Friday, December 9, 2011


"God does his most stunning work where things seem hopeless." - Jim Cymbala, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire

First of all, if you've not read this book, let me strongly encourage you to do so.  With that being said...

The word "hopeless" is so depressing.  Just the word itself conjures thoughts of slumped shoulders, downcast faces, and heavy hearts.  Hopeless. defines hopeless as:
1. providing no hope; beyond optimism or hope; desperate
2. without hope; despairing
3. impossible to accomplish, solve, resolve, etc.
4. not able to learn or act, perform, or work as desired; inadequate for the purpose
A few situations currently occurring in my life (in an indirect way) have left me fighting a feeling of hopelessness.  The things that I want to happen seem impossible; no, are impossible.  They won't just go away, or work themselves out nicely like a TV show.  Money won't just appear, relationships won't suddenly mend, sick bodies won't inexplicably become healthy.  Unless... we pray.  Unless I pray.  When God gets involved, NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE.  And if nothing is impossible, then there is always HOPE. 
It's easy to say that we always have hope in God when there's no need for hope.  When everything is bright and sunny, calm and peaceful, hope is easy.  But when nasty words like cancer, divorce, and empty check book appear, hope takes work.  It requires some effort to hold onto hope when all seems hopeless.  After all, what if I hope, and am disappointed in the long run?  I know you've thought this too!  But if I say I believe in God and in his Word, then I have to believe it all. the. time.  I can't allow those "what-if's" to whisper in my mind.  I can't afford to entertain ideas that are contrary to God's perfect Word.  After all, "faith is being sure of what we hope for."  Certainty leaves no room for doubt.  So today, in the face of some hopeless (from a human perspective) situations, I choose hope.  I choose to believe in my faithful God.  He will never fail.  His Word will never fail.  Trust it.  Count on it.  No alternatives, no Plan B.  Just pray, then pray some more, and see God come through. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Jesus is Better than Chocolate!!!

I would like to explain, but let's just say that if God asks you to do something, even if you really don't want to, do it anyway.  God is worth any sacrifice, even though it isn't really a sacrifice at all.  We just think that going without, when we are so used to having or doing exactly what we want, equals sacrifice.  But the truth is, most of us really have no idea what true sacrifice is.  And while I'm thankful that we live in a country where we don't experience much lack, sometimes I wonder if that's really so good for us spiritually...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Can a Shoe Box Change the World?

*Yes, this same post will be on both my blogs, just to make sure you read it! :)*

Yesterday marked the "2 months until Christmas" mark.  If you're one of my Type-A friends, you probably already have your list typed and your budget set.  You might even already have some gifts purchased.  If you're like me, you've probably thought about what to buy for whom, maybe you've discussed it with your spouse or other family members.  Or maybe you're a last-minute kind of shopper, who hopes to find some great deal on Christmas Eve.  But no matter who you are, chances are that whatever you buy, no matter how great a bargain you get, those gifts are not going to change the life of the recipient.  Two months from now, on December 26, we and our children/grandchildren/nieces/nephews/friends will resume our normal activities after the Christmas festivities are over.  We might be excited over a new toy or book or purse or shoes.  But we will simply add them to the already excessive collection of things in our lives, and continue with life as usual. But for a child in a poverty-stricken country, a shoe box full of gifts, full of hope, can change their life.  And by changing the life of a child, you can change the world.  And it doesn't take much!  Through Operation Christmas Child (OCC), you can bless a child with gifts they would never otherwise receive.  They may have never even had a Christmas present before.  But what costs so little on our part, gives so much to those who have less than nothing.  Besides the gifts you send, OCC also includes a kid-friendly booklet explaining the Gospel in each box.  Entire families can receive Christ and have their lives changed by the power of the Gospel, all because of a shoe box.
So how does it work? 
It's so easy!  Just decide what age and gender child you want to bless, get a shoe box (or like-sized plastic container) and fill it with age appropriate gifts; things like school supplies, toothbrush and toothpaste, stickers, small toys, socks, hair bow/clips, soap, play doh, crayons, etc.  Pack it all up, (you can include a letter and picture of your family!) decorate it if you want, attach the OCC label marked with age and gender, and take it and $7 to your local collection site.  This is a great family activity that can easily become a favorite tradition.  Let your kids decide age/gender, take them shopping and let them choose some of the gifts.  OCC is a great way to teach kids about poverty, compassion, and generosity.  The Bible commands us to care for the poor, the orphans, and the widows.  If we are going to teach our children to follow Christ, this must be part of the lesson.  I encourage you, I challenge you, I beg you!!!!  Open your eyes to the world, open your hearts to the command of the Lord, and open your wallets to bless a child.  Visit  Read the stories.  Watch the videos.  Get a shoe box.    Change the world.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Well, it's been awhile!  And just in case you've missed it on facebook, I have a second blog about our adoption: heartswideopen-merissayusko.  Please check it out if you haven't already.  Anyway, back to this post...
This is not really the kind of blog I prefer to write.  You see, I do not like to admit when I am wrong.  I don't actually know anyone who does, but I really, REALLY despise it.  And that, my friends, is the very heart of the problem.  Today someone kindly (and I do mean that!) drew my attention to a glaring sin in my life.  I knew it was there, of course, and I have tried to curb it in other areas, but not in this one.  See, I have this giant character flaw that thinks that the way I would do something is naturally better than the way anyone else would do it.  It's hard for me to let someone else do something, because they might not do it the way I would, i.e. do as good of a job as I would.  In every situation, I seem to think that I can always do a better job, even if that's not necessarily true.  So I find myself picking apart everything, thinking about how I would do it, what's wrong with the way the other person did it, and how much better it would be if they just agreed with me, or did it my way.  And most of the time, no one ever knows.  No one but me and Jesus.  So to those of you I have mentally judged or criticized, I am sorry.  (Now I know that if I were you, reading this, I'd be thinking, "Oh, has she ever done that to me??" and get all paranoid.  So please don't do that.  If you really want to know, ask me, and I will be humble enough to answer honestly.)  Because humility is the answer to pride, which needs to be destroyed in me before it destroys me.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Suffering and Comfort

