I have always loved taking pictures.
From my parent’s Polaroid to my first Kodak Disc Camera (totally dating myself here),
I loved capturing life’s moments.
Back then you had to wait for your pictures to be developed at CVS.
Impatient, I would usually get the “hour” service.
And always double prints, in case I wanted to share with a friend.
Today, we take pictures on our phones and share with 100 people immediately.
If we don’t like the angle of the picture, we delete it and try again.
We crop out “unsightly” areas that we don’t want others to see.
And while Snapchat filters and edits can be fun, these images are far away from what we started with … unedited versions of ourselves.
We don’t just do this in pictures.
We edit many things in our day to day life.
We are careful about what we allow others to see.
My house may appear one way if you come to visit.
But if you open the door to my bedroom, you will likely find all of the things that I had piled on the counter that I did not have time to put away.
Why do we edit our lives so much?
Fear of rejection? Judgement ? Shame?
Sometimes, we believe we have to edit ourselves before we come to God.
Like getting a visitor at our home, we try to hide the things we don’t want Him to see.
But there is nothing about us that surprises our Creator.
Not our emotions.
Not our bad habits.
Not our appearance.
He sees all of life’s moments.
We cannot hide anything from Him.
“ Lord, you have examined me
and know all about me.
You know when I sit down and when I get up.
You know my thoughts before I think about them.
You know where I go and where I lie down.
You know everything I do.
Lord, even before I say a word,
you already know it.
You are all around me—in front and in back—
and have put your hand on me.
Your knowledge is amazing to me;
It is more than I can understand.
Where can I go to get away from your Spirit?
Where can I run from you?” Psalm 139 : 1 -7
Friends, He knows everything about us.
Amazingly, He still loves us.
The unfiltered, unscripted, unedited version of us.
But our heavenly Father sees His children through the filter of His love.
His perfect love.
“There is no fear in love. Perfect love puts fear out of our hearts. People have fear when they are afraid of being punished. The man who is afraid does not have perfect love.”
1 John 4: 18 NLV
I am grateful that I do not need to edit myself before I come to our God.
He sees all of me and through His grace loves me anyway.
Friends, do you want God to be a visitor in your home or to take up residence there?
There is no need to hide what we don’t want Him to see.
There is no need to edit yourself.
There is nothing to fear.
Because His love for us is perfect.
The weight of grief has been heavy in our area over the past few weeks.
Two greatly respected and loved individuals left this earth too soon.
The ripple effect could be felt by people across all generations and backgrounds, as both women were deeply engaged in the community.
And even though I did not have a personal relationship with either, the sense of loss around me has been profound.
Although no words can soothe the pain, many heartfelt gestures have served as reminders that others were not alone in their grief.
The weight of grief got even heavier on Sunday.
The news of Kobe Bryant’s death stunned the world.
A greatly respected and loved individual, along with his daughter and 7 others, left this earth too soon.
The ripple effect could be felt by people across all generations and backgrounds around the country, as Kobe was deeply engaged in the global community.
And even though I did not have a personal relationship with this famous basketball player, the sense of loss around me has been profound.
Kobe Bryant was an individual who was woven into the fabric of many lives.
Although no words can soothe the pain, many heartfelt gestures from people all over the world serve as reminders that others were not alone in their grief.
Kobe was not just engaged in the community, he was with his community when his helicopter crashed.
He was with people he did life with.
There is something tragic and comforting about this fact all at the same time.
These untimely deaths leave many, myself included, with one looming question: why?
There is no explanation that will ever really satisfy those who bear the weight of unspeakable grief.
So I go to the One I do have a personal relationship with – Jesus.
And I am reminded that even in our grief, we are never alone.
I cling to the promise in His word that it will not always be this way.
One day there will be no more suffering or pain.
One day there will be no more goodbyes.
One day God Himself will be engaged with His community by walking among His people once again.
“ Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth had passed away. There was no more sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem. It was coming down out of heaven from God. It was made ready like a bride is made ready for her husband. I heard a loud voice coming from heaven. It said, “See! God’s home is with men. He will live with them. They will be His people. God Himself will be with them. He will be their God. God will take away all their tears. There will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All the old things have passed away.” Then the One sitting on the throne said, “See! I am making all things new. Write, for these words are true and faithful.” Then He said to me, “These things have happened! I am the First and the Last. I am the beginning and the end. To anyone who is thirsty, I will give the water of life. It is a free gift.” Revelation 21: 1-7 NLV
Friends, may we cling to the promise of this day like an anchor in a storm when the heaviness of grief is too great to bear.
Born in Pennsylvania, I was raised a Phillies fan.
