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...

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Despair to Prayer Chronicles - Part 6

When I started this series, I indicated that I had spent a lot of time trying to compose a post about prayer, but nothing I wrote seemed quite right.

I guess God had to bring me through lots of tears and lessons to get to a point where the words would flow. If you haven't read the earlier entries, click here for part 5 which contains links to all the previous posts.

In this last entry, I want to take that look at the "mechanics" of prayer.

I  mentioned last time that I read Bill Hybels book To Busy Not To Pray.

One of the things he talked about was the acrostic A.C.T.S.  If you've been a Christian for any length of time, I'm sure you've heard of it.  It stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication (or requests).

Although I knew the acrostic, for a long time I confused the meaning and purpose of Adoration and Thanksgiving.  Bill talked about acknowledging God for who He is.  Omnipresent.  Omniscient.  Omnipotent.

That's when I began to realize that praising him is not the same as thanking him. 

Acknowledging who he is isn't the same as being grateful for what he's done.  

When you're sitting next to the vastness of the ocean, you begin to get a sense of how immense and complex and creative He is.  Can you even fathom counting the grains of sand on that one beach?  How about space and stars and galaxies...does your mind hurt trying to wrap itself around that enormity? 

Praise Him for He is glorious! 

When you have a more accurate picture of who you're going to in prayer it puts stuff in perspective.

If God created all of this - and holds it together each and every day - can He not handle whatever your problems are? He created you as well. Psalm 139 tells us we are fearfully and wonderfully made!  He formed us in our mother's womb and knew us before the beginning of time. 

He loved us with an everlasting love - can we do anything less than sit back on our heels in awestruck wonder...or fall on our faces in utter abandonment saying Abba Father, we adore you?  

As I began processing these thoughts I started to sing the words to an old, simple song of praise:

Father I adore you, lay my life before you, how I love you. 
Jesus I adore you, lay my life before you, how I love you.
Spirit I adore you, lay my life before you, how I love you.

Then another favorite came to mind:

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, there's just something about that name. 
Master, Savior, Jesus like the fragrance, after the rain. 
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, let all heaven and earth proclaim...
Kings and kingdoms will all pass away, but there's something about that name.

Now that my heart was in a place where I could truly see His perfection, I also clearly saw many of my imperfections...and I began to confess them. 

Again, the book highlighted things in a way I had not thought of before. 

Bill tells a story of a congregant who came to see him to say he was tired of all this talk of 'sinning.'  As far as he was concerned, he wasn't a sinner.  Bill asked how long he'd been married.  It was a long time - something like 25 years.  Bill said, 'You mean to tell me in all that time you've never been unfaithful to your wife?  You have always done what is right?'  The man replied, 'Well, I'm in sales. You know, I'm on the road a lot.'  He laughed a bit nervously.  Bill said 'He didn't admit it outright, but we both knew what he was getting at.' Then he asked the man, 'Have you ever put down something on an expense report that you shouldn't have? Gotten credit for something that wasn't really applicable?' 'Everyone does' was the reply.'  'And what about the product you sell?  Ever enhance the benefits knowing it wasn't true just to make a sale?' 'That's just industry standard' he argued 'It's expected!'.  Bill looked at this "non-sinner" and said to him, you've just admitted to me that you are an adulterer, a cheat and a liar. 

The man looked shocked. 

'Say it out loud' Bill instructed.  'This is what you are - an adulterer, a cheater and a liar.' 

Wow.  Have you whitewashed your sins? I know I have. Are you just sharing stories or are you a gossip?  Are you  just venting or are you a constant complainer? Do you 'borrow' pens, paper, folders, any kind of office supplies from work? You're a thief. Ugly words, aren't they?  But sin is ugly. 

We have ALL sinned and come short of the glory of God. Instead of denying that fact, why don't you ask forgiveness for it and have it taken away?  Spend time each day asking God to search your heart.  When I'm aware of what I've done that needs confessing, I do...but I also ask that He would show me areas I may not even be aware of.

