It's Time

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I strongly despise … desperately abhor …  positively detest all things pertaining to winter!  (Sorry … I couldn’t say the word “hate”.  McLeod’s are not allowed to use the word “hate”.)

My strong aversion includes temperatures below 50 degrees … fluffy white particles that float down from the sky … icicles that hang around every window and along every gutter of my home … the words “wind chill factor” … as well as short, sunless days and long, artic nights.

But truly … deep in my soul … now listen to me …  this is no laughing matter … I am not a girl who was made for endless snow and long days of frigid temperatures.

What do you agonizingly loathe?

Perhaps for you it is potty training … or being a widow … or never having enough money.  We all have something that leaves our hearts hollow and longing desperately for tomorrow.

Maybe for you it is being single … or working in a dead-end job … or taking care of aging parents.

For me … it is winter.  And I live where winter is not just a slice of the year but is a very large portion of the year.  I live where winter starts in late October and sometimes lasts until Mother’s Day. 

And this winter, the winter of 2014, has been legend.

Do you remember the book, “The Long Winter” by our favorite childhood author, Laura Ingalls Wilder?  Now that’s what I’m talking about…

Since you now understand my peculiar pain … let me share with you the work that the Lord has done in my heart.

I am allowed to love sunshine more than cold.  I am able to continue to celebrate days at the beach and to smile when I remember reading a good book on my back deck in the summertime.

However … what I can’t do is complain or wish my life away.  The Lord had a heart to heart talk with me this Siberian winter and said, “Carol.  Stop it.  Stop whining and stop wishing away your life.  Stop it right now.”

How did He say that to me, you might wonder.  Well … simply the way He normally talks to me … through His Word.

“This is the day that the Lord has made.  I will rejoice and be glad in it.” – Psalm 118:24

God has given me today and when tomorrow comes … He will give me tomorrow.  But today is my day and He is here.  He is in today just like He was with me yesterday.

If I linger on my pain and discomfort pertaining to a certain season in life, what I am actually doing is wishing away the joy of today.

If all I can think is, “32 more days until spring … 31 more days until spring … 30 more days until spring … ” what I am actually communicating to the Lord that He is not enough for today. 

He is indeed enough for today … and for yesterday … and for every tomorrow.

THIS is the day that the Lord has made … I WILL rejoice and be glad in it!

Are you wishing your way out of a season?  Do you h**e a particular season in your life? 

Are you just done with 2 year olds … or being alone every night … or dreading taking your mother to the doctor one more time?

Are you completely over the never-ending pile of laundry … or the stack of bills on the kitchen counter … or the lack of purpose and direction?

Then it is time for you to meet the God of today … and meet Him in the present tense moments of your life.

When God told Moses that His Name was “I AM”, I believe that God was introducing Himself to all of us.  He is the God of NOW and we must rejoice in the winter-like moments of NOW!

God is a God Who is strategically with us in the present tense of our life.  He didn’t introduce Himself as “I WAS” or “I Will BE” but He boldly declared, “I AM!”

Now … before you go theologically ballistic on me … I know that He was powerfully with me yesterday and that His loving presence will go before me into tomorrow.

But God desires to meet with us today … right where we are!  He is with us in the “I AM” moments of life whether it is a winter season or whether we are delightfully sipping iced tea at the beach.  God’s blueprint for living commands His children to rejoice today … in the dead of winter!

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The truth is this … you are His gift to today.  His presence in you is what makes today sizzle with possibilities … stretch with endless boundaries … and sparkle with heaven’s wonder. 

You meeting Him in a place of praise will warm up the coldest, most desolate day of your life. 

You choosing to worship Him regardless of wind chill factors or depth of snow will determine how much joy you will wring out of today.

Don’t give the weather so much power in your life!  Don’t give potty training … or loquacious office workers …  or the economy the power to determine what kind of day you will have today.

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Allow His presence to regulate the atmosphere of your life! 

This IS the day that the Lord has made … I WILL rejoice and be glad in it!

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Life's a Beach

Can you believe it?! I’m at the beach in February …. AH-H-H-H-H!!

(That was a happy scream in case you were wondering!)

What is it about the beach and me? 

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At the beach, I have definitely found my “happy place”. The beach is the place where I often hear the voice of God clearly and miraculously speak to me from the thunder of the waves and the beautiful longing of the sunset.

So … today … in honor of the “Winter of 2014” … I thought that I would share with you some lessons from the beach!

1 – My life is so small. 

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As I walk along the beach every afternoon, I feel so small in comparison to it all. I don’t feel insignificant … just small. 

My footprints are quickly washed away with the rush of a single wave.

No one knows my name at the beach … I am one of hundreds who walk obscurely.

The ocean is splendid and vast … all I can see for mile after ocean mile is the emerald blue of relentless waves topped off by marshmallow puffs of white. It ends only when it meets the horizon.

The horizon is within my human view … I can reach out and touch it with my eyes.  The place where the ocean joins with the atmosphere of earth is hundreds of miles away … and yet I can see it.

The beach is so magnificent and I am so ordinary.

In this culture of “me first” in which we live, the fact that I live a small life may seem disrespectful and initially ignoble. But it’s not. A small life does not always translate into unimportance. It just means that there will always be something grander … someone more fluent and famous … certain life goals that may never be reached or attained.

My life is a small life.

Don’t misunderstand what I am trying to say … it’s not that I am nothing. It’s just that He is the Something to Whom this small person joyously submits and answers.  What a wonderful realization that the world doesn’t revolve around me and my problems … but around Him and His promises!

That’s why I cling to Him especially at the beach. He is the only One Who can give my life meaning and purpose. He created me and He created the waves. I am more valuable to Him than the seagulls that sore and the sand that sparkles like a million little diamonds in the afternoon sunset.

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“My days are like a lengthened shadow, and I wither away like grass. But You, O Lord, abide forever, and Your name to all generations.” – Psalm 102:11 & 12

2 – My life is so significant.

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The waves never stop rolling … the birds never stop diving … the sand never stops existing. 

Day after day after day. Year after year after year. Generation after generation after generation.

Regardless of weather patterns … changing seasons … high-rise condos … visiting travelers … or the time of day. The beach and all that it encompasses just continues to exist … rarely anything interrupts the pattern of the beach.  The waves, the wind, the sand, the birds, and the seashells don’t have a choice.  

My life is so significant that I get to make a difference at my moment in history!  I am empowered, by the Creator of the universe, to leave footprints in the sand of history that will never wash away. I do more than merely exist … I live at full-throttle with eternity in my heart!

My life is not pre-determined by the sun, moon, stars or even gravity! I work in tandem with God and all that He is to make a splash that is heard around the world!

My life is so significant!!

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11

3 – The grandeur belongs to all of us.

On my daily walk along a two-mile stretch of the beach, there are extravagant, palatial homes and multi-million dollar condominiums. My gaze sweeps to include Spanish architecture … Southern plantations with pillars … pink, weather-beaten cottages … and nondescript cement block domiciles.

The farther I meander down the miles of beachfront living, the less opulent the homes become. While I begin this daily stroll in the middle of human wealth and earthly extravagance, I quickly find myself among the lives of those who live in weathered and run-down shacks.  However, the amazing truth is this … each home shares the same view!

Regardless of their address … the grandeur is the same!  Regardless of real estate price point … the magnificence is still breathtaking!  Regardless of architectural style or income bracket … the view never gets old!   I don’t know what your living conditions look like today, but I can tell you this, we all serve the same God! The view, as we meander through life, is not determined by our circumstances but by keeping our gaze on His glory!

As I walk down the beach, I determine whether to look at the living conditions on my right … or the unequalled view of creation on my left.  Will I be hypnotized by what man has made or by what God has created?!

My challenge to you today, whether you are spending a week at the beach or are frozen in time with a winter that never ends is this …Choose your view! Don’t look at your run-down circumstances but fix your gaze on His glory!

Don’t get too big for your beach … your life is not about you but it is about the God Who created you!  You are of vast importance to the Creator! He thinks about you more times every day than there are grains of sand along the endless seashore!

Take off your shoes and ruin your pedicure! There is life to be explored and celebrated every day … splash in the waves of circumstance and leave lasting footprints along your moment of history.

“How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.”  – Psalm 139:17 & 18a

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The Gift of Joy

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Everyone I know desires to live a joy-filled life.

