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PRESSING ON

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Artwork by Poiema Cards

In response to someone who asked why so many older couples are selling their homes and moving to places far away from their families to spend retirement: 

I lived away from my family for over 35 years for various reasons, primarily job-related. Our children didn’t grow up knowing their extended families. We learned to live our lives independently, sometimes only seeing our families once a year on holidays or even less. In this absence, we created our own traditions. We didn’t have built-in free babysitters for going out. No big vacations, we camped. Rarely eating out, I cooked. I cut my kids’ hair, we wore second-hand clothes, and for years I made a lot of the gifts we gave.  You do what you have to and make do.

The best explanation I have for why we decided to move is God opened a door, and we gratefully grabbed at the opportunity to walk through it. We lived 35 years in Colorado. Now that we are almost to retirement age and our kids are all grown, we decided it was time to start over in a little warmer climate, in a more centralized location to our families, where it’s more affordable to live out the rest of our years. 

Most people are happy for us. We haven’t been treated very well by some. Others are just curious as to “Why?” because we now live in Oklahoma in a more rural area with a slower lifestyle and horses, cows, and steers as our neighbors down the road. On the other hand, you won’t meet friendlier people, and there is something to be said for a land covered with an abundance of tree species, wildlife, water, and green everywhere. It’s a different kind of beauty from Colorado’s mountains. Still, for a body and mind parched from the crowds and arid insignificance, it may not be for everybody but it’s an oasis of respite for us until the Lord calls us home.

I sometimes miss the old holiday gatherings from long ago with all the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, but this is a much different world in which we live. It was prophesied to be this way and has been in the works for centuries. Our dependence needs to be on the Lord, not our parents, children, families, or other entities. God is the Sustainer. 

Frankly, I don’t know how I would have made it through the thick of life without Him, but

I am looking forward, not behind.

Not that I have already obtained this or been perfected, but I press on if only I might take hold of that for which Messiah Yeshua took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself as having taken hold of this. But this one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal for the reward of the upward calling of God in Messiah Yeshua.

Philippians 3:12-14

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PIVOT

OUR OLD PUP, CHANSE.

The other day I was having so much fun playing fetch with our new pup, Dandy, in the backyard. He is only 11 weeks old but quick as a whip and loves to chase a ball and slide into it with a flourish, just like a kid would dramatically dive and slide to catch a football.

We try to expose him to new experiences and sounds, but the neighbor’s toy dog’s high-pitched, tiny yip stops him in mid-stream. Forget about finishing any job he set out to do when that happens; he high-tails it for the door with wide eyes as big as marbles.

How fast we can turn on a dime when one of our basic instincts kicks in. I’ve seen sweet mothers turn into a grimacing, staring, barely civil force to be reckoned with when their child hurts. I’ve also seen people make an about-face when they know a reward, good or bad, is coming. Sometimes the behavior sticks afterward, and sometimes it doesn’t. What motivates people to make permanent, pivotal changes in their life when a reward isn’t enough?

Sometimes discomfort does, and sometimes it doesn’t. Some of us keep going through the same pain, over and over, because we won’t change our ways even with warnings. Often those who overcome their fear of change clear the hurdles to more happiness and less discomfort.
The people who don’t make lasting changes are likely expecting others to change, so they don’t have to. It can be a long wait.

Overcomers not only seek answers but follow their findings.

Every pivot we make in our lives requires a decision. We decide to search for God. We decide we need Jesus. We decide to quit drinking alcohol, smoking, taking drugs, and celebrating things God convicts us to forgo not only for our good health but for the benefit of the people we love. We can decide our body is a temple, belonging to the Lord, on loan from Him while we reside on earth. We can choose to eat healthier. We choose to read and study the Bible to know our Creator better and follow Him.

Even though we sometimes flounder, wander, and stumble, it’s only a reminder of the ability of fear, ego, pride, and arrogance to pull us down.

We can choose to gather humility and pivot back toward True North, with Jesus Christ as our navigator. His love never changes.

This God—his way is perfect;
the word of the Lord proves true;
he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. Psalm 18:30

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Clean

I recently got a little nostalgic and checked out the houses for sale in my small hometown in Iowa. I saw a home on the same street where my dad bought a house in his retirement years. It looked vaguely familiar, but I wasn’t sure if the address was the same. I couldn’t remember, and I was hoping it wasn’t.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be the same house he sold in 2003. It was unrecognizable and was in such horrible shape it looked like it could have been used as a crack house. The outside was in disrepair and needed painting. The inside was much worse. The carpets were torn up and filthy, and the walls were covered in what looked like mold or something splattered. I could see where a poster had hung, perfectly silhouetted by a layer of smoke residue. The blinds on the windows were broken and
bent.

With his own hands, Dad had gutted and remodeled the kitchen with new cupboards, countertops, wood laminate floor, fixtures, paint, etc., before he sold it. The only thing that still looked in reasonably decent shape was the floor. It made me sad to see what it looks like now.

We were raised to take care of our things to the best of our ability, even if they were used, old, and cheap. This included our clothes, toys, tools, appliances, and cars, as well as our homes. At the very least, when money is scarce or possessions are meager, keeping your home and yard clean and tidy give a sense of control. The calming effect is real, not only while you live there but also when you move or sell. A discipline of continued light upkeep saves time when it’s necessary to deep clean.