I had a bat signed by Bake McBride and a Phillie Phanatic puppet growing up.
I remember watching the team win the 1980 World Series on our console tv.
My all time favorite player, Mike Schmidt, was MVP.
Sorry, I get a little nostalgic some days.
But today was focused on a player dressed not in red, but in blue.
Yankee great Derek Jeter was elected into the prestigious Hall of Fame.
Even this Phillies girl has an appreciation for Yankees history.
Completely humble, Jeter talked about getting to this moment.
A class act, as my father would say.
He did not boast of his works.
Jeter noted he focused on being prepared each day.
He stated he was grateful to have had the opportunity to play for the same team throughout his entire career.
Not everyone who plays the game will be elected to the Hall of Fame, even if they work hard.
But as God’s children, we are all given the opportunity to be a part of the same team and be welcomed into His kingdom someday.
And it has nothing to do with our works or achievements.
It has all to do with His grace and unending love for us.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. “
Ephesians 2: 8-9 NIV
God does not care what position we play in life.
We all have equal value in His eyes.
But we must prepare for each day by spending time in His word and in His presence.
We must not boast of our works, but always point to His grace and love.
Friends, remember today that we are all on the same team.
And even though none of us are worthy, we are all MVPs in the eyes of the Creator.
As I began to cross over the interborough bridge yesterday, I noticed a black car in my rear view mirror, making an odd maneuver in the middle of the road.
“They must be lost,” I quietly said to myself.
But as quickly as that thought left me, the car was right beside me.
An older gentleman rolled down his window, asking for directions to 80 East.
Gratefully, I knew how to get him to his destination.
I smiled back and said, “Follow me. I will show you the way.”
Without hesitation, the man and his family pulled behind my Honda.
The vehicle stayed close until we reached the on ramp for the interstate.
He gave a beep and a wave in a thankful gesture as he drove away.
This man put his faith in a complete stranger for direction.
The disciples put their faith in a stranger as well.
Jesus suddenly came beside them, saying “Follow me.”
And they did so without hesitation, remaining close behind Him.
“ One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers—Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew—throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and followed Him.
A little farther up the shore He saw two other brothers, James and John, sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, repairing their nets. And He called them to come too. They immediately followed Him, leaving the boat and their father behind. “ Matthew 4: 18-22
But it was not just the disciples that followed Jesus.
Others were looking for direction in their lives as well.
Some were sick, some were broken.
But when learning about the Savior, the crowds began to follow Him as well.
“Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And He healed every kind of disease and illness. News about Him spread as far as Syria, and people soon began bringing to Him all who were sick. And whatever their sickness or disease, or if they were demon possessed or epileptic or paralyzed—He healed them all. Large crowds followed Him wherever He went—people from Galilee, the Ten Towns, Jerusalem, from all over Judea, and from east of the Jordan River. “Matthew 4: 23-25
We all get lost sometimes.
We all need someone to show us the way.
Friends, Jesus knows the directions to our final destination.
Stay close to Him …He will show you the way.
It was a warm summer day.
I love this time of year, when I can sit on the deck and drink in God’s beauty.
The smell of the flowers.
The sound of the birds with their morning chatter.
The explosion of greenery in front of me.
All of my senses lead me to one question.
Are we already there, in heaven, and simply do not take the time to notice?
I sit with my thoughts and my coffee, when suddenly the groundhog who has set up residence under the deck pops his head up.
He is as startled as I am.
He quickly retreats, and my heart rate returns to its normal rhythm.
Then the cutest chipmunk scampers by the steps.
He sees me, but continues to go about his morning business.
This tiny creature does not appear concerned about me, as I am at a distance.
I settle back into my devotion, when suddenly a large bee comes flying directly into my chest.
I am not as startled by him as the groundhog, as I see him coming.
I gently flick him off my chest .
And then it happens.
He circles back and comes at me again!
Grounded and prepared, I push him away in the opposite direction.
This time maybe not so gently.
He must have gotten the message because he kept going.
Our lessons can come from anywhere, even nature, if we pay attention.
All of my creature experiences made me think about the problems we face in this world.
Sometimes, like the groundhog, a situation arises that is so unexpected that it startles us.
Like the violent attacks in our schools, places of work and worship.
Places filled with teaching, community and music one minute can be filled with devastation the next when evil pops up.
It leaves us shaken, startled because we don’t see it coming.
Then there are situations that arise like seeing the chipmunk.
We are aware of what is happening, but we aren’t as concerned because it is at a distance.
It doesn’t affect us.
Maybe a natural disaster or an injustice that is happening to someone else that we stay silent about.