Now that my heart was lighter, I could truly give thanks. That week I started with thanking Him for the gift of the beach house, for my senses that allowed me to fully drink it all in - sight, sound, smell, touch - for the car that brought me down there, for the job waiting for me when I returned. For the friends who texted to say they were praying for me, for God revealing His love for me through my Bible and the writings of others. For every lesson He loving taught me through the birds, the shell, the consistency of the waves and the rising of the sun. 

The words of another song came to mind and I sang them too:

Give thanks with a grateful heart
Give thanks, to the Holy one
Give thanks for He's given Jesus Christ His Son. 
And now, let the weak say I am strong
Let the poor say I am rich
Because of what the Lord has done for us.  Give thanks.

Finally, I brought my requests to God. 

I prayed for my children to return to a right relationship with Him. I prayed for clarity and wisdom on a number of issues where decisions needed to be made. I prayed for the well-being of my friends - not in general terms, but mentioned each by name and lifted their specific situations to Him. I asked that He would guide my ministry, the leaders of my church, and those of our nation. There are always many requests, but with a heart that's been prepared, they don't take on such a 'give me' quality.

As I closed out my prayer time I thanked Him for His promises and His faithfulness to carry them out. 

I opened my Bible, read a few Psalms and sat back silently to listen to what He had to say. 

The words of Habakkuk 2:1 & 2 came to mind...I will stand at my watch, and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what I answer I am to give this complaint. Then the Lord replied: Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it.

So this is the conclusion of my journey from Despair to Prayer. I am writing it down and making it plain in the hope that you are able to glean something helpful from it. I pray that God speaks to your heart as clearly as He spoke to mine...I know He will if you seek Him.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Despair to Prayer Chronicles - Part 5

If you've been on this journey with me the past 4 days, you know I've gone from saying "I feel so empty...so far from God, and too tired to pray", to confessing "the more I didn't pray, the more I didn't want to pray." By the third installment, I was taking some time to get away and in the quiet of my car, I began to talk to God for the first time in weeks. Finally, I realized once you've met Him in a personal way, the world is not right when you're apart.

So at this point, I have reconciled with God and on my first day in Ocean City He began teaching me ocean side lessons through His creation. Part 5 picks up with the dawning of Day Two...

I woke up a little after 6 and looked out the back door in time to see the sun beginning to rise out of the ocean.

A tiny ball of yellow with hues of blue, rose and orange surrounding it.

You may recall that just the day before I had been praying "...for His forgiveness for my pride, my critical spirit, and my judgmental attitude."

I had come to the conclusion that "My job was to make sure MY heart was right before God.  That I was seeking and doing His will.  I could pray for others, that they too were seeking God's face in decisions they were making, but beyond that, I needed to hang up my robe and set down the gavel."

Apparently I had my actions properly pegged, because I opened my devotional and the words jumped off the page: "Come to me and rest.  Give your mind a break from its habitual judging. You form judgments about this situation, that situation, this person, that person, yourself, even the weather - as if judging were your main function in life. But I created you first and foremost to know me and to live in rich communication with Me. When you become preoccupied with passing judgment, you usurp My role."

I stopped reading and said out loud "but God...I came to that realization yesterday!"

Ah...but God knows me well enough to know I need a reminder.  In fact, just a week after I returned home my judging habit was once again put to the test.  I wish I could say I passed with flying colors, not judging things at all, but I can say where I might have dwelt on the situation and let it gnaw at me previously, I was able to recognize what was going on in my heart and mind and pray about it immediately, giving it over to God.  Progress!

Once again, after my quite time, I went down to the beach for a long walk, then grabbed my things and settled in to read.

The book I opened first was "Too Busy NOT To Pray", by Bill Hybels.  This book has been out for years - in fact, I had the "20th anniversary edition" published in 2008.  Apparently I'd been really busy, because I had never heard of it before a friend recommended it.

As I mentioned previously, I thought I had the prayer part of my walk down pretty well.  Thought I was pretty faithful.  But this dry spell showed me, as imperfect human beings, we've never got anything 'down pat' this side of heaven.

It reminds me of a joke I heard once.  After a service, a pastor was shaking hands with attendees.  One man said, "Pastor, I just want to tell you, I've worked very hard at keeping all the commandments this week...I haven't broken one!"  To which the pastor replied "well, now, you must be very proud of that."  The man nodded in the affirmative, not even aware of his sin of pride.  We can't and won't ever get it all right, all the time.  If we could do that on our own, we'd have no need of a Savior.

