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My mom always taught us that if we were visiting somewhere, it was polite to leave the place better than we found it. That meant pretty much spotless. It’s a decent principle to live by, and, surprisingly enough, it transfers to many areas in life.

I’ve even thought about it this way: we’re visitors to this world that God has entrusted to us. He’s given us family, friends, co-workers – a whole circle of influence – whom we impact (whether we realize it or not) on a daily basis. We have free time to expend on whatever we choose from hobbies to holidays. And though there are many activities we can spend our time and resources on, when our life comes to a close, what will really matter?

It’s easy to get it wrong and think what can I get out of life, or, how can I show others how accomplished I am? But, in the end, it isn’t what you get out of life, or what you take from it, but what you deposit.

We have a choice to leave here better than we found it.

While we can easily leave a place better than we found it, we can also leave a person better than we found them by treating them with love and respect, offering help, or giving a simple compliment. We can contribute to our workplace or colleagues by doing our best work with a positive attitude. We can put aside what we’re doing to play with a child, listen to a teen, or sit with the elderly. We can expend time to help build a better future for a underpriviledged community or a better day for one single human being. We can speak kindnesses instead of insults or criticism.

There are countless ways we can improve the lives of others through selfless acts of kindness. You can probably think of many I haven’t listed. These are things of great beauty and be assured, they matter in eternity. Don’t be fooled; not one of these actions is wasted. And if no one ever notices – if you gather no accolades or awards for doing them – consider yourself blessed. God sees and is pleased.

When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.

Matthew 6:2-4 (Message)

In these ways our actions not only leave this place better than we found it, but we please our Father in heaven while growing in Christ-likeness.

At the end of the movie Schindler’s List, Oskar Schindler takes inventory of his actions. Take a moment to watch the clip below. What deposits will you leave impressed on the lives of others? In what ways could you make a difference?

Watch the ending of Schindler’s List

With God’s help and wisdom, we can wisely choose how we will spend our time and resources so we can leave deposits of beauty that may touch a life, a generation to come, or eternity.

May you leave this place, even this very day, better than you found it. 

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  1. Choose one activity today and use it to make a difference. It can be as simple as a smile to a stranger, buying a coffee for the next person in line, or providing a listening ear. Pick some way to begin to make a difference to someone and leave this place better than you found it.
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Recently, I had the immense privilege of speaking to a group of graduates. This week, I thought to share the speech with you. Enjoy!

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Success. How does one measure it? Is it by the school you attend? The degree you attain? The position you hold at work? The size of your bank account? The size of your home? The price tag on your car? Can it be measured by what others say or think of you? Can it even be measured at all? And if it could, what would it look like? Read the rest of this entry »

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. ~ Ecc 3:11

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We live in a 130 year-old home. There is a great deal of maintenance needed to keep it in decent repair. It seems there is always something in need of attention: some wood rotting here, some paint peeling there, or chips requiring touch ups on the wide baseboards. Our old home is never in perfect condition!

Which rather reminds me of life.

In my experience, there is always something falling out of place or already in need of repair! The trouble is, we live in a world that whispers we need to have life figured out and have it all together. It tells us we need to make plans and goals and make them happen. That we need to somehow strive but also be centered.

But what would happen if we began to think that instead of things falling out of place, they are actually falling into place? That the parts in need of repair aren’t something to bemoan, but instead celebrate that we’re under construction. What would happen if instead of being centered, we make Christ the center? Instead of comparing, we grow grateful for what we’ve been given and trust God will meet all our needs according to His riches? And instead of frustrating ourselves with the pursuit of perfection, we rest and accept that God will make all things beautiful – even the messes.

Because here’s the truth: God made you, He loves you, and there isn’t a thing you could do at this moment to make Him love you any more or less than He already does. You might not feel like it, but, thanks to Jesus, you are already perfect in God’s sight.

For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy”

Hebrews 10:14

God sees us as perfect, but I love the rest…we are being made holy.

That explains the messiness.

God sees you as perfect, but loves you so much that He is willing to lead you to further beauty. A fancy word for that is sanctification. If we are in Christ, we are being made more Christ-like. This means the rough and rotten bits are being removed and repaired. That can be painful and discouraging. It can look messy and unkempt. It may appear that things are falling apart. But take heart, it’s your loving Father at work doing what He does best.