So I know I haven't written anything in ages, much to your great disappointment I'm sure. :)  But today is the day you've been waiting for! 
I am currently reading the New Testament backwards.  Don't ask me why, I just am.  Today began 2 Corinthians... 1:3-11

The God of All Comfort

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.5 For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.
7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.9 Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us,
11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

I just want to share with you some thoughts from this passage.  Nothing earth-shatteringly profound, but reminders that someone may need to hear today.
1.  Christ suffered.  I made a list of everything I could think of that we see Christ suffer in the Gospels: temptation, discomfort (hunger, heat, cold, fatigue, etc.) rejection, homesickness (for heaven!), betrayal, humiliation, being misunderstood, homelessness, personal attacks, death threats, etc.  And of course, the ultimate suffering of crucifixion and death.  This is obviously not an exhaustive list, and I'm sure you could add your own ideas.
2. We suffer.  Paul writes that Christ's sufferings flow over into our lives.  Don't we experience many of these things as well??  Certainly some more than others, and it seems, some people suffer more than other people too.  But now comes the good part!!!
3. Christ comforts us in our sufferings!!!  In fact, verse 5 says that our comfort "overflows."  Not just a little bandaid, or slight relief.  But overflowing comfort.  Notice that nowhere does it promise that our suffering ends, only that we will be comforted by Christ himself in our suffering.  Hallelujah!
4. We must use that comfort to comfort others.
5.  Our sufferings must produce a dependence on God, who alone is able to deliver us from death should he so choose.  Take another look at verses 8 and 9.  First, let me just say that this verse right here proves that the statement 'God never gives you more than you can handle.' is a pack of lies.  You might have heard me say this before, if you've ever said that statement in my presence. If we could handle life on our own, we would have no need of God!  So yes, folks, sorry to disappoint you, but sometimes you will experience more than your "ability to endure."  But there is good news too!  Being in that place of overwhelming ___________________ (you fill in the blank) leads you to depend solely on God, who can DO ALL THINGS.  Amen and amen!
6. God will be glorified and praised.  When we put our hope and trust in the Lord, He will do what He has promised, thus bringing glory to Himself and to Jesus Christ, and many people will praise Him for his good works and faithfulness. 

If this is you today, if you find yourself in the midst of suffering, whether great or small, take comfort in Christ, and in God's Word to you.  He loves you more than you can imagine and is doing everything He can to draw you to Himself.  Trust Him, believe Him.  He will not disappoint you.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

clean carpets, clean heart

You may find this strange, but I love to vacuum.  I just feel like the house is so much cleaner once the vacuum has been run.  Perhaps that's because it requires the kids to pick up all their stuffed that is scattered from one end of the house to the other.  Or perhaps it's because it removes all the visible dirt and debris that two children and a dog create.  Either way...I love to vacuum.  Today I vacuumed on a deeper level...I used a steam cleaner to try and rid my dining room of the dog stench that greets me every morning.  The first time I cleaned the offending area, I did not notice that the switch was set to Rinse, instead of Wash/Rinse.  Imagine my surprise when I realized the soap resevoir was still full after several minutes of scrubbing, and the carpet did not look any cleaner.  But the water was still brown!  So even just the plain hot water removed more grime than my surface vacuum alone.  Then, after switching to the correct mode, I did that section again and then moved on to the living room.  Even though the living room does not generally serve as Swiper's "territory," I figured that while I have the cleaner I might as well do it all. 
So as I vacuumed and watched the tank fill up with nasty black water, I thought about how I am like my carpet.  You see, after vacuuming with my plain vacuum, my carpet looks clean: no crumbs, no dirt clods, no hunks of dog hair.  But it's not until I start looking deeper that I see what's really inside.  And it's not pretty.  I think you know where I'm going with this, right?  I can clean myself up on the outside quite nicely: no cursing, no questionable entertainment on my TV, no gossiping.  I go to church multiple times a week; I sing in the choir; I coach Bible Quiz; and the list goes on... Looks great on the surface.  But when I take an honest look on the inside, it's not so pretty.  You might even look at my life and think I've got it all together all of the time.  Because that's what I want you to think.  "But the Lord looks at the heart."  He sees my dirt, my debris, my hunks of dog hair, if you will.  And he is making it abundantly clear to me that it's time for some deep cleaning, time for some serious change.  But the good news is that I'm not on my own in my quest for cleanliness.  It's the Holy Spirit who does the scrubbing, the steaming, and the vacuuming in my heart and in my life.  I'm just a willing carpet.
What about you?  Are you only vacuumed, or are you steam cleaned by the Holy Spirit?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