That said, I know some beautiful people who have relegated housecleaning to a lower rung on their list of priorities, and that’s their prerogative. Mary was an example when she sat listening at Jesus’s feet while her sister Martha scurried around trying to make things nice for Him. Mary’s reward was Martha’s lesson.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10:41-42

A common misunderstanding is that the saying “cleanliness is next to godliness” is in the Bible. Many parents have tried to pass that off to their kids as scriptural (my lips are sealed) when it’s not, in that sense.

2 Corninthians 7:1 says,
“Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to com
pletion in fear of God.”

Of Jesus’s disciples, I can imagine Matthew, a tax collector, was calculated and meticulous, where Simon, a fisherman, was more laid back and, well, dirty and smelly. Both had their spiritual faults and physical and occupational differences, and both were essential in God’s plan for the world.

I find great comfort in knowing this:
Whether you decide to clean your house or come as you are,
Jesus welcomes you with open arms.

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ORDINARY

Are you content to be ordinary?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word “ordinary” as:

  1. common
  2. no exceptional ability
  3. not particularly good

In 2003, Robert S. McGee wrote a book and Bible Study called “The Search For Significance,” which detailed how to overcome our insecurities about our abilities and use our talents with freedom from the opinions of others and the pressures we place upon ourselves. The book was a huge success and became a classic, helping Christians to look past the lies they’ve been told about their worthiness and look to Christ for love, acceptance, and self-worth. 

As I look around at the world today, I see so much neediness as people grasp all sorts of things to fill the void in their lives; drugs, alcohol, food, sugar, social media, pornography, technology, work, exercise, and even church. When a person seeks relief from what ails them, “cures” abound. When one tool no longer fills the need, it’s easy to find a replacement.  

Temporal remedies, by nature, never last long. They only allow more time to avoid our need for Jesus in our lives. 

Yesterday I wrote about habits and how we cultivate them all the time. Without a doubt, developing a relationship with Jesus Christ is the best habit I’ve ever formed. Even with an imperfect life, He gives me joy. When I’m in pain, I have hope. When I feel insecure, I know I can run to Him for encouragement. When I’m afraid, He comforts. When I’m lonely, He reminds me He is always with me. When I feel beaten down by the world, He lifts me. 

Isn’t simple faith what most of us are looking for; knowing in our heart that we are loved and acceptable through Jesus who made us so? We don’t have to do anything to prove our worth because we are worthy by His grace. When I felt the gift of grace was when everything else paled in comparison.

I’ve never heard anyone say they were sorry they knew Jesus, but I’ve listened to many regrets that it took so long to want to.

You are more than ordinary.

If you are His, you are chosen, and your significance is His Glory. 

Believe and respond.

For many are called, but few are chosen. Matthew 22:14

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CHANGES

I was sitting here after consulting the Lord, wondering what I should write about today. Daily writing is part of a new discipline I’m trying to develop. Even if it’s only for fifteen minutes, it’s a start.  

We learn new habits all the time. Whenever God blesses us with an opportunity, lesson, or sweet reward, He helps us make the needed adjustments to glorify His name.  

Parents who have their first baby find themselves doing things that used to repulse them, like changing dirty diapers and getting up much earlier than they ever imagined. They seek information to give the best care to their little one, and the lion they never knew they had inside reveals in a protective posture against anyone who might do their child harm.

A new job can bring many changes; different hours, new location, learning skills, and more personality challenges to navigate while enjoying income security.

Lessons are not a bad thing, but some lessons are so complicated, if we aren’t careful, they can cause us to stagnate and look down instead of reaching up for the helping hand. 

Lessons that involve other people and how we react to what they have done or not done can be devastating. A single proactive prayer when facing the temptation to respond without the Lord in mind is grounding.  

One of the most challenging things I ever did was start praying for someone who hurt me deeply. I didn’t pray for them to get what I thought they deserved; I prayed for them to be healthy, happy, and prosperous. So hard to do. I didn’t mean it as the words left my mouth but almost without notice, the day came when the prayer was effortless, and I knew I had come through it, and everything was going to be okay. 

Cursing the darkness doesn’t make it go away, but praying and embracing the light will. Make the changes in yourself, and the rest will follow. God will sustain you in the thickness and bring you through to the other side. 

You are loved. 

You are worthy.  

You can do this.  

Let Jesus help you.

“For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” Hebrews 2:18

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SWEEPING

I remember in the 60s, a time when most mothers stayed home, but my mom worked outside the home. It wasn’t a popular choice. She didn’t have to, but she always insisted on having her own money and told stories of working as a teenager cleaning people’s homes for hours and getting paid hardly anything. The money she did make, Grandma took to pay bills. It was a time of frugality and meager survival, but Mom said they always had plenty of delicious food on the table. I have no doubt these experiences molded Mom’s choices later in life.

Have you ever noticed, so often, a person’s early life experiences direct their later choices in such a way to reflect the exact opposite of what they went through? It’s like a knee-jerk reaction because they don’t want to repeat the negative experiences and emotions, and it’s such a personal thing because each person perceives an experience differently. It explains why parents who have raised all their children alike might have adult children who live and parent their children very differently than their parents did.

