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, December 31, 2013

My One Word for 2014

It's been a long time since I've posted.  I would look at the blank page, feel overwhelmed, and hit the red "x" to leave it all behind.

So much has happened in the past few months that I wanted to share, but with life racing by at 100 miles an hour it was hard - and "I'm too busy" provided me with the perfect excuse not to face the blank page.  My One Word for 2013 - Consistency - taunted me from inside its pretty little blog button.
Still, nothing flowed forth.

Truth is, when I find my words have dried up like this I can always trace it back to one thing...I haven't made the time to go to the Well the way I should. I know where I need to go to wash off life's grit.  Or to quench my thirst. Or to get filled up so that the words I am given splash over onto the pages of this blog.

I've just start reading Mark Batterson's convicting and challenging book "All In" and that's where I want to be.  All in.  Not just drinking from the Well, but fully submerged in it.  Holding nothing back.  Fully committed.  Fully trusting. Excited to be on a life journey with the ultimate road trip Trio.

Will there be bumps along the way?  I can count on it.  This year brought about many hard things that still need resolution.  Like where I will live.

But I am learning to trust God more and more with EVERY detail, every concern.

So that will be my One Word this year.  Trust.

I debated over several powerful words. Balance.  Surrender. Consistency (again).  Wait.

But for me, Trust covers it all. When I trust God, there will be balance in my life.  And when I trust Him, it requires that I surrender my will to His. Trust brings about consistency because trusting Him in the small things makes it easier to trust Him with the big things - like believing there will be a roof over my head in some way, shape, or form.  And trust is the only cure for impatience!  To wait on Him requires complete trust because our timetable never looks like His.

I've got a Scripture for this year too.

Proverbs 3:5- 6 "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight."  

I can trust God because He is good.  And faithful.  And loving.  And consistent.  And He withholds NOTHING that He deems good for me if I follow Him.  And because He is perfect, I can trust His judgement on that.

Among other things, in 2014, I will trust God for a place to live and a ministry that will have eternal impact.

What will you trust Him for?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Diminishing Depression With Healthy Living Strategies - A Guest Post by Nancy Parlette

On occasion, I've shared on the pages of this blog how a family member is struggling with depression.  As I read over the words of wisdom from my guest blogger today, I am excited to share these insights.

Whether or not you suffer from depression, Nancy Parlette's suggestions just make sense for a healthier lifestyle.  So, without further adieu, let me introduce you to my friend, Nancy...author, blogger, speaker, and nutrition educator.

What Every Day Activities Can You Do to Diminish Depression?

I am delighted to be a guest on Toni’s Blog. Since Toni has shared about depression issues in previous posts, she asked me to share what I know from my studies in Nutrition and Natural Health that might help someone dealing with depression.

We are all too familiar with the many physical health issues plaguing our Country, however the emotional ones often stay hidden. Yet there are just as many people battling with emotional troubles such as anxiety, depression, Bipolar, Obsessive/Compulsive behavior and others. The following are some Healthy Living Strategies that can Help Diminish Depression.

Exercise – One of our medical doctors prescribes exercise as a medication for treating emotional illnesses. Daily vigorous exercise is vital because it stimulates serotonin production which is a hormone that helps us feel calm and content.

Exercise gives us a natural high! When we are unhappy or upset one of the best things we can do is go for a walk to help calm our spirit and clear our head. Start small and work up to 30-60 minutes a day of walking/running. Get the blood flowing and the heart pumping. YES, I want you to sweat!! While one can exercise indoors, I highly recommend going outside because then you will get two other very important everyday things to keep you happy and healthy – Fresh air and Sunshine!

Vitamin D is important to our mental health. While we can take supplements, Mother Nature provides it for us naturally from the sun. When we wear sunscreen it inhibits our absorption of vitamin D. If you have sensitive skin, then go out in the early morning or early evening when the sun is not so strong. But by all means get out there for at least 20 minutes of exposing your face and arms.

When you get back from exercising you should be thirsty! Water is another secret to keeping happy. Water refreshes every cell and keeps our brain alert and focused. It helps to detox our body, improves immune function, is a natural laxative, helps us lose fat and if that’s not enough it also helps reduce stress and anxiety! Make sure you drink ½ your body weight in ounces every day. For example if you weigh 160 lbs then you want to drink 80 oz of water or 10 cups a day.

You can be doing all those things but if you aren’t watching what you eat, you could still be sabotaging your health. While there isn’t room to cover all the details, here are a few key points you can apply daily.

Nutrition – The most important thing you can do is begin adding in more fresh fruits, green leafy vegetables, and healthy omega 3 fats (avocado, walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, wild caught salmon, etc.). As you do that, please also begin to cut back on all forms of chemical additives (flavors, colors, sugars, preservatives,pesticides, etc). All of this totally mess with our brains, especially Monosodium glutamate (MSG). Read your labels, it’s in almost everything! Cutting out sugar, caffeine, and alcohol will all have a huge impact on helping you feel better.

All of these harmful ingredients rob your body of much needed vitamins and minerals like calcium, magnesium and the B vitamins. For a much more extensive coverage of nutrition and physical, emotional, &
spiritual health, please buy my book, The Busy Mom’s 10 Minute Guide to a Healthy Happy Family, and subscribe to my blog and/or invite me to speak! www.nancyparlette.com

Bio – Nancy Parlette is a Motivational Speaker, Nutrition Educator, Life Coach, Author, Wife & Mom. Nancy first became interested in nutrition more than 20 years ago when she began suffering from digestive problems. She went to both the traditional medical doctors and alternative medicine practitioners, but found no solution to the cause of her pain. Finally, she began her own journey of discovery through the avenue of nutrition. She soon found the answers and started a business so she could share with others how they too could transform their health. Nancy has a Masters of Science degree in Human Nutrition and a BA in Sociology. Her goal is to get you excited about living, confident in your purpose and overflowing with vibrant health so you can live it out fully!