Back to the book...of course it's broken into chapters, but in addition, each few chapters have an overall theme...God calls us into His presence, God invites us to talk with Him, God breaks down the barriers between us, God speaks to our hearts and God prompts us to action.  Many concepts in this book weren't necessarily new to me, but they brought me back to the basics in such a manner that I saw things in a fresh way.  There was a chapter called "mountain-moving prayer" that I especially connected with.

Bill Hybels begins the chapter by quoting Matthew 21:21-22..."Jesus said, 'I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt...you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done.  If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.'"  Then Bill says "Jesus, of course, was not in the excavation business. He had little interest in relocating piles of rocks to the ocean's depths. He was using the term 'mountain' figuratively, in hopes of conveying to all believers that we can be confident that our prayers carry great power." He then goes on to cite two principles he'd learned over the years...1) Faith comes by looking at God, not at the mountain and  2) God gives us faith as we walk by His side.

I had been looking at the mountain so long it had paralyzed me with fear and filled me with frustration.  

It kept me from seeking the Mountain Mover.  When I failed to walk by His side daily, my faith weakened. I didn't doubt God, but I wasn't trusting Him for everything and in everything either.

Later that afternoon as the tide went out, I took another walk down the shoreline looking at all the shells left behind.

I found a small conch shell and picked it up.  When I turned it over, I saw it was broken.  I was disappointed because I thought it was complete until I saw the underside.

As I went to toss it into the waves, I stopped, because I felt God was speaking to my heart.

 You're like this shell, Toni.  Even though it's been tossed by the sea and broken in places, I created it with an intricate beauty that remains.  In fact, those seeming imperfections are what make it unique, different from all the others.

I realized God would never toss me away because I was broken.  

I rinsed off the sand and brought it back to the house.  It now sits on my desk, a daily reminder that there is beauty in our brokenness when we let go of the despair, and receive healing through prayer.

Tomorrow, we wrap up the chronicles with a deeper look at prayer...

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Despair to Prayer Chronicles - Part 4

Now that my prayer drought was broken and I had begun to spend time just being still, God began teaching me through His creation...

For my 3 day respite, I brought 6 books to read in addition to my Bible - always an over achiever!  I wanted to crack them open, but that first day spent laying back in my beach chair, I was shocked at how tired I was.

For hours, I floated in and out of consciousness, soaking up the warmth of the sun.  My body and mind needed more rest than I had thought. I did open my Bible long enough to read Psalm 42 which begins and ends this way...  "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When can I go and meet with God?  My tears have been my food day and night...Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God."

When can I go and meet with God?

Anytime, anywhere. 

As I said in the first part of this saga, He had never left...He was waiting for me to come to Him and lay down my cares, but I was too angry, frustrated, tired, and full of excuses, to seek His face.  And so my soul was downcast and disturbed.

But like the psalmist, despite the tears and sadness and time apart, my soul still thirsted for God and I knew I had to make my way back.

Once you've met Him in a personal way, the world is not right when you're apart.  

So that day, as I read the Psalm through without interruption or distraction, I again felt myself longing after what had been missing for weeks...that sweet, powerful time alone with God in communion and prayer.

Finally, I was able to move on to the second half of verse 11: "Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God."

After several hours of cat naps, reading, people watching, and just staring at the outgoing tide, I decided to take a walk up the beach.                                  

First, I noticed the sandpipers...skittish little birds that are funny to observe.

They travel in groups, making quick, sharp movements.  Up the beach they run just ahead of the waves.  Then they turn, and dash toward the water, stopping occasionally to poke their rather long beaks into the sand, trying desperately to catch and eat the tiniest of crabs before the crustaceans burrow back into safety.

 "So many people are just like those sandpipers" I thought.  "Running up and down, back and forth, never seeming to accomplish anything, never stopping to enjoy their surroundings, never breaking from the crowd...just scurrying to and fro on a relentless quest to do enough to survive."

Lately, I'd had a sandpiper mentality and it was now clear just how utterly exhausting it was to exist that way! 

