Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"He Will Bring Us Goodness and Light"

As I've said many times, "Christmas is my favorite time of year!" 

The picture is of a table I decorated for a women's event a few weeks ago.

I was telling my husband this morning that I should live where it's Christmas all year long.  I love it all; the sights, the sounds, the decorating...! 

Then I thought about what I said and I realized I already live where it's Christmas all year long. Wherever I am, it's Christmas!  Christ makes everyday Christmas; Christ lives inside of me.  Christ is who I celebrate every day of my life!  So.... everyday and every place can be Christmas! 

I think this revelation gives me permission to listen to Christmas music all year long too!  I'm just sayin'.

While listening to Christmas music driving around town the other day,one of my favorite songs came on the radio, "Do You Hear What I Hear?"  As a musician, I've played and I've sung this song with choirs and ensembles many times, and each time I hear it I get goosebumps. Today, though, the ending of the song resonated in my mind like never before. The music builds with each verse throughout the piece, swelling with grandeur as it comes to the end.  The composer stretches out the ending loud and long with these words...

"He will bring--- us---goodness---and--- light."

I know you just sang the last line with me.  Aren't those words powerful?

On that holy night in Bethlehem, Mary delivered God's miracle into the world He created.  As Jesus gasped for His first earthly breath, He delivered two special gifts to this world of sin;  
Goodness and Light! 

What is goodness?  The Bible gives us the definition of "good" by telling us that God is good.  In Matthew 19:17, Jesus is asked by the rich, young man, "What good thing must I do to get eternal life?"  Jesus responds to him by giving him the true definition of "good".  He says, "Why do you ask me about what is good?  There is only One who is good."  Jesus doesn't tell him what good thing he should do, but tells him Who is goodGod is the only definition of "good".  Knowing Him results in our doing good.  We could never do enough good to gain eternal life and pay the debt for our sins.  Therefore, God planned all along to send His Son to this earth to show us good, and His goodness was the perfect sacrifice to pay our sin debt.  Just think, those who encountered Jesus face to face were looking into the eyes of all that is good.  Because we could never be good enough, Jesus brought us goodness.  What a gift!  To do good is to know God.

Jesus' other gift was the gift of light.  Jesus gave testimony of Himself by saying,

                   "I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness,
                    but will have the light of life." (John 8:12 NIV)

The light of Christ provides for us a way to live that keeps us from darkness.  Once we've invited the Light into our lives, we don't have to live in our sin anymore.  We have the Light to help us see the way out, to overcome our fleshly desires and to sin less and less as we mature in Christ.  We also have the Light who shines deep into our hearts and reveals those sins we need to confess and repent of.  The Light of the world also provides us with direction as to how to follow Him and obey His commands.  We never have to be afraid of the dark.  God always leaves the Light on. We just have to live in the Light!

Mary and Joseph were the first to gaze into the devinely human face of God; into the face of goodness and light.  Then God's majestic birth announcement was delivered by a heavenly host of angels to the shepherds. Because they received their personal invitation to "Come and see", the sheherds were able to find and gaze into the face of goodness and light.  Later, the kings who followed the star and traveled with gifts from afar, were brought to their knees as they gazed into the face of the King which revealed goodness and light.

Just as those who gazed into the face of Jesus on earth, we have been given the same announcement, the same invitation, to "Come and see."  By accepting the invitation, we enter a relationship with Jesus Christ; the same goodness and light delivered over 2000 years ago.  Doesn't this cause you to fall on your knees in worship as well?

These are the gifts of God that never grow old.  They never wear out, run out, or fade away.  Goodness and light are gifts that multipy when you give them away.  These are gifts that are eternal.  Our relationship with Christ is eternal.  God has given us Himself through His Son, Jesus.  Christmas time reminds us of this Forever Gift. 

So, as you hear the song "Do You Hear What I Hear" this Christmas season, remember what you've heard today.  Thank God for His gifts of goodness and light (the gift of Himself) that He has placed in our hearts. Ask Him to help you use these special gifts to point others to the only Gift that matters this season, Jesus Christ.  Gaze into His glorious face today!

Merry Christmas!

My Pleasure,

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Not-so-Normal Thanksgiving

Gift #370- a not-so-normal Thanksgiving 

As we hosted and celebrated Thanksgiving with Rick's mom and dad and our children, I sorted through thoughts and memories about this wonderful time of the year.  This was the first in my lifetime to have the responsibility of cooking the turkey, dressing, mac and cheese, sweet potato casserole, tea and rolls.  I baked from scratch my mother's recipe of her chocolate pound cake, and the apple pie (Mrs. Smith's style). My mother-in-law brought corn, brown rice, and a couple of other desserts.  I set the table on Thanksgiving Eve and reflected on the many things that I'm thankful for. I have no pictures because our camera broke.

The normal Thanksgiving celebrations have always been served and celebrated somewhere else; in Charlotte, NC with my husband's extended family, or in West Columbia, SC with my dad's side of the family.  We've never had to cook the whole meal. (And thanks to Publix, I didn't have to cook the turkey or the dressing.)

As Thanksgiving morning unfolded, many childhood memories began to flood the theatre of my mind.  Here's some of the feature that was playing:

Many Thanksgiving mornings I would awake to the aroma of turkey and dressing cooking in our kitchen.  My mom was an excellent cook and my dad learned to be as well.  Our family was always asked to provide the turkey, dressing, and coleslaw for the much anticipated family event.  As my sister and I got dressed for the day, the sounds of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade played on TV.  I loved to watch the balloons, the bands, the floats, and of course, the highlight of the parade, Santa's sleigh because he signified that Christmas was on it's way!  Excitement was building.