Young moms and seasoned moms are desperate for it …

Teen-age girls long for it …

Widows and widowers search fiercely to rediscover it …

Empty nesters, single women, corporate executives, divorcees, and college students all wonder where joy can be found.

Depression and discouragement place themselves within easy grasp, don’t they?  Frustration and sadness are usually within whispering distance.  No one needs a GPS to find the blahs, melancholy or hopelessness.

If we all long for it so intensely, where is it? Where is joy?

Depression and discouragement are known for their strong and paralyzing hold on men and women like you and me.  However, I have found that His presence is well-able to demolish the chains of sadness and disappointment.

            Will you continue with me on this amazing journey to joy?!

A Baby Named Joy

There were a group of shepherds who were defined by an inky and black existence.  These men, who were the lowest dregs of society, spent night after hopeless night taking care of someone else’s dumb sheep.  These uneducated men had no chance of promotion or pay raises.  Their lives were defined by sheep drool, sheep dung and the perpetual echo of a sheep’s “ba-a-a-a”.

However, one night that began as the carbon copy of thousands of other dark, cold nights, the world of the shepherds was instantly invaded by the announcement of a great joy!  The heaven’s exploded in rare and glorious colors and the angels of eternity made a grand pronouncement into the hopeless world of the shepherds:

“And behold, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be to all people; for unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”  (Luke 2:10-11).

The eternal reason the angels could announce joy had invaded Earth was because joy had come in the person of a Baby named Jesus.  Heaven opened its portals that night and joy splashed into our lives forever.  He came into our inky darkness and the joy of Heaven dripped into our world.

No matter how hopeless and dark your life seems to be, always remember that a Baby was born whom heaven had named “joy”.  The life of this Baby changed everything for every person in all of history.  His presence has come to earth and with Him He brought the joy of the atmosphere of heaven!

A Garden of Joy

I don’t know much about agriculture but this is what I do know:  when a farmer plants cucumber seeds … cucumbers will grow.  When a gardener plants sunflower seeds … sunflowers grow in that place.  It is true in every branch of agriculture and botany that you will always reap what you have sown.  If you plant radish seeds, you will not be harvesting carrots.  If you plant a rosebush … there is no need to worry that turnips will grow in that place.

However, the Bible makes one exception to this valid and scientific rule:

“Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting”  (Psalm 126:5).

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If your life has been nothing but pain and sorrow and tears, let me assure you that your life holds more potential for true joy than someone who has lived with a white picket fence guarding the tulips of their life.  The Bible says all of your tears are going to miraculously reap a harvest of joy and rejoicing.

God takes the tears of disappointment and sadness, fertilizes them with His presence, and out of that place of deep pain will erupt an abundant harvest of joy.  You are never immune to this miracle or left out of this promise.

Only God can take your worst defeat, your greatest pain, and your moment of raw sorrow and turn it into His miraculous and irreplaceable joy.  Only God.

Here He Comes!

And now, if you are still struggling to find this solid by-product of His presence, let me just encourage you today to be grateful.  Spend some time this very minute in heartfelt worship and thanksgiving and before too long the ripples of joy will begin.

When you begin to sing in spite of pain and disappointment you will discover the most glorious gift of all … He has arrived!  He will come walking to you across the years of disappointment and gloom.  He does not come alone but with Him comes the dynamic gift that follows Him wherever He goes … the gift of joy!

*** This blog is an excerpt of Carol’s newest book, “No More Ordinary!”  To pre-order your copy today, click here.

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Journey to Joy - Week 2

All of our lives are a journey … a journey from somewhere to somewhere. Perhaps your life has been a journey away from abuse toward emotional and physical health.

Maybe your life’s journey has encompassed education, travel, and scintillating relationships.

Did you start life as a victim in a dysfunctional family and now you are proud to say that you have built a victorious family of function and faith?

My life’s journey has often lingered in the land of depression but I can confidently say, now, that joy is my home address!

Joy Defined

In the fifth grade, my beloved teacher, Miss Sullivan, taught her curious class of eleven-year-olds, that in defining a certain word, one should never use the word itself in the definition. The rule Miss Sullivan taught all of her eager learners is an accepted grammatical rule that most savvy writers and wordsmiths follow implicitly.

However, I have discovered, it is nearly impossible to define the word “joy” without using the word itself in the definition.

The Hebrew definition of the word simchah is: “joy, mirth, gladness; the joy of God.”

The Greek definition of the word chara, is: “joy, gladness; the cause of occasion of one’s joy.”

Due to my frustration at being a grammar elitist and knowing that substance is lacking by using a word in its own definition, I decided to dig deeper and valiantly endeavor to find the root definition of the word “joy”.

“Joy wrought by the Holy Spirit” was a definition that resonated a bit stronger in my frustrated soul because at least it gave some credit to the Holy Spirit.

And then, at last, I came upon this definition from a Hebrew dictionary I found among my father’s archaic library: “the blessedness that the Lord enjoys.”

Although this definition uses a derivative of joy in the word “enjoys”, I found myself completely agreeing with this ancient meaning found among stacks of dusty, dog-eared books.

Joy is the atmosphere of Heaven. It is the air God the Father himself breathes in every day of eternity. And because joy is Heaven’s delivered gift to me while I walk on planet Earth, it is my delight and strength to experience the blessedness that God on His throne enjoys.

Wow ... put that in your heart and marinate in it!

Joy is God’s gift to us as we snuggle into His presence and hunker down into all that He is and all that He gives.

You Are Cordially Invited …

Have you ever been invited to dinner at a dear friend or family member’s home and then been forced to sit and watch hours of family, vacation and holiday videos?  Well … consider yourself invited over to dinner at my life because I, too, am going to force you to view my journey to joy!

Last week, we lingered over scenic view #1 in this verse, You will make known to me the path of life, in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” – Psalm 16:11

Today … welcome to scenic view # 2!

“Do not be grieved [or depressed] for the joy of the Lord is your strength”(Nehemiah 8:10).

You have an enemy who desires that you would live in a constant state of debilitating, relentless depression and discouragement. This enemy is unable to change the fact that you are Heaven-bound and have been guaranteed eternal life. He can do absolutely nothing about your entrance into Heaven’s gates. Since he can’t touch eternal life, what he attempts to do is to ruin abundant life. Don’t let him do it!

You have a God who wants to inject you with His joy because it is God’s miraculous, perpetual joy that will deliver strength to your life this side of heaven’s glory.

The devil does not want you strong. This diabolical laughing stock of a shadow of absolute nothingness wants you to be the weakest version of yourself possible and so he goes about it in one singular way: the devil attempts to steal your joy.

The devil is not after your marriage, your health, your finances, your children, or your relationships. What He is after is your joy and the way that he tries to access your joy is through your marriage, your health, your finances, your children, and your relationships.

Do not let the devil have your joy that Jesus died for! Stand toe to toe ... nose to nose ... with the accuser of the brethren and have a stare down. Hang onto your joy and declare in his face,

“Devil, you weak, whining, immature caricature of all that is not holy, you will never ... not ever ... not in a million Sundays ... or in a thousand eternities have my joy. One of us is going down and it ain’t gonna be me!”

If you release any of your joy to the enemy it will turn you into a weak, whining, and ineffective Christian because the joy of the Lord is your strength.  Other than your salvation, I believe that your joy is the most valuable commodity you have been given while walking the surface of planet earth and sucking in oxygen.

The powerful gift of joy is able to give you indomitable strength during your days of pain and trauma. If there is anything the devil hates more than a Christian ... it is a joyful Christian.

Hang onto your joy.  Don’t ever let go of  your joy because joy is what will give you the strength to fight and to carry on every day of your life!

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The Journey to Joy

For many years, I was a depressed Christian.  I loved the Lord dearly during those dark days and even knew that I was going to heaven when I died.  However, I couldn’t discover the joy of His presence on earth.  I felt removed from hope and peace.  The black hole of depression was my constant companion and my ugly friend. My depression was birthed in a nearly six-year battle with infertility.  I sent 5 babies to heaven who had only lived in my womb between 12 and 20 weeks.  Each conception was a miracle … and each interruption was a devastation.

My hormones were out of control … my hopes were dashed …  and my arms were empty.  Every morning when I got up, the black hole called my name.  It followed me around from the kitchen to the laundry room to the grocery store.

