Feeling Christmas

December 6, just outside Guatemala City…

It’s warm today. The trees are blooming and my allergies are kicking in. There are some very loud birds that insist on singing outside my window, not to mention the shouts from the paintball facility just over the cement wall behind me.

My surroundings are about as far from a “Christmas feeling” as you can get for a girl from the mid-Atlantic portion of the northern hemisphere.
Not chilly.
No desire for winter foods.
Or hot chocolate.
No bulky coat or cozy fire.

Nope. We have warm breezes and sunshine with a few Christmas trees thrown in.

And a lot of the other trappings that build that can build Christmas feeling in me are missing as well.
No Hallmark Channel movies or Christmas specials playing incessantly.
No gifts piling up under the tree.
No baking.
A few Christmas activities here or there but nowhere near the pace of my past.
Don’t get me wrong – a lot of those things happen here. But for various reasons they aren’t part of my current reality.
So the ingredients that usually combine to fill me with “Christmas” emotions are missing.

It probably sounds like I am feeling sorry for myself.
But I am not.
I am delighted that, even without those things, I have found the secret to having that “Christmas feeling” in my heart consistently.

Because there have been plenty of years where that emotion, that elusive Christmas joy, was missing even with all the trappings.
Many years I have struggled with disappointments.
Unmet expectations.
Unfulfilled dreams.
That all seem larger and more hopeless during “That most wonderful time of the year.”

So what have I found? What is my own personal “secret ingredient” for a very, very Merry Christmas, no matter what?
Focusing on Easter.

When I focus on the trappings of Christmas it is easy to get stressed.
Out of sorts.
It is easy to feel broke and sad and lonely.
It is easy to throw myself large pity parties about what is missing in my life.

But when I focus on “the why behind the what”, everything shifts.
When I remember that Jesus gave up heaven to become helpless so that I would not be hopeless, I smile.
When I reflect on the fact that the One who spoke the universe into existence became a speechless baby for my sake, I shake my head in wonder.

When I realize that He was born solely to take my punishment on Himself, to make a way for us to have a relationship, a way for me to live eternally, I am compelled to sing.

God in the flesh as a baby fills me with wonder.
But God in the flesh on the cross drops me to my knees in worship.

The full manger makes me smile.
But the empty tomb makes me shout.

Celebrating His birth is marvelous.
But celebrating my re-birth as a new creation, fully forgiven, fully redeemed, wit full access to the throne of race because of what He did for me – well, that is mind-altering.

The trappings of the holiday don’t always make me sing and smile and rejoice.
They bring momentary happiness.
But the reality of transformative, life-transforming grace is the reason I have unconditional joy.
The reason for the season.
The reason it doesn’t matter if a tree is up, if the gifts are bought, or the cookies made.
I love those things – but I am in love with my Savior.
He is the reason why it is a MERRY Christmas, no matter what.

So if you are struggling with your feelings this season, I have a suggestion.
Play some Easter music.
Read Luke 2.
But then jump over to John and read from chapter 13 on to the end of the book.

Sing – or at least play – “Christ the Lord is risen today! Hallelujah!”
And “Up from the grave He arose! With a mighty triumph o’er His foes! He arose the victor from the dark domain and He lives forever with the saints to reign!”
Sing songs that celebrate His victory over sin, over death, over hell.
Sing about His amazing grace and His unfailing love!

And then, if you are still feeling down, fast-forward to Revelation 21 and 22.
Look at what is coming soon.
Revel in the fact that there will be no more tears, sin, sorrow, sickness or death.
That the Lamb will make all things new.
And that every trial you have had on earth will be just a smudge of ink on the title page of the great book that is eternal life.

Revel in the fact that God chose to redeem you.
The He delights in you as His child.
That you have the gift of eternal life.
That no matter how bad things get here, this is as close to hell as you will ever get.

That is, if you know Him personally.
If Jesus is not just the baby in the manger to you. If He is also your Savior and friend.
If you have accepted the fact that you are a sinner in need of saving and told Him so, receiving the gift of eternal life He offers.
Have you accepted that gift?
If not, please do.
It will transform your Christmas – and everything else, too.

I don’t know how COVID-19 has impacted your year or will impact your Christmas.
I don’t know what sorrows you are carrying, what pains you face this year.
I don’t know the details for most of you.

But I do know this: Jesus said in John 16 that we WILL have trouble. But then he promised that HE has overcome the world!
Focus on that.

And you will have a very, very Merry Christmas indeed!

On Christmas Trees and Seeking First the Kingdom…

I wanted to buy a Christmas tree this year.
Since I have now officially moved to Guatemala for the foreseeable future, I decided it was a good long-term investment.
And since my boxes finally arrived from the States (a whole other story), I have the ornaments for the tree.

But currently I am living in an apartment with one other teacher and the living room is a shared common area.
I don’t know where exactly I will be living next Christmas.
So I decided that “smaller would be better” and started looking for a tabletop tree.

