Friday, December 23, 2016

The Empty Chair

The lady seated next to me in the gate area was very chatty. My head and heart were tired, but I prayed, "Lord, help me here." That's one of my simpler prayers. God knows what I mean. In this case, it meant, "Help me to pay attention to this soul, even though I feel like sitting here zoned out watching planes take off and land..."

The lady looked to be in her 70s, so that soon reminded of the days when I used to travel with my Mom. It also "tenderized" my selfish heart, because while at first I just wanted to sit and be quiet, I began to wonder if this lady was nervous about traveling alone. My suspicion was confirmed when she told me this: "I haven't flown in 20 years, so all of this is very new to me. My daughter is staying in constant contact with me by phone." This elderly traveler was clutching a very old "flip phone," and it rang shortly afterwards.

"Yes, I'm at my gate. A nice man brought me in a wheelchair and he even gave me ice water to drink. I'll be fine, and I'll see you all soon." She pressed the red button to disconnect the call, and then showed me her phone. "How can I tell if I have enough battery power? My daughter told me to plug in my phone if my battery was low."

We looked at her phone (which was probably one of the first flip phones made) and it showed a full-battery icon on the screen. "You'll be fine for the rest of the day," I assured her. 

"Is Minnesota your home?" she asked. 

"Yes," I said. "And you?"

"I'm flying to my Dad's funeral. He was 91."

And they will have an empty chair this Christmas.

As one who spent my first Christmas without our Mom just last year, I was immediately filled with the compassion that comes from having suffered a similar loss. Grief puts people in a "club" that they never would have joined voluntarily. After listening to stories about her Dad, many of which reminded me of my own childhood, I offered my condolences. As she was getting ready to leave, I gave her the tract, "Questions About Eternal Life." I carry them with me, along with several others. "This has some Bible verses that I am sure you will find very comforting," I told her.

She took the tract, looked at the front and back, then carefully tucked it into her purse. "Thank you so much. I am going to need this." She had tears in her eyes as we parted ways. I believe that by now, she has read that tract filled with Scriptures on salvation and eternal life.

I wonder how many people are flying "home" for funerals at the same time that others are flying home for comfort and joy? Countless numbers of people are celebrating Christmas with someone missing. Did you have a loved one pass away this calendar year? You're not alone.

What can we do when we're surrounded by celebrations at the same time that we're trying to navigate our way through the uncharted waters of grief? Here are some suggestions:

1. Carry tracts with you everywhere you go. Someone may be grieving just like you, and may deeply appreciate the real comfort that comes from the True Comforter. Have a variety of easy-to-read, high quality tracts in a tract wallet. God may use you to make a difference that goes far beyond this side of Heaven. Think of it as passing on a gift that was given to you to share with others.  "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift." (2 Corinthians 9:15)

2. If it feels like you've been knocked over by a wave of sorrow, let someone know. Allowing others to help us through the tough spots is like being thrown a "life preserver" from Heaven. Don't shut people out; pull them closer. "A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." (Proverbs 17:17) Friends don't automatically know when we need them. Sometimes, we just have to call.

Mom's tree
3. Keep family traditions alive. Mom loved to have me invite my sister friends over to her house to help decorate her tree. She was unable to do it herself after a certain point in her illness, so we did it as a group and turned it into a party. Her little tree is on my front step now, decked out in honor of our Mom. "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22) Traditions make the heart merry. 

Is recovering from grief as easy as 1-2-3? Not at all. Grief is one of the most complicated human experiences that we will ever have, but God knows more about this than we do, so He is able to carry us through our dark days until the sun breaks through again.

On a recent evening after church, my husband Norman and I were looking at airfares to Los Angeles, planning a trip for him to go and visit his oldest sister. We knew that she was doing poorly after having had a recent accident. "Why don't you fly out in January instead of February?" I suggested.

Two hours later, on December 11, 2016, we received a call informing us that my sister-in-love, my husband's sister Dolores had passed away.

Life is a vapor. Scripture tells us that. The truth is that none of us knows how many days of "vapor" we will have, so now is the time to cherish our loved ones. Right now. 

