Aroma

Ahhh. It’s almost here. I can smell it already. Turkey. Gravy. Mashed potatoes. Stuffing. Homemade cranberry sauce. Pumpkin pie! In just a couple of days, the aromas of Thanksgiving will fill the house.

Last year, however, the aroma that filled our house was anything but pleasing!

We were in Vermont with my parents, and preparations were being made for the big meal. Desserts were prepped, vegetables peeled, and the turkey was thawing in the sink.

At one point that morning, I was putting a dish in the dishwasher and I noticed a weird smell. “Must be a dirty dish,” I thought.

A little while later, I walked through the kitchen again and smelled the same strange odor. “Oh! It must the compost bucket,” I thought. “Yeah, that’s gotta be it.”

By midday, though, the stench had spread and was impossible to dismiss any longer. A quick conference of the adults in the house revealed that we had all been aware of the smell, but no one took the time to figure out where it was coming from. We followed our noses and, sure enough, all noses pointed to: The turkey.

Yep, it was bad. Really bad. It smelled like something died. Which was true, but apparently this bird had expired in more ways than one!

We opened the windows, lit some scented candles, and disposed of the rotten carcass ASAP.

Our senses may have been relieved, but now we had a much bigger problem: The whole extended family was still coming over for dinner and the main course was in the trash can. What in the world were we going to do?

Buy another turkey, of course!

But it was Thanksgiving Day. In rural Vermont. The local grocery store was closed and the nearest alternative was 1/2 an hour away.

As parents of three young children, Tim and I immediately saw the opportunity in this. Leave the kids with Nana and drive. Alone. For a whole hour? Sweet!

The excitement of our fun adventure was quickly met with even more disgust, though, when we got to the store, found a turkey (Yay!), and saw the price tag (Yikes!). Were we really going to pay almost $70 for a TURKEY?!?! We didn’t even have the special card to save the $4!

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It was quite a sacrifice, but Thanksgiving 2014 was rescued and we enjoyed every bite of that precious poultry!

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This is the time of year when we focus on the goodness of our God and all that He has provided for us. As His children, we know that gratitude – especially for what Jesus did to save us – is essential to our relationship with Him. Not only does it move our hearts toward praise, but it also keeps us from becoming self-centered in our relationships with others.

The thing is that we really do want to be thankful, and we would love for this annual ‘thankfulness boost’ to last all year!

But it never does. And that really stinks.

One of the reasons for this is that, like last year’s rotten turkey, we don’t recognize the foul stench of our own sin. Our gratefulness for what we’ve been saved from fades to bland as we dismiss the strange smells, deciding they must be coming from something (or someone) else. Or we just decide it’s not really that bad. We categorize some sins as worse than others – and then place our own sin somewhere just above average.

We don’t have God’s ‘nose’ – but if we did, we would be appalled – knocked down and overpowered by the vile odor of our mess. We can keep ignoring it all we want, but the truth is: It’s bad. Really bad.

In Amos 5, we get a whiff of an odor God really can’t stand. He says, “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.” (v. 21) What? How is it possible that God could hate the religious festivals and assemblies He Himself had instituted? What could be so bad about His people worshiping Him?

Jesus gives us the answer when He quotes the prophet Isaiah in Matthew 15: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

It turns out that our loss of true, heartfelt gratitude toward God is not a thing He dismisses, ignores, or leaves at the bottom of some “list of mistakes”. Instead, the offensive fumes of our independence and self-importance rise to the top. They smell like something is dying – and that’s because it is. Those “fumes” are the very things that stifle our relationship with Him.

But there’s some great news. A “Yikes!”-size price was paid – a sacrifice was made by God Himself to replace your ungrateful, dead carcass with a new life in Him. Ephesians 5:2 says, “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” The stench of our sin has been replaced with the pleasing aroma of Christ – not because we were really thankful for it, not because we decided to actually make the gratitude thing happen this year, but just because He did it – and we believe it.

So this year, as you experience the smells of the holiday and gobble down that Thanksgiving meal, be thankful! And then let it remind you that as a believer, you are covered, basted, and drenched with the wonderful, pure scent of Christ, no matter what!

