No substitutions.

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There are some things in this life that I cannot or will not compromise on… Only the real thing works for me. No substitutes. Coffee! Must have a cup (or two) of sure enough fully leaded French roast in my cup in the morning. Butter. There is nothing like real butter in my recipes and on my toast or biscuit or corn on the cob or French toast or baked potato (you get the idea.) For some things, there just aren’t any substitutes for the genuine article… like flowers. Or smiles! And what about a real, honest-to-goodness bear hug?

There is no substitute for the love of God. When I woke up this morning, one line of lyric was singing loud and clear in my head.

Don’t think you need to settle for a substitute 

When I’m the only love that changes you

It’s from Drops in the Ocean from Hawk Nelson. I blogged about this song several months ago from a different perspective. Read it here. Sometimes, the song God sings over me is complete and lovely. But sometimes, like this morning, it’s one line and it comes in loud and clear! God’s love is the ONLY love that changes me. THERE. IS. NO. SUBSTITUTE. 

I am saddened that I had to be reminded about this hard and fast truth. So it’s got me thinking very early this morning, with the sun coming up on the fog-dampened bluegrass. What have I been substituting for God? What have I put in His place in my life? And, most importantly, what am I going to do about it? His IS the only love that changes me, frees me, makes me better. I can love others because He first loved me. No substitutions.

Thanks for the reminder, God. 

Click here to listen to Drops in the Ocean from Hawk Nelson.

Drowning

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I never learned to swim properly. I mean, I can swim… Just not well. I probably look like I’m trying to swim through mud rather than water. (I can’t say for sure, because I’ve never seen myself swim!) Let’s just say it’s a struggle and leave it at that. I look pretty goofy, too, because I have to wear nose plugs, goggles, and ear plugs. Without them, I feel as though I’m trying to save myself from drowning rather than swimming and enjoying the water. Not. Pretty.

I woke up this morning with a lyric singing through my head from Casting Crowns. “Here I am, Lord, and I’m drowning in your sea of forgetfulness.” It’s got me thinking about drowning… That awful feeling I get in the water when I’m trying to swim. Panic. Fighting for air. Hyper-alertness and stressed out! See, the thing is that I only feel comfortable in the water if I have my feet on the ground and my head above water. If my feet can’t reach the ground, I want to be hanging onto the side of the pool… For dear life!!

Thank God that He doesn’t operate that way!!! If I’m going to drown in anything, I want it to be in God’s sea of forgetfulness. I want to be out in the middle of it with nothing to hold onto. In so deep that my feet could never hit bottom. Over my head, pulling me under, enveloping me in God’s everlasting love and mercy. The trouble is that most of the time, I end up just wading at the shoreline of God’s grace and forgiveness. I get my feet wet, maybe even up to my knees. I want to see it, feel it, know it’s there, but I don’t want to lose myself in it. I don’t want to let myself be swept out into the sea of His forgetfulness where I have no control and my life is in HIS hands.

Psalms 103:12 says that God has removed our sin from us “as far as the east is from the west.”

Here I am, Lord, and I’m drowning in your sea of forgetfulness

The chains of yesterday surround me

I yearn for peace and rest

I don’t want to end up where You found me

And it echoes in my mind, keeps me awake tonight

I know You’ve cast my sin as far as the east is from the west

And I stand before You now as though I’ve never sinned

But today I feel like I’m just one mistake away from You leaving me this way

Chorus:
Jesus can You show me just how far the east is from the west

‘Cause I can’t bear to see the man I’ve been come rising up in me again

In the arms of Your mercy I find rest

‘Cause You know just how far the east is from the west

From one scarred hand to the other

Thank you, Lord, for not letting me stay in the shallow end of your forgiveness and grace!! Thank you for Your beautiful scarred hands that draw me out into the deep end.

Click here to listen to East to West from Casting Crowns.

Going Forward

We are living in an exciting time to be a Christian! We are also living in a terrifying time to be a Christian. One of my favorite authors and teachers has written a timely and pointed blog post that I think is a must-read for anyone who calls themselves Christian. Please read Going Forward by author and teacher Beth Moore. And then go forward to church. Forward to scripture, forward to prayer, forward to loving the way Jesus loved and still does.

 

Touch The Sky

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Grounded. We don’t much like that word. It brings back memories of being stuck in our room when our friends are not, privileges taken away for a week or a month depending on the offense. Flights get grounded, usually when we are desperate to get someplace fast, and we’re stuck in the airport with no place to go and no way to get there, sometimes with bad weather raging outside the windows making us feel hopeless, cut off. 

The song in my head this morning says otherwise. Touch The Sky from Hillsong UNITED was singing in my head when I woke up this morning making me feel like anything is possible! The opposite of hopeless, really.

