In With the Old

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Philippians 3:12, NIV) New year. New beginnings. New resolutions. As the sun rises on 2011, most of us take inventory of our lives and look at the new year as a chance to hit the reset button. We hope to make a fresh start, change directions, try new things or “get it right” this time. Sometimes we hope that after a long December, maybe this year will be better than the last. (Thank you, Counting Crows.) Ever since I became a Christian eight years ago,  God’s brought me into exciting experiences. Each year I’ve watched my faith grow exponentially as God’s prodded me to go further. To be adventurous. To use my talents and heart for His glory. And He’s led me into many ministries in my life: Bible study leading, writing, mission trips, prison ministry and more. He’s even taken hold of my creative and technical skills. I felt certain that something BIG was on the horizon. But nothing big has come to pass and the thrill is fading. The “same old, same old” is setting in. And I’m getting a little weary. It seems my honeymoon with God is over. I wrestled with this for a good part of last year.  Where's the exhilaration of my faith? Did I take a wrong turn? Did I misunderstand God? What happened? Through the words of a very wise friend, I heard the Lord whisper, “What’s in your...

Under Construction

Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat. Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat. Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat. A cacophony of jackhammering awakened me before sunrise—definitely not the sound (or time) I’d set for my alarm! Through the murkiness of sleep I remember the flyer we’d gotten alerting us about the repaving of our neighborhood streets. In the darkness of early morning an army of workers and a flotilla of heavy equipment had descended upon my neighborhood. It was D-day. For days now I’ve been serenaded by a bone-jarring symphony of grinding, grating, dumping and digging. Once in a while one of the machines does something that makes the entire house shake. My dog cowers under my desk to hide from the “monsters” outside, and I reach for the earplugs and ibuprofen. Today when my street became construction central, I watched with fascination as an asphalt-eating monstrosity crept along the street, chewing up the old road and “spitting” it out. It left behind a surface scarred and disfigured by ridges, ruts and potholes. A surface far worse than before, that makes driving a car, and especially riding a bike, a jarringly memorable experience. But now the workers have left for the day and it’s blissfully silent. Already I can see that the upheaval will be worth it as one side of my street boasts beautiful new blacktop. The other side, however, is still a chewed-up mess. I look at the lopsided road—a glaring before and after—and think it looks a lot like my heart. While I can testify that areas of my heart have been transformed by God’s grace and faithfulness, much of it is still very much a work in progress. It’s marred...

Do I Belong?

 WEEK 4 giveaway WINNERS are:  Jesus Calling Devotional Bible – Josie Lytle Jesus Calling Leathersoft Bible – Sue White Lotus Keepter – Amy Smith Rising Shadows – Kate email lori@internetcafedevotions.com with an address or email so we can get these giveaways out to you!! You’ve got to comment to win! Join us this Friday – Sunday for a BRAND NEW set of Giveaways!!   The winners of “She’s Got Issues” by Nicole Unice are: Leahmichele Winona Kris Gartley Lora Sabrina Contact lori@internetcafedevotions.com with your mailing address and we’ll get those FANTASTIC resources off to you!     She was in seventh grade and excited to finally be in one of the popular crowds. Then one day her best friend—a girl she idolized—handed her a note. As she read the scribbled words, tears burned her eyes: “I don’t want to be your friend anymore.” And just like that, it was so. The rest of her friends followed the note-writing leader because that’s what middle school girls do. With one swift kick they booted her out. Yesterday’s friends now ignored her and talked about her. She was rejected, alone and heartbroken. “What did I do? Why me? What’s wrong with ME?” Through the rest of middle school she chose isolation rather than facing the pain of possible rejection from new friends. Oh, middle school is a tough road for young girls to travel as they struggle to find their place in the world. Their transparent actions cry out, “Do you see me? Am I worthy? Do I fit in?” As adults we say, “Whew! I wouldn’t want to go through that...