As the day continued, we arrived at the chosen location for the year to celebrate with my dad's side of the family.  As we waited for the clock to signify, "It's time to eat!", we would gather around the piano and dad would have me play the hymns of the season. (I probably began this tradition at the age of 9 or 10.) His favorite was "Count Your Blessings."   The family would sing and share what we were thankful for.  Then the moment would come for the blessing of the food.  As mouths watered, we children would inch closer to the awesome spread awaiting the great "Amen".  We filled our plates with our favorites and sat in our designated places as the table talk, laughing and sharing continued.  With dad's five siblings plus nieces, nephews, and cousins, there was a lot of food to choose from and many voices to listen to and talk over.

In the afternoon, we would come back home and crash in front of the TVs; yes, all three.  Two small black and white ones placed on top of the colored console with the rabbit ears placed just right so we could keep up with all of the teams playing that day.  My dad knew how to watch football.  He ignited my love for the pigskin as soon as I could sit up well.  We would watch the games a while and then during half time, dad and I would go out into the yard and throw passes to each other.  I was such a tomboy, but I loved those times with my dad and I wouldn't trade them for all of the girly dress-up clothes or baby dolls in the world.  To this day, I am a football junkie.  I love it!  Thanks, dad!

I'm missing mom and dad this Thanksgiving season as I continue to celebrate many "firsts" without them.  I am truly grateful to God for choosing the parents He chose for me.  What a gift.  What a legacy.  What priceless, precious memories!

Thanksgiving has a deeper meaning this year for me, I believe, than any other.  Not just because of the significance of why America celebrates this special day, which definitely causes a lump to develop in my throat, and how grateful I am to be living in the greatest country in the world, but more so for my relationship with Jesus Christ.  What has deepened the meaning this year for me is being aware of the gifts that are right in front of me day in and day out and recording them in a journal.  Daily thankfulness has enlarged my heart with a deeper love for God and has provided me with a child-like wonder and expectancy of what He will show me today! A friend gave me a little plaque after we had completed the book study "One Thousand Gifts" by Ann Voskamp.  It simply says, "Thankgiving is one day.  Thanksliving is all year."  That's my new found attitude about this day and every other day of the year.

So as we celebrated a not-so-normal Thanksgiving this year, I pray that every day will be no-so-normal as I continue looking for and recording the many taken for granted, glorious gifts from an extraordinary God!

I hope you had a not-so-normal Thanksgiving too!  If you haven't started, begin today counting and journaling God's gifts in your life.  It's never to late to be thankful.  Happy Thanks-living!

My Pleasure,

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Real Quiet Time- Part 2

Would you rather your wife or husband spend time with you because they want to or because they have to?  That's easy; because they want to, right?  Think about this. Does Jesus want you to spend time with Him out of duty or desire?

In "A Real Quiet Time- Part 1", we began looking at what a real quiet time is and what one looks like.  We concluded that a real quiet time produces real results.  Today we want to look at those results a little closer. How do we know real results are being produced?

The "results test" will help you define your time with God as delight or drudgery?  We determined that if our quiet time is ritualistic or out of duty, then drudgery is being produced. Guilt and defeat can then take root and the result can be tragic- not having a quiet time at all. But if our quiet time is sincere and desired, then delight is the result. 

What do you experience when you miss a scheduled time alone with God?  If you experience defeat, then you need to reexamine the quiet time's purpose.  Are you spending this time with God because you have to or because you want to?  Defeat results from "have to".  Disappointment results from "want to".  There is a distinct difference.  It's a matter of the heart.  A quiet time out of guilt is drudgery.  A quiet time out of desire is delight.  What type of quiet time are you experiencing?

Psalm 1:1-2 says, "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers.  But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night."  NIV

Did you notice that the meditating on the law of the Lord was not assigned a specific amount of time?  It says, "he meditates day and night".  A quiet time doesn't have to have a beginning and end time!  It can last the whole day and into the night! As we live our lives with Christ and His Word at the center, our focus will be on Him all of the time. 

God's holy Word is His love letter to us.  This should be what we delight in!  If reading God's love letter produces drudgery and defeat, then we need to get on our knees and ask God to renew our spirits and refresh our souls to desire Him more than the things of the world.  We need to ask Him to search our hearts and bring to the surface the sin that is keeping our delight in Him supressed.  Pray through Psalm 51.

REAL RESULTS = Living out, and responding with, the Truth that we're meditating on each and every day! 

Hopefully, as you examine your quiet time with the Lord, you will come to the conclusion that desire and delight are what you experience.  If not, continue to pray and ask God to give you a sincere desire for Him and His Word.  Your quiet times will never be the same as you begin looking forward to them instead of dreading them.  Take some time today to "Be still and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10)  You'll be delighted!

My Pleasure,

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Real Quiet Time- Part 1

Most Christians I know think of a quiet time as time spent with the Bible in hand, reading some specific passage, praising the Lord, praying through prayer requests, praying for others and themselves.  All of these things are good.  A quiet time is considered a mark of a mature Christian.  But when this quiet time doesn't appear to be a priority or is missed several days in a row, guilt comes barreling in and our joy can become suppressed.  The result?  We succumb to defeat. Defeat can lead to giving up on having a quiet time all together. 

