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Peace of Mind

As Pastor Dave said during the announcements before last Sunday's sermon by Courtney H., "It doesn't take much salt to change the flavor." (Of course, he was referencing Mark 9:50.) In The Living Bible translation, the verse is stated as follows: "Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other."

So, according to that verse, salt equates with peace, right? Being uniquely made in the image of God is a right we have to use to combat anxiety and worry, correct? Because let me tell you, there was one time and a situation in my early childhood in which only I could have added just a smidge too much flavor to my surroundings.

Two of the most popular films of my childhood - and two of my favorites - were "Sister Act" and "Sister Act II." Among the many lessons anyone could take from the films depicting a Vegas "Has Been" turned humorously and slightly rebellious nun-in-hiding, perhaps one of the greatest themes was "Tenacity," i.e. "Believing it can be done against all odds." Those movies bolstered so much of my faith...in both myself and the Lord. They showed not only the power and responsibility of how teaching can shape the next generation, but, for me personally, they also provided a Gospel-like context and meaning to the Catholic school system I, a Protestant, grew up in. Yes, it's true: Singing nuns helped me feel at home in a foreign world.

So, when - in Kindergarten - it was finally my turn to volunteer for one of the lessons on stage in front of a 1,000 person congregation, I had only one basic task: Remove the shoebox labeled "compassion" from the middle of the tower of shoeboxes that had other Christ-like words written on them so the tower would come crashing down and the point that, without compassion, love had no substance, would have been made.

Trying to be funny because I was nervous about making a good impression and with anxiety getting the best of me, just like in Sister Act, instead of doing what I knew I was wanted to do, I rearranged the boxes and handed the "compassion" box to the priest instead of allowing the tower to fall. I promise you, I did not intend to be snarky but, rather, give everybody a good laugh, and the congregation did roar; but, the priest did not, and he kicked down the tower anyway with his light-up Nike's. Fun Fact about your blogger that I bet you already guessed: I found myself in the Principal's office for a few afternoons because of that little stunt, but I regret absolutely none of that moment in time. Like when anxiety is momentarily defeated or you have a positive breakthrough in your self-doubt, you could say that moment "kick started" my involvement with church. And here I am today absolutely in love with, and with a writing gig, here at Capital Christian Center. I've come a long way since my days of frustrating clerical orders. See? God really can redeem just about anything or any situation. All you need do is ask Him for help.

Of course, as an adult, my choices and life-directions carry far more consequence than my choices as a Kindergartener. Questions I know I've recently wondered: Why should I bother studying when I go back to school if I don't have a chance of getting a perfect grade? Why should I try to become healthier and avoid diabetes when weight-loss success is so slow? What's the purpose of getting out of bed if I don't have a job?

Worry, worry, with a side of more worry.

It's as if the six, legendary journalism staples - Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? - have arguably become weapons of the battle for everyone's thoughts. However, intentionally selecting the positive solutions is a task that's easier said than done. When the enemy wages war for the submission of your thinking, he comes to "steal, kill, and destroy," and it's not easy to stand against instead of succumb. But Jesus, mankind's savior and God's planned contradiction to anxiety, states, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." Christ truly is where we can find the peace (and strength) that passes all understanding.

Courtney H. also preached that there were four practical ways to remember how to see the light in the dark maze of anxiety and uncertainty in whatever context it presents itself in your life, and they're good tips:

1. Don't Believe Everything You First Think (and fall for the Enemy's picture that reality in situations is a mirage)
2. Don't Take the Bait of the Enemy (and think that the purpose of failure is anything other than a point on a map to direct you how to use your future time efficiently)
3. Change Your Diet (feed yourself with The Word)
4. Get Into Relationship with Others (and don't live and teach the Gospel out of "theory"...truly believe in the saving power of grace)

Fortunately, the Bible teaches that in order to gain wisdom, all we have to do is ask and it will be granted to us. I sort of bounced through childhood and chose to learn things the hard way most of the time. Asking first would have been easier. Perhaps many of you can relate. But in this battle of anxiety obscuring God's intentions for your life, we must remember to cling to the promises of His word. They are the hedges that line and guide our path as we look to God (and to others for assistance) for the right direction out of whatever maze - hopelessness, depression, anxiety - in which we find ourselves stuck.

