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Bringing the brightness. Are you struggling to find or provide the joy in your day?

Two of my three girls were about to get tonsil surgery and I knew the next 14 days would involve ample time at home playing nurse. I purchased two empty flower baskets to hang just outside my kitchen window. Just like you, I spend quite a bit of time at the kitchen sink.

I wanted to fill the baskets with bright and beautiful flowers so I could gaze at them when I needed a moment. I was hoping their allure would help give me an energy boost.

The flower pictured is a common lantana. It’s my new favorite flower. When I spotted it in the nursery, I knew it was exactly what I was looking for. Orange is my favorite color and I was enchanted with how one flower could encompass so many gorgeous colors. I learned later it even repels mosquitos. Bonus.

As new blooms sprouted, they emerged solid yellow. As my daughter and I examined the blooms, we wondered what happened to all the beautiful colors? Within days the orange surfaced, and eventually pink and purple hues appeared.

This flower reminds me of our faith journey. We all bloom in God’s timing and our petals look slightly different. We are unique and special yet made in God’s image by the same Creator. He disperses us all over so our blooms can bless others.

Because God created us, He cares for our every need including fertilizing our soil. His living water refreshes us so we can grow and bloom. Sometimes we present colors we didn’t even know existed.

Are you looking hard enough to find bright spots in your life? Or can you provide beauty to someone else?

Seek Him who made you, so He can be your living water (John 4:13-14).

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Be On Guard

We recently moved to a more rural area adjacent to deep woods. While I relish the scenery and sounds from nature, an unwanted guest welcomed me.

The morning hadn’t started great, I was sleep-deprived from being up with the kids the night before. Then I dropped a gardening tool on my big toe. To top things off, I opened the front door to a four-foot-long black snake sprawled out directly in front of me. My screaming woke him from his sunbathing, he scrunched up and slithered away. I slammed the door as quickly as humanly possible.

I turned to my husband as he gazed at me with inquisitive eyes not understanding my reaction. With tears of exhaustion and defeat in my eyes, I explained my distress. My nature-loving husband ran outside to find the snake and explore his habits. Everyone keeps telling me it was a “good” snake who keeps away copperheads and rodents. Is there such a thing as a “good” snake?”

I generally adore animals, snakes excluded. Something about their slithering ways gives me chills. Shouldn’t I be leery of snakes when Satan chose this animal to tempt Eve in the garden?

Coincidentally, in the past few months, I’ve had multiple encounters with snakes. Was I being forced to face my fears? Was God trying to tell me something? Or was the enemy tormenting me? Even the neighbors had advised me to keep my eyes peeled when walking around so I wouldn’t accidentally step on one. This advice was sound but not comforting.

This reminds me of a verse in the Bible, “Be on your guard.” This verse is cited in various books such as 1 Corinthians, Mark, 2 Timothy, Acts, Matthew, 2 Peter, and more. Why do we need to be on guard?

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8).

Be on guard for the enemy, liars, people, or things which draw you away from God. Be on guard to protect your family, your marriage, your brothers, your church.

I have new eyes when opening my front door. They are alert, ready, and on guard. Should we have the same set of eyes for the world?

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Ramble through Rocks

My fourteen-year-old yellow Labrador retriever Casey has acute arthritis. Knee surgery in both hind legs causes her to shift extra weight to her front. Over the years this has caused her front paws to splay. Walking on rough services is uncomfortable, especially our gravel driveway.

Casey could remain comfortably on the side of the house and avoid the rocky driveway. Instead she surges ahead toward a grassy island amidst the rocks. It’s hard to watch as she painfully struggles with each step. When she reaches her destination, the lush grass soothes her maimed feet.

This reminds me of life and our journey with God. We often find ourselves navigating rocky terrain. Walking on rocks in bare feet is painful. Who wouldn’t prefer a nice polished surface? God doesn’t assure us a smooth ride. Quite the opposite. “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12)

Am I saying life isn’t supposed to be smooth, easy, and comfortable? That’s exactly what I am saying! This is a harsh reality; however, God promises to be with us every step to help and guide us. We typically underutilized the superpower He gave us, the Holy Spirit.

The world will tell you you deserve a frictionless life. The Bible says otherwise. Look at Paul and Stephen in Scripture. They were men who faithfully followed Jesus and died a martyr’s death.

When you decide to be obedient to God’s plan, He may ask you to do hard things. As we step into these challenges, He molds us and prepares us to handle the next sharp rock in our path. The easy way isn’t always the best way.

Are you ready to step into the rocks?

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Verifying Voices

It was a rainy Tuesday morning and I was headed to the bank to rummage through our safety deposit box. My mission was to find my husband’s passport. We were preparing to travel and were gathering the necessary documents to gain TSA approval.

Inside the bank, I requested access to our box. The employee informed me I was not on the account. I asked if we could call my husband and have him add me over the phone. I learned they could do this if an employee at the bank had enough encounters with him that they could verify his voice. I thought this slightly odd but anxiously awaited their response. Had he frequented the bank enough that his voice could be identified over the phone?

