I had dinner with crazy Italians last night

Seriously. Not making it up. Well, the crazy part maybe. (I know you’re reading, and you know I love you guys.)

I’m a pretty closed person when it comes to being myself around people. I try to be compassionate and pleasant and likeable as a general rule, but there’s a lot more to me as a person that I keep bottled up until I know my ridiculous, loud personality isn’t going to scare you to death.

I am so fortunate to have friends who know the ridiculous, loud me and love me. I’m even more fortunate to have friends who love the real me who don’t hesitate to tell me when I’m making a really stupid decision. So when those friends (the real ones, who won’t feed me a bunch of lines about positive thinking when I’m acting on a truly dumb idea) get excited about something I feel God leading me to do, I jump for joy.

It’s one thing to have a friend’s words of encouragement when you’re undertaking a big challenge. It’s something else to have a friend’s actual support, knowing they’re behind you 110%.

Two little girls at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Two little girls at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 13:20.

Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.

I’ve posted about friends a lot on here, mostly because my friends are such a vital part of my life. I’ve really tried to be wise about the friends I choose because so many of them play a role in helping me make decisions, and if my inner circle of advisors aren’t wise and don’t live their lives according to Scripture, they won’t give me counsel that will help me do it either.

I have been so very blessed to have such a variety of friends from all corners of the world, all cultures and backgrounds, all personality types. I have friends who are as introverted as I am. I have friends who are insane crazy people. I have friends who occupy high-ranking corporate positions and friends who work minimum-wage. And the most beautiful part about all my close friends is that they love Christ, and in the dark moments of my life, they help me remember how much I love Him too.

Do you have those kinds of friends in your life? If you don’t, you really ought to look for some. Just remember that the best friends you can have don’t always say yes to you. The best friends you can have are the ones who love you for who you are but don’t want you to stay the same. Yes, that’s a paradoxical statement, but I believe it’s true.

The best friendships I have had in my life are with people who love me for who I am as a person, but they love me too much to let me plateau in my growth—both professionally and spiritually. If you have a friend who just agrees with you all the time, that could be nice, but do you ever get to really know that person? The best friends you can have challenge you to grow and love you regardless.

My friends are patient people because I’m stubborn. Compared to me, donkeys are easy to get along with. I’m set in my ways, and I don’t like change. But you can’t go through life without changing. Everything changes. Granted, the things that matter don’t, but it’s how you grow to survive the little things that don’t matter that help you determine the real things that do.

Is there a friend who is open and honest with you in your life? Is there a friend you trust to tell you the truth even if you don’t want to hear it? Is there a friend who loves you too much to let you make a foolish decision?

Find that person. Because that person is worth his or her weight in gold. And the more you hang out with wise people like that, the wiser you will become if you’re willing to pay attention.

Irises in bloom at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Searching for grace

Thanksgiving is this week, and it’s normally this time of year when everyone starts talking about the things they’re thankful for. And as much crap as I give people about the 30 Days of Thankfulness routine on Facebook, I will admit that it’s pretty cool to see and read. And it really does make a difference if you let it. If you wake up and you’re thankful immediately, it does tend to change the way you look at the rest of your day.

I don’t want to wax uber-spiritual, but when I think about what I’m thankful for, the very first thing that comes to mind is grace.

Irises in bloom at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Irises in bloom at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 12:8-9.

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.

This is one of those verses that you can find all sorts of different opinions. What was Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”? I’ve heard just about everything you can imagine and probably some you can’t, but whatever it was, it brought Paul a lot of trouble. It upset him and tormented him and made him beg for God to take it away, but God only replied that His grace was sufficient and that His power worked best in Paul’s weakness.

Grace is a terribly misunderstood gift, I think. We sing about God’s grace in church, and we talk about it in our Bible studies. But do we really grasp it? Grace. What is grace?

Grace is understanding that you can’t do anything to make God love you more or less than He already does. Grace is God’s presence in our lives helping us get through a day that just won’t stop pounding us. Grace is seeing how badly a situation could have gone and rejoicing when we see that it turned out better than we feared. Grace is the courage to face the impossible with courage and faith. It’s the certainty in the uncertainty. It isn’t something you can put your arms around exactly, but it’s something none of us could live without.

Did something go right for you today? That’s grace. Remember, our world is broken. Nothing works the way it’s supposed to, so if anything in your life works out, that’s grace.

Did something go wrong today? Grace kept it from being worse. And no matter how bad it is, it can always be worse.

I’m not a bad person. I never even really went through a rebellious phase in my life; I’m still waiting for that to hit, I guess. Most people would probably call me a “good” Christian, although I’m not quite sure what that means. But at the end of the day, I’m just another person like everyone else trying to make it in our screwed up world. And if my eternity depended on me, there’d be no future joy to look forward to. No, I’m not a bad person, but I’m not perfect. And perfect is what I need to be–so I’m thankful for God’s grace in sending Christ for me so I don’t have to be perfect.

Without God’s grace, I couldn’t make it through a day. And it shows up in so many places, places I’d never expect to see it, and it overwhelms me every time. I’m not surprised exactly; I’m just amazed that God could love us so much when we’ve given Him nothing, when we can give Him nothing in return. Not really.

