Taste

My mother-in-law is a superhero. In our multi-generational household, not only does she put up with a whole lot of chaos, she also takes on the majority of the dinner-cooking responsibilities. We eat well and are incredibly grateful that she uses her gifts to care for us in this way, but feeding this pack of picky eaters is no easy task!

We’ve got three who will not touch anything ‘spicy’, three for whom a single seed or ‘chunk’ is a deal-breaker, one who turns her nose up at anything contaminated by the slightest bit of onion or mushroom, two who boycott the majority of vegetables, and one who is regularly warned that she can’t have any more vegetables until she eats ONE bite of something else. Cooking for us is exhausting!

In an attempt to remedy this problem, we have a “try one bite” rule. You don’t have to eat a whole serving and one bite, no matter how unpleasant, can easily be washed down with some water or milk. Who knows? You may find out it’s not as bad as you think!

It boggles my mind that after 20 years of following Jesus, I still wake up every morning believing my plans are all going to succeed! I assume nothing will go awry or bring me the slightest ounce of discomfort. I expect that I will go to sleep that night, looking back at my day with a good taste in my mouth.

And though this has happened approximately never, I still seem to think, “Today is the day!”

But instead of everything going my way, interruptions, complications, and irritations abound – leaving me feeling like I’ve been forced to plug my nose and wash down several forkfuls of mushrooms! (blech 😜) People and circumstances seem to have a will of their own and I can’t understand why they won’t do what I envisioned they would do. Some of these yucky bites are just minor inconveniences I didn’t see coming, but sometimes they’re onions covered in mayonnaise (double blech!) and really hard to swallow!

Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Every time our plans fall flat or our expectations go unmet, it’s on purpose – the Lord’s purpose. His plan to allow our plans to fail is for our good because we need daily doses of discomfort to remind us that we are not God!

It’s so easy to get lost in the blame game – whether it’s stuffing my face with self-pity and regret over my own mistakes or simmering in a pot of anger over others’. It’s easy to point the finger at ‘the enemy’ and call it an ‘attack’. But there’s a really good chance something – or Someone – much bigger is at work.

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints,
for those who fear him have no lack!
The young lions suffer want and hunger;
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.”
(Psalm 34:8-10)

Everything about God is good and so is everything He does. When things don’t go my way and I see an immediate “better” result, I’m quick to say, “God is good!”. Like the other day when my 9-year-old and I went to Wendy’s for lunch, but they were closed. She was upset, but we looked across the street and realized it was “Kids Eat Free” day at Moe’s! Woo-hoo! In those moments I’m so glad that His purpose prevailed over mine.

But it’s much harder to see that every taste we get of His work in our lives is good. When we’re seeking the Lord, He will be sure that we “lack no good thing”. Although we’d like every taste to be warm chocolate chip cookies, He gives us those less desirable bites to expand our palate so we can acquire a greater taste for His goodness.

If things always worked out the way I set out for them to, my confidence in myself would increase and my trust in my God would decrease. And since I’ve asked Him to help my faith grow, I can expect discomforts to be on my plate daily! They may be hard to swallow, but with every “taste” I am learning “see” Who is really in control.

No matter how they taste going down, all of His works are good. His purpose will always be greater than our pleasure and no matter what He’s serving today, we can say along with the Psalmist: “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” (Psalm 34:1)

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Stickers

Their stickiness is irresistable – setting them apart from simple, plain, boring pieces of paper. Glittery stars and hearts, or better yet your favorite Disney characters, and you can attach them to things!

As a mom, I have a love/hate relationship with stickers. They are a fun prize, an easy activity, and our motivation to survive those long waits in the doctor’s office. But when they don’t do what they’re supposed to do – when they don’t stick because they’ve lost their stickiness (after being moved 17 times in the car ride home) – they result in great frustration!

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One of the hardest things about growing in our faith is that the things we learn seem to have a hard time sticking. We listen to a sermon, read a quote, or hear a song that moves and inspires us. We are reminded of a truth about God or see ourselves in a new way because of what He’s done and we know we’ll remember those words forever!