sick on Sunday

I missed church today.  My whole family did, in fact, because we were actually already at church when I got sick and had to leave before the service started.  So bummed.  Liana was especially sad because she LOVES Sunday school and looks forward to it all week.  But anyway...seeing just a few statuses (stati??) and twitters with quotes from the morning makes me think I missed a really good sermon, one that seems to go right along with what I wrote in my last blog.  (If you haven't read it yet, please do.  it's kinda long, though, just to warn you.)  So I can't wait to listen to the podcast later this week.
Ok.  Now on to what I really want to discuss today.  I've been reading this novel called Babylon Rising, written by one of the same authors that wrote the Left Behind series.  It's a little too complicated to explain it, but it has to do with Biblical prophecy, specifically from the book of Daniel.  So I decided to start reading the book of Daniel.  Daniel is not a book I have much knowledge about, except for the well-known stories of Daniel and the lions' den and Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego and the fiery furnace.  And those are the two stories I read this afternoon, since they come right at the beginning of the book. 
A little background, in case you are unfamiliar: Daniel and his 3 friends were taken captive from Judah to Babylon when King Nebuchadnezzar overthrew Jerusalem in 586 BC.  God blessed them and they found favor with King N.  He made Daniel ruler over all of Babylon, and made S, M, and A administrators under Daniel.  Here's where the fiery furnace comes in.  King N made this giant gold statue, presumably of himself, and ordered that all people bow down and worship this statue when they heard music play.  This presents a problem for S, M, and A because they serve God, who commands that we worship no other god or idol.  Thus, they refused to bow and worship the statue. N is outraged and orders them brought before him, where he gives them one last change to bow; to conform to the world, as it were.  Listen to their reply: "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  If we are thrown into the fiery furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."  Of course, you probably know the rest of the story.  The irate king orders the furnace to be made seven times hotter, killing even the guards who threw them into the fire.  But God did indeed rescue S, M, and A, without so much as the smell of smoke being on their clothes.  When they are brought out of the furnace, the king says, "Praise be to the God of S, M, and A, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants!  They trusted in him and defied the king's command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God...."
Wow.  I told you, the Bible is full of some crazy stuff!!  But seriously, some things are pretty clear to me about these men.  First, knowing that God can, is different from knowing that God will.  They knew God could save them.  How did they know?  Israel's history is full of God's mighty hand working on behalf of his people.  They knew God could simply because he had in the past.  However, they did not know for sure whether God would or not.  "But even if he does not..."  What a powerful statement!  We like to say things like, "God, if you will just do this for me, I'll serve you," or, "God, if you give me a sign, I'll believe/obey."  What God does determines what we do, how we respond to him.  But Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego had already decided that they would obey the Lord regardless of how he chose to act in that moment.  That's incredible.  And it's not something that they just decided at that moment.  Clearly they had made the choice to honor God no matter the cost, well before this moment.
I know I'm kinda weird in this way, but I often imagine terrible things happening to me, or to my family.  In my mind I play out exactly what I would say or do, or feel.  I even think about how I would respond to God in that imaginary situation.  I've been through some pretty difficult things in my life, and I've responded both by choosing to continue trusting and serving God, and, I'm ashamed to admit, by blaming him and deciding not to trust him.  I don't think I need to tell you which choice I would make again.  But the point is, we have to decide to trust God no matter what the circumstances in our lives.  It's not always easy.  In fact, it may seem impossible at times; but it's always worth it in the end.
I know this is really long, but bear with me a little while longer while we talk about the king's response.  He told everyone that S, M, A "were willing to give up their own lives rather than worship or serve any god except their own God."  What are we willing to give up?  Here in America we aren't yet required to make the choice between our very lives and obedience to God.  But we do have to choose; perhaps between God and our reputation, our popularity, our money, our comfort, etc.  Are we really willing to serve and worship only God, no matter the cost to us??  I like to say yes, because it's the answer I should give.  But does my life reflect that willingness in my everyday choices?  Let's just say that I will be much more mindful of this from now on, and I hope you will be too.
Thanks for reading.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


When I first heard this song a few weeks ago on K-Love, I thought it was nice but I didn't really pay attention to the words.  When I heard it a second time, I made sure to actually listen.  And I knew I wanted to write about it.  But I put it off, as I tend to do.  Until today.  In my Bible reading over the last few days I have been reading the beginning of Exodus and the Israelites escape from Egypt and all the wonders the Lord did.  (I could write another whole blog about the first 12 chapters; I just might, too.)  You know what's so cool about the Bible? (side note here!) You can read the same story or passage a hundred times, but on the hundred-and-first time, something jumps out at you, and you know God is saying something.  Today was one of those times.

Exodus 13:17-8  "When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that way was shorter.  For God said, 'If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.'  So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea...."