A real quiet time with the Lord doesn't always look the same for every Christian.  Some may follow a rigid schedule; same time every day.  Others may change up their quiet times because of schedules, or demanding family needs-LIFE.  There are also those who skip days at a time before they sit down with the Word in hand again.  Who's to say who's the more mature Christian?  God and God alone.

A real quiet time for me looks different from all of the above because my quiet times consist of all of the above. Sometimes I am so intentional as to what I'm reading, meditating on, listening to, praying about, writing about, etc., that I am gulping down truth as fast as the Holy Spirit is pouring it into me.  Other days I'm just living off of the vast amount of truth that I've already swallowed. I can't hold any more. This is when I just need to soak in what I've learned and allow the Holy Spirit to absorb it into my soul.

Am I any less spiritual because I'm not rigid?  No.  Am I still in tune with the Spirit even when I'm not following a specific schedule of reading the Word? Yes.  When a quiet time becomes just an item on a "to-do" list, then it becomes a ritual instead of transformational. The truth of God's Word is designed to transform lives and refresh spirits.

As you ponder "A Real Quiet Time- Part 1", ask yourself if you desire refreshment or ritual?  Jesus doesn't want us to come to Him out of duty.  He wants us to come to Him out of love because we want to spend time with Him.  He wants to refresh us, teach us, love us, fill us, and grow us.  Yes, it does take effort on our part, but it's always worth it.  Take some time to examine your quiet time.  Why do you have one?  What are you learning?  How are you applying what you learn?  Do you feel defeated if you miss?

Start fresh today!  Read God's Word, pray and listen. Soak in His truth and then live it out!  That's how the refreshment is manifested; live out what you learn.  A real quiet time produces real results. Don't just read it and check it; soak it and live it! That's the real mark of a mature Christian.

"Show me Your ways, O LORD, teach me Your paths; guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are my Savior, and my hope is in You all day long." (Psalm 25:4-5 NIV)

Come back and we'll look at "A Real Quiet Time- Part 2".

Lord Jesus, help me to have quiet times with You that are real and refreshing.  Teach me, mold me, grow me up!  Help me to not walk in defeat because I missed a day reading Your Word.  Instead, as I read, show me how you want to change my heart to look more like Yours.  Give me the strength to allow You to do what is necessary to change me so I can live out the truth You've taught me.  The more I grow, the more I want to spend time with You.  May the quiet times that I spend with You produce real results.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

My Pleasure,

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Forever Friendship

The other day I had lunch with a "long time ago" best friend!  It was great to see her and to try and catch up on all the news of our families. But when so much time has passed, and really no contact, it's very difficult to fully connect again over one meal.  You see, it takes a lot of work for a friendship to develop and to grow, and she and I had surely put a lot of time into ours- about 16 years worth.

 I met her in 1979 when I was a senior and she was a junior in high school.  We eventually attended the same church, the same university, sang together, went on college retreats, spent the night at each other's houses, and double dated.  We were inseparable. A very special friendship developed and was deeply rooted in our hearts; one that you would think would last forever.

Then, one day, I woke up and realized that the friendship we once had, had disappeared.  Because of circumstances beyond our control, the friendship dissolved. 

Sadness doesn't even begin to describe what I felt for a very long time after.  I actually grieved over the loss of this long term friendship.  Many, many tears were shed.  My "bestest" friend was gone and she wasn't coming back.  Our relationship would never be the same.

The good news is that this scenario will not happen when we have a deeply rooted, healthy relationship with Jesus Christ.  People come and go in our lives, but Jesus is a steadfast, forever Friend!
Although we move back and forth in the relationship because of sin, He's always ready and waiting to restore the relationship.  True repentance is what puts us back on track with the Savior.  As we draw near to Him, He draws near to us because of His incredible love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. 

What a comforting thought to know that Jesus loves us unconditionally and draws closer and closer to us as we fall more and more in love with Him.  The more we understand this incredible love, the less we move away from Him in our sinfulness.  The more we understand what a gift grace truly is, the less we take for granted His grace-full-ness. The friendship becomes more of a relationship of thankfulness. 

Our relationship with Jesus Christ is one of continuous and endless love.  Real life is not a life filled with fake, temporary pleasures, but real life is the abundant life- full of the Pleasure, Jesus Christ, Who never ends and always satisfies.

Jesus, in John 15:15 says to those who abide in Him and who know Him intimately, "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you."

Close friends know each other.  Best friends tell each other secrets and confide in each other.  Jesus has called us friends and tells us things that His Father, the God of heaven and earth, has told Him.  He has chosen us to be friends with.  What a priviledge to be friends with the Savior! Unlike the  friendship with my "long time ago" friend, my friendship with Jesus will never end.  He is a lifetime, eternal, forever Friend. 

Dear Jesus,
Thank You for Your incredible friendship.  I love being friends with You and being able to relate to You on an intimate level.  I'm so grateful for You being the Rock in our relationship and for loving me even when I fail You.  I do want to know You more, and I pray that You will help me to continue to grow in my love for You. I desire to love you more today than I did yesterday.  Thank You for bringing my "long time ago" friend back into my life.  Help us to reconnect with each other. And with You at the center, may we bring You glory, and point others to You, through our renewed friendship. Amen.

My Pleasure,

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Struggles Lead to Fear or Faith

I was driving to meet some friends for breakfast the other morning when this thought crossed my mind, "Our struggles lead us to either fear or faith."  I'm sure it's not an original thought, but nonetheless, it is true. 