But by the next day (or even the next hour) the details of life and work and family have invaded and we’ve moved on. I always have really high hopes after I read the Bible in the morning that “THIS time I’m gonna make it stick!” And then the next morning I open to where I left off and realize I never thought about it again!

Mark 8 tells the story of Jesus miraculously transforming a small amount of food into enough to satisfy several thousand hungry people. We love this story because not only does it prove that Jesus had God’s supernatural power, but it also shows that He embodied God’s great compassion.

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” Mark 8:1-3

Jesus knew that with this many people in such a “desolate place,” (v. 4) His supernatural power was their only hope for food – so He made it happen: “And they ate and were satisfied.” (v. 8) Amazing! Everyone was not only fed, but they were full!

So now it was time to settle in and let Jesus continue teaching, right? That’s the picture I always had in my head, but verse 9 says that after they picked up the leftover food, “he sent them away”. He gave them the food so that they could go!

As we see from verses 1-3, the provision was meant to prepare them for the journey. They couldn’t stay there forever with Him – not just for logistics’ sake – but because His words for them were not meant to just be heard! They were meant to stick by being applied to their daily lives.

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One of the true marks of motherhood is going out somewhere, noticing that people are looking at you a little strange, and realizing there’s a random sticker stuck to your arm or better yet – in your hair! It may be embarassing, but it also makes me smile to think of my girls and wonder who decided I needed to be decorated that day.

A couple months ago, I committed to praying daily for a specific list of people in my life. I’ve never been good at remembering to pray for others, so I decided to set reminders in my phone every hour or so throughout the day. This seemed like a great idea, but after a couple days I was beginning to get overwhelmed as I thought about how I could best pray for each person. I knew if I didn’t make a change soon, I would just end up giving up!

One day, after closing my Bible and having a “That was so good! I hope I remember it all day!” thought, my first prayer reminder notification went off. I was in a hurry, so since the thoughts from my study were fresh in my mind, I decided to pick one, narrow it down to a simple phrase, and pray that for the first person on my list. Then I used the same phrase for each person I prayed for that day.

And guess what? You can’t pray the same phrase 12 times in a day without remembering it and without thinking about how it applies to your own life. All of a sudden what I read in the morning was finally sticking throughout my day!

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This weekend we had company coming from out of town, which called for a kids’ bedroom cleaning. If you’ve been upstairs in our house, you know this is big deal! Our three girls share a room and the bigger they get, the more stuff they accumulate – which means the floor of their room is a rare sight.

When things were picked up, I stood back to take in the view (because it may only last a day) and noticed at least seven old stickers stuck to the wood floor! For all the times you want something to stick and it won’t, these stickers are stuck because years of daily life have walked all over them. They are pretty much ground into that floor and not coming off anytime soon!

“Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.” (Psalm 119:97) God’s words can not only satisfy our hearts and minds as we read them, but they also have the ability to remain in our thoughts as we go. It may take some effort on our part, but when we apply His words to the mess and chaos of daily life (especially when we feel like life is walking all over us), that’s when they really start to stick!

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Aha!

When my friend Sue and I drove into Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah, we were in need of a break. After three days of driving, crowded parks, and catching up on each other’s lives, these introverts needed some quiet time – and Sue’s “Secrets of the National Parks” book showed us exactly where to go.

The trail to the “White Rim Overlook” was a short 8/10 of a mile to a majestic view of the canyon. Most people visiting parks like this head straight for the “famous” views or hikes, so the parking lot for this trail was almost empty. There were no people in sight and it was remarkably quiet – Perfect!

We quickly parked, grabbed our stuff, and headed out. After seeing the sign for the trail, we continued on, following the small rock tower ‘cairns’ that marked the path.

After a few minutes, though, we started having trouble. In our experience thus far, the National Park trails were well marked – at every turn there was a cairn and any place you might be tempted to veer off was blocked off. But this trail was all over the place and the markers seemed few and far between!