Although I already had given birth to 2 delightful, precocious, lively little boys … I knew that I had been created to be the mother of more.  Motherhood was my destiny and my calling.  Why was it all so difficult?

After losing 5 babies prematurely, I then became unable to conceive.  My body was in full-blown betrayal and everything that a woman was supposed to do was impossible for me.

I spent years on high doses of fertility drugs and knew the despair of a cycle of disappointment every month on day 28 … or 29 … or 30.

During these sad, frighteningly hopeless days, I developed an addiction.  The addiction of my own choosing was not found in over the counter drugs or in obsessive shopping.  The addiction to which I tied myself did not come in a bottle filled with an alcoholic substance nor was it attached to binge eating.

My addiction … my drug of choice … was truly a miracle.  While I was depressed and reeling from the pain of dashed hopes, unanswered prayers and a body that was betraying me, I became addicted to the Word of God.

During the days of blackness, the Bible became a source of joy and light.

During long nights of hopelessness, the Word of God spoke promises and purpose.

During months of discouragement, the Bible was a voice of encouragement and blessing.

My arms were still empty but my heart was full.  My prayers were as yet unanswered but I was falling in love with Him … over and over and over again.

I would go through it all again to know Jesus the way I know Him now.

During that season of healing and restoration in my life, I asked the Lord to allow me to become an expert on joy.  What a bold prayer for a barren woman to pray!

And now I eat joy … share joy … talk joy … enjoy joy … distribute joy … splash joy … know joy … and have built a life on the joy of His presence.

Over the next few weeks of blogging, I want to share with you the principles that I have learned from my addiction to the Bible.  Every week, I will be sharing a Bible verse with the word “joy” in it and what the Lord taught me from this particular verse.

Perhaps you can view it as if you are receiving weekly vitamins of the very best kind!  A weekly injection of joy in your dark, diseased soul!

I don’t know what has caused your depression and discouragement, but I can assure you that His Word is able to heal you and encourage you.  Believe me … I know from personal experience that His Word is a miraculous healing drug and a wise and faithful counselor.

Join me … as I share with you … my journey to joy!

“You make known to me the path of life;

in Your presence is fullness of joy;

in Your right hand there are pleasures forever”

(Psalm 16:11)

 
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The joy is found wherever He is.

  • He is in every sunrise and sunset.
  • His presence is visible in the first flowers of spring and in the glorious leaves of fall.
  • His voice is heard in the symphony of worship and in the giggle of a baby.
  • His presence resounds in the roar of the ocean waves and in the majesty of snow-capped mountains.
  • He is found gently caressing His own in the trauma of emergency rooms and in the aftermath of violent storms.
  • He is found comforting widows and brokenhearted parents.
  • He is there in the humdrum of daily life when the dishes are piled high, the laundry is mountainous, and the bills never end.
  • He is there in unending days of loneliness and piles of tissues by your bed.
  • He is with you ... and with Him ... He brings the gift of Heaven’s joy!

When I am being overtaken by the deceit of my emotions what I really need is more of Him. In order to cultivate the joy of Heaven’s grandeur in my puny, ordinary life I need more of His presence and more time spent at His beautiful and nail-scarred feet.

When my joy begins to fade and is often replaced by loneliness or depression, I am gently reminded by the Holy Spirit that if I am lacking joy ... guess who moved?

All the joy I will ever need this side of Heaven is found in hanging out with Him. It is found when I relentlessly choose more of Him and less of me; it is found when I understand the value of intimacy with the Lover of my soul.

If you need joy to be more practical than poetic, perhaps these suggestions will propel you toward the possibility of joy:

  • Choose a Scripture that has the word joy in it and memorize it.
  • Say it again and again and again.
  • Sing a favorite song from when you were a child in Sunday school.
  • Sing it again and again and again.
  • Whisper a prayer for someone other than yourself.
  • Read your Bible at least three days a week ... then four days a week ... then five days a week ... until you have made it part of the substance of your life.
  • Sing at the top of your lungs while you are driving.
  • Invite some people into your home to pray.

Joy is a heartfelt and strenuous discipline that only the desperate are brave enough to choose.  I must choose His presence in spite of the world that roars around me.

For those who lack joy, perhaps part of the dilemma comes from looking for joy in all the wrong places. We mistakenly believe relationships will deliver joy, or that it is possible to purchase joy at the mall along with Gucci, Godiva, and the Gap. We think we will find joy at Disney World or at Harvard. Those pursuits, and many others, will leave you empty and lifeless, but the joy of His presence will fill you to overflowing and will give you the undeserved, miraculous gift of abundant life.

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Help!

Does your heart ever feel overwhelmed? Are you ever disheartened by your inability to meet everyone’s demands and expectations?

Some days my heart vacillates between being raw with paralyzing frustration and simultaneously stimulated by a thousand agitations.

In the midst of my obsessive mental processing and impaired human emotions, I starkly realize that in the insistent whirlwind of life, I still have so much for which to be grateful.

Yet continuously … the floods of demands, disciplines, people, habits, chores, vices and commitments create a massive quagmire in my life that can only be described by one desperate word, “overwhelming”!

The call of life is just so deafeningly loud sometimes …

David the worshipper … the man after God’s own heart … shares my incompetence at dealing well with all that life dishes out.

“Hear my cry, O God; Give heed to my prayer.

From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is overwhelmed;

Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

For You have been a refuge for me, a tower of strength against the enemy.

Let me dwell in Your tent forever;

Let me take refuge in the shelter of Your wings.”

Psalm 61:1-4

Although I do not know what specifically overwhelms you, I can assure you that though the source of your staggering obstacles may look much different than mine, the answer for both of us is the same.

“Hear my cry, O God!  Give heed to my prayer.”

When you are overwhelmed, take it from David:  the first thing you need to do is cry out to God.  We need prayer more than we need our circumstances to change.  Just going to my infinitely gracious God, Who is lovingly attentive in all of His ways, reminds me that I am not in charge.  There is Someone mightier and more powerful than I am Who is well able to bring relief to my mountain of stress.

From the end of the earth I call to You, when my heart is overwhelmed!”

There is no sin in calling out to God when you are completely and utterly overwhelmed.

The sin would actually be in turning to other less satisfying options.  Have you ever mistakenly believed that spending, eating, being entertained, going to the spa or responding with your emotions is what you need to conquer the overwhelming circumstances and events of your life?  Those things are deceptive distractions and possess all the healing power of a miniscule band-aid following open heart surgery.

“Lead me to the rock that is higher than I …”

The second word of advice that is discernable in David’s prayer is that we all need God to lead us.  We need Him to take us by our human hands and then to guide us with His divine hands to a higher place.  He always wisely leads His children to a more secure vantage point than the circumstances of life are able to offer.  The benefit of standing on a rock that is taller than I am is that I am above my circumstances and therefore can see them from heaven’s perspective.

One of the most destructive mistakes that any of us can make during moments of overwhelming madness is to be led by our emotions.  Anger and impatience will do damage to relationships that may be difficult to repair.  I must humbly realize that my emotions often lie to me but God will lead me in triumph even in overwhelming times … especially in overwhelming times.

“For You have been a refuge for me, a tower of strength against the enemy …”

When you are feeling overwhelmed, focus not on what is causing the irritation or annoyance but begin to declare Who God is.  Remove your eyes from your circumstances and set your mind, mouth and gaze on the only One Who is able to help you!  God is your safe place and will strongly protect you against the enemy forces of busyness, difficult relationships, a failing economy, health challenges and priorities.  He is more than able!

“Let me dwell in Your tent forever; Let me take refuge in the shelter of Your wings.”

There is no safer, more peaceful place to be than abiding in Him and with Him.  When I linger in His presence and enjoy the safety of His Word, the overwhelming things of this earth truly grow strangely dim.  When His nearness overshadows all that calls my name, I am at peace at last.  The life that He gives is the life that I have dreamed about and longed for.

His presence miraculously empowers me to face another day of the demanding details of life.  The Word of God powerfully protects me and shields me from the rapid fire of life’s demands.  Prayer helps me to wisely focus on that which is eternal and not on that which merely stirs up a raucous.

So … the next time that you or I find ourselves in similar and overwhelming circumstances … let’s not walk but run to Him and all that He is!  I resolve to take a break from this mad, mad, mad, mad world and to set my heart where it has always belonged … in Him.

