Blessings…What Does that Really Mean?

How do you sign your e-mails or your letters to people?

I sign many greetings with “Love, Michelle.” That’s because much of what I write is to family and close friends. Business correspondence, I sign with “Regards,” or “Sincerely.” But what about the in-between communication?

Sometimes “love” is too familiar, but “regards” is too stuffy. Then what? Warmly? Maybe. Best? That could work. 

Often, I sign my greetings with “Blessings.” What does that mean? Do I use it too flippantly, without giving it enough thought? I hope not. To me, it says:

  • An abundance of peace to you.
  • May God bless you with his favor.
  • I pray God protects you from harm.
  • I wish you much happiness.
  • I care about you.
  • I hope good things come your way.
Our world is so full of negative words. We hear self-serving words, cutting words, and harsh words on a daily basis. It’s on television. It’s in the checkout lane. It’s around us in conversations we overhear. And it’s even in our own written communication and conversations. 

In a world of negative, I want to speak something positive. Lord, help me not to take my words lightly. Let my words be full of meaning that would genuinely bless others, and not empty words I toss on a page or in the air. 

The Pinterest Project Day 23: Bible Reading App

On day one of The Pinterest Project, I mentioned that I began reading through the Bible this year. This time, I have decided to do it digitally for the first time. I’m using an app that’s been pinned all over Pinterest called YouVersion. It’s free, and contains many translations of the Bible.

Most versions are available when you have wifi. However, several can also be downloaded to your tablet so you can access it when you are away from internet access. I love the program because I can highlight and take notes. I can also see notes from other people who have made their comments public. I have chosen to keep mine private. I’m still exploring the options, but I highly recommend the app!

I have it set up to send me a daily reminder when I log onto my tablet. On the reading plan I chose, I check off the box next to passage I’ve finished reading. There are plans that are in chronological order, ones that include an Old Testament and New Testament reading each day, and many others. I choose to go through the OT first and not combine with NT readings.

[Posting this from my tablet and realizing how limited I am in creating posts. Sorry if it doesn’t look right on your computer today. I can only paste photos below the text. And I can’t make pretty colored text. 🙁 ]

The Pinterest Project Day 20: Sabbath Rest

Today, a short Pinterest project post. I was inspired by a pin from a blog called Upside Down Home Schooling on observing the sabbath. Heather mentioned her conviction to observe a day of true rest.

Heather included resting from the Internet. That’s something I need to consider. In the meantime, I did have a nice day of rest today. Spent the morning at church, the afternoon relaxing with my parents, and the evening relaxing at home. 

Do you have a designated day of rest and worship? Some people observe Saturday as the sabbath and others Sunday. Perhaps yours is different. Do you have particular guidelines you have set for your own sabbath?  See Heather’s full post for the guidelines she has set for her day of rest.

Now, back to resting…

The Pinterest Project: Day 1

For the first day of my Pinterest Project, I chose an easy assignment. I had a hard time coming up in a pin on Pinterest related to faith, so I’ll evaluate something I see others pin. I have decided I want to read through the Bible in a year. It’s the first of the year, so the perfect day to begin, and many others will do the same. It’s been a couple of years since I last read it through in a year. On Pinterest, I saw several posts for One-Year Bibles. I happened to see one for the NIV Daily Bible.

I can testify that this is a great Bible and I highly recommend it! 

Several years ago, I decided to read through the Bible in a year and chose The Daily Bible, which is a chronological Bible. Reading through the Bible in the order (to the best of experts’ knowledge) in which events occurred really gave me a new perspective on events. For example, it was great to read through some of David’s story in Kings and Chronicles while also reading the Psalms he wrote during that era at the same time.  

In the New Testament, you’ll read the events of the gospels all merged together in order. 

This version had commentary and historical information added throughout, and had readings all divided for the year. 

Although I didn’t try it out today [in other words, I sort of cheated because I tried this out before], I still declare this “pin” a success and highly recommend the resource of you’re considering reading through the Bible this year. It isn’t too late to start. You’ll have a few days of catching up to do if you order it now, but it’s a great project for 2013! For under $20 for a hardcover Bible, it’s a worthwhile investment.

