Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Upon Reflection...For Women to Ponder

It was a transforming day at the gym that day, but it didn’t start out pretty.

Ugh. Why do they have to have mirrors in here? There’s no way I can make it through this. Little Miss Skinny Winny is right in front of me in her ‘lil piece of material disguised as FIT to wear in public! Now I get to stare at BOTH of us in the mirror. YUCK! You’re too out of shape, Laura. It’s disgusting.

Yes, I actually have these thoughts sometimes…and one day in my FLEX aerobics class, they were running rampant through my head. And continuing…I used to be “one of them,” you know. Well, with the exception of the skimpy clothing. But now? Now I am a red-faced, hyperventilating, under-confident, thrumpy, almost-forty something someone.

Obviously my body wasn’t the only thing struggling with a much-needed workout. My spirit was too. Praise the Lord He spoke straight through the booming music and into my heart by the time class ended. He reminded me that, with Him, all things are possible. That nothing is too hard for Him. That He wanted me to persevere and love these people while I’m at it. That He’s more concerned with the state of my heart than the image in the mirror.

My attitude had been placed into submission with my Savior, and it was a good thing. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been prepared for what I walked into next. As I entered the ladies’ locker room, I walked straight into an older teenager with a perfect body in her teeny tiny bikini. She smiled at me big and said, “Hi.” I looked straight into her eyes, faked a smile and said “Hi” back. I made my way to my locker and grabbed my things, because I certainly was not changing my clothes in there now.

As I was about to leave, teeny weeny bikini girl’s (let’s call her “TWB Girl” for short.) friend came out of a draped dressing area in absolute distress. “I can’t do this!” she said to TWB Girl.

“You look great, Jody!” TWB Girl said back, “You do, I promise.”

Then the unthinkable. TWB Girl involves ME.

“Ma’am (ugh), tell her how great she looks.”

What I wanted to say is, “What are you two young things doing running around in skimpy bikinis? You need to cover up now, you hear!?! Got a t-shirt in that locker?”

The mommy/discipler in me took over instead. I forced myself not to look down at her body, but straight into her eyes. I thought, okay, if you tell her not to worry about it, she’ll think she looks bad. If I tell her she looks good in it, I’m feeding the wrong part of her.

“Sweetheart, you are so beautiful. Don’t cry, okay? God has made you such a beautiful young lady.” My heart broke in two as I watched Jody go over to the sink, look in the mirror and rinse her tears. I wanted to continue our conversation, clarify a few things about "true beauty," but I felt led to stop. As the two of them left, saying their polite goodbyes, I sat down on the bench and prayed, crying silently in my soul for this girl, for today’s generation, and for the woman in our aerobics class fussing in the mirror over her body just an hour earlier.

Oh wait, that was me!

Are you ever “that me” or “that her” in the mirror?

It may not be your appearance, or your weight, or your age. For some of you, it’s your talent, your spiritual giftedness, your domestic abilities or the lack thereof. Maybe it’s your personality, your spirituality, or some other stark reality.

Why do we do this? Talk down to ourselves, compare ourselves, wish ourselves away?

Blame it on the media, the devil, “the flesh,” the end times, whatever—but what matters most is what God has to say about us. He tells us to think on “what is true,” (Philippians 4:8a) and to “take captive every thought,” making it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor. 10:5b). He is very clear that He is more concerned with what He sees in our hearts than what we look like. (1 Samuel 16:7b)

Here’s Truth:

* You are beautiful to the King. (Psalm 45:11)

* You are His perfect creation. (Psalm 139:13)

* You are radiant when you look to Him. (Psalm 34:5)

* You can live life to the full if you believe what God says. (John 10:10)

* You are dead to the old flesh, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Col. 3:3)

* You are not to compare yourself to others. (Galatians 6:4)

Ladies, I could go on and on. This is not about whether or not you should lose weight or improve on yourself, or about strongholds or habits you may or may not need to change. I truly believe that if you don’t understand God’s perspective of you and how to think rightly on it, then it will be impossible to change anything about yourself you need to change anyway.

Look to Him today. Seek His face. Dig into His Truth. Pray for change in your thinking about who He made you to be. And I’ll meet you there.