While others are juggling the voices, the tirade and the insistence of this temporary world, I will be the one with my hands in air, gaze fixed on heaven and crying with gut-wrenching desperation, “HELP!”

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Friends

I have a friend who says that one of her New Year’s Resolutions for 2014 is simply to be a better friend. Now … it’s difficult for me to believe that it’s even possible for this girl to be a better friend because she is much, much more than awesome.  She is caring, consistent, loving and kind every day and in every way.

She is a good listener and a servant.

She laughs at my jokes and has been known to cry with me on occasion.

She is always ready for a girlfriend date but doesn’t intrude or presume upon my time.

She prays with me … calls me higher … sends me Scriptures … and is one of my chief defenders.

Who could ask for anything more?!

The gift of a truly caring friend is a rare and priceless gift.  In your entire lifetime … you may only be given 5 true friends or perhaps 10 friends who are loyal friends … friends who bleed for you … cheer for you … and cry with you.

From the day I was old enough to run across my grandmother’s backyard to Annie Scroger’s house … I have loved having friends.

Annie and I had matching bikes when she was in the third grade and I was in second grade.  They were pink and white Schwinn bicycles.  Mine cost $32.  I remember.

I remember playing dolls and wearing our mother’s old bridesmaid dresses while dancing with imaginary princes.

I remember playing school with Denise Dix and taking turns being the teacher, writing on the miniature chalkboard and sitting one another in the corner.

I remember planning birthday events with Karla and the youthful addiction to staying up all night at pajama parties.

I remember reading the same book at the same time with the redheads who lived across the street and around the corner and then crying together at the end of the book because the story was over.

I remember playing endless games of Monopoly, Scrabble and Clue.

I remember going on long walks with Diane and dreaming of the prom, wedding dresses and babies yet to come.

Girlfriends … what a treasure this side of heaven!

It was during my high school years that I had a defining moment concerning friendship.  I realized that being a friend was not cultivated so much in what you did together but it was in how you treated one another.

Bike rides, Monopoly games and baby dolls faded in importance as I observed the way that girls treated each other.  I longed for a friend who I could trust … who wouldn’t gossip about me … who was faithful in difficult days and in good days … who wouldn’t betray me.

In a world of high school flirtations, drama queens and uncertain motivation, the Lord gave me a handful of girls who knew right from wrong … who knew the value of keeping a secret … and who were faithful.

Susie … Patti … Mary Ann … Diane … thank you for being my friends during the turbulent high school years.  You were … and still are … a treasured gift.

And now … in my adult years … the focus of friendship is not on doing or even on being … but is on becoming.

I long for friends who will pray for me and I for them.  I long for women in my life who will call me higher and show me what the Bible says.

I long for women who value Fruit more than feelings and esteem faith over facts.

I deeply appreciate women who aren’t afraid to accompany me through fierce storms and walk through fires with me.

I celebrate women who speak truth, sprinkle it with love, and call it “encouragement”.

Friendship, for me, in this season of life is more than pedicures, lunch dates and giggle fests.

It is infinitely more than chick flicks, accessorizing and commiserating.

Friendship is partnership in the Gospel.

Friendship is a twinship in prayer and in purpose.

I’d rather have a friend who shared a Bible verse with me than a recipe or a sale brochure any day!

The call of friendship is found in a woman who is determined that both you and she will walk in divine destiny not in mediocrity.

A valued friend will go to battle with you and for you.  She will roll up her sleeves, get on her knees and shout while the battle rages and the enemy fires.

Now … that’s a woman I’d love to go to lunch with!  And who knows … maybe we will even take time to get a pedicure!

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

I’d love to hear about your friends … from childhood … high school … and now.  What is the lesson that God has taught you about being a friend?

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Just One Thing...

Is it just me?  Or have you noticed a particular trend on social media?

5 Foods Never to Eat after the Age of 45

9 Things Extremely Successful People Do After Work

20 Things every Twenty-something Should Know How to do

7 Things You Totes Need to Stop Saying If You’re Over 30

5 Things Super Successful People do Before 8 AM

Are you overwhelmed yet?  Would you read ANY of these lists and actually believe that the insight could change your life in any significant way?!

What other lists are out there with the guarantee to change some aspect of your obviously less than perfect life?  How about these …

37 Things You’ll Regret When You’re Old

10 Things Successful People Do on Monday Mornings

23 Signs You Are Secretly An Introvert

36 Things That Are Going to Make You Feel Ancient

18 Things Everyone Should Start Making Time for Again

It’s true … I spotted all of these condescending, brilliant, too-good-to-be true lists on Facebook in a 24-hour period.

I timed myself.

When I realized that I saw this hysterical trend developing, I decided to make my own lists of lists.

There I sat … paralyzed by the glow from my computer screen with a pen and piece of notebook paper beside me.  Every time a new list popped up, I read and documented said list.

For 24 hours I made my own list of the epidemic lists that I saw posted on social media.  And what you have read today is the kind of stuff that my desperate friends were posting.  Oh … but I’m not done yet …

10 Reasons I Keep My House Clean

5 Ways to Be Unsatisfied with Your Church

10 Marriage Tips Every Wife Needs to Hear

20 Things My Mom Was Right About

6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You A Better Person

You are either highly frustrated right now … feel like a miserable failure knowing that you will never amount to anything at all … or … like me … you are laughing hysterically!!

Can you do it … can you read just a few more of the titles of lists that I discovered on social media?  And then I will get to my point … I promise!

Top 10 Mistakes Christian Parents of Teens Make

32 Cheap and Easy Backyard Ideas that are Borderline Genius

10 Things Successful People Do Differently To Reach Their Dreams

But I have saved the very best for last:

2014 Is Going To Be My Year Now That I Know These 89 Genius Solutions to Simple Problems

Stop gagging RIGHT NOW … because I have one significant thing to say to you!

All you really need is Jesus.  All you really need is more of Him and more of His presence.

For me, this has never been and will never be a get-rich quick scheme or a religious platitude.  It is not a spiritual band-aid nor is it a condescending panacea.

Knowing Jesus gives me a life bigger than life.  Spending time in His dear presence is all I need to battle any giant … move any mountain … or discover any wisdom or truth.

Spending my life knowing Him … loving Him … giving to Him … talking to Him … listening to Him … is better than any diet, any idea, any worldly solution or any regret that I will encounter this side of eternity.

“One thing have I asked of the Lord and that shall I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple.” – Psalm 27:4

If you want me to make it practical for you … let me put it this way …

In 2014, whether you are a teen-ager or just one breath away from eternity, open your Bible and enjoy His presence, His power and His wisdom.

Whether you are the mother of 19 kids and counting … or are experiencing the lonely pain of an empty nest … or are walking through the wilderness of infertility … what you need to help you get through these days is the joy that is found in the Word of God.

Whether you make a six-figure income or are standing in line for your next unemployment check, your validation in life will come from knowing Him and not from what you do or do not earn.

In 2014, whether you are married or single … divorced or planning the wedding of your dreams … a widow or on your honeymoon … what you need to feel unconditionally loved,  is to know His love that surpasses all others.

If we are going to number anything at all, the Bible tells us to number our days and apply our hearts to wisdom.

“So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” – Psalm 90:12

What does it mean in to “number our days”?  The Hebrew word for “number” is the word “manah” and it means to “count, number assign, prepare or tell”.

Rather than reading the noxious lists on Facebook or Twitter, why don’twe spend our daysnumbering our days?

Buy a calendar for the new year … and begin to fill its pages with what God has shown you … what you have planned … what you long to accomplish with your life … scriptures to memorize … people who need encouragement … books to read … books to write … the lyrics of songs that have touched you.  The possibilities are endless!

When the calendar year then turns to 2015, you will have a diary of all that happened of significance in your life during 2014.  You will look back and see the hand of God and hear His voice every day of the calendar year.  You will have numbered your days in the very best way possible!

I have always loved eavesdropping on conversations that Jesus had with those He loved while He was on planet earth.  One afternoon, He had a teaching moment with 2 women by the name of Martha and Mary.  They were sisters but oh!  So completely different from one another … as sisters often are!

Martha was the type-A girl … she got the job done!  There was no mountain of laundry she couldn’t tackle, no crowd of men she couldn’t feed and no person whom she wouldn’t boss around.  She was one take-charge, intimidating glob of estrogen!

