Sheltered and Safe

Psalm 91:1-2 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust."

When we were growing up, my siblings and I would have regularly called meetings. We discussed issues of great childhood importance such as whether we should revolt and go live with our grandmother and who would have to clean the toilets during chore hour on Saturday morning. We were not heads of state. Our meetings did not alter national policy but they developed a bond between the four of us that can not be broken. These gatherings didn't take place around a board table or at a five-star restaurant but in the simplicity of a bedroom closet.

I treasure the memory of those meetings. When my phone rings and the music of one of their voices is the greeting on the other end, I still want to run for the shelter of my closet. Because today my siblings and I talk about things that actually are life changing. What will we do if our parents can't provide for themselves financially or physically in years to come? How will we hold our family together when the thread of our parents has passed from it?

Today I am reading Matthew 26.  This chapter describes the betrayal and arrest of Jesus.  Just hours before He had eleven loyal men at His side.  Now He had no one.  I feel for the disciples.  Everything they thought they knew changed.  Their world was shattered and they scattered.

We don't know where anyone except Peter went that night.  I imagine they sought a place where they felt safe.  When I was a child I ran to shelter in the closet.  I still want to run there at times.

Even though every friend abandoned Him, Jesus walked resolutely to the cross where He would never abandon them.  When I am afraid, I don't have to run to my closet.  I can run to Jesus. 

Jesus, You overcame Your grief in Gethsemane, to provide me with Your comfort.  You are my Hiding Place.  You are my Shelter.  I am sheltered and safe.

Counting a Little = a Lot

Psalm 77:11a-12 I will remember the deeds of the Lord; I will meditate on all your works and all your mighty deeds.

My knobby knees curve over smooth wood.  My feet dangle.  I want to swing them but know that isn't allowed in church.  To entertain my eight year old brain, I count things - rows, people, panes of glass.  I hope the times passes quickly.  Dinner after church is favorite part of Sunday.

A song pierces my counting game.  Count your blessings name them one by one...  It's one of the few songs I really understand the words of.  Blessings are the good things God does for you.  I decide to spend the remainder of church counting those instead.

Today's chapter is Matthew 25. In this passage, Jesus tells a series of stories which inspire the reader to live with the end in mind.  When we live mindful of eternity, we live well.  In one parable, Jesus tells a story about three servants.  Each is given a portion of money to look after while his employer is gone on a long journey.  Two invest was is entrusted to them.  One does not. 

When the master returns, he brings praise for the two and criticism for the one.  To the two he says, "You have been faithful over a little.  Enter into the joy of your master." 

When I count my blessings, what God has entrusted to me doesn't seem so little.  He's given me much. 
  • The reliability of the sun to return after a storm
  • The laughter of children as they run into my arms
  • The velvet of animals when I stroke their fur
  • The warmth of cocoa on a cold afternoon
  • The strength of the man that lays next to me at night
I want to be faithful with what God's given me.  The key to steadfastness is gratitude.  The two were thankful for their employer's trust.  They served him well.  When I allow thanksgiving to dwell in my heart, I will serve God well.

Jesus, I sit among your creation.  You sit here with me.  In me.  I have been adopted by Your love and grace.  I acknowledge the favor You've shown me.  You've poured out Your love into my life.  Today, I'll hum a ditty from my childhood.  I'll name Your by one.

Anticipation is Making Me Wait

Isaiah 46:11 I (God) have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.

I was pregnant.  I wasn't entirely sure how that was possible.  Well I knew how it had happened but was flabbergasted at God's timing.  I was twenty-four, a newlywed and at the start of a new job in a new city.  I compared the stick to the packaging a dozen times with the same result but somehow felt the need to continue this cycle of lunacy.  How could this be?

While overwhelming, anticipation grew moment by moment in my heart.  God planted His love deep within and there a miracle grew.  Over the next nine months, I read books, prepared the nursery and prayed.  She took her time and eleven days past her due date, Hannah bloomed into my life.  A sweeter baby never was born.  My heart filled to capacity.  Anticipation allowed me to wait with patience for this delightful affirmation of God's love.

Today's passage is Matthew 24.  For fifty-one verses Jesus describes the events of the last days of earth.  It frightens, quickens and warns.  It also anticipates.  It causes the heart of every Christian to long for the day our faith will be sight.  God is at work.  In His perfect timing, He will bring these events to pass.  In the meantime, I anticipate.

I anticipate in other areas of my life as well:
  • My youngest two realize their need for Jesus to be their Savior
  • Four pairs of feet walk down the aisle
  • Answers to prayers
  • Family vacation
  • God works through my daughters to impact the world for Christ
  • My husband retires
So many glorious moments in both the ordinary and extraordinary of my life.  So worth the wait.  So fun anticipating.

Jesus, my faith will become sight.  I don't have to see Your face for that to be my reality.  It can be a reality in the ordinary of my life as I witness You lead, guide, work and deliver.  I wait patiently for You.  Anticipation is making me wait.

Who's the Boss?

Colossians 3:23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for men.

