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.

“Help me!”

Author, Adrienne Yerzy
Author, Adrienne Yerzy

I’m in love with my 2 year old nephew; like, I call my sister-in-law and ask her if I can babysit. Recently on a Saturday morning I took the little guy out on the town. We started at the doughnut shop and got a sprinkled doughnut, then went to Borders Bookstore to see Thomas the Train; to Target to get some toys, and then to the pet shop, or as I told him “the zoo”. Modesto’s zoo is the best! You can pet the rabbits, watch the turtles, and find 100 Nemo’s and Dory’s…and auntie doesn’t have to take care of any of them.

While we were at the pet shop, we turned the corner to see a huge, I mean HUGE, parrot. Tail included, it was about 4 feet tall, and it was trapped in a 6 foot cage. Not only was this gorgeous, very colorful creature confined to a small space, but it could talk and it said “Help me!”… over and over.

The voice of the parrot haunted me for quite a while, a few hours actually. It was so sad to me that one of God’s prettiest creatures was trapped and unable to live a full live as was intended. And while I reflected on the sad image, it kept saying in the background “Help ME!” Soon, it was time to leave, so we got some pizza and I finally took him home.

I had a few errands to run on my way home and stopped by a store to pick up a few things. While I was there I crossed paths with a young man who was very clearly in pain. I will not go into details why I knew this, and honestly, as our paths crossed, I didn’t really think much of it. I walked back to my car still hearing “Help me!” and the thought hit me. The young man was in a cage too. He was trapped. He may have had bad things done to him. He might be making his own bad choices. He might be… so many things, but what he is for sure is: loved by God.

The thought struck me then, and obviously still strikes a chord with me now. Why did a trapped bird affect me more than a trapped soul? Maybe we’ve seen hurt too much to be affected appropriately by it. I’m sure there is more to it.

I’m thankful that God sent a reminder to me to start looking into faces. To pray in the moment for someone who seems lost, hurt, or angry, to intentionally offer a word of encouragement, or whatever I have available in the moment. Because if we see something that affects are hearts, I think it is God’s call to take action. Not to the church, not to the government, not to your husband. To you. To me. And this realization and call to act is what it has been looking like …just living the thing.

The Power Of Prayer…

Author, Sonna Evans
Author, Sonna Evans

We have all had them. Those times when there is so much trouble all around that you think,

“Nothing else, Lord, please.”

When it rains it pours. This week I was asked to pray for some pretty heavy things. Friends and family in crisis: a child with a mysterious physical ailment, a family member using drugs, a loved one incarcerated, children not walking with the Lord and making unhealthy life choices

These things can get us down, make us feel overwhelmed, discouraged.

In my devotion today I was reading Mark 3 and three phrases caught my attention:

“…they were silent”,

“He was grieved at their hardness of heart”, and

“…come forward”.

I pondered, am I ever silent? Do I lift my requests to the Lord, asking for His power and might? Not always. Is my heart hard? Do I think nothing will ever change, do I refuse to pray because of this? Sometimes. Do I come forward? Do I bring my requests before the God of Heaven and Earth who has proved Himself over and over and over again to be faithful and true? If I don’t, why not?

I get discouraged. I don’t know about you, but I often take on the weight of the things I am asked to pray for. This is not what God has intended. In Psalm 55 He says to cast your cares on Him, all who are weary are encouraged to come to Him in Matthew 11, and in Jeremiah 33 to call to Him and He will answer. I need to practice these commands and allow Him to shoulder the burdens.

The other thing I do when others ask me to pray is to think,

“All I can do is pray.”

Hmm, all I can do is pray? Is there something better I could be doing? All I can do is pray? All I can do is ask the most mighty, omniscient, powerful Being in this entire universe for help? I am chuckling right now because sometimes I really do think I could do something to fix whatever is wrong, then God could focus on other things. Now that it is down in print, it looks pretty silly. Prayer is the BEST thing I can do for someone!

Prayer is a powerful thing, because God is powerful. He wants us to come to Him. He wants us to lay our requests at His feet. He wants us to live free from anxiety and worry. In Him are the answers.

Ladysmith Black Mombazo sings, “We Nhliziyo Yami”

Oh, my heart be wise when your enemies surround you,

keep praying, ask the Lord for help, for He is powerful.

That is your weapon, do not lose.

Pray without ceasing for the Lord is powerful.