Mary was the quieter sister … perhaps an introvert … who had found great meaning and sustenance by simply sitting at the feet of Jesus.  It might not have seemed like she accomplished very much …  but perhaps, in reality, she had learned the secret of numbering her days.

But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part which shall not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:41 & 42

My prayer for you in 2014 is that you will number your days not read lists.  I pray that you will choose the one thing that will make your life count for eternity.  I pray that you will know the One to Whom everyone and everything else will someday bow.

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It's So Beautiful...It Makes My Heart Hurt

Post Office drawing by Olivia McLeod
Post Office drawing by Olivia McLeod

Have you ever treasured a memory so deeply in your soul that not only does your mind recall the facts of the moment but your heart also is instantly tied to the memory with intense and poignant feelings?

Such is the memory that I have of a December evening when I was only 6 years old …

I attended kindergarten that morning in the one room schoolhouse that was just around the corner and up the street from the safe haven of my home.  I lived in that century old home with my mom and dad, my older sister, a younger brother who loved to tease, a collie named Lassie and a white cat named Tinkerbell.

It was a snowy, wintery day in Western New York and I had spent the after school hours sledding with my older sister and with the “redheads” from across the street. My toes were nearly frostbitten from the time happily spent in the sub-freezing elements. My mother, after taking off all of my snow-caked outer garments at the door,  handed me a fresh nightgown that had been warmed in the dryer. She then stood me on top of our old-fashioned register where the heat came blazing up from the basement furnace.

My mom put “The King Family Christmas Album” on our record player so that I would have Christmas music to listen to while I was slowly warmed from the tiny register holes.

I revolved around in a little girl circle while the heat found its way to warm my numb toes, raw fingers and red nose. While facing one direction, I saw the piano sitting in the corner of the oversized room; in another direction, I saw the dining room table bedecked for Christmas in true 1960’s fashion; and in the third direction I looked into my parents’ bedroom and at their huge canopy bed.

The fourth view that completed my slow rotation was out the front windows of my home and at the Post Office across the street. I remember that the snow was gently falling down around the little brown building which was truly no more than a glorified shack of governmental importance. The postmaster, Mr. Hawley, had just the day before strung lights around the roof and windows of the US Post Office located directly across the street from my girlhood home.

My slow circle stopped the moment that I looked across the street at the obscure building.

As the King Family sang of city sidewalks, chestnuts roasting and finally about a Baby Boy, I stopped my circling and just stared, transfixed at the beauty of the brown building surrounded by Christmas lights.

I remember placing my hand on my chest because what I was experiencing in that moment was so wonderful and grand that it made my heart hurt.  As I wiped the tears away from my no longer frozen cheeks, my mom walked into the room.

“Why, Carol!” she exclaimed. “Why are you crying? Are you not feeling well?”

I didn’t even realize until that moment that there were tears on my cheeks. I responded, “Mom … it’s all so beautiful. It makes my heart hurt.”

The joy from my heart was leaking out of my eyes and down my innocent cheeks.  A little brown shingled building … decorated with Christmas lights … made my heart hurt.

And with repeating those words to you today … I can still feel the glorious pain all over again.

Christmas is so beautiful … so filled with wonder and glory … that it makes my heart hurt to this very day.

merry-christmas
merry-christmas

When Christmas lights up the ordinariness of my feeble attempt at life, the raw marvel paints a picture of stunning impact. When viewed without the message of the manger, my life is truly just a shack of little significance and certain obscurity.

However, when I dress my life in the majesty of the manger and with the glory of the angel’s song it is then that I become who I was always made to be.  When the human hut of my life is changed by the purpose of the manger and by the star that led the way to His dear presence, I realize why my heart aches for something more than this world offers.

Even now … the joy of Christmas is leaking out of my eyes and my wizened heart hurts with the joy of it all.

Has the joy of Christmas changed you? Have you allowed the miracle of the manger to decorate the humdrum of your life?  My prayer for you this year is that you will take a moment out of the busyness … and away from the craziness… and observe with no distractions what the glory of Christmas is truly all about.

I hope that you will warm yourself with the joy of His presence.  I hope that you will hear the angels’ song and that your heart will constrict in sheer and joyous pain.

I pray that you will have a moment when the joy of Christmas leaks out of your eyes and onto your face.

Your life was always meant to be more than a shack … a hovel … a hut of humanity. Your life was meant to be the showplace of Christmas every day of every year.

Merry Christmas with joy –

Carol

Makes my heart hurt blog pic 1
Makes my heart hurt blog pic 1
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What Will You Give This Christmas Season?

The men and women in the story of Christ's birth...gave more than they could afford...in order to be involved in the plan of God. What are you giving this year?

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The Best of Times...The Worst of Times

Best of Times Worst of Times pic 1
Best of Times Worst of Times pic 1

“It was the best of times … it was the worst of times …”are the unforgettable words that begin A Tale of Two Citieswritten by Charles Dickens who also famously penned, “A Christmas Carol”.

“It was the best of times … it was the worst of times …” are also, unfortunately, the words that many of us have used to emotionally and spiritually pen our Christmas stories and memories.

“It was the best of times …” are the 6 words jubilantly chosen to describe a holiday cup that is frothy and running over with cheer, gifts, healthy relationships and a beautifully decorated home.

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78455590

“It was the best of times …” seems to be the caption that is used to describe an iconic Rockwellian picture of a snow-decked landscape looking into the window of a red and green home that has an interesting yet functional family at its core.  The kids are throwing wrapping paper everywhere … the parents are still dressed in their robes with deep circles under their eyes yet are able to smile at the pictured noise and confusion … the holiday turkey is browning perfectly in the oven with its aroma wafting through the expectant air … and Gramma is on her way with a sleigh filled with pumpkin pies and figgy pudding!

It certainly IS the best of times!

“It was the worst of times” are often the December lyrics of choice when the bottom has fallen out of one’s shaky attempt at living.

Food stamps may be a daily reality and necessity.

The dysfunction of family relationships is a constant reminder of what is wrong with  life.

This Christmas may be spent in the terror of the ICU rather than by the warmth of a welcoming fireplace with eggnog in one hand and a Christmas cookie in the other.

Perhaps rather than torturous relationships to deal with, there is no family to gather around the sparsely bedecked caricature of Charlie Brown’s famous tree.

Money is scarce … health is questionable …  just one mortgage payment away from losing the family home … there will be no Santa Claus coming down the chimney this year to leave a memorable deposit of materialism under the lonely tree.

For you, Christmas this year, truly may be the worst of times.

However, I happen to believe, that judging the authenticity or joy of Christmas by what we have or do not have is a foolish and impulsive mistake of gargantuan proportions.

Christmas was never meant to be measured by human standards or by a glass that is gleefully half-full or agonizingly half-empty.

What one sees circumstantially is largely unable to coincide with earth’s attempt at fulfillment because of heaven’s promise of delivered joy!

See … it is not in what you do have or do not have that should determine how you are able to describe your Christmas this year or any calendar year!  It is always found … eternally found … in Who He is!

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177427485

He is joy when your life seems empty.

He is peace when all around you are in conflict.

He is hope when all human wells have run dry.

He is the Healer in a life that is sick, fragile and wasted.

He is Christmas!

He is what makes any day of any year the very best of times.

Don’t be so small in your expectations of a truly memorable Christmas that you boil it down to gifts, a bevy of celebratory people or how much red and green is strewn around your home.

Instead, this Christmas, remember what Christmastime is powerfully all about:

A young woman who has had her world invaded with the promise that with God … all things are possible!

The plans of a young man that were hurriedly changed because the God of the universe interrupted his human desire for happy ever after.

A manure-filled, mouse-scurrying stable that welcomed the Baby Who was born to be the King of all Kings.

Shepherds, with dirt under the fingernails, grime in their brains and sheep drool on their robes who were invited to sing with the angels!

A song so loud and so triumphant that it broke through the coldness and darkness of a world in pain to prounouce, “Let there be joy!”

Although I don’t know the pain of your past or the stark reality of the Christmas that will be remembered as 2013, this is what I do know about you and your life …

You are loved by the God Who sent His Son into the darkness and confusion of the warzone of life this side of eternity.

The angels still invite modern day shepherds to sing … to sing loudly … to sing triumphantly!