Website-www.nancyparlette.com Email- HLS@nancyparlette.com

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Reflections of Fall

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the sun...Ecc 3:1.

I love fall.

The colors are magnificent.
 There's a nip in the air, so jeans and a sweatshirt are the order of the day.
Leaves crunch underfoot.                                                                                                                        

And picturesque scenes are the perfect places to stop and reflect on the beauty of the season.

I have made the earth, the men and the beasts which are the face of the earth by My great power and My outstretched arm, and I will give it to the one who is pleasing in my sight.  Jeremiah 27:5

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Adventures in Community Outreach - Growing Roots

I can still remember sitting in the office, talking to two of my pastors.

"But how will this be different?" one asked.

It was a valid question.  I had been part of a ministry that reached out to a local homeless shelter for women and children.  Initially, we were successful in bringing half a dozen women to the church each Sunday in our church van.  When they moved into their own housing around town, we used a second van to do a loop around the city to pick them up for services and special events.

The first van continued heading to the shelter, week in and week out for over 18 months with no results. During that same time, many of the regulars on the second van became sporadic in attendance, dropping out one by one for a variety of reasons.  The drivers and ministry leadership were discouraged and eventually, van service to the shelter stopped and that ministry was shut down.

Now here I was, a few short months later telling them I felt very strongly that God was telling me to go out into the community.  Their concern was understandable.

"I know it sounds crazy, but honestly, God just won't leave me alone about this."

I explained how a book they had given me at a leadership meeting had said some things that really started me thinking.  It talked about not reinventing the wheel.  Taking the volunteer base of your church and partnering with organizations already doing good works in the community. 

"It's different because this time we'll be like a clearing house of ideas.  We'll match community needs with congregational gifts...and we won't put all our eggs in one basket like we did last time."

I tried to speak with the certainty of my convictions, but in truth, all I knew was that I had tried to brush aside the voice several times, but it always came back again, stronger than before. 

I've written other posts about starting with a food drive, moving beyond our walls to refurbish a "Dress for Success" office, and eventually, doing a makeover for Preservation House, a local shelter.
While doors closed at the women's shelter just a year before, they seemed to swing wide open at Preservation House.

I had never heard of Preservation House until one of those ladies from the van, one who had continued to come to our church, found herself in need of assistance again and landed there.

Right away, this place captured our hearts.  As the congregation took part in the "Adopt a Room" outreach at "PH" as we call it, we got to know some of the families and we followed up with a meal at Thanksgiving and a party at Christmas. We wanted to foster relationships with these families and begin to grow roots at the facility.  To that end, we started a "welcome basket" ministry.  The residents who leave for their own housing get a laundry basket filled with kitchen, bathroom and heath and beauty products to get them started in their new homes.  A Bible and info on the church are included as one last way to reach out and make a connection before they leave the shelter.

In June, during our Central Cares Day outreach, we included PH as one of our work sites, creating an inviting waiting room for visitors, teen room complete with cool seating, fuzzy pillows and flat screen tv and a resource room with tons of books and table space for studying.

But back when we did that first makeover in 2010, God planted a new dream in my heart.  To bring a life skills training course to the residents of the house.  I saw how small changes in their lifestyle could make better use of their meager resources.  So much money was wasted using check cashing services instead of maintaining a checking account.  Food stamps used at the local drug store for groceries could stretch 2 or 3 times as far if they shopped at a food store and used coupons.  I was sure there were other areas where small steps could make big changes too.

I had the dream, but had no idea how to execute it.  I talked to different people about it - one of our contacts at the Salvation Army said he had a program they used, but somehow, we never connected.  I'd bring it up in our planning meetings now and again, and although everyone agreed it was a great idea, still, no plan emerged.

Then one night at a women's Bible study, something happened.  The study was a video series on the book of Jonah and featured Priscilla Shirer, who talked about whether things that come up in our lives are interruptions, or divine interventions.  Priscilla offered the idea that an "interruption" is actually God's invitation to do something beyond our wildest dreams.  When Jonah was willing to allow God to interrupt his life, the result was revival in an entire city!   At the end of the study, Priscilla encouraged those taking part to find their Nineveh and make a difference.

As we discussed possible ideas, I mentioned my dream of a Life Skills class for PH.  One woman in the class came to me and said "I wrote a program like that for my master's thesis...maybe we could bring it to PH."

I asked the pastors to review the program and they gave it a thumbs up. Then I sent the outline to the social worker at the shelter...she liked it.  It has taken the better part of a year since then, but it is obvious that it is God's perfect timing.

The program consists of 8 modules in 3 sections.  Subjects include parental involvement in your child's school, building a network of support, discovering community resources, resume writing, learning about the importance of credit and basic banking, and creating a budget.  The most amazing thing was watching God move just the right people into place to teach each of these classes...the retired principal, the VP of a financial company, employees of the state welfare department, someone who facilitates "Financial Peace University" in our church.  From just one brainstorming meeting for names of people to reach out to for training, we got 90% of our staff.

Although I'm not a church staff member, I am invited to the annual calendar planning meeting since the ministry I head up impacts the entire congregation.  None of the staff had any idea how much progress had been made and who had volunteered to be faculty.  The looks of wonder and amazement around the table as they read over my notes, made my day.

