Archives for posts with tag: love

We have many blankets in our family room. In the corner is a basket home for them (as if we actually fold and put them away). No, they’re usually strewn about… on the couch, the green and gold afghan my grandma crocheted for me when I was a senior in high school (its colors a timeless reminder of how I never ended up going to Baylor. Plans change). On the ottoman is a black and orange Valley fleece blanket my mother-in-law made for one of the boys a few years ago. On the floor, an ugly, rough, south-of-the-border blanket I’ve never liked, although it still hangs around. On the beanbag, a grey souvenir blanket we got on an (unseasonably cold) music festival cruise to the Bahamas a few years ago. It makes me smile. These are joined by a half dozen others, various styles and origins, all ready for movie night or a football game or just cuddling up with a book.

I love these blankets. They feel especially good when the cold wind howls outside, but truth be told, we cover up with ’em year-round. It doesn’t matter. Maybe we just find them comforting. Warm. Protective.

photo-1 blankets Angie S

I’m knitting a blanket for Trevor to take with him when he goes to college this fall. (It’s purple, so it’ll work whether he chooses UNI or Truman State.) I figure, if I brought him home from the hospital in a blanket 18 years ago, I might as well send him off in one, too. If he should get homesick, maybe it’ll be the touch of home that brings comfort.

My mom gave me a quilted blanket this past Christmas, made with squares of some of Dad’s shirts that she couldn’t part with after his death two years ago. This quilt is a great remembrance piece. I remember Dad wearing these shirts. I haven’t actually used the blanket yet; it sits folded on top of our cedar chest, with the shirt fronts folded to the inside. I think the day will come when I use it, but for now, maybe I just don’t want the sadness wrapped around me.

Thinking about these blankets got me pondering the intangibles we wrap around ourselves every day… feelings and emotions, our outlook on life, our defense mechanisms. How we face each day depends on what attitude we put around our shoulders when we get out of bed in the morning. We choose our outlook more subconsciously than I might choose a blanket for TV night, but it’s still a choice.

photo-2 blankets Angie S

Many days, I can be all too comfortable wrapping myself in the wrong things. Cynicism. Pride. Some days, I’m smothered by my own self-doubt. Maybe you can relate. God’s Word warns us to resist getting too cozy with these things. There are others. Worry. Fear. An unwillingness to forgive. But just because these might be comfortable and familiar doesn’t mean we have to keep choosing them over and over. They never end up protecting us like we think they will. They just grow heavier over time. Maybe Jesus had something like this in mind when he talked about his yoke being easy and his burden light. I like this translation of Matthew 11:29-30: “I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (The Message.)

Light blankets are my favorite ones. So, in the spirit of the metaphor, I can appreciate this.

What, then, can we drape around us that won’t weigh us down? Here are some ideas from Colossians 3:12-14: “Dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it” (The Message).

Today, may you be wrapped in comfy blankets and, even better, in the lightness of this kind of spirit God has in mind for you.

by Angie Schmitt

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Over the years I’ve tried a number of art and crafting projects.  One thing I’ve just dipped a toe into is making jewelry.  Until I took a beading class, I was not really aware of how big the world of jewelry making is:  wire, beads, resin, glass, precious metal clay, shrink plastic, paper, fabric, beads.  And that’s just scratching the surface!  Unless you’re into jewelry, you might be surprised at all the materials, techniques, and trends out there.

My last jewelry project involved wire and beads.  Now, wire is a great material, especially for beginners, because it is so easy to bend and manipulate.  Expert jewelry makers also like it because it can be formed into very intricate patterns and designs.  My friend Kat makes some unbelievably beautiful wire pieces.  But the very attributes that make wire such a great material also make it a challenge to use; because it is so flexible, it can be flimsy, especially when beads or stones or anything else with some weight is added to the mix.

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So how do you strengthen wire to make it sturdy?  You pound it flat with a hammer against a steel block.  No, seriously.  Jump rings, those little wire circles that hold charms and other pretty things on a necklace or bracelet?  Those you make stronger by repeatedly opening and closing them with pliers, twisting them back and forth, back and forth.  You might think that would weaken the wire and break it, but it doesn’t.  Working it in this way, called work-hardening, actually changes its molecular structure.  And if you accidently overwork the wire, making it too stiff to manipulate, you can restore it to its former malleability by heating it, called annealing.  See?  Lots to learn about making jewelry, and that’s only wire!