I am terrible at directions and distances.  Jason will always ask me which way I think it faster, and my way ends up being the longer way.  I don't know why he keeps asking my opinion!  Even when I'm driving by myself and I have to decide which way is best, I either second guess myself or realize in a few short minutes that I chose the scenic route.  And that bugs me.  I think that if the Israelites knew their geography, it probably bugged them too.  After all, wouldn't you want to get as far away from Pharaoh, as fast as possible??  But God knew what awaited them in Philistine country, and he knew it wasn't pleasant.  So instead he led them on the desert road.  If you've ever been to the desert, you're probably imagining sand, sun, and dehydration.  Walking through the desert is not pleasant.  Thankfully for the Israelites, though, God knew the alternative.  And he knew which was the best route. 
Whether we believe it or not, God alone knows the best route for our lives too.  What can seem like the long, more difficult way around is actually God's protection over his beloved - you.  Me.  But we often choose not to see it that way.  We look at the situations and circumstances around us and we question; we blame; we complain; we accuse the Maker of the universe of being clueless, or worse, cruel.  Of course, he is neither of those things.  But he does have a plan.  We get upset when that plan is not our plan, or when that plan brings us pain. 
If you continue reading into chapter 14, you'll see the Lord giving more instructions to Moses, telling him what's about to happen: "Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth... Pharaoh will think, 'The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.'  And I will harder Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them.  But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD."
We are so like the Israelites sometimes.  Instead of trusting the Lord, who had already done such miraculous signs in Egypt, they were terrified and suddenly decided that their life of slavery in Egypt was preferable to their present situation.  They questioned Moses, asking why he had done such a thing to them.  We say the same thing to God, don't we?  "Why are you doing this to me?"  But God wasn't doing anything to his people; he was doing something for them.  He was rescuing them.  But more than that, he was bringing glory to himself, and revealing himself to a nation that desperately needed a living God. 
Sometimes our situation feels overwhelming, or like a punishment.  And we have to audacity to question, blame, complain, or accuse.  But most, if not all of the time, our situation is not about us.  It's about bringing glory to the One True God, and revealing him to a desperate world.  (And if our situation is about us, it's about bringing us closer to the One True God, and about transforming us into his likeness.  And it's about bringing God glory!) 
Somewhere along the way, we've gotten the notion that our lives should be easy, free from trouble or suffering, and that only things that make us happy are things God wants for us.  How sadly mistaken we are!  We somehow believe we are entitled to only good, pleasant things, and that God must be mean, cruel, or nonexistent when life brings us pain, suffering, and hardship.  But we forget that most of the world lives in a constant state of pain, hunger, disease, and struggle.  Yet if you ever have the privilege of meeting a brother or sister in Christ from a country other than America, you will see in them fullness of joy, complete trust, and a distinct lack of the self-pity that often characterizes our attitudes when things go wrong.  When you always have nothing, you understand clearly that God is always everything.  And that "his ways are higher than our ways."  And that "he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us, will graciously give us all things."  Christ himself suffered the ultimate suffering, made the ultimate sacrifice.  Who are we to think that we are exempt from suffering??  No, but "in all things, God works for the good of those who love him."  And that working is based on knowledge of things we cannot see, on the ultimate goal of bringing glory to the Lord and revealing Jesus Christ to the world.
The next time you're tempted to complain about your life, remember the Israelites.  Remember Jesus.  And remember that God's ultimate goal for your life is not happiness.  Rather, it is for him to be glorified and for you to become more like him.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

$3.59 a gallon

We drive a LOT.  Therefore, we buy a LOT of gas.  And unfortunately that also means we spend a LOT of money on gas.  Probably more than we spend on groceries.  It's really sad that it costs more to transport our family than it does to feed our family. does not seem like there is any relief from these prices to come in the near future, which has me thinking about how we're going to afford to continue traveling to work, school, and church.  Jason and I have a had a few (albeit very brief) conversations about what we could cut from our budget to make room for inflated gas prices.  Very few things in our budget are non-essential items that must be paid; they include TV, internet, and cell phones.  And our Y membership.  And frankly, that would probably be the first to go.  However, we spend a LOT more on TV and internet than we do on the Y.  So I've been thinking, which would I prefer to do without?  TV would be the logical choice, because we can watch some of our shows online.  Not all of them, mind you, and not Sports Center.  Not that I care one lick about that, but Jason does.  So then, would we give up the internet?  That would mean no email, no blog, no Words with Friends, and *gasp* no more facebook.  Whatever would we (I) do??!!!! 
I was talking this over with a good friend yesterday, and she pointed out how much we are (willingly) trapped by the things of this world.  And suddenly I felt like I should give these things up simply because they do consume so much of my time.  Time that I could/should spend in God's Word and in God's presence.  Time that I could spend playing with my children or talking with my husband, instead of us parking ourselves in front of one or more screens for the evening.  After all, I grew up (as did anyone over the age of 25) without high speed (or any) internet access, cable/satellite/fios TV, and certainly I survived many years without a cell phone.  So should the need arise, I could and would willingly do it again.  But instead of seeing it as such a dreadful hardship, I might actually welcome the release from those things I consider so important, yet in the grand scheme of things actually count for nothing.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

And you thought your family was messed up!

