Category Archives: God

Count It ALL

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I have had the distinct pleasure of being called to jury duty at least a half dozen times within the last 10 years…and yes, just got another summons a few weeks ago. I have served on several small jury’s and had an encounter just this past fall on the inner workings of a federal grand jury. I have sat in a courtroom countless times and yet regardless of the size case or the severity of the case at hand – there has always been a common thread in the reactions of those awaiting the news of whether or not they would be called to serve.

Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 10.54.11 PMJury Duty. It’s funny how those two words stir such disgust in people. I was offered condolences. I was given a multitude of tips on how to get out of serving. And consistently across the board every single person made some kind of awful face at the news. My first time heading to a courthouse here in South Carolina – I put all of the warnings and advice aside, and went to fulfill my duty. And low and behold the attitudes of the people at the courthouse were even worse than those who had warned me not to go. It was a spectacle indeed. There were those overly dressed up and ready to demonstrate that they were just too important to be there. There were others who went to great pains to look awful; from their dress, to their facial expressions, to the way they sat in the chair – everything screamed – ‘you know you don’t want ME on this case’! There were those who appeared to be clueless…but didn’t seem to understand that there is a line between clueless and calculating. There were some who thought if they just looked out the window, they wouldn’t be called on as if this were high school (has that trick ever really worked even in school?). Even the lawyers and presiding judge made comments on the painfulness of this process and that it would all be over soon. I sat through that entire experience and came to one resounding conclusion…people hate trials.

It doesn’t matter whose trial it is…trials are inconvenient, stressful, painful, and hard. And yet… James, brother to Jesus, tells us to consider them pure joy. Specifically, he says Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.’  (James 1:2-4) Surely, that is a typo right? No, after checking almost every translation available they all say to consider trials as pure ‘joy’ in each one. The only differing verbiage comes from The Message and it says that we should ‘consider it a sheer gift’ – what?! Trials, a gift? A joy?

lilypadsAbout 30 min from my house is a really unique place called Cypress Gardens. It is one of the area plantations – a sweet mix of history and beauty filled with random wildlife and scenic views. Sadly it bore the brunt of some major damage in a massive flooding we had this past fall and is currently closed to the public as they try to rebuild. When I was there a few years ago I loved so much about my experience, but was overcome by the massive swamp that encompassed a huge portion of this 170 acre plantation. The swamp was edge to edge lily pads. It was ridiculous. And in many cases there seemed no break – no glimpses of the water they floated in. It was amazing. The ‘water’ was about as disgusting as you could imagine; covered in a nice thick, green, slimy film; a perfect oasis for the many alligators that I knew lay hidden beneath. Why I found this to be so remarkable were the countless waterlilies laced throughout the entire swamp. Waterlilies that were pure white, unblemished, in full beautiful bloom – gorgeous – and all I could do was ask ‘how?’ How on earth could something so beautiful come out of something so disgusting?

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Intrigued by the beauty of the waterlilies I went home and ‘googled’ how they could grow in all of that yuck. Turns out – they were designed for the yuck. Rooted deep in the ground beneath the swamp waters – they rise tall and strong so that that their blossoms and their leaves come up tall above the swampy waters. For each lily pad you see on the water – a beautiful bloom was once attached.

James tells us to consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds’; ‘you will face trials of many kinds- when you do think of it as pure joy’; ‘my friends consider yourselves fortunate when all kinds of trials come your way’; and my favorite – ‘consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.’ I hear that, I read that, I clearly see it printed before me and all I can do is ask ‘how’? How on earth can something so hard be counted as pure joy?

In Romans, Paul echoes these same thoughts… Romans 5:3-5 – “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who he has given us.’

Peter later confirms…in 1 Peter 1:6-9 – “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