Could You Pack Up and Move to Africa? For Coffee?

When you sip your morning java, do  you ever wonder where the beans for that coffee came from? Do you ever wonder about the farmer? I didn’t think much about it when I’d make my espresso and blend it up with some milk and ice…that is I didn’t until I met someone who does care about the farmer. And he made me think differently about it.

Ben Carlson, a native of my little Wisconsin neighborhood has a passion for helping those farmers get paid what they deserve for their coffee beans. And he’s in Africa helping those farmers. But such a passion comes with a price.

As a wife, I cannot imagine what it might be like if my husband’s passion took us to the heart of Africa. To a place where the people don’t speak my language, and where I’d fall asleep and wake up to gunfire, not peepers and crickets. I cannot fathom raising small children away from grandparents, cousins and friends. But this family is doing it.

I want you to see this stirring (pun not intended) video of Ben and his family. It moved me.

After watching that, I’m ashamed of my petty complaints about my minor discomforts and woes. I’m grateful for the safety of my rural neighborhood and the availability of doctors and clinics. And I’m saddened by the way farmers have been underpaid in Africa for a product that supplies our luxury in lattes and fancy brews.

Kristy and Ben blog about their life in Africa at Long Miles Coffee Project. I encourage you to check out their blog and Kristy’s amazing photos and heartwarming posts. And remember, when you sip your next cup of coffee, to pray for Ben and Kristy and others who have given up their own comfort to help oppressed people in places like Burundi. Pray that their faith will remain strong and their hearts will be full of hope as they cope with the daily stresses of such a life.

Happy Birthday to My Boys

Nineteen years ago today, I became a mother. Seventeen years ago, I became a mother again. Having two boys born on the same day has been a fun adventure. They are best friends and they get along so well. Even as teenagers, they’ve been fun to raise. 
I know, that doesn’t even sound normal for me to say. But raising teenagers isn’t always as awful as it’s cracked up to be. Every so often, you’ll meet someone who says their teenagers are a delight. I’m one of them. Please don’t hate me. I didn’t do anything to deserve these sweet boys. I know that God gave them to me and he showed me much grace when they became teenagers.
Perhaps God’s blessing reflects my own lack of patience. Sometimes I wonder if he said, “That gal has a lively temper and a low tolerance level. Give her two boys who will help her manage her weaknesses.” Or maybe he said, “Her husband has his hands full already with her. Let’s give him two boys as a reward.”
 Of course, they aren’t perfect by any means. They like to pick on their dear old mom. And sometimes, they butt heads with me. Sometimes they lick their plates when I’m not looking. And sometimes they leave their bathroom looking like a truck stop restroom for my piano student moms to use. Most of the time, their rooms are carpeted with dirty laundry (not sure why we actually put carpet down if they walk on their clothes anyway).
However God worked it out, I’m thankful for them. To all the moms who are struggling to get through the teen years, I’m praying that God give you all the strength and patience that I lack. I give you more credit than you can imagine for being such great moms!

Thanks for letting me have my little moment to celebrate my boys’ birthday today.