Read the Old Testament for about 3 and a half seconds and you'll find some pretty messed up family stuff.  Besides the fact that is was perfectly acceptable to marry your half-sister or your cousin, families were plagued with the same things we are today: lies, favoritism, poor parenting, bigt time sibling rivalry, etc.  But it's the story of Judah and Tamar that I found most outrageous today.
Just prior to this story, found in Genesis 38, we see the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers.  Originally the plan was to kill him, but big brother Reuben steps in and says, "Let's just throw him in this empty cistern instead."  Reuben planned to rescue him later when the other brothers weren't looking.  Only, when Reuben took a potty break (pure speculation of his whereabouts!) Judah steps in and convinces them to sell Joseph as a slave to a passing caravan.  He was, after all, their own brother, their flesh and blood.  So we get a glimpse into Judah's character. 
Fast forward many years; Judah has separated from his brothers and builds his own family.  His Canaanite wife (big NO-NO!) gives birth to three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah.  Don't you just love Bible names??  Anyway, when Er comes of age Judah gets him a wife named Tamar.  There's just one slight problem..."Er was wicked in the Lord's sight and the Lord put him to death."  So Tamar is now a childless widow, so Judah tells son number two to do his brotherly duty and produce sons for his deceased brother.  Another slight problem: Onan was wicked too, and the Lord put him to death as well.  Here's Tamar, still childless and widowed.  Son number three is not yet of age for marriage, so Judah tells Tamar to wait for him to grow up a bit.  Third slight problem: Judah has no intention of actually having Shelah marry Tamar.  Why, you may ask?  Because he worried that Shelah would die as well.  (Side note here: either Judah knew that Shelah was wicked like their brothers, or he had no idea why his older sons died in the first place.  Either way, it doesn't look very good on Judah.) 
Fast forward a few years.  Shelah is of age, and Judah's wife dies.  Here's where it gets really crazy.  After his mourning time was over Judah went to check on his sheep.  On the way he meets who he thinks is a prostitute.  He offers her a young goat as payment for her services, and she accepts on the condition that he leave something as a guarantee of payment.  Which he willingly does.  And now Judah has another slightly larger problem.  When he sends the goat (notice that he sent it; he doesn't take it himself) the messenger can't find the prostitute.  Go figure.  Fast forward 3 months.  Judah gets the news that Tamar is guilty of prostitution and is pregnant.  Dense Judah does not make the connection, but orders that Tamar be brought out and "burned to death!"  Kind of hypocritical, isn't it?  It was ok for him to use a prostitute, but not ok for her to be one.  Of course, he then finds out that he is the father just as guilty as her, and does "not sleep with her again."
Ok, seriously?  Talk about your made-for-TV-movie!!  So I have to ask myself, "WHY is this kind of stuff in the Bible?????????"  If it was a movie, I probably wouldn't watch it, it's so full of junk and ridiculousness.  But I'm reading it in God's holy word.  And if you're looking for a resolution, there isn't one.  Tamar gives birth to twins and that's the end of the chapter.  The next time we see Judah, he is personally guaranteeing the safety of youngest brother (and other father favorite) Benjamin on their journey back to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph.  Perhaps he has learned his lesson and changed his ways, but we can only hope, since the Bible doesn't say for sure. 
So back to the question, why does God include this for us to read?  What's the lesson?  When I figure it out, I'll let you know!! 

to be continued....

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Lately we've been having trouble with our toilet backing up, but it's been Jason or I in the bathroom and we both know to quickly shut off the water.  Today, Aedan, who never flushes ever, actually decided to flush and the toilet overflowed.  It wasn't terrible, but the whole idea of it is just gross.  I had to mop the floor and wash the throw rug, but it could've been a lot worse.  And it got me thinking about Jesus' words, "For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.  But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken."
I always tell my kids, "What is inside of you will eventually come out."  Meaning, what is inside of you will eventually come out!  If you store anger and bitterness in your heart, it will be evident in your words.  If you house pride and judgment, your words will be full of pride and judgment.  But on the other hand, if you have a joyful and content heart, your words will be full of hope and encouragement. 
This is an area that I am regularly having to check myself in and repent of the junk stored in my heart.  Because it always comes out, and when it does, it's not pretty.  Not to my own ears, nor to God's  Even if I never verbalize the words, I know those thoughts are rumbling around and it's just a matter of time.  More than that, God hears even our thoughts, so nothing is hidden from Him.

"Let my words and my thoughts be pleasing to you Lord, because you are my Mighty Rock and my Protector." Psalm 19:14.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Daddy's Little Girl

Yep.  That's me.  Isn't that a lovely pair of overalls?  I particularly love that my bangs take up half of my head.  But that was certainly not the worst hairstyle I've had over the years!  I've spared myself some embarassment by only choosing pictures from my younger years.  But this blog is not about me.  It's about my dad, and mostly I'm including these pictures because he took them.  When I was little he was always taking pictures of us and developing them himself.  He converted a small corner of the basement into a darkroom and I loved the times that I could sit on the stool and watch him make pictures magically appear in basin of liquid.  I still remember the smell of the chemicals, the way he had all the different bottles lined up on the shelf, and the glow of the red light that would not ruin the exposures.
I remember him and my brother standing in the backyard during thunderstorms taking pictures of lighting.  I cried hysterically, thinking they would most definitely be killed.  They weren't.
When we were little, my dad worked a lot.  He was a mechanic and he worked long hours in Oakland, then  in Verona; first for someone, and then eventually opening his own garage.
I remember sitting with him in his recliner and watching TV.  When I got too big to smoosh in the chair with him, I would sit on the arm of the chair beside him.  In the winter he would always build a fire in the fireplace and I would sit in front of it after my bath while my hair dried.  It took forever. 
I remember playing games as a family.  We played various card games; UNO was one of my favorites.  But
even though I was little, no one took it easy on me, and I would often have to build myself a wall out of pillows so I could lay my cards on the floor when I had too many to hold.  When I got older we also played Scrabble.  I was so excited the first time I won!  It's no wonder I love spelling so much.
In the summer we would often go to Willow's and play mini-golf and get ice cream.  We also went to "Soft Charlie's" for ice cream, and at either place my dad's order was the same: medium hot fudge sundae with extra hot fudge."  He was not one for variety.  We ate at Eat-N-Park every Friday and his order was the same there too: salad bar and two Superburgers with no lettuce and extra sauce.  Of course, I always had the same thing too: chicken fingers.
My dad loved baseball and I remember listening to the Pirate games on the radio; either on his big stereo at home or in his rumbling black truck.  I never wore a seat belt in the truck.  In fact, because I was so small, he would fold down the center console and let me sit on top of it so I could see out the windshield.  He always listened to 70's rock and would sing along.  Loudly.  Sometimes I'm tempted to turn on WDVE in my car just to hear those songs and him singing them in my head.

These are my great grandparents: Grandpap Pete and Grandma Toots.  And my face is totally Liana.

