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...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Be prepared

I know a lot of people have blogged about "the week that was" here in New Jersey.  A week in which an earthquake, tornados, and a hurricane all made an appearance.

Some people joked it was the end of the world...others gave warning that these were indeed signs of things to come.  I think it can be used as a modern day parable to speak to the condition of people's hearts.

There was a lot of warning with hurricane Irene.  Our modern technology has allowed us to view weather patterns a week or more in advance.  It was splashed all over the news and millions were told how to prepare.  Those that heeded the warnings when they were first sounded were able to find what they needed to be safe...generators, flashlights, and batteries for starters.  They gassed up their cars in case they had to leave in a hurry.  They bought essentials like bread, milk, and eggs.  As the day drew near, they were able to rest assured that they had done as much as they could to be ready...and after the storm, no one regretted having done so in advance.

Another group delayed.  They heard the warnings, they knew in their hearts they should be listening and preparing, but for one reason or another, they didn't get around to it.  So when the rain began to fall, these foolish people wound up scurrying about, uncertain of their fate as they discovered many opportunities to ready themselves had slipped through their fingers.

Still others scoffed.  They didn't believe the warnings.  "It's no big deal," they said.  They underestimated the elements and found themselves without provisions...or worse yet, they challenged the power of the wind and the rain and found themselves in need of rescue, but sadly, it was too late.

Which group do you belong to?  You've heard the warnings for a long time.  Jesus' return is on the radar and the signs point to His arrival.  When he comes, how will he find you?  Prepared and ready?  Searching and uncertain?  Or mocking and defiant?  Don't leave things to the last minute or gamble on chance.  There is no reason to delay.  Wisdom says time is of the essence.  Accept Him now while his grace and mercy are abundant, available and free and you will never live to regret it.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Go where and do what??

Last month I wrote "What I learned at Kids Camp".  It was a wonderful week of outreach to more than 250 kids within our church and surrounding neighborhoods, and we all learned simple yet profound truths regarding God's love for us.

This week, my church is taking that message on the road.  Just a few short weeks ago, we were made aware of an opportunity in Trenton...the next town over from our church, the capital of our state, the city where I live and an area of great need.  A church, beautiful in its heyday, was now empty and looking for others to make use of the facility.

So just one month after having poured themselves into the last Kids Camp, and with only a few weeks to prepare, 140 volunteers caught the vision and rose to the challenge to do it all again for the kids in Trenton.  We've never done something like this before and had no real idea of what to expect.  But after praying about the possibilities, church leaders felt that this was an open door God wanted us to walk through, and we did so boldly.

We made our goal 150 children and decided rather than serving snacks at one point during the night, we would feed the kids a full dinner before the program started.  We also prepared a Women's Mini Bible Camp for the moms where they could enjoy a time of song, food, crafts and Bible study.

Some of the challenges included registering kids the old-fashioned way...no online sign ups...just a sign, a table, flyers, and a lot of excited people letting residents know that something fun was heading their way.  The neighborhood has a large Spanish-speaking contingent, so volunteers who could speak the language were especially sought after.  The food budget was almost non-existent, and food was needed to feed potentially 150 kids each evening, for 5 nights.  A lot of folks in our church vacation this month, but we needed a lot of volunteers in every sector.  We were doing this in August, typically a month with sweltering temps, and the facility only had one or two small rooms with air conditioning - the main gathering areas had none.

But when God calls you to do something, He provides a way.  The first night, we had 39 children and 4 moms...after 3 nights it has grown to 72 children and 11 moms - with a few dads asking what's available for them (a time of study and prayer is now available for them as well).   We are prayerfully anticipating 100 children tonight.

Volunteers have come out of the woodwork to help in every area.

The food component has been a modern day loaves and fish story.  One of our members works for a food service company who has provided all the entrees each evening - 750 meals for the week.  Other local businesses contributed some beverages and ice cream.  But the outpouring from our congregation has been amazing - chips, fruit, water, pudding, cookies, veggies, bread, and on and on and on have fed not only the kids, but their parents, our volunteers, even some folks in the park across the street as we wrapped up trays to share the excess that first night.

Even the weather has been unusually cool this week with daytime temps hovering around just 80 degrees - far cooler than normal.

We are so excited to see what else God has in store this week as tonight concentrates on "God loves you no matter what" - the message of salvation. 