We can be just like that wire.  Subjected to adversity, to the equivalent of being hammered on a steel block, we can become stronger.  Our faith matures when we endure life’s challenges.  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:1-5).  God is completing us, perfecting us, through the trials we endure.  Matthew 5:48 tells us, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”    If you’ve always thought those words mean we have to do everything perfectly, this is good news!  Our perfection is a work God is doing in us, not something we can accomplish ourselves.

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Of course, being overworked by life can harden our hearts.  Perhaps you know someone, or perhaps you are someone, who has endured so much pain and suffering under the hammer of life that you felt you had to protect yourself.  Your heart might be locked in a fortress behind stone walls and a moat (with alligators).  But life in a fortress is lonely.  Yes, a tender, open heart is more easily hurt, but it can recover from that hurt because love comes in to repair and strengthen it.  A hardened heart might be able to resist pain, but eventually it becomes a rock, a weapon that hurts us and others.  And no amount of isolation can protect a person from life’s troubles—it just means that person has to face adversity alone.

A hardened heart is not a permanent condition.  Like the overworked wire, we can be returned to our living, growing, malleable selves by the annealing fire of God’s love.  No matter how hard and inflexible we become, love has the power to restore us to tenderness.  Love strengthens us and enables us to persevere, to continue growing toward maturity and wholeness.  As we allow God to do his perfecting work in us, we can more clearly and brightly reflect his glory to people who have been seriously overworked by the hammer and steel block of life and desperately need to experience the restorative power of God’s annealing love.

Here in our state, we see acres and acres of corn and we know it is one of the most important crops in the entire world.

Sweet corn that is so delicious you swear you’re eating candy.  Feed corn that is used to feed animals and help them grow.  And seed corn… sent over the oceans to countries that use it to grow their own crops of corn to feed their people or animals.

Corn

Corn is used in a multitude of ways.  I can only think of a few, but they are amazing.  Corn oil is used to fry veggies and chicken.  Or corn is used to ferment and make alcohol. And with new technology, corn can be turned into Ethanol to help power engines.

And corn is a symbol of so much of fall.  “Indian corn” with its multi-colored kernels adorns many tables in centerpieces of harvest blessings.  And corn shucks are tied to fence and light posts to decorate our gates and doorways.   And then there’s “candy corn” passed out as goodies for fall celebrations…the yellow, orange and white candies sold in bags and bags at the grocery store, all based on CORN!

candy corn

If you’ve lived around a farm, or driven by one throughout the year, you know the hours of work involved in planting corn.  First, there’s the preparation of the soil, making it soft and rich with nutrients to give the seeds an environment to grow and be healthy.

Then there’s the hours spent planting each one of those seeds.  Can you believe that dried up seed will grow into that awesome ear of Peaches and Cream sweet corn???

Following that there’s watering, weeding, and praying a hail storm or strong wind doesn’t destroy the plant.  Harvesting goes on in billows of dust and into the night.  Ever see those harvesting machines with headlights on working into the night?

God bless our farmers!

Much the same routine goes on for all sorts of produce.  But think for a moment about tomato plants, peppers, green beans, peas, squash, zucchini.  Do you plant those in your home garden?  How many tomatoes do you get per plant?  How many peppers, beans, peas, etc.?

produce

And for an apple tree, or cherry tree, or citrus tree of some sort…how many fruits pull at the branches?

You plant, water, weed, fertilize…harvest.  Same kind of work for each plant, right?

But most varieties of CORN–each stalk so lovingly tended to–yield just ONE ear, maybe two!   Did you know that?  That is why we see acres and acres of corn in order to get bushels to be used in so many ways.

How many of us are willing to do just as much work for ONE thing as we are to get MANY things?

Do you know that Jesus would have gone through ALL he did, being made fun of, taunted, hated, lashed and crucified for ONE person?  For YOU?  That is how important you are to God.

Don’t forget it.  YOU are His child…the fruit of His labor.  YOU!

by Cindy Best

Once I was visiting another church and the pastor used an illustration of how easy it is for sin to color our whole lives for the worse.  It was very dramatic.