I have several people close to me, right now, that are struggling with some very hard stuff; thus, the thought process above.  As I stand on the outside looking in, I'm watching to see if their struggles are producing fear or faith?

Fear is not of God.  Fear is from Satan.  How we move from fear to faith is the process of letting go and trusting God.  It's realizing that we are not in control and trusting the One who is.   The building of faith begins when we face fear head on.  It's believing and proclaiming, "Fear has no hold on me; Jesus is Lord."  When we have a spirit of fear, we do not have the spirit of faith.  Fear and faith cannot coexist.

Faith is from God.  When we find ourselves living in fear, we first have to acknowledge that we've allowed it to seep into our minds. The battle ground is the mind, and Paul says in Romans 12:1-2 that we have to renew our minds which means change our thinking.  Faith trumps fear.  " When I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God, whose Word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid.  What can mortal man do to me?" (Psalm 56:3-4 NIV) David was battling fear with faith.  He knew in whom he trusted, but using his "shield" of faith helped him overcome his fear.  Speaking Scripture aloud makes fear flee faster (try saying that 10 times). Believing that God is for us, His children, is the first step to overcoming fear with faith.  The more we trust our Savior, the more our faith grows.  When we fight fear with faith, Jesus is magnified and fear is defeated!

I've come to learn through my own struggles that the more steps of faith I take, the easier it is to trust that God is faithful, and that He has me covered with His mercy, love, and grace.  He knows the days He has planned for me; He created me in my mother's womb. (Read Psalm 139) He even knows the number of hairs on my head. (Matthew 10:30)  I have a Savior who will never leave me or forsake me. (Hebrews 13:5) I have no reason to fear when Jesus loves me that intimately and endlessly.

God is love.  He is our hope.  He is the Author and Finisher (Perfecter) of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2)

The phrase Author of our faith means that Jesus ignites our faith. It is ignited when we believe that Jesus Christ is who He says He is, we confess our sin nature to Him, repent of our sins, and allow Him to be the Savior and Lord of our lives.  This is the beginning of our faith walk. 
Our faith will be complete when we see Him face to face.  When we arrive at the feet of Jesus in heaven, we will not need faith anymore. Thus, He's the Finisher of our faith

The journey in between our igniting and arriving is called our Christian walk. It's doing life with Christ.  Sometimes, though, during our walk, our faith is interrupted by fear and confusion, and we have to do battle.  The Author and Finisher of our faith will NOT let us go. He holds us in the palm of His hand.  He will protect us from harm.  He says, "I will never leave you, nor forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5)

So as we go on our daily faith walk, we must choose who is leading our thoughts; the author of fear and confusion, or the Author and Finisher of our faith.  How will you respond to the struggles in your life?  Though I know struggles are hard, I pray that you will conquer fear with a greater faith in Jesus Christ.

My Pleasure,

Monday, August 20, 2012

Final Firsts

For the past few weeks I have been pondering the final firsts.  The final first cheer parent meeting, the final first day of scheduling, the final first cheer practice, the final first high school Jamboree, the final first football game, the final first day of grade school, etc.

(Madison leaving for the final first football game of the year.)

This is what our family is experiencing these days as our daughter begins her senior year of high school.  It is a bittersweet thought as we reflect on how fast we have arrived at these final firsts.

Madison walked out of the door this morning continuing her journey of special moments and making lifetime memories.

Meeting her friends for breakfast has been a tradition since the first day of middle school when we moms took our daughters to Lizard's Thicket.  As they got older, we would drop them off and they would carpool to school after breakfast.

 Now, we just wave to them as they drive out of the driveway and head off to breakfast for another final first; moms left behind.

It's all a part of the growing-up process.  We name them, snuggle with them, love them, teach them, nuture them, model life and Christ before them.  As they grow, every pair of new shoes marks another step away from our care.  Every step is another mark of faith that we have taught them well and, as Christians, we have shown them the love of Christ. 
 As they choose to trust Christ as their Savior, we have to trust that He will take care of His children.  We trust that God will watch over and protect them as they walk out into a world of unknowns, 
make their way into their futures, and stand firm in their faith,
while impacting their circle of influence for Christ.

We parents have to be diligent in praying for our children, no matter where they are in the growing up process.  We have to be a constant, safe place and refuge for them as they learn and grow.  Our love for them should always be known and shown to them by being available for them, listening to them, and by always teaching them the ways of the Lord.  Our love for our kids should always reflect the love of Christ; the One who displays unconditional and unfailing love, strength, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and patience.  He is our refuge and our homes should be a refuge for our children.
Safe and sound!

As we enter into the final firsts of Maddi's senior year, I pray that with each one we will be aware of, and grateful for, the wonder and greatness of our God; for He has proven His faithfulness over and over again to our family. 

"Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."
Proverbs 22:6 NKJV

My Pleasure,

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Wonder-FULL Life Has Only Just Begun

The Summer Book Club is officially over today.  What a joy it has been to watch women flood through my doorway and grace my den with their presence and excitement.  I never dreamed that this book of Ann Voskamp's would illuminate God's Word and wonder with such power.

Reading and pondering this book has turned me upside down, inside out, shakened my thinking, and has given me a perspective that only God can give.  He has brought "life" into holy focus. 