Shaken to the Core

On January 12, 2010 the foundations of the earth shook as a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti. The already-poorest-country in the Western hemisphere suffered unthinkable destruction. News reports confirmed the ruin, chaos, grief, tragedy. By all accounts Haiti was devastated. Period. Did you know earthquakes foreshadowed major plot shifts in the Bible? Before Moses received the Ten Commandments, “the mountain trembled violently.” When Jesus was crucified and took his last breath, “the earth shook.” When the angel rolled the stone away from the tomb, “there was a violent earthquake.” When Paul and Silas sang hymns in prison, “there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken.” I imagine the witnesses focused on the chaos, shock and ruin of the earthquakes. But knowing what came next, I hear God saying, “Don’t focus on the shaking earth and get stuck there! Look at me. Watch what I’m going to do!” I’m giving you The Law. I’m overcoming death. I’m giving you eternal life. I’m building my church. The earthquakes weren’t the end of the story; they were the beginning. It’s been said, “Don’t put a period where God intends a comma.” In the two years since the earthquake in Haiti, futility, hopelessness and despair abound. Each news report draws circles around the period at the end of the story called Haiti. But God.  God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their...

Gym Time and Jesus

I love Thursday morning spin class at my gym. It’s intense, sweaty and leaves me feeling exhausted in a great way. A spin bike is stationary, of course. So no matter how hard you pedal, the bike remains in exactly the same place. Yet, every week my competitive streak flares and I try not just to survive spin class, but to “win” it. Throughout the class I compare my perceived effort to others. I try to keep my gear and cadence above what the instructor calls out. And I glance at the digital displays on the bikes of nearby riders to see if my “numbers” are better than theirs. Recently my bike was “tighter” than usual. During the class I struggled to reach even the lowest gear range the instructor called out. I looked at my fellow pedalers. They’re doing it, why can’t I? My heart pounded. Sweat flowed off my forehead and down my back. Yet, I felt discouraged. At the end of the class my body said, “Wow, tough workout!” But my mind said, “You’re weak—loser!” The next week, the bike I chose shifted easily. Throughout class, instead of lagging behind, I stayed several gears ahead. A quick glance around the room confirmed, Yep, you’re beating them! My adrenaline pumped and I finished class feeling victorious. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t as fatigued as usual, or that the victory came on an “easy” bike—I “won” spin class. Letting a fickle machine and the perceived performance of strangers validate and invalidate my results is silly of course. But my competitive nature can be my fatal flaw: I...

A Wretch Like Me

I wish you could join me for a church service in the prison I visit regularly. Together we’d experience praise that’s loud and joy that’s overflowing. We’d see worship that’s raw, transparent and vulnerable. An outside guest recently shared his testimony. “I was a stone cold drunk for 20 years. Sometimes I’d be driving on the expressway and I’d be so drunk I’d roll down the window, throw up and keep driving. I did crystal meth. I was into pornography, adultery, thieving.” I cringed at the raw and ugly details of a life so obviously devastated by sin. And I marveled as he proclaimed God’s redemptive and transforming grace. In the broken places of this world I continually hear similar testimonies from people who had hit bottom and literally had nowhere else to turn—except to Jesus. Sometimes I get serious spiritual whiplash going from the active, out-loud faith in the prison to the cautious, silent faith in the suburbs. In a community Bible study I attend, most of the upper-middle class women are seeking faith and have been part of the group for years. Yet even though they’ve heard lots of solid biblical teaching, it seems few have grown. Requests for personal testimony are usually met with uncomfortable silence. Many still seem to hold Jesus at arms’ length. You and I don’t have to literally be in jail to be imprisoned. We can be locked behind bars made of things stronger than steel. Things like doubt, fear, hurt, anger, pride, jealousy, insecurity, worry, guilt. The list goes on. In suburbia the greatest barriers to life-changing faith might be the...

Awesome Sauce!

At the end of October my spindly tomato plants gasped their last breath. The tomatoes’ cracked skins, rot and dark spots told of the ravages from too much rain, cooler temperatures and lessening sunlight. Although they’d be rejects at any produce market, I picked what I could and brought my battered harvest inside. Since they didn’t look appealing to slice and eat, I decided to make sauce. I concocted a simple recipe, added the chopped tomatoes, and left the sauce to simmer for a long time. When the time seemed right, I nervously took a taste. I was amazed! The sauce was awesome—nuanced and sweet and delicious! It shouted, “Blasphemer!” to the jarred sauce in my pantry. I marveled at how a bowl of ugly, half-rotting tomatoes became something so magnificent. Sometimes I feel like one of those late season tomatoes–overwhelmed by imperfections, cracks and flaws. I feel battered by bad habits, rejection, insecurities and the lies of the enemy. Certainly God, you’d rather choose someone more perfect and appealing. But I know in my heart this isn’t the way God sees me or any of His children. During His ministry, Jesus’ went out of His way to find the “bad fruit”—like Samaritans, prostitutes, adulterers, lepers and tax collectors. Those who’d been stamped “unacceptable” by society, He gathered them close to forgive, teach, heal and love. It was to the most flawed and the most unlikely that Jesus revealed His Truth and amazing grace. When the grade A fruit—the Pharisees—asked Jesus why he wasted His time with the rejects He answered them, “It is not the healthy who need...