Considering Our Creator

When I Consider
Have you ever wondered why the earth wasn’t square and plain like a big box? What if it was more like a giant racquetball court or a gymnasium? Just six boring walls. Imagine a flat and two-dimensional world with little color or variety. No flowers. No trees. No hills or mountains. Could it have been this way? Sure. God could have created anything he wanted. But that isn’t what he did.
Sunset at Denver International Airport
Instead, he created geography that blows my mind. I’ve flown over the Rocky Mountains at sunset and driven to the top of Mount Baker in the state of Washington. I’ve been to Pikes Peak and the Garden of the Gods in Colorado. I’ve traveled the shores of Lake Superior and hiked the trails along swift rivers and peaceful streams. Not one acre of land is exactly like another and the contrast in the contour of mountains and valleys is almost more than I can fathom sometimes.
It isn’t just the magnificent formations that grip my thoughts. I’m amazed at the fine detail that God didn’t overlook even in my own back yard. As I meander my garden I see intricate flowers and a glorious display of color. As hummingbirds buzz around me and the blossoms bend and sway in a strong breeze, I can’t help but wonder, “God, how and why did you create this world with such attention to detail?” 
Those are the moments when my heart sings with the words of David in Psalm 8. “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers…what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” It makes sense that David would say, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth,” when he stopped to consider what God created. When I stop to think about why God didn’t create a giant racquetball court of a world, I can see several reasons, as if my little mind could even begin to understand the mind of God.
I think one reason he created the world with immeasurable beauty and awe is that it reflects his own beauty and awe. I’ve traveled so little in my lifetime, yet I’ve seen enough to make me realize that it must surely be a tiny sample of the glory of God.
In addition to reflecting his own glory in his creation, I think God created the earth the way it is simply because he enjoyed creating it. As an artist, I thoroughly enjoy the process of creating and designing a work of art. I can almost imagine God forming the world like a potter forms clay and splashing it with color in flowers and trees. His artistry shows in thunder and lightning, snow and rain, sun and blue skies. I imagine his satisfaction when he stepped back and he “saw all that he had made and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). As a gardener, I understand his delight when he “planted a garden in the east, in Eden…and the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food” (Genesis 2:8-9).
He made it pleasing to our eyes too, not just his own. Surely, he created it for our enjoyment. For the sense of peace and joy we receive when we spend time hiking in the beauty of rocky hills, canoeing the wilderness, flying into a sunset in an airplane, and resting by the side of a peaceful lake.
As if all of these weren’t reason enough, I think God created this world in such a way that not one human being could say, “I did this.” If the world were flat and square, we’d have less reason to believe in a creator. We wouldn’t be blown away enough. We’d believe that a random accident created the box. Although many still refuse to believe in God the Creator, I find it impossible to believe that a random accident made life sustaining water, photosynthesis for oxygen, and vast amounts of plants, animals and fruits for food. How could our round earth spin on a perfect axis, orbit the sun, and change seasons in order without a perfect creator?
As I consider the wonder of creation, I can’t help but think that if God created something so splendid in seven days, what will heaven be like?
Reprinted from Michelle’s “Habits for Quality Living” column in the September 2010 issue of Wisconsin Christian News.

What’s Eating You?

I’m not exactly sure when it fell, but when I awoke on Easter Sunday, there was a large tree on our storage shed. Perhaps it had fallen during the night. Or maybe it had been while we were visiting family the day before.

The stump caught my attention first. Three feet of jagged wood pointed skyward where the tall shade tree used to stand. I did a double take and assessed the scene. Like a tall man on a sofa too small for his stature, the bulk of the tree rested partially on the shed roof with the rest spilling over on the other trees on the edge of our property. It had been windy all weekend, so it wouldn’t have surprised me to find branches downed all over the yard. However, I hadn’t expected this tree to fall.
This was a sturdy tree, big enough that I could barely wrap my arms all the way around. From all outside appearance, this tree was healthy, and it wasn’t until it snapped off that I could see the real condition of it. The stump was mostly hollow, except for a few sawdust remainders and later when my husband and sons began to cut up the tree with chainsaws and axes, we discovered the problem. When a large piece of log split open with the swing of the axe, hundreds of black carpenter ants scurried for shelter. With each split of another log section, more ants poured out of the wood. The splitting and cutting revealed intricate tunnels in the wood woven like a lacey sponge. But as the ants ate the wood turning its fibers into sawdust, they ate away the strength of the tree.
When the strong wind came, the tree had no power to withstand. Those little tiny ants brought down a giant oak. I imagine one little ant moved in and brought a small family at first. But as they multiplied, they grew to a number that had the ability to bring down the whole tree.