Oh, to be in the stage of life where looking back brings a comfortable understanding and humble forgiveness offered to others, as well as ourselves, for our young insecurities and lack of knowing better. We can even forgive those aware of what they are doing, and we do not need their permission. We can decide to keep our side of the street clean without sweeping the trash to the other side. It is truly a sweet time of reflection and closure to give the gift of mercy, forgiveness, and love and to accept it.

Time stands still, and the heart is finally at peace. Thank you, Heavenly Father. Thank you so much for never letting go.

“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32

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MORNING

The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
shining brighter and brighter until the full day.
Proverb 4:18

Sometimes I don’t wake up feeling like I’m shining very brightly. But having a cup of coffee and taking time to spend with the Lord is a crucial component to my day getting brighter and better. It took a long time to learn that I could control my attitude toward mornings. Mornings don’t master me.

Our hope is with Jesus!

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BURNT SUGAR CAKE

Burnt Sugar Cake! Just like Bigmama made. | Burnt sugar ...

It’s funny how a memory you hadn’t thought about in ages comes to mind by way of a snippet of dialog or a photograph. Sometimes I don’t even know what jogged the memory. It seems to come out of nowhere. That’s how it happened today.

My age is showing. I’ve started regularly checking the obituaries from the area where I grew up to see if I know anyone, and more often than not, I do. As I looked at the list of people who met their maker the last few days, I noticed one named Smith. Smith is a common surname, but somehow my thoughts went back to 1971, the year we moved to town from the farm.

Clarinda, Iowa, is the county seat of Page County in Southwest Iowa. At the time, it had a population near 5,400, and it’s never fluctuated too much from that number since. We lived in a house two blocks north of the town square, across the street, and down half a block from the public library.

Our house was on the corner with an empty lot on one side where the old movie theater burned to the ground and flanked on the other by a tiny, well-kept white Victorian home. The front porch invited you to visit with a wicker rocking chair and wooden porch swing, often occupied by the residents, Sam and Mary Smith.

Sam was 89 years old, and Mary was 82. Maybe it was how their parents raised them, or simply how the world was back then, but Mom and Dad had a soft spot for the elderly, and Sam and Mary became friends of our young family. I remember going over to their house on weekend nights and watching the adults play cribbage, a game I could never understand.

The light of Sam and Mary’s lives was their daughter, Trula, who had died in 1930 at the age of 24. I don’t remember the cause of her death; the only significance is they spoke about their daughter as the eternally beautiful young lady she was when she passed away far too young. I didn’t realize it then, but Trula would have been older than my grandparents had she been alive. As an eleven year old, I saw her in my mind as her loving parents spoke of her.

Mary was a wonderful cake baker and spent the better part of her life baking beautiful cakes for weddings and special events. Apparently, our visits were an event because she blessed us with generous servings of homemade cake when we came to visit and usually sent us home with some to enjoy later. Her specialty was Burnt Sugar Cake.

I had never had burnt sugar cake before, but quickly, its delicate, mild, caramel flavor with matching icing became something I looked forward to at the Smith house. My birthday favorite was white cake with white frosting, but this cake was something so unique I don’t think I’ve ever had it since, and it’s been fifty years!

The memories inspired me to find a recipe for burnt sugar cake, and although I found several, I believe this link to the old classic from Betty Crocker is probably close to the one Mary used and I plan to make it in the near future. Try it out and leave a comment to let me know what you think.

Even if you don’t bake a cake, find an elderly person to love. It will do you both good.

https://www.food.com/recipe/burnt-sugar-cake-betty-crocker-circa-1956-40842

Even to your old age I will be the same,
And even to your graying years I will bear you!
I have done it, and I will carry you;
And I will bear you and I will deliver you. Isaiah 46:4

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THE CHOICE

The opposite of love is rejection.

Love covers a multitude of poor judgments with a healing balm of forgiveness.

Rejection never does.

Love gives the benefit of the doubt, for only God knows the heart.

Rejection doesn’t.

Love seeks the good because therein lies the light.

Rejection thrives on darkness.

Love respects.

Rejection spits.

Love offers pure and soul nourishing care.

Rejection breeds resentment.

Love extends mercy.

Rejection smiles at revenge.

Love comforts.

Rejection stirs fear.

Love is interested.

Rejection is careless.

Love dignifies the humble and righteously humbles the proud.

Rejection exalts worldly opinions of worth.

Love is stillness of heart.

Rejection strikes painful blows and opens old wounds.

Love empathizes.

Rejection scoffs.

Love values.

Rejection cheapens.

Love gently speaks words of truth.

Rejection spews condemnation and shame.

Love is listening.

Rejection turns its head.

Love offers peace for the soul.

Rejection pushes away eternal rescue.

Love is a choice.

With a heavy heart but never ending hope,

Love lets go.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

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. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13: 1-13

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HOPE

Photographed by Tamra Witt. Artwork by Poiema Cards.

Her world was hanging by a sliver of hope that in three days, her will to survive would overcome her desire to leave all she ever knew behind.

Her friend put French braids in her hair to keep it out of her face while she drank the thick black liquid that would soak up the solution to her problems, she thought.

It was 1997 and sounds of the Super Bowl were blaring throughout the ER as everyone cheered on the local team with hopes of a win.