Poser? Or One of Us?

I used to be a cyclist. Twelve years ago, after a short but scary battle with cancer, I valued my health as a gift and wanted to do something with it to help others. I joined the local chapter of Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training—a group that uses marathons, biking and triathlons to raise money for cancer research. I’d long wondered if I had it in me to do a long-distance event. In the cold of winter we started training for the Santa Fe Century, a 100-mile bike ride. I resisted buying all that ridiculous looking bike attire and an expensive road bike. Seriously, does anyone look good in that stuff? Months passed and the miles added up. Eventually vanity gave way to practicality. I gave in and bought the jerseys, the shoes and even the road bike. I finally looked—and felt—like a cyclist. May came and our team flew to New Mexico for the big event. The Santa Fe Century was a difficult, incredible and exhilarating life experience. As a result I continued with Team in Training and did lots more bike riding in the subsequent years—on my own, with my team, at local events, with local clubs. Besides discovering that I really don’t enjoy biking more than 50 miles at a time, I found that cyclists are a pretty exclusive bunch. In cycling circles, you are without a doubt judged by your gear, your attire, your bike’s fancy extras and your street cred—especially when you’re a woman. The more advanced the group, the more they seemed to say, “Are you one of us … or...

Traveling Lessons

I want to thank Harold Camping. Not because I think the May 21st-end-of-the-world pastor offered much useful information to end times conversations, but because he got people talking. Personally, all the hubbub spurred me to have the “S” talk with my kids. Not that “S” talk. The other one—salvation. On separate occasions, I talked one-on-one with my 16-year-daughter and 13-year-old son and asked: “If the world ended today, would you go to heaven?” Both answered, “I don’t know.” I followed up with, “What do you think you need to do to get into heaven?” Their responses ranged from “I’m not sure” to “go to church and be a good person” to “believe in God.” Neither of them mentioned Jesus. Their answers surprised and saddened me, since my kids have grown up going to church, Christian preschool, Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. Back then they were willing and eager faith participants with whom I’d sing Bible songs and teach simple lessons about God. But as they headed into adolescence, these interactions became fewer. They became less willing to participate in faith conversations so I kept quiet, not wanting to force the issue and push them away. Besides, my husband and I were doing all the “right” things as Christian parents. Our kids go to church every Sunday, participate in youth group and go on mission trips. They see Dan and me leading and attending Bible studies, being involved in prison ministry, and listening to Christian music. We even eat at Chick-fil-A regularly! But when it came to spiritual teaching, I became a “bring-er” and a “drop off-er,” trusting that...

From “How?”… to “Wow!” Navigating the Seven C’s of Digital Photography

Raise your hand if you’ve replaced your film camera with a digital one. Now, raise the other one if this new world of digital photography has left you intimidated, confused and maybe even afraid to confront one of your greatest fears—the computer. Picture taking was so much easier in the days of film and drop off envelopes. Now after a vacation, holiday or family outing you’re left with a digital camera full of pictures and no idea what to do next. Perhaps your tech-savvy husband or kids step in to help. Women are a family’s chief historian and storyteller. Most of us say we’d bravely battle a house fire to save our family photographs. Shouldn’t we summon that same courage to venture into this brave world of photography. Here are seven steps to guide you in your journey, because whether you want to embrace it or not, digital photography is here to stay. So gather your camera, turn on your computer and let’s get started.   1. Camera Look at your camera and its buttons. Push them and see what happens. You’re not going to break your camera, but make sure you don’t delete your pictures accidentally. Every camera has the same basic features and while you don’t need to learn how to use every one, it is important you learn the essentials like: Overriding the automatic flash (needed when your subject is backlit) Operating the self-timer (perfect to use for group shots) Deleting unwanted pictures (get rid of bad pictures right away) Formatting the media card (done ONLY after pictures are safely stored on your computer). Tip: Pictures...