Worthy of Thanksgiving

Her eyes were dull and dart like. I could feel her hot gaze on me from across the room and I stood my ground as I positioned myself by the doorway to prevent students from bolting.

I had never met this girl before. I was her substitute teacher, and she hated me. I hadn’t even spoken yet … There was an announcement at the beginning of the class from the back of the classroom that I was the white teacher and an unsettled atmosphere was unavoidable.

The girl in the back hated me… or hated something, or someone… I chose curiosity over accusation – and wondered about her story. I recently read about a man who didn’t believe God existed. He didn’t believe until he was faced with the reality of evil. It was a discussion about evil that caused him to say, “In my work as a lawyer, I have seen so much evil. I have always believed in the power of evil. Tonight, it struck me that if there is a power of evil, it makes sense to believe that there is also a power of good.” That night, he became a Christian.

I think that girl in my classroom had encountered pain, sorrow, and cruelty. I believe God didn’t author this for her – but evil exists a result of humans having free choice. Real love doesn’t exist without real choice. God is love.

Father, when we encounter hurt, disappointment, failure or disillusionment, help us to see your goodness outshine the shadows of the broken world. You say you are victorious over all brokenness, once and for all, by your blood and your love. This truth is always worthy of thanksgiving.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32

Peace Battle

Are you in a battle for your peace?

“In order to bring peace to others, we first need to find and hold on to peace wthin ourselves. Peace means wholeness, soundness, well-being, oneness with God – every kind of blessing and good.” – Nicky Gumbel

In his book Integrity, Dr. Henry Cloud defines integrity as having the courage to meet the demands of reality. I think we all could use a dose of this courage! Biblical Integrity is wholeness. Wholeness is peace. Cloud says people with an integrated character are able to orient towards transcendence. They want to serve something greater than themselves.

All throughout history, men and women have given their lives in battle for the peace of future generations: The ultimate sacrifice. There is a widespread understanding that true peace is worth pursuing, even at enormous costs. However, true peace – that transcends understanding – cannot be found apart from the person and presence of Jesus.

Don’t just live for something greater.

Live for Someone greater.

“Riches have never yet given anybody either peace or rest.” – Billy Sunday

“God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” – C.S. Lewis

“Peace does not dwell in outward things, but within the soul.” – Francois Fenelon

Peace is always worth the fierce pursuit.

Peace pursued you first.

He is our peace.

The Final Battle is won for the peace of all generations.

He Is Real

I spent this week with the coolest group of pre-teens at a Bible Camp on a small piece of Saskatchewan beauty where lakes, trees, deer and bears make people feel small in the wonder of creation.

As camp speaker, part of my mandate was to simply “be available.” This made for intriguing story-times, coffee dates, country walks, lake explorations, cabin adventures, painting excursions and bike trails. Most notably, this made space for me to hear a wide range of stories from countless people.

“Being available” opened time for me to feel the stark contrast of the joy and sorrow around me. I heard from a mama whose heart ached for her little one, recently buried. Not long after, I sang Happy Birthday to a joyful seventeen year old, while enthusiasm spilled out of her every cell. Later, I heard about devastating loss and trauma from campers and throughout the week, acknowledged the accomplishments of campers with shouts of wild joy

… And every night, I spoke with certainty the Grace Gospel – that touches it all. Right in the center of it all. Available to all.

A living relationship with Jesus is the foundation that will anchor the human soul through the unavoidable highlights and hills that will pave our paths.

Today is my friend Leah’s birthday, and simply by reflecting on her life today – I am moved to see the stories I heard this week, the good and the bad, through the redemptive lens of Gospel truth.

This year, I have seen Leah face awful pain with deep determination to trust Jesus. I have seen her celebrate the upswings of life and walk with resilience on the toughest days. I have seen her root her life in Gospel Grace in remarkable ways that have brought transformation in her own life and to everyone around her. Seeing Leah celebrate this birthday with an incredible man by her side is a picture of redemption.

Yes, there will always be a mingling of happy and hurting days for each of us. However, the Hope found of Jesus is a real one. Leah’s life has reminded me that the healing and the help of Jesus acts more powerfully than a pat answer, a band-aid cover-up, or wishful thoughts. He is real. His power is real. And His very presence is transformative light for all of life. The good and the bad. Right in the center of it all. Available to all. To transform all.

Tell Your Mother’s Day Story

Telling our stories with gratitude can literally enlarge the dimensions of our hearts.