Summed up? It sounds good to me. Or, as Sister Mary Clarence would say, "I will follow Him...wherever He may go."

from Miracles of Hope, June 3-4, 2017

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A Real Mom

As many moms can probably relate to their children, I was not one of those toddlers who avoided dirt. (I later became a journalist, too...ba-duh-da!) Seriously, however, I used to drop bugs into my mother's cupped hands claiming that the variety of insects were always "friendly bugs." And God bless my mother, she held out her palm every single time. I'm not saying the bug never enjoyed an instant, free flight to the living room or wherever else my mother could throw with the force of Felix Hernandez, but she was always there, acting excited (and totally terrified) about everything I had to show her. I still love her for it.

Or, perhaps, there was the moment my mother realized I really did have a concern for animals when she found old, moldy carrots in the Christmas stockings one year. When asked for an explanation (I was four), apparently, I am told I answered with, "So the reindeer wouldn't get hungry after Santa ate all the cookies."

Then again, there was the time - when I was a teenager - that my mother refused to let me go to a baseball game with my Dad because I wasn't dressed appropriately. (In retrospect, I really wasn't. She was right.) Of course, there was also the time when, in college, I suffered from a depression and couldn't even open a book. My mother drove the hour and a half to my college and stayed with me for a week, outlining my material, reading with me to study, and preparing me for exams so I wouldn't fall behind in my classes.

I think one of my favorite moments had to be when I shipped my then-fiancé out to meet them, and his flight arrived an hour and a half before mine. When I got there, I found out that not only had my Dad paid the tip for the cab, but found my husband happily chatting with my Mom in the kitchen. Forget that I arrived, she just adopted this young man she had never met; by not tearing herself away from him to make a big deal about my arrival, I knew I'd found the man who could fit with my quirky family.

Motherhood is never easy. Joyous? Yes. Frustrating? Yes. Not for the feint of heart? Yes. But a real mom is someone who will pry open your diary to read the answers you say are sacred if she suspects that there is a reason she needs to see the material. A real mom is someone who stays up all night baking fried chicken for your entire high school Jazz Band when you promised the director you would. (True story.) A real mom is someone who loves you no matter what you throw at her, even if the throwing is temporarily throwing her away during those ever-blessed, hormonally induced, "heart attack" years known as "The Teens."

She holds out the hope that you will one day love her back. Perhaps you already do. But that steady, consistent love is something that deserves a lot of honor, no matter whether your mother is someone who deserves it on the inside, outside, both, or neither at all. As Pastor Dave said over the weekend, we live in a culture of dishonor. In order to develop deeper relationship bonds, we need to "break free from the pain of life" when we practice honor. Or, as he put it more eloquently, "Love outlasts hate." Every person was once somebody's son or daughter, and even if forgiveness is tough in some situations, the Lord is capable of healing anything - particularly the emotions of the one who forgives. If the "performance" (love) is not possible, then the "mechanics" (honor) are more than required - they're Biblically mandated (see the first of the Ten Commandments). But, as Pastor Dave indicated, the "honor" you practice is really meant to change your own heart - or deepen it even wider if you're already metaphorically there. The Lord is concerned about each one of us as individuals, and, therefore, society as a whole. He will never stop loving us, and the "honor" we practice towards our mothers (whether they're related or not), is a reflection of our understanding that the creator of this universe knows the number of hairs on our heads and created us by name.

So, how can you love your mother? Pastor Dave offered four ideas:

  1.  Love Her Unconditionally ("When God loves us unconditionally, it's not based on our merit, but His character.")
  2.  Forgive Her Compassionately ("Forgive as the Lord forgave you.")
  3.  Remember Her and Speak Gratefully ("Whatever you're grateful for, you'll be attracted to. What ever you're ungrateful for, you won't be attracted to it."]
  4.  Treat Her Kindly ("Take the time to listen, make a phone call, or show some other practical form - no matter how small - of respect.")

There is an episode of "All in the Family" (for those of you young Millenials, it's a landmark, scripted sitcom from the 1970's) where Mike, one of the four main characters, outright hugs Archie out of affection, his father-in-law with whom he is always in a state of contention, after he witnesses a phone call from a different father who is pleading with his son to return home for a visit. The other father offers everything to his son, including money, to beg the defiant, ungrateful son to return. Identifying with not wanting to be like this other son, in what is meant to be a lighthearted moment, Mike then immediately goes and hugs the bewildered Archie...who is not exactly the "hugging" type...effectively saying "thank you" for all Archie had done to help him over the years.