Don't you miss working?  It was a question I'd answered dozens of time before but as always it caused me to pause.  It is true that I had been successful in my own right.  I earned a six figure income, sat in an office and had a high degree of both accountability and influence at my company.  Now my salary was zero, my "office" was the kitchen/laundry room and my influence didn't extend much beyond the front door.  My new job title was Mom.

Yes.  There was definitely a part of me that missed working.  I missed the achievement marked by regular performance reviews.  I craved the recognition of titles and advancement.  My new world defined success loosely as day including a shower, clothes that only contained a minor splotch of spit-up and cleaning something other than a miniature human.

This morning I am reading the 23rd chapter of Matthew.  This entire passage contains teaching directed toward the leaders of the Jewish religion.  In fact the phrase "practice what you preach" is derived from the third verse of this chapter.  The heads of the temple were long in setting standards and short in living up them. 

In one lesson, Jesus outlines four practices that undermine their work:
  1. They Do Their Work To Be Seen by Others (Verse 5) - In my former line of work, I made quarterly presentations to the highest levels of management.  While some shy away from public speaking, I reveled in the opportunity to present my work and help guide the financial rudder of my company's ship.  This thirty minute delivery was the apex of one quarter's analysis done primarily in the privacy ofmy office.  I was more than willing to work three months for a half hour of recognition.  Every person enjoys being acknowledged for their contribution.
  2. They Love the Place of Honor (Verse 6) - One of my favorite activities when I worked outside the home was watching the staff congregate for a meeting.  They offered great insight into how various employees measured their importance.  Whoever was hosting the meeting invariably sat at the head of the table.  Then the high ranking officials would flank said host typically according to their own level of importance.  The rank and file employees would fill in the back and fringe seats.  You could walk into a meeting a gage the pay grade of a staff member simply by their position in the room.  I personally never clamored for a particular seat at the meeting but that is mostly because I was too busy being amused by other's attempts to do so.  People love being seated in the place of honor.
  3. The Love Greetings in the Marketplace (Verse 7) - Anytime I move to a new job, church or community, I make an effort to learn people's names as quickly as possible.  Nothing puts another person at ease more than calling them by their name.  In direct contrast, some of the more embarrassing moments of my life have been when I was recognized by another person and caught stammering for a single piece of information about them.  It can be downright humiliating when someone knows my name and I can not reciprocate.  Humans enjoy the sound of their own name.
  4. The Love Being Called Rabbi (Verse 7) - I would like to say that when I worked outside the home, that I didn't care what my job title was.  The truth is we all care.  There is a difference between an administrative assistant, an analyst, a director and a president.  Titles matter because they define one's role and level of authority. 
Do I miss working?  Yes I do miss parts of it.  Here's what I love about my new position.  I am free to do my work with a servant's heart, not to be seen by others.  I am at liberty to take the lowest place at the table.  I am loosed to serve four blessings two of whom can't even yet spell my name.  I am able to delight in the simply greeting of "Mom". 

The truth is this freedom is offered not just to stay-at-home moms.  Jesus offers this privilege to every Christian.  When God instructed as to work as though we were working for Him, we were unshackled of the burden of titles, positions and places of honor.  We are free to work for the delight of an audience of One.

Jesus, thank you for the gift of working for You alone.  When I work for You, I am unrestrained by the expectations and measurements of mankind.  I am thrust into the arms of my Father who delights in me and granted the best title of all - Daughter of the King.

Now See This

Matthew 7:3 Why do you look at the sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

It was February, 1991 at Samford University.  This equated with long hours of practice to learn lyrics and perfect choreography.  I, along with my sorority, had entered our school's Step Sing competition. 

A break came in the middle of one particularly arduous rehearsal.  We were released for thirty glorious minutes and I raced a car load full of my sisters to get "biggie" size drinks.  My drink was too massive to fit in my car's cup holder so I secured it between my legs as I bantered with my friends and stole sips at stoplights. 

We were just a few hundred feet from returning to our practice site when we hit a red light.  I celebrated the pause and dipped my head down to my drink for a quick gulp.  Apparently I missed my target because when I brought my head back up my straw came with me...suction cupped to my eyeball.

Today's reading is Matthew 22.  The bulk of what is recorded here is a series of attempted entrapments.  Groups who opposed Jesus try to ask questions He can't answer.  His responses are so well crafted that His accusers are amazed, astonished and left without reply. 

As I pictured the religious elite hurling their inquests at Jesus, I realized how misguided they were.  They interrogate when they should celebrate.  I am reminded of a teaching Jesus gave a few chapters back in Matthew 7 about how it is far easier to detect the speck in my sister's eye than the gigantic log which protrudes from my own.

