Saturday, October 30, 2010

Three GodStops in One Day!

Beth Moore defines a Godstop as a moment in your ordinary day when you "savor the observable presence" of God. Those beautiful moments that take your breath away, and you are certain you have just received a tangible touch from God!

A Godstop could be anything from seeing a flower bloom in the crack of a sidewalk, to hitting all green lights while you drove across town. It could be a heavenly whisper. Or the physical touch of a friend. It could be a moment when someone you don't know says just what you need to hear, exactly when you needed to hear it. Godstops are all around us, just waiting to be discovered. God loves it when we discover Him in the middle of an ordinary day.

The month of October had been quite challenging for me. On top of three other very challenging months! There were spiritual attacks on every side. Family. Finances. Career. You name it, I felt pressure there. But God calls us to walk in faith, not fear, so I had trudged onward, through these difficulties.

Lowe's garden center is probably not the first place to come to mind when you think of a Godstop moment, and it was the last thing on my mind this Saturday. Rounding a corner, I stared at the gorgeous, but very expensive, cedar trellis I had fallen in love with earlier in the season. Then I saw the sign, "75% off"! It was as if God said, "Look child, I know you've not had a great time lately, but I still love you. Here's a little proof."

I did the happy dance, right there in the garden center! Praise music started playing in my head! Since the floor model was the only trellis left, I grabbed the manager of the day and asked her if I could possibly take it home. Whether she misunderstood me or what, I'm not sure. She stared at the trellis for a second, then turned to me and said, "The best I could do is $40." I almost fell over! Sometimes, God just shows out! Isn't that just like Him?

On the way home, I stopped at Panera for a hot cup of tea and a cinnamon bun the size of my head. One of my favorite treats. I tried a new green tea which was infused with ginger and honey, and it became my new favorite tea. Before leaving, I asked the manager if it was a proprietary blend or if I could actually buy it from them. He asked me to wait there and disappeared. Within a few minutes he came back with a brown paper bag and smiled. "I hope you have a great day!" he said as he walked away. Inside the bag were two canisters of the tea. Again, it was as if God said, "Child, I love you. Hang in there!" And my heart welled up with praises.

Later in the day when I was gathering things to prepare for supper, I realized I needed to make a dash to the store. Just inside the door were carts of discounted candies and gum. I almost walked right past them when something caught my eye. My favorite special sugarless chewing gum had been marked down to half price! IN EVERY FLAVOR!!! This gum had NEVER been on sale, ever, yet it was today. For the third time, it was as if God said, "Child, I see your struggle. Here's a little something extra to encourage you."

Tears flooded my eyes! After months of prolonged personal struggles with no real end in sight, God found three very special, very unique ways to let me know that He was still on His throne, He saw my struggles, and wanted to encourage me as I walked in faith, not fear.

Realistically, I do not expect to experience three Godstops in one day, but it was very special. What is your Godstop story? How has God reached out to you lately?

Friday, October 15, 2010


A friend from Australia recently asked me to explain America's love affair with Halloween. She just "didn't get" our preoccupation with the holiday, as a Christian nation. After some thought, I confessed that our infatuation more likely was tied to the sugary treats and the chance to dress up as adults, than actually celebrating the day of the dead.

Long before churches began holding fall festivals as a trick or treating alternative, I dressed my children in costumes and drove them around the neighborhood just like the next mom. I even baked pumpkin-shaped sugar cookies for their class parties. But in the last few decades, there has been a disturbing shift in the trend.

First, Kleenex ghosts appeared hanging from trees. Not too dangerous, that. Next someone stuffed a pair of jeans and humorously stuck them in the middle of one of those huge round bales of hay. Quite funny. But then, makeshift graveyards began appearing in residential yards. And now, it has become an art form. Every year, the decorations get darker and darker. At this point several weeks before Halloween, it seems that no holds are barred. Anything goes. The raunchier the better. And it grieves my heart.

The Celt and Druid origins of the customs we blindly practice are not pleasant things. I doubt many who observe the holiday really understand its origin. Some dismiss it simply as one night of fun during the year. But I think it’s time we stop walking the same path of the person in front of us, and take a look at where we are going. Decide for yourself what you want to participate in and what you do not.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Two Warnings

The mother glared at the angry little boy and pointed a finger at him. "I have HAD it with you! I'm giving you TWO warnings, THEN you will lose privileges for the rest of the day!" The little boy was not phased a bit by this warning, and continued the undesirably behavior. And who could blame him? He had just been told that he could get away with it once more before he faced consequences! And much to his mother's chagrin, he did just that. When faced with the final warning, he reluctantly settled down and obeyed. But both he and his mother were frazzled by the ordeal. And quite frankly, so was everyone within earshot. I wondered how many times this scene had played out before. Or was destined to play out in the future.

We all want to be good to our children. We dislike having to discipline them as much as we disliked discipline when we were children! But sometimes by prolonging correction, we enable unsatisfactory behavior. Is it the child's fault for seeing how much he can get by with, or ours?

God doesn't play that game. He loves us too much! There are times in my life when He issues only ONE warning. If I do not take notice of it, I will surely receive discipline. If I obey, I avoid negative outcomes. The choice is completely mine. And honestly, sometimes I have had to learn the hard way. But there are times when I realize the seriousness of my behavior and choose to avoid unpleasant consequences. He only disciplines the ones He loves--and I am thankful that He loves me. A whole lot, if you go by the amount of warnings I get!

How do you react to His warnings?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Draw Me Close

If you read the previous post, you know that my recent visit home did not unfold quite as I had envisioned, but it worked out in the end. While I was in that period of emotional upheaval however, a wonderful opportunity presented itself. The music minister of my home church had a cancellation and asked me to sing a solo in all three morning services! Singing in my home church was a privilege I had not experienced since moving away over seven years ago, and I was thrilled. Then, the aforementioned problems arose, and my heart was burdened.

The turmoil pressed me to focus more than ever on God's sustaining grace, sufficient for every day. As I practiced the song, I concentrated on Him. As I performed the sound check early that Sunday morning, I concentrated on Him. And as I stood before the congregation in each service, I concentrated on Him. The silver lining to the turmoil swirling around me was that I got "out of my own way" and let God have control. And He took my meager ability and blessed it, making all the difference.

As I was leaving the church that day, I realized there had been very few times when I had stepped forward to sing in public and everything was peachy in my life. More often than not, a storm was brewing or there was some external thing which forced me to lean on Him more fully in order to accomplish the feat. My weakness became His strength.

While I would never ask for more turmoil, I am quite thankful that He uses those times to draw me closer to His side, where His peace, power, and beauty can shine through.

How does His power shine through your storm clouds?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Allowing restoration

The longer between visits home, the more I romanticize how perfect time with family will be. With almost nine months between the last trip home, I had created all sorts of unrealistic expectations. Plus as an independent contractor who doesn't get paid when she isn't working, I planned to work electronically while back in Kentucky. And to further stack the deck, my aging dog had suffered a stroke weeks before the trip and was too fragile to leave in SC. It was a no-brainer. She had to make the trip with me. Thankfully, she is a wonderful dog. But all these factors along with circumstances back home created a perfect storm.

With confidence, I loaded the rental car and started the day-long journey. The mountains were beautiful and the trip pleasantly uneventful. I ached for a bit of a rest from the day to day in Columbia, with this trip. However, within a few hours of arriving in my hometown, the vision of perfect family time began fading. Everyone had problems of their own. Everywhere I looked, there was serious relationship stress. Housing stress. Job stress. Financial stress. Family stress. You name it! Big stress permeated the air. The entire two weeks I was home, tensions ran dangerously high. Tempers flared. And hurtful words were shouted. There was so much pain that I suddenly remembered why I moved away! And was unsure if I wanted to return in December. I hated that feeling. There are times when we are faced with the realities of life and must release our fantasy. Was this one of them?

Driving back to SC with the big red dog, I was more keyed up than when I had left. Realizing that grudges only hurt the person holding them, I decided to give the situation a few weeks to "marinate" before making a final decision about December. Knowing that God would have to move a few mountains before then.

And He surely did.

Within a month, relationship issues back home righted themselves. So did the housing and job problems. Most importantly to me, one of the people who had been extremely angry with me, deeply regretted his behavior. While this did not undo the damage done, it was a step toward healing. I was faced with a decision: Either hold onto the hurt and refuse to accept this olive branch, or give him the chance to make the wrong right. And to earn my trust again. To restore harmony.

I was reminded of all the times I have been angry with God and grieved His heart. Never once has He held it against me or made me pay for it. Yes, I've had to deal with the consequences of my actions, but restoration has always been possible with God. And always will be! Therefore, I clearly need to offer the chance of restoration to those who hurt me.

Because of God's patient restoration in my life, I have been taught the value of allowing a precious period of restoration with others. And can only pray they allow it when I grieve their hearts.

Oh yeah, I'll be home for Christmas!

What's your favorite example of restoration?

Friday, August 27, 2010


My best friend and I were spending a lazy Saturday morning going to yard sales searching for deals. We each had a list of items we hoped to find, which made the hunt more purposeful. There were usually enough unexpected treasures along the way to keep the journey exciting. That day however, I found myself staring at a very expensive dog lead, which appeared to be brand-new. The price was a whopping $.25. I picked it up, pulled the lead, and was amazed that it was in perfect condition.

"Hey Phyll. You need this?" I asked.
"No, I've already got one," she replied.
"Too bad. It's a nice one."

Placing the lead back on the table, I continued surveying the goods. As I walked away, I had one of "those" feelings, that perhaps I needed to reconsider the lead. Sometimes discernment is a tricky thing. The main issue was not the ridiculously low price, but that I did not have a dog. Nor was I in the market for one. Life was complicated enough, without adding one more thing I had to take care of. I stared at the lead and decided that I had gone crazy, and once again walked away. When the inner voice grew louder, "get the lead", I nervously walked back over to the table, grabbed it, forked the quarter over, and told the lady I had absolutely no idea why I was buying it.

A few weeks later, a coworker approached me about adcopting her neighbor's pure bred, registered, golden retriever puppy who was being abused and severely malnourished. God's plan bloomed in my mind at that moment and I was overwhelmed at how He provides for needs we don't even know we have. It took several months for the deal to go down, but finally, my brother and I arrived at the house to collect the pooch.

She was a year and a half old, but was dangerously thin. There was a red ring around her newly-shaved neck that I mistook at first for a collar. Instead, it was where her puppy collar had been left too tight for too long, and had cut through her skin. The owners had taken her to the vet that day to ready her for my visit. My blood boiled. The poor dog was wild from the sudden attention and once off her chain, raced haphazardly around the back yard. Everyone was trying to catch her, but she evaded them. My heart broke for her. Instead of trying to catch her, I simply sat cross-legged on the grass, with the new lead in my hand. All of a sudden from about 30 yards away, she saw me, stopped in her tracks, then ran straight toward me while the others chased and yelled at her. She jumped into my lap and started licking my face. I motioned the others to stay back and let her calm down. For 10 minutes, we sat there, loving each other. Out of crowd, she had just picked me to be her human.

Once my brother and I got her to my house, we gave her a bath, food, and let her acclimate to her new home. I changed her name and everything she might associate with her past life. She was a new creation now, and got to start over. She was terribly out of control, but quickly learned what was expected from her, and was very eager to please. And to lavish a love on me I had not experienced in years.

A few weeks later, we went for a vet follow-up and they could not believe she was the same dog. She was calm, well-mannered, and extremely happy. The parallel was striking. For me, too. How abused and malnourished was I before God came to rescue me? How unsettled and out of control had I been? And what a difference His love and guidance made in my life! I was now . . . stable. He accepted me. Renamed me. Loved me. Cleaned me up. Fed me. And provided my every need. My old life was a faded dream. And I was allowed to start over.

That was over 11 years ago, and I am reminded of God's goodness and mercy every time I look at my big red dog, Sadie. She is one of the most precious gifts He has ever given me. And my heart overflows on a daily basis. He led me to rescue her, and she, with infinite unconditional love, rescued me right back.

How has God shown His goodness and mercy to you?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Becoming a Child Whisperer

Nat Geo's show “The Dog Whisperer” is an interesting one for pet owners. After watching just one episode, you learn that for every completely-out-of-control dog making life miserable for its family, there is an owner without boundaries. With no clear guidelines, dogs struggle for their place in the family. All their instincts are out of whack. They bark incessantly. They bite visitors, and often owners. They terrorize other pets, children, or spouses. They may attack inanimate objects. The home generally becomes a prison. The dog forgets how to behave like a dog, and tries to take control of the family and house. The owners become frightened, permissive people whose lives are dictated by an animal.

The TV show host, Cesar, spends time with the family to learn how they function. Then he evaluates the dog's behavior. The problem always lies first with the owner's behavior. They may have humanized the dog. Pampered it to the extreme. They may love the dog too much to place any restrictions on it. They may fail to correct bad behavior. They may allow the dog to become more like a peer, than a pet. Cesar tells the family that dogs, being pack animals, always look to their leader for behavioral cues. If they don't get those cues, the balance of the pack is off-kilter, and the dog tries to take the lead. Every single time, Cesar has to re-train the owners, teach them to set boundaries, and that they have the right to lovingly enforce them. He has to teach them how to speak with authority. To mean what they say. To firmly tell, not weakly ask. And to teach them that they actually have the right to expect certain things from their dog. After the owners' re-training is done, he finally works with the dogs, who eagerly adhere to the new rules. Once the owners understand the level of guidance the dog needs from them, and begin giving it, balance is magically restored, and there is happiness for all concerned. The transformation of both owners and dogs is a beautiful sight.

Today, there is an epidemic of parents who want to be friends instead of parents. To give their children all they never had. To provide their children a life free from unpleasant things. To achieve this, one must remove distasteful things like rules, discipline, table manners, constructive criticism, delayed gratification, general respect or thought for anyone but themselves. As a result, our children are unclear what is expected from them, and vie for the lead. Our house becomes a prison, in which they are the wardens. Then, we send our children to school hoping the teachers will teach them how to behave, but we have unfortunately stripped them of the ability to do so. The problem continues until our children become teens who have the highest suicide rate ever, because their lives are meaningless.

Think I'm being an alarmist? Check the statistics.

Our window of opportunity in which to actually teach a child anything is from birth to five years of age. And we are simply not doing it. Don't believe me? Go to any restaurant for a nice meal. Odds are that at a table near you will be at least one loud, undisciplined child, whose parents seem to have acquired immunity. Oblivious that the child is ruining everyone else's dining experience, they rarely make eye contact or speak with the child, though he may repeatedly scream for their attention. The problem here is not terrible children, but parents afraid to be parents.

From birth, children may resent and test their boundaries, but they ultimately draw strength and balance from them. They are more grounded in life when they know what is expected of them. They make better decisions when they learn that there will be consequences, good or not so good, from their actions. They “act” like children, not terrorists. And the home ceases to be a prison.

Any good parent wants the best for their children. For their lives to be better than ours. That’s wonderful, even admirable, but anything taken to the extreme is wrong. There are bad things we have to deal with in this world. As a whole, by shielding our children from them, we are not equipping them with tools necessary for the remainder of their lives. If they do not learn those things from us, who will they learn from and what exactly will they learn? Our children will have hundreds of opportunities to have “friends”, but only two opportunities to have parents who love them enough to nurture, educate, guide, and set healthy boundaries.

I have childless friends who would give nearly anything for the chance to be parents. It's a gift, not an entitlement, deserving our best effort.