And while it is a comfort for a Christian to know that we will see those who have passed on before us in Christ in Heaven someday, we still have to face the reality that being without them can bring waves of occasional longing and sorrow. Thankfully, God knows how to soothe us with the presence of His Comforter: "And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever..." (John 14:16)

Do you have an empty chair at your table this Christmas? Invite someone to fill it.

"Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." (James 4:14)

Note: If you are reading this and are unsure about your own eternity, click this link to read more about what the Bible says about salvation and eternal life:

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

So Grateful and Thankful

Do you have a gratitude list?

It's easy to make. Just sit still for a moment and jot down all the things you are grateful for, and then thank the Lord. Be gratefully thankful.

I'm grateful for a godly and loving husband. I pray for him daily, and I know that he does the same for me. And he's fun, too. Gotta love a man who laughs at his own jokes.

I'm thankful for a happy marriage. It's not as common as it used to be, and those of us who have this treasure need to be continuously thankful and willing to share what we've learned over the years of staying happily married.

I'm grateful for our three children (and a daughter-in-love). They are uniquely "themselves" and we have been enjoying the process of watching them grow into adults that can even pick up the tab. Ha ha. My turn to ask for a twenty!

I'm thankful for friends that I can call or text and say, "Can you come over for coffee?" And then we get caught up on our lives, our families, and our lessons that we're learning from the Lord. Whether we're laughing or crying, it's just good sister time.

I'm grateful that my parents taught me how to be a person of character. Their photos in my home office serve as reminders of the integrity that they demonstrated throughout their lives, and while I miss them both more than words can say, they are in me and I am of them. Do you talk to the loved ones in your photographs? I do. God understands, and I believe that He even relays our words to them if we ask Him. I'll find out if I was right or wrong when I see Him and them in Heaven.

I'm thankful for my church home. There is simply no way to describe all the important principles I've learned over the years, but suffice it to say, it has been more than a multitude. We were baby Christians when we first started attending First Baptist Church of Rosemount back in 1985, and it's hard to believe that so many years have zipped by since we first walked through those doors as visitors.

I'm grateful for my extended family members; especially my sisters. After the passing of our Mom, we are tighter than ever and I love it! While I wouldn't wish the pain of grieving on anyone, I wouldn't trade the blessing of the closeness it has brought into our lives.

I'm thankful for Christ's mercy on my soul, providing me with salvation free of charge to me but at tremendous cost to Him. Where would any of us be without the Lord? I hope He doesn't mind me talking to Him all throughout my days, and it's probably a good thing that I work alone in the home office so that we can have all these private conversations! It was a life-changing day when I heard this verse: "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Rom 10:13) And I love being a "whosoever"! 

I'm grateful. I'm thankful. This is just my starter-list of blessings, but I hope it will inspire you to count your own. Be gratefully thankful.

"In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." (1Thess. 5:18)

A Thanksgiving message for those who are wondering about their relationship with Christ:
The same salvation I mentioned earlier is available to anyone. Paid in full, just waiting for the gift recipient to accept it. Being "saved" is a Bible term for being "born again," which is also a Bible term for accepting the free gift of salvation, which we all need:
1. God loves you. 
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)
2. Everyone is a sinner. 
"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God..." (Rom. 3:23)
3. Sin has a very high price tag.
"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Rom. 6:23)
4. Jesus paid it all.
"But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8)
5. Ask Jesus Christ to be your Saviour now.
"That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." (Rom. 10:9)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Petty Little Things

You worked hard on that church event, but nobody recognized it. You aren't speaking to someone because you're holding a grudge over an offense that's so old it's growing mold. Your family wasn't personally invited to the fellowship (even though it was open to all), so you're considering changing churches. There is not one life-changing issue in this list of oversights, but it's often the little things that trigger big deals. Petty little things. Pettiness is a cause of many unnecessary disputes, leading people to have their days end poorly.

Are you allowing some small thing to keep you trapped in a swirling cloud of negative emotions? When we do this, we're being petty, and it hurts us and repels others. Pettiness is a lot like a flu virus; once you catch it, people don't want to get too close, and you will need to get over it before you can function again.