In a show filled with humor, this example is one of many instances of poignancy, understanding the complex bond between parent and child. Although between a father and child, it illustrates an excellent example of how we should honor our mothers, too. Something like that anyways. Therefore, I encourage you, if you are on good terms with your mother, go give her a random hug or phone call and just say thank you. If your situation is more complex, pray to your heavenly Father to give you the capacity to forgive. An eternal display of affection is well worth your time, too. Whatever you do, may it further deepen your walk with the Lord. After all, He is leader of your soul...and He had a mom, too.

from Miracles of Hope, May 13-14, 2017

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Driver's Ed

I'll just go ahead and admit it. Several years ago when I first moved to Washington state, I was on my way home from visiting my grandmother in Bothell and quite innocently once ran over a curb making a left turn...at a 7-11, in Fife, on my way home, in the middle of the night, in my uncle's car. (Insert "oops" emoji face here.) The definition of the word "stuck" does not even come close. It would be more accurate to describe the car as "precariously balanced on a beam, wheels spinning toward a great distance of nowhere." I was s-t-u-c-k stuck. Once an officer showed up to rescue me, even he wouldn't leave my side until "Triple A" showed up. At the time, I was having sudden images of myself starring in one of those Farmer's Insurance commercials...You know, where the drivers end up in some pretty unimaginiable situations that are - oddly - actually possible? I think my favorite was the truck that drowned in a frozen lake yet was still "covered by the insurance." Surely my rates wouldn't go up because of a left turn. Ha! (Oh, the joys of adulting. Couldn't I have just made three turns to the right instead?)

Some former New Yorker I made. I felt so ridiculous that I felt I should've turned in my "right to talk tough" card, too. Here's the kicker: I really didn't see the curb. The left turn looked free and clear. (I have since learned while living in this state that ya'll don't like left turns as much as everyone seems to love a random, misplaced divider here and there.) My slight mishap was apparently so memorable that - to this day - they've added reflective posts to line the hidden curb and discourage future left turns. (Insert laughing so hysterically that you're crying emoji face here.) Although glad I could make a change for the sake of public safety, I can't help but think that if I weren't so eager for a cup of New York coffee (I have dutifully since then switched to Starbucks and Denny's), I would not have ended up in that mess in the first place.

So when, on Saturday night, Pastor Dave preached that "the only problem with God changing our circumstances and not changing the way we think is that the repeated old way of thinking will only re-create your circumstances," I couldn't help but think of the lesson I'd learned about not making a left turn in Washington state. True, the Lord did change my circumstances via a very nice "Triple A" agent who never laughed once. However, if I had not changed my thinking/attitude - and was determined to one day make a successful left turn into a parking lot, I'd probably have incurred more damage by now than a mildly irritated Uncle.

"Renew your mind by choosing to trust in the Lord's path," I echoed Pastor Dave to my hubby sitting next to me in service. Just as I was calculating how difficult it was to put aside our pride and actually do that, Pastor Dave reminded us all that doing so - in fact - wasn't very easy at all. He mentioned a "battleground" for our thoughts and gave a very clear illustration about why such a war exists...your thoughts, eventually, determine your choices and, therefore, your actions. He also talked about feeding your mind the truth of the Lord's promises in scripture rather than strongholds (lies that you believe are truth but don't know are lies). For example, the Lord - in scripture - has promised never to leave or forsake us (John 3:16). A stronghold might be that little nudge of a notion that makes you think you've sinned so greatly that you must have fallen out of graceful favor with the Lord...an impossibility because of Christ and his sacrifice.

Pastor Dave followed up with several practical ways (paraphrased below) to dismiss strongholds in one's every day life as well as in one's spiritual life:

  1.  "Don't let fear run around in your head like an untrained child. Bring it to obedience."
  2.  "Take your thoughts captive. Think on good things."
  3.  "Keep an Eye Out for Truth: No matter how good of a leader you are, you will make poor choices if you operate off of poor information."
  4.  "Spray the thistles of bad influence before they even bloom in the garden of your mind."
  5.  "Don't worry if you're not a good gardener. God is."
  6.  "Patience and attention are worth it: A well-tended garden equals good fruit and no weeds."