Have you ever met someone and wanted to ask, “What’s eating you?” Someone who spewed anger or negativity and carried a grudge for the world? That attitude probably started with a small larvae of bitterness. When bitterness first moves in, we might seem spiritually healthy. We continue to serve in our churches and volunteer for missions work. We love our families and friends and we care for the needs of others. We might be ministry leaders and teachers, but have a growing bitterness in our hearts. We hide it well. For a while.
When we allow bitterness to take residence, it multiplies and it begins to eat away at our soul. It hollows out our joy and devours our contentment and peace. And when life brings a giant windstorm of cancer, joblessness, family crisis, or disappointment, we snap just like the hollow oak.
Bitterness robs us of the spiritual stamina we need to live for Jesus Christ. It robs us of the ability to love unconditionally. And it robs us of the joy of our salvation. When bitterness tunnels its way through our hearts and our minds, we’re left with a sad emptiness. But there is one empty place that can give us hope.

The only hollow place with any power is the tomb of Jesus Christ. It is empty because he holds the power over the grave, and if death couldn’t take him down, it means he has power over the strongholds of sin as well. Because of his power over Satan and any grip bitterness might have on us, Jesus can fill us with a power that we never had on our own. Where bitterness has eaten away our resistance and stamina, he can remove it like an expert exterminator and replace those hollow places with the fiber of his own character. He can make us able to withstand more than we ever thought possible.
What’s eating you right now? Whatever it is, don’t let it live there. Let Jesus do some work in you so you’re ready to face the stress of everyday life and the big storms that test your resistance.
This article appeared in the April issue of Wisconsin Christian News.

Lightning, God’s Fireworks Display

The other night, we had quite the lightning show in the sky. As the storm rolled in, my son and I stood on the porch watching the flashes and streaks in the sky. It was amazing! I got out my camera and shot over 50 pictures, but the flashes were so fast that I was able to capture only three streaks of lightning. 

It was like watching the fireworks on the 4th of July, but these weren’t set off with a torch on a heap of gunpowder. These were natural. Unpredictable, Powerful. It reminded me that God’s power isn’t defined the way we define power. It reminded me of how awesome he is.

As I looked through the pictures, I thought of two of my favorite worship songs. Chris Tomlin sings in “How Great is Our God”: 

The splendor of a King,
clothed in majesty
Let all the earth rejoice,
all the earth rejoice
He wraps himself in light,
and darkness tries to hide
it trembles at his voice

And in another song titled “Indescribable”, he sings:

Who has told every lightning bolt where it should go
Or seen heavenly storehouses laden with snow
Who imagined the sun and gives source to its light
Yet conceals it to bring us the coolness of night
None can fathom

Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name
You are amazing God
All powerful, untameable,
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim
You are amazing God

It’s storm season, so next time it storms, watch that display of power in the heavens and remember how great our God is! Yes, he is amazing. He is indescribable.

Faux Finished Faith?

This past week, I tackled a big project on my to-do list and refinished several pieces of furniture with a faux finish. Using paints and glaze, I turned dated pine cabinets into something that looks, well, older. Sounds weird, huh? My “update” was rather ironic, but I love furniture that looks weathered and aged. See the makeover project here.

My cabinets had a dramatic change. I hope it looks like vintage furniture aged to perfection. But I know you aren’t fooled. Underneath, it is still cheap pine furniture. It’s a fake (faux) version of the real thing. And guess what? It might look great now, but if I rough it up with use, it’s likely to chip or peel to reveal what’s really under the faux finish.

Sometimes, we have faux finished faith. On the outside, we look like followers of Jesus, but on the inside, nothing is changed. We’re still the same as we always were. But when life scuffs us up and things get rough, we’re sure to see what’s really underneath. I realize that sometimes I go through the motions without letting God make permanent changes in my heart and attitudes. When I’m under stress, my family sees the real me, the part that flips out when the house is a mess or someone makes a mistake. I’m a work in progress as God continues to work on my “makeover”.

How is your faith? Has Jesus changed you from within the deep layers, or do you go through the motions? We’re all a work in progress, so don’t be discouraged if God still has work to do. He’s working on me too. Real faith isn’t just painted on. It’s a process that takes time as God renews us from the inside out.