On September 23, 2013, almost 3 years after God gave me the dream, I watched it come to fruition. 12 women attended the first ever Life Skills seminar.

Each person received their own "kit".  A binder with a notebook, one pocket folder (to hold the many informational brochures gathered), a pen, calculator (they'll be creating a budget during the last week), a coupon holder and a 2 year planner.

We were so encouraged by the interest and interaction of our "students". They were engaged, supportive of each other's comments, and genuinely seemed happy to be there.

The exit survey we gave them came back with wonderful feedback, many rating their experience "excellent" and all said they would recommend it to others and be back again the following week.  Also exciting was how many women freely took a Bible - in fact, several who missed taking one from the information table came running after us in the parking lot to get one before we left.

Even more amazing was the phone call I had with the shelter administration this week.  I called to find out the head count for this coming Monday and to determine if childcare was needed.

"I'm so glad you called, Miss Toni!  The two houses we run for men will now be open all day and Dr. Johnson wants to know if you can bring the same kind of programs to the men."

We suggested a Bible study, mentoring, life skills training and a Celebrate Recovery class and the response from shelter administration was "just gather the dates and let's start planning to get you in here."

How will this time be different?

It is night and day.

It is beyond my wildest dreams.  God closed doors so we would head to more fertile ground.  Roots are taking hold.  We pray lives will be changed, and how can they not be when God is so obviously the one working all things together?

Eph. 3:20-21 "God can do anything, you know-far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!  He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.  Glory to God in the church!  Glory to God in the Messiah, In Jesus!  Glory down all the generations!  Glory through all millennia!  Oh, yes!" (The Message)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Adventures in Community Outreach - A Day of Service Part 3 - The Event

It's been a few months and I have been remiss in publishing this last post in my series about Central Cares Day.  At first, it was a matter of finding the right words...


 but, they just didn't begin to capture what happened. 

Then it was processing all the stories.  There were so many "God is in the details" moments.  So many opportunities to share with others why we were out in our community performing acts of service. So many ways our volunteers were positively impacted by things that were said or that happened to them.  God is still giving me glimpses of how He is using that day.

But this most fulfilling of days needs to be chronicled.  And so, I make this humble attempt to relay some of what happened.  If you haven't read all the entries, I would suggest first reading the background on the day, then the nuts and bolts of how it came together before seeing how it all came to fruition.

First and foremost, we wanted to be a blessing to others. 

Some people were fed a meal, others enjoyed companionship and a craft, items were sorted at a food pantry, the atrium of a health clinic was weeded and mulched, city streets were cleared of trash, the grounds of several schools and a community center got some sprucing up and a homeless shelter now feels a lot more like a home.

But, no surprise, God blessed us in return.

The mom of an elementary school age girl was asked what the highlight of the day was for her. "When my daughter said "'Mom, there are so many people out there who need us - can't we keep helping on our own?'"  It was so exciting to hear a young person get that it's not about us, but how we can show God's love to others!

The sentiment of that young lady was echoed by adults who expressed an interest in being involved where they volunteered, on an on-going basis.

At one of the work sites, our group worked with families who attended the school, but not our church.  One young woman from the school group asked how she could get involved in future outreach activities with us.

Another blessing was the internal fellowship factor.  Our church has over 600 people who attend 5 weekend services.  In a number of cases, Central Cares Day provided congregants a way to meet each other for the very first time.  New friendships were created and existing bonds were nourished.

One of our volunteers was unemployed.  She worked with a group at the nursing home we visited and after watching her interact with residents, a supervisor there told her to apply...and she got a job! 

At the Salvation Army where a meal was served to 50+ people, a man came in after walking several miles through two towns. When he saw the blue shirts of our servers, he exclaimed "Man!  You guys are all OVER the place today!"  Our county was blanketed in a sea of blue love.

We were invited back to the homeless shelter a few weeks later - honored guests at their annual summer cookout.  We were presented with a beautiful card made by the residents.  It was filled with thank you notes, poems, and pictures of the residents enjoying their new reception area, teen and resource rooms and it touched our hearts in special way.

Several of the organizations have already asked to secure their spot for next year's Care Day, and we look forward to blessing clients of some of the organizations for our 3rd Annual Christmas Store on December 14th of this year.  In just a few days, we'll be heading back to the shelter to begin teaching life skill classes!  I'll be posting about that soon.

Showing others the love of Christ in practical ways can be as easy as picking up trash off the streets, wielding a paintbrush to brighten a room, or singing hymns and doing a craft.  It just takes a little time and effort to brighten a day, restore hope, kindle a friendship, or tell someone how much God loves them and what he did to secure them a spot with him in heaven for all eternity.

Central Cares Day was a time to bring all that into focus, but we have the opportunity to care each and every day. 

Galatians 6:9  "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Real Lies...Real Truth...Real Battle - A Call To Action

Recently, on Good Morning America, they featured a story about a woman who had tried many different fad diets unsuccessfully.  She finally decided to do it the old-fashioned way...by watching what she ate and exercising. To motivate herself, the woman chronicled her weight loss by blogging about it and posting pictures of her progress. Nothing special about that, until they revealed the kicker...

Those pictures were lifted from her blog and used by a scam company to promote their diet product.  

And to further mislead people, they claimed the loss, which had taken place over the course of a year, was actually the result of just 30 days on their product.

Real photos.  Real weight loss.  "Real" product.  Real big lie.