We do not always react to things that do not directly impact us.
Finally, like the bee, sometimes problems come right at us.
We recognize it quickly and take action to push it away.
But like the bee, Satan will come at us time and time again.
We need to be grounded and prepared to push him away.
His attacks will come at us directly on one day, and in more subtle ways the next.
We need to be prepared for any situation to protect ourselves from his attacks.
Spending time with our heavenly Father helps us prepare for the battles we face here on earth.
“The Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” 2 Thess. 3:3
Our heavenly Father is ever present in our times of trouble.
“By this I know that You delight in me: my enemy does not shout in triumph over me.” Psalm 41:11
Friends, we can be confident in any circumstances because we know who stands with us always.
“Don’t fear sudden danger or the ruin of the wicked when it comes, for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from a snare.” Prov 3:25-26
It is 7:15 am.
The nurse who is doing the ultrasound on my thyroid tells me I will not be able to talk while she performs the procedure.
No problem, I think to myself.
I have not had any coffee yet.
Then she reminds me I will need to remain still.
This presents more of a challenge for me.
As I lie back and stare at the ceiling tiles, I try to find one point to focus on.
Taking a deep breath, I shift my gaze up.
I am only aware of one round spot I have chosen.
Not the darkness in the room, or the clicking sound the machine makes as it takes the images.
I am focused only on one thing.
So before my morning coffee has penetrated the fog that hovers over my thoughts, God whispers into my heart.
It is easier to focus on Me when you are quiet and still.
An interesting concept on any given day, but especially after New Years.
The beginning of the new year is always accompanied by resolutions.
Ones that typically have us moving more.
Oh I know.
I have set goals to exercise and transform my now 50 year old body.
And these resolutions fizzle quickly, like fireworks in the sky.
Just like my focus on Him some days.
Unless I shift my gaze up, quiet myself and focus, my life can quickly become chaotic.
But when I allow Him to set my path, it truly is transforming.
“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plan.”
There is nothing wrong with goals of eating healthy and exercising more, but we also need to consider a daily diet of His word and walking with Him in our resolutions for 2020.
And if you miss a day, you can start again.
Even though we are inconsistent, our Heavenly Father remains constant.
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3: 22-23
Friends, as we begin the new year, remember to shift your gaze up, quiet yourself and focus on the One who created you.
You will be transformed.
Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year.
But truthfully, holidays can be stressful for many families.
The hustle and bustle, the financial strain of buying gifts for everyone, preparing extravagant meals.
And the dreaded question:
Who will we spend time with this holiday?
If you are married, divorced or even dating, you know what it is like to have to split time between households and family members.
It can become a source of conflict and controversy amongst loved ones.
And visits and conversations that are brief leave you with the feeling of wanting more.
It is hard to focus on just one person.
Coming from a large his, mine and ours family, I have seen this scenario play out repeatedly over the years.
I keep my expectations realistic, knowing that I may only get a few precious moments with loved ones.
But moments like these are the greatest gifts.
This past Christmas, I got a beautiful treasure from my niece.
We had breakfast together at our favorite little cafe.
And over coffee and avocado toast, she shared her life and her heart with me.
One of my most cherished moments this Christmas.
These are the treasures that mean the most, being in the presence of loved ones.
Mary understood this well.
When Jesus came to her home, she was not worried about gifts or preparing an extravagant meal.
She simply wanted to focus on one person: Jesus.
Mary wanted to hear Him share His heart.
But this was the source of conflict with her own sister.
“ As they went on their way, they came to a town where a woman named Martha lived. She cared for Jesus in her home.Martha had a sister named Mary. Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to all He said. Martha was working hard getting supper ready. She came to Jesus and said, “Do You see that my sister is not helping me? Tell her to help me.”Jesus said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. Only a few things are important, even just one. Mary has chosen the good thing. It will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10: 38-42
Friends, sometimes we choose busyness over sitting at the feet of the One who gave us the greatest gift we have ever known.
He only asks for us to be present with Him.
Start right now.
Take time to be present with Him today and in the new year.
It is the greatest gift we can offer the One who gave us His all.
Every year, we gather our friends together for birthday cake for Jesus.
It has become one of my favorite traditions.
We started when our kids were pretty small.
Now, some of them are in college.
And they all still gather around as my friend tells the story of the Savior’s birth, using our Nativity set with a plush Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus.
Afterwards, we light the candles on the cake and sing Happy Birthday to our Savior.
Mr. Lord (yes, that is his real name) always asks the group this question as he narrates the story.
What did the angel say to the shepherds as they tended to their sheep?
Do not be afraid!