At one point our hike came to a halt – we couldn’t see a trail marker anywhere! Since we were not interested in getting lost that day (especially when no one else was around), we had a couple options: Keep moving and risk getting lost or retrace our steps to find the trail again.

I’m not one to give in and go back, so I took the next step in front of me and “Aha!” – there it was. That mere 2 and 1/4 feet (or whatever my stride length is) made all the difference – the next cairn was now in plain sight and we were on our way!

What do you do when you don’t know what to do? I know I have moments every week where I feel at least slightly lost, overwhelmed, or just unsure of what the right choice is. I always wish in that moment that I had someone who could show me – with 100% assurance – what my next step should be.

When Paul prayed for the church at Collosae, he knew that one of the things they needed most was God’s direction and guidance, so he prayed that they would “be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9). Paul knew that God was the only one with that 100% assurance and His desire was to “fill” His followers with His perspective.

The thing is that it’s not just about knowing what to do – it’s about actually doing it. As Paul went on, he mentioned why God would give the knowledge of His will: “so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him: bearing fruit in every good work” (Colossians 1:10a). The knowledge, wisdom, and understanding they received from God was meant to define their stride as they walked.

And then if they did that, something really cool would happen – they would end up “increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10b). It turns out that it’s a cycle: God gives the knowledge, we act on it, and then He gives us more! “Aha!” Knowing what to do in the unclear only becomes clear after we do what we already know to be true. As Ellicott’s commentary suggests: “Do and thou shalt know”.*

Recently, I was at an event for one of my kids and in my sitting-there-forever-waiting boredom, I opened Facebook (mistake number one). It had already been a stressful day, so I was hoping for some fun pictures of my friends and their families to make me smile (why would I ever think that?). But instead, I clicked on something I never should have clicked on (why do I do these things?) and read words that I could never unread.

I quickly spiraled into panic-mode. I was trapped in a room full of people and I couldn’t get in touch with my husband (who normally calms me down in these moments). I couldn’t stop the words from running over and over in my brain and I felt totally lost – I was overwhelmed and I didn’t know what to do. I prayed and prayed, “God, why is this happening? What do I do? Please help! I need Your peace!”

But a few minutes later, instead of feeling peace, I started feeling like God was telling me to go talk to another mom at the event. “Are you kidding me?” I thought, “I’m a mess! I don’t even know her and You’re expecting me to do this NOW? You give me the peace first and then maybe I’ll do it.” I sat there stubbornly for the next few minutes thinking I must have heard Him wrong – surely He wouldn’t expect this socially-awkward introvert to do something like this on a day like today!

But… I did it anyway. And guess what? Half an hour later I had pretty much forgotten about my stress – I had had a wonderful conversation, learning about someone else’s life instead of focusing on my own, and “Aha!” – it was there that God gave me the peace.

There are so many times that we don’t know what to do – times where we feel lost and overwhelmed and we want God’s help! We want Him to fix the problem or at least show us what we need to do to fix it! Last week, as my friend Emma and I were studying this passage, she said, “Sometimes we just can’t let go of our stressful situations because we don’t think we can move on until it’s all fixed. We have to get THIS taken care of first! But maybe it doesn’t work that way.”

The problem is that God’s “will” is not my happiness and comfort. His will, according to Colossians 1, is Jesus. So instead of the peace we’re expecting, according to author and speaker Jill Briscoe, “He gives you courage”.** And every time I use that courage to obey the next step He has put in front of me, even if it’s just one single stride, and even if it’s in a completely different direction than I first thought, “Aha!” – He opens my eyes up to even more of who He is.

At the end of our White Rim Overlook hike, Sue and I stopped to look at the trail sign that we had blown by in our rush to start the hike. “Aha!” There was a good reason for our confusion – we had taken the wrong path! We assumed the trail went straight ahead when, in reality, it went to the right. Thankfully, in our confusion and wrong turns, the paths had met up and we did not end up on the 2.7 mile “Gooseberry Trail”!