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Listen

Call me old-fashioned, but I love listening to the radio when I’m in the car. I know most people these days just connect their smartphone and press play, but there’s just something about the suspense of not knowing what song is coming next and totally jamming out (and totally embarrassing my family) when it just happens to be my favorite song.

One of the downsides to this form of media is that sometimes you have to wait a whole three or even four minutes to find out the details on a particular song – what it’s called and who sings it. And sometimes the station already gave that information at the beginning of the song and then you’re completely out of luck!

Being the information junkie that I am, this leaves me in quite a pickle. I love listening to the radio, but I also must know right now who sings that song. I might never do anything with that information, but I need to know. Now.

So, lucky for me, there’s an app for that!

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“Shazam” is one of my favorite apps. If you aren’t familiar with it, you simply open the app, push a button, and it “listens” to the song that is playing in the background. Then, within a few seconds – Shazam! – it recognizes the song and returns the details you’re looking for straight to your phone’s screen. Genius!

Now, if only there was an app like that for listening to God.

As followers of Jesus, we absolutely want to hear what God has to say – about our lives, about His plans for us, about anything and everything! But since most of us will never audibly hear His voice, that means we have to learn to listen for it in other ways. Sometimes He speaks to us through His Word. Sometimes it’s through another person. Sometimes it’s through a set of circumstances. And sometimes He just speaks through our thoughts.

If you’re like me, this often leaves you in a pickle. How do I know if what I think I’m hearing is really from God? What if it’s just me? What if it’s just someone else’s ideas getting in my head? What if I’m just over-analyzing my circumstances? Wouldn’t it be so cool to just be able to open an app, press a button, and within seconds know the author of those thoughts? That would be genius.

The truth is that although it may seem easy, the Shazam app is actually doing some pretty intense and complicated work in those few seconds.

First of all, on a server somewhere is a database of billions of songs the creators of the app have compiled. Then, when you hit the button, the app records a sample of the song and compares it with that massive database to find a match. It’s not a foolproof system (it doesn’t seem to recognize the “Mommy, she’s looking at me!” or “Hey! She’s wearing my shirt!” that often gets added to the song from the backseat of my car), but it works most of the time.

Learning to listen to the voice of God also takes some effort on our part.

In John 10, Jesus compares His followers to sheep and Himself to their shepherd. He says, “When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” (John 10:4-5)

In order to know and recognize God’s voice and distinguish it from all the other voices we hear on a daily basis, we need to do a few things:

First, we need to compile our database. God will never say anything to us that doesn’t line up with His words found in the Bible. So, depending on the version you read, that’s approximately 750,000 words to add to your knowledge base! Yeah, that’s a lot to know, but the more you read, study, memorize and meditate on any of those words – the greater your chances of making a match are!

Second, we may need to minimize the background noise. Although I can easily “SHHHHH!” the voices in my car, shushing the voices of the world around me isn’t so easy. It takes discipline. For me, it means saying “No” to the distractions of my phone and other technology. It means putting it down during those times of the day when I’m most tempted to pick it up. I’m not a fan of silence, but the quieter I am, the louder and clearer I’ll hear God’s voice.

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One of the biggest reasons most people I know choose smartphone music over the radio is the lack of new material and repetition of the same old songs, especially on Christian music stations. Seriously, there are days when I am in my car three times and hear the same song all three times!

We all want to hear from God, but chances are, we actually are hearing from Him more than we realize. The problem is that He’s saying the same stuff He’s been saying to us for many weeks, months, or years – we just don’t want to hear it.

We want to hear something profound and inspirational – and He’s like, “Love your neighbor.” We want to know what His plans are for our future – and He’s like, “Forgive that person who hurt you.” We want to know how we’re doing or what we could be doing better – and He’s like, “I love you.”

It’s not rocket – or smartphone application development – science, but listening to God does take some effort on our part. And the more we pay attention to those things we know for sure He is saying, the more likely we’ll be to recognize and distinguish the others.