I learned to cook from my dad.  Every Sunday we had family breakfast at my great grandparens' house.  Grandma Toots (pronounced like tootsie roll.) made meatballs and homemade bread.  My dad was the official cooker of the meatballs.  Every time I make meatballs for my family I remember him standing at her ancient stove in his typical sweatpants.  And no matter how hard I try, I cannot duplicate those meatballs.  Not quite.  But my dad could do more than just fry meatballs.  I get my culinary sense of adventure from him.  He was always trying something new in the kitchen.  If he thought it sounded good in his mind, he made it.  I cook like that often.  And he was a super messy cook!  But I enjoyed almost everything he made.  Except ox tails.  Those were gross.
My dad also taught me to think critically about things.  He always asked questions to make me think and understand what and why I believed.  He wanted me to be a lawyer so he argued with me and made me defend my position, even at a young age.  He taught me to stick to my guns and not back down.  He didn't share my faith in Jesus and he had little tolerance for church.  He often gave me a hard time about my faith and when I was older he would try and get me to swear or drink, just to see if I would.  Those experiences of rejection and ridicule from someone so close to me made it easier to bear from people on the outside.  And if I could say no to my own dad, I could certainly so no to my peers.  Of course, I would have given anything for him to have accepted Christ, but even so I am thankful for what it built in me.  And although he never told me personally, he told my mom that he was glad I spent so much time at church because he didn't have to worry about me like he did my brother, and that he really respected me for not compromising.

It's been 8 years to the day.  Not a day goes by that I don't think about my dad, and miss him.   I know he would be proud of me, of my family.  I wonder what kind of pappy he would have been.  My dad was not much for physical or verbal affection, but I think when it came to his grandchildren, he would've been a great big softy.  I often think about how things might be different if he were here today.  Would I have made all the same choices I've made since then?  Would I have my two beautiful children?  Probably not.  But I am blessed, content, and thankful for my life as it is today.  And I am reminded that "in ALL THINGS, God works for the good of those who love him."

One of the few pictures of us together.  He was always the one behind the camera!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Father Abraham...

had many sons....and many sons had Father Abraham.  You know the rest, and now I bet you'll be singing it for the rest of the day!  You're welcome!! But seriously, I was reading the story of Abraham and Isaac just a little bit ago.  What a crraaazy story!  The very idea of giving up my son (or daughter), let alone as a burnt sacrifice...I can't get my mind around it.  But some other things jumped out at me too.  First, when God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son, we don't see A arguing or trying to bargain for a different task. (Not that I think it was an easy decision to make; in fact, I'm sure he agonized over what he was about to do.)  Just obedience.  And not eventually, or when he finally resigned himself to obey.  No, the Bible says "early the next morning."  Now, in my opinion, early in the morning is not the time for anything, let alone something so difficult.  But A did not waste any time in obeying the Lord.  So many times I am guilty of delayed obedience.  Which is ironic, because in our house we expect immediate obedience from our children.  But when God tells me to do something I don't want to do, am uncomfortable doing, or am afraid to do, I delay.  I make excuses.  I tell myself "God didn't really tell you to do that.  It was your own idea so you don't really have to."  But my sinful nature is not capable of coming up with such ideas as: send an encouraging card to someone; or make dinner for a friend who is in need; or don't blab to your friends about your frustrations before you talk to God about them.  Clearly these things come from God, who lives inside of me by the Holy Spirit.  But still, my obedience is not always willing or immediate.  But Abraham's was.
So "early the next morning" they set out for the designated mountain.  Today I really took notice of four little words: on the third day.  This was not a quick hike in the backyard.  Abraham, Isaac, the servants, and a donkey walked for three days before they reached the right area.  That's a lot of time to think about what you're about to do.  My brain is in overdrive almost all the time.  Especially on days like today when something is bothering me.  I just play the same thoughts and imaginary conversations over and over and over and get the idea.  I can easily drive myself crazy without some purposeful redirection of my thoughts.  I wonder what Abraham thought about all those hours...well, we know from the book of Hebrews that "Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead."  So I bet he spent a good deal of time thinking about God and His power, His faithfulness to Abraham up to that point, and His promise that through Isaac A would become a great nation.  Oh, that I would spend so much time thinking about God, His power, faithfulness, and promises!!  Not to mention His love, mercy, and presence in my life.  Those are worthy things to dwell upon for countless hours! 
And when it came time to do the deed, Abraham did not shrink back, change his mind, or argue with God.  He tied up his son, placed him on the altar, and lifted a knife to kill his beloved son.  In the same way, when it came time to save our souls, Jesus did not shrink back, change his mind, or argue with God.  (He asked if there could be another way, but knowing that there wasn't...) He placed Himself on the cross and sacrificed Himself on our behalf.  God the Father did not withhold His only Son, but gave Him up for me.  For you.
Thank you, Jesus.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

a promise is a promise is a promise

Yes, I am blogging twice in an hour.  This is what I wanted to write about yesterday but did not have the mental capacity or the visual function to coherently communicate.  So here goes. 

Funny story, as told by Jason: (in case you don't know, Jason drives a Pepsi truck.  so this story happened in a roomful of truckers.) I go to work and find out I'm onlight duty and I have to run a truck with Dave.  Of the 3 routes left, one was in my zone and I knew it so I told him to pick that one.  He looked at the routes and the other two had 15 or less stops, and the one I wanted had 20 stops.  He looked at me and asked me, "Are you sure?  That looks like a crappy route."  I said, "I'm very sure.  We'll be back early."  He said, "I have to be back by 4:00...are you really sure?"  I said, "I promise we will be back before 4:00."  And then he hold out his pinky and says, "Pinky swear we'll be back by 4:00!"  And I said, "NO!! MEN DO NOT PINKY SWEAR WITH OTHER MEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Psalm 15:1 Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord?
Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?