“But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

Now the Lord is the Spirit,

and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory,

are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory,

which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

2 Corinthians 3:16-18

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Walkin' in Circles

Walking down a shady neighborhood trail not long ago, I breathed in the air of a refreshing seventy degrees. Starting slowly, I took some time to praise the Lord and enjoy the peace and alone time. I quickened my pace, and anxious thoughts began to jog alongside me. God, please help my Ally on her tests today. Don’t let her fail again. She studied so hard. I’ve got so much to do. I shouldn’t be walking. I’m going to get behind on everything else. Why am I always a step behind on everything?

My worries completely took over my steps, and I’m sure my heart rate went off the charts. Ministry at church. My son’s issues. Not meeting people’s expectations. Emails and phone calls to return. Decisions my husband and I needed to make. Kids and families my heart is grieving for. Not enough hours in the day…

Then, one thought hijacked the others: I remembered something that had recently hurt my feelings. I didn’t think my legs could go any faster, but they did. I bit back at this person in my mind. I defended myself. I informed this person through telepathic communication that her actions were immature and hurtful.

Huffing in mind, spirit and body, all of a sudden, I noticed that I’d passed my starting place and was walking around the same trail again, by a long ways. The thought of going around a second time was quite an exhausting one, so I stopped for a moment, leaned the weight of my body via arms on my knees and caught my breath.

Do you really wanna walk down this path again?
This was the thought that stopped my elevated “worry pulse,” and I’m positive it was from the Lord. He had my full attention, seeing as He had given me a real-life scenario to think it through (not to mention, plenty of time).

It took the rest of the trail (a second time) home to allow the Lord to do some counseling with me. He gave me incredible insight into just how far He had brought me down the path of anxiety. He reminded me that I struggle with it so much less than I ever have before. He recounted instances of situations past where He has worked out each and every problem, hurt, fear or disappointment for His glory. He testified of all the ways He has worked in me to grow me up spiritually.

By the time I got home, my hurts and “But hows” had taken a hike, and the Lord had carried my numb legs through the door. I was where I needed to be: in the hold of His strong and capable arms. That’s when my prayers and praises started me down a new trail—the one they should have veered on about an hour earlier. I had gone full circle, and now it was time for His Truth to speak.

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.
Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done.
Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.
His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing.
Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right,
and pure, and lovely, and admirable.
Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—
everything you heard from me and saw me doing.
Then the God of peace will be with you.”
Philippians 4:6-9 (NLT)

What trails keep you running around in circles? Are there any issues in your life that you need the Lord to “stop you in your tracks” over today? Take a few moments to remember His faithfulness on the treaded trails of your yesterdays. Do any of those give you hope for your footsteps today?
“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast,
because he trusts in You.”
Isaiah 26:3 NIV

Lord, we praise You, for You are true and honorable, most worthy of praise. I pray that You would work Your Spirit in and through us, helping us to put your Word into practice on our faith walks. Guard our hearts and our minds with Your perfect peace, I pray. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Giveaway of "Thin Places: A Memoir"

"The greatest success stories are written by people who, against seemingly overwhelming and often insurmountable odds, have accepted their trials and turned them into opportunities for personal growth and stepping stones on their pathway to success. With God's help you can do the same. Trust him and choose friends who will empower you to do so."

Dick Innes

I saw this quote the other day and thought of Mary DeMuth. She has spent her writing career showing how God has turned her trials into triumph. Because I deeply believe in her latest project, Thin Places: A Memoir, I'd like to give one away.

If you are interested, click here to read my review of her book on my new personal blog, and be sure to leave a comment over there. You might share how God has rescued you from a difficult past or circumstance, or you can take a moment to encourage Mary or another commenter.

If you've read the advance copy of her book, feel free to leave the link to your review as well. Anyone who leaves a comment here by March 1st is eligible to win this giveaway.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Be His, A Valentine's Day Devotional


I’ll never forget receiving the candy hearts on Valentine’s Day when I was in middle school. You know, the ones that taste like Pepto-Bismol? My friends and I would tear open our itty bitty envelopes (if we got any) to see which hearts someone put inside with the generic card. Reading into every phrase, we fantasized of that special someone spending tireless efforts to make sure he delivered the perfect message and emotion to each of us. It was dreamy.

It didn’t take me too many years to realize that the boys’ mamas probably just threw them in an envelope for them, OR worst case scenario, picked out the girl SHE wanted for him to like via pepto-heart-a-grams. So much for dreamy.

