was an anchor in a storm-filled year. I wrote about it often. Truly, trust was a God-given word.

Last December, I didn't write an introductory blog post to my word for the following year as I typically do. I mulled over several words and although I had an inkling of the direction God was leading me in, I wasn't positive which word was the one He had for me in 2017.

Although I didn't have a definitive word, God impressed on my heart a definitive need..."fill up your soul." 

I pour myself out each day caring for others through my full-time job and He made it clear I needed to carve out time each month to purposefully refill my soul with time spent in His presence.

A number of months ago, I realized the word I had been leaning toward was in fact the word He had given me for the year. 

Balance.

I initially thought the word was given to me with regard to boundaries. 

I can be a workaholic and a people-pleaser. I thought God just wanted me to guard against the encroachment of work-related needs and issues on my personal time.

What I never saw coming was my cancer diagnosis and on the same day, my homeless brother invading my life with a host of needs that threatened to consume all my time and challenge my sanity.

Balance.

Long before I saw what was on the horizon, God communicated to me the need for emotional, physical and spiritual balance. He instructed me to fill up my soul to allow for distribution of the weightiness of need and hurt and pain with the weight-lifting experience of quiet and peace and joy.

As a result, I went on several mini-retreats, attended day-long seminars, and immersed myself in worship at concerts. I said "no" to activities in order to spend time alone in reflective quiet, and sought out wise counsel to work through the stresses of cancer and care-giving.

Solomon discusses the balance of life in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

"There is a time for everything and a time for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

Life isn't perfect. 

There are ups and downs. 

An ebb and flow. 

A time for everything.

This year has been a very different one, so I guess it's not so strange that I unveil it's one word at the end rather than the beginning. 

I am grateful for all the times I was able to steal away to seek His face (Ps. 105:4)and find refuge under His wings (Ps. 91:4).

With 2018 just hours away, I find myself in the same place as last year-once again uncertain of which word He has for me; listening for what theme of meditation and encouragement He wants to provide for the days ahead. 

Until He reveals it, working on balance is my game plan! 

Do you have a "one word" God has revealed to you for 2018?

Blessings to each of you for a joyful and peace-filled new year.


Friday, December 8, 2017

Miracles

What is a miracle?

Do they still happen?

Do we see them and dismiss them as "coincidences", "good luck" or "philanthropic gestures?"

Dictionary.com defines a miracle as:


1. an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.

2. such an effect or event manifesting or considered as a work of God.

3. a wonder; marvel.

I've been sitting here pondering all the "cool things" that have been happening lately with regard to our food pantry and realized it's time to call them what they are.

Miracles.

God's intervention to bring about His purpose.

Each month, we spend a good deal of money purchasing food for The Pantry which serves almost 250 families.

But those funds come from somewhere. We don't have a line item in the main church budget. We are funded solely through donations, monetary and otherwise, from our congregation and other entities.

Every time God moves a human heart to willingly part with the thing that so easily ensnares so many of us, it's a miracle. In our humanness, we desire to hold on to that which we believe is our "hard-earned compensation." But the Spirit also places in us a desire to help our fellow man and that is a miracle because it goes against the natural.

It's easier to understand the congregation helping. They are more invested in the church since they attend it. But I think of the Jewish neighbor of one of our volunteers who, every few months, sends a nice-sized donation of goods to help others. Or one of the local apartment complexes who asks its residents to contribute to a collection they decided to hold. Or the company who over-ordered about 200 cookies for a meeting and decided to give them to our clients instead of their employees.

In the past week, we've received a "random" pallet of items that contained everything from granola bars to paper towels to bags of chips. A school more than 30 minutes away asked if we could use the 1,000 cans of food they collected, and 10,000 additional dollars will be coming in from a grant we applied for. The initial request was for $20,000, but we only received half because it was felt some of what was being requested did not fit the guidelines of the foundation. Two members of the board disagreed and went to bat on our behalf and the rest of the money will be given next month.

That my friends, is a miracle.

Sometimes we think miracles are things that used to happen. We read about them in the Bible and think they're too fantastic to believe. The flood, the whale, a fire that didn't consume a bush, another that didn't consume men, and still another that burned up everything including the altar, sacrifice and all the water on and around it.

And then there's the biggest miracle of all - God coming to earth in human form to become the ultimate sacrifice and close the gap of separation between us caused by our sin.

Although the biggest miracle happened more than 2000 years ago, it is not diminished and was not the last. As we go through this season, let's remember exactly why we celebrate it...and remember too that miracles still happen every day.

Healing from disease, the birth of a child, reconciliation between loved ones, the provision of needs for shelter, income, and yes, food.

We just need to call them by their proper name.

May you experience God's blessings and be attuned to the miracles He's doing all around you this Christmas and throughout the new year.




Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Opportunity Lost

Rounding the corner, I saw the sea of yellow out of the corner of my eye.

As I banked the next turn in the road a tad faster than the posted 40 mph, I thought, "Wow! What an awesome picture that would make."               

For a split second, I considered pulling off to the side of the road and heading back with my camera, but I was already running late to work.