Pettiness comes when we allow minor issues to morph into major offenses. When we reach the age where we are (somewhat) free to indulge ourselves, we may stray into the zone of behaving like a toddler in a grown-up body, treating people any way we please. We may have our "favorites" who always get the best treatment, but then there are others who we feel free to snap at without a second thought. Are we dividing people into categories of those who are worthy of respect and those who fall somewhere below the bar of favor?

It's petty to categorize people when God has clearly stated "As it is written, There is none righteous, no not one..." (Romans 3:10)

It's petty to hold a grudge when we can forgive. "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." (Mat 6:12) Withholding forgiveness increases our indebtedness. 

It's petty to be angry because someone didn't do something our way. "He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him." (Pro 18:17)

Pettiness is the art of making mountains out of molehills, often leaving a trail of wounded bodies in our wake. Thankfully, there is a cure. The Lord knew that we may struggle with this character flaw, so He left us instructions that gently nudge us away from our tendency to make felonies out of minor faults. A very essential word transforms our relationships for the better:
"Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others." (Phil. 2:3-4)

It takes thought and discernment to treat others with proper consideration, regardless of what they do or say. When we strip away the selfishness, pettiness fades.

"A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." (Jhn 13:34) 

Do you know what happens when we consider others before ourselves? Life becomes more enjoyable and less stressful as we remove the faulty measurements and love sacrificially.

Instead of being trivial, let's be bountiful in love and consideration. We don't have to allow petty little things turn us into petty little people. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Parents Are Not Responsible for That

Parenthood is not a role for wimps or whiners. There are the exciting times such as music recitals, sports tournaments, and graduations. But if your tribe is like ours, you've probably also had the maddening moments, like the time one of our children discovered how to unfasten the tapes on his diaper and used the contents as "chalk" on the bedroom  wall (yes, it was "his," so that narrows the field of suspects).

Children are young for a few blinks, and then we spin around and we're hearing "Pomp and Circumstance," that familiar graduation march as our "babies" walk down the aisle in cap and gown. If they choose to go on to college, four snaps later, we're sitting in the auditorium at their college graduation, scanning a long list of names in the commencement bulletin while waiting to watch them walk across the platform to receive yet another diploma. It's warp-speed fast (except that diaper stage).

Parents don't mind taking responsibility for the good things, but we may be too quick to take the blame for poor outcomes. There are no perfect parents, so we cannot engage in perfect parenting. There is also a flip side to that coin: there are no perfect children, so they cannot grow up into flawless adults.

Do you have a young adult who is making poor choices? You are not responsible for that. 

Has your young person decided that they don't really need God, let alone church? If they have determined that church is optional, you are not responsible for their choice. And if you're careful, you won't make matters worse by harping and needling them. Prayer works way better than nagging.

Has one of your adult children chosen to engage in an immoral relationship? Immorality may be popular in our culture, but you are not responsible for that.

Even though our parenting is faulty, it doesn't extend to the choices our children make as adults. We influence our children, but we do not enforce their adult choices. Certainly we can all think of decisions that we would change if we could hit a "delete" key for a do-over. I can't even count how many times I've thought, "So THIS is what I put my Mom through when I was a young adult..."

People make choices at every stage of life. Christian parents are responsible for teaching and training how to make wise choices, using the Bible as a foundation. We are also role models, which in many ways makes us "homeschool teachers" as our children watch how we handle the issues of life. "My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways"  is basically a verse that says, "Watch how I do life."' (Proverbs 23:26) 

Our "Training Manual" is the Bible, and we have a responsibility to teach the precepts and principles, as well as how to apply them to daily living. And while we're at it, we must emphasize and magnify the Lord, and how He is worthy of glory, honor, and praise. We need to balance fear of the Lord with love of the Lord, not one without the other. Unfortunately, the best training still comes from flawed trainers (us), and does not equal an insurance policy against unwise choices.

In fact, sometimes young people from homes where parents invested the most have the strangest outcomes. It is so easy to take things for granted when a person doesn't comprehend the significance of their Christian heritage. A godly Christian home is a gift, but since gifts are free, value is often underestimated and extremely underrated.

When the Bible is abandoned and God is cast aside, people tend to carve out paths filled with potholes and lined with deep ditches. When they end up in the ditch, who do they usually call?