The reality of the analogy the Lord laid on my heart was not so dreamy either. He has written His message on my heart. It is forever inscribed and perfectly perfect, which is a beautiful truth. But when others look at my heart, so often I have covered up His words with my own unintentional messages.

Sometimes my heart begs, “Be mine,” when it really should cry out, “Be His.” Often it shouts out, “Love me,” when God begs me to “Love them” or “Love Him” instead. The mixed messages my heart delivers to others can leave them with mixed feelings about the heart of God.

Luke 6:45b says, “…for out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” It’s saying that the ‘stuff’ we stuff into our minds gets stored in the treasury of our hearts, and eventually it begins to flow out of the heart via tunnel of the mouth. Then it is spread to others, and “round and round it goes, where it stops…?”

When I complain frequently, I have probably listened to a bunch of complaints. As I throw out a zinger in the name of humor, I realize I've maybe seen a few too many sit-coms. During those moments of pouring out flattery to others, could it be that I have enjoyed the empty, false praise that I have indeed received myself? What ‘line’ do others see displayed on the tablet of your life?

All the static this world has to offer us can cloud the message he has carved on our hearts:

Hebrews 8:10b
“I will put my laws in their minds,
and I will write them on their hearts.
I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

Do you see His Valentine’s message for us?


Make HIM our True Love. Let’s not mix His message with overflow from the world’s waste. Instead, let’s spread His Word, the Word that He has written front and center in bold letters on our hearts—the Word that we have fallen in love with so that we could keep from sin and love others God’s way.

Sometimes we only need to be reminded, friends. I know I do. The way we spend our time matters. The people we allow to rub off on us are important. The shows we watch and the websites we visit and the novels we read—it has an affect on us. Pray about it, allow the Lord to lead and guide you into the perfect balance of freedom and works. It is then, and only then that our hearts—the new ones He gave us when we became a Christian—will show the world that we are His.
Psalm 86:11
“Teach me YOUR way, O LORD, and I will walk in Your Truth;
give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your name.”

Friday, February 5, 2010

All the Way to Cambodia, Part 5

I could hardly believe my eyes. THIS is in Cambodia? And THIS is where we would hold our retreat? As we walked into the huge, high ceiling, marble floored lobby of the Koh Kong Resort, I joked with the rest of the team. “Okay, this picture is NOT going in the supporters follow-up letter. They won’t believe we were on a missions trip.” I walked, wide-eyed, to the huge bay of windows at the back of the lobby which overlooked the Gulf of Thailand. Its beauty took my breath away. It was one of the most extravagant hotels I had ever seen, and I had to go all the way to Cambodia to see it. The irony.
Then we received our room keys, which led us right back out the front door and across the street. To the “economy” rooms. That was more what I had expected. Though the space itself was more than suitable, the smell of mildew filled the hallways and rooms. It was strange to think that the rooms in that beautiful hotel across the street were probably extremely luxurious and these were, well, not so much. Not a complaint. Merely observation. I actually felt better in my spirit about being in the more humble accommodations anyway. (Oddly enough, one of the World Relief leaders pointed out that this was a perfect picture of Cambodia...the rich living large next to the poor...she also observed that those mainly enjoying the casino inside the marvelous hotel were poor as well. Left something tangible in my mind to remember).

It was time to get to work. We went back over to the “marble museum” hotel to set up the meeting rooms. As we spent our hours unpacking and sorting for the conference, we were excited to think about the families coming to enjoy such a nice environment for the next three days, hoping it would be a treat for them.

Our team was out in the parking lot when the World Relief bus arrived. The families, especially the children (SO many children), were glad to be at their destination after the long, bumpy drive. We found out later that the air conditioning had gone out in the bus, and it was so hot that a few people had vomited along the way. What a horrible start to their break, but we were determined to make them comfortable now that they were in our care.

As we showed the families to their rooms, also in the economy section, they were incredibly grateful and complimentary. It was obvious that it was a special privilege for many of them to be in a hotel. That humbled me as I remembered my earlier thoughts.

Throughout dinner and then as we began the conference that evening, I studied the families since it was difficult to hold on a conversation. They seemed close knit, eager to serve one another and us as well. The kids were curious but would not come close. They, I’m convinced, were studying me as much as I was them. I felt small, but in a good way. “Dependent on God” small.