The seagulls were an interesting bunch too.  There was variety in their coloring - brown, speckled, white, grey, or some combo thereof - and there was variety in their behavior.

Some seagulls strutted the beach crying in loud, piercing gasps.
Perhaps they were angry at other gulls for stealing their food or maybe they just liked to complain.  Since I don't speak gull very fluently, it was tough to know for sure. Mostly, they seemed an unhappy lot.

Then there were gulls who stood their ground in the sand.  "Let the meal come to me" seemed to be their attitude.  Eventually something washed up and all they had to do was reach over and peck a bit to satisfy their hunger.

Others seemed oblivious to all the activity and just tucked their beaks under their feathers and snoozed...that day I could relate!

And of course, there were the gulls in the air.  For the most part, they were no different than the sandpipers.  They circled and dove and fought off other seagulls from the boundaries of their airspace that no one could see but them.

But the few who really held my attention were the ones who spread their wings and kind of hung in the air.  There was a pretty good breeze blowing but they weren't pushed off course. They faced into the wind and kept aloft, using what some might consider a problem, to their advantage. They rose above it all...watching, anticipating, facing into the winds of change, not losing momentum.

I wanted to be like them.  

I didn't want to be busy all over the place. Didn't want to complain loudly to anyone who'd listen. Didn't want to be oblivious to everything, hiding from life. And I certainly didn't want to fight to hold on to my perceived rights making enemies along the way.

I wanted to soar.  

I wanted to have the staying power necessary to face the winds of adversity. Even more, I wanted to be able to use that adversity to excel and fly higher.

How like God to teach a lesson so simple and clear through His creation.

So how does one achieve that staying power?

Through prayer.  

Despair had finally begun to lift...it was time to move fully and completely into a place of prayer.

And that's the story for tomorrow...

The Despair to Prayer Chronicles - Part 3

Four years ago I took a journey from despair to prayer. I'm sharing those posts again because the things I learned and experienced are as valid today as they were then. For the full back story, check out Part 1 and Part 2.

I knew a friend of mine was going to allow me the use of his beach house for a few days, but I didn't know exactly when until the week before.  Luckily, the God who created the entire universe also knows exactly what each of us needs and when.  The timing couldn't have been more perfect.  When I thought I was at my breaking point, I was given the opportunity to slip away, reconnect with God, and get back on track.

So here it was, Monday morning, and I was heading down to Ocean City, New Jersey.

I took my time driving down.  It was a picture perfect September day-a deep blue sky with fluffy white clouds ambling across the heavens, and temps in the high 70s. The sun warmed my face, and I rode with the window down to enjoy the slight breeze.

Half an hour in, I stopped at a farmer's market for plums. I really wanted blueberries for pancakes in the morning, but they weren't in season.

Another 45 minutes or so down the road, I grabbed a sweet tea at a McDonald's. The more miles I put between me and my stresses, the better I began to feel.

With no one calling my name, no one pulling me in ten different directions at once, I could let my guard down and open up the dialog I'd been avoiding for a long time.

In the quiet of my car, I began to talk to God for the first time in weeks.

Soon it all came tumbling out as I shared with Him my frustrations, uncertainties, and anger, especially with regard to one relationship in my life. I was able to articulate things I couldn't before, but I was also taking ownership of certain feelings I didn't realize had been festering, instead of pointing fingers and casting blame.

I asked for His forgiveness for my pride, my critical spirit, and my judgmental attitude. The ability to correctly read the heart belonged to God alone.  My job was to make sure that MY heart was right before God.  That I was seeking and doing His will. I could pray for others, that they too were seeking God's face in decisions they were making, but beyond that, I needed to hang up my robe and set down the gavel.

I realized two things that day. My broken human relationship had affected my heavenly one, and I didn't have to take on responsibility for the actions of another.

A huge weight was removed.

Part of that statement might be a no-brainer for you, but as a people-pleaser, it's hard for me not to take things on that aren't mine to bear. I'm always trying to smooth things out and make them right. I hate conflict, even when I'm receiving the brunt of the unfair treatment.