When that straw got suction cupped to my eyeball, I felt first hand what it is like to ignore the plank in your own eye.  Here is a few of the lessons I learned:
  • My Sight is Narrowed by my Straw - With that straw sticking out from me like a miniature plastic appendage, I could hardly manage to continue to drive.  How then is it that I think I see the dust in the eyes of another?  The answer is I can't.  I only think I see someone's faults.  In reality, I am blinded by my own.
  • Removing my Straw is a Good Kind of Pain - My eye throbbed for some time after removal of the implement.  It was a pain well tolerated.  That ache signaled the restoration of my vision.  It hurts when I allow God to meddle in the places of my life I might rather keep covered by a log.  The pain is only intensified when that area is laid bare before God.  But it's a good kind of hurt.  It's the kind of hurt that signals my drawing closer to Jesus and seeing Him with restored vision.
  • My Sight is Shifted when I Remove my Straw - Once obscured, my sight was restored when the straw was yanked from my eye.  My eyes no longer wandered about.  They were lasered on the road before me.  The same is true when I pry the spiritual flaw from my life.  I see clearly.  My sight is shifted to Jesus and the road He has before me.
Jesus, today I will not submit You or others to my inquisition.  Instead I will allow You to walk about in my heart and reveal the straw which protrudes from my own eye.  I will let You remove it.  Though painful, I will then see clearly the road You have set before me.

My Big Rock

Isaiah 28:16 See I lay a stone in Zion, a tested cornerstone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts in him will never be dismayed.

As we entered the auditorium last night to celebrate Easter, we were greeted by a row of bins brimming with rocks.  When I peered inside, I was catapulted back to a day in early August 2003.  My boyfriend and I were on an adventure in untamed Alaska.  One day we set out to hike to the precipice of a small roadside mountain.  For a bit we climbed together but eventually we both became enraptured in the quiet sounds of nature and the scent of untainted air.  We became separated.  When we reunited at the peak, my friend said, "I have something for you."

The small rock he placed in my hand didn't look so spectacular to me but in an attempt at politeness I smiled and urged him to proceed.  "A few years back," he continued, "I attended an executive seminar.  The leader gave us a small jar, a few large stones, many small ones and some sand.  He asked us to fill our jars with the provided materials.  None of us could make all the items fit in the jar.  The key he revealed to us was to place the largest items in the jar first.  Then and only then would everything fit.  The large rocks represented what was most important to us.  The message that we should place the highest priority on those whom we most love."  He paused, smiled and looked into my eyes as he whispered, "On this earth, you are my big rock."  It was at that precise moment that I knew I would someday become Mrs. Scott Milholland.

Today's passage is Matthew 21.  It's just a week before that first Easter Sunday.  Jesus rides triumphantly into Jerusalem as the masses sing His praise.  But when Jesus began to meddle the worship withered.  Jesus recites a portion of the 188th Psalm, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone."

Because the stone was moved from His tomb that first Easter morning, Jesus is the Cornerstone.  He is the only sure foundation on which I can build my life.  Not every instruction He gives is easy to swallow or follow but when I choose to believe God's Word in faith I build my life on solid ground.

Jesus, this Easter I celebrate the power that rolled the stone from the tomb.  That same power removed the stone that was my heart and filled me with Your love.  That same power is the stone on which I choose to set my life.  Jesus, You are my big rock.

The Power of Persistence.

Luke 18:1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

Hayleigh decided a couple years back that she wasn't a dancer, she was a cheerleader.  She had never turned a cartwheel but was confident.  She took tumbling classes, practiced for hours on our trampoline and progressed.  She didn't listen to those who told her she couldn't.  She found power in persistence.

This morning I read Matthew 20.  Recounted here is both teaching and healing.  It is final incident that draws my heart this Easter Eve.  Two blind men hear that Jesus will be passing by.  They wait for His coming.  The ground begins to quiver as Jesus grows closer.  The excitement in the air palpable.  They begin to cry out for Jesus' mercy.  The crowd attempts to quiet their pleas but they shout louder, knowing Jesus must be near.  Suddenly a hush falls over the crowd.  The ground and air fall still.  Jesus stops, peers directly into their glossy eyes and inquires, "What do you want me to do for you?"  God Himself had paused.

This Easter, every person will bring a request with them to the resurrected tomb.  Some long for a wayward child to return home.  Others are desperate for employment.  Another yearns to break free of a destructive habit or emotion.  The question is will we dare to ask Jesus? 
  • When I Can Not See I Must Listen - Sometimes I don't ask because I don't see how an answer is possible.  In the midst of my blindness, I need to listen with me heart.  There God speaks and assures me He is at work even when I don't see it.
  • When I am Not Heard I Must Dare to Speak Again - Having a difficult conversation with someone I love is not easy for me.  I run from conflict not to it.  When I unearth the deepest desires of my heart and lay them before God, it takes courage.  When He doesn't immediately respond, I must summon an additional measure of faith to ask once more. 
  • When Jesus Invites I Must Respond - Jesus has asked me to tell Him what I need from Him.  He waits for my response.  There is power and freedom in laying my burdens at His feet.  He is able to transform my concerns into victory. 
Jesus, today I saw You passing my way.  You paused and bore straight into my eyes to ask me what I wanted?  This resurrection eve, I will remember that the same power that led to an empty tomb lives inside of me.  That same power stands ready to hear the burdens of my heart and take them from me.  On Easter Eve, I will practice the power of persistence.

Jesus: My Hope Chest

Luke 21:4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.