And just in case, we haven’t quite gotten the picture just yet…

1 Peter 4:12-13 – “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”

There is not one of us that has escaped the experience of trials. Very rarely are they a once in a lifetime thing. For myself, trials have always been an underlying reality – in a way, like the waterlily, it seems as though I too was designed for the yuck. When I was little I lived in a home that had some pretty peculiar experiences. The youngest of three sisters we each had our own room – and we were each to stay in our own room. We had to ask permission to come downstairs – and that was usually only to ask a question, never to just hang out or play or watch TV.  I never learned to ride a bike, don’t remember ever playing on our swing set (though we did have one) and only once did I ever have a friend come over. We were not allowed to be in each other’s rooms. I often say it was like we were baby dolls placed on a shelf. When my mom wanted to play with us, she’d bring us off our shelf otherwise that is where we stayed. Now for me, as a mom of four very active children – in need of interaction and quality time and affection and conversation and fuel to their overactive dramatic minds and hearts – I am blown away by the reality that was my childhood. There were times of great sadness and loss, there were times of great fear and insecurity, and the details (too great and too numerous for any retelling) were anything but beautiful. That said, I can tell you that I absolutely look back and count it all joy. I found solace in the comfort of stuffed animals. I found creativity in the multitude of coloring books and stories that filled my shelves. I found comfort in knowing that I was not alone…as my sisters each endured and struggled. Oddly I look back on my childhood and it looks strikingly like the swamps of Cypress Gardens. Gross, disgusting, nothing you would want to swim in and yet out of it came something beautiful. I am not defined by my past or my upbringing. I have no disclaimers that say ‘because of these choices, because of these trials, Sarah is this …’

As an adult, the trials simply took on new form. I can easily think of financial trials and countless trials over failing cars. I can go back to multiple times of stress and busyness that placed a strain on my marriage. I can recall difficulties that arose in my pregnancy with Lacie and the hard questions and decisions regarding her health and life. I have vivid memories of enduring a miscarriage alone in the floor of my master bathroom. I can recall a few toxic friendships and poor choices in college. I can still instantly tear up as I recall the Lord allowing everything I loved – friends, work, church, and at the time…my purpose and heart – to be ripped from me with no clear explanation. I cringe a bit at the uncertainties of job changes and the unknowns of ‘what’s next’ that even face me right now. In John 16:33, John sums it up simply ‘in this world you will have trouble…but take heart (find joy, realize the gift) I (Jesus) have overcome the world.’

My sweet friend when it comes to the trials that we face in life – find comfort in the fact that we were designed to rise above the trials. We need to root ourselves into the deep soil that is Jesus Christ – and when we have, He will help us to rise tall and strong even in the most unlikely of scenarios. We have to stop looking angrily at the trials that come our way or that were our past. We have to look for how His hand held onto us…how His hand holds us still. A great pastor, Wayne Corderio explained it this way (and I’m merely paraphrasing) ‘sometimes we go through times of trial where instead of God lifting us over it he grabs us by the hand and drags us right through it. Sometimes that process of dragging us on the ground is repetitive. We are battered and beaten, but even in the dragging – he never let’s go of our hand.’ …even in the dragging – he never let’s go of our hand!

It is a fair question to ask…how on earth can something beautiful come from something so disgusting? Perseverance, character, hope, endurance, and a deepened faith in Christ – beautiful! Thank you Lord – if this is what brings me closer to you then keep on dragging me Lord – yes, I will count it ALL joy!

Caught Off Guard

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As a mom of four, a children’s director to 100’s and a Christ follower for over three decades – I am always looking for God in everything. I try to find the teachable moments that will resonate for my kids; those tangible moments where you can take a scripture or a truth from God’s word and watch it come alive through an illustration, an experience or even a story. Last week I was overwhelmed by such an encounter and sat down to capture it here so that I could remember. Now, normally when I write, I average a cool 15 or so folks reading it at best. So imagine my surprise when my simple retelling of a night at the movies hit numbers in the 6 digit range as it was shared all over the world.

I confess that the reaction has caught me somewhat off guard. I wasn’t writing it so much to illicit a response as I was hoping to just capture a moment. But as I am prone to do – I have spent the week trying to find God through this experience. What was the reason? What was the take away? What was He trying to teach me? It’s a funny thing, seeking after God – you will undoubtedly always find Him, but He will not always give you the answers you are after; a purposeful twist in having us continually looking for Him further. 😉

I can’t really say ‘and here is why the Lord allowed this,’ but here are a few take aways that it has brought to mind.