At 11 a.m., I arrived at my destination, now with a lighter heart. I slipped the key into the lock and took a look around.  Just as I remembered it...bright, clean, quiet, with a back porch view of the breakers. I could hardly wait to hit the beach.

Once the food was put away I dug out my bathing suit, slipped it on, and lathered up the sun screen.  With cooler bag, chair and umbrella slung over my shoulder, I headed for the sand.

It was just a few dozen yards up the path to the beach, which was far more full than I had anticipated at this time of year. Eventually, I found an empty patch of sand and dropped my gear.

The chair was positioned so I could look straight out at the ocean. To me, there is nothing more healing than listening to the sounds of waves and staring into the enormity of the sea.

The umbrella was plunged into the sand directly behind the chair. I plopped myself into the seat, dug out a bottle of water, pulled out my devotional, Jesus Calling, and opened it to the entry for September 12th.  "Receive my peace. It is my continual gift to you. The best way to receive this gift is to sit quietly in My Presence, trusting Me in every area of your life. Quietness and trust accomplish far more than you can imagine: not only in you, but also on earth, and in heaven. When you trust Me in a given area, you release that problem or person into my care.  Spending alone time with me can be a difficult discipline, because it goes against the activity addiction of this age. You may appear to be doing nothing; but actually, you are participating in battles going on in spiritual realms. You are waging war-not with the weapons of the world, but with heavenly weapons; which have divine power to demolish strongholds. Living close to Me is a sure defense against evil."

As my friend Agnes says, "sometimes that book is just freaky. It says what you need to hear, just at the right time."

Truer words never spoken.

I closed my eyes and, for the first time in a long time, sat quietly resting in the presence of my King.

Tomorrow, we take a look at the rest of Psalm 42...

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Despair to Prayer Chronicles - Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of this 6 part journey I wrote exactly 4 years ago. If you missed yesterday's post, you can read it here.

If you did read yesterday's post, you'll recall I was in a "prayer desert", desperately in need of God's presence, but feeling far from it. That's where we pick up today...

Please note the title is "Despair to Prayer" - not "Despair to No Cares".  

Even as I write this, there are things going on in my life that are burdensome. I am in uncharted, possibly life-altering territory and if I'm going to make it through, I need to cling to God...hard.

Prayer isn't a magic pill you swallow that turns everything to sunshine and rainbows.

No, prayer is a lifeline that connects you to the One who holds you fast even in the midst of the fiercest storm.

It gives you strength and focus. It keeps you from drowning in a sea of despair.

I've heard it said 'the day you have no troubles is the day you wake up in heaven'.  We live in a fallen world with a real enemy who, even though he may have lost the battle for our souls (if we're believers), still intends to do everything in his power to keep us from living joyous, power-filled and victorious Christian lives.  He can't alter our future, but he can mess with our present if we allow him to.  Thank God we have this promise "greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the world."

Yesterday I said "all of a sudden, I found myself in the desert".  It's not that the trip into the desert was sudden, it was more the actual realization that my throat was parched and I had grit in my teeth that was kind of overnight.  Looking back, I see that things had been piling up, one by one.  That's always the way, isn't it?  Like the Casting Crowns song says:

It's a slow fade when you give yourself away
It's a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
It's a slow fade...

I was burning the candle at both ends, and letting things fall through the cracks.  Before I knew it, I was so busy dealing with the squeakiest wheels, I had no time to slow down and hear the still small voice calling me.

The more I didn't pray, the more I didn't want to pray.

By the weekend before I left for vacation, I was physically spent, emotionally raw, and spiritually empty.

I went to church Sunday, but I didn't want to go in and sit down.  I saw a friend in the lobby and shared with her about this overwhelming sadness I couldn't explain, and how the big picture looked so insurmountable I didn't even know where or how to take my next step.

She asked if I'd been to the service yet, and I confessed I really wasn't sure I wanted to go.  "You need to hear it" she said..."he's talking to you right where you are."

I begrudgingly slipped into a seat in the balcony.

That Sunday was the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  The sermon was out of Habakkuk, and the message was about moving from despair to praise.

I wasn't ready to praise!