4 Those who ... keep their promises even when it hurts.
Over the last few days, for different reasons, I have been thinking about the word "commitment."  And a few thoughts have surfaced out of the frustration and disappointments of commitments not kept.
1. I am not always good at keeping my commitments.  Sometimes I say I will do something, mostly something Jason asks me to do, but I "forget."  Really, I just get distracted and start doing other things.  Or I'm not really thinking about what I'm agreeing to do, and I really do forget as soon as the conversation ends.  Or I don't really want to do it, but I agree because it's what is expected of me.  Other times I make a personal commitment that no one else knows about, except the Lord of course, since He knows everything.  Or the commitment is actually between He and I.  But still no one else knows about it. 
It's very easy to back out of commitments that are not public or involving anyone else.  But those commitments are no less important than those that are.  And I need to work harder at making less excuses and actually doing what I commit to doing, even if it's not convenient or comfortable.
2. Our culture doesn't value commitment.  This is clearly seen in the staggering divorce rate, even among Christians.  If a couple "isn't happy" or is no longer "in love," divorce is the natural and accepted option.  Instead of trying to work it out or *gasp* sacrificing your desires for someone else, one or both people simply opt out, like it's a cell phone contract or something.  But it's also seen on a smaller scale.  For instance, punctuality seems to be impossible for some people.  But if you make a commitment to be somewhere at 3:00, but you don't arrive until 3:15 or 3:30, with no valid reason, you have essentially said that your time is more valuable than someone else's.  Or that you are simply not responsible enough to manage your time properly.  Regardless, some people have no qualms about being late on a regular basis. (Please understand that I know things happen that are beyond our control at times, like illness, or traffic, or car trouble, or blizzards.  But that's not what I'm talking about.)  Our lack of commitment is also shown in the way people think it's ok to quit something they have committed to because "it's hard," or because they have since made other committments and now find themselves overwhelmed or out of time.  And at that time the more fun or convenient commitment is honored, instead of the one made first. 
Maybe I'm just being overly sensitive, but I really believe that if we make a commitment to something, to someone, or just to ourselves, we need to keep that commitment, even if it hurts.  Because everything we do, or don't do, shows our character and integrity.  I don't know about you, but I want to be known as someone who is trustworthy to do what I say I will do.  Because if I am not trustworthy, who will believe me when I say that God is trustworthy too??

Saturday, February 26, 2011

coming soon...

As usual, I have a blog rolling around in my head that started out of frustration.  And since I don't like to write when I am frustrated, because I don't want to sound preachy or critical, I was waiting for a cooler head and cleare thoughts.  Only now I'm too tired, so it will have to wait until some daylight hour.  Hopefully tomorrow.  But for now, I'll leave you with a little preview...

Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord?
Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?
Those who...keep their promises, even when it hurts. 
Psalm 15:1, 4

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

decisions decisions

I have recently learned something about myself...I am very indecisive.  Now, if you ask Jason, he would tell you this is no great revelation.  In fact, it drives him crazy that I don't like to decide on anything, even simple things like where to go out for dinner on our rarely occurring dates.  This is not because I don't know what I like or because we have an overwhelming number of choices.  I am simply afraid of making the wrong decision.  And in the last two months, we have faced some important decisions.  Grown up decisions.  Decisions that affect more than just me and my appetite.  And I am terrified that I will choose the wrong thing and something catastrophic will happen.  Yes, I pray for wisdom and God's direction, because I truly want to live in obedience.  But I suppose the bigger fear is that I will miss God's will for my life and the lives of my husband and children.  And how do you really know if something is God's will, anyway?  I don't know about you, but I haven't seen any burning bushes, and no angels have visited me lately to tell me God's plan for my life.  So I started searching the Word for times when God revealed His will to someone.  Many times in the Old Testament it says that "the Lord said..." or "the Lord appeared ... and said..." or "the word of the Lord came to..."  God also appeared in dreams to different people, giving them instructions, or sent an angel to do the instructing.  Now, these were before the OT was written, so I guess God really had no other way to communicate with people other than to simply speak to them.  And the crazy and comforting part of it all  is the people who have those physical and visible encounters with God or his messengers and still they ask, "But how will I know...?"  Are you kidding me??  God or his angel is standing in front of you telling you what to do or what will happen, and you want MORE PROOF???  Jesus had the same experience with the Jews.  He had already performed dozens of miracles, yet the Jews still wanted a "sign to prove his authority to do all this."  I mean, weren't the miracles themselves the proof of his authority?  So I am not alone in my desire for absolute certainty before acting.  Unfortunately, God is not in the habit of appearing in my living room or speaking out loud in my bedroom.  But I do have the Bible, and I have prayer.  And I have to stop second guessing when I sense Him leading and start walking in obedience in the little things He asks me to do.  Because being afraid to make any decision is essentially making the wrong decision.  And now we all know I don't want to do that!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

...Nothing for Me...

"This world has nothing for me.  I will follow you."