He had a glass of water on the podium and also a glass he’d filled with garden dirt.  He took a tablespoon and filled it with the dirt that fit in it and then dumped it into the large glass of water.  You saw how the black soil sunk to the bottom of the glass and then slowly it began to dissolve and filter into the entire glass until all the water was a murky gray.

Obviously, the dirt was sin and the water signified the life of a person and how just a bit of sin could spread through the entire life.  His dramatization made me think of an anecdote I’d heard Charles Swindoll use many years ago.  Swindoll talked about how our actions rub off on another and vice versa…in other words, birds of a feather tend to flock together and we should be careful of the company we keep.  He ended his illustration by saying you can be wearing white gloves and go into the garden and pick up dirt, but the gloves will always get dirty while the dirt will never get “glovey.”

We can have the best of intentions, but when faced with the evil of sin, the dark coloring will scar our souls.

The pastor’s graphic display with the water and dirt sent a quietness over the congregation that was quite noticeable.  And as people filed out, their quietness was depressing.

I wanted to shout and say, “But look what one teaspoon of bleach can do to this muddy glass of water!”   I wanted to grab an eye dropper and fill it with good old ordinary bleach and show how the blackness disappeared and the water became clear again!

THAT is the victory which comes from Christ’s unselfish death on the cross.  His blood is the bleach that cleanses our blackened souls from all the filth of sin–no matter what kind of sin it is.

Jesus falling beneath the cross

His blood is greater than ALL our sin.

That is the victorious message of the Cross of Christ.  The plan God conceived before we were born and carried out through His Son Jesus.

A “legalist” might think that we keep adding teaspoons of dirt daily to that glass of water and that we somehow have to figure a way to keep that water clean on our own.  But the joy of God’s plan, God’s calling to His grace, is that when Jesus said, “It is finished” while He hung on the cross, he meant he’d thrown His blood (the cleansing flood) into that glass of our sin, and He did it once for all.  Forever.  It. Is. Finished.

Praise His Name and rejoice in His resurrection.  His triumph over sin and death. For while He was on the cross, YOU were on His mind.

by Cindy Best

Ever since I was a little girl, I have worn glasses or contact lenses.  My nearsightedness was diagnosed when I started school, as is the case for many children.  Back then, very few kids wore glasses, so the ones who did were often ridiculed.  “Four-eyes” was a common nickname, though this never made sense to me.  Who even came up with that?  I remember that my teacher, probably trying to make me feel more normal, wrote on my report card that she liked my “pretty blue glasses.”  You would have to ask my parents if I resisted having to wear glasses because I don’t recall.  What I do remember is feeling different.  Nowadays I don’t think kids feel that way about glasses.  It seems that more children today are myopic, so glasses are very common.  In fact, glasses have become so stylish that some people who don’t even need them for vision correction wear them as a fashion accessory.

It’s not my imagination that there are more myopic children now than there were when I was a child.  A recent study published in Science News magazine* states that myopia has increased worldwide, primarily in urban areas, with nearly a third of adults in the US now nearsighted.  The statistics are even more stunning in Asia, where in Shanghai 95% of college students are myopic.  How can this be?  Visual acuity is a combination of the physical structure of the eye, signals from the eye to the brain, and exposure to the eye of various stimuli, basically learning.  The study finds a connection between physical eye development and the amount of time a child spends outdoors (after a certain age, the connection seems to disappear).  Scientists don’t know exactly how being outdoors affects eyesight:  possible factors are regular exposure to sunlight, which is 30 to 130 times stronger than indoor lighting; vitamin D (from sunlight); physical activity (although indoor sports don’t offer the same benefits to the eye); different stimuli in the peripheral field; and a broader field of vision.  When we live our lives primarily at arms’ length, our eyes don’t have a chance to relax.  Workers who spend eight hours or more per day on the computer or doing close work are encouraged to look into the distance at regular intervals to avoid eye strain.  You’ve probably experienced this when you’ve been on the computer too long or gotten involved in a really good book, and you’ve forgotten to look up.  Once you do, things at a distance might be blurry for a moment.