I love these verses from the book of Job: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?… Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand… Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!” (Job 38:2, 4 & 21)

In our limited human knowledge and wisdom we tend to think things should be done a certain way – especially when we’re overwhelmed. But when we ask God for His knowledge, we can expect His direction might differ from the way we thought we should go. It may even be completely the opposite!

What situation do you need God’s guidance in today? The word for “understanding” in Colossians 1:9 comes from the idea of two rivers meeting – it means “a putting together in the mind”.*** So ask God to pour into you the knowledge of His will, meet it with a step of obedience, and get ready for the “Aha!” on the other side!

*http://biblehub.com/commentaries/ellicott/colossians/1.htm
**IF:Gathering 2017
***http://biblehub.com/greek/4907.htm

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Shockproof

“These will be perfect for us!” I said to Tim. With our very active, fairly disorganized lifestyle, ‘shockproof’ phones would surely suit us well. I had done my research and the Samsung Galaxy S5 was said to be one of the most rugged phones on the market – I even watched videos of it being dropped onto cement and run over by a car! So we signed the contract and each became the proud owner of a Galaxy S5 – the “Sport” (a.k.a. even more rugged) version.

But, alas, within a couple months, even with our extra-tough cases, we had both cracked our screens! We were, of course, *shocked* because this wasn’t supposed to happen. It was hard to accept the fact that even our best efforts couldn’t prevent the cracks from forming… and that we were now stuck with damaged screens for almost two more years!

In my early years of being a Christian I thought I was strong. The cracks I had from my childhood hardships and teenage mistakes were erased. Because of Jesus, I had overcome and was ready for any challenge that lay ahead of me. I was going to make a difference in this world, no matter how hard things got, because nothing could be too hard for Him! I genuinely believed I was shockproof.

But time after time I’ve found myself broken – shattered by circumstances and people – or most often, by my own sin. It turns out I’m much more fragile than I thought I was and just because I have the power of Jesus inside of me, that doesn’t make make me immune. Every time I think I’ve got it all together, another crack appears – and most of the time I don’t even know how it happened!

In 2 Corinthians 4:6, Paul encouraged the believers by reminding them of the incredible gift they had been given: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” As believers, a light has been powered on inside of us so that we can see the truth about Jesus and then help others see it, too.

Which sounds great… until you read the next verse:

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (v. 7)

Clay jars, like glass phone screens, are fragile and easily broken. No matter how strong and powerful the light inside of us is, that doesn’t mean the container is unbreakable. Our human bodies, hearts, and minds are prone to cracks. Notice the “we” and “us” of this verse. Even Paul – the writer of a large portion of the Bible, a man who gave his entire life to growing the church and who did give his life in refusal to stop growing the church – even Paul knew he wasn’t shockproof.

When I think about this it frustrates me. Why would God do things this way? It doesn’t make sense! If you were going to choose a “vessel” for your “light,” why would you not search for the strongest thing you could find? Why would you purposely choose something weak?!

It reminds me of the scene in the gospels where Jesus walks up to Matthew, a despised tax collector – a man who betrayed his own people by working for the enemy and, in his selfishness, likely stole from them as well. Matthew was sitting at his tax collector’s booth – he was literally sitting in his sin – when Jesus looked him in the eye and said, “Follow me”.(Matthew 9:9)

Every time I watch this scene in “The Bible” series (Episode 7, about 10 minutes in – check it out if you can!) it breaks me all over again. It just doesn’t make sense! Why would Jesus choose someone like that? Why would He choose someone like me? He knew from day one how fragile I would be and how many cracks I would take on and yet He still looks at me, in the middle of my darkest moments, and says, “I choose you“. WHAT?

It turns out, though, that this cracked-up life of mine is exactly what He’s looking for. Because my cracks remind me of where I came from and how much I don’t deserve anything that God has given me. They remind me of how He’s worked in my life by covering every single one of them with His grace, peace, and love. And when I look at them, I know without a doubt that I have no room to tell Jesus how He should do His work.