Up until today I thought, "Yeah! I'm good.  The world has nothing for me.  Everything is great."  And I would sing it with all my heart and not give it another thought.  Until today.  And I realized that while the "big" sins of the world (like drugs, alcohol, sex outside of marriage, etc.) hold no appeal over me, it's the little things of the world that I have to fight against.  Things like watching shows or movies with inappropriate content, wasting hours on facebook but spending minimal time in God's Word, or complaining about things that don't go my way eat away at my relationship with God.
[Side note: music would also be included in the tv/movies category, but I do not listen to secular music if I can help it.  And by inappropriate I mean sinful.  Anything containing sexual content, cursing, disrespecting parents or other authority, or other sinful activities ought to be considered inappropriate for God's people.  Shows that portray sin as fun, acceptable, having no real consequences, or as not being wrong at all should not be entertaining to someone who is living to please the Lord.  If God does not want you to participate in sin, He certainly doesn't want you to be entertained by someone else who is.  I challenge you to hold your entertainment choices up to the standards set forth in the Bible.  If they don't make the grade, turn it OFF.] 
These are all things of the world.  I don't know what your struggles are, or if you've even thought about the the sin you've allowed into your life.  But we all need to, because even a little sin is a big deal.
The second part of the line in the song says, "I will follow you."  You can't follow Christ and still go your own way.  Either you're following Him, or you're not.  Think about it like this: if a friend asks you for a dollar, and you agree to give the dollar, but only give 75 cents, is that good enough?  What about if you give 99 cents?  It's really close, but it's still not a dollar.  When you agree to give God your life, you have to give all of it.  That may mean giving up some things you previously consumed.  That may mean separating yourself from situations or making radical changes in your daily routine.  Whatever it means for you, do it.  Give everything.  You'll never miss what you should never have in the first place.  Let God fill your life and you won't even want the things of the world.  And then you can truly say, "This world has NOTHING for me.  I will follow YOU."
Mark 8:34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.35 For whoever wants to save their lifet will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.
1 John 2:15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Fathert is not in them.16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.
Colossians 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.t7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
Ephesians 5:3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people.4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.t6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient.7 Therefore do not be partners with them.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snow is like...

I often write in my head.  When I am cleaning or cooking, or shoveling the driveway, my mind just "writes."  Most of those contemplations never make it onto paper or computer.  But this is one of those contemplations that I created mentally almost a year ago, and I think it's time to put it out there. 
Now, if you love snow, maybe this post isn't for you.  But if you're mostly a hater like me, then you will relate.  Last year around this time our pastor was preaching a series on sin.  Not a popular topic, but a necessary one.  Also around this time last year we received ridiculous amounts of snowfall.  Also not always a popular topic, but in Pittsburgh in winter it is an unavoidable one.  And one day as I was taking my turn shoveling our half concrete, half rock driveway, it came to me that snow, in many ways, is like sin.  (I warned you, snow-lovers!)  Let me explain.  First, snow is like sin because just a little bit can do a great deal of damage.  A light coating on the road might not seem so dangerous at first glance, but go to fast or brake too hard, and you'll quickly find out the truth.  A little bit of snow can quickly turn into a little bit of ice.  And if you've ever totaled a car (as I have!) you know that a little bit of ice is all you need.  In the same way, just a little bit of sin can quickly and easily snowball (pardon the pun!) into a giant disaster. 

Second, snow is first.  That freshly fallen snow on the grass and trees with no footprints or dog donations or other disturbances can be enchanting.  Right now I am watching the snow fall gently out my window and it is lovely.  However, it doesn't stay lovely.  Today when we got out of the car in a parking lot my son asked, "Mom, what's all that nasty brown stuff?"  My reply? "It's slush, son.  Dirty snow."  Walk outside and it's not hard to find where the beatiful white stuff has turned a disgusting brown, mixed with dirt and rocks.  Shovel your driveway and it doesn't take long to uncover the mess beneath the beauty.  And then you've got to put that sludge somewhere, so where does it go?  Onto the clean snow in your yard, or your neighbor's yard, or the street.  Now the muck is affecting other people, too.  Sin does the same things!  It looks great on the outside - fun and pleasing to the sinful nature.  I mean, if it wasn't appealing, no one would do it, right?  But again, it doesn't take long to uncover the mess beneath the so-called beauty.  Sin may be fun for a season; but eventually consequences arise, guilt sets in, and our lives are marred by slush and sludge.  Which brings me nicely to number three: you can't get rid of snow on your own.  Sure, you can shovel and scrape all day, but you will never get a completely clean sidewalk or driveway.  Don't believe me?  Go out and try it.  I just did.  You can get it clean enough to not track snow all through your house or car, but it won't be perfect.  You can even throw salt down, which I just did too.  But that's only an outside fix.  The only thing that REALLY gets rid of the snow is the heat of the sun.  And the only thing that REALLY gets rid of our sin is the blood of the SON.  Oh, we can try our best to be good, to do better.  We can work really hard on controlling our temper and our tongue, but we will always fail.  Not to mention that doing so is exhausting!  Shoveling the driveway is backbreaking work; trying to be good enough on our own is too.  And even worse, when snow goes unshoveled for too long, that messy underneath turns to solid ice, making removal nearly impossible without a pickax!  When we let sin hang out in our life for any length of time, our hearts also become hard and require serious correction from the Lord.  Hacking away at ice on the driveway is zero fun; letting Christ hack away at the hardness of our sin is also zero fun, but well worth the pain in the end.  Jesus is the only solution for our sin problem, just like spring is the only solution for our snow problem.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oh the irony!

So almost everyday  I have some thoughts on something that I think, "Oh, I really should make a blog so I can share this with people!"  And then, once I finally sit down and create a blog, my brain decides to take a vacation.  No divine inspirations, no hilarious situations, no creative motivations. Nothing.  Just some bland days with slightly sick children.  See, that's what too much children's television will do to you!!! 

Friday, January 21, 2011

At last!

After much procrastinating and mental debate, here is my very own blog.  I hope that what you read will either challenge, inspire, or amuse you.  But I make no promises!  Above all, I want the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to the Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer!!