Take a moment today, even if it’s just a few seconds, to identify the grace God has in your life. If you’re at work, don’t think too long on it, or you’ll end up in tears. That’s what happens to me. I just start thinking about how awesome God is, and pretty soon I’m bawling. I didn’t used to be so emotional … but then I didn’t used to understand exactly how much God has forgiven in me, how much He gave to purchase me, how much He had to love me to do it.

Sometimes His grace can be hard to see, especially in the dark times, but it’s at those moments when we need to seek it more. It’s in those difficult moments when we don’t know what the next step is or where we’re going or how to handle the tidal wave of trouble that is intent on knocking us over–it’s then that we need to be aware of His grace more than ever. The irony is that His grace isn’t hard to find; we just have to open our eyes to see it.

So look for God’s grace today. I promise it’s not far away. And while you’re looking, listen to this song by Matt Redmond. It’s my new favorite.

Twisted branches of the old apricot tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Live more, learn more, love more

I haven’t lived a lot of life. Some days I feel like I have, but in comparison to other people I know, I’m still one of the new kids on the block. I still have trouble considering myself as an adult, let alone that I have any sort of experience to share on how to live. But one thing that I have learned is that the longer I live, the more I understand how amazing God is and how undeserving I am of His grace.

Twisted branches of the old apricot tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Twisted branches of the old apricot tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Colossians 2:6-7.

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.

I made the decision to believe in Jesus when I was seven years old. I remember walking the aisle of Inwood Baptist Church in Houston. I remember stepping out in front of the whole congregation. And while I knew the choice I had made and it had been my choice alone, I didn’t feel any different.

How many sins can a seven year old commit? This was pre-1990. This was pre-internet, pre-cell phone. The era of mostly wholesome kid’s cartoons and classic Disney. So when I would hear in church or read in the Bible that I was supposed to be thankful that God had saved me from my sins, I was, but I didn’t understand it. I couldn’t quite grasp what that meant because even though I certainly wasn’t a perfect child, my life didn’t change overnight. I didn’t really become a different person, even though spiritually I became a new person.

I was thankful, but I didn’t know what I was thankful for.

Well, let’s fast forward 24 years. Isn’t it funny how living a little bit can change your perspective on so many things? I’m not old, but I’ve lived enough to make mistakes. I’ve lived long enough to be able to look back and wish I’d listened more closely to what God was telling me as a child.

The simple truth of the matter is that the longer we live, the more we have to be thankful for. Sometimes just waking up is something to be thankful for. Sometimes it’s just having enough to eat or having a car to drive or having a friend to talk to. When you’re young, you don’t have those things to miss. But there’s a big difference between having things to be thankful for and actually being thankful; it’s like the difference between having a car and having a car you drive. Being thankful takes living to another level.

I think it’s interesting that the passage for today connects our faith growing strong with thankfulness. Those two things don’t normally go together, if you think about it from our perspective. When your faith grows strong, it’s usually through testing, which means it’s usually a time of trouble or difficulty of some kind. So this verse is saying that the troubles in our lives will result in us overflowing with thankfulness.

How does that work? Because from our point of view, trouble is really just trouble. Difficulty and challenges are just frustrations that life throws at us. But remember as Christ-followers, we’re not supposed to live by our point of view. We’re not supposed to rely on our perspective. We are to look at the world the way Christ does. We’re to live like Christ lived. We’re to follow Him every step of the way, and when you look at trouble from God’s perspective, it doesn’t look like trouble. It simply look like an opportunity to grow stronger.

As a seven year old, I wasn’t really looking for those opportunities, and I didn’t really understand them when they came. But as I got older and I got to know God better, I realized that the troubles and challenges I faced in my life weren’t merely obstacles. They were a chance to help me get to know God better than I already did. They gave me the chance to dig in and search out who God is and what He wants from me and what He offers me as His daughter. And when you think about it that way, how can you not overflow with gratitude?

This is God we’re talking about here. The God. Through His Son’s sacrifice, I can come to Him and ask for anything. I can have a relationship with God through Jesus, and the more I get to know God and Jesus, the more I love them.

Stop viewing the difficulties in your life as obstacles. Try changing your mind about them. Try seeing them as opportunities to get to know God better, and He might surprise you. Build the foundation of your life on the truth from God’s Word and watch what happens. Even when the hard times come, even when you’re surrounded by trouble and hollowed out by heartache, if you’re living your life in God and for God, you’ll see life differently. And in spite of the darkness around you, you will bubble over with gratitude toward God because even though life is tough, God has chosen to be there.

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

How to restart in ten minutes or less

What does it take to restart your perspective on life? I think that’s a great question. So many people are facing discouraging circumstances and frustrating situations. I’m one of them, and I would love a simple answer for how to stay positive in difficult times.

Honestly, I’d love to avoid difficult times. I’d love to find a way to skirt around them and not have to go through them at all. But in this broken world, difficulty is normal. And the simple truth is that your circumstances don’t matter but how you look at them does. How you see your circumstances determines whether you just get through them or appreciate them.