  • People are funny. I received an outpouring of thoughts and comments on the things that I wrote and among those were some pretty funny questions. Questions that I will not be answering, but found funny nonetheless.
    • Am I going to start doing movie reviews on all movies now?
    • Your kids don’t really talk that way do they?
    • (and my personal favorite) You are aware that you’re not a perfect mom, right? 😉
My only response to these and other questions posed: ‘For am I now trying to win the favor of people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ.’  Galatians 1:10 HSCB

 

  • IMGP6694You are watched even when you’re not paying attention. The first thing that came to mind through this experience was a game of hide-n-seek that I played with my first born when he was just three years old. He thought he was so perfectly hidden behind the curtains in his room – when as you can see from the picture – it was pretty evident where he stood. Very often we don’t pay attention to those around us – we don’t notice if they are watching us or if they hear the things we say. We throw a thought or comment on social media, we go about our daily routines, we carry on…normally with our own objectives and plans in mind and little else. We forget that people might be observing the things we say or do. We underestimate the example we are or the witness we could be. If we claim to be followers of Christ – people will be listening, people will be observing. Do the things you believe and claim match the life you live? Are you someone that draws others toward Christ or make them want to run the other direction?
‘For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done for you.’ John 13:15 HSCB

 

  • Words are powerful. I am a lover of ‘words’. Words have the power to bring forth untapped emotions. They can bring healing and hope. They can tear down and destroy. They can be used to demonstrate unbelievable amounts of love or to inflict unspeakable levels of hurt. Words that have been written can be revisited over and over or used as walls to hide behind as we throw out anything and everything toward another. In the course of this last week I experienced both sides of that coin; powerful words of encouragement and gratefulness…biting words of disagreement and anger. While I did not feel the need to respond to either of these positions – how it resonated that it was because of my words that these strong emotions rose up. Our words are powerful. Are we building each other up? Are we tearing each other down? Are we driving anger or hate or are we seeking to bring moments of hope? The gift of words has been given to each of us – how are we yielding this powerful weapon?
‘I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.’ Matthew 12:36-37 HSCB

 

  • My God is far bigger than me. I don’t really need to elaborate much on this one. I am mess of a woman. I am flawed in many ways. I am terribly busy with the things of this life. I am hopelessly sarcastic. I am insecure. I have a long list of titles (mama, wife, best friend, sister, daughter, co-worker, boss, teacher, writer, enemy, Christ-follower…). I am just ‘me’. But God can and does do a lot with the ‘just me’s’ of this world. My plan was to capture a moment, God clearly had something else in mind.
‘Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.’ Proverbs 19:21 NIV

 

  • The rocks WILL cry out. At the end of the day I have absolutely no clue why that article spread to so many so quickly. I don’t know how the Lord fully used my words, and I am totally aware and fully confident that this time next week I will be resting comfortably again with my faithful 15. What I do know is that at every moment and in every opportunity I want to bring Him glory…in what I say, what I do…what I write. If I take nothing else away from this…if I can do nothing but encourage you – may it be in this…In the good moments – proclaim His glory. In the difficult times – praise His name. In the random, in the planned, in the unexpected, in the funny, in the serious…in all things at all times may we see Him, honor Him, praise Him, glorify Him and point others toward Him.
‘Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise…’ ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭96:2-4‬a NIV

 

An Unlikely View…a Different Review

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untitledAs I sit here this evening – I am overwhelmed with words and emotion and yet unsure how to express either. Days ago, I walked into a movie theater to view a movie I had been excited about since I had first heard it was in the works. Beauty and the Beast. I was 15 years old when the animated version came out. I remember watching it with my sister when she was home on break from college. I remember at the time feeling so moved by such a beautiful movie. The story hit me personally somehow; the music moved me; the characters impacted me. I remember even then thinking – how can this beautifully crafted cartoon have such an affect on me? So to say that I was both excited and nervous about the live action version is a bit understated. Excited to revisit a favorite in a new way and yet nervous because what if they totally destroyed the story I loved so much (it is after all Hollywood, where that is pretty par for the course).