You know, if you look at our house from the street, you can’t see the paint chips and rotting bits. Like your life, take a few steps back, try to see it more as God does, and things will look a lot more beautiful.

May you find courage today to embrace and celebrate God’s handiwork in your life!

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  1. In what areas of your life might God be at work?
  2. Can you follow Him as He leads you through the mess and out the other side to beauty?

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9

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By eighteen years of age, I had a parenting file. In it I kept all the Dr. Dobson tips inserted into our church bulletins, along with any other scraps of wisdom I stumbled across. I even read parenting books with all sorts of helpful advice. I was going to be an amazing mom – practically perfect, I thought.

But the books didn’t account for a few things.

There was never a mention of those days when you’re beyond tired and patience prematurely packs its bags. When circumstances shift so fast and hard that life takes a disorienting sharp turn for the worse. When you’re sick so long it starts to look like you’ll never get better. When all your “yes’s'” catch up with you and you’re running ragged, or just barely hanging on emotionally, physically or financially. No, there were no chapters dedicated to how to be an outstanding parent when the bottom drops right out from under you.

No book noted how to respond when a little voice calling mommy interrupts mid-sob, and you make tidy work of wiping tears gushing from a soul rubbed raw by the events you protected them from and some you couldn’t. When everything you did was motivated by love and most of the time that love was far too much or not nearly enough. Mostly, parenting felt like you were feeling in the dark with the occasional scrap of light.

But somewhere between the tickle fights and hair tangles, missing socks and math problems, untold bedtime stories and late night pacing, you managed to be a mom who, despite all her flaws, flips outs and failings was real and kind and good. And all you ever wanted was to raise kids that were too. And that had to be enough because though you didn’t feel nearly enough, you were the one God assigned for the task. And you look at these human beings God gave you to raise and think: they are kind and good and miraculously more than enough. More than you could have dared to dream.

Fast forward twenty years. The parenting books are now untouched. I still lament that I wasn’t a good enough mom, think of the ways I could have, should have, done it differently. I drag my failed self-wisdom and aching heart to the One who is good enough. And in those quiet moments – the moments in between the dinner making and the driving – I thank Him for trusting me with a job that was far too big for my credentials and self-education. Far too big for me alone.

And I realize, it was all because of GRACE.

Heaps and heaps of it. It filled in the cracks I missed, saturated the gaping wounds life inflicted that I couldn’t have hoped to patch, it spilled over the top in healing brimming over beyond measuring.

Grace. The free gift the books missed mentioning. The part where peace takes over and you rest knowing God knew all this and it’s still okay, because He loved so completely He died and made a way to eternity for the likes of those who feel undeserving and not nearly enough. And in His arms you understand that He never asked for perfection anyway – just like you never asked for it from your kids. And you, like they, feel loved…and that covers a multitude.

And this amazing Grace, like a love-blanket, wraps itself around us, pulls us close and declares:

You are enough. You are loved. 

And you realize, it was enough, because He is enough.

He is the One who saw all the not-quite-enoughs, the beautiful sacrifices made when you were on empty, the way you looked into your child’s eyes when you could barely keep your own open, the way you laughed when you could have cried. He knew the mountains you were scaling. And with Him, it is all more than enough. Because somehow, together you were making beauty far beyond anything you could have learned from a book.

“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

May you receive God’s grace and love freely today. 

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  1. How do you feel unworthy? Tell God about it and let Him heal those areas.
  2. In what ways have you controlled the parenting process? Chose to let go and let God do the heavy lifting.

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. ~ Deuteronomy 33:27

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A friend of ours has his own carpet cleaning business. Sometimes he posts pictures or videos of the disasters he has to clean up (think flooding from a burst sewage pipe). It helps that he has a sense of humour – wading through fecal matter requires that kind of character and internal fortitude!

How do we respond in the midst of life’s messes? How do we react when the floods come and the water grows murky? It’s easy to buy into the lie that if you are a good Christian, you’ll simply pull on your rubber boots and dance through the dung. Or you may believe the opposite – that it will never get cleaned up. But don’t.