Although your desire for “happy ever after” may be marred by the mess you have made of your life … God still has the power to intervene because of Christmas!

And … the message that the angel delivered to an incredulous virgin girl is still heaven’s message to you today … nothing is impossible with God!

And so … whatever circumstances you face today … my prayer is that your life will be remembered as a lasting and genuine Christmas Carol because finally … you understand … you eternally comprehend what the best of times has always been about!

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Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

Our sacrifice of praise means giving thanks...even when you feel there is nothing to be thankful for.

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Here is the Secret

Here is the Secret blog pic 1
Here is the Secret blog pic 1

I have always believed that if there is only one secret to living a full, rewarding and joyful life it is found in the decision to just be thankful.  All day … every day. This one singular heart attitude, that of choosing to live in a place of gratitude, holds more sway over the quality of your life than does your income bracket, your street address or even the pain of your past. 

Determining to be a person of sincere praise and appreciativeness will frame your life in a beautiful and miraculous way. 

Gratitude will erase days of pain and create days of blessing.

Thanksgiving will enlarge the small places of your life into rooms of grand bounty and sweet strength.

Praise will turn the gray and blah of humdrum responsibilities into sparkling opportunities of service in the Kingdom of God.

It is in choosing to be thankful … sincerely and joyfully thankful … that ordinary days turn into holidays.

Days that are identified by wretchedness and wreathed in ugly become events of heavenly inspiration and sweet remembrance when we use the paintbrush of gratitude to change their color.

This is your life … you will never have another.  This life is your only chance at joy … your only opportunity for destiny … your only occasion for capturing a delightful heart. 

You must discover the power of thanksgiving if you long for your life to make a difference.

If you are thankful for even the small things in life, you have discovered an eternal treasure.

the west at south
the west at south

If you can look at a sunset and bask in its presence … you have tapped into treasure.

playing with mom
playing with mom

If you can giggle back at a baby with a silly grin on your face … you have tapped into treasure.

If you can make snow angels with the little girls in your life … you have tapped into treasure.

If you can catch fireflies with a freckle-faced boy … you have tapped into treasure.

If the glory discovered in vibrant rainbows … in the majestic roar of the ocean’s waves … and in the morning song of the bird cause you to well up with praise … you have learned how to value the truly important commodities in life.

Conversely, if you choose to focus on your deficits rather than on your gifts, you will always be miserable.  If all you do is whine and complain and worry … you are the only one whom it wounds and ultimately subtracts from.

Did you know that it doesn’t really matter what your circumstances are?  Once you begin to lock into this miraculous lifestyle of thanksgiving, although your circumstances may never change … you will change!  You change from being in bondage to disappointments and pain to living a life of the joy found only within the gates of His powerful presence!

The moment that you become grateful, it changes the atmospheric conditions of your life.  Thanksgiving will take you out of your human pain and place you in the very courts of His presence!  What a miraculous possibility!!

“Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.

Serve the Lord with gladness;

Come before Him with joyful singing.

Know that the Lord Himself is God;

It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;

We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving

And His courts with praise.

Give thanks to Him, bless His name.

For the Lord is good;

His lovingkindness is everlasting

And His faithfulness to all generations.”

Psalm 100

I would love it if you would respond to this blog by telling us what you are grateful for today!

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Just These Three Things

baby
baby

Children … there is nothing like the heart of a little person to rearrange your priorities, refine your theology and restore your hope.

“Through the praises of children and infants

 You have established a strong hold

 against Your enemies.”

Psalm 8:2 - NIV

I love to listen to children talk about God.  I love to hear their praises … to watch their heartfelt enthusiasm … and to know that they understand the love of the Father.

Children know.  They know God in a particular way that most adults do not begin to grasp.  They know that God is love and that He is powerful.

They know that God is a giant-killer … a life-giver … and a mountain-mover.

Children know.

Children are the very best prayer warriors that I know.  They pray in unabashed faith and enthusiastically expect a response from heaven!  If you have lingering doubts about life … ask a child to pray for you!  There is nothing quite like it!

“And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said,

‘Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children,

you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Whoever then humbles himself as this child,

he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 

And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me.” –

Matthew 18:3-5

 Is it because they are so fresh from heaven?  Is that why children have an insight into the heart and character of God that is sometimes missing in older, more mature and “wiser” adults?

Do babies remember what heaven smells like?  Do toddlers recall the joy around the throne of God?  Are pre-schoolers able to catch a whiff of the love of the Father while living on earth?

If nothing else, children know that God loves children.  They know.

The innocence of a child is a strong magnet to the presence of God.  Little ones are most at home in the joy of His presence.  Is it any wonder that there was a special place in the heart of Jesus for children?

One day children were brought to Jesus

 in the hope that He would lay hands on them and pray over them. 

The disciples shooed them off.

 But Jesus intervened: ‘Let the children alone,

 don’t prevent them from coming to me. 

God’s kingdom is made up of people like these.”

 – Matthew 19:13 & 14 – The Message

olivia mcleod
olivia mcleod
olivia mcleod 2
olivia mcleod 2
olivia mcleod 3
olivia mcleod 3
olivia mcleod & marmee
olivia mcleod & marmee

Olivia is my adorable, precocious, administrative, creative and anointed little bundle of granddaughterly joy!  She was the first grandchild born into this clan and will ever hold a place of sweet delight in my Marmee’s heart.

Olivia loves to design doll clothes, write books, go to ballet lessons, take care of her little brothers and has an insatiable desire to know more about God.  Although only 5 years old, Olivia is filled with a wisdom that I long for at times!

A few weeks ago it was Kids’ Day at Faith Family Church in Victoria, TX.  All of the school age children were allowed to stay in the big service and Pastor Jim Graff had a message that he had prepared especially for them. 

These are the notes, in Olivia’s own handwriting that she wrote that day:

God is with you. 

You are special. 

You are God’s child.

Olivia got it right, didn’t she?  That is all the theology that she needs in her tender and formative years.  Maybe it is all the theology that you and I need as well.

little girl
little girl

God is with you!  What a promise!  You serve a God Who will never leave you regardless of how you act, what you’ve done or where you are going.  He is more than a social sidekick or a nagging shadow.  He is not an obnoxious tag-along or the constant reminder of yesterday’s mistakes.  God’s presence and love are inescapable companions as you travel life this side of heaven.  He has promised never to leave you or forsake you.  When everyone else has deserted you … you have a friend that is closer than a brother.  Ah-h-h-h … you are not alone!  Thanks for the sweet reminder, Olivia.

la main de la mère
la main de la mère

You are special!  What a great memo from Olivia’s 5 year old heart!  There is no one like you … you are one of a kind.  You have a destiny that has never been shared by another human being in all of history.  God has uniquely fashioned you for such a time as this.  Comparing yourself with others is a total and complete waste of energy because there is no one like you … and there is no one like them!  So get busy being you!  Be the you that God made you to be … today!  Olivia … there will never be another Olivia Mae McLeod!  You are you … and that is enough … that is more than enough!

You are God’s child.  That’s right … you belong.  You belong to Your Dad.  You are His wanted and dearly loved child.  You are part of the greatest family ever created … the family of the most-high God!  There is never any possible reason to wonder who you are … you are God’s child!  What an honor!  When others reject you or forget you … you are God’s child!  When your family ignores you and your friends avoid you … you are God’s child!  His embrace is big enough and powerful enough to calm your fears and to lead the way. 

Olivia … I hope that you always remember these 3 important sentences.

God is with you. 

You are special. 

You are God’s child.

  I hope that when you are 12 and are struggling with self-esteem that you remember.

I hope that when you are 18 and face an unknown future that you remember.

I hope that when you are raising a little girl with blonde hair and blue eyes that you remember.

I hope that when another little girl … at another moment in history … calls you “Marmee” … that you remember …

God is with you.

You are special.

You are God’s child.

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Testimony of An Unanswered Prayer

In Spite Of
In Spite Of

It’s November!  The 11th month of the year is 4 glorious weeks of  exhilarating football games, homemade pumpkin pie and jumping raucously in the leaves.  It is the month of geese flying southward, pulling out Gramma’s  well-loved recipes and going on that annual family hayride.However, the most important aspect of this month that marks the beginning of the holiday season is the time that is set aside for sincere gratitude and thankfulness.  November reminds us of the strength of counting our benefits and not whining about our deficits.  There is no other month that carries such a strong regard for the giving of heartfelt thanks and the joyful taking stock of one’s blessings.