Aiko was the church secretary.  It wasn't a glamorous job but it paid her bills and left a little over each month to save for a dowry.  When Aiko became a Christian her parents had disowned her.  Following Jesus meant she had committed an unforgivable family disgrace.  This also meant she could never marry unless she could save enough money on her own to pay the sizable cost of a dowry.  She had been saving for ten years and had finally accumulated enough funds.

When Aiko's small church ran out of space and wanted to expand, the church planned a capital campaign to raise the funds so no loan would be necessary on the new, larger space.  The kick-off of the fund raiser came and the pastor invited families to come lay their gifts on the alter.  Aiko had no family.  She walked the aisle alone to present her offering.  She gave every cent she had saved for her dowry.

This morning's chapter is Matthew 19.  This passage is filled with several teachings by Christ.  From the sanctity of marriage to the value of children, it is clear that our heavenly Father values families.  At the end of this section a young man approaches Jesus.  We don't know whether he was married or had a family but unlike Aiko he could have afforded as many dependents as he wished.  He was rich. 

Like so many, this young man wrongly assumed that following Jesus is a list of "dos".  He wanted to know what action was required to earn a spot in heaven.  God does not pass out tickets to heaven based on good behavior.  As Jesus rightly notes, "there is only one who is good" (God).  (Verse 17) 

Jesus sees this gentleman's heart.  He may have loved Jesus but he loved his wealth more.  Jesus tells this youngster to sell all he has and give it to the poor.  This young adult left sorrowful.  Jesus had asked more than he was willing to give.

When Aiko walked the aisle with her pledge, she likely forfeited any chance that she would ever be a bride on earth.  Her devotion to Jesus outweighed the dream of a family with whom to share her life.  She chose a groom who would never forsake her - one truly worthy of her love and devotion.  She knew that Jesus could never ask more than she could afford to give.

Jesus, You are worthy of any sacrifice.  In fact, when I give something to You it isn't actually a sacrifice.  It is a delight.  Today help me have a heart like Aiko that withholds nothing from You.  Jesus, You are my hope chest.


Colossians 3:10 (You) have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator

It was the last Mom's group of the semester.  I had two speaking roles and desired to look my best.  I had planned my outfit head to toe.  Only my jewelry had not gotten the memo.  At least five necklaces were wrapped like spaghetti around the one I wanted to wear.  Frustrated, I sunk into the bed to begin the arduous process of untangling them.

As I did I thought of my father's hands.  When I was four, he purchased a real marionette for me.  He was suspended from colored strings that matched the bright hues of his bow-tied outfit while his froggy face stared permanently in a pleasant grin.  However his face was merely a facade.  Above him, his strings were consistently a mangled mess that caused his extremities to move in a spastic fashion never intended by his designer.  My dad spent countless hours during my childhood sorting out those strings only to have me bring my puppet frog to him time and again in this twisted position.

This morning I am in Matthew 18. Here, Jesus' disciples reveal the true priorities of their hearts by inquiring who is the greatest in heaven.  In response Jesus leads their hearts toward true greatness - humility and forgiveness.  Then Jesus tells them a story of a great king who forgives the insurmountable debt of one of his servants.

In a few days it will be Easter.  Across America, millions will gather to celebrate Jesus' sacrifice of death in exchange for our sin.  This parable is the essence of Easter.  God chose to forgive an insurmountable debt by taking our sin on as His own.  Jesus came to earth not just to die but to give us abundant life even now on earth.

Sometimes my life gets quite knotty.  Difficult relationships and trying circumstances wrap themselves around me and attempt to squeeze out the abundance God offers me.  The same hands that restored sight to the blind and life to the dead, can unsnarl what binds my life.

God reaches down from heaven and takes the mangled mess of strings called our lives.  Lovingly, He unwinds what we have twisted and restores our lives to what He intended when He made us.  Our transfixed eyes and plastic smile transform to true joy - joy only found when living in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. 

Jesus, I see Your hands filled with love and healing.  As You unfurl the cords of my life one strand at a time, I exchange my mess for Your peace.  This Easter I give you the strings of my life knowing that You will return them in perfect order.

Marathoning for Mortals

Isaiah 40:31 But those who hope in the Lord...they will run and not grow weary.

The wind blows through my hair. I breathe deep, steady.  "Jesus Messiah" by Chris Tomlin sounds from my headphones.  I place one foot in front of the other over and again.  I run.

This scene is one that has played many days over the last ten years.  Running has become a passion and my favorite health enhancer and weight controller.  In my early days of running I set goals for myself.  I constantly pushed myself harder and farther in an effort to mark another achievement.

Over the years running has become my preferred time to worship and pray.  It has become less about me and more about Him.  In fact, one day recently it occurred to me that it never had been "my" run.  It was God's.  God supplied the energy to take every step.  God granted every ounce of air that filled my lungs.  My body was just the vehicle through which He worked.

This morning the passage I read is Matthew 17.  Here the Majesty of Christ stands in stark contrast with the limitations of His disciples.  In a single chapter we get a glimpse of the heavenly Son of God (Verses 1-11) and the inevitable failure when we attempt to live devoid of His power (Verses 15-21).