Day 5 is also yet to come, but we are living in the middle of its promise...God gives good gifts.  As we stepped out in faith, believing God for the kids, the volunteers, the food, and more, He has been faithful to provide each step of the way, and the children in one Trenton neighborhood are learning, perhaps for the first time, that God is WILD about them!

James 4:17 says "Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it."  And James 2:17 and 18: says:  "So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, 'Some people have faith; others have good deeds.' But I say, 'How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.'"

The opportunity presented itself.  Prayer confirmed it was what we were being called to do.  If we had not obeyed, the seeds would never have been planted.  Has God challenged you with a seemingly impossible task?  It is not impossible for Him...just be willing to go where He sends.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Too busy for worship?

I sat down to my computer this morning to check emails.  I had been up late writing them as I put the finishing touches on the food portion of the plans for our Kids Camp outreach this coming week. 

My mind was racing as I mentally checked off:

  • who I needed to see and talk to this morning
  • what I needed to get accomplished
  • what I was making for breakfast
  • what I had that didn't need to be ironed so I could run out the door.

Then I saw my friend's Sunday worship song post...the beautiful Natalie Grant song "Your great name". 

I clicked on it and began to listen.

In front of this electronic beast that consumes so much of my time and in a way, I confess, has become an idol in my life, I suddenly stopped what I was doing and closed my eyes.

I lifted my hands as I sang along "Jesus...Worthy is the Lamb that was slain for us...Son of God and man, You are high and lifted up...and all the world will praise your great name."

I wish I could say today is an exception, but far too many Sunday mornings are spent on the business end of ministry rather than in worshiping the one we say we're doing it to the glory of. 

Slipping into a pew, out of breath, and with a distracted mind is NOT worship.

Are you like me today - rushing around serving Him...or serving yourself...to the point where WHY you're doing it or WHO you're doing it for is lost? 

Reminds me of an old Larnelle Harris song "I miss my time with you":

"There he was just waiting, in our old familiar place
an empty spot beside him, where once i used to wait
to be filled with strength and wisdom for the battles of the day
I would have passed him by again, but I clearly heard him say 

I miss my time with you, those moments together
I need to be with you each day and it hurt's me when you say
you're too busy...busy trying to serve me
but how can you serve me when your spirit's empty
there's a longing in my heart wanting more than just a part of you
it's true...I miss my time with you

What do I have to offer, how can I truly care
my efforts have no meaning when your presence isn't there
but you'll provide the power if I take time to pray
I'll stay right here beside him and you will never have to say..

I miss my time with you"

You have the ability to do something amazing...come before the King of the universe and commune with Him.

Take time BEFORE the service this morning to quiet your heart and still your mind.  

Come to Him with a worshipful spirit.  Everything else can wait. 

If He's given you those service opportunities, He'll work out the details and bring things together, but first, He wants to meet with you, fill you with His power, and that will strengthen you to do what He's called you to do. 

By far, it is the most important thing you'll do today.

Friday, August 19, 2011

God is in the Details

I remember the first time I really felt God was working in the details of my life.  Events unfolded in such a manner that it was obvious it was a "Godincidence" - what others might call a coincidence.

It became an altar in my walk...a focal point I could look back on and say "there...God met me right there...and did something amazing."

For years, I harbored a dream that someday I might make a living from singing Christian music.  Along the way, I joined the Gospel Music Association.   They offered a music conference in Virginia which I mentioned to a friend.  She too wanted to attend the conference and we talked about driving down together and staying with her sister who lived in the area.  Problem was, this friend had a habit of over committing.

Knowing that about her, I reserved a room in the conference hotel and a train ticket.   I paid for neither because I really didn't know where the money would come from if I had to go that route.  I shared with another friend my fear that I might be canceled on, my potential alternate plans, and that I really couldn't afford those plans.  And then I said something even I was surprised to hear myself say.

"I'm not going to try to manipulate this situation in any way.  If God wants me to go, he'll have to provide the money."

Right on cue, less than a week before, my friend canceled.  I called the conference coordinators to see if they knew if anyone needed a room mate.  I was told they didn't coordinate such details, but they sent me a list of attendees since I'd receive it upon arrival anyway.  Perhaps I could call those on the list and make arrangements.

I contacted 2 people from New Jersey.  One was so far away it wasn't feasible.  The other, a woman named Helga, never responded.    I chastised myself for even trying to work out that much of the details and prayed again that if it was God's will, He would make a way.