Father, my prayer from 1Thessalonians 5 is that I will always rejoice, always pray, and in all circumstances give thanks, because I know that this is your will for me in Christ Jesus as I am …just living the thing.

Out of the mouth of babes…

Author, Erin Collins
Author, Erin Collins

It seems there is growing population of Christian children with divorced parents. My parents divorced when I was six and though I was not too involved in the process, I grew up with it, loving both my parents, but not really knowing till later that our family situation was “not normal” or “how it should be”.

Seventeen years later I am about to marry the man I do not want to live without, and suddenly my parents’ divorce is something that sets me apart.  Something I had nothing to do with suddenly felt like my sin to carry.

Nothing hurt more than to have Christians I look up to assume I need to be treated differently because of my parents’ marital status, or that inevitably I too will end up divorced.  I get that sin causes divorce, but we’re not just a statistic and we do not have ‘the plague’.  My heart is discouraged every time someone “lovingly” points out that I’m different because of my family background.

Wouldn’t it be much more helpful to encourage the children of divorced parents?  To inspire them to fight the statistics, to discern their relationships well, and to take the time to learn about the commitment and communication necessary to maintain a healthy relationship.  In fact, it is my parents’ divorce motivates me to take this beautiful gift from God so very seriously.

And to other children like me, if you are fearful to love, or commit to someone because of your parents’ history, guess what?  That is not of God. There is not a single verse in the Bible that says children of divorce are going to suck at relationships and never find lasting love.

It took me a long time to overcome the belief that I was not worthy of my amazing future husband because his parents were still together.  I thought my past would burden him; that I was somehow broken because of what happened when I was child.  IT’S NOT TRUE!

In fact I’ve worked pretty hard to divorce-proof my relationship.  My fiancé can attest to this as I put that man through the ringer! (Love you handsome!)

So my fellow CODs (aka Children of Divorce), if possible, examine what caused your parents’ divorce and take the steps necessary FOR YOURSELF to guard against it happening to you!  It’s God and you honey, and He’s an excellent teacher who is more than willing to help you figure it out.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” II Corinthians 5:17-18

Ultimately IT DOES NOT MATTER who thinks what about your past. You are not to blame for what you were born into. However, you are responsible for learning from the past, and what you’re going to do with this worldview you’ve been given.

Don’t let having divorced parents become a stigma.  Instead, with God’s help, rise to the challenge of having healthy, lasting relationships… just living the thing.

My Testimony…

Author, Wendy Morgan
Author, Wendy Morgan

I love watching the “I Am Not Ashamed” video testimonies at my church. The fact that God uses our trials, experiences, and sometimes even our deep pain to impact the lives of others for His kingdom is awesome and humbling at the same time.  It blows my mind that I have a part to play in God’s great plan!

However, there was a time when I didn’t think I had a story or testimony. The reason for that stinkin’ thinkin’ was because I didn’t have “a date”. You know the “date” I’m talking about; the- “I accepted Christ on this date…….and my life has never been the same” date.  After all, the greatest decision of your life should be marked by an anniversary shouldn’t it?

My date is: “Somewhere around the age of 13 at a church camp in Big Bear and my life didn’t change all that much”. Very vague and not the “Hallelujah!” experience I used to think it should have been. My life didn’t change much because I thought it was a done deal; I did my part, now God does His. My sins are forgiven and I get to go to Heaven.

I knew that to be true but aside from that I knew little else. My childhood church didn’t teach from the Bible. It taught that Jesus saves, but never that God wants to be Lord of your life.

Fast forward 20 years and I find myself in a Bible-teaching church where I am surrounded by people who actually brought their own Bibles to church. Whaaaaaat?!

I was a little uncomfortable because there was no liturgy, no reciting the Apostle’s Creed or even the Lord’s Prayer and… I didn’t bring my Bible. We sang for 45 minutes!  The pastor taught on ONE VERSE for another 45 minutes, then we went home. What was that about?!  My pride scoffed at what they called a church service, but I went back the next week, and the next, and then it became home.

How exciting to discover the God of the universe cares to have a relationship with me. His Holy Spirit indwells me. The forgiveness of my sin is for my good, AND for His glory. This is much more than just accepting Christ and going to Heaven.  My eternal life begins here in this life!  Finally, my “Hallelujah!” moment!

One of my first thoughts when I was diagnosed with cancer was,

“Well, I finally have a testimony to share”.

Now I realize God has given me a story from my very first “date” to where I am now. Loving Him, learning about Him, and believing Him have all brought me to a place of trusting Him, and what better testimony is there than that.