A father approaches Jesus desperate for his son to be healed.  Jesus' disciples had attempted to heal the boy but had failed.  Jesus explanation - they lacked faith.  I have seen God do the impossible in my life and the lives of others; the disciples had seen even more miraculous than I.  Perhaps their lack of faith wasn't the absence of trust in God but rather too much confidence in themselves.

Too often I too get caught in the I-trap.  I place far too much stock in myself, my ability or my plan when in reality it is God who is doing the work. Whether the task before me is long-distance run or a sprint, it is God who fuels the runner.  It is He who transforms a mere mortal into a spiritual marathoner.

Jesus, far too often I fall prey to faulty thinking that believes too much of me and not enough of You.  I think that You only come on the run of my life when I want when in reality - without You I couldn't run at all.  Today I will remember that every step is a gift of Your grace and every breath a present of Your mercy.  I will not lack faith because I will place my faith where it belongs - in You.

I Can't Remember What it is I Forgot

I was on my computer feverishly working when I remembered an email I needed to send.  In the microseconds it took me to click on that tab and open my email, I couldn't remember what I was doing there.  Sadly, this isn't my first moment of temporary memory loss.  I refer to my condition as "mom-nesia". 

Its' symptoms are manifested in various ways:
  • Checking the mail up to five times on a federal holiday.
  • Throwing away the "keep" pile and saving the "toss" pile.
  • Making a list and then forgetting where I put the list.
This morning I am reading Matthew 16.  This passage opens with the Pharisees pressing Jesus to give them a sign from heaven.  Jesus refuses and turns the focus of the discussion from outward signs to heart inspection.  Jesus cautions His disciples to be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees.  The ensuing talk with Jesus' followers clearly demonstrates that "mom-nesia" is not a gender specific disorder.

It's as if the disciples suddenly forget all that Jesus has taught them.  The mere mention of yeast gets their minds focused on bread.  Clearly Jesus was not referring to bread.

I sometimes have "mom-nesia" in my walk with Jesus.  I commit to doing or perhaps not doing a certain thing but out of nowhere I find myself in a place of distraction with no recollection of my original intent.  I once heard Beth Moore say, "If Satan can't destroy you, he'll distract you."  That certainly proves true for me.  I've taken many a trip to the trash can, only to keep the very thing I intended to toss or forget what I was ever doing there to begin with.

When I find myself with "mom-nesia" I can usually recover if I simply stop and reflect.  In a moment of spiritual detour I must do the same if I am to retrace my steps back to Jesus:
  • Stop - Multi-tasking is the ultimate catalyst for "mom-nesia".  I have to force myself to be still so that I can remember whatever it is I've forgotten.  The same is true in the spiritual realm.  I must first pause before I turn my thoughts to Him.
  • Reflect - If I think hard enough for long enough I will eventually remember what it was that I was doing.  As I reflect on God's faithfulness and work, He gently redirects my thoughts to Him and His purposes for me.
Jesus, it is far too easy for me to forget what I'm doing.  I get distracted and lack focus.  I become ineffective in my walk with You because I fail to remember Your instructions.  Today when I face a moment of spiritual "mom-nesia", I will stop and reflect knowing that those actions redirect my mind and heart to You.

Following The Blind Can Make You Lame

Proverbs 4:10-12 Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many.  I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble.

When my brother, Scott, and I were young, the vast majority of our play involved our imaginations.  One concept that captured our minds time and again was blindness.  Regularly one of us would volunteer to close our eyes and attempt to navigate our world without the aid of sight. 

We would attempt to guide each other with a combination of voice and touch but nonetheless the "blind" one would crash into obstructions.  Even the sighted one had difficulty leading the blind.

This morning I am in Matthew 15.  The chapter opens with Jesus taking jabs from the religious elite of His day.  The Pharisees were offended when Jesus failed to follow tradition.  Jesus was far more concerned with following God.

Jesus equated ascribing to the traditions of men to one blind man leading another.  Eventually they both end up in a pit.  (Verse 14)  I have spent the last four months meeting weekly with a group of fellow moms.  The focus of our study this spring was Angela Thomas "Tender Mercy for a Mother's Soul".  Every mom, every dad, every person needs God's tender mercy.  When seek God despite crazy schedules and challenging circumstances, we find the mercy our souls so desperately crave.

As we journied through this book, we learned about giving and receiving grace, living out our passions and the importance of choosing well whom we run with.  In my walk with Christ, I tend to get distracted by the opinions and advice of other people.  Particularly when I heed the wrong voices.  Following the blind also makes me lame. I can follow the blind into a life filled with blunders and pits or I can choose godly counsel from those who walk intimately with Jesus.  These are not the blind.  They understand and apply God's wisdom to their daily life and walk not in darkness but in light.

Jesus, today help me choose carefully those whose advice I absorb into my heart.  I do not want to blindly stumble through life obtaining bruise after bruise as I crash into obstacles.  Instead of walking lame, I want to stride determinedly guided by voice and hand of those who know and love You. 

From Crushed to Compassion

Isaiah 61:1-4 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on comfort all who bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

My husband, Scott, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in February, 2009.  After weeks of contemplation, we elected surgical treatment.  Because of Scott's notable physical fitness, the doctor anticipated Scott's recovery would be on the relatively easy end.  We went into surgery expecting a three day hospital stay and a two week return to gym workouts.   That wasn't to be.