Each of the aforementioned points are worth our time and meditation. Isn't it funny how we fickle humans tend to choose to learn the hard way (making a left turn) when the pleasant way (going around the block) is so readily available to us? I, for one, enjoy that I worship a God who cares so much for my life that he carefully and thoroughly lays out such a plan for my direction, as He does for everybody's, despite my misplaced insistence that I know better. He rescues all of us - time and time again - from everyday struggles, as well as - on the rare, odd occasion - something such as from being hung-up on a curb.

But, perhaps most importantly, he gave us the choice - and the ability - to choose to accept a rescue from a poisonous mentality. If I still chided myself for my past driving mistake, I would be living in a world of condemnation every time I turned on the engine...and more likely to be so pre-occupied with not making a mistake that I would end up actually making another mistake. So, next time I "turn on the engine of my brain," I'm going to realize that I - a child of the one true King - walk in forgiveness, and I will not fear the future, prescribed plan...even if it takes me a little longer to get there.

from Miracles of Hope, April 29-30, 2017

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Lost and Found

Recently, I received a thank you note in the mail. You know...one of those folded pieces of paper with ink all over the inside? A real piece of mail! Nothing electronic or fancy. And, a thank you note! It was as if "double-sided old-fashioned" had showed up at my doorstep. I was so excited that I couldn't wait to read it. The message was simple, pleasant, and to the point. However, because I am a serial (no pun intended!) cereal box reader - meaning I will read everything including the text on a box of Rice Krispies - I flipped the card over to the back cover. As is common with these ancient forms of communication, they are often donated by a charity trying to get your attention with a logo on the back. In this case, the charity in question was an animal rescue organization. Their catchy title?

"I found kittens! What do I do?"

Now, even your local five-year-old child would be able to answer that question. I found myself laughing and wishing - especially in springtime, a.k.a. "Kitten Season" - that I had a pile of kittens to discover. The point being, of course, that it doesn't take a genius to realize that if someone like me, who used to diaper her stuffed animals as a child instead of dolls, found kittens anywhere, that I would end up with new furry friends that lived in my house. Before you know it, I'd be drowning in tuna flavored everything. Think: Starbucks By the Sea...something like that.

This, of course, was Saturday morning. Saturday night, my husband and I found ourselves in the evening service at Capital Christian Center just like any other typical weekend. But, my mind still fresh with delusions of running a kitty paradise, Pastor Dave's message about "Miracles of Hope" struck a deep chord. The core of his message was this: To exist in a world where we can find help getting back up if we are down, "Hope" (the solution) needs a "Person" (you or me), and that "Person" needs God and a "Plan" (God's will). And then, ladies and gentlemen, the proverbial lightbulb went "blink": How often is it that we would never have a moment's doubt about rescuing others (in the previous case, kittens), yet when God extends a gracious hand our way to pull us out of the muck, we find ourselves asking the same unnecessary question, "What do I do?"

On paper, it's easy to agree that the obvious answer would be "whatever God wanted." Academically and even philosophically, it's not that difficult to understand that the Great Almighty knows better than we do. So, we should trust His road-map on our respective journeys. Yet when the metaphorical boat comes around for the "umpteenth" time to rescue you from your flood, it's not so easy to readily accept the help, is it? Think about it this way. A kitten in distress does not question where it's next meal comes from or the loving stroke of a kind rescuer. Very often, as Pastor Dave pointed out, "fear, pride, and denial" are the only three factors standing in our way from accepting a surprise meal from a meals ministry if our family is in need, a friend stopping by just to check in, assistance if we're looking for a job, or any other common example.

The solution? According to Pastor Dave's sermon, the answer is quite blunt: Stop trying to play God and control the plans He has for you. "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." - Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

The glue that ties it all together? Trust. Just like that kitten who doesn't question twice the sudden source of comfort in a meal or warm place to sleep when rescued, how simple would our lives be if we were quick to accept God's offered grace in His outline for our lives? That kind of answered "Hope" would still be a miracle in our lives, but it just might have a chance at becoming a kind of miracle that's purrrfectly common place.

from Miracles of Hope, April 22-23, 2017

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