The woman tried to track down the companies using her pictures.  She wrote 'cease and desist' notices whenever she found an email address to write to. ABC News was able to find an actual mailing address for one of them, but it turned out to be just a PO box in Florida.  She said sometimes images are taken down from one web site,only to pop up on another in less than a day.

The woman described the companies as "this nameless, faceless thing you can't go after."

In the end, her only option was to battle their lies with the truth.

To combat the false ads, she is doing everything in her power to get out the real story of her year long weight loss journey that required sacrifice and hard work.  And she's asking others to help her do the same.

The news story contained one more thing...a piece of advice from an online safety consulting firm.  The chief executive of that company said he counsels clients to protect themselves by using a watermark on any photo they post.

As I recounted the story to a friend, it hit me.  We live in a world trying to sell a false bill of goods, much like that weight loss company.  The offer may even have a kernel of truth at its core, but it's been so twisted, so misrepresented, the end result is just a lie.  Just like you can't lose a years' worth of weight in 30 days, you can't find lasting joy in a person, a job, a bottle, a car, a house, a winning lottery ticket or from "within."

As a believer, how do we battle the lies we see and hear every day?  The ones that constantly pop up all around us.  Do you feel like the problems of this world are so huge they're just a "nameless, faceless thing you can't go after?"

The lies of this world are many, it's true.  But we are given resources to fight them.  Ephesians 6:10 - 18 talks about putting on the full armor of God for the battle. Verse 17 in particular states: "Take the helmet of salvation and sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."

My friend, as a believer, you have a watermark to protect you.  You have been sealed with the blood of Christ - it is your helmet of salvation - and you are called to represent Him in this world.  Until Christ comes again, there will always be lies, and trickery, and deceit, but you have another option to offer those who will listen...

your only option is to battle the lies of this world with the Truth.

Last month I attended The Greater Philadelphia Christian Writer's Conference that carried the theme "Write His Answer" from Habakkuk 2:2.  Those in attendance were challenged to do this very thing...to take the truth out into the world for all to see through our gift of writing.  Whenever I post to this blog, I do my best to share God's truth as He has revealed it to me through nature, an encounter, a situation, a scripture.  Your gift may be different than mine, you may not be a writer, but you can use whatever God has gifted you with to show truth to a world filled with lies.

The woman in the story is doing everything she can to expose the lies of a weight loss company with the truth of her story.  She's enlisting others to get the word out as well.

How much more do we need to expose the lies that will take down souls for eternity with the Truth of His story?  

Won't you join me in the fight?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Checklist

Do you believe God hears our prayers and sees our needs?

Do you trust He is there and is in control?

I believe if we just open our eyes, we can see and hear Him speaking into our lives.

Let me share with you something that happened a few years ago...

I’d been in a bit of a funk all day, really listening too intently to a number of Satan's lies.  I felt like I was taking hits from all sides–finances, work, the kids, and my estranged husband.  

I was feeling inadequate, incapable, and overwhelmed.  

I had just spent the little money I had on some groceries when from out of nowhere I was overtaken by despair so deep that I just lost it.  I didn’t just cry...I sobbed.  My shoulders heaved uncontrollably as I wept and the tears that cascaded down my cheeks obscured my vision to the point where I was struggling to see the road.  

As I gulped for air in between the racking sobs all I could manage was, “Oh God, oh God, oh God!”  

The emotion was gut-wrenching and I prayed that I could reach home without driving off the road. 

Once I arrived, there was no room to park in front of my house.  I pulled up in front of my next door neighbor’s steps and sat in the car continuing to cry.  As I looked up at the full moon and pleaded with the sky, God felt further from me than those stars burning millions of miles away.  He was like the moon… immense and beautiful, yet distant and untouchable. 

“God…I feel like the whole world is against me.  I feel so alone!” 

I laid my complaints at His feet, all the while feeling like there was no way to get out from under. 

“I can’t function anymore God…I just can’t do this on my own!” 

Words were pouring out of me now….

”God, I have no money, how can I take care of my kids?  My kids, Lord…I’m so worried about the road they’re going down.  Lord, I’m so alone…help me!” 

I cried out to God for a good half hour until the tears began to subside and my neighbor began to peek out the window wondering what on earth I was doing.  It was almost 11:00 before I pulled myself together.   I grabbed some of the grocery bags, walked up the sidewalk toward my porch, dropped them off and turned back toward the car as another neighbor drove up.  

Maria had lived across the street from me for at least a decade.  I knew she was a Christian.  Our children had attended the same Christian school, but mostly we just exchanged pleasantries on occasion.   She knew nothing of what I was currently going through. 

 “Hello, Toni, how are you?” she asked. 


 I responded as cheerily as I could.  I knew she couldn’t see I’d been crying because it was late and the street light in front of my house had gone out.  It was pretty dark. 

“My sister says the Holy Spirit is telling her that you need prayer.  Are you sure you’re alright?”

I stopped dead in my tracks.  I didn’t realize there was someone else in the car, and how did she know….”No Maria, I’m not.” 

“Can we pray for you?”

“I think God sent you to do just that.” 

Maria’s sister got out of the car, grabbed me by the hand and led me to the porch steps nodding and smiling.  Maria parked her car and joined us. 

“This is my sister from Costa Rica.  She’s a missionary to Italy but she’s visiting for a little while.  She doesn’t speak English very well.  She says you need to sit on the porch so she can lay hands on you…you’re too tall.” 

Maria laughed.  She and her sister were at least half a foot shorter than my 5’ 8” frame.  I understood the predicament and dutifully sat.  To my left, Maria’s sister stood and placed one hand on my back and the other on top of my head.  She prayed in Spanish in the most powerful way while Maria laid her hand on my right shoulder and translated. 