Brenee Brown writes, “There’s a surprisingly simple reason we want to own, integrate, and share our stories of struggle. We do this because we feel the most alive when we’re connecting with others and being brave with our stories of struggle … stories actually cause our brains to release cortisol and oxytocin. These chemicals trigger the uniquely human abilities to connect, empathize, and make meaning. Story is literally in our DNA.” – Rising Strong

Holley Gerth says, “All women are mothers. Because all women bring life to the world in some way.”

Everyone has been influenced by a life-giving woman in some way. Who are the women you are celebrating today?

Take time to tell her story. Tell her she matters. If she has passed on, thank God for her story and influence in your life. Telling our stories with gratitude can literally enlarge the dimensions of our hearts.

I wrote this Mother’s Day note to my mama this morning.

Mamma, You are magnificent. You taught me to garden, to work hard, you delighted in my bouncing, you encouraged my writing and signing and took joy in my exploring. You held my hand when I was sick or sad and you provided for every need I’ve had. You’ve given your time, energy and heart. You have loved with passion and explored your dazzling interests, books, learning and reading. You have modeled determination and courage and have sat by m side on the piano harmonizing for the love of music. We’ve planted flowers and watered and watched shepherds and biked back roads and I’ve watched you walk circles around our kitchen when you were unwell and celebrated each lap. You are an innovator and a brilliant thinker and you take joy in Jesus’ creative character through nature. You loved your mama until her last breath and continued to learn from her until she went to be with Jesus.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles … The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who errs and comes up short … who spends himself on a worthy cause … and who – if he fails – at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Mama, you live in the arena – and I am cheering you on as you continue to cheer me on in all I do. Happy Mother’s Day, Brave-Hearted Woman.

This is my Mother’s Day Story. What’s yours?

Choose Life

Possession: “Visible power or control over something, as distinct from lawful ownership; holding or occupancy.”

Ownership: “The state of being an owner.”

I own a road bike, but if it sits untouched and I don’t exert visible power to use it – it doesn’t enhance my life much. When I exert visible power in my life to occupy that bike, my blood pumps, health improves and my soul lives large.

Joshua wanted his people to live large too.

“So Joshua said to the people of Israel, “How long will you put off going in to take possession of the land, which the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you?”

This morning, I am grateful for mind-power. I have choice. I take possession of God’s power by choosing to think God’s thoughts. Gratitude. Purpose. Chosen. Loved. JOY.

“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life.”

The Invisible Important

My mom was sick and we were waiting for answers. I was in junior high school and literally sick with worry. I couldn’t concentrate at school and I constantly felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest cutting off my airways. I remember school classes feeling like they would never end – and I just wanted to escape that awful feeling. Fear was becoming normal to me and I was feeling squashed inside.

Fear.

This is a shared human experience – we all face fear at different times of life. Recently, I sat with an elderly friend who feels helpless in her care home – and I recognized the blazing fear in her eyes that I’ve felt in my spirit before.

Frustration fumed in her voice as she described the helplessness she feels currently in life, unable to do tasks for herself and having others do everything for her – usually doing things differently than she would prefer.

Fear often grows when you know you are not in control. When the roadmap ahead is unclear or nonexistent.

When Jesus gives instructions for overcoming fear – He says perfect love casts out fear.

God is love.

When Moses felt fearful about the future and was seeking God for answers about His life – God didn’t show Moses the future but instead showed Moses more of Who He is. He revealed his glory to Moses and passed by Him powerfully. God didn’t solve Moses problems right away or change his circumstances. He changed Moses’ perspective.

Fear squeezes out the most important priorities of life – Love God. Love people. When fearful thoughts invade, the “invisible important” things and people begin to feel unimportant and autopilot takes over – we do what needs to be done – and have energy for little else.

The tangible important things still get done. The laundry and the bills – but the invisible important like visiting the sick, practicing gratitude, prayer and play get cut from the schedule. There is no energy for such things. Love gets pushed to the sidelines.

The problem is – often it is the unseen important that bring healing, perspective and crush fear.

It is often the unseen important that helps us to see more of who God is. When fear is rising, let the invisible important trump the tangible important in your life.

Stephen Furtick says we bring the natural and God brings the supernatural. He reminds us all that we need to make the effort to make changes in order to experience the good life Jesus intends – to live fear free.

Too often the “tangible important” trumps the  “Invisible important” and fear grows.