It’s true that swimming in rising water is exhausting, and sometimes circumstances threaten to overwhelm us. People sinning really does hurt. Sickness is daunting. Loosing a loved one can bring us to our knees.

But during, or even after a crisis, take comfort in these:

1. God never leaves you or turns away from you. 

Be strong and courageous, Do not be terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you or forsake you. ~ Deut 31:6

God is not mad at you. He has not turned his back on you. Nothing you can do, or fail to do, will make Him love you any more or less. He is there for you with open arms. You are accepted.

2. No matter where you are or what is happening, God loves you and desires an intimate relationship with you. 

Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking, I will hear. ~ Isa 65:24

Just knowing God longs to be with us gives us hope and courage. Being with Him reminds you of who you are. And you are loved by Him! Sit with Him and your soul and spirit will be revived and renewed.

3. You can tell God all about it. Your disappointments, your feelings of betrayal, your deep wounds, your broken heart. He knows anyway. He won’t judge; He’ll heal you.

Cast all your cares on the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous fall. ~ Psalm 55:22

God wants to carry your burdens for you. It is not His desire that you struggle alone. So go ahead and pour out your heart to Him. Hand over your heavy weights and grow lighter and more free.

4. He can give you the strength to forgive. 

Be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. ~ Eph 4:32

Forgiveness is tough. It’s a journey. It takes diligent effort. It can’t be done on our own strength without God’s help. When we understand how much we have been forgiven, when we agree with God’s plan for forgiveness, we can accept His help to forgive.

5. It’s never too late. When you turn to God, He will restore and redeem all that you thought was lost.

God, your God, will restore everything you lost; He’ll have compassion on you; He’ll come back and pick up the pieces from all the places where you were scattered. No matter how far away you end up, God, our God, will get you out of there…He will cut away the thick calluses on your heart and your children’s hearts, freeing you to love God, your God, with your whole heart and soul and live, really live. And you will make a new start, listening obediently to God… ~ Deut 30:3-6

Sometimes we think a circumstance, a situation, a relationship, or our life is beyond broken. Don’t believe it. God can do anything! It may not look the same, may never be the same, but God has a way of restoring lives beyond what we could ever ask or imagine.

6. You can exchange anxiousness for thankfulness.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. ~ Phil 4:6

Try giving thanks in the midst of crisis. Thankfulness doesn’t mean denying that what you are going through doesn’t exist, but rather the proclamation that God is good and there is always something to be grateful for.

7. You will come to deeply understand the goodness of God.

Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! ~ Psalm 106:1

Those who have walked through crisis, and hung on to their mustard seed faith with whitened knuckles, know beyond a doubt that their God saw them through it and never ceased to help and love them.

8. You will come to live in His abundance. 

I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. ~ John 10:10

It’s true, after the crisis, nothing will look the same. The past is gone, but God miraculously makes things new. He heals and helps your heart align with His. Your desires begin to line up with His and you begin to recognize His overflowing goodness and love, even in the midst of the circumstances, but especially when you look back on them.

Don’t give up or give in! These present trials will not remain forever, but you can be sure God’s love for you always will!

I bless you that you will know that God is with you no matter what!

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  1. Which of the above truths resonate most fully with you? Which one the least?
  2. Ask God to help you grow toward greater freedom and understanding in your areas of doubt or struggle.

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“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” ~ John 10:10-11

I’ve noticed a pattern. Maybe you have too. It is regular and systematic and happens daily without fail. It is assumed by our sworn enemy who is bent on our destruction. He slinks around, enticing us with the promise of false happiness. He offers calculated suggestions, deceptions, and rationalizations in an attempt to entrap us. He doesn’t particularly care how long it takes, but if we partake, the full impact of the action has immediate effect.

As we reel in remorse, the ever-ready accuser begins his second assault by piling on condemnation. Now he comes with a flood of lies of a different nature. They are no longer laced with temptation, but are a soul-searing arsenal of words whispering things like: You’re a fool! You don’t deserve grace. Why don’t you just give up? Any of those sound familiar?