While the city celebrated, she spent three days crying inconsolably. The staff couldn’t work with her in her state of complete sorrow. She wondered where her hope was. Did she not deserve to have hope? It all seemed so pointless.

Her friend brought some clothes from the thrift store, so she had something to wear besides what she wore to the hospital. The “pastor” from church brought a carton of cigarettes. She thought how ironic. Did the Holy Spirit lead her to do that? Her parents called.

When she had rested enough to clear her head, she was able to plan. Writing out each step, she detailed what she would do and who she would call in case of another slip on the upward slope of life. Part of her plan was to find a new church and get serious. Her plan was her hope.

Sitting on the “smoking patio” filled with people in different stages of pain, a man walked by in his hospital gown and farted loudly right in front of her face. “Is this not my life?”, she thought. She tried to act like she didn’t hear it until she noticed a woman across the room stifling a laugh. As they caught each other’s eyes, the dam burst, and the inconsolable tears turned to uncontrollable laughter. They laughed so much it was starting to bother those who weren’t in on the “joke”, and they couldn’t explain because the man who caused all the ruckus was obliviously sitting there smoking his cigarette.
She and her new friend exchanged phone numbers.

The next day the sun was shining, and the air was crisp and clear. She hugged her friend, laughed some more, and with her plan in hand, went home.

“The LORD your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing”. Zephaniah 3:17

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SERENDIPITY

Have you gardening enthusiasts ever had a plant that you gave up on because it wasn’t thriving and didn’t look like it had much of a chance? My plant was a cauliflower.

It was back in 1991. We lived in a house in Southeast Denver, an older neighborhood of 1950’s cookie-cutter homes that had nice big yards for playing kids, barbeques, and gardens. We had a huge vegetable garden in the back with an herb garden, strawberry bed, dwarf cherry tree, and raspberry bushes. In the side yard, I had a cutting garden where I had planted several varieties of annual and perennial flowers for the birds, butterflies, and me! I loved digging in the dirt and seeing what I could grow in the arid Colorado climate that is so different from Iowa, where I grew up.

This particular year I had decided to try growing celery and cauliflower. The celery took too much room in the garden as each plant needed a “mound” to be upright so the stalks could develop safely from the sun and elements. So I needed to find a place for the cauliflower, which also required ample space. I found the perfect space in the cutting garden behind the lilac bush, and I made sure the lighting fit the requirements and gave them plenty of food and water. I babied those plants until mid-summer when I realized I had miscalculated my time for planting because they were not holding up under the summer heat. They were “cool” weather plants….duh. I let them go; no more water or food for them while I concentrated on nurturing the celery.

Skip ahead two months to September. It had been a little cool but nothing too uncomfortable. Most of the garden was spent, having been harvested already. One particular day, it was rainy, and I was feeling melancholy. I had been sober almost a year, and that said, recovery is not easy. Seeing one’s self and life with a clear head and humbling evaluation could depress anyone. I hadn’t yet obtained the gift of gratitude, so sadly, I was wallowing.

My cutting garden was visible from the kitchen window, and I stood there in tears for quite a while, just watching the rainfall and the birds eating at the bird feeder. After a while, the rain turned to sleet and then snow, and not a light one either. It was coming down heavily and was quickly covering everything in a white blanket. As I stood there watching, I told God, “I want to die, but I’m too scared, it’s up to you….would you please just send down a big bolt of lightning and take me out?”. (My dramatic flair is at its best when I’m sad. What can I say!?!)

I gazed out the window at the birds. They flew about, to the feeder, up to the bush, down to the ground, hopping in the snow. There were bird scratches all over the…wait a minute. What……no. I tore out the front door and around the house to the cutting garden and behind the lilac bush, covered in snow with just a small patch visible, was the biggest, most beautiful, white cauliflower I had ever seen! 

How could it be? I had completely forgotten it was even there and hadn’t given it any attention for weeks. I saw its huge leaves growing, but how could I pass by it several times a week without noticing its perfect white head? I was amazed at its beauty. It was huge, about the size of honeydew melon, and pure white with no blemishes. 

The only reason I saw it that day, camouflaged with snow, was because I was at that window, focused and praying to God and ready to receive His answer. I recognized that, and because of it, my mood was lifted immediately by His grace.

What a gift! I thanked God for opening my eyes and giving me the tastiest, most succulent cauliflower I had ever eaten for dinner that evening. I had a new perspective and appreciation for the creativity of the Lord’s answers to prayer, and even for what might be an example of His gentle sense of humor.

God is so good!

A cauliflower recipe Mom submitted to the family cookbook, circa 2007. Enjoy!

Psalm 66:18-20

 If I had not confessed the sin in my heart,

 the Lord would not have listened.

 But God did listen!

 He paid attention to my prayer.

 Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer

 or withdraw his unfailing love from me.

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EXPLORE

Open Photo

I remember when Mom bought a set of World Book Encyclopedias from the door-to-door salesman. Back then, the salesmen drove from farm to farm selling their goods. I’m sure making a sale was like a big bonus to them to go along with the cookies and coffee offered.