When I read the study, I thought about how our spiritual eyesight can become myopic, too.  When our focus is on ourselves, our loved ones, and our local church and community and we forget to look up and around, the more distant world can grow blurry.  The longer we live in the space within arms’ reach, the more difficult it becomes to notice the needs of the greater world.  Maybe we stop paying attention to international news because we are so frustrated or even disgusted with the local and national news, and we don’t even want to know what’s going on outside our circle of influence.  Feeling helpless is not comfortable and can even be painful.  What can I do about the various crises in Africa, India, the Middle East?  Why should I care?  Isn’t there enough for me to deal with in my own hometown?

Jesus lived all his earthly life in a very small geographical area, but his message was for the entire world.  He taught that we are to feed the hungry, minister to the poor and imprisoned, heal the sick, and share the good news of salvation wherever we go.  So it isn’t wrong of us to do good in our own geographical area.  But although we live in a community, that community is part of a larger world, and we know that everything is connected in ways that we might not be able to see.  God, though, as the author of this great Story of life, knows how all the plot lines and conflicts fit together, from the smallest personal problem to the greatest global catastrophe.  And because the whole world is important to God, shouldn’t it matter to us?  Even if we have little power and influence on people and places far away, don’t we need to be mindful of them?

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Last week my husband and I said farewell to our college student daughter as she departed Iowa for a semester in China.  Nothing broadens your perspective more than sending your offspring to the other side of the world (except maybe going there yourself).  She has traveled some over the past few years and enjoys it very much, developing quite the sense of adventure.  As we gave her a hug and then watched her go up the escalator to the airport security checkpoint, I thought about how much larger and smaller her world is becoming, larger because she is traveling to far-flung places and smaller because she has learned that people, despite differences in culture, language, and geography, are pretty much the same wherever you go.  We are all characters both in our own stories and in God’s grand Story, the Story that He long ago completed even as we continue to compose our own life’s work.  The Story about God and His pure, persistent, boundless, incomprehensible love for the whole world.

When I say my prayers, I pray for my daughter, for her safety and health and for a great experience.  I also pray for the people that she will meet, those who will offer her friendship or inconvenience or downright trouble.  Until she went to China, I prayed for people there only in times of tragedy, when the media graphically displayed their suffering.  Now I envision professors and shopkeepers, bus drivers and factory workers, going about their normal days, and I pray for them.  I pray that God will place people in my daughter’s path who will help her, not harm her, and who will show her that He is very busy in their homeland.  I pray that He will shine through her, making her a beacon of His love and light in a country that, despite the growth of the Christian church under persecution, is still very much in spiritual darkness.

And most of all, I pray that He will give me eyes to see clearly what He sees when He looks over the whole of this beautiful broken world:  the full height and depth and breadth of His love poured out on all of His children, wherever they might live or roam.

*http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/347738/description/Urban_Eyes

We brought home a little puppy from a rescue last Tuesday.  She was scared to death and her fur was all matted and she smelled horrible.  We gave her a bath and held her in lots of towels and worked out the worst of the matted fur.

The first two days, she would only huddle in my lap.  Finally, she has started to believe I am an okay person and she even runs to greet me when I come out of the kitchen or bedroom.  And she follows me everywhere and wants to sleep on something that has my scent on it.

Of course, I think she is just the sweetest thing!

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She has learned my lap is available, that I feed her regularly, and I’ve gotten toys for her and she can play with the cats whenever she wants, too!  My life is all about making her life safe and happy.  I am confident that at some point, her little puppy mind will realize there are only good things for her here.

I thought about how each of us has been rescued by Christ…whether we know it yet or not!   He paid the price and has a great home full of love ready for us to enjoy forever.

Some might think that is just too simply stated, but in fact, the love of God is exactly that simple to have and hold.   There is nothing for us to do but climb into his lap and feel his arms around us.  He wants nothing more than to assure us that we are loved, safe and have a home!

There’s nothing we have to do…HE is the one who chose us and keeps us!

Enjoy His love today.

by Cindy Best

We are faced with another passing.  Another friend.  Another family.  Another loss.

Is your heart heavy?  Come to Jesus.  His burden is light.  He gives us a Comforter and a promise of God’s kind of peace.

As Pastor Clegg said at the time of Gina Higbee’s death, we do not grieve as those without hope.  Thank God alone for that!  This world is a world without hope.  Except for the grace of God through Jesus Christ, we would grieve as the world grieves.  But He gives us a forever-life with our forever-family and friends.  Gina and Jim Brown are experiencing that.  Tina believes that.