A few days later, my dad got remarried to a lovely lady - his high school sweetheart, Shirley.  After the wedding, he explained that Shirley had sold her home, and she wanted to give us a gift  for welcoming her so totally into our family.  He handed me a sum of money that was sufficient to cover the conference registration cost and the train ticket.  My jaw dropped - maybe I could go after all.

There was still the matter of  hotel costs and sundries, so I continued to wait. 

Two nights before my trip, nothing had changed.  I went to work, and headed home, sad the weekend wouldn't be spent in Virginia.  Around 6pm, a co-worker called.  She had been working late when the phone rang on my desk.  She answered it.  Now I don't know about you, but any office I've worked in, your co-workers just don't pick up your phone - especially after hours!

There was a woman on the other end of the line, Polly from New Hampshire...and she said something about a conference and sharing a room?  Polly asked for my home contact info, but my co-worker didn't want to give that out.  She took Polly's information and told her she'd pass it along to me.

I could barely contain myself as I dialed the woman.  How on earth did she get my name?  Well, it seemed she too called the conference people about a roommate and 'just happened' to speak to the same woman I had spoken to.   That woman remembered (a week after I had called!) I was looking for a roomie too.  My new roommate only needed a place for Saturday night, but having someone split the cost for one of the nights was sign enough for me!  The next day, I headed to the train station to pick up my ticket.  24 hours later, I was bound for Virginia.

At the tiny little station where I was left off, another woman looked as confused at where to go as I was.  Turns out she was from New York and was heading to the conference too.  We split the cost of the cab ride to the hotel.  At the registration desk, we discovered there had been a mix up with the payment for her room so she had nowhere to go.

I offered to share my room for the night and said "Maybe this is why I'm here this weekend - to give you a place to stay!"  The following morning she decided to head back home. 

As I stood alone in the hotel room, it dawned on me I had no way to the conference center.  I was startled by the phone ringing.  The front desk said someone was in the lobby for me - Polly.  She'd arrived early and stopped by to see if I needed a ride.  Like I said, God is in the details!

During the lunch break I saw a woman with "Helga" on her name tag.  How many Helga's could there be at this conference?

"Hey, you never responded to my email" I joked.

She had never received it.  In addition, she had booked a room across town, unable to get into the conference hotel, so I offered for her to stay with me the last night.  She canceled her room and split the cost with me for the last night.  Because she'd driven down, she even gave me a ride to the train station.

By the time I left that conference I learned so much about God and my dream.

Some might think all that miraculous coordination was so I could see my dream come to fruition. But what it taught me SO clearly was that is wasn't what God would have me pursue.   

It also taught me some very important truths about God...

1) God is not restricted -  while I thought inside the box and tried to find someone in New Jersey to share a ride or room with, He brought people from New Jersey, New York and New Hampshire into the picture.

2)  God is creative - the costs of the conference weekend were covered in a wide variety of ways - ways I would never have dreamed of, let alone try to coordinate on my own.

3)  God is in the details - from connecting Polly and I through the conference worker, to providing a stranded woman a place to spend the night, to a ride to the conference and the train station and more, every little detail of that weekend fell into place.

I took my hands off the situation, placed my requests before God, and put my trust in His ability to work things together according to His will.

His will.  It meant the death of one dream, but the birth of another so much more exciting!

Linking up at God-sized Dreams

Monday, August 15, 2011

You're Fired!

'You're fired!'...the phrase made famous by the reality show "The Apprentice"...and two words you never want to hear.  So imagine how my heart stopped for a second this morning when my boss walked into my office and said, 'so...I understand you've been fired.'  Of course, I realized very quickly if that had been the case, it wouldn't have been handled in such a manner, but still my mind raced in a million directions for just a second or two.

After talking to a few people, I was able to put together the full story - one that amazed not only me, but the person who made the original off-handed comment when he found out how far it had gotten out of hand.  It was never meant as anything mean-spirited, he just didn't want to inform a third party about the real nature of a conversation he was having.  When that person was persistent in asking, he jokingly said 'they let Toni go yesterday.'  She expressed shock, so he quickly recanted, admitting he was just kidding. Apparently that portion of the discussion didn't register with her. 