Weeks before the movie was to be released – the world suddenly seemed turned on it’s side – as various reports about additional elements in the movie began to spin. I listened and observed an anger rise up in many; I heard the actual cries of ‘kill the beast’ at the hint of an ugliness that may be present in the film. Based on little information – I saw decisions made, lines drawn, and judgments locked in. I began to research sources that I trusted, and their reviews didn’t seem to align with the many angry voices I kept hearing. So four days ago, with girlfriends in tow, I went to see this newest version of my all time favorite animated movie. It was overwhelming. The cinematography, the music, the costumes, the littlest details, the story. It was far more beautiful than I was prepared for. The story so true to the original and the additional elements that were laced in – so perfectly placed and rich. For as much as I was swept away and entrenched into this poor provincial town – I did view certain moments and characters through the lens of the reviews I had heard before walking into the theater. Did I notice anything? Was there an agenda? Was there a moment? Those things couldn’t help but cross through my mind – as I watched from the perspective of ‘mama’, ‘minister’ and even just ‘friend’ for I knew I would be questioned from each of these vantage points. As I processed, I was so very moved by the character in question; watching a transformation of heart and conscience change him – I felt so proud. Then watching a hopeless ‘beast’ understand where his choices had lead him and yet he was able to hope again and an absolute jerk of a character, who swayed the masses and yet never learned a thing…I cannot say enough.

IMG_3599I knew that I wanted to take my two oldest children – my 12 year old – who is wired just like his mama with a deep heart and an overall love for theater and musicals; and my 9 year old, who has struggled thus far in life in often living out the role of Gaston more times than not. As we made our way to the theater, I had a little heart-to-heart with the kids. I asked them to do me a favor as they watched the movie tonight…I asked them to watch it with God in mind. I challenged them both to see if they could find any ‘God moments’ in the film. The opening monologue that spoke of there being no good in the beast – immediately had my 12 year old leaning over – saying ‘right there…that’s a God moment. Without God – there is no good in any of us’. The movie carried on and it soon got to the scene where the beast saves Belle from the wolves. My 9 year old leaned over and asked ‘why would he do that mama? why would he save her?’ – My simple answer in the moment was ‘because he is not evil’ – Her response ‘It’s God in us that would cause us to make decisions like that, isn’t it?’ Needless to say, I laid a challenge down to my kids and they both quickly affirmed they were up for that challenge. I soon began to look at the movie through this lens as well. Can I tell you how even more remarkably beautiful this movie became with God in mind?

free in christAs we walked out of the theater – my oldest was choked up. ‘Mom…the scene where the beast changes back to a man. That’s what happens when we give our hearts to Christ. The bad choices we made, the ugliness that may have been all over us – is cleared away. We are made new in Him.’ My Lacie chimed in ‘Mama, he had no hope. He thought he would be a beast forever – but with love he found that hope. That’s God, right? If God is love, we can find our hope in him, right?’ Back to my oldest…’The character of Gaston was a lot like Satan. Satan often makes himself look ‘beautiful’ but there is no good in him. There was no good in Gaston – none – and yet everyone (except a few) were swayed by his appearance. What a scary realization that so many can be so easily swayed by the enemy.’ The conversation continued the entire way home.

This movie was not created to be a catalyst for the gospel. It was not designed with an agenda to lead people to the cross or challenge them in their walk with the Lord…and yet that is exactly what our family took away. Was there sin in the movie – yes. There was a hateful man that treated women and men like the dirt beneath his feet, who lied, who abused, who lifted himself above everyone else. There was the inclusion of magic, of prejudice, the belittling of women, the hint of homosexuality, the abuse of the elderly, the worship of idols to name just a few. Not a one of these sins greater than the next; not a one less ungodly than the the other. None of them so blatant – all just a piece of the tapestry of the film. As a mama, I had a choice. I could have pointed out all of these things to my children before going into the theater.I could have painted a picture of hating all of these things and they would have watched the movie through that lens – absolutely. Instead, I asked them to view with God in mind. They did observe those same things, these sinful moments, but with the perspective of God in mind they viewed them with a broken heart, from a place of understanding our need for Jesus in this world. My little girl hopeful that she too would come to a place where she trusted the hope that is in Jesus – that she doesn’t have to be a ‘beast ‘ forever. My oldest challenged in his faith, strengthened in his walk. Their mama moved beyond what she can adequately express.

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The lessons I gleaned with God in mind tonight…are too many to elaborate on in an already long message. However, in one of the new songs written for this version of Beauty and the Beast – the words read ‘Love is beauty, love is pure. Love pays no mind to desolation. It flows like a river through the soul. Protects, proceeds, and perseveres and makes us whole.’ How can we not see God in those words?

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8

I will simply say … when we look for evil, we will find it – every time. It won’t be hard to find and we won’t even have to look too deep…if humans are a part…sin will be present. When we look for God – He can and will be found. Every time. Put that lens of ‘looking for Him’ on – it is amazing what He will allow you to see.