Jesus lived differently. He always prioritized the seemingly invisible. This is what made his life on earth remarkably rich…

Jesus visited the unpopular tax collector Zacchaeus, who was perched in tree branches to catch a glimpse of the radical Rabbi. Jesus saw the lame man at the city gates, begging and healed him. He noticed the bleeding woman who touched his cloak and received her healing by faith. He valued the children everyone else deemed unimportant.

Keep the invisible important on your schedule.

See more of who God is.

Feel fear flee.

2018 Praise Promise

The hospital room was quiet and dim. A man who spent his whole life farming, feeding, growing, leading, and singing sat in a small Saskatchewan hospital room with flowers and cards on the wall on New Years Eve. He knew me, my sweet uncle.

A few years earlier – we had sung together on Christmas Eve. We sang his favorite Christmas worship song boisterously, Go Tell It On The Mountain. My aunt Vera, who passed just over a year ago, had bobbed with marked enthusiasm as we harmonized.

This New Years Eve – his sparkless eyes met mine with weariness. I asked several questions, but he was having a hard time hearing and understanding me. It seemed unlikely to bring life this difficult hospital room.

I remembered The Christmas Gospel chant.

Mountain Measurer becomes Creative Carpenter. The love song. Grace.

I asked my uncle to sing. His eyes grew large and his voice bounced down the hospital walls and halls.

And we sang, Go Tell It on The Mountain.

And the Gospel lived loud in the silent hospital on New Years Eve.

And we joined the choirs in paradise where Vera lives now.

And God reminded me, I can count on His promise.

Whatever 2018 may bring you – supernatural joy is at your disposal and praise will lead you there.

Praise births passion. Passion drives a purpose-marked life.

Jesus himself gives joy-filled passion as we celebrate Gospel truth.

Our relationship with Him is restored. Acceptance, forgiveness and freedom.

He has a unique path marked for your 2018, and as you practice praising – you will unleash all you need for your 2018 God-breathed mission.

Let songs of gratitude and praise fill and spill from your days in 2018.

Whether you find yourself performing for massive crowds or tucked in a silent hospital room – the joy of Jesus will be yours in full as you go tell it on your mountain.

“…The joy of the Lord is your strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10

Be Strange in 2018

To make strange means to “act up or be nervous or shy when encountering a stranger or strange situation.”

This Christmas was the first for my niece – and all of the overwhelming firsts had her distraught at our large (my dad has 17 siblings – I mean LARGE!) family gathering. There was no consoling her or quieting those monstrous lungs – the girl was out of sorts and the strangeness of the situation was too much for her.

Her dad spent some time calming her in a quiet place in the lively hall and finally contentment painted her face adorably. There is so much that little girl cannot yet understand – but the whispers of her dad were deeply soothing. She returned to the Christmas celebration ready to interact and be pleasantly present in the midst of the clamor that continued.

Christmas can be a mix of beauty and struggle. The lights flicker, the celebration chorus’ ring, and the contrasting pain – for many – is deep. For many, food and festivities are plentiful – but others find themselves in hospitals, funeral homes and arguments.

A brand new year is emerging and it holds 365 days to be spent with care, intention, joy and God-given direction. People around the planet script personal resolutions wishing for varied results during this season.

Studies show that happiness is our greatest desire. Happiness means to “feel or show pleasure or contentment”. We want strength to show up in friendships, workplaces and families present and content in the midst of shifting circumstances, just like a quieted young one.

However, a quieted life wouldn’t typically classify as an exhilarating list topper for 2018 resolutions. This sounds mundane and the commitment to practice being still doesn’t show the instant results many of us are conditioned to desire.

However, over time

Results will be felt.

And undoubtedly, what is felt will eventually alter what is seen.

Mother Teresa was not yet a celebrated international figure when she spent her days with the dying and the sick. She routinely slipped away for hours to be still – in contemplative prayer. There were unmet needs … there will always be needs … but she stopped to be still. Mother Teresa understood she needed to experience God in order to return to the craze of the world powerfully present. There is much she did not understand – but to be with God is to be okay.

To be with God is to accept whatever life is and to perceive the guiding light for what is to be.

This year, as 2018 lurches close – Mother Teresa’s life reminds me that unglamorous silence is invaluable and is the grounding needed for any action plan to truly succeed.

This seems strange …

And making strange is undesirable both to the person experiencing it and to everyone around.

But to be strange means, to do something “not previously visited, seen or encountered; unfamiliar or alien.”