“God says you are not alone, He is here with you.”

She placed her hand on my shoulder.

“Don’t say you can’t …you can do all things through Him.  I bind the spirits at work in this house–I pray for your children....” 

I caught my breath.  How could she possibly know what to pray?  Her prayer was so dead on that the tears welled up in me again and I thought if anyone was up and about at that hour we would make quite a spectacle–me weeping, her speaking in Spanish followed by Maria’s translation. 

Finally, she placed a hand over my heart and said...

“You've been bearing a large hurt for a long time and in the name of Jesus you are released from it.” 

She prayed for His peace in my life and it was like the burden just fell away.   The crying stopped and I was flooded with peace.  I knew immediately that God Himself had spoken clearly and personally through this woman I had never met.  

Everything... absolutely everything I brought before the Lord in the privacy of my car that night, that dear woman addressed through her prayer for me.  

It was as if she’d had a checklist of my concerns and God gave them to her one by one to tick off.  

It was proof that He not only heard my desperate cry, but that He cared about my pain and wanted me to know He loved me and was there for me.  It was a a beautiful answer to prayer!

You may be feeling desperate today. It may seem like God is a million miles away. He's not.

He's walking this road with you and His Spirit resides within you providing strength and peace. Take a moment to cry out to Him. 

He will make His presence known to you. 

It may be through a scripture, a song, even nature.

Or it may just be through the prayer of a faithful servant who hears His voice and responds by speaking His Word over you.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Wayfarer Wisdom

It was one of those picture perfect days.

Temps in the high 70s - so unusual for August in New Jersey, no humidity, not a cloud in the sky, a light breeze.  As soon as I could escape the office, I slipped behind the wheel of my car and headed out to pick up a friend.  Earlier in the day we had made plans to take a walk along the D&R canal towpath just a few minutes from her apartment.

The canal water's surface was broken only by the occasional fish jumping for an insect dinner or mallard family paddling by.  A gaggle of Canadian geese on the far bank dined on golf course greens, and a lone heron flapped his large, grey wings and lifted off and out of sight.  Bicycle riders passed us from behind and several dogs...a black lab, boxer, and bulldog were out walking their owners.

A little farther down the path a man and woman came walking toward us with their young son.  As we passed and greeted each other I said "good morning" instead of saying "hi" or "good evening" since it was already almost 6.  As soon as I realized my mistake, I laughed and said "Oh boy, I guess I don't know what time it is!"  At the same time, the woman started laughing and pointed toward the man "He always says good morning!".  Her husband chimed in "It's true. Morning, noon or night, I always say good morning.  I figure this way.  If I wake up, I'm blessed, so it's a good morning.  The rest is just extra."

Who knew I'd find wisdom on the towpath?  

To wake up to a brand new day is a blessing, and every minute I'm given after that is just icing on the cake...while I know that's a wonderful way to look at each day, I confess I'm not always grateful each time I open my eyes.  Illness, lack of sleep, lousy weather, problems and stresses left over from the day before can all lead me to utter more of an "ugh" than a "thanks for another day, Lord". 

Then again, sometimes I wake up feeling fine, but as the day drags on, a bad attitude creeps in and makes its way to the surface.  How different might each day be if I paused here and there to reflect on the gift of all the added minutes I'd been given since waking up?  Better yet, what if I used those pauses to say "good morning" and readjust that bad attitude?

With each passing moment I have another choice to embrace the good and let go of the bad.

So "good morning" to you no matter what time it is, and I challenge you to appreciate your 'extra'!

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Lie of "I can't"

"I have no artistic talent" were the words I uttered to the girl working behind the counter at the ceramic shop yesterday. 

"That's crazy" said my friends. 

"Well, okay...I can write, and sing, and even act a bit, but painting...not so much."  I refused to give all the way in.

You see, some co-workers and I wanted to get together for a girls day out.  We wanted to do something fun and different.  So when we found a Groupon for ceramic painting, we bought it.

As we walked into the shop, my eyes glazed over.  So many pretty things!  Bowls and plates and vases and figurines...all beautifully decorated and calling my name.  But the sales girl told me some of the items I expressed an interest in required artistic skills like being able to free-hand a picture.  And so I made that statement.

Finally, I chose the owl in the picture above.  But I was still moaning about my lack of ability.  The sales girl - who seemed a little exasperated with me at this point - said "Can you trace?" 

Well, of course I could. 

"Can you color in the lines?" 

Pretty much since I was 3 thank you. 

"Then you can do this!"

In truth, it wasn't that simple.  There were several steps.  First I blew into a straw that was in a cup of paint and water creating bubbles which went up over the side of the cup and onto the plate, covering it.  Once it was dry, I did it again with a second color. 

Think about being 5 years old again and blowing bubbles with a straw in your chocolate milk...and you've got the idea.  If you look closely at the blue background of the plate, you'll see the cool circular effect it created.

Once both layers of the paint mixture were dry, I took the picture of the owl, placed it on the plate and used a pen to go over the lines in the picture, pressing hard to try to create a stencil outline.  I say 'try', because with two layers of paint on the plate, seeing the lines was practically impossible.  I wound up free-handing quite a bit of the design using the picture as my guide.

When all was said and done, and the plate was handed over to be glazed and fired, I realized it wasn't simple, but I did it.  Maybe I do have a little artistic talent.