“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Ephesions 4:1

The chance to live a life worthy of the calling of Christ; THIS is the greatest story my life could ever tell, …just living the thing.

Getting Older… AND Younger…

Author, Colleen Fraioli
Author, Colleen Fraioli

I hit the big 6-0 last year. Turning 61 now makes it official: I’m off the chair lift, careening down the slope. No going back to the good old days of “almost” or “barely” something.

I thought about hiding my age, but realized that cat would get out of the bag one way or another. So I’ve decided to embrace it, or shall I say, parts of it. In a way it’s a relief to stop pretending I have 30-something skin, or run like a maniac ten times around the track. I know good and well I will never again have buns of steel, or perky anything. And remembering where I put my check book is highly overrated.

I’ve made peace with all of that. Why fight gravity and inertia? Let it be. I’ve probably been there, and may have done that, but I can’t remember. Either way, I don’t need the tee-shirt.

No more “shoulds”, and no more expectations. It may have taken six decades plus one year, but I’m there, and not going back. Freedom!

However, the part I don’t want to accept is the ‘old people conversations’ my husband and I have recently engaged in. It’s all about the ability to hear correctly, which apparently we no longer have:

Me: I’m going to look at that house before the movie, so I’ll be back in an hour.

Him: Bat house? Huh?

Me: Bat house? Seriously? Now ask yourself… Does that even makes sense?

Him: Well, then what did you say?

Me: oh my goodness! That house. T-h-a-t house for cryin’ out loud! What else?

Who am I kidding? I’m getting older and I really don’t like it. I’m not ready for hearing aids, and I don’t look good in spikey grey hair. Besides, I hate Metamucil. Apart from the senior early diner special, I need more good news.

This morning I saw this verse I’ve seen many times before, but today it had more significance:

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 2 Corinthians 4:16

And my heart said:

Lord, you mean something in me is not old? 

This verse says I’m getting younger inside. Not the foolish, reckless kind of young, either. From what I read in this chapter, it is a fresh, alive, vibrant kind of young. It’s the newness of Jesus’ life revitalizing me every morning when I wash myself in the Word. My soul doesn’t break down and decay or get hard of hearing. It actually gets more attune, stronger, and able to perceive and grow and learn with age. What is going on in the inside is the opposite of what is happening on the outside. That is good news!

So, yay! Take heart, my soul! You are still a young thing. I may be sitting down on the outside, but you are frolicking, and rocking it on the inside. You go girl! …just living the thing.

Finding Comfort In God First…

Author, Sonna Evans
Author, Sonna Evans

Growing up it was just my mom, my sister and I. When my mom got home from work she would send my sister and I to the corner store for Pepsi and Doritos and the three of us would watch Dark Shadows as we snacked on the goodies. I didn’t know it then, but my mom suffered from depression and anxiety, and food was one of her comforts.

I have a habit of using food as comfort as well, but never really addressed it the way I should have. Oh, it has come up several times over the past 20 years, but I’ve never fully given it over to God.

Two weeks ago I went in for a physical. My lab results exposed my bad eating habits in the form of very high cholesterol. I knew this day would come, I really did. First, there’s a family history, and second, my numbers have been creeping up ever so slightly in recent years. This one was a big jump and my doctor was concerned. She recommended medication. Ugh, no more medication please. I knew then it was time for a change once and for all.

As I drove to work, I had time to think. I was angry, sad, frustrated and scared. I was angry that God had allowed the consequences of my eating habits to actually catch up with me. I was sad I was going to have to say goodbye to eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I was frustrated that I couldn’t have my way anymore without running the risk of serious health issues. Lastly, and most importantly, I was scared. Change scares me.

As I drove I considered how much I really did not want to make the necessary changes. I actually told God,

“I do not want to do this.”

I thought back to all the things that have happened in my life over the past several years and remember with each one I prayed and told God,

“Whatever you want me to do, I will do.”

There was no hesitation in those times. I knew God had me in His hand and I knew that He would work in a mighty way through it all. In this situation though, I felt rebellious.

It struck me that this was really like an addiction. I thought about all my friends in Celebrate Recovery who have overcome meth addiction, alcohol addiction, and thought, how did they do it? I know they do it with God’s help. That’s the answer; I KNOW it’s the answer. I need to crave Him; look to Him, not food, for my comfort, and to ask Him to fill me when I’m feeling needy.