There’s a vast difference between the way that Satan comes at us and the way God approaches us in our sin. Satan arrives as the condemner. He is a thief bent on nothing short of our destruction. We are advised to “be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) Jesus tells us, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:10-11)

Satan would take your life; Jesus gave His in your place.

With this realization, you have a choice to repent and be rescued from sin’s grip. It’s surprisingly simple. You confess your sin, ask to be forgiven, and choose to follow, or continue following, Christ. The promise that “you may have life and have it abundantly” remains, and Satan’s power is defeated. God provided a remedy through Jesus. Because of this, the battle is already won.

Just in case you’re feeling as though you’re already partially “devoured”, take comfort fellow sojourner. You are never too far from God’s reach, never too messy for His grace, never too spoiled for His loving touch. You can be pulled from the mouth of the lion, healed and made new again. His love, forgiveness and grace is limitless.

May you be reminded, through the words of John 3:16 paraphrased here, that God loved you so much he gave his one and only Son, so that if you believe in him you will not perish but have eternal life.

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  1. Where are you most tempted? Invite God’s help, strength, and strategy to stand firm.
  2. Where have you fallen short? Remember that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

 

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. ~ Jesus

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A young mom recently asked me, “How can I do some deep work with God?”

What a beautiful question! I picture God smiling ear-to-ear over His kids who are seeking a climb-up-on-His-lap kind of intimacy.

I mentioned some ways to grow closer to God, such as setting time aside each day to read His word, prayer, and keeping a prayer journal, but thought it deserved a more thoughtful answer. Below are some of the specific ways that have helped me enrich my relationship with the Lord. I write them here as an encouragement to you.

  1. Read and study the Bible. Approach God’s word expectantly. What I mean by this is when you sit down to read the Bible, expect to hear from God. If a verse stands out to you, write it in a prayer journal or underline it in your Bible. Memorization also helps to hide His word in your heart for future use and timely encouragement.
  2. Pray.  Both the fall-on-your-knees and cry out to God kind, and the breath-by-breath throughout the day kind. Pray away from the crowds – just you and God, but also with other faithful, believers who expect God hears and answers in miraculous ways.
  3. Keep a prayer journal. I use my prayer journal to write prayers to God. In it I tell Him about what I’m struggling with, significant requests, and verses that stand out to me. It is amazing to look back and see God’s faithfulness documented and dated.
  4. Listen. Be still long enough to hear God’s hallowed in-between reply. The whisper in your spirit from His. The knowingness that God passed by and you didn’t miss the exhale of His Spirit releasing reassurance, peace, or a drop of deeper understanding. Let His voice be the loudest in your life.
  5. Praise.  Tell God how much you love Him. Be mindful of His many attributes. Speak, sing, dance, play, paint, or write your exclamations of praise – your worship to Him. Use your gifting for His glory. Your joyful offering pleases God and fortifies faith.
  6. Go to church. “Do not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another- and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25) Go to church to hear God’s word, to be encouraged, to meet with His saints and worship together. Meet regularly with other believers outside of the church walls too. Hear their victory stories, pray for them in their struggles, and love them.
  7. Choose/Practice forgiveness. “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:15) Jesus did it, so must we. It is a choice; a determined effort. It’s hard, they may not deserve it, but doing so frees us to live in the fullness of love and abundance Jesus died to give us.
  8. Be thankful. Don’t forget to thank God for ALL He has allowed in your life, the good, the bad, and the ugly. All of it is being used to form you into Christ-likeness. Nothing  is wasted. “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor 3:18) Even in the middle of the largest battle, we can choose thankfulness, and even in the midst of the most mundane moments we can be thankful.
  9. Choose joy. It can be found in the most heartbreaking, painful situations or can be chosen in the monotony of the day-to-day. Joy that isn’t based on circumstances but is rooted in faith that, no matter what, the God of the universe has “got” this and everything else. Choosing joy changes the atmosphere both within and without.
  10. Find a mentor/Be a mentor. Walk alongside a trusted someone who is a little further on in their journey than you. Learn from them, hear their stories, be encouraged by their triumphs and failures. Do the same for another newer or younger believer. We were not meant to walk alone.
  11. Serve and care for those in need. “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” (James 1:27) Some sacrifice and inconvenience will be required, and you will be reminded that it’s not all about you, but your time and care will be priceless and of eternal value.
  12. Persevere. No matter the hardships, the fiery trials, the repeated mess-ups, the hurt, harm and misunderstandings, do not let anything or anyone come between you and God. Don’t let the truth of how precious and loved by God you are be stolen from you. You will, at times, be a partaker in Christ’s sufferings (see 1 Peter 4:12-14), but stay the course to end and great will be your reward (see Matthew 5:10-12).