Instead, I walked out weeping.  Eventually, I tried to regroup and walked back into the sanctuary downstairs, not taking a seat, but standing where no one could see my red eyes.  On the screen flashed verses from Psalm 42.  Several times I read the words "Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?"  That's when the tear ducts really opened up. Like the psalmist, I didn't know why, but I knew my soul was downcast.

I couldn't stand anymore. I turned on my heel and left.

That night, before I packed to leave for the shore, I called a friend.  I shared some of what I was feeling.  She gave me an assignment.  "You're going for 3 days, right?"  I confirmed.  "Okay...each day, I want you to read a chapter out of Habakkuk - there are only 3!"  She gave me some other instructions, and said she would be praying for me.

I hung up and set about the task of packing my bags, grateful to be going far enough away that I didn't have to deal with anyone I knew for a few days.

Tomorrow, the praying begins...

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Despair to Prayer Chronicles - Part 1

I've been going full throttle again, concerned about how I'll keep my head above water as we enter the busy holiday season.

With back to school needs behind me; coat drives, food drives, Thanksgiving and Christmas loom in the not too distant future. And all of that is on top of day to day responsibilities.

I  can sense feelings of becoming overwhelmed creeping up. I'm feeling a little desperate but I've also walked this road long enough to know I need to be securely plugged into God's presence to make it through.

Yesterday, I recalled this series I wrote 4 years ago this month. As I read through it, I nodded my head in the affirmative - after all this time, I remembered the experience well.

All those years ago, I felt like I was going down for the third time until I was able to lean on the strong arms that pulled me out.

I don't want to visit that place of desperation again, but I can feel the water rising so I know I need to make a move to my knees.

Are you feeling a little desperate today? 

Join me in revisiting my journey from despair to prayer. I think it bears repeating, and I pray you'll find the same encouragement I did re-reading it. It's a 6 part journey and I'll share one entry each day this week...

Two weeks ago, I wrote to a friend..."The demands of every day existence are just too much...I'm really feeling inept.  I just can't make it all work.  I feel like I'm letting everyone down, dropping the ball and I don't want to pick it back up.  I don't want to help another soul.  I'm done.  I just don't know what God wants me to do.  I feel so empty...so far from God, and too tired to pray.  I'm ready to throw in the towel and tell everybody to just go away."

Perhaps you really need to know me to understand how foreign those statements are.

I'm the one who's always smiling...always helping someone...always socializing...always talking to God throughout the day.

"No problem" is my motto.

So what on earth was going on?  I was obviously tired...more like exhausted.  Sometimes my 50 year old body has to remind my brain that regardless of what IT thinks, I am NOT 25 anymore, and pushing myself to the limit will cause rebellion of one body part or another, if not an all out strike across the spectrum of my being.

Then again, hormonal, emotional, and relational stuff added to the physical "abuse" of committing to too much and it all took its toll spiritually.  Not only had my desire and ability to express myself through the written word dried up, I couldn't...or wouldn't...pray.

Now here's what's the most interesting thing about that.  

For weeks - maybe even more like a month or two - I've been mulling over writing a post on prayer.  Many people have asked how I keep my prayer life 'interesting' and not 'dry'...how I keep from making it a laundry list of requests, or how I'm able to be consistent.

I'm no expert, but I thought I was doing pretty well in the prayer department.

I pray every morning during my ride to work and often on the ride home as well.  If something especially challenging comes up during the day, I've been known to leave the building and go to a quite place nearby to pray. If a friend called asking for prayer, I'd head into the stairwell and pray over the phone with them right then and there.  Or stop and pray over an email.  When prayer requests came to me for a doctor's visit, an interview, whatever, I always asked what time it was taking place so I could concentrate my praying while the event was going on.  And then there's the monthly women's prayer group I lead. 

I felt God answered many of my prayers in the positive.  One person recently told me he was glad I'd be praying for a mission trip he was going on because he thought of me as a 'person of prayer' and another friend went so far as to say that I got more answers to prayer than anyone he knew.

So, no, I'm not an expert on the subject, but because I know the impact it has had on my life and the lives of others, I thought about giving some 'tips' on what worked for me.  The problem was, I wrote and rewrote the post many different ways, but none of them expressed what I wanted to say.  I found it hard to get a foothold on the subject, and therefore, it sat in my drafts, occasionally revisited, but never published.