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Hebrews 12:28.

Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe.

I posted yesterday about finding a way to restart, looking for the answer to changing my perspective about life, the universe and everything (42, for you geeks out there). Too often I find myself operating with limitations in my life, mainly because I’m just tired and worn out all the time. But I got to thinking yesterday morning about something I haven’t done in a very long time that might be part of the problem.

I spent my morning being grateful. And not the 30-days-of-thankfulness-on-Facebook brand of grateful. I woke up yesterday morning and got in my car and as I was driving my 45 minutes to work, I thanked God. I thanked God for the beautiful sun that was rising just over the edge of K-96. I thanked God for the frost on the fields that meant maybe my allergies will get better. I thanked God that I had a job, and not just a job but a job with a great company, and not just a job with a great company but a job doing what I love for a great company. Not many people get to say that. I thanked God that my family owns our house and our land. I thanked God that I own my car and that I have enough money in the bank to pay for gasoline and groceries and the occasional 700-page fantasy novel.

Before I was even ten minutes down the road, I was in such a great mood I couldn’t believe I’d been so surly yesterday.

How is it possible that taking ten minutes to be grateful can make such a difference? Can we really just list off the things we’re thankful for and seriously, honestly, openly thank God for those things and immediately be in a better mood?

I’m not promising anything, but it seems to work for me. It helps me stop and slow down and think about all the awesome things I have that I don’t deserve, that I didn’t do anything to obtain, and that God has provided for me because He keeps His promises. It makes me stop thinking about the things that are going wrong or that I don’t want to deal with or the conflicts I’m dreading, and it makes me think about the things I have. And if God can provide me with all of that, He can absolutely help me through the day.

There isn’t enough gratitude in our world. Very few people really express gratitude as often as they should. I know I don’t, and it’s a shame because it makes so much difference, not only to the people around you but also to you.

How does gratitude help you? Well, I think it helps you remember that someone did something for you that they didn’t have to do. Someone else took time out of their day or focus away from their own issues to help you in some way, and they didn’t have to do it. They gave you something. Even if it was just opening the door for you or holding the elevator open for you or letting you walk through the doorway first, that’s kindness demonstrating they are paying attention and wanted to do something nice for someone else.

Don’t let those small acts of kindness slip by without notice. Don’t just assume that people are going to do nice things for you. Pay attention, and you might realize that people show you more kindness than you originally thought.

We all have more than we think we do, and taking the time to thank God for everything in our lives forces us to acknowledge it. So take a moment and say thank you. But if you don’t mean it, if you aren’t really thankful, don’t even open your mouth. This is a heart thing, and if you’re just paying God lip service, it won’t help you at all and it won’t impress Him.

Thank Him for the small things. Thank Him for the big things. Thank Him for the good things, and, yes, thank Him for the bad things. Because if you can seriously, honestly thank God for the bad stuff in your life, that bad stuff won’t seem so difficult to get through. It won’t seem so daunting or frightening or intimidating.

If you want to restart and refresh your perspective, begin with gratitude. It may seem like a small thing, but it changes everything.

Statue of a stone lion in the Chinese garden, Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Knowing what is good

Our lives are full of a lot of things, some good and some not so good. It’s funny how we categorize events and people and gifts into good and bad or good and not good. It’s pretty easy for just about anyone to say that something is good or that something isn’t good, but I’m not 100% convinced that any of us know what is truly good, at least not on our own.

Using our own judgment doesn’t always work because we don’t know everything. We like to think we do, but we don’t. As Christ-followers, we need to depend on Scripture to tell us what is good and what isn’t.

Some things seem fairly obvious, right? Like stealing. Or killing. But are they obvious? Or are they only obvious because of the culture you’ve grown up in? What about marriage? What about children? What about death? What’s good? What’s bad? And how do we know the difference?

That’s why we have the Bible. That’s how we’re supposed to know how to live, how to die, how to serve, how to think, how to act. The Bible tells us what is good and what is bad, and it rarely coincides with our gut instincts.

Statue of a stone lion in the Chinese garden, Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Statue of a stone lion in the Chinese garden, Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Psalm 92

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to the Most High.

It is good to proclaim your unfailing love in the morning,
your faithfulness in the evening,
accompanied by the ten-stringed harp
and the melody of the lyre.

You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me!
I sing for joy because of what you have done.
O Lord, what great works you do!
And how deep are your thoughts.
Only a simpleton would not know,
and only a fool would not understand this:
Though the wicked sprout like weeds
and evildoers flourish,
they will be destroyed forever.
But you, O Lord, will be exalted forever.
Your enemies, Lord, will surely perish;
all evildoers will be scattered.

But you have made me as strong as a wild ox.
You have anointed me with the finest oil.
My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies;
my ears have heard the defeat of my wicked opponents.
But the godly will flourish like palm trees
and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon.
For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house.
They flourish in the courts of our God.
Even in old age they will still produce fruit;
they will remain vital and green.
They will declare, “The Lord is just!
He is my rock!
There is no evil in him!”