But what if this November, you are more aware of what you don’t have rather than what you do have?  What if Thanksgiving 2013 is a painful reminder of the prayers that have not yet been answered and the “Blessing List” that lies dormant and bare?

My friend, Monica, is one of my heroines in life.  She is a sister of the heart, a partner in ministry and a dream-builder extraordinaire.  Monica has prayed for nearly 7 years for another baby … and yet her arms and her nursery are longingly empty.  Her message and her heart challenge me to pray again … to believe again … and to give thanks “in spite of” and not only “because of.”

This is Monica’s story and Monica’s blog.  Maybe you will find yourself between the lines of this heartfelt journey.

Testimony of an Unanswered Prayer

Orzechowski-1079

I thought about writing this many times over the past 7 years.  I've written and re-written it in my mind too many times to count.  I’ve always waited because I thought…once the deepest desire of my heart has been fulfilled…that’s when I can share the testimony.  That is when I can encourage someone else to hang in there…the promise is coming.  But here’s what I’ve learned through this journey…the testimony doesn’t necessarily come in one big bang at the end of the road.  Sometimes, it’s during the lowest of lows…during the deepest pain and despair…and even during the relentless questions of the heart…that the true testimony is birthed.

This journey began for me about 8 years ago, on a cold winter morning in February.  Paul and I had been married for just over 8 months.  We had decided early on that we would wait until we’d been married for one year before we started a family.  But after eight months of wedded bliss…I didn’t want to wait any longer!  I was ready for babies!!  That morning in February…as I was blow-drying my hair…the Lord spoke to my heart.  I heard the name “Faith”….and then “Faith Marie”.  It was so clear to me that I think I’ll never forget the feeling of hearing my Jesus whisper that name to the deepest part of my soul.

A few weeks later, I heard Him whisper the name Zachary.  Imagine hearing two names…within a couple of weeks!  My poor husband had no say in the name of our son.  There was no discussion about names…no baby name books being poured through.  I just knew that we were either going to have a “Zachary” or a “Faith”!

About a month later, we found out we were pregnant!!  I’ve wanted a little girl since I can remember.  I have a sister…and she has three daughters…and my mom was one of two girls.  And the Lord had given me the name ‘Faith’!  Never in my wildest imagination could I ever picture myself with a  boy!    So, when I found out we were pregnant with a boy…I was slightly shell shocked.  However, over the next 9 months…I fell completely, head over heels, over the moon in love with my Zachary.  And when he was born, I thought…THIS is what perfection looks like!  (And I still think that today, 7 years later)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We were beyond blessed with our beautiful little family.  And so, when Zachary was about 10 months old…we decided this would be the perfect time to do it again!  We were pregnant with Zachary exactly one month after we decided to begin trying.  We took it for granted the second time would be so easy.

However, with each month that passed with a negative pregnancy test, I had to fight feelings of fear.  I had to fight off the nasty little “I” word (Infertility) that would creep into my thoughts.  After several months, we began fertility treatments.  And after years and years of herbs, and acupuncture, and holistic treatments, and pills, and needles, and hormones….praying and declaring…seeking God’s wisdom and guidance at every turn…I wasn’t getting pregnant.  One of the biggest blows came after several more tests and procedures and a consult with an IVF doctor.  My test results showed early menopause and no chance of IVF working.  He told us our only hope was to use an egg donor or do traditional adoption.  The news was almost more than I could bare.

BUT – during all of these years…and more negative pregnancy tests than one person should ever have to endure…I knew that Jesus was with me.  I felt Him near me every time I would cry out in despair…each time I questioned whether I had really heard the name Faith…He would reassure me.  “Now FAITH is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not yet seen” (Hebrews 11:1)

My God would send me scriptures and encouragers and the deepest knowledge that He loved me….and He understood the pain…and my anger would never make Him move away from me or love me less.

Earlier this year, we adopted 2 embryos through the Snowflakes Embryo Adoption program.  We knew that my body wasn’t producing eggs…but the doctors told us that I could easily carry a baby.  And that has always been my deep desire…to be pregnant again.  To feel the life growing inside me…to feel those magical first kicks…to feel my baby move as soon as she felt her daddy’s hand on my stomach.  I loved those beautiful nine months with Zachary…and I desperately want it again.

The process of embryo adoption was daunting.  It’s treated just like a traditional adoption, so we went through the homestudy and began the process of choosing the family who’s babies we would adopt and grow inside me.  When we received word that a family had chosen us to adopt their embryos, I prayed that the Lord would give us a sign so that we knew that these were the babies He had for us.

I’ll never forget the day I received the pictures of the family.  I’ve never in my life felt more loved by the God who created this universe!  When I opened the first picture, I saw two little boys who could’ve been my son’s twins.  These were the siblings of the embryos that we were about to adopt.  When I put the picture of the one little boy next to a picture of me when I was his age…we could’ve been brother and sister.  The resemblance was uncanny.  I knew that God had answered our prayers.  The God who was so big that He created the Grand Canyon….knew the deepest desire of my heart.

We began the process of getting my body ready to accept these babies.  We flew to Kansas standing and declaring that we would come home pregnant!  Our friends sent us off with letters and cards of encouragement….declarations over these babies, who had been wanted for so many years.  We came home after the procedure…after being told by the doctor that the embryos didn’t look great…still full of hope and declaring all of the promises that God had given us.  I had called this baby by name for 7 years.  My little Faith…my vision of blonde curls and freckles on her nose…the little girl who would grow up to be my best friend.  The moment was finally here…we couldn’t wait to celebrate with all of the friends and family who had stood beside us…prayed with us for so many years.  This little girl who had lived only in my heart…

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Two weeks later, the doctor called from Kansas with words that would literally…truly…smash my heart into a million pieces.  We were not pregnant.  Those two babies that had been placed inside me were now in heaven.

The hours and even days after that phone call are a blur.  I felt like I had lost two babies.  I felt like God had broken my heart.  It hurt to talk to God…it hurt to read my Bible…it hurt to look at all of the scriptures that I had declared over this baby.  Everything just hurt.

But, He never left my side.  Slowly…and ever so gently…I could hear Him whispering to me.  I knew that God still loved me.  I knew that He had a plan for me…a great plan…to prosper me and not to harm me.  I knew that, although my heart was broken, it wasn’t Jesus who had broken it.   I needed to let Him back in…because He was the ONLY one who could truly heal my heart.

I remember asking – WHY?  Why would you send me this beautiful, perfect match – the perfect fit for our family and then take these babies to heaven?  His answer was soft, gentle, and so comforting.  He gave me that match to show me just how deeply and intimately He knows my heart…my deepest desires…the dreams inside me that no one else knows.  He knows.  He sees.

I am still working through the process of letting Him heal my heart.  I am still learning how to live with an unanswered prayer…by thanking Him for the million prayers that He HAS answered.  Jesus has been with me at every valley and every mountain top of this journey.  I am learning that the testimony isn’t really about the destination…it’s about finding God during the journey.  It’s about choosing to declare that He is a good God…He does want the best for me…He loves me…and He never has or never will leave my side.   I will be thankful for every good gift that He has so graciously poured out in my life.  That He continues to pour into my life.  It’s a choice I make everyday…to be thankful…to worship while I’m waiting…to trust Him.

That..…is my testimony.

Habakkuk 2:3 – For the vision is yet for the appointed time; it hastens toward the goal and it will not fail.  Though it tarries, wait for it; for it will certainly come, it will not delay.

1 Chronicles 16:11 – Seek the Lord and His strength; Seek His face continually.

Proverbs 16:9 – In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.

Jeremiah 17:7 – Blessed is the (wo)man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is in the Lord.

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Monica is Mom to Zachary, Wife to Paul. and the Executive Director at Just Joy! Ministries.  Her blog is called "Faith for the Journey"

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In Spite Of!