A few months ago, we were finally able to upgrade to new phones (yay!). But, honestly, I kind of miss the cracks. No matter how annoying they were, there was a certain camaraderie I felt with other people whose screens were also shattered. It was an easy conversation piece as we swapped stories on how it happened – and it was never offensive to ask the question because mine was obviously broken, too.

It’s frustrating to look at our lives and realize we’re Matthew. But that means we’re Matthew! Because “while Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples.” (Matthew 9:10) Sometimes our brokenness, even when it’s a result of our own sin, has less to do with us and more to do with those who can relate to us and meet Jesus because of it.

We’re not shockproof, but maybe that’s a good thing. We don’t know why God would choose us, but maybe He knows something we don’t. Maybe the cracked ones are the best ones because they allow the light to shine though. And maybe all those fracture lines in our glass reflect the light of Jesus a little differently than we otherwise would.

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Glasses

20/20 vision is something I’ve always been proud to have. I’ve never questioned whether or not I was seeing something accurately and when other people were struggling to read a sign up ahead, I could always see it perfectly.

It wasn’t until I got married that I realized how much I took my clear vision for granted. It was so hard for me to understand that my husband needed his glasses on in order to see things! I remember trying them on and being shocked at how different our eyes saw the world.

In his letter to the Colossian church, Paul addressed some issues they were facing as a body of believers. One of those issues was confusion and debate about what ceremonies and traditions Christians should follow. Along with that debate came a whole lot of judgment, which Paul knew would only cause division and pain.

So, after presenting a clear explanation of the thing that brought them together in the first place – the gospel message of salvation through Christ alone – he reminded them to “let no one pass judgment on you” (2:16) or “disqualify you” (2:18) based on “things that are on earth” (3:2).

In the following verses, Paul points out that instead of focusing the how of church it’s the relationships within the church that need the attention! He tells them to put away the “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk” (3:8) of the “old self” (3:9) and instead put on the “new self” (3:10). As recipients of completely undeserved peace with God, they could also “let the peace of Christ rule in [their] hearts” and live as “one body” (3:15).

Unfortunately, you and I both know this is easier said than done. The “earthly things” are all to easy to focus on, which means we disagree often and just can’t figure out how others could possibly see things so differently than us! It’s amazing how quick those “old self” ways rear their ugly heads, resulting in division and pain.

In verses 12-14, Paul lists those attributes of the “new self” we can actively “put on” in order to prevent this. Love, when chosen, (even in the midst of disagreement), “binds everything together in perfect harmony” (3:14). Because even though we’ll never be able to clearly see life through another person’s eyes, we can try to put on their glasses.

In any disagreement or difference of opinion, instead of throwing a blanket judgment on someone, we can choose kindness by asking questions and learning about that person’s life. We can choose humility by trying to see things through the lenses of their past experiences and preferences. And in that, we might even find it easier to have compassion and find forgiveness. “Bearing with one another” might not be so difficult if we took simple steps to see things from the other person’s perspective.

Recently, I again became aware of how much I took my perfect eyesight for granted when I ended up at the eye doctor myself. Over the past year or so I’ve noticed a decline in my ability to read road signs and things like digital clocks from across the room. I am almost 40, so I assumed this might be a normal – but my doctor informed me otherwise. It turns out I’ve developed a slight astigmatism and will need to start wearing glasses when I’m driving at night. Yikes!

But I remember the moment I put them on for the first time. I called Tim right away to tell him that the whole world had just gone HD! I had no idea that I wasn’t seeing clearly until I put those glasses on – and saw clearly.

When Jesus prayed for us in John 17, He didn’t pray “that they would do church this specific way” or even “that they would all agree on everything” but “that they may all be one” (17:21). Being one doesn’t mean we see everything the same way, but instead that we simply make the effort to step into each other’s shoes and look at things from another perspective. And you never know – putting on the “new self” glasses of “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” may just give you clarity you never saw coming!

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Rocky

Running is my escape. When I throw on my sneakers and set out, it’s just me and the path ahead. All I’m responsible for over the next half-hour (or so) is putting one foot in front of the other. It’s my introvert “me-time” and even though it’s a struggle to get out the door on these cold winter days – I love every minute of it!