Painting a plate in a ceramics studio might not seem to have spiritual implications, but it's not about the plate really.  It's about the attitude.  It's about being afraid to try new things.  It's about speaking negativity into reality.  It's about doubting the gifts God gives us.

Why do we limit ourselves?

For me, I believe it's the sin of pride.  I don't like to fail - and I certainly don't want people watching me fail.  So it's much easier to simply say "I can't" and take any opportunity to try off the table.  I forget that it's not about what I can do, but rather, what God can and will do through me if I'm willing. 

Yesterday reminded me of another time when I spoke the words "I can't."  When God was prompting me to speak to my pastor about community outreach.  I clearly remember saying to him "I think we should do this, but I'm not a leader."  And yet God has placed me in a position of leadership that has not only changed my life but the entire approach to community outreach in my church. 

The next time you're tempted to back away from something new, something a little scary, something with the potential to fail, remember "I can't" is a lie that can always be countered with "He can." 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Gorillas & Mules & Fools - Oh My!

Have you ever wanted to get something off your chest?  Put it all out on the table?  Address the gorilla in the room?  You know it's something that might have consequences once the words are out there but at that very moment, you're convinced you don't care - you just want to speak your mind!

I'm not always good at muzzling my thoughts.  (Right now those who know me best are uttering a sarcastic "Nooooooooooo, really?!!")  I have been known on more than one occasion to speak out of impulse and emotion because I just couldn't STAND the injustice of the situation another minute!

Basically, I stink at waiting.  That's problematic since waiting is generally needed for discernment, because waiting is often required to hear from God. 

On those occasions when I do manage to wait, it's often not silently and reverently with an ear toward the whisper in the wind. No, I'm much more likely to become head of the debate team. 

Yes, I, mere mortal that I am, try to explain to the God of the universe (read: argue with) why I should act in a certain manner. Forget that I'm full of faults and my past behavior of being the fool who rushes in where angels fear to tread has caused me nothing but embarrassment, heartache, or a full belly of crow. This time will be different!

Such was the case for me recently. I wrote a response to an email that I really, really, REALLY wanted to send. I was chomping at the bit to make my thoughts known, but I was counseled by two friends not to send it. I tweaked it. I saved it. I re-read it. I tried to talk both myself and my friends into the validity of it. They disagreed. I tweaked it some more.

The next day, I did what I should have done in the first place. I prayed for wisdom and discernment.  My prayer wasn't exactly textbook holy...it kind of went like this: "Lord, you know I can be stupid...please speak to me clearly through your Word this morning so I know what to do."

Be careful what you ask for if you really don't mean what you say. The devotional I read talked about being silent before God.  Seeking His face for guidance. I read the accompanying scriptures which were along the same vein, but then I noticed the previous year I had written in another scripture passage. I must behave this way more than I realize.

Psalm 32:8-9 says "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you."

Did I mention I had been 'chomping at the bit' to send the email? 

I deleted it. 

There's a saying "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt." It's very close to Proverbs 17:28 which says "Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue."

Actually, Proverbs has a lot to say about fools. In 18:2 we read "A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions" and in verse 7 of the same chapter it says "A fool's mouth is his undoing, and his lips are a snare to his soul." 

I'm sure if modern technology had been around in Biblical times the verses could just as easily have been written "A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in posting all his opinions on Facebook" and "A fool's keyboard is his undoing and his texts and emails are a snare to his soul." 

I don't know about you, but while I aspire to be many things, a fool is not among them. 

Words, whether spoken or written, can never be taken back. Once that "send" button is pushed, you may just be opening your mouth and removing all doubt as to your foolishness. Thank you Lord for answering my prayer with clear instruction and providing a second chance to act wisely!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Adventures in Community Outreach - A Day of Service Part 2

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my church's Spring outreach which will take place June 1st...Central Cares Day.  I gave some background on how the idea evolved and the names of the organizations we'll be serving.

Today I wanted to provide more information on the nuts and bolts of how to put something like this together. 

First, last and always...pray.  Every outreach we've taken on has been a God-sized dream and they keep getting bigger.  Because they are so far out of the realm of our limited ability, at some point in each outreach, I begin to listen to the voices of fear in my head.  This time, I confess, I even considered canceling on a few projects because I worried there were not sufficient volunteers.  But when God is in the planning you have to trust that no matter how big the outreach seems, no matter how impossible it feels, He will be faithful to provide everything you need because it was His idea in the first place!  And so He has.  All work sites are a go as volunteers have poured in during the past few days.

Second...ask.  Because we've been working with service organizations like Dress for Success, The Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity and the like, we had some connections already.  But a simple internet search and poll of those we know turned up many more non-profits and social service organizations to contact.  We also spoke with the superintendent of an inner city school system and an urban church.  It is rare to encounter a group willing to turn down free labor.

For the most part, I obtained a contact name and sent an email saying we had groups of people willing to do tasks such as painting, minor repairs, light landscaping, serving a meal, interacting with residents/clients, etc. and asked if they had any needs that would fit the bill.  I also explained we had set aside Saturday June 1st from 9-12 to perform the tasks.

Third...collect information.  When I received a positive response, I sent a form with basic questions like "Type of project?(painting, repair, landscaping, etc)", "How many volunteers needed?", "What tools can be provided?  What tools need to be supplied?", "Minimum age for volunteers?", and "How will the project benefit your organization and the community?" I also asked for the project address, a jpeg of their organization logo, and a contact name and number for the day of the event.

I took some time to visit most of the work sites to take pictures and see first hand what was needed.  In the case of several of the larger projects, the leaders also visited the site in advance of the project to make their own observations and plan out pre-event prep.