Mom. Sometimes Dad, but more often than not, Mom gets the call.

And what does Mom usually do?

She starts the rescue mission.

Here's another option: Hold that rescue effort and let your child take the Consequences-101 course in the University of Adversity. Consequences are side effects of choices, either good or bad. If we are constantly running ahead, throwing pillows down over the potholes, how will our young people ever experience the pain related to their decisions and develop an appetite for wise living? We need to commit our children to the Lord in daily prayer, no matter how they're living. He is not only better at loving them, but He also has the ability to direct and redirect their steps. And God is not floored by misbehavior. After all, He put up with us, didn't He?

God is the Master Trainer, and He knows which "life-classes" we need. In fact, Pain Education is a class that we all take on a rotating basis: "It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes." (Psalm 119:71) The Scripture clearly tells us that affliction is a learning tool. Painful experiences due to poor decisions are tremendously educational, and they often serve to repel us from repeating similar mistakes.

Mom, please step aside and let the Lord provide the needed education in the life of your child.

Young adults are old enough to make choices, and if they are willing, they will also learn valuable lessons. Their direction in life is related to their decisions, just as it is for us. And if your child has a high pain tolerance, the process of learning to follow God may be slow. Cover your eyes, drop to your knees, and lift up your children in earnest, fervent prayer. Here are some valuable things to include in our prayers for our young people:
  • Pray for God's mercy: "Let thy mercies come also unto me, O Lord, even thy salvation, according to thy word." (Psalm 119:41)
  • Pray for your child to gain understanding: "Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart." (Psalm 119:34)
  • Pray for their eyes to be opened to the truth: "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law." (Psalm 119:18)
  • Pray for God to "order their steps" and to free them from the bondage of sin: "Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me." (Psalm 119:133)
Love them. Train the as well as possible. Pray for them daily. Parents are responsible for that. 

But once they become adults, quit trying to fix them. That's not our area of expertise.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Voice Message

I was positively sure he was mistaken, but Austen was equally sure that he was not. "I called home, but I got Grandma's voice," he told me with amazement. 

There were two problems with this:
1. Grandma (my Mom) had passed away on May 25, 2015. This was June 21, 2016.
2. My Mom's answering service was never connected to our home phone at any time.

Austen got out his cell phone, and attempted to recreate what had just happened to him that day. 

"I was sitting in Dunn Brothers coffee shop, and I dialed the house. When I got the voicemail, I hung up and called right back and that's when it said, 'This is the Raynes' residence,' and it was Grandma's voice. I'm sure of it."

Now he had to prove it. He dialed. Our voicemail with my voice answered. He immediately hung up and called back. Our voicemail answered again. He hung up and called back. Again, it was my voice. I was beginning to wonder if the Lord had done something special for Austen that wasn't for the rest of us. Austen and Jessica were just about to leave town to move to my Mom's old home state of Connecticut. They were sitting on the couch with me, spending some of our last moments together in Minnesota (and patting my shoulder as I wept because I'm Mom and "babies" were leaving...that's another story). I could tell that Austen and Jessica were both convinced at what had happened, and both were giving credit to the Lord, but could Austen make it happen again?

Austen dialed again. When voicemail answered, he hung up and redialed.

"You have reached the Raynes residence. We're not available to take your call right now. Please leave your name and number, and we'll get back to you." 

Mom's voice.

A 16-second recording of my Mom's voice came clearly through Austen's cell phone. He had dialed our house, but somehow, he had gotten my Mom's old voicemail. How could this possibly be? We never shared phone service! We never even had the same phone companies, as my Mom lived in St. Paul and we live in Apple Valley, so we are serviced by different companies.

I took my cell phone and made a recording of the recording! Now I had a copy of this message.

As Austen and Jessica had a final time of prayer with me and hugged farewell, I stood outside to watch the 26-foot Budget Rental truck pull their little car up the hill. I waved to them, and his sweet little wife Jessica snapped one last cell phone pic of me as I stood by the roadside, looking just a tiny bit forlorn.

I was also puzzling over what they had just shared with me.