It is a strange thing to be quiet in our culture; untrodden territory for many.

But to be strangely silent with God in our bustling world helps us to avoid making strange.

Perhaps the best uncomplicated resolution we can make, is to prioritize quiet, in order to live powerfully present and contented in 2018.

Where Hope Sits

Hope always sits within your reach, always.

Hope is “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.”

Some days, It’s downright hard to Hope.

One frustrated student joins our math class late most days with little motivation to lift a pencil. Her name is Hope.

The promise I’ve made her is this: I am on your side. I will support you in every way I can while you persevere and grow your skills and understanding. I won’t change my mind about you, decide you are not worth my time, or give up on you. I believe in you, this is my promise. Will you believe me? Will you trust that what I am saying is true? Will you choose to hope?

Sometimes, I feel unmotivated too. Why does it matter? What’s the point?

The promise Jesus makes to me is this: I am on your side. I will support you in every way you need while you grow and learn all I have designed for you. I will not change my mind about you – I completely love you. I will not decide you are not worth my time or give up on you. I believe in you, this is my promise. Will you believe me? Will you trust that what I am saying is true? Will you choose to hope?

This is the ground-shaking promise of a committed God, to me.

And I am reminded:

Hope doesn’t come through believing in myself, my abilities, or that my circumstances will change.

Hope appears when I believe what He says about me is true. Hope is trusting.

Choosing Hope brings change:

  1. It changes how we view ourselves

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come” – 2 Cor 5:17

  1. It changes what we value

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” – Matt 6:21

  1. It changes what we do with our lives

“When Jesus saw him laying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, Do you want to get well?” – John 5:6

Hope always sits within your reach, and the brave heart reaches out and opens up to receive it.

Hope reached out and it’s changing her heart. She recently wrote to me:

I believe in myself in this class and I will keep going because I know I can do amazing!

Hope is not the belief that you can change – or your life can change.

Hope is the belief that Jesus can change you – and there is enough for everyone to reach out and take it.

Fierce Hearted

Early this morning I moved with gym beats while watching the interviews of hockey players on Sports Center. Oh, what it must take to live a life under a microscope. Sports icons spread messages to masses with their words and actions and their fame makes them far-reaching influencers and they can choose how to use it. The recent devastation in Las Vegas is a reminder that darkness encroaches when people use their freedom and influence to damage. As Christians, we carry the light of the world and the shock of the shootings is a reminder to move light into all corners and shadows of the world.

Two things we all have; freedom and influence.

As I kept the elliptical moving this morning, I remembered the retreat I recently attended near the Great Falls of Ontario. As I sat around tables with leaders from across the nation, Author and speaker Holley Gerth shared about living as a public figure and influencer. Holley spoke a poignant message with tear-spilling passion, reminding me of our shared call, as light carriers, to influence.

The title of Holley’s message and new-released book is, Fierce-Hearted.

Fierce means to be “marked by unrestrained zeal.”

To Holley, A heart full of zeal coupled with God’s love is unbeatable, and blazes with true light.

By every standard of success society would use to measure, Holley meets the mark! She is a best-selling author, speaker and life coach and her blog, incourage, is wildly popular! But Holley is a fierce-hearted influencer with a Kingdom measuring stick…

When asked about her successful writing career, Holley’s eyes were pricked by tears and passion – the kind that begins deep down in your belly and compels you to speak honest words. She said a person should write to serve readers … It is a service; an act of giving – of generosity. It is not about self-promotion or an ego boost. That kind of influencing will always disappoint.

She said, “It is about loving and serving your reader and publisher … it is about stewarding your gifts … it is about generously sharing your heart with people.”

Holley’s words sat with me and spun in my mind. “To have a soft heart in a hard world is not weakness, it’s strength.”

The Gospel spreading founder of the Alpha Program, Nicky Gumbel says there are two ways to live. Either we live in strength for God’s glory or weakness for our own.

He says we give God glory by:

  1. Becoming more like Jesus.
  2. Serving humbly, and sometimes secretly.
  3. Loving people, one at a time.

Sometimes, I complicate this sacred faith journey that is meant to be joy –but Holley’s fierce hearted commitment to be light has reminded me to fix my eyes on the greatest fierce-hearted influencer of human history, Jesus.

So, when the world seems in an upheaval, remember to be fierce and trust,

Greater is He living in you, child of God, than He who is in the world (Paraphrase 1 John 4:4-6).

Check out Holley’s blog at holleygerth.com!