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Fishing for Fulfillment

Sometimes it’s about the journey rather the finish line.

On a refreshingly cool summer day, a friend and I adventured to a nearby lake with our girls. The kids played in the water, rode boats, and ran through the sand. About halfway through the day, my friend pulled out kid fishing rods. I cringed. I have watched my husband spend hours untangling these rods. This was not how I envisioned my afternoon.

She took the rods out of the package and handed them to the kids. Typically, the next step would be to remove the plastic fish and replace it with a hook and bate. None of this happened.

The kids ran off. I observed them on the dock for about thirty minutes, I couldn’t contain my curiosity anymore. What were they doing? They had no hook, no bait, and no tackle box. How could they be fishing?

I strolled to the dock and observed the production as the kids stuffed leftover lunch in the tip top (top ring on the rod). They rubbed food on the plastic fish. The rod wasn’t getting tangled because there was no hook. Turtles even swam up and ate the food! They didn’t catch any fish but they were using their imagination and having a blast.

My performance-oriented mind was astounded. I returned to my friend and reported back. She didn’t seem phased at all.

As I shared this story with my husband, he immediately understood my incredulity. His response matched what was going on in my head. “How can you win, how can you catch fish and master this activity if you don’t have a hook?” He was joking of course but understood my bemusement. The thought of fishing without a hook is beyond us.

I learned a good lesson that day. Sometimes the goal isn’t what you think. In my head, the goal of fishing is to catch fish. My wise friend knew better. In this case, the “winning” was in the journey, not the outcome.

This reminds me of our journey with God. We set goals and feel frustrated and defeated when they don’t happen. What if the goal was wrong? Maybe our end goal isn’t God’s end goal.

Maybe it’s not about catching the fish, but rather what you do with the rod.

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Willing the Wonderful

How we try to bring our predetermined plans to the Lord for His blessing.

Pets astonish me. I am starting to think my fourteen-year-old Labrador Retriever Casey has a wristwatch hidden somewhere in her fur coat. The same time every day it goes off notifying her it’s mealtime. When the alarm goes off, she plants herself directly outside our mudroom. You choose to either step over her or end the protest by feeding her.

As I enter the mudroom where her food resides, she excitedly walks over to her bowl. At that point, she is no longer watching me as I prepare her medicine and food. She begins a long and intense focused stare on her bowl. It’s as if she stares hard enough at the bowl, the food will magically appear. Of course, we know this is not the case, but I find her fixed gaze adorable. She is not distracted by my motion about her. Nor does she even get out of my way so I can access her food. She remains steadfast on the prize!

I get a kick out of this everyday occurrence. It reminds me of how our relationship with God can become transactional. Are we like Casey and desire to stare something into existence? If we will it hard enough, will it happen? Are we trying to dictate every step of God’s plan for our life? Or are we trusting in His greater plan?

I know for me relinquishing control is an everyday struggle. I am your typical type A, functional first-born personality. I will sit in my quiet time and like Casey, I will stare at my prayer list requesting Him to bless all the people and items on my list.

Beware, the culture will tell us we can control everything but that’s simply not true. Instead of trying to dictate my future, I am striving to say, “God, whatever you want to put on my plate today, I will praise and thank you. Oh, and please help me handle the obstacles that come my way because I can’t do it alone.” That is not easy when your default is control.

Casey has no choice but to wait while I get her food ready. She doesn’t know exactly when the pellets will hit her bowl.

Can we wait enduringly as God reveals His plans with His timing?

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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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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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Ruins Repurposed

When our family visited Tybee Island GA, we took in the beautiful scenery and the history of this barrier island. We marveled at the remains of Fort Screven. The fort, built in 1897, served as an integral part of America’s coastal defense system. It was designed to guard the mouth of the Savannah River until the end of World War II. The remains tell us a story from the past and are woven intricately amongst houses.

At one particular location, someone creatively built a house on top of the fort ruins. I can understand why. The remains sit on prime waterfront real estate. In addition to the beautiful views, talk about a solid foundation.

This reminds me of how God uses our past and creates new and beautiful buildings on top. Our history made up of a medley of experiences similar to the fort cement which is mixed with shell, sand, lime, and water. God takes the good and difficult experiences and builds a house for Him to dwell.

Take me for example. I tried for years to distract myself from pain in my past. My mom suffered from severe depression and committed suicide when I was twenty. At thirty-seven, when my foundation started to crack, I decided it was time to “dig up” the past. As God helped me process my grief, I uncovered other sins hidden deep within my soul. As I excavated each one and handed them over to Christ, He started building and restoring my rocky foundation.

I gave Him my grief, anxiety, idols, perfectionism, control, anger, performance orientation (people-pleasing), and lack of healthy boundaries. This act freed me of their substantial weight which I was not meant to carry.

Similar to the house atop a fort wall, I was rebuilt with a strong foundation. God took the rust and crud hidden within and replaced the lies with truth.

Only God could take devastation, repurpose it, and remake it into something for His glory.

Do you have any rusty nails? If so, I recommend letting God remove them so He can patch them with love. You will be amazed by the freedom He dispenses.

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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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Transformation through Paint

We recently painted my daughter’s room from pink to blueish gray. There are so many activities we can’t do now, this is one thing we can. 

We moved into our current home when our oldest daughter was six. At the time, she requested a bright pink color for her bedroom. This April she turned eleven and her tastes are maturing.

When there was a small patch of pink remaining on the wall, my middle daughter said, “The pink is almost gone, that’s sad.” After this statement, I got nostalgic and realized my little girl who loved pink all those years is growing up. It was kinda sad.

When the room was complete, we remarked how one can of paint completely transformed a room from bright and youthful to calming and serene. The ambiance of the room had morphed.  

For the most part, the room was new, remade, ready to take its owner into a new season of her life. Even though the room took on a new persona, the pink still remained underneath. It existed behind the blue, and maybe along a few edges.  

This reminds me of God and how He transforms and renews us just like we modified my daughter’s room. God doesn’t wipe away our past, it will always remain just like the pink paint will always be there even if it can’t be seen. Our past is a part of who we are and where we came from.

We get to bring the difficult parts from our past to God and He makes us new again. I tried to hide and ignore the hurt and pain I felt from losing my mom to suicide when I was twenty. When I finally transferred the baggage I was carrying around to my Heavenly Father, He restored me. He gave me a fresh coat of paint and a new passion for life. I can’t change my past, but I can accept His love and grace and use my story and grief for His glory.

The previous version of me will always remain. My mom is still gone and that will never change, but He is using this part of my story to transform me into the person He created me to be. I have a new paint color, a renewed spirit.