My sisters and I had lamented greatly that we never had a recording of Mom's voice, so we were hoping to retrieve it from her home phone. Unfortunately, the phone at my Mom's house had filled up with messages, so it stopped playing Mom's voice message and started playing the phone company's computer-voice message: "We're sorry, but the voice mailbox is full." I called the phone company and asked them if we could have the recording of our Mom's voice, but they told us that it wasn't possible, so we reluctantly accepted the fact that we wouldn't hear Mom's voice again until Heaven. We didn't have any other recordings of her speaking, and wished we had thought of this earlier.

This is a great time for me to insert a suggestion: Record your loved ones voices, and record your own message to your loved ones. With the technology that we have today, you can make a video of yourself in your cell phone or tablet, download it to your computer and leave it in a special inbox for your loved ones to retrieve when you are no longer on this side of Heaven.

The Budget rental truck was out of sight, and I was still standing in place on the lawn. "How did Mom's voice get into our phone, Lord?" I had to ask the Lord. No one else could explain it at the moment...but maybe some of you are so technically-minded that you have already figured it out. The Lord reminded me to check the laundry room...

After Mom's house sold so quickly, we were speed-packing her belongings since we had a mere four weeks before the closing. It's really hard to determine what stays and what goes, and it's very tempting to just divide everything up and take it home, essentially doubling the household goods. Since we knew that the packing project was an emotional task, we were trying hard not to allow ourselves to take too many things home with us. We tried, but failed. In the process of packing, I took my Mom's old house phone home with me. I was hiding it from my Norman, as he was becoming very concerned with where we were going to put all these "just one more" things. I tucked the phone in a plastic bag and dashed out to the car to stash it in the trunk. When we got home, I took the phone down to the laundry room, unplugged our phone and replaced it with Mom's old phone. Satisfied, I smiled as I realized that it was like having (another) little piece of Mom in my home.

Little did I know or even consider that it had an answering machine with Mom's voice on the recording. After all, the landline voicemail service for most phone companies today allows you to make your recording directly through their company; not into your actual phone. So, the answering machine wasn't answering Mom's phone when it was at her house. The phone company voicemail service was answering the phone after four rings.

Until we connected the phone in our laundry room at home.

At that point, the old answering machine started a very odd practice. If someone called and the voicemail answered, the very next caller would get Mom's answering machine. I can't explain it any better than this, but Mom's old phone was intercepting the calls if they came too close together...which is why Austen got Grandma's voice message. By hanging up and calling right back, he landed on the old answering machine, and got another voice.

Mom's voice. 

That would have been enough for me, but there was one more encounter later that day. 

After Austen and Jess left, my heart needed soothing, so I turned on the book of Proverbs in my car, using a Bible app from my cell phone and the Bluetooth connection in the car stereo system. The screen in the dashboard said "Proverbs 3." The 3rd chapter of Proverbs was coming clearly through the speakers from my cell phone when I pulled into the parking lot at work. I often play the book of Proverbs in my car. It's so comforting.

When I returned to my car a few hours later, the screen in the dashboard still said "Proverbs 3," but the voice that came from my car stereo speakers was not reading Proverbs.

"You have reached the Raynes residence. We're not available to take your call right now. Please leave your name and number, and we'll get back to you."

Mom's voice again. Someone in cell phone technology could try to explain this one, but I choose to give God the credit for both of these "messages."

A hug from Heaven, allowed by God? I believe so. After all, God can do as He pleases.

"Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places." 
(Psalm 135:6)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Was He Trying to Pick a Fight or...?

Why does the garage door malfunction ONLY when we're planning a big event? Or a trip? Or both? Blame it on Murphy's Law? Who was Murphy, anyway?

Edward Aloysius MurphyJr. (January 11, 1918 – July 17, 1990) was an American aerospace engineer who worked on safety-critical systems. He is best known for his namesake Murphy's law, which is said to state, "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." (

Okay all right, so an aerospace engineer is to blame for the poor timing of everything?

I don't believe it.

But I do believe that God allows things to happen so that He can have His way.

The bright orange sticker on the wall in the garage (slapped unceremoniously over the bright yellow sticker on top of the silver sticker) listed the garage door company's phone number. Why do the repairmen paste their company labels on top of the others? Competition? Well then, why not just remove the other guy's sticker? Head shake.