Over the past year, I’ve gone back to my Vermont high school cross-country roots and started to do more trail running. I’m so over the suburban sidewalks and even the wonderful wide, paved paths we have so many of in our area. I want a narrow, rocky, root-covered trail winding through a forest I can get lost in.

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Trail running is so much less monotonous than pavement, track, or treadmill running because it demands that you to pay attention. The rocks, roots, and holes in the path force you to constantly evaluate the position of your body and the regular ups, downs, twists, and turns force you to think strategically about the placement of your foot with every single step – you can’t just coast.

Of course, trail running also brings with it a greater risk of injury, but for me the adventure is a worthwhile trade-off!

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When we choose to do life as a disciple of Christ, we’re choosing a path that is anything but easy. In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus says: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” A narrow path presses in on you, is often filled with unexpected twists and turns, and forces you to think about every step.

There have been so many times recently where I’ve looked around at the world and thought about how much easier it would be to just be “normal” – to just be a mom or just work a job and go home to my family and not have to think about how my decisions are impacting the eternity of others. It’s not just because I’m in ministry – it’s that following Jesus every day is a rocky, narrow path.

Sometimes it’s the roots of my own sin or the hole I seemed to dig for myself by the choices I made that trip me up. Sometimes the rocks seem to come flying at me in the form of criticism or judgment. There are twists and turns of pain that I never saw coming and those uphills can be killer when I feel like I’m trying so hard but making such little progress. And there are times when things just get downright muddy!

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But when I really think about it, I wouldn’t trade this path for anything! The wide, paved road may look safer and easier, but the last thing I want to do is coast through this life.

It may be challenging, but the rocky, narrow path forces me to constantly pay attention to my position. No matter what obstacles lay ahead, I know that because of Christ I am a dearly loved child of God and the power of His Spirit resides within me. And every rock or root I stumble over gives me the opportunity to take a good, hard look at myself and see where I need to grow and change to be more like Him.

It also forces me to think strategically about the placement of every step – which means keeping my focus in the right place. The bumps in the road force me to keep my mind constantly open to how Holy Spirit is leading me in any and every situation. I can’t just coast – I can’t even look away for even for a second because I can’t guarantee what’s in front of me!

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This morning I ran the Mt. Joy trail (my current favorite) at Valley Forge Park. I was trying out a new app to keep track of my distance and about a mile into the trail, it had already announced to me three times how far I had gone and what my pace was (which I did not want to be reminded about since most of that mile had been uphill!)

I was getting increasingly frustrated, so I pulled out my phone to try to turn off the app. But as soon as I looked away from the trail – you guessed it – OUCH! I stepped on a rock and rolled my ankle. When I shifted my focus from what was in front of me over to the thing that was bothering me, I ended up in a whole lot of pain!

When you choose the rocky path the bumps are never a surprise. You can expect that on the narrow road of making your life all about loving God and loving others the way Jesus did, things are rarely going to be easy. So keep your focus on Him and whatever those next steps are that He’s leading you to take today!

If you want some help, just listen to this amazing song and get these words stuck in your head: (#proudyouthworkermoment)

“Guide my every thought
Guide my every step
Oh, let me walk in Your footprints
Teach my eyes to trust what I can’t see
Knowing that Your footprints are guiding me”

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Difference 

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My eyes scan across the table, back and forth, back and forth, looking for that piece. It’s green with some blue on one side and has a little bit of an odd-shaped ‘arm’. It’s out there somewhere and I’m gonna be the one to… Oh! There it is! Ugh, never mind.

I have a strange addiction to jigsaw puzzles. You can ask Tim – whenever we’re on vacation in North Carolina or visiting my Grandma’s house in Vermont, he has to physically drag me away from finding “Just one more!” I love all the designs, colors, and, of course, the feeling of accomplishment when you place that final piece!

Last summer, the puzzle on the table at Grandma’s house was a tough one. It had been started in February, but was so difficult that in July it was still less than halfway complete! I took this as a challenge and vowed I would get that last piece in before heading back to Pennsylvania.