In the days to follow, our team would provide refreshment, teaching and encouragement to 120 men, women, youth and children, but as it was, I would end up being refreshed, taught and encouraged even more by each of them. They would cause me to worship when they sang out wholeheartedly to the praise songs in their own Khmer language. They would teach me how to pray—personally, passionately, powerfully—out loud and all in unison. They would inspire me with their stories of sacrifice and service on the mission field each and every day.

Yes, I dare say, I was the one who was changed. I’ll walk you through some of the pictures at the conference, and you’ll better understand why.

Our godly and fearless team leaders, Tony and Amy

While Engchy translated, Pastor JoAnn taught on the love of the Father from 1 John 3:1-3, the theme for our retreat.

World Relief team members led worship after training breakouts with Matt and Wayne

Evening worship was on the floor with pillows and blankets, an intimate time cherished by all

Small groups met to discuss the teaching after each large group session

Matt and Emily led the teens in some team building games

The kids loved craft time with the creative and organized Lynn

The kids scooted closer and closer to see the pictures at story time.

We did some afternoon breakouts that were for fun and relaxation: mani/pedi being one of them

Our youngest team member, Victor, led the kids (some big kids as well) in a lego breakout session

Okay, some big girls too...

Lynn led a jewelry making session for kids, teens and adults. This was a VERY popular breakout

The kids couldn't wait until game time with Mr. Tony and Victor

Eli the Eagle was glad to come out and play after that long trip. And the kids welcomed him whole-heartedly

We had a blast and definitely got our exercise as we praised to "Father Abraham/The Lord's Army," "Making Melodies," "Great, Big Love," "Your Love Is Deep," and more...

I'm pretty sure their favorite song was "Making Melodies."

On the 2nd to last day of the conference, we held a baptism service on the beach for Victor. Two other teens joined in and made it one of the most moving and touching highlights of the week.

Victor and his father Lewis embrace after his baptism. I cannot think of a more beautiful example for the Father's Love. Not a dry eye on the beach.

The tears kept coming as we watched beautiful Heng crawl out into the water, get baptized and allow Mark to carry her back onto the beach. This precious teen may not have the use of her legs, but she has an active and powerful heart for God.

Joke & Marganne baptize Mary, who prayed to receive Christ on the beach only moments before...

Sidara won over all of our hearts with her sense of humor and engaging stories. I will never forget her.

Our two hostesses from World Relief, who thought of everything way before we did and worked tirelessly to make us and the staff comfortable. Their hearts are as beautiful as their beaming faces, even more so.

Everyone took turns getting their pics taken in front of the magnificent sunset.

On the last day, Eli came out to meet the kids. After all, he would be living with them in Cambodia from now on...Don't tell anyone, but I think he was the most popular person there.

Before the conference ended, the kids went into their parents' teaching session to give them a surprise. As they shouted out their Bible verse with motions and sang "Your Love is Deep" with all they had, their parents beamed from ear to ear. Treasured memories.

By the end of the conference, we had earned the kids' trust and respect, and they would hug and interact with us like family. No matter where I was in the building or on the property, I could hear them calling "Teacha, teacha," then smile and wave. Melted my heart. If I could say one thing about these children it would be that they are the most polite and well-mannered kids I have ever seen or taught. They show incredible respect for adults and are very patient. I love the way they are grateful for the smallest of things. Absolutely precious.

The Bible says we are not to show favoritism, so I waited until all the kids had left to snap this photo of Moses and me. Not a day has slipped by when I have not thought of or prayed for him. I have no idea why the Lord chose Moses to snatch my heart, but I'm determined not to waste it. I pray that Moses grows up to be one of the spiritual leaders in Cambodia or wherever he finds himself living.

Before it was time to go, we got a group picture of all of us together. It's an amazing thought to imagine being together again in Heaven one day.

Our team, unified in the beginning and even more tightly so in the end, praised the Lord for His accomplishing more than we could've ever asked or imagined. Not only in the hearts and minds of World Relief's finest, but also in each of our own lives. The Love of the Father has no limits, and He demonstrated that faithfully and powerfully over and over again...all the way in Cambodia.
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us,
that we should be called children of God!
And that is what we are!
1 John 1:3

IF you missed part one, two, three or four, click here: