Be Careful Little Eyes What You See…

Author, Adrienne Yerzy

Yesterday was a great day! It started off with deep conversation with some amazing women and later meeting up with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while. This morning I was tired from all of Saturday’s events, and decided to go to the coffee shop for coffee and return to my house to watch a sermon online.

I grabbed some old shorts and sucked it in as I squeezed through the waistband. After a quick glance at the mirror I immediately pealed them off and traded them in for a more comfortable pair of jeans. I got my coffee and drank it slowly as I listened to the sermon, and it was exactly what I needed to hear.

You see, as of late, squeezing into a pair of shorts… or any piece of clothing, hasn’t been unfamiliar territory. I’m not overweight, but it seems that before I could slip into a dress without a double look, and I miss that carefree confidence. The truth is, the difference is only a matter of a few pounds, so why does it suddenly bother me more than in the past? This is where that timely sermon fits in, the pastor read this:

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)

I think that when we are dealing with our issues, insecurities, or sin; our “stuff” is often the result of an unguarded heart. As I was back tracking to figure out where my insecurity started from, I realized that I hadn’t been guarding my eyes, “aka” the windows to my heart. As a society, we are obsessed with “before and afters”, shows like Fixer Upper have cult-like followings for a reason. My favorites have been “before and afters” of people who lose weight.

I realized that lately, without intentional pursuit, I’ve been scrolling through Instagram and pausing on before and after workout photos. Initially, the photos made me amazed, like,  “Woah!” That dude lost so much weight in 3 months! Or dang, that girl tightened up everything in just 8 weeks?! But as you view one photo, the app memorizes what you see and starts suggesting similar photos, until you get to a place where you are unsatisfied with yourself because if ALL these people can make huge changes in a matter of “days” then you can too. You SHOULD too. Um what?! (queue song… ‘Be careful little eyes what you see.’)

Guarding our heart applies to everything our senses take in, and not just to our efforts to resist sexual temptations.  Now I’m on high alert to what I allow my eyes see. If what I see reaches my heart and it isn’t healthy, my heart loses its fearlessness. I’m not willing to give that up without a fight.

“Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.”

This morning I am redirecting my gaze from social media to ahead and Above and… just living this thing.

Dem Bones…Dem Dry Bones!

Author, Ann Marie Collins

Long have I aspired to be one of those super-disciplined people who read through the entire Bible in a year…every year…for many years!  Still haven’t done it in a year, and I keep getting stuck at the Book of Ezekiel.  It starts out great, but several more chapters in and I am soooooo overwhelmed by the dire consequences of God’s own people becoming “impudent, stubborn, and rebellious”, I feel I might end up needing medication, therapy, or a Book of Ezekiel Support Group.

Even so, the entire book is permeated with the persistent, unfailing, unwavering love of God for His people.  He simply refuses to give up or abandon them as the unavoidable disasters caused by of their rebellion rain down; even when there appears to be no hope that they will ever turn back to Him.

But there is a reason He is called, “…the God of hope”, (Romans 15:13) as evidenced by the account in Ezekiel 37:1-14, where the prophet is taken in a vision to a large valley full of bones which are “very many” and “very dry”.

As a shameless back-of-the-book-first reader (don’t judge!) I’ll tell you now that the bones represent God’s displaced people Israel who had ‘died’ in their despair saying,

“…Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!” v. 11.

Loneliness is a liar, despair is a disease, but hopelessness…?  Hopelessness is a stone cold killer!

God asks Ezekiel, “…can these bones live?”, to which Mr. Consummate Diplomat replies, “O Lord God, You know.”  And I can’t even blame him; not when he is standing in the middle of Absolutely No Hope Valley!  I’ve been to that dismal place, and not just as a tourist looking to buy a T-shirt or a refrigerator magnet. No.  There was a time I LIVED in that valley; almost took out a mortgage…

BUT GOD…

“…O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!…  ‘Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live…Then you shall know that I AM the LORD.’”  vs. 4-6 (emphases mine).

When you feel like you’re standing all by yourself, in your own valley full of the bones of dried-up inspiration, dead dreams, and the ashes of godly but frustrated desires; when despair spreads debilitating infection to every belief you have about God’s love and power to do what He knows is the very best for you, His kingdom, and His glory; then hunt down every verse in the Bible that tells the truth about God’s character, commitment, love, and power, and anchor your soul to them, or your trust in God will die…and nothing good comes from that!