God GIVES it.  He GAVE it.  Before the earth was even made.  Before you and I and all our loved ones existed.

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Think of that!

It means you have nothing to do with the salvation God planned.  There is nothing you could do to change His plans for you to be in heaven with Him, because you have no part in the arrangements He has made.  Christ provided your way to God and once you know that, you can be assured He is engaged in preparing His house for you.

How awesome is our God!  How worthy to be praised!  How deserving of our love and thanksgiving.

His promise is done.  Completed.  If you ever had a doubt that He loves you, look at the Cross of Christ.  Where is it in history?  Behind you.

“It is finished,” Jesus said.  God is the God of all time…past, present and future.  And because of that, what He says ‘about’ time stands forever.  When Christ spoke on that cross, his words agreed with what God had already proclaimed.  That once, and for all time, the price of sin was paid.

Jesus paid it all.

All to Him I owe.

Sin had left a crimson stain.

He washed it white as snow.

Let us all say, “Amen and Amen!”

And remember to pray for all who grieve losses, including Margaret’s loss of her sister-in-law.

by Cindy Best

So the Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”

“I will be his father, and he will be my son. …
I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever;
his throne will be established forever.”

For God so loved the world that he gave
his one and only Son, that whoever believes
in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Joy to the World, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

(Genesis 3:14-16; 1 Chronicles 17:13a, 14; John 3:16 NIV;
Joy To the World, lyrics by Isaac Watts, 1719)

As many of us struggle with the news of dear Gina’s death, we fool ourselves if we pretend we are not asking, “Why?”

Gina, my friend

Why, when we prayed so earnestly?

Why, when there were so many people praying?

Why, when she was such a faithful servant?

Why, when she tried to make healthy decisions?

Why, when she was so young?

Why, when she had a family who loves her and needs her?

Why, why, why…?

The answers seems to be that only God knows.  The answers will be revealed later on, as hard as that is for us to understand.

BUT we should also ask these “WHY QUESTIONS” :

Why were we allowed to know her?

Why were we allowed to be blessed by her smile, laugh, and friendship?

Why did Gina have such a heart for others?

Why would she come to the aid of anyone she’d been made aware of?

Why did Gina deeply love her family, friends and Savior?

And, WHY do we put off telling others we love them?  Why do we deny that each day is truly a blessing from God..because we may not have another?

WHY don’t we begin, today, in Gina’s name, to hug, kiss, laugh with and serve others?

WHY don’t we follow her example, and be the first smile someone sees?

by Cindy Best

My favorite place to vacation is in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.  To me, that is the closest place to heaven on earth.  There, I can see mountain streams with the sparkle of diamonds on the water where the sun shines on it almost every day of the year.  And listening to its babble as it flows crystal clear over rocks and tree limbs relaxes me like no other sound.

The Aspen trees have leaves that rustle in the wind and the pines brush against one another and have their own special sound.  I love it, love it, love it!

Something I found out not too long ago was that the gorgeous, tall  and stately pine trees reaching toward heaven all have very shallow roots.  In fact, so shallow, they need to grow close enough to one another so their roots can intertwine.  Only in that way do they withstand the high mountain winds and thunderstorms that could make them sway so badly they twist and fall.  They literally hold one another up.

I think those pines are a good example of how we as Christians should come alongside one another and provide intertwined spiritual roots to help each of us stand strong against the storms of life.

What would happen if we could, without even knowing what others’ problems were, just always be available to reach out and “grab hold”–underground as it were–of them and help them survive!  What an amazing difference that would make in the lives of our friends.  That kind of love and unconditional support would also draw untold thousands to churches across our land looking for what it is we Christians “have.”

Of course, as believers in God’s plan and gift of grace through Jesus Christ, we have this kind of support available every second of every day.  So, I’ve decided to challenge myself to reach out and support anyone who wants to grow along beside me…would you be willing to reach out to others, too?

I think the pine trees have become my example of how very important we are to one another.  This week, try to reach out to someone else, even if it’s only a “hello” across the aisle at church, or a smile at someone in the grocery store.  You never know what burden is undermining their roots where you cannot see.  Touching your roots to theirs could make all the difference to them, and to you!

by Cindy Best

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