The garage door repairman was not friendly. In fact, he greeted my smiling face with a blunt "So what's the problem with the door?" Ooh. Off to a rough start. "Abrupt" is a generous description, as his garage-side manners seriously needed work. It almost seemed like he was trying to pick a fight, but since we had only shared one sentence, I quickly brushed that thought aside, replacing it with a internal warning: 

Grump Alert! Proceed with caution!

Taking my smile down a few watts, I said, "It's not working, and we think the parts that failed are still under warranty." His reply let me know that it was going to be a Tylenol morning:

"Well, you're not getting anything for free, so don't expect it. There will be a service charge."

I already had a headache. Now it was escalating, pounding with my accelerated pulse as I processed his poor business manners.

"Okaaaay, I'll just be inside here and you can let me know when you need me to pay that
service charge!" I tried to sound pleasant, but it came out sort of chilly. Gritted teeth chilly.

About 30 loud, banging minutes later, there was a knock on the door. I opened it and immediately, the garage door repairman said, "It's the motor. I've fixed the drums and cables, but you'll have to get a new opener. I don't know what your husband did to this, but it's not our problem if he tried to fix it himself..."

That. Did. It.

How presumptuous of this man! Norman hadn't touched that garage door opener unit except to change lightbulbs! I stated this to the repairman, only to hear a mumbled, "Well, it's hanging open so I just assumed..."

I interrupted his assumption, no longer willing to accept this churlish behavior. "Sir, may I please speak with your supervisor? I'll wait inside while you call."

And then I went back in the house to tell God on this guy. 

"Lord! Do you see this walking bag of attitude? (To which the Lord probably replied, "Which one?" but I was too irritated to hear.) What am I supposed to do, and how do I handle such a case? He's rude, he's gruff, he's insulting, he's insinuating, and he's..."

And that Still, Small Voice said, "And he's hurting."

I gasped, and then groaned as I realized how close I had come to adding to the untold pain of this stranger. At this point, one thing was completely clear: I didn't know what was going on in this man's life, but God sure did, and I needed to be careful.

Why are we so quick to return the "favor of misbehavior" while at the same time we despise being treated unkindly? I know at least one reason: We've forgotten to live the Word. 

"Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." (Matthew 7:12) 

This verse, also known as "The Golden Rule," slips from our memory when we've been challenged by someone sporting what we presume to be an attitude problem. How often are we crabby when we're hurting? And how would we like to be treated when we're already in pain?

I went inside to my stash of Gospel tracts and found one that seemed to fit him: "Are You Going Somewhere?" it asked on the cover. The Bible verses inside were bound to be a source of encouragement and possibly even life-transforming. I added a generous tip, and waited to be called back to the garage. I wasn't concerned with the rude behavior anymore. I was going to look this man in the eye and double-dunk him in kindness.

The repairman knocked on the door and handed me his cellphone. I wonder if he was worried that I was about to report him. The supervisor agreed to refund half our money, along with erasing the service charge. I handed the cellphone back to the repairman, along with the tip and tract. "Here's something for your break time, and an invitation to visit our church, where we have lots of homeowners with aging garage doors." The repairman looked completely surprised as he accepted the tract and tip. He then told me that he and his wife attend a local church nearby, but he accepted the invitation and thanked me.

This was a salt-moment: "Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men." (Matthew 5:13) I almost missed it, and instead of remembering to be "salt of the earth," I was about to be merely "salty." So much to learn about being Christ-like. 

Beware of encounters with "crabby people." They may be wounded souls in disguise. 

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)
Francie shares her heart here and in Keep the Heart eMag

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Empty "Next"

Sometimes a slip of the tongue has a meaning of its own. A friend of mine jotted me an email a few years ago, talking about how close we both were to the empty nest, only she typed "empty next." I wrote back immediately, practically shouting, "That's a book title right there!" 

The Empty Next. 

You go to bed with a house full of noise, a laundry room full of clothes, empty laundry soap containers, and an empty fridge.