God is a truth-teller and a promise-keeper. If He says it, you can build your life on it, and if He promised, He will do it.  Your dry bones will live and

“…  Then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken it and performed it.” v. 14b

Believe God, and keep on… just living the thing.

Celebrate The Wins

Author, Sonna Evans

A couple of years ago when I was an intern we would always start off our team meetings by celebrating the wins. This was a new concept to me; taking time out to think over the past week and recognize ways that God had worked in my life, or in this instance, in the ministry. I came to love this practice.

I love this concept because my mind tends to go a little towards the negative side. I’m not necessarily a pessimist by definition, but I do struggle with being judgmental and critical and too often that lends itself to a more negative focus. However, when I spend time with the Lord and ask Him to show me His handiwork, He does.

This week I have had a lot of wins. Some bigger, others smaller, and some…well the word silly comes to mind, maybe because they made me laugh. God is NOT silly, but I do believe He has a sense of humor. Here are some wins from yesterday:

  1. My history with yard sales is dismal – I never make much money – but this time I asked for help and had several people donate awesome items.
  2. I changed the date from the 22nd to the 29th to give myself more time to get things together. Turns out that on the 29th  there was a huge rummage sale at the school around the corner and we had non-stop customers from 8 in the morning to 1 in the afternoon. Crazy!
  3. A friend that wanted to be a part of the yard sale could not participate after I changed the date, but the night before she had a change of plans and was able to be there to help and keep me company. We had a great day together!
  4. I took the leftover items to a local thrift store, but hey would not take one of the chairs because it had a stain on it. As I started to think, “What am I going to do with this chair?” a woman walked by my truck and said, “Oh, what a beautiful chair!” I asked her if she wanted it. She said yes and actually had a vehicle big enough to take it home. Score!
  5. My kids were ALL available and willing to help most of the day and did so with joy. A neighbor who I don’t see much of was home and came over and we got to talk as her daughter played with my friend’s daughter. Relationship building!

Wow! I could go on and on.  And these are just wins from yesterday. Each win had significance and  meaning for me for a variety of different reasons.

God is good! Did you have some wins this week? Has He been working in and through you? I would love to hear your wins. It would encourage me and spur me on as I am …just living the thing!

And let us consider how we may spur one another on…encouraging one another…. Hebrews 10:24-25

Apple Pie And Fractions…

Author, Adrienne Yerzy
…the happiest patient on earth

A couple of weeks ago my appendix decided to stab me in the back and I made the call to have it removed forever. Ok, the surgeon made that call, but either way the sucker is gone and I don’t miss it at all.

During recovery, a lot of friends sent sweet messages, dropped off food, cards, and delivered flowers. My landlord has the gift of “pie baking”, something I know nothing about, and gave me a fresh, warm apple pie. People, I had a hot pie on my counter all for ME! Now if you cut a pie like a normally person, there are 8 slices. And as you can imagine, one pie for one person is a lot of pie… if I gave one slice away it would hardly be missed because I would still have 7 SLICES OF PIE ALL TO MYSELF.

I wish I could think so generously about other fractions in my life. Let’s be honest, 1/8 of a pie sounds easy to let go of, but thinking about giving away 1/10 of my hard earned dollars…not so easy. Honestly, if I was reading this, I would have hit that little red “x” in the top right corner of the screen by now.

This past year has been rough. And I am sure this is uncomfortable to read, believe me, it is more uncomfortable to write, but among the many different changes in my life, one has been an increase of expenses. My amazing roommate decided to get married, and they preferred to move in together, the nerve of wedded bliss. My car moved from the street in front of my house to the car graveyard, and so my expenses literally doubled within weeks. DOUBLED.

In December I felt God challenge me to tithe regularly, something I hadn’t done in years. I didn’t feel burdened, but I felt like He might be asking me to do this to show me more about faith. It was a commitment to believe that He can provide, a commitment to acknowledge that everything I have was given to me by Him, and a commitment to believe that when I have need, I will see God take action and provide. And seriously, who doesn’t want to see God act for good?

So tonight I made my payment towards faith. My investment towards seeing God show that he is on my side. And I’d like to acknowledge that since January 1st, I have paid all my bills and I have not been hungry. I have also on occasion purchased wine, so as you can see, it isn’t like I’m living in a tent on a street corner. And to acknowledging that in front of other people is a way to help me continue with that commitment and is another way God gets the credit for what happens in my life. I have a lot of hospital bills coming up and you know what? I’m not even stressing, I’m …just living this thing.

A Lenten Journey… by Sonna Evans

“The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,

‘Hosanna!’

‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’

‘Blessed is the king of Israel!’

Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:

 ‘Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
    see, your king is coming,
    seated on a donkey’s colt.’” John 12:12-19

There is a book I love to read every year during Lent called ‘Small Surrenders’ by Emilie Griffin. I have read it almost every year for the past several years, appreciating how it prepares my heart and mind for Easter Sunday, celebrating and remembering the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus.

Today is Palm Sunday. It is significant because it is a reminder of the day Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem one week before His crucifixion; when He was welcomed and worshipped to fulfill the prophecy written of him in Zechariah 9:9,

“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

It was the practice of that time period to throw clothes or small branches down before someone worthy of great respect when they entered the city; to pay homage. The palm branches symbolized peace and victory, while riding on a donkey represented humility and peace. What a perfect entry for our Lord; humility, peace and victory.

A fantastic scene! I love the idea of Jesus entering the city of Jerusalem just days before his crucifixion, receiving some of the honor He is due. That is my Lenten surrender. To give to Jesus the honor He is due.

I did not grow up celebrating Lent, but I have fully embraced the season as an adult. Practicing small surrenders during this time of year to refocus and refresh my walk with God has been so meaningful. Emilie Griffin uses quotes from others who have walked this journey; who give their insights and encouragement to set this time aside for reflection and remembrance. I know I need this in my life.

These days our lives can so quickly get bogged down with to-do lists and busyness. Add to that the pressure I have experienced in our Christian culture to do “big” things for God. Griffin relates,

“We fantasize about mountaintop experiences. But most of the Christian stories give scant support for this. In the Gospels at least, Jesus appears in ordinary circumstances. He is visiting…He is walking along the road…he is…with friends, or crossing the water on a fishing boat. The parables Jesus teaches are filled with metaphors from ordinary experience.”

So this is where the practice of “small surrenders” has spoken the loudest to me. It is in the small things, the ordinary, and the mundane that I can see and follow the example of Jesus as I am …just living the thing.

Stir It Up…

Author, Ann Marie Collins

Ask a child, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, and the answers range from hilariously entertaining to terrifying.  A different times in their lives my oldest was determined to join the CIA (she would have been good), my son talked about joining the Israeli army (he is only about one-eighth Jewish), and my youngest was either going to be a nurse or do hair, (she chose nursing).

I cannot recall ever telling my children they could be anything they wanted to be, because the truth is most things require you to have some kind of minimum qualifications; a natural ‘bend’, inherent talent, or giftedness that can harnessed and honed.  I will never sing like Alicia Keys, run like Usain Bolt, or do a Biles like Olympic gymnast Simone – not without serious damage to my body parts.

However, I believe in the omniscient God who has placed within each of us “gracious gifts” which cannot be earned, bought, or sold.  They light up the passion and fire in you, and you would do it for free if you could.  In the middle of activating and exercising your giftedness you know you’re ‘in your lane’; feeling energized, exhilarated, and anxious all at the same time.  That is how I feel when I am writing alone, or speaking in front of a group of people; excited, fueled by passion and nervous energy.

But sometimes it also feels like life, or people in life, are orchestrating to douse every inner fire with buckets of fear; fear of the toll failure would take, or the cost of successfully ‘doing you’, or the pain of judgement.

“That is why I would remind you to stir up (rekindle the embers of, fan the flame of, and keep burning) the GRACIOUS GIFT OF GOD, THE INNER FIRE THAT IS IN YOU…  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity; of cowardice, of craven (weak spineless, gutless), – and cringing and fawning fear, but He has given us a spirit of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control.” II Timothy 1:7 Amplified Bible

Five years ago Os Guiness spoke at our church and with a single phrase from the Bible lit an all-consuming fire in me and changed the direction of my life forever.

“For David, after he had served God’s will and purpose and counsel in his own generation, fell asleep…” Acts 13:36a Amplified Bible.

The decision was immediate and final; THAT is what I want said about my life.

At 55 years old it is both sobering and motivating to acknowledge that more than half of my life is over.  I refuse to let fear of anyone or anything stop me from ‘stirring it up’.  Along with His gracious gifts, He has given unconditional love and access to His infinite power working in and through me.  So with everything to gain, and nothing of eternal value to lose, I’m …just living the thing.

Idol Worship…Who, Me?!