Mom wanted to go to school to be a librarian in her younger years, but she didn’t have that opportunity. So she made sure we had books to read at home. In addition to scouring the encyclopedia for information about anything you wanted to know about everything near and far, I had a stack of “Little Golden Books” from the Five and Dime store and a subscription to Highlights magazine, which from its first publication in 1946, was the “gold standard” periodical for children. School Scholastic book sales were like a candy store. When we moved to town, our house was down the block from the library, and Mom made sure I had a library card. I was raised to love books.

Oddly enough, I struggled with reading at first and was in the “special group”. It seems like learning didn’t come easily to me, but it was like a breath of fresh air when the words fit together, and it clicked. Finally, I could share Mom’s love of reading, and the opportunities for exploration seemed endless.

Technology replaced encyclopedias, and now we can be world explorers and armchair experts with the internet at our fingertips. What could be better for the bibliophile, right?

Truthfully, it’s more important now than ever to discern the multitude of information we have at our disposal. As the volume of information increases, the temptation is to cut corners and accept the first communication as truth. First place isn’t always best or correct.

Bethany Hamilton was a Christian 13 year old surfer who suffered the loss of her left arm from a shark attack. It almost ended her aspirations to continue surfing professionally. She made a comeback after a period of soul searching and training with modifications to her surfboard and eventually earned 5th place in the National Scholastic Surf Association finals. Today, her story is an inspiration to others and an encouragement to “never give up”. Her 5th place win was a 1st place accomplishment.

Exploration calls for digging much deeper than the surface, and truth be told, I still would rather explore in the pages of a book than on a keyboard.

The simple inherit folly, but the prudent are crowned with knowledge. Proverbs 14:18

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INTENTIONS

Photo by Tamra Witt

“Intention” is a passive word. It hasn’t happened yet because “intention” is still in the planning stage of a final goal or thought, and there is no guarantee of completion. Like a promise, intentions rely upon the integrity that forms them, and when virtue is lacking, plans fall through. We can try with good intentions, but if there was no proper planning or focused resolve, or the heart wasn’t involved in covering all the bases with love, all the good intentions will fly out the window. I know I’ve had many good intentions stare at me from outside the window panes over the years.

A pastor I know often said he didn’t want to hear his children say they would try to do something because “trying” gave them a ready excuse for failing with half-hearted effort. If your intentions are sincere, you will use all you have at your disposal and within yourself to achieve a good outcome, and you will call on the Lord to instill love into your intention if it is His will to see your plan through.

We always think our intentions are good, but God knows our hearts even when we can’t see what motivates us. He knows and is ready to lift the veil. It takes courage to see clearly and submit to God’s will readily.

What are your intentions today? Are you ready for God to reveal your heart?

Go to Him!

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

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BRIDGES

What is the difference between a person not wearing a mask because it makes them uncomfortable or they don’t believe it’s necessary, and people who drink alcohol in the presence of a recovering alcoholic because “it’s not my problem”? Both scenarios involve vulnerable people who have legitimate, potentially life-threatening, medical concerns and yet, one group is regarded as selfish for not caring about other people while others see it as acceptable to expect the recovering person to be responsible for their own wellbeing without placing limitations on their lifestyle.

The point is we have no way of knowing the medical issues of other people. They may look perfectly normal on the outside but suffer on the inside. If we require special care for the welfare of some, then the few deserve the same consideration whether we like it or not, always being mindful we can’t know what the person across from us is facing.

There are an awful lot of people throwing errant stones out there. Pick them up.

Build a bridge.

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Masks

Someone asked how my husband and I met.

When I met my husband, I was conducting a personal social experiment. We both worked in a retail service establishment, a custom framing shop, and I wanted to see how people treated me if I changed how I looked. So I took a month off from wearing any hint of makeup. It may seem trivial, but it was a daring change for me at the time, to be in public in the raw.

Some people did treat me differently; women seemed friendlier, and men less attentive. I don’t know if my looks or how I interacted with people in an exposed state caused the change, but maybe I perceived them differently because I saw myself through the eyes of vulnerability. I do know one thing. I learned the personality shines regardless of your appearance because the human heart transcends the physical. In time, I simply forgot I didn’t have my mask on!

We are all getting older every day. Someday the young ones now will be old, and the old will be gone, and it happens a lot faster than ever imagined. In a society that treasures temporal aesthetics, it is never too early or late to learn to treat each other with kindness, dignity, and respect. Anything else can be like a dagger to the spirit of an already insecure soul.

My husband passed the test.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” — 2 Corinthians 4:16

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WOOD

Great Grandma Burley holding my brother.

Are there any other closet wood sniffers here?

I love the smell of wood. It was one of the benefits of being a custom picture framer. Now and then, I would cut into some cheap wood that stunk to high heaven, but the smells of pine, cedar, and most other woods are comforting and pleasant.

Ever walk into a place, and the scent reminds you of grandma’s old house? It’s not unpleasant, just a kind of characteristic, musty, lived-in smell. It’s nostalgic, and immediately reminds me of sitting on Great-Grandma Burley’s ancient rug that covered an old solid wood floor in the living room of a house that had a turret and an upstairs porch. There were geraniums in the window. I’m eating molasses cookies and playing with her toys, which was a shoe box full of wooden thread spools. It was a quieter time of innocence.

The reason I’m bringing this up was yesterday we went to the hardware store, and I was caught in the lumber section sniffing wood.