You wake up to a quiet and tidy house (hopefully), an organized laundry room with a backstock of detergent and fabric softener (love the smell of Suavitel), and food spoiling in the fridge because you and your beloved didn't eat it fast enough.

The Empty Next: The sequel to the Full House.

Are you there yet? If not, don't wish for it, because it will come without the wishing. Just live in your Full House and be all there, right now. We spend way too much time waiting for the next thing to change, expecting that it will make everything better in a different way. And then reality hits, exposing this to be yet another myth of our own creation. Let's face it: weariness can cause us to fantasize that there must be some stage of life when you go to bed late, wake up when you feel like it, eat whatever you want without gaining a pound, never run out of money and take vacations to enjoy the scenery rather than to recuperate from an overbooked life.

We are missing something: It's called contentment. The Apostle Paul wrote wrote from experience in Philippians 4:11: "Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content."

We realize that this verse had nothing to do with empty-nesters, but it has everything to do with attitude and perspective. A discontented attitude will lead to a jaded perspective every single time. 

How do we get off course with our attitude? Most of our spiritual ailments are easily traceable to not enough time with the Lord. Godliness is underrated, while looking godly is overrated. We can fool people, but God sees behind the smile. He knows the real us, and His penetrating gaze even sees our hearts. 

I can almost imagine God shaking His head and wondering, "When will they stop acting like I don't know what they're really doing?"

When our time with the Lord is treated like less than an add-on to our day, our godliness slips, and contentment slides with it. "But godliness with contentment is great gain." (1Tim. 6:6) We know this is our heads...but we fail to recognize that the opposite is equally true. Godlessness with discontentment is great loss.

Are you headed for a change in your life? Of course you are, even if it's not in your planner. Whether it's the Empty Next or some other transition, remember to enjoy the here and now. Train your brain to banish phrases like "I can't wait until..." and replace them with "I am committed to cherishing what God has for me right now."

Live in the HERE. God gives us our lives in moments for a reason. He never intended for us to squander those vaporous seconds wishing we were in another time zone. By wishing you were in the next, you're missing the now.

I am enjoying this stage, but I found joy in the previous one, and in the one before that. The only phase I didn't treasure was the one filled with poopy-diapers, mainly because the smell made me nauseated. Or maybe I was nauseated because I was pregnant during every diaper stage until the last child? All I remember is that I didn't know enough to appreciate those chubby little legs and those adoring eyes smiling up at me from the diaper table, because I was too busy holding my breath while looking forward to the day when we wouldn't be giving half our paycheck to the generic disposable diaper companies. Yes, generic. Pampers and Huggies charge way too much for what they "doo." (A pun only a mother could love.)

We can't press a button and go back to repeat a stage of life. The next thing will come, but like a pretty package with nothing inside, it will be empty if you refuse to appreciate your life "as is." The "next big thing" has a remarkable way of disappointing us if we've built it up to epic proportions.  It's okay to look forward as long as we're not failing to be grateful for what we have right in front of us. We don't have tomorrow anyway, so living gratefully and great and fully today is a wise plan. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Pride is Exhausting

Have you ever marveled at the simplicity of a child? They see, they say. In their innocence, they have not yet learned how to play the game of "pretend my life is perfect and I've got this all under control." How did we get trapped in the game of unreality? 

Pride. And pride is exhausting. 

Are you afraid to be yourself? Genuine yet flawed? Striving to keep up an image of having it "all together" will wear a person out, and in the end, we all know it's just an illusion anyway. There is a better course: meekness.

Just because meekness rhymes with weakness doesn't mean that they are related. It takes strength to bear the yoke of meekness and lowliness. In fact, we are more prone to the weak habit of wearing the crown of pride with the body sash of self-elevation. "Wow, you are amazing!" whispers pride to the gullible.

Maybe we're just trying too hard to make everything look just right so that others will be wowed and attracted to Christ. Is that it?

Did Christ ask us to do that? No. But somewhere along the route, we passed along the heritage of "make it look good, even if it isn't." We don't have to live like that, and it's surely not the meek life. Christ said to do it this way: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls." (Matt. 11:29)

But before He gave us that lovely invitation, He said this: "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28) Have you ever considered that one of the reasons we're so heavy laden may be that we're creating an unnecessary burden of trying to portray an image of perfection? What is at the root of this habit?