Then, all of a sudden, I found myself in the desert.  Where was this 'person of prayer' now?  Why did the thought of speaking to my Creator feel like a chore that I couldn't bring myself to execute?  When I wrote to my friend about feeling empty and far from God, I knew it wasn't God who had moved away.

I was keenly aware the problem was within my heart...I just couldn't push past the busyness of my life to recharge.  

I became overwhelmed by all I needed "to do" and it paralyzed me from moving forward.  In some ways, I was Peter, taking my eyes off the Savior and putting them squarely on the swirling waters underfoot.  Quickly, I began to drown...

Saturday, September 12, 2015

An Unlikely Grouping

I made a last second decision not to go to the lake, and instead, turned into the entrance of a different local park.

Grabbing my camera, I hoped to find something unique to photograph.

I took some lovely pictures - the early morning sun filtering through a dense grove of trees, flowers, and a leaf that was a mixture of intense red and burnt orange...a harbinger of the season to come.

As I rounded a corner, the trees fell away and I found myself facing a large open field filled with dozens of geese.

Here in New Jersey, the Canadian goose is practically the state bird. They are ubiquitous. Hundreds of them often cover the surface of Mercer Lake, the backdrop for this blog. 

But these weren't Canadian geese. This was a gaggle of plain, old, white and grey geese. Ordinary, yet not something I ordinarily see, so I stopped to snap some pictures and observe them a bit.

They were noisy!

One trumpeted his displeasure as another invaded his territory. 

Wings flapped.

Heads and necks bobbed and weaved.

This group made their presence known and on the whole, they were not happy campers. 

Then I noticed...her.

Right in the middle of the raucous scene was a young deer.

She didn't engage the geese in their squabbles. She simply and quietly munched on her breakfast of grass, content to just be.

As soon as I spied her, the old Sesame Street ditty popped into my head. 

One of these things is not like the others. 
One of these things just doesn't belong. 
Can you tell which thing is not like the others, 
By the time I finish my song?

Today I'd like you to consider this thought.

Are you like the others? 

Or do you and your actions stand out from the crowd?

We all want to belong. We all want to be accepted. It's a natural, human desire. But as Christians, we are different - at least, we should be. 

Do you live your life in such a way that you are easily identifiable as a Christian? Or are you afraid of what that difference might cost you with friends and family?

Mark 8:38 states "If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when He comes in His Father's glory with the holy angels." 

That's the higher cost. Human acceptance cannot begin to compete with Holy acceptance. There aren't enough riches in this world to make it worth selling yourself short of the next one.

The world is a boisterous, noisy, gaggle of geese. 

Everyone is honking to be heard. Flapping their wings and bobbing their heads in an effort to gain the upper hand.

As a deer, don't try to be a goose. Instead, live among the geese while exhibiting your deer-like qualities.

John 17:15-18 (NIV) states "My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world."

And the Living Bible translation of 1 Peter 2:12 says this: Be careful how you behave among your unsaved neighbors; for then, even if they are suspicious of you and talk against you, they will end up praising God for your good works when Christ returns.

It's okay that one of these things is not like the others. We should aspire to be that thing...that deer in the midst of geese...that Christian living a godly life in an adulterous and sinful generation. God will be glorified and you will be blessed.

As you strive to be the deer in the midst of the gaggle, how can I pray for you? 

You can leave your request in the comments, or email me at lakesidelessons61@gmail.com. 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Fire or False Alarm?


The word shrieked from the smoke detector right outside my bedroom door.

It was 2:45 a.m. but my eyes flew open at the sound. I fumbled for the light in my sleepy stupor.

Shaking, I stopped and tried to gain my bearings. I smelled nothing. I saw nothing. I slipped on the shoes next to my bed and headed out to the hallway.

The apartment is small and it took no time at all to check all around and confirm that there was in fact, no fire, even though the alarm continued it's high pitched beep and warning cry.

I grabbed the step stool in the kitchen so I could reach the alarm. I twisted it to the left, expecting to remove a fading 9 volt battery. Instead, I discovered this particular alarm was wired into the ceiling.

Now I was really confused. Was there a problem with the wiring? Did I need to be concerned about that? What on earth had set this thing off?