"I'll get the shot tomorrow."

But tomorrow was the same scenario-too much to do and in a rush to do it. The photo would have to wait.

Unfortunately, it was the same story day after day after day.

Within a few days, the brightness faded and patches of brown appeared. I sensed my opportunity fading too, and while I made mental note, I did nothing to change the outcome. At the end of the week, there were more dead flowers than live ones.

Finally, a field of nondescript brown stems dotted with an occasional pocket of yellow from golden rod took over the landscape. The weed held none of the glory of the daisies.

I lost the opportunity to capture the beauty and wonder I had witnessed because I was too busy. Too focused elsewhere to enjoy the moment in front of me.

*****************************************************

A pastor once shared a story with me about a conversation he had with a young man. The youth had lots of questions about eternal things, and although this pastor sensed the man might be open to taking the final step and accept Christ, he didn't push it.

"I'll be sure to engage him again next week."

Next week never came. The young man was in a car accident that evening on his way home from church and was killed.

The pastor thinks often about the opportunity he was given that he missed. One that may have cost someone their eternity because he didn't take a few extra minutes to follow through, his thoughts not on the temporal nature of this life.

                            *****************************************************

Whether it's a chance to soak in the moment or a chance to change a life, how many opportunities do we miss each day because we don't take the time to seize them?

James 4:13-14 reminds us "Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money. Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.'"

We are not guaranteed tomorrow. Not guaranteed another opportunity. Seize the one before you today and make it count. Take a moment to enjoy the flowers. Take a few extra minutes to encourage another.

Don't regret opportunities lost.

You may wonder how I have a picture of daisies if I never stopped to photograph them. It's one I took a few years ago when I slowed down to spend some time in a park and capture the beauty around me.

It was an opportunity found and capitalized on and now I have it forever. A much better outcome.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Message Received

I didn't think much of the email I got Tuesday night.

It happened many times before: a volunteer had a conflict and wouldn't be able to make her shift in the food pantry the following day.

I didn't realize then it would be the pebble that started the landslide.

Wednesdays are "pantry days" and are always busy, but with extra errands to accomplish before work, this one promised to be especially hectic.

First I swung into the dollar store as they opened. purchased items the pantry lacked, then headed to a mechanic we use when our cars ministry volunteers are too busy or the job is too complex for our resources. This visit was to drop off the title to a vehicle we decided to junk since it wasn't fiscally prudent to repair.

As I pulled out of the mechanic's parking lot, I glanced at my watch feeling pretty good about what I'd accomplished thus far. Only 8:45. I'd be in the office long before the 9:30 staff meeting.

Immediately, my phone pinged. It was a text from another volunteer. She was in a lot of pain and wouldn't be able to come in. I sent her an encouraging "rest up, we'll be okay" even as I thought - "ugh - what now?"

Both volunteers who cancelled were bi-lingual...the only bi-linguals serving in the pantry that day...and we have a 70% Spanish-speaking clientele.

My day just got more difficult.

I parked outside the pantry so I could unload my car later in the morning and headed through the building toward my office.

As I exited the pantry into the main building, an acrid smell smacked me in the face. Something electrical was burning and I could see a haze hanging in the sunbeams streaming in the windows.

"Good thing I came in that way" I thought. No one would have caught that for hours.

I notified the proper staff about the smell and met a pair of volunteers outside my office. They were waiting to pick up a food order and needed me to give them the key to the church's box truck.

After sending them on their way, my phone rang. It was yet another volunteer calling to say he was dropping off a bread delivery early. Would anyone be in the pantry to receive it?

I ran back to let him in. He noted the missing box truck and asked if I had gotten the Panera donation off it.

Face palm. "No. I totally forgot to retrieve it while I was running around. The truck is on its way to pick up the food order."

"Toni" he warned "they'll never get anything in there. Someone has it filled with furniture."

I could feel my shoulders tighten and my stress-induced palpitations begin. I tried several times to reach the truck-driving couple by phone and text, to no avail.

It was quickly becoming obvious I was going to miss the staff meeting.

I began unloading all the dollar store stuff from my car so I could drive over to the big box store and load up with some of the food order.

Now none of this may seem like a big deal. Each thing in and of itself really wasn't. But over the past few months I've been dealing with some overwhelming health and family issues and tears are often close to the surface. So in my little world, all the little things messing up my already busy day were adding up.

As I tried to jockey down the least congested lane of rush hour traffic, I cried out "God, I just can't do this today."

I flipped on the radio to my favorite station - Klove - and the chorus that met me was "When did I forget that you've always been the King of the World? I try to take life back right out of the hands of the King of the World."

Yes Lord, message received.

Was the rest of the day busy and hectic? Yes.

Was I stressed out about the lack of volunteers and the amount of work that needed to be done? No.

The King of the world who created the universe and cares about every detail of my life reminded me clearly and simply He was on the throne and in charge on crazy busy Wednesdays and every day.

"Just a whisper of your voice can tame the seas
So who am I to try to take the lead
Still I run ahead and think I'm strong enough
When you're the one who made me from the dust"

King of the World - Natalie Grant