Come Monday morning, she asked other co-workers if they'd heard the news about me.  That knowledge set off a firestorm, leading to a check of my Facebook status to see if there was any mention of the incident (everyone knows it's not official until it's on Facebook!), and then my boss was consulted.  A few minutes later, I arrived at work and my boss entered my office with the above-mentioned pronouncement.

James 3:5-6 says "It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell." (The Message)

 Guarding our tongues is something most, if not all of us, struggle with.  For example, it's easy to use a prayer request as a means of gossip..."you should really keep Helen in prayer - her son was just thrown in jail."  As my pastor once cautioned - if you aren't part of the problem or the solution, you shouldn't be talking about the situation.  Good advice.

It's also easy to say things we regret when we're in the heat of anger.  James 1:19 cautions against it this way: "My dear brothers, take note of this.  Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry." (NLT)  Your mother may have used the phrase mine did - 'you have two ears and one mouth so you can listen twice as much as you speak.'  All of it is wise counsel.

Even said in jest, the words spoken by my co-worker very quickly stirred up quite a commotion.  Amusing in the end, as we traced back how things went wrong and where they got out of hand, but the momentary gossip they created could have been hurtful or harmful. 

So, no, thank God, I wasn't fired today...but I saw quite clearly how the tongue has the power to take the smallest little comment and wreck havoc. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Devouring Locusts, Devastating Loss and Divine Love

Joel 2:25  The Lord says, “I will give you back what you
lost to the swarming locusts, the hopping locusts, the stripping locusts, and the cutting locusts.  It was I who sent
this great destroying army against you.

I hate insects.  If it crawls, it might take some time for me to muster up the courage to kill it, but I can generally dispose of crawling critters without help.  Hopping bugs are another matter - hopping spiders, crickets, grasshoppers...unpredictable little stinkers I'm afraid will hop on ME definitely elicit a scream and a cry for help.   Then there are the  'swarming' bugs.  Annoying ones like gnats and  mosquitoes to painful or potentially deadly insects like wasps, hornets and bees.  For them, I've got a shot of Raid from a distance!  Ugh!!

But the Bible mentions one insect I've only encountered in the "proverbial sense".  Locusts.  Frankly, before reading Joel, I had no idea there were so many KINDS of locusts...and one sounds more repulsive than the next!  Swarming locusts, hopping locusts, stripping and cutting locusts!  Just the description makes them sound terrifying, dangerous and ruthless!

Locusts make their Biblical debut in Exodus as one of the plagues on Egypt when Pharaoh hardened his heart and wouldn't let the Israelites leave.  Pretty much with the exception of them being listed on the menu of John the Baptist, they are always mentioned in connection with destruction.  In fact, did you know that as winged adults, flying in swarms, locusts can be carried by the wind hundreds of miles from their breeding grounds?  These flying lawnmowers can grow up to 6 inches long, and when they land, they devour all vegetation. 

I can't even imagine what it would be like to live through something like a swarm of locusts...I get nervous just watching Alfred Hitchcock's movie "The Birds"!  And yet, in some ways, I have lived through a swarm.  There have been times when I felt my life was like a field of desolation in the wake of a locust invasion.  Everything appeared to have been eaten. Just like the Biblical description, the locusts came in waves.  When I thought it was over and there was something left to harvest, the next wave came in and took more from me.

The swarming locusts came early - as a result of poor choices in young adulthood - an abortion and a rocky, unhealthy, unequally yoked marriage.  The hopping locusts came in things I had no control over - the death of my mom, the loss of my job.  The cutting and stripping locusts came to glean the fields of the stubble...separation and divorce after 31 years of marriage.

One day, in the midst of all the infestations and devastation, I found Joel 2:25 and clung to the first half of the verse with everything in me.  "I will give you back"...some translations say "I will pay you back" or "I will restore the years the locusts have eaten."  I took that to mean that God would rescue me from my misery.  That He would give me a man who loved me, perhaps financial security, happiness.  But today, I look at that verse differently.

Just recently I saw I'd been missing an integral part of that verse - the last part that says, "It was I who sent this great destroying army against you."  Ouch!  Why would He do that?

Some might argue those locusts were punishment for sins committed on my part.  Although I've long since asked forgiveness for those things which were in my control and believe forgiveness was granted, I also know there are consequences of our sin and we must live with those.  On the other hand, one could bring up Job and all that he suffered without sinning.  It could simply be because we live in a fallen world and this side of heaven we will always have to deal with pain and suffering.  Regardless of the reasons why, the important lesson is that God, in His divine love, used those devouring locusts and that devastating destruction to teach me, mold me, and grow me into the person I am today. 