When we imagine that we have to be the model wife, raise straight-A students, fix all problems and do it all without a hair out of place, we are wearing ourselves out with the pride of being a false-image-bearer. Are we laboring for the wrong things? If we're laboring to make ourselves look good, then we're laboring wrong. If we're laboring to magnify the Lord in this vaporous life, then we're laboring right.

Slow down and evaluate your motives. Just pause. No one is coming over to your house to build a monument in your yard for the "most perfect family," so let the flaws live on, but check your self-produced life pattern against the Word. Does your Christian life even have anything to do with Christ? If it does, you'll sense His grace abounding as He guides you.

If your life is just a stage and you're the star, then you'll be worn out. How about resigning from the stage production and walking humbly with God? It's a daring move, but we're all naturals for the role of being ourselves. 

Pride is exhausting. No wonder we need so much rest. Time for a change. Meekness is the refreshing way to go.

"For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matt. 11:30)

Friday, January 8, 2016

Get Out of There

Negative emotions are like cold and snowy days: we have to endure them until the season changes. But just like a winter that lasts too long, we don't do well when we're stuck in the negative.

A lady once told me that she was "in a bad place within herself." What a description! It immediately formed a picture in my mind of a person trapped in a cold prison, but the bars were imaginary.

Are you with her? Are you in a "bad place within yourself," and you've been dwelling there going from bad to worse? Are you surprised that staying there seems so comfortable and yet so painful at the same time?

Get of of there.

Staying in that spot is like standing outside shivering in the cold when the nice, warm house is unlocked and right in front of you. You don't have to stay in that spot. God has already provided a way out.

It is impossible to live into adulthood without walking through a spiritual valley now and then, but the valley is not a permanent address; it's a transition in the journey. And although the temptation to stay in the valley is compounded by weariness, affliction merely highlights our continuous need for God. Just like we could lose consciousness by staying in the cold too long, we lose our awareness of God's caring presence when we try to take up residence in the cold valley.

Are you dwelling in the coldness of a bad place? Turn to the warmth of God's Word. Verse after verse will provide a soothing balm for your soul, and guidance through the valley.

"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." (Psa. 119:105) God does not leave us in the dark indefinitely, but He may allow a temporary period of "dark times" to cause us to look to Him for direction. One benefit of many: we develop a closer relationship with the Lord.

"Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me: yet thy commandments are my delights." (Psa. 119:143) It's amazing every time, but God has a way of answering questions before we even ask them, providing guidance and abundant comfort. The Word of God is the purest source of delight.

"My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen thou me according unto thy word." (Psa. 119:28) Trials produce a form of physical and emotional exhaustion that is not relieved by sleep alone. We can cry out to God for strength at anytime, but sometimes we just need to be reminded. Expect God to answer, providing new endurance multiplied by grace.

"It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes." (Psa. 119:71) Every episode of affliction comes with a lesson that will benefit us. We would never ask God to bring us "trials for training purposes," so we can count on life to deliver on schedule. God's Word says "It is good for me that I have been afflicted," but sometimes we incorrectly assume that things should "feel good" to "be good." Adversity is a classroom. If nothing else, we learn to appreciate the pleasant times when they are contrasted with difficult days.

"Consider mine affliction, and deliver me: for I do not forget thy law." (Psa. 119:153) The sun is still shining on a cloudy day; it's just hidden. God's deliverance is still available, but it comes in due season. We may not understand His timing, but we know that God can always be trusted to deliver. We are not forgotten.

Have you ever met someone whose life seems contented and carefree? Genuinely contented people do not have lives free from storms; they have simply learned that stormy blasts are temporary. Jesus will issue a "Peace, be still" command when the time is right.

If you're in a bad place, don't stay there. You may have grown accustomed to wearing the cloak of discouragement, but the "way of escape" is ever present. Move forward with the Lord. Today.

Get out of that bad place. It's too cold.

God will show you the way out.

"There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way  to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." (1 Cor. 10:13)

Do You Know What You Have?

Someone out there may be struggling with this holiday called Valentine's Day, and I can relate.  This is my third Valentine's...