I had no idea, so I just screwed it back up into the ceiling and the noise stopped.

Even though I felt fairly confident it was a false alarm, I found it a little difficult to fall back to sleep.

Eventually, my heightened sense of impending doom was overcome by exhaustion and I fell back asleep.

God's Word is like that fire alarm.

It warns us that there is a time coming, and is even here now, when there will be persecution. And it tells us to be on alert for the return of our Savior.

Perhaps we hear a sermon that makes us sit up and take notice of our conduct. Or we see a film like War Room that brings our faltering prayer life into question. Or we read a blog post that makes us think twice about how we're running our day to day Christian race.

Whatever it is, the warning cry wakes us from our sleep and has us looking around to see what might be coming at us. We feel convicted, we become introspective, we vow to change.

But when no danger is readily seen, when the warning signs appear to be false alarms, we slowly sink back into our daily slumber, lowering our defenses, and making ourselves weaker in the process.

Don't let that happen one more time!

Hebrews 10:37 reminds us "For in just a very little while, He who is coming will come and will not delay."

And 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4, 6 states: Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, 'Peace and safety' destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled."

Friends, there's no failing battery - the wiring is in good working order.

The warnings are real and should be heeded.

Do not become lulled back into a deep sleep.

Be on alert. Watch and pray. He who is coming WILL come - and - will not delay. His timing is perfect.

Staying focused may be easier said than done, but that is my prayer for each of us today and every day until He comes again.

I'd love to pray for you in other ways too. Running this race is often difficult and we need to lift each other up in prayer.

Feel free to leave your requests in the comments below, or email me at lakesidelessons61@gmail.com.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Space Invaded

It was a picture perfect, end of summer day.

Not a cloud in the sky.

No humidity - so rare for August in New Jersey.

Normally, I would be working four hours on a Friday morning. But with an event that evening, I opted to go in mid-afternoon and spend the earlier hours being still. Nothing re-centers me like some quality time with God by the lake.

I grabbed my phone (to keep an eye on the time), my Bible, and my camera. You never know what you might see in this pristine setting, so I always have my camera with me.

I focused in on Psalm 46:10. "Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in all the earth."

Be still. I closed my eyes and soaked up the sounds. Crickets. Cicadas. The low-throated, elongated honk of a heron. The multiple songs of the mocking bird. Water lapping on the shore line.

The sound of millions of bees headed in my direction!!

My eyes flew open and I searched the sky for the source of the sound, half-wincing in anticipation of a sting.

But there were no bees.

At first, I saw nothing. Then I spotted a tiny dot in the sky that came closer and closer.

I sat there with my mouth open, feeling a little like someone in a horror or disaster movie who stands watching destruction coming straight at them, but they never turn tail and run.

It was a drone.

I had seen them on TV. Had heard about them and the controversy over them - like when they invade air space and create problems for planes.

But I had never seen one.

And now, this noisy thing was invading my sacred space.

It hovered over me for more than a few seconds. What was it doing? Taking pictures of me? I felt violated by this over-sized electronic insect.

I whipped out my camera and took a few pictures and it suddenly decided to move on in a different direction.

Now my mind was on this...thing. Where had it come from? What was it doing?

The stillness had been broken.

The drone had invaded my space uninvited. But I think of all the times I allow technology into my quiet time. How often am I distracted by the buzzes, beeps, and ringtones of messages that can surely wait until God and I are done, but in that moment I give them precedence?

Maybe that's not a problem for you. But I confess, it can be for me.

I saw War Room last weekend, and it made me long to get down on my knees in a place with no distractions. To seek God's face, one on one, no technology around. In the tiny little apartment I share with my grown son, that can be a tall order. In fact, it's one of the reasons I tend to go to the lake early in the morning.

I crave His presence and He desires mine - with no interruption.

I would encourage you to look for a place to spend some alone time with God each day where nothing can distract. Put down the phone, close the lid on your laptop, shut off the TV.

Just talk. Be still. Know He is God. Refocus, recenter, reground. You'll be better equipped to go through your day.

Where do you go to meet God without distraction? What tips might you have for avoiding "space invaded?" I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.