I won’t apologize.

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“Who’s First?”

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. – Matthew 6:33

“We are obligated to put God first. That’s the problem…even putting your spouse first is a form of idolatry. If you truly put God first and seek His righteousness you’ll be right with your spouse. My whole point is marriages are messed up (all human relationships really) because we aren’t right with God. If the vertical relationship is right the horizontal ones will be as well.”

This is a paraphrased comment about a Facebook post that was focused on the marriage relationship. Truthfully, with the state of the institution of marriage as it is right now with 50% of marriages dissolving within seven years, I believe that whole paragraph could apply to society as a whole. In a world so focused on popular opinion to gauge the health of relationships, maybe it’s time to get back down to basics, not as a form of regression but progression.

God first, spouse before all others.

Sure, we could bide our time with mediocrity but can you imagine what it would feel like to know you are only second to God Almighty in the eyes of your spouse? I wonder how many marriages would be saved if we sought God’s desires over our own? I wonder how many relationships could avoid the trash if God were consulted instead of people, or our own understanding? I’d venture a lofty guess.

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:13

And so can you.

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“AIN’T NOTHIN’ ELSE”

I was cleaning out drawers today and found a CD-R marked “Old Documents and Photos”. I suspected I would find treasure, and I did. Included was this installment of my journal.

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November 25, 2003

This morning I took a friend downtown to the clinic for a doctor visit and to get his meds. He got out of the hospital last night. I have to say I’ve been praying for courage and strength a lot lately.

The visit to the clinic was eye opening. I was in awe, and when I left, I felt a considerable amount of gratitude. Those poor people coming in there to get their meds were coming in out of the cold, and I think most of them were mentally ill. They all had warm coats, but I heard one lady say she was having difficulty warming up. Another said she was starving for something to eat. Some sat like zombies; you could tell they were thoroughly medicated. Others chatted easily and greeted by name everyone who came in. One woman seemed perfectly normal and very conversational. Then she started chatting to herself.

The clinic provided hot coffee for free. They also had a pop machine that took 50 cents for a can of pop. One man asked if anyone had a quarter. No one did, but several said they would give it to him if they did have one. Another lady told the woman who was hungry that there were two churches nearby that gave out food. You could tell….this small group of people takes care of each other.

One woman was overjoyed that she would only have to come to the clinic once a week instead of twice to get her meds. She told everyone that she and her husband were going to their church tonight for a Thanksgiving dinner and bingo. Her husband had to wear a stocking cap at all times because he had a one-inch metal plate in his head, and it got cold and hurt when his head was exposed.

One couple invited a man to their place for Thanksgiving. I wondered where their home is, but from the looks of the man’s jeans, he hadn’t washed them in weeks, and I doubt he would mind if their home weren’t fancy.

My little one had to use the restroom, and I got a strange, almost apologetic look from the lady behind the desk when she pointed down the hallway. I understood when I opened the door to a room so filthy and trash-laden that I couldn’t bear to let my child touch a single thing. I wanted to cry.

Not long before we left, the woman who was talking to herself blurted out that she wasn’t afraid of anybody. She repeated it, “I ain’t afraid of anybody…’cept God. He has power. And Jesus. They both have all the power. Ain’t nothin’ else in the world. Nothin’ else.”

I needed to read this now.

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WASHED CLEAN

After almost 24 consecutive years, 31 years total, I’ve been sober for so long that people forget.

My children were young enough to remember very little about the previous years without being told, and my youngest never saw me under the influence. The time I stumbled into darkness and relapsed was one day 24 years ago when I ended up in the hospital with clinical depression and PTSD. I was put on antidepressants for 10 years until by the grace of God, I weaned off. I’m not ashamed of being sick. On the contrary, I am overjoyed to be healed of addiction to alcohol and cigarettes, and clinical depression.

People forget, but I don’t. I can’t.

The Lord saved me from me and gave me a life to live in gratitude. He gave me empathy for the struggles of others and appreciation for the wisdom of turning our weaknesses over to Him so that He can work His healing touch on us.

The only reason I’m alive today is because of Jesus. In my infirmity, at the end of my meager limits, I submitted my life to His will and began a new journey up a different path. Choices became clear, and there was unparalleled freedom for the first time in my life. Is it any wonder He has my heart? I now need to ask Jesus to help me with my eating habits which have become more than just a fueling of my body. Food has become a liability now that I’m older. I pray for the courage and discipline to humbly hand this part of my life over to Him so my body, His temple, can be healthy and strong. I want to be able to live out the rest of my days in whatever capacity He wants me to. I can think of no better goal.

No matter where you are at or the condition you are in, nothing is so awful that Jesus can’t take you in His arms and love you to wholeness.

When you have everything to gain is when He does His best work but why wait? Allow yourself to be loved back to life. I would love to hear your story.

Thank you, Jesus.

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HOME

This photo was taken the weekend we made the decision to move. Somewhere.

People say this is God’s country and it is, but God directed both of us at the same time to move somewhere else. We had no idea where, but it needed to be warmer but not too warm, and it needed to be in a central location to our families. A bonus would be lack of humidity but that wasn’t a deal breaker if we had air conditioning. Three months later, we were living in a state neither of us had been to before and we knew no one who lived there. A step of faith to a new life. A new chapter. Perfect timing.