My heart beating. My soul breathing.

I found my life when I laid it down.

Upward falling. Spirit soaring,

I touch the sky when my knees hit the ground.

If the definition of “grounded” describes a person who is sensible and has a good understanding of what is really important in life (merriam-webster.com), then please… Ground me, God!! Let my knees hit the ground regularly and often! If I find my life when I lay it down for Christ and for others, then what in the world am I waiting for??

1 John 3:16… By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

John 15:13… Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

Luke 9:24… For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.

Events in our world, our country, and even right here in my tiny home town are huge red flags waving at all believers… Get grounded!! Hit your spiritual knees and call on the One True God who is able to make order out of the chaos running roughshod over us all. Then get up off your knees and put yourself aside and serve somebody else. Go lay down your life for somebody, because that’s exactly what Jesus did for you and for me.

Ok. I’m done preaching now. Please go listen to this song. Touch The Sky from Hillsong UNITED.

Featured image: I took this picture off my front porch a couple of days ago. Gorgeous day, and a great reminder to look UP!!

Sticky Notes

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I have a thing for sticky notes. Fun or quirky. Bright or beautifully designed. Different shapes. Ones with quotes. Lined. No lines. Small, large, any color. The only exception is the traditional square pale yellow. None of that for me, thank you. Years of working in an office created a life-long love affair with little bits of paper. Even though I’m retired, I use them every day and get so excited when I see a new shape or color or find a funny one at a specialty or gift shop.

Staring at me now from these sticky notes at eye level on my desk….

A 3 x 3 pale purple on which I wrote, “I give myself permission to take care of ME.”

On a 3 x 3 pale pink with a tulip watermark I copied, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. Proverbs 16:24″

A 2 x 2 neon orange square proclaims, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Nehemiah 6:3″

On another orange I scribbled a Jennifer Rothschild quote, “It is well with my soul even when it is not well with my circumstances.”

On a two-toned bright green one shaped like a thought balloon I jotted a Shakespeare quote, “My conscience hath a thousand several tongues, and every tongue brings in a several tale, and every tale condemns me for a villain.”

Theres a bright yellow flower-shaped sticky note with several scripture references on it. I have used sticky notes through the years to help me memorize Bible verses.

I wish these sticky notes were stuck to my heart instead of my desk! Some of them are stuck to my brain, and I hope they’ll work their way down to my heart eventually. But I don’t think there is enough of whatever that sticky stuff is on the back of the paper to make these words stick to my heart. They keep falling off. And I mess up. Again. And I forget to take care of ME. Or I let my circumstances dictate my feelings, and I get my heart broken. Again.

And I guess that’s why I have them stuck at eye level on my desk. So that every morning, I see them again and read them again, somehow embedding them into my mind and my heart, reminding me once again that I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. To hide God’s word in my heart. To remember who I am and WHOSE I am!!!

I just added a neon pink heart-shaped sticky note. “RWYAAWYA!”

Remember who you are and WHOSE you are! Maybe this one will stick to my heart.

I love you.

I LOVE FOOD!!

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Seems like I’ve been on a diet since I was born. I don’t remember a time in my life (whether it was self-imposed or brought to my attention by well-meaning others) when I wasn’t conscious of what and when I was eating, how much, counting calories or carbs or Weight Watcher points. Being super careful because something might be bad for me or make me fatter. Or eating with complete abandon in defiance of the real truth that (insert deliciousness of the day here) will ultimately kill me.

I remember doing Richard Simmons Deal-a-Meal and Sweating to the Oldies. Anybody? There was that phase where I ate no fat AT ALL but gorged on jelly beans and pasta because it had none. And then there was the polar opposite Atkins or South Beach with no carbs, but I could eat all the fat I wanted. Remember that awful cabbage soup or grapefruit diet? And please don’t even get me started on the whole exercise thing! I’ve lost and gained and lost and gained hundreds (yes, HUNDREDS) of pounds in my lifetime.

But here’s the thing. I LOVE FOOD. There. I said it. I love to eat food, and the smell of food. I love to cook. I love the way food looks on the plate and how beautiful fruits and vegetables are in their luscious-ness and colors. I love to read about food and talk about food. And, let’s face it, our whole lives revolve around food. Socially, we make food the center of family gatherings or meeting up with friends. And in the church, particularly in the South, there’s one word… Potluck!

Jesus cooked for his disciples… Fish and bread by the water. And He was known to them after His resurrection in the breaking of the bread. He ate with publicans and sinners. Food was key in so many of the Jesus stories, and all the Bible. We are designed to hunger and be fed. It all boils down to WHAT we are hungry for and being fed by. Or should I say WHOM? Because I think my struggle in life has truly been a search for that one bite of something that will satisfy the hunger in my soul… That will fill the God-shaped hole in my heart.