After his three day hospital visit expanded to five, Scott returned to work (not workouts) two weeks later.  However his pace was severely impaired.  A five minute walk from the office garage had morphed into a thirty minute shamble.  It was during these extended walks that Scott truly saw for the first time the elderly, the paralyzed and others whose life circumstances move them at a slower pace.  When he saw them, he was moved with compassion.

Today I am reading Matthew 14.  This passage opens with the dark scene of John the Baptist's murder.  His followers claimed his decapitated body, buried it and began the arduous trek to break the news to his cousin, Jesus.  I see the slump of their shoulders as they shuffle their way to bring the kinds of news no one wants deliver.  Like anyone who's ever received devastating news, Jesus probably had that scene frozen in his mind for the remainder of His life.

When we pass through the deepest valleys, a range of emotions accompany us.  As Jesus walked that path, He allowed His grief to drive Him into the arms of God.  Jesus sought solitude to mourn but the multitudes allowed Him no privacy.  (Verse 13)  Instead of giving rise to anger or selfishness, Jesus focused His sorrow into compassion for others. (Verse 14)

Just like Scott, compassion followed sight.  It was when Jesus saw the crowd, that mercy overpowered His heart.  Waves of weakness can wash us onto the shore of isolation and self-pity.  They can also usher us into the tide of the tender-hearted.  Jesus and Scott chose the latter.

Jesus, the last thing I'd consider a loss to be is an opportunity.  However nothing is as I would think when it is sifted through Your hands.  The next time I receive difficult news, I'll allow You to move me from crushed to compassion.

From Berserk to Blessed

I would like to invite all of my regular readers to join me every Friday on Jill Dyson's Blog: where she and I will be collaborating every Friday.  Today please enjoy our inaugural devotion posted last Friday, April 8th.  Also be sure to check out Jill's blog regularly for background behind her original songs and shirt designs on Mondays as well as wordless inspiration on Wednesdays.

Proverbs 31:28 Her children rise up and call her blessed (ESV)

I blinked and shook my head, thinking that might somehow alter the shocking scene. It wasn’t the downed limbs from the violent thunderstorm that caught my eye. It was the array of “kiddie” litter strewn across the back yard. To be exact I surveyed seven balls, one racket, two skates, one wagon, two bikes, two jump ropes, three buckets and a scooter. I was considering writing the National Weather Service and petitioning for the assignment of a named storm, but to be honest, the storm was unfortunately not to blamed for the debris…

My other option was to contact the hospitals that had given me my precious bundles to report that as unlikely as it sounds, there was a mix-up in the nursery at every single birth. These hooligans could not possibly belong to me.

Do you ever have a parenting day that feels more like you’re going berserk than being blessed? When the carpool line has one too many stops or the laundry basket one too many loads, I’ve learned the trip from blessed to berserk can be a short one.

Proverbs 31:28 promises that the mother who seeks after God with passion and purpose will bear children that call her blessed. I suspect this a-ha moment will hit my kids somewhere between them changing diaper number 472 and the first time their child gives off a huff accompanied by an eye roll. Seems like a pretty long payback period to me.

The good news is I don’t have to wait that long. I can choose to be blessed today by reversing the blessed to berserk train. It’s an equally brief trip.

Believe – Choose to believe the truth. This day is temporary; only a momentary stop on the child-rearing highway. Better moments lie just around the next bend.

Listen – When I tune into my kids with my heart not just my ears I hear a glimmer of appreciation lacing every huff.

Engage – Take the time to talk with my kids and find out more than what’s for homework. It is surprising how much is piled in their own emotional laundry basket if I just take the time to look.

Sing – Nothing makes a heart merry like belting out a song about Jesus. Roll up the windows and sing it loud and proud.

Smile – It’s much harder to disintegrate into a mean mommy when my cheeks are pulling my mouth up.

Exhale – A few cleansing breaths…okay maybe a hundred and I’ll feel like a new woman.

Deliver – Nothing changes my perspective faster than entrusting my children into God’s able care. He is far more competent than I to train, admonish and encourage them. Even moments in prayer can radically transform my attitude.

Jesus, thank you for carrying this berserk little momma back to a place of blessing. Long before I purchased the first sippie cup, You knew I’d face days like these. Today I’ll choose to be blessed. Then, with a single glance out my back window, I’ll see Your love and grace scattered among the kiddie litter.

She Can't Speak

Matthew 25:40 The King (God the Father) will reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the least of these (sisters) of mine, you did for me."

It was an ordinary morning.  I rushed to and fro like a typewriter in perpetual motion. Start the laundry.  Wash the breakfast dishes.  Tidy the family room.  Gather the dirty clothes.  Back and forth from one line of work to the next.

I had not even brushed my teeth or ran a comb through my hair.  In fact, my hair was piled in a floppy bun on the top of my head that appeared too small for my body which disappeared in my over-sized pajamas.  My morning routine was suddenly halted by the sound of my phone.  My ringtone is the pleasant strumming of a guitar but an unusual sound to hear at 7:30 in the morning.