#183-God proclaiming His name a 4th time to me through Scripture in worship, "I AM".
#188- Buying highschool supplies for the last time together with Madison
#190- Sun shining brightly through the kitchen window as I pen gifts to paper
#191- The smell of muffins just out of the oven
#192- Papa being cared for in the hospital
#193- Gifts counted in the shadow of the cross

As we closed the book today and sighed with breaths of joy, we all thought about how the book was ending, but how the wonder has only just begun.  Every moment, wonder-FULL.  Jesus filling our life moments with the scent of His presence.  We just have to have holy focus to see.

 Life is a gigantic cathedral filled with moments waiting to be captured by the hearts of God's children.  To laugh, really laugh at life's simple pleasures.  To be awe struck with wonder at the joy He gives; with hands wide open, we receive.  Bend the knee.  Humbled in worship. Give thanks for the gifts. 

Don't stop. 

Don't ever stop counting. 

He never stops giving.

#194- Large Living Real ad sold
#195- Friends who pray with and for me
#196- The quietness as I write
#197- Good health
#198- A cancelled teaching event
#199- A good God

I finished reading the book on the beach, and this prayer just consumed my soul; through tears flowing, so full of joy for what I had experienced through Ann (full of grace), God's Word, and wonder, I wrote and I prayed... 

"Dear Jesus, In Your Name-
Continue to transform me; keep me counting. Help me to be heavy-scented with Your Presence.  Thank You for the unending gifts of Love in every moment.  I want to live fully in holy communion with You, my Bridegroom.
With eucharisteo and full of grace,

My Pleasure,
Melanie Ann

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Third Time is a Charm

Have you heard this saying before, "The third time is a charm"?  I've heard it many times but I'm not sure where it originated.  I've also heard various pastors and Bible teachers say something to this effect, "If God says something once it is important, but if God says something three times, you really better perk up your ears."

Over the past 2 weeks God has spoken loudly to me on 3 different occasions.  In each instance, He has spoken His name, I AM.  He has also used 3 different people to speak His name to me.  It's definitely not the first time I've paid attention to this name, but it's the first time that I can remember that He is speaking this name to me very intentionally.

Time #1 was in the book we're reading for my Summer Book Club, One Thousand Gifts by Ann VosKamp.  I think I've always looked at this name of God's in a "fill in the blank" kind of name.  For example, "I AM the Living Water", or "I AM the Bread of Life", and one of my favorites, "I AM the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end".  Jesus is all of this and more,  but I believe He is teaching me something very specific about Himself through His name, I AM.

Listen to how I heard His name through the book.  Ann says, "Full attention fills the empty ache. This.  Is this eucharisteo the way to that elusive fullest life, the one that lives in the moment?"  She then quotes Elizabeth Elliot saying, "Wherever you are, be all there."  (From Through Gates of Splendor (Carol Stream, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1986, 20.)  Ann continues, "This is where God is.  In the present.  I AM-His very name.  I want to take shoes off.  I AM, so full of the weight of the present, that time's river slows to a still...and God Himself is timeless." (page 69)

Time #2: He intentionally touched my soul with His name at the She Speaks Conference in the Prayer Room.  The She Speaks team had taken each of our names and prayed over us- 650 women.  Each name typed and cut out on a small strip of paper.  They prayed a specific name of God over each one of us that the Holy Spirit had led them to pray. 

As I entered the Prayer Room on Saturday, I was anxious to see which name of God had been prayed over me.  With each of God's names printed on a separate sheet of paper, displayed on two tables, with all of the women's names taped around the one prayed over us, I quickly scanned through them looking for mine.  On the first table, several God names down, I found my name. The name of God that had been prayed over me was the name, "Jehovah- I AM"!  I almost couldn't believe my eyes.  Out of all of the names of God dispersed through the room, "I AM" was prayed over me. 


"I AM," The One Who is The Self-Existent One

God never changes. His promises never fail.  When we are faithless, He is faithful. We need to obey Him.

Ex. 3:14, 6:2-4, 34:5-7; Ps. 102

My name, Melanie Shull, was taped to the name "I AM".

God already had my attention, but now He was turning up the volume. After the second shout out from the Lord, I continued to dwell on His name.

Over the next week, as I was thinking about all I had learned at the conference and the direction I felt like the Holy Spirit was leading me in, "I AM" continued to seep deeper into my soul.

Time #3:  "The third time is a charm."  It was Sunday morning, the week after the conference, and our pastor was continuing his sermon series on "Jesus Is..." from the book of John.  The passage for the day was John 8:12-30 where Jesus proclaims, "I am the Light of the World." 

Pastor Eddie had gotten to his third point where Jesus is explaining to the Jewish leaders that they cannot go where He is going and that they will die in their sins. (John 8:21-24 NIV)  Jesus was explaining that when they lift Him up on the cross, they will be exalting the One they claim they know- I AM.  But they don't recognize Him. The great I AM is standing and teaching right where they are.  In the present, in the moment- thus His name, "I AM".  He is standing right before their eyes and they don't see Him. 

Haven't I been just like the Pharisees?  Hasn't Jesus, "I AM", been right in front of me and I've missed Him time after time?  Yes, I have.  "God, please forgive me for missing You, existing in the present, here... now."  There have been many times that He is showing me His glory and I've missed it, because I am distracted and I am not here, in the now, in the present with "I AM".  But in those moments where I have been present with Him, I have seen His glory.  I have radiated the glow of His presence in my life.  And you know what....I'm not missing Him this time.