A teller spoke up saying she knew who he was and could verify his voice. We made the call and I gained access to the box. This incident affirmed my husband’s personality. His friendly demeanor and tall stature make him easily recognizable. While my attempts to find the passport were unsuccessful, the encounter got me thinking.

I thought about God and how He knows our distinct and unique voice. He knows the tone and cadence better than anybody. After all He is the one who created us. In addition to our voice, He knows our desires and our thoughts. God discerns when we are praising or protesting. He understands when we hurt so greatly we cannot even form words together.

God recognizes our voice but the real question is, do we know His? Are we taking time in our day to make space and learn His voice? He is not going to yell at us through the frenzy, we have to create stillness to hear Him. “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

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Sprinkled by the Spirit

When it comes to sprinkles, they are loved and used liberally in my house, especially during birthday season. Birthday season spans from April through July where we celebrate eight birthdays between immediate and extended family members. That’s a lot of cake and balloons.

When my youngest daughter, who is five, is in charge of decorating the dessert, you can expect a generous application of the sprinkles, utilizing every variety we have in the pantry. As part of the celebration, we unintentionally began a tradition of eating breakfast in bed. This typically involves waffles or pancakes topped with sprinkles. The sprinkles transform a somewhat conventional breakfast into a special treat.

I recently read Hebrews 10:22. “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”

As I read this verse, the word sprinkled jumped out at me. I don’t know about you, but most of my life I let self-inflicted guilt weigh me down. Guilt used to filter into all areas of my life. I would experience guilt for lack of productivity, decisions I made, or beating myself up for missing out on something. Carrying guilt around is exhausting. 

Hebrews 10:22 delivers the assurance that God provides freedom, not guilt. While we are all guilty of violating His commandments daily, He already made the ultimate sacrifice for our sins and therefore we get to be free! Free to relinquish our guilt. 

Steven J. Cole says, “Guilty Christians are not joyous Christians.” 

Guilt can weigh you down. Let God sprinkle His love, forgiveness, and grace upon your soul so you can walk freely into the path He desires for you. Don’t let guilt hold you back.  

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Dialect with Dogs

My husband jokes that my dog and I have our own language.

Our Labrador retriever named Casey is fourteen and-a-half years old. What large dog lives that long? I’ve had multiple labs in my life and they never lasted much past ten. She is an anomaly and resilient.

Casey has survived six surgeries. She tore both back knees and underwent three stomach surgeries. The most recent procedure was to remove a massive growth protruding from her neck which started bleeding (gross). She was two when she had her first surgery.

In her seasoned age, she deals with arthritis, dementia (per the vet), and her vision and hearing are significantly impaired. That said, I walk her everyday morning. She has our morning routine down pat and continues to display enthusiasm during mealtimes and walks.

I hear Casey in the middle of the night, similar to a mom hearing her crying infant. I wake from a sound sleep when she stirs downstairs, letting me know she needs to go out. Recently, I went down, let her out, and crawled back to bed. Casey started barking. Not a loud bark, but brief and direct. My husband commented, “You just let her out.” I told him she wanted breakfast. I had gone back to bed instead of feeding her and she was letting me know she didn’t appreciate the change in routine.

This reminds me of our language with God. The powerful and all-knowing Holy Spirit lives inside us ready to be utilized… if we can learn to recognize Its voice. This is not easy, nor happens quickly. It took years for Casey and I to develop our way of communicating.

Learning to hear God takes time, practice, and effort. Reading our Bible, praying, and sitting in silence (yes, silence) are ways to commune with God. The Holy Spirit is present, waiting to assist you with every problem. God won’t yell over the noise of the world, we have to carve out time to cultivate a dialect with Him.

Casey has blessed our family for many years, and although my time with her will eventually cease, thankfully my steadfast communication with the Lord is everlasting.

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Pandemic brings Perspective

Oh, how our perspective and mindsets have changed due to the endless ripples of the coronavirus. We have been humbled and become thankful for the little things we used to take for granted like eating out, gathering with friends, and school being open. 

As life outside our home begins to open, we took a trip to the beach to celebrate the conclusion of school and gain a much-needed change in scenery. We were all craving a change of pace.

We drove 7.5 hrs south to Tybee Island, GA, a drive which normally would have included much grumbling, fighting and plenty of “when will we be there?” While the car was full of beach towels, chairs, luggage, and a guinea pig, it was absent of any fussing and complaining. We were so excited to be going somewhere… anywhere. 

Everyone’s summer plans have been altered. We had an epic trip to Alaska planned this June with my family which was canceled. It’s amazing how our perspective has been modified. A trip to the beach hardly seems comparable to an Alaskan adventure, yet somehow it was.  

We were elated at the crashing waves, gritty sand, and open restaurants. Our kids were grateful for the beach getaway. They didn’t care where we were or what we were doing, they were thankful not to be at home. 

In today’s society, it’s challenging to raise children who aren’t entitled. It’s not our intention, but rather a byproduct of our current culture. Our schedules revolve around their activities, how can they not be slightly self-centered? 

God uses all things for good including the coronavirus. While I can name many disappointments and frustrations about this timeframe, I can also list surprise blessings such as enhanced gratitude and appreciation. What a good, yet painful lesson we are all learning.