I rushed to answer.  Something was either dreadfully wrong or excitingly urgent to receive a call at such an early hour.  The caller id registered "Mary Ann Ruff", the women's ministry director at my church.  "Are you ready to be blessed?", she bubbled.

Knowing that I'm always ready to blessed, she proceded without much response from me.  In slow, measured words she said, "Shannon, yesterday someone approached me.  They heard about your desire to attend the Proverbs 31 She Speaks Conference.  They want to pay your full way."

Overcome with emotion, I was unable to talk and muttered as such into the phone.  Who would be willing to pay such a large price?  Their faith and generosity had done the near impossible - rendered me speechless.

Today I studying the thirteenth chapter of Matthew. This passage is filled with stories Jesus told called parables.  This particular set of stories attempt to explain the work and worth of God's kingdom.  He likens the kingdom of God to a field containing a great treasure.  When a man found that treasure, he sold all he had to purchase the field. (Verse 44)  Jesus also compared the kingdom of God to a pearl hunter who finds a pearl of such immeasurable value that he was inspired to sell all he had to purchase that one pearl. (Verses 45-46)

The person(s) who paid the price for me to attend She Speaks understand the value of living according to God's economy.  No doubt when God first whispered in their ear to sponsor me, they though the idea ludicrous.  There are quite literally thousands of worthy ministries and causes that God could ask them to support.  I can only imagine what personal sacrifice they have made to follow God's prompting.  No doubt their forefiture is substantial.

What would cause someone to follow God so radically?  They understand the immeasurable value of the kingdom of God.  They know that saying "yes" to an uncanny leading of the Lord bears fruit thirty, sixty and one hundred fold. (Verse 23)  Do I feel worthy of such an amazing expression of faith?  No.  In fact, I am not nor even could be worthy.  But Jesus is.  It is He that will take this boundless generosity and multiply it many times over.

Jesus, You have done immeasurably more than I could have asked or imagined.  I am overwhelmed by Your goodness and the grace of Your people.  Today, when I hear Your voice in my heart asking me to do the unlikely, I will utter "yes".  I know You will multiply my mustard seed of faith into a hundred-fold return in Your kingdom.

Jesus: The Rule Breaker

Hosea 6:6a For I desire mercy, not sacrifice.

We were shoe shopping.  Well actually it was more like shoe sprinting.  We had exactly thirty minutes in which to find the shoes of my daughter's dreams. 

This all because of a rule.  My daughter insisted she could not attend her function that night without a new pair of shoes.  Everyone would be wearing new shoes.  How could I not know this rule?

Today's passage is Matthew 12.  Jesus fame and popularity is spreading and now threatens the religious establishment referred to as the Pharisees.  They look for opportunities to ensnare him.  Is it okay to pick grain to eat on God's established day of rest?  (Verses 1-8)  Is it more important to help someone in need or remain still on the Sabbath day? (Verses 9-14)  At every turn there seemed to be a rule Jesus wasn't following.  Yet Jesus was the sinless Son of God.  So how could He break the rules and remain pure in God's eyes?

Perhaps there is a distinction between the rules and purity.  In this passage, Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6.  God desires mercy not sacrifice.  He is far more concerned with the condition of our hearts than our ability to follow rules that may or may not reflect the true condition of our hearts.  I have heard it said that if you could see someone's bank account and their calendar, you would quickly find out what they most value.  Where we spend our money and time is a true reflection of what and whom is most important to us.

Jesus demonstrated time and again that He valued people.  He sacrificed His time, energy and convenience to meet the needs of others.  He left behind the comforts of heaven to give all He had for the people He had created and so dearly loved.  His time and His pocketbook are reflections of His heart.  That is how He could break rules scribbled by man and still receive the approval of God.  He valued mercy.

A few weeks after my frenzied shopping excursion, my daughter and I were at another store we had failed to hit that day.  There waiting on the shelf was a better pair of shoes marked with a lower price tag.  We had traded a lesser shoe because we couldn't wait for a better one.  There was a rule and we "had" to follow it.  When I get side-tracked and follow rules concocted by "religious" people instead of seeking the heart of God, I trade the best God has planned for me for something lesser. 

Jesus, help me today to not follow the rules without first checking in with You.  Today may my heart be a reflection of You and Your priorities.  May I have a heart like Yours that walks, lives and breathes mercy.

Oops! Have I Been Parenting on Purpose?

Isaiah 53:5 But he (Jesus) was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

It was an ordinary morning.  I sat at the kitchen table wrapped in the contentment of a quiet morning enjoying the peace of a meal shared with just one other family member.  This is a rare occurrence in a family of six.  As I savored my oatmeal and Clara (5) gingerly dipped her pancake in syrup, her voice pierced the silence.  "Mommy, what happens to my punishment after I tell Jesus I'm sorry?" 

I was taken aback by this inquiry.  As usual, quirky little Clara had found a question my other children had yet to ask me.  "What exactly do you mean, Sweetie?", I returned.  I was playing for time in an attempt to give my brain time to catch up with hers.