So today, again, I’m starting over. Matthew West’s voice woke me up this morning singing Day One. 

It’s day one of the rest of my life
It’s day one of the best of my life
I’m marching on to the beat of a brand new drum
Yeah, here I come
The future has begun
Day one

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve made lots of progress through the years, and generally I’m healthier and smaller than I was years ago. I’m learning to lean on God for what I need and to enjoy His gift of my love for food for what it truly is… A way to serve others. But today, again, I’m giving it all to God and trusting Him to lead me through. Because food is everywhere!!!!

Click here to listen to Day One from Matthew West.

Featured image: Cherries, acrylic on 140 lb. paper, artist trading card.

Small

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I think the perfect remedy for being full of yourself is a trip to the seashore. The ocean makes me feel so small and insignificant. It pulls me out of myself and makes me see that there is so much more in this world than my little human eyes can see or my tiny human mind can imagine. How could I not be humbled by these sunsets?? And starfish. And the sheer volume of seashells washed up on the shore is incredible.

As I watch the sandpipers forage in the foam at the water’s edge, or see the pelicans soar, dive and fly away with their catch, I think of Jesus’ promise in Matthew 6:26…

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

The thing is that sometimes I don’t feel like I’m more valuable than the birds… I feel small and insignificant. Often I feel worthless and wonder what on earth I’m here for! On my own, I am nothing. If I believe the lies of the Enemy, I am nothing. If I believe all that the world throws at me, I am nothing. But God has other plans. (Don’t you love that phrase?? “But GOD!”) This morning, I bring it all to Him.

I’m feeling so small
Standing here weeping
As I’m coming clean
Of the secrets I’m keeping
I’ve caused so much pain
To the ones I love the most
And I’m falling apart
As I carry my heart to Your throne

I am completely surrendering
Finally giving You everything
You’re my redeemer, I run to the cross
Because You are more than enough
Lord complete me
Cause I’m Yours completely

The song in my head all night and still now is Completely from Among the Thirsty. Click here to listen and worship on this blessed Lord’s Day. 

Still water

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We came out early, McDonald’s in hand, to have breakfast on the beach. The water and sky are the same color. The Gulf is calm this morning. No waves to speak of, so the water is clear and smooth. As I wade out to my knees, I can see all sorts of life taking place right at my feet that I couldn’t yesterday because the surf was too high. Schools of fish skitter past, momma fish in the lead. Too many star fish to count. The sand in the shallow water perfectly formed into ripples that match the ones on the water’s surface. A dolphin meanders down the coast, relaxed and beautiful. Pelicans fly across the water’s surface, lazy and slow.

This is the kind of morning that can put your heart at peace, no matter what’s going on in your world. I love my quiet time in the morning anyway, so this is right up my alley. I wade knee-deep down the beach, coffee in hand, thinking how blessed I am to be here. Praying for whoever the Lord places on my heart. Listening to the water and the birds. Loving the feel of the breeze on my skin and the sand in my toes.

I think sometimes that the surf gets too high in my life. All the day-to-day stuff, the fires that have to be put out, the tyranny of the urgent, gets to be too much for me to see the life taking place right under my feet. My husband’s humming in the morning as he gets ready for work… A happy sound. Watering my flowers and appreciating their beauty. The smell of my coffee in the morning. Painting in my studio, no clock to watch. Practicing the piano. Cooking, reading a book… All these and more get set aside when the winds kick up and the surf gets high.

“Be still and know that I am God.” “Be still my soul. The Lord is on your side.” Both of these are running through my head. There’s a reason we are admonished to be still. To stop and listen to what God is saying to us, even if his voice sounds like my husband’s humming or the birds outside my studio window in the morning. Peace and contentment don’t come naturally in our world. We have to be still and look for it… Wait for it… Wade out into the water and see it underneath our feet. It was there all the time.  And if we are lucky enough to find a morning like this, hang on to it with every fiber of our being.

Hands

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As a pianist, my hands are my most valuable asset I suppose. I’ve never been able to stand pain in my hands of any kind, and the thought of injury to my hands has always given me the shivers. Hands are both delicate and strong. With our hands, we give and take, push and pull, love and bless others. I’ve always been fascinated with hands, sketching them, photographing them. Baby hands are so very precious!! And my hands have become a way for me to communicate with my deaf friends through ASL.

Please read this article by Randy J. Guliuzza, P.E, M.D. called Made in His Image: The Connecting Power of Hands. After finishing the last bit, I will never look at my hands the same way again.