And these days, that's what I think it really means to have the years restored.  I walk with God like never before in my life.  I've been restored to wholeness.  I have not fleeting happiness, but lasting joy.   God uses all those experiences to give me a way to relate to so many others.  I don't know if there will ever be a man in my life or enough money to live comfortably.   But I do know I've counseled young women on avoiding or dealing with bad relationship choices and the unseen scars of abortion.  I can empathize with those who have lost a parent or a job and share with them how God helped me move on from grief and reinvent myself in the job market.  And I can encourage someone going through divorce so they know they can recover and move on.

Through the CommunityConnections ministry I head up in my church, God allows me to share His vision of restoration for lives in our community that have been devoured and devastated as well.  This is how the years have been given back to me.  I am learning and teaching, I am productive and joyous, I am a living testimony to God's restoring grace and divine love.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wild Goose Chase

Dictionary.com defines a wild goose chase as "a wild or absurd search for something non-existent or unobtainable."  Today, a friend of mine gave the "wild and absurd" portion of this definition a whole new meaning.

Thing is, she wasn't chasing the goose in this scenario...it kind of chased her.  It seems she was driving across a bridge that connects New Jersey to Pennsylvania.  It's very narrow and the speed limit is only 15 mph.   All of a sudden, a goose flew into her car.  No, it didn't hit her car...it literally flew INTO her car from the open passenger side window.  Somehow, with the wings of the bird beating against her in panic and her young daughter screaming in fright, the car did not spin out of control and the goose flew out the driver side window.  Upon its escape, the bird held up traffic on the bridge as it stood squarely in the middle of the two lane span getting everyone's attention.

My friend's status on Facebook has received, not surprisingly, over 3 dozen comments - from the concerned "are you all right?" and  "Did he hurt you?" to the comical "Did you duck?", "At least your goose wasn't cooked" and my personal fav "Affflllaaccckkk!".

Everyone including the goose escaped unharmed, but the incident reminded me of a book by Mark Batterson: "Wild Goose Chase".  Part of the book intro reads "“Celtic Christians had a name for the Holy Spirit–An Geadh-Glas, or ‘the Wild Goose.’ The name hints at mystery. Much like a wild goose, the Spirit of God cannot be tracked or tamed. An element of danger, an air of unpredictability surround Him. And while the name may sound a little sacrilegious, I cannot think of a better description of what it’s like to follow the Spirit through life."  

This particular goose certainly provided an element of danger and unpredictability! 

The intro goes on to say "most of us will have no idea where we are going most of the time. And I know that is unsettling. But circumstantial uncertainty also goes by another name: Adventure.”

Some people assume a Christian life is boring...that we have 'no fun.'  I guess they figure we sit hands folded, back straight, sucking on lemons all day.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  When you follow God's lead with full abandon, He will take you places you never thought you would or could go.  I've seen modern day miracles and answers to prayer, and these days, I live life expecting God to show up in a big  way and He never disappoints.  Honestly, there is nothing boring about life when God is on the move.

A life without God IS a wild goose chase...a pursuit of everything but obtaining nothing...but a life with the Wild Goose is one that pursues and achieves.  It taps into the unseen, not the non-existent.

Are you ready for adventure?  To be sure, when the Wild Goose enters the picture He will mix things up and the ride will be unforgettable.  You will stop traffic and people will take notice.  You'll want to share what's happened with your friends because the whole thing is just so unbelievable. There may be an element of danger or at least a hint of unpredictability because living a life with the Wild Goose behind the wheel, takes the control out of your hands...are you ready to let go and follow the Wild Goose?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

For the Love of Money

I never considered myself materialistic.  I don't strive for a bigger house, better car, new wardrobe.  In fact, I've lived in a one bathroom, no-frills semi in the city for 25 years.  I drive a 14 year old vehicle.  My closet is mostly filled with hand-me-downs from family and friends - nice stuff, but the majority of it is not new.  I've always said I don't need a lot of 'things'...that as long as I can pay my bills on time, I'm happy.  But am I really?  