In the past, a trip to the beach might have been viewed as normal and maybe even mundane, suddenly it became anything but. It brought us back in touch with our Creator and the beautiful world He designed. 

What have you learned to be grateful for during this time?

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Blessings for the Brain

During the coronavirus era, I have my good and bad days just like you. Some days I love the fact I don’t have to put on real clothes and leave my house. Other days, I feel like a hamster running on a wheel surrounded by walls closing in on me. In reality, I am super blessed to have my health, a home, and food in the fridge. However, in the midst of groundhogs day, it’s understandable to pass over the positives and focus on the negatives. It can be a struggle to find the blessings.

The first week during quarantine was one of the hardest. I grieved the loss of everything I wouldn’t be doing. I knew it was critical to continue my morning routine and get up early to read my Bible and have time with God. Most mornings I went through the motions without feeling filled with the Spirit, but I did it anyway. I decided to utilize a tool I learned at a class on anxiety, gratitude. You can shift your brain’s patterns by giving thanks.

To shift my mindset to a positive place, I committed to journal every morning five blessings from the day before. Five things I could point to and give appreciation to God for. The first week was tricky. I struggled to come up with five. I reached and grabbed for anything and everything I could call a blessing; reading to the kids… blessing, dinner on the table… blessing, no bloodshed… blessing, everyone alive… blessing.

As weeks progressed, the blessings were easier to uncover because I was looking for them. As they occurred, I spotted them and was excited to write them down in my journal the next morning. Oh how this has helped my mindset! Now, I see them everywhere because I have trained my mind to seek them out. 

It’s easy to identify the difficulties in our day, but can you spot the blessings? Try writing down the good things that occur. Call it a blessing and give the Lord thanks. If you do this daily you will be amazed at the transformation which can occur. You will also have wonderful memories recorded from this time to look back on.

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Step by Step

This photo was captured at Maymont Park in Richmond, VA. This 100-acre estate is complete with rolling hills, picturesque gardens, and plentiful wildlife making it the perfect Friday field trip while homeschooling. 

As we sauntered along the Japanese gardens, my children found much joy crossing the stone steps. They exuberantly leaped from step to step. 

This reminds me of our journey with God. God wants us to take one step at a time, humbly submitting to Him along the way. On the other hand, we want to reach the other side without actually having to carefully land on each step. We want to know the ending without actually having to experience the pain and suffering. We often discount the importance of each step even though it has been strategically placed there by our all-knowing Father to teach and mold us.

Each path looks different. Mine might veer right and yours to the left. I need to remain on my stones and not try to hop over to yours. Sometimes we end up going backward or sideways and kerplunk into the water. The good news is, God is there with His outstretched hand, pulling us out of the water, drying us off, and putting us back on the path. “The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him.” (Psalm 37:23)

We have a desire to control life and predict the future. We want to feel confident it’s all going to work out. We thirst for assurance that the story will have a happy ending. 

God will often bless us with a preview or a vision of what’s to come. Other times, He gives us just enough information to see the step ahead. Occasionally, there is no sneak peek and He asks us to tread blindly and trust in Him to land safely.

The great news is, He is with us the entire time. “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) 

Worry not about the bend ahead, seek Him for wisdom and guidance and He will show you the way.

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How God Smooths Our Rough Edges

We all have a new normal these days. Now we work from home, homeschool our children, and social distance from others.

On day two of homeschooling, it was a gorgeous day outside and two of my three kids had a nature walk in their lesson plan. Their assignment was to sketch signs of spring. One child had been learning about wetlands and we decided it was a perfect day for a field trip. 

We headed to Pony Pasture. †his outdoor gem is a stretch of property running adjacent to the James River in Richmond, VA. The area is filled with rocks you can climb or sunbathe on and the wildlife is plentiful.  

I was reminded of two important lessons on this field trip.

First, kids can’t sit still and be quiet. I encouraged my children to close their eyes, be silent, and absorb the sounds around us like the rushing water. Less than a minute went by and they were asking me questions, throwing sticks into the water, calling out mommy, and eventually fighting with each other.  

I have spent the last four years learning how to slow down, be present, and hear God in the stillness. The surroundings were luring me to sit and be. My children, on the other hand, were not feeling the moment. Rather than go against the current, I decided to get up and keep moving. 

As I briefly reflected on the beauty of the rushing water, the rocks reminded me of our walk with God. They were all so different, each unique. As I gazed at a smooth oblong rock, I presumed that particular rock used to have sharp edges. Over time, the water had gradually smoothed over the rough areas, just like God does for us. When our past and sin create acute borders, He slowly washes His love over us and smooths our jagged parts.  

God’s love is consistent, always flowing just like the water I was noticing. The water bounced off the rocks unaffected and proceeded on down the river. It reminds me of how we ignore God’s advice for us, letting it ricochet off because of our hardness and stubbornness. Are we going to let our jagged edges hurt others, or will we let God slowly transform us?

God will smooth our bumpy patches if we let him. Just because we can’t see His hands molding us every day, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. He washes away our sin and cleanses us if we run towards Him and not away.