I actually had an acquaintance suggest something must have happened to make us run away and I had to laugh because nothing happened other than a collective realization that after thirty-five years, we no longer felt like Colorado was our home. A healthy home is where you feel safe and loved and respected in spite of your differences. It was time to stretch our wings and conquer our fears and uncertainties about our future.

I think it’s sad this acquaintance didn’t even consider the Holy Spirit’s hand in our lives. So often that is the way it goes. We are quick to rationalize and justify our doubt instead of simply trusting God’s sovereignty and wishing someone well on their next journey. Why do we automatically want to think the worst of people?


That isn’t of God, and that’s the answer to the question. Colorado provided for many seasons. This new place is totally different, and even so, it looks so familiar. God is good.


We are home again.

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COULD’A, WOULD’A, SHOULD’A

I am smiling.

How do you feel when someone tells you after the fact what you could have done, what they would have done, or what you should have done?
I don’t know about you, but I start to feel like a child who can’t figure that stuff out for myself retrospectively. It makes me question my ability to be competent, and I’ve been around the block a few times!

If you are already beating yourself up for making a mistake, the last thing you need is to have someone rub your nose in your shame when there is nothing you can do about it. In a work related situation, there is a time and place for a gentle response of instruction that preserves dignity. The people in our personal lives deserve the same consideration.

I learned to smile and keep my peace because most people who do this have good intentions. They want to help you know what to do if the situation happens again. So I will listen because wisdom can be found in listening.

But occasionally, a person will give you their perspective after the fact to make you feel less than and elevate themselves. We know this because we know the person. Even so, I smile and keep my peace because the peace of the Lord is more important than any word the devil inspires.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Philippians 4:13

You and I will do better next time. I love you.

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CLEANING TIP

Do you like cleaning the bathroom?

How nice to take your bath in a washtub with no worries. If I had the choice between arm wrestling a T-Rex and cleaning the bathroom, it might be a toss-up. It looks relatively easy, but it seems to be a losing battle!

When we moved, our new house had a clear glass shower stall that looked very pretty, but the first thing that went through my mind was how I would keep it looking that way. I had used the daily shower cleaners before, and they are effective but only with consistent use, and they are expensive.

While digging on the net, I found a few recipes for homemade daily shower cleaners and read the reviews. The recipe I share here works very well and costs pennies to make. We may forget to use it every time we shower, but even a modest effort is effective, and it helps the memory if it’s kept handy in the shower.

DAILY SHOWER CLEANER
1/2 cup peroxide
1/2 cup rubbing alcohol
1 tsp blue Dawn dishwashing liquid
1 Tbsp Jet Dry Rinse Aid
2 cups water
Mix in a spray bottle.

It’s a great way to use all the peroxide and rubbing alcohol you bought when the Covid panic hit! The recipe calls for the original formula blue Dawn for the cleaning power. I purchase a small bottle for this recipe and also to use as a laundry grease spot remover. One bottle of this recipe lasts our household about six weeks and is so cheap to make. You can also use the daily shower cleaner less often on the tub and sinks.

So often, I’m content to have my house look surface clean rather than make an effort to do a thorough house cleaning. However, if I look at my life with introspection, that theme can be a common thread if I’m not careful.

Nothing authentically good and precious comes without hard work, perseverance, and commitment to perform consistent maintenance.

As Christians, our attitudes, thoughts, and beliefs are all part of our own spiritual house. We are responsible for the upkeep of our home, because collectively, we form a village that has no boundaries in Jesus Christ.

By wisdom a house is built, and by wisdom it is established.
Proverbs 24:3

With due diligence, we can nurture our spiritual home with prayer, fellowship with other believers, and reading the Word of God in the Bible. The daily cleaner of our spiritual house is the Holy Spirit.

Mold, mildew, soap scum, and hard water deposits are the least of our troubles without the Lord.

Let Him in.

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DO YOU LOVE PEOPLE?

That was the only thing he said to me. He asked if I loved people.

I worked behind the counter in the church cafe almost every weekend for nearly three years, and I had never seen this guy before. He was pretty nondescript, older, quiet, and as he paid for his small purchase, that was the question burning on his mind?

I looked at him, smiled, and told the truth.

“I’m getting there.”

He looked at me and walked away, leaving me standing there with the answer burning on my mind. What a stupid answer, I thought. Everyone knows if you love Jesus, you are supposed to love all people. Who was that guy, and why would he ask such a thing of someone he didn’t even know?

Why not?

A few months later, something happened that rocked my boat. It reminded me of that question, and I decided I needed to take a break until I knew without a shadow of doubt that my answer would be pleasing to God.

God sent challenges and lessons during that time of rest and continues to do so. My mind was stretched, my patience was tested, and my whole world was upended for a while as I searched my heart that was still a little cracked.

I discovered it’s difficult to love without trust, and if I couldn’t trust God to take my troubles from me and handle them in His way, then I could never rightly say I know how to love.

Years passed, and the world was rocked with a crisis that forced even more contemplation but revealed God’s blessings through change. I received a boldness I never knew I had to do things I never thought I’d do, and we received confirmation and peace about our choices.