There are several artists I never need to “Shazam” (even if they come out with a new song), because I just know their voices so well after all these years. And I hope that eventually my need for a God’s-Voice-Recognition app will fade as well. It may take some effort, and I’m sure it’s not entirely foolproof, but God is speaking and I want to listen.

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Question

We have some rules in our family. They’re not unreasonable (we hope) and they’ve formed over the years as we’ve gotten to know the different personalities of our kids.

One of these rules is: “In our family we use words and ask questions.” This is our (oh-so positive and culturally correct) parental attempt to replace “NO hitting! NO kicking! NO biting! NO whining! NO demanding things! NO telling others what to do! NO storming off in anger!” It’s important to us that our girls learn that conversation is always the best choice.

One day last winter we were frequenting one of our usual haunts – the Burger King playground. Our girls love this playground (it is, believe it or not, way better than Chick-Fil-A) and they were so excited to climb, slide, and Ninja-Warrior their way around it.

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But as we entered the play area that day, tragedy struck.

Like our family, indoor playgrounds also have rules – one of them being that you must wear socks while playing. This is a reasonable rule – not only does it prevent the spread of germs, but it also prevents kids (like mine) from climbing up the slides and becoming speed bumps for the kids coming down.

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The tragedy was that our 6-year-old, Amelia, had somehow made it out of the house (in the middle of the winter) with no socks. As the other two ran off to play, I watched my poor little girl melt into a pile of tears.

But – as her mom, I knew something she didn’t know. This was one of those times where it really paid to be the child of two very disorganized parents. Because the chances of there being two loose socks somewhere in the mess of our minivan were hovering somewhere around 100%.

“Hey Meels – you see that guy sitting next to you? He loves you a whole lot and he will pretty much do anything he can to help you whenever you need it. And it just so happens that there are some socks out in the van that he could go get for you if you ask him.”

I’m not sure if it was the overwhelming emotion of the moment or that inherited family stubbornness (“Why are they making me ask this pointless question?”) rearing its ugly head, but she WOULD.NOT.ASK. We encouraged. We hugged. We wiped tears. We waited patiently. We prompted her with examples of what she could say. Still, she refused.

It wasn’t that we needed the information. We already knew the desire of her heart. It wasn’t that our offer of help was contingent on her phrasing the question in a certain way. It didn’t matter how she said it. We simply wanted her to acknowledge her need and then place that need in the capable and willing hands of her Daddy.

Finally, about five minutes before we had to leave, she gave in (insert giant parental “Phew!” here). Through the tears, she managed to utter some form of “Daddy, can you please help me?” So we ran out, got the socks for her, and even stayed an extra few minutes so she could have some more play time.

When it comes to prayer, most of us want to play by the “rules”. We want to say the right things and there’s always at least a little bit of fear that we’ll say the wrong things and “mess it up”. Plus, since God already knows what we need and we’re not going to change His mind, what’s the point anyway? Most of the time we’d rather wallow in our mess than just ask God for what we need.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)

It’s clear from these words that in God’s family, He has a similar rule to ours – and it’s not unreasonable! He wants us to ask Him for what we need. Even if He already knows what we’re going to ask for. Even if He knows what we actually need better than we do. Even if we aren’t sure we’re asking for the right things or saying it the right way. He just wants us to ask!

I’m the queen of praying with disclaimers. I overthink everything and before I even make my request, I’m already thinking of what I think God’s response will be. I just want Him to know that I really want to want His will more than anything. That I understand that I don’t always know what’s best and that He does – I want Him to know that I get it! And I really don’t want Him to think that I’m selfish.

But what if I just asked the question anyway? What’s the worst that could happen? He could say “No” because it’s not what’s best for me or for His glory. And then I would have been wrong, because I obviously didn’t know what was best.

But wait – since when does the kid have to know what’s best for them? We certainly don’t expect our kids to read our minds and only ask for the things that they think we think are best for them! We just want them to ask – to express their heart’s desire (even if it’s selfish) and place it in our hands.

What’s the worst that could happen? The worst that could happen is what happens when we don’t ask. When we stop asking because we don’t see the point. When we don’t think we should ask because we assume we can read the mind of the God of the Universe. The worst that could happen is that we end the conversation because we don’t think it’s needed. And then, instead of learning to trust Him, we end up in a place where we question His character.

