Welcome to my blog...

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

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

Saturday, 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 exercise. 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

I'm dealing with a hard reality this week.  Something that could make me curl up in a ball and hide under the covers if I let the "what ifs" take hold in my mind.  But just about the time I felt ready to give up, God sent me an email.  No, it wasn't addressed from the heavenly realms, but it was something that spoke directly to the issue.  I'll share that story later, but it reminded me of another time God spoke to me very clearly and very powerfully.  

It's a story that will be included in the memoir I feel like I've been writing forever. I pray that it gives you encouragement and provides you with proof that God hears our prayers, sees our needs, and lovingly lets us know that He is there and He is in control.

"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. 

“Okay.”

 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!"

I am in the middle of a pile of rubble today.  I want to pick up the stones and throw them at something...hard.  But then I remember this beautiful encounter with God during another time I felt like my life was in ruins.  And I remember how God picked up the pieces and rebuilt the wall...stronger than it had ever been. He surrounds me with the wall of His love, protecting me from harm.  And I am ever grateful.

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 site.  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 last week.  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.

Then today 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!