There is still turmoil swirling around the world, but the peace remains along with the knowledge that loving Jesus first allows us to love people. He shows us how and when, and all we have to do is respond and leave the results up to Him. It doesn’t matter how we feel about the people. What matters is how God loves them. It sure takes a load off.

I never saw that man again, but I have a feeling his own lesson on love was in asking me that question, and we are both walking a little lighter.

I love how that works.

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INDEPENDENT

Ruby the cat and Chanse the dog. Gingerly getting along while Dad gives the love.

I grew up in a household with a vocal Democrat mom and a quiet Republican dad. They were married for almost 60 years; proof that people with different ideas and beliefs can coexist, and even love, if they are mature and have a heart, and know that there are times when it’s best not to talk about it.

I’ve been a registered Independent for decades because there are weaknesses in both parties that produce maniacs. Screaming, name calling, mocking, destruction, and other behaviors of disrespect will not be tolerated. My ears close like a door on a windy day.

My mind weighs the facts given by both sides and is most swayed by a kind, relatable, educated, biblically authentic, and God-honoring position. There are too many who quote the Bible without having actually read it. There are too many who use the Bible as a hammer to pound their personal views instead of offering it as a beacon of truth, righteousness, and discernment to make choices that are honoring to God and all people. I know because I’ve done both at one time or another. The damage and confusion I caused is what made me yearn to know more about the Bible and it’s historical significance, the symbolism, and how it all ties together over thousands of years of cultural differences and political warfare. There really is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

Is it even possible to honor all people in our choices here on earth? I wonder because every compromise creates a resentment. Every win creates a loss, and every filling creates a void. I’m reminded of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

For everything there is a season
and a time for every activity under heaven:
 a time to give birth and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted;
 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build up;
 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance;
 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
 a time to seek and a time to lose,
a time to keep and a time to discard;
 a time to tear apart and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak;
 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Jesus is the greatest Independent that ever existed. That is, he isn’t swayed by public opinion or popular consensus. His only dependence is on God Almighty. By the power of the Holy Spirit, He sifts through all the muck and bares the raw Truth with the intent to purify, and then He lets the individual with a softened and repentant heart make their own choice.

Our equality is in how God loves each and every one of us and allows us to choose to follow Him or not. He loves ALL of us. It all boils down to us paying that love forward. We all have something to give. Let’s do our part.

Thank you, Lord. Thank you for your mercy and grace. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for my independence which allows me to choose dependence on You in every season of my life.

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God’s Blessings

I woke up a bit after 3 AM this morning and God blessed me.

Normally when I beat the earliest of birds up from their slumber, I just try to go back to sleep. But this time I picked up my phone and opened Instagram. Instead of scrolling, I saw someone on the “suggestions” whom I know but haven’t spoken with in a while so I checked out her profile.

There on a sparsely used page were a few photos, and the newest one was posted exactly twelve minutes before I woke up in the wee hours of the morning. While it didn’t tell me much, it told me enough, and it soothed a mother’s heart.

It never ceases to amaze me how God works in our lives even when we least expect it. Enjoy the journey.

He is your praise, and He is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things which your eyes have seen. Deuteronomy 10:21

DANDY

Dandy

Oh, boy.

Instead of a trip, we decided to welcome a new puppy into the household in honor of our upcoming 25th anniversary. Nothing says celebratory relaxation like a baby dog, right? He’s an adorable, 6 pound, eight week old bundle of unrelenting day time energy.

I forgot what it was like to have such innocent, oblivious, curiousness at my feet. Dandy is a literal ankle-biter with needle teeth. He slides, tumbles, chases toys, and chews anything within his reach. We baby proofed the house, and still, Dandy will find the dust bunny behind the desk, the plant branch that hangs just within his reach, and the electrical cord you thought he couldn’t get to. That little piece of paper you were too lazy to pick up and throw in the trash? Problem solved. Dandy will eat it!

Feeding time is a juggling act. Dandy is still in survival mode and thinks he must rush to the food and water dish, or he won’t get any. Puppy food is not appealing to our older dog Chanse’s discerning palate, but Dandy not only loves his food but also gobbles the crumbs Chanse leaves on his plate. We must feed them separately to avoid tummy problems and anxiety attacks.

What goes in must come out, and Dandy is a good little eliminator. He goes when he wakes up, after eating, after drinking, after playing, after a nap, and sometimes after he comes in from going outside. He gets lots of praise when he eliminates outside, and a loud “NO!” and hand clap that startled him midstream the few times he’s forgotten the proper location for that sort of thing. He’s very young, and we are confident he will get it. He’s a Border Collie/Poodle mix, both known for their intelligence, so it’s only a matter of time when we can trust Dandy to do his duty calling appropriately.

Dandy shines as a night sleeper. I play a YouTube audio of calming music developed specifically to comfort puppies in their new home. The first night, Dandy cried for under ten minutes and slept the rest of the night until 7 AM. The second night he whimpered a little when I put him in his crate, and then I didn’t hear a peep from him until 7 AM again. In the morning, he bursts out of the crate like a horse out of the gate, jumping and twirling all the way to the back door. I’m so thankful he sleeps so I can sleep, too, or I don’t know how I’d keep up with him. The young will keep you young!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pQnBXsIQwM

I’m feeling so blessed. Tired, but blessed.

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