I see You!  I see Your glory!  I know You are shouting Your name before me, and this is what I'm hearing You say to me... 

"I AM right here, in the moment, in the present with you.  This is where I exist.  I'm never late or early because I AM.  Remember My promise to you in My Word where I said, " You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart" ? (Jeremiah 29:13)  I keep My promises!
Don't let the busyness and the distractions of life keep you from finding Me.
In every moment that I've ordained for you, I AM! 

Lord Jesus, I AM, help me to not miss any more moments.  I want to exist with You and not always searching for You.  Help me to worship and enjoy Your presence, in the present. Thank You for capturing not just my attention, but my heart.  I love You, Amen!

My Pleasure,

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Intimidation Vaccine

As I was packing for the She Speaks Conference, I was praying for the Lord to speak to me through His Word and the women. My desire was for Him to unpack some direction for me.

I had attended this conference five years earlier, and as a result, Living Real magazine was conceived. Two years later, the first issue was birthed and placed in my hands.  What an awesome God we serve. But this is a huge undertaking, and only a faithful God can continue the task He has begun in me.

I returned to "She Speaks" this past weekend to hear from the Master Designer of my heart, to hone in on my writing skills, and to seek direction once again.

Friday morning, before I left, I opened my Bible to the book of Nehemiah, chapter 4.  The Israelites were attempting to rebuild their wall of protection from their enemies under the leadership of Nehemiah.  The king of Judah, Sanballat, was angry and he and his men hurled insults toward God's people to intimidate them as they sought to rebuild their wall. They said, "They cannot rebuild that wall. It is impossible."
As the people listened to the enemy, their strength began slipping away and the daunting task ahead of them appeared more and more unattainable.  Fear gripped their lives.  They were surrounded by the enemy, and the enemy's intimidation and insults penetrated their minds.  They began to complain and focus on the doubt and fear.  It all seemed so hopeless.  They wanted to give up.

But Nehemiah, the cupbearer to the king and the servant of the Lord, had a plan.  He strategically placed some of the people at the lowest, most vulnerable points of the wall, and he posted them by families. (vs. 3) He understood that he needed gap fillers; strong men who weren't exhausted, and he placed them where the wall was weak.  As these men stood in the gaps for their families, the enemy was kept out.  Then Nehemiah proclaimed to the people to not be afraid.  "Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, sons and daughters, your wives and your homes." (v.14)

The people listened and obeyed. The enemy's plan was thwarted by God and the intimidation tactics melted into a puddle of worthlessness. God had proved His power again.  How great is our God!

When women attend a She Speaks Conference, intimidation is bound to show up.  It comes in many shapes and sizes (just like people) and, if we are not prepared, we will be defeated before we begin.  Even a She Speaks graduate can be intimidated.  I've learned over the years, though, that we all put on our pants the same way, including the women on the stage.  We may wear different styles, sizes, and colors, depending on our season of life, or personal preferences, but we all put them on - one leg at a time.  And guess what!  We all serve the same incredible God! The faithful, powerful God, who frustrated the enemy's plan against His children.  This God, the God of heaven and earth, is building what He has designed you and me to be-a living temple which houses the Holy Spirit and displays His glory.

When we display His glory we also spill out the love of Jesus Christ onto those around us.  The enemy has no power over us because we have a Savior who hung in the gap for us on the cross.  A Savior, who bridged the gap across that great divide to the Father. He sacrificed His life for all people, and for those who have trusted in this great Savior, He stands in the gap for us even now as He sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven.  We, who have believed in Jesus Christ by faith, through the blood of the Lamb, have been vaccinated against the vicious virus of intimidation.  If God is for us, then no one can harm us.

When we allow our minds to believe the darts of insult and intimidation that Satan hurls, then we begin to lose our strength, our purpose, and our focus.  This virus, though, can be defeated! We have to fight it with the power of the Word of God.  Where we are weak, He is strong.  When we doubt, He gives us faith.  When our circumstances seem hopeless, He is our hope. We have to fight for what He has equipped us to do.

What are you doing with the virus of intimidation? Don't give up.  Together, let's claim God's promise, believing..."being confident in this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:6 NIV)

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for standing in the gap for me against the darts of intimidation hurled by the enemy.  You have made me and I claim your promise that You will finish what You have started in my life.  Give me Your strength and a clear focus today. Use me. Mold me. Make me a display of Your glory as I walk in faith and obedience to Your calling -one step at a time.
In the power of Jesus' name I pray, Amen.

My Pleasure,

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Gift of Joy

What a beautiful gift!

 #109- Twenty-six women graced my den to continue the discovery of eucharisteo.

As we shared with each other some of the gifts we had written in our journals, it was amazing the joy that filled the room.  With each utterance of a gift, you could almost see the worries of our lives begin to melt away.  Part of the discovery of eucharisteo is that gratitude maintains joy!

But to discover joy, you can't just desire it; you have to unwrap it.  As Ann Voskamp puts it, "Joy is the realest reality, the fullest life, and joy is always given, never grasped.  God gives gifts and I give thanks and I unwrap the gift given: joy." (page 57, One Thousand Gifts)

Beginning the journal of gratitude and thanksgiving is the beginning of unwrapping the fullest life.  It's receiving joy. The very thing that thrills God's heart, our gratitude toward Him, is what moves Him to give us the gift of joy! You cannot gain joy on your own.  It is only God's gift to give. 