What got me thinking about materialism was a blog I read yesterday.  The blogger quoted from "Radical" a book by David Platt:  "Is materialism a blind spot in Christianity today?"  The blogger felt it was.  In his status, he asked this question: "Can the love of God and money coexist?"  He felt it could not.  Then he made his case with Luke 16:13 which says we “cannot serve both God and money”.  I confess, I walked away from that read feeling a little self-righteous.  I mean, maybe Christianity as a whole struggled with materialism, but not me.  I'm always giving...I give out of my need. (Can't you just hear me beating on my chest praying "Thank you God I'm not a sinner like THAT person??)

Let me back up for a minute.  About a year and a half ago I read "The Externally Focused Church" by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson.  I was convicted that neither I nor my church were doing enough to reach out to our the community.  I went to my pastor who agreed.  What began with about 3 or 4 people coordinating a church-wide food drive has blossomed into a team of a dozen heading up monthly projects from serving meals at the Salvation Army to refurbishing and decorating a local family shelter.  We've also begun to develop relationships at the shelter and God's hand of blessing has been evident.  My church family doesn't just open their pocketbooks anymore...they leave the building to get involved in people's lives.  In an effort to stay in touch with residents moving out of the shelter and into new living quarters, we present them with a housewarming gift basket filled with medical, hygiene and cleaning products as well as a Bible and information on the church.

In the summer, many of our church families are away on vacation, and donations tend to slow down.  Still, someone had moved out of the shelter, and a basket had to be filled.  So after reading the above-mentioned post, I went shopping.  Problem was, it wasn't with a spirit of joy in giving...it was with a spirit of grumbling.  I complained about the time it ate up on a weekend.  I complained about the money it cost.  I complained and grumbled to God all day long.  "You know I don't have any money for this.  You know I've been asking for donations for weeks now with barely anything coming in.  I can't afford to put all this out of my pocket."  And on, and on, and on. 

God listened all day, and finally He had enough.  He brought to mind all the money I'd spent on myself that week.  Lunch out with co-workers.  Dinner with a friend.  A trip to the movies.  A haircut.  How much had I spent on myself that week?  Maybe $100?  About what it would cost to purchase the essentials for this family coming out of a shelter and settling into a home.  Shame on me.  Honestly, $100 on myself in a week really is a huge amount and not the norm.  But still, I did it and didn't have a whole lot of guilt about it at the time.  "I work hard.  I do a lot of 'good things'.  I deserve to treat myself once in awhile."  Those were the thoughts that went through my head when it was for MY enjoyment.  

That got me thinking about materialism.  I give myself a "pass" on that label because I don't covet the 'big stuff'.  I'm not a workaholic trying to earn money at the expense of all else to support an extravagant - or even very comfortable - lifestyle.  But rather than look at how God has blessed me with enough to keep a roof over my head, a working car, food on the table and a job I love, I tried to hold on to the little I had left and grumbled when I had to share.  If that's not materialism, nothing is.  You see, it doesn't really matter how much we earn.  If we love money more than God or more than doing what God asks us to do with it, it doesn't matter if it's .02 or $2,000,000 dollars.  If we go before Him with a clenched fist rather than an open hand, it's sin.

I told that other blogger I felt the key to that verse in Luke is the word 'serve'.  If money is our master, no matter how large the funds, I agree, our hearts will grow cold to God.  But if we serve God and recognize that all our money is His, given to us as a tool to do good for others, well, then, money becomes the servant in the hands of the Master. 

What saddens me most about yesterday was that I could have been blessed by what I did.  I could have given with a cheerful heart knowing that as God had blessed me, I was being a blessing to someone else.  Instead, I made myself miserable.  I felt shallow, empty, and devoid of joy.  I pray I remember that the next time I'm called upon to serve God by using money for its intended purpose...I pray that I really won't be materialistic.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Water Damage - Handle with Prayer

The plumber is coming today...and that... is a really good thing.  It's an answer to prayer for sure.  You see, for months now, I've had issues with the pipe leading out of the tub in my bathroom.  At first, it drained slowly, so I did everything I knew how to do to get things moving.  I bought a 'zip it' tool to try to pull out the clog.  Nothing.  I poured Drano down the pipes to dissolve it.  No change.  I bought a snake and tried to clear the clog.  It got stuck on a metal 'crossbeam' over the drain complicating matters.  I won the tug of war to get the snake out, but nothing more.  A friend's husband came over and tried to plunge it.  Nada.  I even tried someone's home remedy of "baking soda followed by vinegar, followed by boiling water...and plenty of it."  Nope.  Eventually, the water stopped draining altogether.  That meant that if I took a shower, I had to bail the water out of the tub and into the sink.  On top of everything else, the pipe apparently leaks, because it's been causing damage to the wall and ceiling in my dining room for quite some time.  Awesome.