“You shall have not other gods before Me or besides Me.  You shall not make for yourself [to worship] and graven image or any likeness of anything that is in the heavens above or that is in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth.” Deuteronomy 5:7-8 Amplified Version

Second Lieutenant Nathan Collins

My son came home from college last week for spring break (BEFORE spring…go figure) which triggered a flurry of activities; getting him ‘suited up’ for his sister’s wedding in June, prescription glasses, doctor visit, family dinner; the week was over before I knew it.  Somewhere in the whirlwind of busyness we were reminded that he has been a member of the Army National Guard for nine years; now a Second Lieutenant, leading men who are often older than him.

Flashback nine years ago as I drove two hours north for his swearing-in ceremony, having an earnest and emotional conversation with God about surrendering my man-child to Him…again.  In my head I recognized that the career path he had CHOSEN, (while we were at war on at least three fronts!) was honorable, but with the risk of him being killed or seriously hurt so high, there were some things I needed to work through with God IMMEDIATELY! 

For example, the reminder to NEVER close my fists too tightly over anyone or anything that God gives into my hand.  It is too tempting to think of the children as MINE, the house as MINE, the job, MINE, the money, MINE, and so on.  But on that drive north to Sacramento I had to recognize and affirm again that my son, my girls, my job, in fact everything I have are only on loan to me through the lovingkindness of the God who OWNS IT ALL, including the very breath I breathe.

Whatever I place the highest value on in my life; to which I ascribe the highest worth…THAT is my god.  That person or thing for which I will sacrifice the most of my resources, is who or what I worship; that is my idol.  That which I hold so tightly in my fist, refusing to let go even if God Himself tells me to give it up…that has the potential to destroy me as surely as holding on to a grenade with the pin removed.

My Lord, keep me from ever becoming so enamored and preoccupied with the gift that I fixate on making and keeping it all pretty and shiny, no matter the cost!  Instead help me to fix my eyes on you, the Giver of all things that are good, and good for me, especially when it is only given to me for a season.

I choose to stand before you with open hands, ready to receive from you all that I need for “life and godliness”, and equally ready to quickly surrender anything you ask/tell me to. You alone are my God whom I worship; the only One for whom I am… just living the thing.

Naked And Not Ashamed…

Author, Ann Marie Collins

“And the man and his wife were both naked and were not embarrassed or ashamed in each other’s presence” Genesis 2:25 Amplified Bible

When I moved to the United Sates from Jamaica in 1988 I was surprised that the thing I missed most was not the warm weather or traditional Jamaican food.  This is saying a lot because I live in the California Central Valley aka, Jamaican food Siberia, between two and five hours away from the nearest hard-dough bread, yellow yam, ackee with saltfish and so on!

No, what I missed most was the feeling of belonging.  I missed my community; those women and men who made up my inner circle of friends with whom I could, figuratively speaking, be “naked and not embarrassed or ashamed”.

They saw me through my best and my worst, rejoiced with me and cried with me, praised me and lovingly corrected me.  After years of doing life within this tight-knit group, I knew I could trust them to be a ‘safe place’ for me and to love me unconditionally.

Looking back I can see now that my community also sheltered me from having to face my greatest weakness and vulnerability.  Separated by 3,000+ miles and the ridiculous cost of international calls the insecurities and fear that imprisoned me for so much of my life were mercilessly exposed, and I had nowhere to hide.

My first reaction was not to deal with my issues, but to desperately seek the cover and shelter of a replacement community as quickly as possible.  The result was a mixed bag of foolish mistakes, hard truths, and painful lessons.

Thankfully, facing,  and doing the hard work of dealing with my insecurities ultimately led to freedom from the tyranny of my fears of never measuring up, never living up to expectations, never being good enough, and not deserving to be loved well.

I learned that I ought not, and will not be “naked” with EVERYONE!  I accept the challenge to love all people, but if my life is my dwelling place, there are really only a few that can be welcomed into the sanctuary of my ‘house’ and be privy to my deepest concerns and vulnerabilities.  Some need to be ‘porch’ people, others ‘yard’ people, and others, particularly those with destructive tendencies, need to stay on the ‘street’ and be loved over the ‘fence’.

Years later, thanks to Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media, contact with my original community is more frequent, easier, cheaper, as authentic as ever, and, sometimes to their dismay, the new, free me can be even more “naked and not embarrassed or ashamed”.

The greatest blessing has been the expansion of my community with new house, porch, yard and even street people with potential.  So these days it is a very good thing that what I miss most about Jamaica IS the perpetually warm weather, AND the food!  Thankfully, I have a plane ticket to go back at Christmas, so till then I’m …just living the thing.