Fourth...budget.  We were blessed to have a donation made to our ministry for use toward the purchase of supplies, however we also solicited local home improvement stores for donations of paint, mulch, trash bags and the like.  One of the three stores contacted will be helping us.  I'm working with local store managers, but typically, donations have to come through a corporate office via their web site so putting in a request a minimum of 90 days in advance is recommended.

Fifth...recruit. Once we had a general idea of how many people would be required to cover all the work sites, we needed to advertise and recruit for volunteers.  Because this outreach is so comprehensive, we created a booklet to provide potential volunteers with all the information. Our designer took the information we gathered and created a layout which arranged outreach opportunities by age.  This helped volunteers with children to narrow down choices at a glance.  Again, we're blessed by having a congregant who does amazing design work for us for free...the design at the top of this post is her creation and appears not only on all our materials for the event, but also on the t-shirts we will wear that day. She was also responsible for the Free Market signage and t-shirt designs.

Recruitment was done in stages.  First, we personally invited those we thought would be a good fit for leadership roles at each site.  Next, we handed out the brochure to congregants and explained the event.   We provided a sign up form in the back of the booklet as well as a link to a free online service we highly recommend called "Volunteer Spot".

Having a pastoral staff that supports the outreach is very important.  Often when we have church-wide outreaches, the sign up phase is the culmination of a sermon series on a subject that ties in to the purpose of the outreach. The volunteer sign up allows our church to take what they've learned and put it into practice.  Service has really become part of the DNA of our church!

In addition, we use social media to "advertise" the event.  Those photos I took were posted on our Facebook page along with a description of the project and the link to Volunteer Spot.  The pictures of the work site and project details were helpful to some who needed more than just a written description to visualize the need.  We also encouraged those who weren't part of the congregation to join us.  As a result, friends, family, neighbors and co-workers of attendees will be part of the day.  I have found that people want to help - you just have to show them how and give them an opportunity.

Sixth...details.  I won't lie to you...when we took on this event, I thought it would be easy because we didn't have to come up with the project ideas or do things on our property.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  There are a million details in the coordinating and I have an incredible team of people to help tie up those loose ends.  Details include everything from shopping for supplies to coordinating rides and everything in between.

Seventh...giving thanks. One thing multiple outreaches have taught us is that when many people are part of the effort, not everyone knows/hears all the "God stories".  We will put together a picture presentation with stills and appropriate music that's shown a week or so after the event, but it's just not the same.  This time we are ending the outreach with a meal and time to share the God sightings from the day.  It is my hope that this time of fellowship will allow all those involved to be encouraged as they hear the stories from each of the work sites.  The meal is also a tangible way for us to thank our many volunteers for their time and service.

If you've made it this far, congratulations - that was a lot of information to plow through!  As always, if you desire more information or guidance on how you can bring this type of outreach to your community, just contact me via this blog and I'd be more than happy to provide you with more information.

And stay tuned...Central Cares Day is just a week away.  I will be bringing lots of pictures and stories of the day to this blog in the near future.


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Rowing In The Right Order

Last weekend, I headed to the lake to discover there was a regatta going on.  For those unfamiliar with the term, it's a series of boat races typically between rowed or sailed water craft.  This particular regatta was a competition where long boats are rowed.

I've seen the races before, but this time, as I watched the precision of the rowers and listened to the shouts of encouragement coming from a passenger in the boat, I grew curious about the details of the sport.  What I learned after some research was just how much a rowing team resembles our Christian walk...or at least how it should look.  For starters, just look at the teamwork required just to get the boat IN the water. The team needs to lift the burden together... just as we should be lifting one another's burdens up in prayer.

Then, once the boat is in the water, each of these team members has a specified position in the boat.

Using an 8 person boat as an example, the one closest to the front of the boat, or the 'stern', is called the 'stroke'.  This is the rower who is the most technically sound member of the team. It is that person's responsibility to establish the rhythm and rate of the boat - or basically, the speed at which they proceed.  In the picture below, you can see a person facing the rowers.  That non-rowing member of the team is the 'coxswain' and his responsibility is to steer the boat by working with the 'stroke', to provide motivation and encouragement to the crew, to let the crew know where they are in relation to other crews and the finish line, and to make any necessary race tactic calls.

Not to over simplify things, but when I think about the positions in the boat equated to our Christian walk, I think of Jesus as the one in the stroke seat with God as the coxswain.  Jesus is in the intercessor postion, establishing the rhythm of our lives when we're in submission to him. God's in the boat with us, directing us, providing encouragement throughout the race and the only one who can actually see the finish line.

The middle rowers are the body of believers.  We are to keep our eyes looking ahead, trusting on God to guide us.  We faithfully serve, pulling together to stay consistent in the race, and working together toward a common goal.

The last 2 rowers in the 8 person boat are called the bow pair.  This pair are more responsible for the stability and the direction of the boat than the other rowers, and are often very technical rowers.  In my little analogy, these would be our leaders, our pastors and the like.

So if the rowers all have a position in the boat that utilizes their strengths, what if one started to complain about their position within the boat?

What if a middle rower decides to switch positions or stop rowing? 

I'm not even sure it's physically possible to stand up in one of those long boats let alone crawl over others to switch seats...but I'll tell you what...aren't we all guilty of having made the attempt at one point or another in our lives? You know what I'm talking about. 

You think you can do something better than the person doing it...or

You think you're doing all the work with none of the credit...or

You don't see why you should have to be the one to volunteer...again...