At some point, I broke down, called my ex, and asked him to take a look.  This did NOT help matters.  He looked, found the piece of pipe with a crack in it and removed it, then said it probably required a plumber to replace it.  Brilliant.  Now not only was the pipe still clogged - beyond the piece he removed - but I could no longer shower and bail because a piece of pipe was missing.

Now you may wonder why I waited so long to call a plumber.  Money, or should I say the lack thereof, was one of the issues.  I kept thinking that there was an easy, inexpensive way to get past the problem.  But there wasn't. In addition, I live in an old house and there is a lot that needs fixing.  Before the 'total clog' made the tub of primary importance, I was stressing over which issue to fix first - and of course, how to pay for any of it.  That's when I went to my 'mountain of God'. 

"Mountain of God" is the name I've given a long, climbing driveway that leads to a church next to my job.  When I'm having a bad day, need to clear my head, or need to pray during the day, I go to the mountain.  So a few months back, I took my confusion and frustration over all that was overwhelming me with the house and brought it before the throne on the mountaintop.  By the time I was done praying, I was clear about what to do first...take care of the plumbing - and call a specific rep that I work with to arrange it.  I called that rep and a plumber was contacted.  The fact that it seems the whole of this huge (we're talking thousands) job is being done without cost to me beyond some materials like wood, tile and sheet rock is nothing short of miraculous.  The praying that went on over those negotiations is stuff for another blog.

Back to that plumber though...his assistant arrived on June 22nd to check things out...and yes, today is August 3rd and at the start of this post I said the plumber is coming today...finally.  Let's just say that during these past 6 weeks - which have sported the hottest temps on record for New Jersey - those who work with me or come in any kind of contact with me, are really grateful I can go to the gym and shower without fear of drainage issues.  Actually, that's another upside to this story.  After a year of struggling to go to the gym with any consistency, this 'crisis' has caused me to go pretty much daily.

Now that the plumber has been called in, the extent of the damage is clear.  It's going to take a few days to fix.  What might have been a relatively inexpensive job will run thousands because of a long period of neglect.  I saw evidence of water damage some time ago, but didn't have the wherewithal to address it.  It wasn't until the problem backed up into the pipe on the surface and I was forced to deal with it that I took action.  And now there are consequences.

Reminds me of the way we are sometimes with turning our problems over to God.  We try and try to work things out on our own.  Everything in our feeble human arsenal is pulled out to deal with the issue which, left 'unprayed' over, gets bigger, more serious and ultimately more costly until we finally call in the Expert.

Sometimes we think problems are too small to bring to God...we'll just use a "zip it" or some Drano and, no big deal, it'll go away, problem solved, no God interaction needed.  Wrong.

Then when things look like they're getting away from us, we start turning to others to take a plunger to the situation - 'pray for me' we say...not a bad thing in itself, we are supposed to support each other in prayer and I ask for prayer often.  But asking others to pray over a situation you haven't brought to God yourself isn't strengthening your faith.  God is certainly able to act on the prayers of others, but usually there's a lesson in bringing things to Him that we'll only learn when that dialog is one on one.  We've all got a direct line and God wants to hear from us. 

Finally, when the damage is obvious, when it has risen to the surface and has become abundantly clear that only God can fix the problem and clean up the mess, we bring it to Him.  By then, it may have become so widespread that reconstruction is necessary.  Stuff has to be taken out of our lives to get to the heart of the problem...and rebuilding needs to occur.

I'm grateful that God is merciful enough and big enough to fix the problems, but how much easier would my life be if rather than ignore, or wait, or fret about what I can't do on my own, I went straight to Him every time?  And how much smoother would my life run if I didn't have to deal with the fallout and consequences of that delay in going to God? 

It's great that a consistent trip to the gym came out of this trial, but I don't want to make consistency in prayer a result of crisis.  And I'm getting better at that, making prayer a first defense instead of a last resort.  But every once in awhile, I slip into old habits and reach for the Drano.

Yes, the plumber is coming today...and that, is a very good thing.