In Spite Of
In Spite Of

November is the month of being thankful...but let's take it a step further and be thankful, not only "because of" our circumstances...but "In Spite Of" our circumstances!  Join us on the facebook page - Carol McLeod, Bible Teacher & Author, and list 3 things you are thankful for with the hashtag #inspiteof 

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Superpowers, Superheroes, & A Boy Named Ian Wesley

Ian 12
Ian 12

Let me tell you a story about a little boy and his grandmother.  The little boy is 4 very precocious years old and his name is Ian Wesley.  The grandmother is exceedingly young and lives thousands of miles away from all of her grandchildren.  All 5 of her  bright and darling grandchildren call her, “Marmee”.  She thinks that “Marmee” is the most beautiful word in the history of mankind ... As Marmee was saying her final good-bye to her little boy genius, Ian, she held him in her arms and he held her face in both of his hands.  He was kissing her on her wrinkle-free cheeks and finally the Marmee reluctantly put him down.  Ian then clung to her legs with all of his might.  

“”Well, buddy, Marmee needs to go now.  But ... remember ... change the world!” were Marmee’s parting words to this little bundle of energy, enthusiasm and perpetual liveliness.

“What?!  Change the world?!” Ian incredulously asked. “I tan’t change the world!!  I don’t have superpowers!!”

His parents and I grinned at each other and at the remarkable response of this remarkable little man.

As I began the nearly 1,500 mile drive home to an empty but clean house and away from those who are forever in my heart, I thought to my Marmee self, “Oh!  But Ian!  You have it all wrong because you do, indeed, have superpowers that will change the world you live in!”

“Ian ... you have the power of love in your little soul.  The power of love is a game changer every time in every relationship.  Unconditional love is the basis for all healthy relationships; vibrant love is the launching pad for all young lives and their dreams; tenacious love is the glue that holds families together.  When you choose to love somebody difficult and cruel ... it is the greatest superpower of all! Ian ... you really can change the world with love.”

Ian 4
Ian 4

“Ian ... you have the power of prayer at your every day disposal!  When ordinary human beings talk to God ... He listens!  When we ask in faith ... mountains are moved out of the way and that changes every one’s world!  When we diligently and relentlessly knock on the door of God’s heart through prayer ... demons flee and so do bad guys!  Ian ... prayer is more exciting and game-changing than super-heroes who leap buildings in a single bound or possess the power of x-ray vision.  Ian ... you really can change the world on your knees!”

Ian 5
Ian 5

“Ian ... you have the superpower of wisdom!  Wisdom is thinking like God thinks!  Wisdom is better than being best friends with Superman, Batman or Captain America!  When you ask God for wisdom, He transfers His great and powerful mental capabilities into your human brain and heart.  Wisdom will help you always win in life and will keep you away from dark and threatening places.  Buddy ... when you ask God for His wisdom ... you really can change the world in partnership with God!  Imagine that!”

“Ian ... the words that you speak hold the power of life and death!  The words that you choose to say to your mom and dad ... to your cousins ... to your friends ... to your teachers ... and to your Marmee and Pa ... can change their lives forever.  When you choose to say kind words to someone who is having a bad day ... their life is forever changed by you!  When you choose to encourage someone who is discouraged ... their life is changed instantly by you!  Ian, your words are powerful capsules of world-changing capacity, so only use your words as an instrument of peace and never as a weapon of mass destruction.

Ian 6
Ian 6

“Ian ... you hold in your heart the power of forgiveness which is one of the greatest superpowers known in all of recorded history.  When somebody is unkind to you, you can forgive them ... then love them ... then pray for them!  Wow!  That’s three superpowers all at once!  Forgiveness is eternally powerful because it is what Jesus did for you.  And, when you forgive someone who has hurt you, you are acting just like Jesus ... the greatest Hero of all time!  No bad buys or evil powers can stop you or destroy you when you choose to act like Jesus and forgive someone.

Ian 13
Ian 13

“Ian ... when you become best friends with Jesus Christ, nothing will be impossible for you!  You might not be able to leap buildings in a single bound or move faster than a speeding bullet ... but you will be able to do extraordinary exploits and go on exciting adventures with Him.  You will pray for people and they will be healed of sickness and disease!  You might follow Jesus, the Superhero of all Superheroes, to places like Africa, China or India!  Together you and Jesus can tell other boys and girls about the power that only He can give!”

“ So ... Ian ... my little boy who will soon grow up in the blink of an eye just like his daddy did ... you do indeed possess superpowers!  You can change the world because you belong to Jesus and He belongs to you.  And Ian, just let me tell you that I am waiting for it!  I am watching your life with grand anticipation because this Marmee knows ... I just know ... that you are one of the extraordinary superheroes who have been chosen at this moment in history to change the world.

Ian 11
Ian 11
Ian 3
Ian 3
Ian 2
Ian 2
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Superheroes Blog pic 2

So do it, Ian!  You have been given the superpowers of love ... prayer ... wisdom ... words that bring life ... forgiveness ... and the power of friendship with Jesus! So do it ... to infinity and beyond!!!!!!”

Superheroes Blog pic 1
Superheroes Blog pic 1
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He Sees

Be encouraged today that God sees your circumstances and your struggle...no matter how long you've suffered...Jesus is watching your life. You have His attention! Let His glory shine through you...

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When I Pray

Prayer blog pic 1
Prayer blog pic 1

Now He was telling them a parable to show them at all times they should pray and not lose heart.” - Luke 18:1

I long to be a prayer warrior.  I want to live in that influential place of heartfelt communication and sweet communion with God.

Prayer is the force that makes hell quiver in fear and causes heaven to stand to its feet with joyful applause.

I know it deep within my soul.

Nothing eternal is accomplished on earth without the power and focus of a saint who is committed to the discipline of prayer.

I know that I know that I know.

Prayer is the vehicle through which the greatest work of my life will be done.

I absolutely know it.

“Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you. - Mark 11:12

Why do I feel so bad at it then?  Time after time after time, I feel like a failure in the arena of prayer.

I long for my prayers to move mountains, to calm storms and to heal sick people.  I long for it day after endless day.

And yet ... day after day after day ... all I see is one mountain range after another.  And over all of my mountains, there always seems to be fierce and defiant storms brewing.

What is it with prayer and me?!  What is it with prayer and anybody?!

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” - Philippians 4: 6 & 7

I must tell you ... I refuse to give up.  I refuse to be paralyzed or crippled by what my eyes see.  I will pray when others give up. I will pray in spite of a quiet heaven.

I will pray.

I will pray when storms sneer and when mountains mock.

I will pray.

“Pray without ceasing.” -I Thessalonians 5:17

I defiantly refuse to believe that prayer is a waste of time.  I will set my resolve and pray on when nothing changes.

I will pray in the dark of night when the towering mountains minimize my value.

I will pray when the howl of life’s storms threaten to drown out the volume of my solitary and desperate prayer.

I will pray in the face of sickness and pain. I will beg for God’s sweet presence to heal and restore.

“ In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” -Romans 8:26 & 27

Prayer blog pic 2
Prayer blog pic 2

It’s all I have.  Prayer is all I have.  It’s the only power with any potential of making even a temporary difference.

I will wear out the carpet beside my bed with the pressure and insistence of 2 middle-aged knees whose resolve has been set.  Nothing will move me from the battle that takes place from this position.  Nothing.

“Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.” - Jeremiah 29:12

I will get up in the morning with worship in my heart and a prayer on my lips.

I will choose to pray rather than worry as I fold laundry, dash to the grocery store and answer e-mails.

I will lay my head down at night with the determination that any day is a magnificent day that has been given to prayer.

“To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” - II Thessalonians 1:1

My calling is to prayer.  It is my life’s work. God’s responsibility and response is to answer and to move.

When I pray, my desires are fulfilled in Him and not in the magical change of situations, circumstances or events.  When I pray there is a mighty work that is done in me ... it is a work of faith and power.

I will stand in faith and continue to believe for the miraculous change of situations, circumstances and events.  And while I stand, I will pray on.  It’s my calling, remember?

While my prayers may not change a situation, I now know that my prayers change me. 

When I pray, Jesus is glorified in me and I am glorified in Him.

When I pray, His grace is dispersed into my world.

I have learned that you don’t have to be “good” at prayer for prayer to be “good” in you.

I now know that in order to be good at prayer ... you just have to mean it.  And I do.

Pray then, in this way:

Our Father who is in heaven,

Hallowed be Your name.

Your kingdom come.

Your will be done,

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And do not lead us into temptation, but delivers us from evil.

For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”

Matthew 6:9-13

Prayer blog pic 3
Prayer blog pic 3
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