They all shout out the same answer.
For as many times as they have heard this story, they know this answer by heart.
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2: 8-11
The shepherds must have been fearful, having something appear out of nowhere.
Yet the same response appears repeatedly throughout scripture.
Do not be afraid!
I have thought of this phrase so many times this week.
Sometimes things appear out of nowhere.
A new health diagnosis or illness.
The unexpected loss of a loved one.
A financial burden.
The approaching holiday can make us feel anxious or worried.
Especially if we feel like hope is lost.
But Christmas is when hope was born.
It is the reminder to not be afraid, because we are not alone.
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which means God is with us.” Matthew 1:23
I don’t know about you, but I need this reminder daily, not just at Christmas.
Friends, whatever we are facing today, God is with us.
Do not be afraid.
I pray our children keep that answer always tucked in their hearts.
I pray that you do as well.
It was a moment.
A moment when I was sure if anyone witnessed what was unfolding, they would have revoked my nomination for the Mother of the Year award.
No nominations here.
Just a mom doing the best she can.
And this was a moment when my frustration and emotions got the better of me.
Start with a teenage boy with an attitude.
Insert “the tone” here.
If you have a teenage son, there is no explanation needed.
Add a runaway dog that you offered to watch for a friend.
Factor in that same son, who did not want to make the trip with you anyway, is now covered in mud.
Stomping back through the woods with “escapee’ back on his leash, my son’s anger could not be contained.
The exchange of words brought me to tears.
As we made our way back to the car, I completely disintegrated.
These were the words I whispered to my red faced son:
“I must be the worst mom in the world for you to think it is ok for you to speak to me in this way.
I thought I had taught you better.”
I am even crying as I am writing this.
It was such an ugly, raw moment.
And a long car ride home.
He reassured me that I was not the worst mom in the world and that he loved me.
He apologized for the attitude and overreacting.
I apologized for getting emotional and yelling.
As soon as we exited the car at home, he put his arms around me and told me he loved me.
Even in my worst moments, that kid loves me.
But I have to admit, in my worst moments, I do not feel loveable.
That is why God’s love is so remarkable to me.
I am the child with the attitude somedays.
I get “the tone” with those around me.
When things do not turn out the way I have pictured in my head, I stomp around in frustration.
And all the while, I wonder if God looks at me, shakes His head and asks the same question.
Didn’t I teach you better, child?
In those moments, I choose to ignore what I have been taught and focus on how I feel.
But despite all of this, the Creator of the Universe loves me.
Friends, God knows us.
He sees our best days and our worst days.
And even on our worst days, He still chose to send His son to die for us.
He reassures us with His word.
“But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” Romans 5: 8
Our Heavenly Father knew long before we breathed our first breath, He would have these moments with us.
Even when we think we are unloveable, God’s love remains unchanging.
His arms are always open, ready to embrace us with His grace.
Even on our worst days.
I could not wait to get home Tuesday night.
For King and Country was playing on CMA Christmas.
This Christian pop duo was performing their rendition of The Little Drummer Boy.
Did you know that the first recorded version of this song was in 1951 and was performed by the Trapp Family Singers?
Yes, the same family that inspired the Sound of Music.
The Little Drummer Boy has been performed by a variety of artists over the years, from Bing Crosby to Johnny Cash, The Brady Bunch to Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Bob Dylan to Justin Beiber.
But this is my favorite version of the popular Christmas song.
And it is not just because I fangirl over Joel and Luke Smallbone.
The inspiring performance to an audience of believers and non believers alike Tuesday night brought the lyrics to life for me in a new way.
For King and Country was not performing a song.
They were truly offering their gifts to our King.
And they played their best for Him like I have never seen before.
It literally gave me chills and brought me to tears at the same time.
The song that I have heard since childhood stirred inside me and forced me to search my heart in a deeper way.
What do I have that is fit to offer our King?
What could I possibly offer that He would want?
[ What God Wants ] “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you? He wants you to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him. He wants you to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul.” Deuteronomy 10:12 NLV
“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Deuteronomy 6:5 NLV
God simply wants us to love Him.
That is a gift each one of us can offer to our King.
Do I really play my best for Him?
What does my best look like to our Creator?
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. Matthew 5: 43-47 MSG
Friends, these are questions not just to ask on the day we celebrate our Savior’s birth, but each and every day.
What do we have that is fit to offer our King?
Do we play our best for Him?
Our love for Him and for each other is the present that we can all offer our King.
Let’s offer our best to Him today.
“Whatever work you do, do it with all your heart. Do it for the Lord and not for men.”
Colossians 3: 23 NLV