"For You have made him most blessed forever; You have made him exceedingly glad (full of joy)with Your presence." (Psalm 21:6 NKJV- added emphasis mine)

It's in the gratitude to our Lord for the blessings that we experience the joy of His presence.  Using intentional eyes to see what He gives us each and every moment leads to picking up the pen and spilling the ink of gratitude on the page.  Our giving of gratitude maintains His gifting of joy!

#83- Husband's sweet  smile through the porch window


#68- a small insect, which looks like a small green leaf
 This insect landed at my coffee area on my kitchen counter while I was pouring my coffee.
He even posed for me to get several shots with my camera. 
The gift of joy in wonder!

Dear Jesus,
With a journal and a pen in hand, please give me the eyes to see the gifts of wonder You place in front of me every day. Help me to maintain the joy of Your presence as I continue to practice eucharisteo.  In Jesus' Name, I give thanks and voice this prayer, Amen.

My Pleasure,

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

My Dad's Sacred Place

In both of the houses where we lived, my dad had an office in a spare room under the carport. Yesterday I was able to go through my dad's office, located in our second home where I lived from ninth grade until I got married.  My dad's office was his place of quiet, alone time with God.  This was his idea of a real "Man Cave":  No TV, no party foods or drinks, nobody else (unless he was conducting business); just Mahlon and His precious Lord.  This was his sacred place.

I don't remember a day when my dad didn't get up early in the morning, around 6 AM, go to the mailbox to get the paper, come into the kitchen, read the paper, and eat a bowl of Frosted Flakes.  After his breakfast, he would go out to his sacred place and spend time alone with God, read his Bible, study, and read a chapter in the Psalms, a chapter in Proverbs, and pray every day.  I honestly cannot remember a day that my dad missed unless he was very sick.

Spending time alone with Jesus was at the top of the priority list every single day; Saturdays and Sundays included.  If we were out of town or at the lake, he still found time to spend with the Savior.

His favorite Psalm was Psalm 23.  We had it printed in his Celebration Service program, 7 years ago.  In the above picture, a bible was laying on top of that file cabinet.  When I went over to examine it further, it was open to Psalm 23!  What an amazing God we love and serve.  Another priceless gift from my Savior as I was remembering my dad.

I don't know how God does it, but I guess that's why He is so exciting and full of mystery.  I wasn't even thinking about my dad's "going home" anniversary when I scheduled this day with our renters to come over and go through my dad's office to finish cleaning out.  But once again, God gave me some precious time to spend in my dad's special place.  I took pictures of books, Bibles, his spray painted boots (that's another story), and had so many good memories flood through my mind.

I ran my hands across his Bible commentaries, file drawers, cassette tapes, pictures on the walls, and of course, his chair- the one that could roll to anywhere in this tiny space, and yes, it's been repaired with duct tape!  What would a "Man Cave" be without duct tape?

Although this place lacked much in the way of decor, it was none the less the place where real spiritual transformation took place. It's what went on in here that impressed me most about my dad. It was what took place in here that made my dad the godly man he was.  This is where he met with God! He prayed here. He studied here. He listened to God's voice right here- in this sacred place.  This is where he prayed for me every day, as well as, my sister, my mom, our families, friends, our church, our nation, and our world, and everything else in between.  He was committed to his relationship and to spending time with the most important Person in the world to him.  His relationship with Jesus is what affected all of the other relationships in his life.  He was a man of prayer and a man after God's own heart- just like David in the Bible.

Where is your sacred place; your place where you meet with God every day?  Mine is here at the kitchen table most every day.  I'm not as disciplined as my dad was, but I do know what a difference it makes in my life, my relationships, my attitude, when I'm paying attention to my relationship with Jesus Christ.

I still have so many books to go through and decide which to keep, throw away, or give away.  I have papers to sift through, pictures, etc.  But through it all, I praise God that my dad had a heart for Him; that he loved us so much that he was compelled to pray for us every morning.  I also praise Him that he gave me another day to spend in my dad's sacred place, especially on a day of remembering.

My Pleasure,

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

#89-Thankful for the Pain

Not much sleep on Saturday night. A small area on my back was itching and causing me pain.

Sunday morning, I thought maybe a spider had bitten me.  What led to my conclusion was a small rash (about the size of a silver dollar), itching that was traveling around my upper left side, pain, and some numbness. 

Monday morning, I went to the doctor, mainly because of the numbness and uncomfortable pain.

Before he even looked at the rash, he ruled out the spider bite and preceded to share with me his suspicions.  After looking at the rash, his suspicions were confirmed. He diagnosed me with shingles

Yes, shingles!

I'm so thankful for the pain. If I had not had the pain and the numbness, I would not have gone to the doctor. My case could have been much worse, but because we caught it early, I've started the antibiotics and Extra Strength Tylenol for the pain.  So far, so good. 

# 89- Thank you, Jesus, for the pain.  You give us things that are uncomfortable and even painful to direct us to what needs to be healed in our lives.  You are continuing to teach me to give thanks in everything!  You are amazing!  Amen!

My Pleasure,

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Me and My Shadow

I decided to go ahead and walk this afternoon since it may rain later.  I also decided to take along my camera so I could capture some gifts of grace along the way.  So, after slinging my camera strap over my head,  off I went; ready to see some great stuff.

As I rounded the curve on Shadblow Lane, I stopped and captured the creek which runs under the street and through the apartment complex in our neighborhood. 

I love to hear the water moving over the sticks, rocks, and sand, as it winds its way through but doesn't have a clue as to where it will end up.