"Well, I think after I tell Jesus I'm sorry that my punishment goes off of me and on to Him."  In a profound yet simple manner, Clara had succinctly grasped the essence of the gospel.  A collective thirty-six years into child rearing and the process of disciplining my children had just taken on an entirely new significance.

Today I am studying Matthew 11.  This passage opens with John the Baptist sending his followers to Jesus to inquire if Jesus is indeed the long-awaited Messiah.  Jesus chooses not to answer the question, but rather directs them to the displays of His deity.  Perhaps the greatest miracle that Jesus performs is the transformation of lives.  Deep in Clara's heart He is calling her into relationship with Him.  He is illuminating the teaching she is receiving at home and in church to make the gospel real and apparent to her.

The 11th chapter of Matthew closes with words of great comfort and hope.  "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my toke is easy, and my burden is light." (Verses 28-30)  Clara can not yet even read scripture, but God is making this passage a reality in her life.  She is understanding the connection between our sin and the freedom found in relationship with Jesus.  This connection is being forged in her life through purposeful parenting.

I don't know about you but there are days I tire of meting out punishments on my kids.  Child training sometimes feels like an endless cycle of disobey - consequence - momentary reformation - disobey.  How exciting is it to realize that it is that very same exhausting cycle that is drawing my daughter's heart to Jesus?  Purposeful parenting isn't about producing "perfect" children who never mess up but rather children who recognize their need for the saving power of Christ and the joy of living in relationship with Him.

If you back up just a few verse before Jesus calls the burdened to rest, He says, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children."  (Verse 25)  In the end, Jesus must reveal Himself to our children but along the way He uses the vehicle of parent's holding their children accountable. 

Jesus, no doubt I will spend the remainder of today correcting behaviors and guiding decisions.  Today You've made me aware that this is an exciting privilege of cooperating with You in the task of wooing my children to You.  Today I will parent with energy and purpose as I remember the greater purpose behind every opportunity for discipline.

When Jesus Comes to Dinner

John 14:23 Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, (she) will obey my teaching.  My Father will love (her), and we will come to (her) and make our home with (her)."

My heart was skipping beats at regular intervals.  Not even the slew of back to back meetings that prevented me from doing that final cleaning could weaken my excitement.  My sister, Leigh, was coming to visit!

Company can be exciting but it can just as easily become a gruelling experience that sucks the life right out of me.  This occurs when I focus on preparing my home rather than my heart.  It honors my guests to greet them with well-planned meal, a comfortable bed and a clean bathroom.  However, their visit will fall flat if that is all that I have to offer them.

Today I am studying Matthew 10.  Here Matthew records the names of the twelve apostles.  Jesus send them out for some hands-on ministry training.  They don't pack money or clothes but rather discernment.  When they enter a town, Jesus instructs them to "find out who is worthy...and stay there". (Verse 11)

Don't you wish that your house had been on that short list of homes worthy to entertain Jesus' closest friends?  I know I do!  The text doesn't tell us what deems a home worthy but a survey of the scriptures can give us a clue:
  • Sincerity (Acts 2:46) - Authenticity goes a long way towards making guests both welcome and comfortable.
  • Wisdom (Proverbs 24:3-4) - A home governed by those who seek God's guidance and governance is one where a guest feels sheltered.
  • Love (2 Corinthians 7:2) - When a home has an abundance of love, there is spare affection, kindness and concern to care for the needs of visitors.
Jesus, far more important than the cleanliness of my home is the preparation of my heart to receive those You send my way.  Today I will dust my home with sincerity, sweep up some wisdom and paint a fresh coat of love in every room.  Come, Jesus.  All You send are welcome here.

Do You Know My Name?

My name is Shannon Milholland but most often I answer to Sharon Mulholland.  In fact, Sharon Mulholland has even been recorded into the official minutes of many a meeting.  I have long since given up the fight to be called by my correct name.  It seems no one knows what it is.

Today's passage is Matthew 9.  As Jesus moves from town to town, He brings the blessings of health, restoration and life to many.  In this chapter we find one of my favorite Bible characters.  I have always been drawn to the women in Scripture about whom an incident is recounted but their name is withheld.  They become a nameless woman representing the condition of all of us.

This woman had a major problem.  She had been bleeding in the female sense for twelve straight years.  In Jewish society, this would have made her untouchable - unfit to marry or even worship at the temple.  She bore a name but not one she desired.  She was branded "outcast", "unwanted" and "unworthy". 

Having drained her assets in pursuit of a cure, she was desperate to be made whole.  She had heard of Jesus that He had the power to heal and thought to herself that if she could just touch the hem of His garment she would be well.  She pressed her way through the crushing throng and as she brushed him, she was instantly healed.

What she didn't know was that she would receive more than physical healing.  Jesus turned to look at her.  I wonder how long it had been since someone had truly noticed her or taken the time to learn her name.  Jesus didn't just heal her; He gave her a new name.  He called her Daughter.  Gone was the shameful names she'd carried far too long.  He had healed her soul.

Jesus, if I think about it the real reason it bothers me that people call me the wrong name is because it means they don't really see me.  But You see.  You have erased every ugly title I have given myself and now You call me Daughter.