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You’ll never believe this, but a couple weeks later we walked in to that same Burger King playground – joking on the way there about the events of our last visit – only to find that Amelia had, yet again, forgotten to wear socks. But this time, instead of tears, we had a quick “pout” which turned to a big smile as she looked at her Daddy and said, “Can you go see if there are any socks on the van for me?” (Insert parent victory cheer!) She remembered! And she didn’t even hesitate to ask.

So before you move on to whatever is next for you today, take a moment. Acknowledge your heart’s desire and place it in the hands of your very capable and very willing and very loving Father. Just ask! Whatever it is, you can trust Him with it!

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Ration

It’s a scary time of year for parents. Not because of the spooky costumes or creepy decorations, but because we voluntarily dress up our children and walk them around the neighborhood collecting buckets full of sugary treats, knowing full well what this will lead to over the next few days and weeks:

“Can I have a piece of my candy now?”
10 minutes later
“Can I have another piece of my candy now?”
Please?
“Does ‘one piece’ mean only one big piece or can it be three small pieces?”
“That’s not fair! She got to have more than me!”
“Can I have a piece of my candy now?”

Although as parents it may be tempting to just get it over with and let them have it all in one sitting (or just eat it ourselves), the magnificent sugar-high and subsequent (but no less magnificent) sugar-crash of a candy overdose just isn’t worth it! We know that the best solution is to ration it – a few pieces a day not only extends the holiday fun, but also teaches our children a valuable lesson.

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I’ve struggled with irrational fears for most of my life. Maybe it started with my cousin telling me there were snakes at the bottom of my bed or maybe it was when I started sneaking into the back of the living room at night when my parents were watching “Unsolved Mysteries”. Regardless, my overactive imagination tends to get the best of me.

The day I found out I was pregnant with our first child was a high beyond all highs. I was finally going to be a mom! But nothing could have prepared me for the crash that was soon to follow.

As an information junkie, I wanted to know everything there was to know about pregnancy and babies. I joined online pregnancy groups and read every article I could find. And my excitement about being a new mom quickly turned into a barrage of horrifying “What if?” scenarios. I couldn’t wait until Ada was born so I could stop worrying.

Ha ha ha.

By the time our second daughter was born, fear had not only overtaken my parenting, but the rest of my life as well. I was in constant “control-mode,” believing that if I even let go for a second, something bad would surely happen to my babies, my husband, or myself.

Looking back now, I realize that my irrational fears were the result of an unwillingness to ration my thoughts. Whenever my mind drifted to one of those “What if?” possibilities, I allowed it to stay there as I tried to come up with ways to prevent it. And then, to make matters worse, I unequally portioned even more of my thoughts in that direction by going to the internet for more information.

Although I still struggle with this on occasion (I may or may not have checked the bottom of my bed last night), I have made the choice to more effectively ration my thoughts.

Philippians 4:8 says, “Whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

I’m not sure my “What if’s” will ever completely go away, but instead of giving in and stuffing my face with them, I can choose some much healthier options. The more I spend my thoughts on my God and everything that He is (He is noble, He is right, He is pure, He is lovely, He is admirable, He is excellent, He is praiseworthy!), the less I will be feeding my fears.

This doesn’t happen naturally. Philippians 4:9 goes on to say, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

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Just like rationing our kids’ candy may take some effort (or some earplugs – see quotes above and repeat at least ten times a day), “rational” thinking must be “put into practice”. When I expose my mind to God’s word in the morning, it helps me think about Him more throughout the day. When I listen to Christian music, I get lyrics of trust and hope and faith stuck in my head (even if the song annoys me). When I talk regularly with my wiser, more ‘experienced’ sisters in Christ, they speak truth into my life that I might not see on my own.

“And the God of peace will be with you.” God promises to be with His children always – His presence is not contingent on us putting these things into practice. But I’ve found that my experience of the peace that comes with His presence may very well be affected by it. Rationing more and more of my thoughts toward Him sure does minimize the tantrums, freak-outs and crashes I would otherwise experience!