As I made it up the hill to Baywater Dr., I began searching again; a picture of a flower, a flag blowing in the wind, and then, a gorgeous view across the Shadblow Lake.  The water rippling, the breeze blowing; such a calming view.

I turned the corner and onto Swannanoa Dr.  I picked up my camera again to capture what I call the Happy Flower; a gerber daisy standing so tall and straight as if it were saying, "Take my picture."  Well, I tried but my camera gave me the message, "Change battery pack."  I said to myself, "Dog-gone-it!  I knew I should have charged that battery, but I didn't and now I will have no more pictures of this walk."

I scuffed along and resorted to just taking pictures in my mind.

Finally, I made it back around to Blakely Court.  My neck was hot from the camera strap and my wrists were aching from the swapping back and forth of carrying the camera.  (I carried it because the weight of the camera around my neck was bothersome.)

I was beginning to think that this was a lost cause and I didn't really see any grace on my walk until...
a shadow appeared; more shadows all over the street.  The sun was casting shadows of trees and bushes and even me. 

At first, I wasn't very impressed because who hasn't seen a shadow, but then it was like Christ said
out loud, "These are shadows of things to come."

That's it!  He wanted me to see that all of the grace gifts, the flowers, the water, my family, the laundry (read my last post), the sun, the clouds, the sky, the breeze, the water, everything that He gives us every day.... ALL ARE SHADOWS OF WHAT IS TO COME!

"Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away." (Revelation 21:1) NKJV

This earth will fade away, but the new earth will be perfect.  Full of God's glory with no room for sin.   No ugliness, no ungratefulness, nothing that is less than Christ Himself.  Fully holy.  Fully beautiful.  Fully Christ.

Even my shadow will disappear, the one the earthly body casts, but my glorified body will not cast shadows; no darkness, for I will be holy as He is holy; perfected in Jesus Christ. 

"For God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all." ( 1 John 1:5b) NKJV

Just as the law was given as a shadow of things to come, so is the glory we are allowed to see here on earth- a shadow of things to come! 

"For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come,..." (Hebrews 10:1 NKJV)

Our salvation will be complete when we see Jesus.  No more Potter- molding. No more battling the flesh. No more asking forgiveness. No more need for faithOur faith will be SIGHT!  When Jesus comes again, there will be no more darkness for we will see Him as He is.

Each day, as we intentionally search and seek for the grace gifts, the beauty and wonder that He reveals to us, as magnificent as it is, it's just a shadow of what is to come.

The sun has set, the moon has risen, and the darkness reappears. As God closes this day of wonder, He has revealed what He wanted me to see for today.  Did I see it?  Yes.  Shadows. 

My Pleasure,

Saturday, June 23, 2012

My Laundry Cathedral

32 years of vacations to the same little beach house, the same week of Father's Day, with the same family. And the deposit is already paid for year number 33.

What a blessing to get away for a week to relax and enjoy some of God's incredible creations- the ocean, the seashore, the sun, etc.- with the ones we love.

What a blessing to get back home and begin the sorting, washing, drying, and folding of laundry-
for the ones we love.

Laundry?  A blessing? 

I could not have said that with such ease before because laundry has always been an endless, tiresome, mundane chore.  I've always considered it one of the most boring household jobs there is. 

As I have shared previously, I've been reading Ann Voskamp's book, One Thousand Gifts.  I was able to finish the book while soaking up some rays at the beach.  Her eucharisteo gratitude attitude which evolves throughout the book, has captured my attention in a way that is very difficult to put into words.  Her ability to be completely honest with her readers has a raw, yet tender transparency that is very rare.   

One of my favorite analogies that Ann uses to describe her "ah-ha" moments is "the cathedral moment".  It's being so filled with wonder at what God is displaying before you that right where you are becomes a cathedral- a place of worship. For in that moment you recognize the awesomeness of His presence, even in the most mundane things, and you praise and worship the Lord Almighty.

So I started thinking that my mundane, laundry room can be a cathedral if I would just view it that way.  Each piece of clothing that is thrown in the hamper or onto the floor represents a precious blessing in my life- my husband, my son, my daughter, my own life.  Why should I not use this tiny room to give up large thanksgiving (eucharisteo) of praise and blessing to God while I do our laundry?  My family is my biggest blessing and I should give heaps of thanks for them among heaps of clothes. And where can I go to do so much for them and pray for them more than in my space of quiet and solitude?  My Laundry Cathedral!

In my Laundry Cathedral I reflect on and express eucharisteo for:
-the fun we all had 
-the boy and girl that God blessed our marriage union with
-the 32 years that I have been able to go with this incredible family to the same house, same week

-game nights playing Speed Scrabble, Spoons, and Tarnation
-lunch at noon around the same table with the same basic spread
-laughing at Rick and Turner's antics and the pestering of Mimi

-that my boy had the whole week off from his new job
-his job and the great people that he works for
-travel mercies for all of us

-the incredible weather that we experienced
-magnificent art work given by the Creator to tell us AGAIN how much He loves us

See how the laundry room can become a magnificent cathedral- a place of blessing unto the Lord?  When you view the heaps of clothes as heaps of blessings, then the laundry room transforms into a sacred place of worship, adoration, and prayer. 

What a beautiful sight!  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for allowing me to see the gift of laundry!

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." (I Thessalonians 5:16-17) NKJV (emphasis mine)

My Pleasure,