“I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

I came around by the time I hit Modesto. I knew that I could say, Lord whatever you want me to do, I will do it. So, here I go, walking in obedience and …just living the thing.

Let go and be still…

Author, Adrienne Yerzy
Author, Adrienne Yerzy

I just got back from bridal/bachelorette party weekend for a close friend. The weekend was full of planning, storytelling, some awkwardness, gift relocation, healthy laughter, and good food, wrapping up with a trip to the spa for massages.

For my friends the massage part of the weekend was the cherry on top, but I was anxious because it’s hard for me to let everything go and just be still. I’m usually multitasking, or thinking about the next ten steps for life, so lying still for 50 minutes to unwind seemed just too difficult a task.

One of the other girls drove our party of four, and as we entered the spa the smells that welcomed us promised a peaceful time, but I still wasn’t so sure. We were each summoned by our therapist, and exited the lounge to assigned private rooms. Of course, the single rooms were booked, so I was led outside to couples massage room…alone.

The poor masseuse did her best, but after quite a bit of flinching, she realized I was a piece of work that needed more than one massage session, so I think she lowered her expectation of what she could accomplish in just 50 minutes. Have you ever seen a meat mallet? They are square with sharp ridges, and you use them to pound steak? THAT probably would have been a useful tool on my back.

Massage over, I headed back into the lounge area where the other girls and I sat in our small circle of four chairs, sipped mimosas, and talked.  But almost immediately, I wanted to get my phone. I wondered if anyone had texted, if I missed any calls, or if I was missing something else. Unfortunately, it was in a locker so I wasn’t able to retrieve it without being rude to the party.

Finally, I decided to just be. Be in the moment. Be within the current conversation. Be with real, living people, in Real Life. And when I finally let go of all the places I wanted to be, I was able to unwind. Soon, I felt relieved that I didn’t have my purse, my phone, or my car. To be in a place where I forced to live in the moment suddenly felt wildly refreshing.

I could probably make a ton of comparisons about how God made a seventh day devoted to rest for a reason, how Jesus lingered with people, that He even took his disciples away for rest when they needed it, but honestly, I just want to remember that today, I sat and lived an unhurried afternoon listening to other people talk.

Although I’m grateful for a good massage, I am more thankful that I was not in control of my life for that short period of time. Today I relaxed. Just living the thing can often be challenging, hard, and sometimes full of difficult lessons, but today, I am thankful that living the thing meant just living in the moment, relaxing, and being still.

Living On The Edge…

cheriThere are times I find myself in places where I am just moving along in life, then I’ll have an idea;

Hey!  I think I will __________ .  (Fill in the blank).

This time, for whatever reason I found myself saying,

“I think I will further my education in my field of business, just for personal development”. That’s it!  Nothing more.

Then God starts talking to me in stereo through different avenues of my life. There is no way each avenue could be possibly connected EXCEPT that I am the pot it all falls into, and I start to realize maybe God is doing a new work in me. Translation: God is stirring the pot!

Unfortunately, my first reaction is often; PANIC!  Then the conversations/negotiations with God go something like this;

But I’m comfortable! I don’t need more! I don’t need bigger. Oh, but I do need more of God showing His power in my life. He tends to do it in very practical ways.

But I’m afraid.

“…Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid…” Joshua 1:9

Well, THAT’S easier said than done!

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11

Lord, I really don’t think I know how to do what you are calling me to.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, acknowledge Him in all of your ways, He will make your path straight.”  Proverbs 3:5-6

I KNOW these Scriptures and my life has tested and verified the truth of them repeatedly! I’ve lived long enough to have experienced deep pain, heights of joy, and the easy, everyday “comfortable” places.  But how does all this fit into my life’s purpose, and the greatest commandment for me as a believer to “love God and love people”? (I wish it included “love dogs”. I’d totally have 2 out of 3 down!  Sometimes the “people” part really snags me up.)

But back to the question. Where, and to what am I being called presently?  Not yesterday, and not tomorrow. Today. Where is He calling me to the edge of trusting Him AND to allow myself to be comfortable there?

My friend Barb says, “If you’re not living on the edge you’re taking up too much space”.

I believe God is once again calling me to the edge, to a new season, and He is asking me to do exactly what the Bible says; TRUST!

I can picture myself on the edge of a cliff turned backwards; toes right on the edge, arms outstretched, ready to fall into those arms of my loving God and Father who I can hear saying,

“Trust Me. I have you! Don’t be afraid! Go for it!”

…just living the thing!