The thing with this puzzle was that the pieces were all very similar in shape and the colors were nearly impossible to differentiate from one section to another. There were times where we sat for 15-20 minutes and and enjoyed only one tiny piece-fitting victory!

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Human relationships can be just as puzzling. Though similar in our basic structure, functions, senses, and abilities – there are drastic shades of difference in our experiences, cultures, personalities, and opinions. Even those of us who are born into the same families often find it hard to fit in together!

Our incredible uniqueness is God’s masterpiece. Unfortunately, instead of allowing His artwork to amaze us, we tend to let it frustrate us. In theory, we like that we’re not all the same, but in reality, not so much.

Part of the problem is that we love the completed puzzle. We love scanning through the crowds to find “our people” who match up and agree with us – and then securing them right to our side. We love it when all the pieces are present, easy to find, and fit together to make that perfect rectangle.

But rather than that completed picture, an incomplete array of various mismatched pieces is what we’re often faced with. In a world where we are allowed to have opinions and are given the freedom to express them, disagreements are inevitable. And not just the ones about where to get the best pizza in town or what Netflix show you should waste your time watching this weekend – the ones that reach to our depths of our values and convictions of our souls.

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When we do puzzles in our family, there are several reactions to the difficulty. Some of us try a few pieces unsuccessfully and then give up. Some of us try to jam the pieces into places they don’t fit because, “It looks like it goes there!” And some of us get angry and tear apart what everyone else has worked so hard to put together! (I won’t tell you who’s who!)

When our differences are revealed, the feelings are strong. We SO want everyone to agree with us and can’t imagine how they could possibly believe any different than we do! The patterns of our world give us some clear strategies for dealing with this difficulty: Give up and walk away from the relationship, argue and try to force the other person to change their mind, or get angry and find any and every way to tear them down.

In the first 11 chapters of his letter to the Romans, Paul sums up for the believers what God has done for them in Christ. He reminds them that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (3:23-24), that because of this great act of love, “we have peace with God” (5:1) and “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1), that God is “for us” (8:31) and that His Spirit “helps us in our weakness” (8:26).

Then, beginning in chapter 12, he shows the believers how their lives should be different now because of what God has done. In verse 2 he says: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. The presence of Christ in our hearts and minds results in transformation – specifically, as Paul points out in the rest of the chapter, in how we treat people who are different from us.

Verses 3-8 deal with differences in our gifts. Because, “just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function…We have different gifts” (v. 4-6) and should think of ourselves “with sober judgment” (v. 3). All of our varying passions, abilities, and interests are necessary to the health of the church!

But verses 9-21 extend to the bigger picture of all relationships – especially the difficult ones. Paul was convinced that it was possible to “Hate what is evil” and “cling to what is good” while still loving people sincerely (v. 9). He believed, and showed by his life, that a “transformed” mind could genuinely “Bless those who persecute you” rather than curse them (v. 14). And He concluded that because we trust in a God who “in all things…works for the good of those who love him” (8:28), there was never a need to “repay anyone evil for evil” (v. 17).

Our differences can be difficult, but as ‘renewed’ followers of Jesus, we have the ability to lead the charge of embracing differences the way He did. We can “honor one another” (v. 10) by engaging in mature conversation instead of following the world’s patterns of avoidance, gossip, and lashing out on social media. Even if we believe with our whole heart that someone is wrong, we can put aside our pride and “live in harmony” (v. 16) – agreeing to disagree and trusting in the work of the Holy Spirit in the other person’s (or our own) life.

As you may have guessed from the picture above, we did finally complete the puzzle – well, except for that missing piece, of course (Aaarghh!!) Putting those final pieces in was exhilarating and my Grandma was so happy to finally regain her table space!

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Our victory was sweet, but as long as human beings are human, putting together a perfect puzzle in our relationships is going to elude us. Because even when we do the right thing, that doesn’t guarantee us a happy ending. All God is asking, though, is that, “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (v. 18) and then trust Him with the rest.

What does that look like for you today?

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