Worse yet, maybe it's not another member of the body you have issue with...maybe you want to be in charge of the rhythm and rate of the boat. 

What if you try to sit in the stroke seat?

Yes...I'm talking about switching seats with Jesus.  C'mon, you remember...

Those times when things weren't moving along fast enough for you...

Those times when you thought switching lanes would give you an advantage...

Those times when you foolishly thought you could be face to face with God and tell him you could do a better job getting where you wanted to go...

And what happened?  You rocked the boat.  You capsized the boat.  Or maybe you just caused the boat to go around in circles without moving forward so long you got completely disoriented.
It's time for one more comparison today.  You see that big white boat in the picture?  That boat is like the Holy Spirit.  It follows the crews throughout the entire race.  The person in that boat chastises the rowers if they begin to stray from their lane.. he keeps them on the straight and narrow as it were.  If anything happens to a rower, they are there to pluck them up out of the water. 

In our Christian walk, as in rowing, there is a proper order to things.  We need God at the head or we run the risk of being in the race but getting off course because we cannot see the finish line.  We need Jesus in our midst to set the pace.  He intercedes on our behalf with the Father and together they guide us.  

We need to work together as a team, understanding that each person has strengths and weaknesses and God has placed us in the position He wants us in so we are best used to accomplish His purposes.  If we try to switch up that placement we run the risk of bringing harm to the entire group.  Our pastors and teachers are there to give us the stability and guidance we need as we navigate the sometimes rough waters in our lives.  We need to listen to the Holy Spirit to keep from straying from what is right. 

How are you doing today?  Are you fulfilling the mission of your position in the boat? 

Are you rowing in the right order? 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Adventures in Community Outreach - A Day of Service

In addition to my full-time job as Creative Services Director for a radio station, I serve as the Director of Community Connections, the local outreach ministry of my church, Central: a Christ-centered church.  If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that occasionally I write a new entry for the series - "Adventures in Community Outreach".  These posts detail just a few of the different outreaches my church has held over the years, in hopes that you may become inspired to do something similar to reach your community.

Last June, we held a Free Market on our grounds to help those who recently transitioned into their own home from a shelter situation, or who were struggling financially and needed household items.  It was a tremendous undertaking and touched about 300 lives, but we decided it's something to carry out every few years, not annually.  

That meant we needed a new idea this June.  I spent many months praying about what that would look like, and kept coming up empty.  Because my desire was to have our next outreach take place in the community and not on our grounds, we considered doing a health fair at a church we work with in the city.  But although I thought it was the right direction, several doors closed and it was necessary to go back to the drawing board.  That made me very nervous because we had a date of June 1st set aside, and March was rapidly approaching.  One day I may learn that my timing is not God's divine timing!

Because these church-wide outreaches tend to garner 150 - 200 volunteers, I had been stuck on finding a vehicle large enough to accommodate that size group.  Slowly, through a number of encounters, God shifted my thinking, and "Central Cares Day" was born.

Central Cares Day will take place June 1st from 9 til noon.  Groups of 5, 10, or 20 people will meet for a time of prayer and encouragement before going out to perform practical acts of service at the 16 sites we've identified throughout our county:

The Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, Mercer Street Friends (a food bank), Choice One (a crisis pregnancy center), The Arc Mercer County (a group home), Morris Hall (a nursing home), CareTrenton.org (a group dedicated to cleaning the streets of Trenton), UIH (strengthens families by working with dads), Henry J. Austin (a health clinic), Cadwalader Learning Center, 3 homeless shelters, 3 elementary schools. and 2 community centers.

The help we will provide will be as diverse as the organizations themselves...from art projects and entertainment, to housekeeping and administrative work, from light landscaping and serving a meal to painting and repairs.  Besides wanting to positively impact our community by putting hands and feet on our faith, we sought out things that could be done by a variety of ages and abilities so that all who wanted to participate, could.  We have several locations where families even with young children can participate together, some appropriate for 12 and up and some that are for adults 18+. 

The logistics have boiled down to this...each location will provide a contact person who will be onsite while we're working, and we will identify a team leader on our end for each project.  In this way, communication can be established prior to the work being done.  The group can go in fully prepared to perform the task at hand.

An army of volunteers - 291 - will be needed for Central Cares Day.  But if your church has a smaller congregation you can still organize something similar.  Simply begin with fewer sites, or, as I hope will occur in years to come with our "Cares Day", organize several churches in your area to work together to achieve the goal!

One of the other exciting facets of this outreach is how we plan to wind things up.  After all the groups have served at their site for the 3 hours, they will gather back together at our church where we will have a time of testimony and fellowship over a picnic lunch.  So often when we hold these large outreaches, we know what has happened in our little section of the event, but we don't hear all the other stories and encounters.  We usually pull together a video of stills, but it's not the same.  By coming together for a meal and time of sharing, we will get to learn how God has taken each one of these small outreaches to create a large impact all over our county.  

Of course, in order to have all this happen, we need a few more teams of volunteers behind the scenes - my ministry team is invaluable in putting together the details, helping sign up volunteers, and more, we need those willing to prep and serve the food, set up and take down  the meal portion of the event, provide childcare for the smaller children who can't help, and most importantly, a prayer team who covers the entire event in prayer!

We are already being blessed as several organizations have sought to meet to discuss an ongoing partnership with our church.  And then there are those crazy little detail Godincidences like the yard sale where I found 82 pairs of work gloves for a fraction of the regular price.

Volunteer signups begin this coming weekend, so stay tuned for updates as Central Cares Day approaches.  I'm sure there will be many God-sightings along the way!!