I bless you as you do some deep work with God. 

He does great things past finding out. ~ Job 9:10

This past weekend, a home school group I work with put on a production of Robin Hood. Like all plays, there are people who work tirelessly in the background to make the magic of theatre happen. I think especially of the stagehands dressed in black, who move silently between the stage and backstage to make sure everything makes it to where it needs to be. If they are good at what they do, no one ever sees them, they merely see the results of what they’ve done: a chair moved onstage here, a tree shifted there.

 

The above verse reminds me that God is always working behind-the-scenes in our lives, whether we notice it or not. It is amazing to think that God is doing “great things” beyond our wisdom and understanding, and sometimes even beyond our ever knowing. Incredibly, He doesn’t do this because of anything we’ve done, He does it because He loves us – a dear Father ensuring all the pieces of our lives are moved appropriately in and out at just the right moment; a loving Dad performing innumerable kindnesses for us, many of which we will never be aware of this side of heaven.

 

If we do happen to recognize His grace, this verse notes we may not be privy to just how He accomplished it. We may never see how He stirred a heart, calmed a storm, thwarted a calamity, or allowed so many other seemingly coincidental events. But, if we do, we are ever grateful.

 

Yet there are times the “great things” He does don’t appear all that great, and it’s challenging to be thankful for what He allowed. But with a smidgen of faith and a mite of courage, we can believe for what we cannot see and know that God is good, even when the shifting and shuffling around of things in our lives may not feel good.

 

Be encouraged. You are intimately loved and cared for by the God of the universe. He doesn’t miss the smallest detail, He is never surprised, never forgets, and there is nothing beyond His understanding and wisdom. Look for the “great things”, the “grace things” He has positioned in your life – even the challenges are disguised blessings – and thank Him for all He has done.

 

Be blessed to see the great things God has done, and is doing, in your life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” ~ Jesus

The day after Christmas, my lifelong friend’s father passed away. Hearing the tributes at this man’s funeral made me consider what a well-lived life looks like and reminded me that our time here is limited.

So much of our lives can be spent on achievements – the gaining of accolades and things, yet it’s the unremarkable, ordinary bits that have a way of squeezing to the forefront, while the larger become the lesser and blur into the background.

We each leave an impression; our own individual indent on our patch of time here on earth. The things we do are meaningful – even the smallest of them. Surprisingly, the most mundane, everyday bits are perhaps most memorable – the parts lived in-between the “big stuff” instead of that which we might consider the main or most prominent events.

The echo that remained in the wake of this father’s last days wasn’t the accumulation of treasures and trophies, degrees or diverse portfolios. Resonating most powerfully was the very ordinary way in which this man lived his life and how a final decision altered his eternity.

It appears the achievements of a life well-lived are not actually the “achievements” at all. Paradoxically, greatness may resonate most fully through quiet kindnesses, a hand held out to the needy, a listening ear, or simple silence – the countless breaths between the fanfare.

I was also reminded of how, as long as you have breath, it’s never too late to find God.

This same father wondered why he had let go of God at the age of fifteen, and if it was too late for him. He had spent fifty-nine years away from God, but grasped hold of the Father two short days before he died.

See…even if, in the last cluster of moments, we wonder for half a heartbeat if there is still room in heaven for us, still a hope, still a chance to return from a lifelong detour, even then God’s offer still stands, even then His embrace is fully enfolding, even then heaven assured.

This father found, not unlike the thief on the cross an arm’s length or two from Jesus, that heaven is secured by a simple, repentant cry, “Is there still room for me?” or, “Remember me when you come in Your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)

There is always room enough for you and me under heaven’s canopy.

May you experience an extraordinary life in Christ.

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