The store I thought most likely to have such a thing did have trees – but they started at around five feet and went up from there.

I decided on the spot that I wouldn’t mind a medium tree if that was all I could find – but then I looked at the price of the smallest, a five-footer. It was more than I was willing to pay.

So the hunt was on for an affordable tree, somewhere between three and five feet tall.

I recruited my friend Jorge and we set off to go to various stores around town, searching for the right tree at the right price.
The second store we went into – one of the local grocery chains – had a selection of three different types of trees, all in the medium range. The trees were displayed above the shelves, way up high.
We checked the price and voila! They were on sale! This store wanted less than half of what they were charging across the mall.

So Jorge told the lady, she got the tag and went to the back. She returned carrying a plain brown box that was just about the right height. Jorge checked to make sure the stand was there – it was – and we took it to the checkout.

The next night my roommate and I decided to put it up. As we wrestled it out of the box, I was surprised to find that it was in three pieces! And as we put it up, I realized this was no five-foot tree!
When fully assembled, the top is way over my 5’5” frame and nearly touches the ceiling of our apartment, as you can see in the photo.

Now I am not sure what happened.
Did the display tree appear deceptively small since it was up high?
Did she give me a different box than she was supposed to?
Was the display like a floor model that was not to scale?
I have no idea!
All I know for sure is that my “tabletop tree” dream that morphed to a five-foot dream had suddenly grown into an even greater outcome!

And I thought, “Isn’t that just like God?!”
He took my miniature dreams and turned them into something colossal.
He took the desire of my heart and made it something grander than I had in mind.
And he did it for an amazing price.

Here’s what I know about the character of God:
He loves to give us surprises.
He delights in taking small things and making them grand.
And He knows our desires better than we do.

Does He always operate on my timetable? Certainly not!
Does He always multiply things the same way? Definitely not!
And do I always get my way, the things I think I want or even what I think I need? Never!

But I have learned that if I make Him my main concern,
if I walk in His footsteps and yield to His ways,
if I seek first HIS Kingdom instead of my own,
He pours out blessings.

Good gifts.
Surprising gifts.
Splendid gifts.
Better than I could think to desire.

Paul put it this way in Ephesians 3:
“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.”

A Christmas tree for Kathy seems like such a silly thing for God to be concerned about.
And yet, His concern for me, His provision for me, His exponential blessing is not silly at all.
It is a powerful reminder of who He is and how His Kingdom operates.

He has proven yet again that He is a good, good Father, granting good, good gifts to His daughter.
Not because I deserve them. I don’t.
But simply because I have yielded to His Kingship, placing myself under His authority.

Jesus told us it would work this way.
“Seek first the Kingdom”, He said, and God will take care of the rest.
Apparently, that doesn’t just apply to clothing lilies and feeding the birds of the air – it also applies to Christmas trees!

And now to purchase a few more ornaments to finish it off…

They Had Big Plans…

They had big plans, the two of them.
After a year-long engagement they would have the big day.
Friends and family would celebrate with them in grand style.
They weren’t the richest family in the village, but a wedding is a wedding!
The food and drink would be as abundant as they could make them.
There would be dancing and laughter and so much joy.
And everyone would rejoice with them.

Then, after the wedding, they would live at his house, which was also his place of business.
He had a reputation for quality craftsmanship.
She had a reputation for kindness, purity and godliness.
It was going to be an amazing life.

And someday, maybe a year or so after the wedding, they would welcome their first child.
She hoped it would be a boy with his father’s strong chin and kind eyes.
Everyone in the village would celebrate with them again.
And, of course, her mom would be right there to help her with everything – setting up the nursery, giving birth, and guiding her through all the firsts.

What a cozy, glorious future they had in front of them!

Until that day when the angel showed up out of nowhere and wrecked every plan.
Every dream.
Every “supposed to be”.

And after that moment, that “Yes, Lord, I am your servant; do whatever you want”, life imploded.
Plans shattered.
Hearts broke.
Life turned on end.

Joseph’s disbelief when she told him she was pregnant with God’s son.
The disappointment in the eyes of the kindest people in the village – and the outright scorn of the meanest.
The gossip.
The hasty wedding.
The whispers and glances and derision.

And even after God visited Joseph with the news of her innocence, the plans continued to explode, one right after another.

Arduous travel instead of setting up the nursery.
Joseph attending instead of her mom.
Birth in stable instead of their own cozy home.
A manger instead of the cradle made by her carpenter husband.
Strangers, coarse and smelly shepherds, being the first ones to meet her son instead of family, instead of friends, instead of the familiar.

Then staying in Bethlehem instead of returning home.
Finding a house to rent.
Doing all of the firsts far from family, far from familiar, far from the plans.

Until the next cataclysmic event.
An entourage at the door. Camels, servants, richly robed court officials, strange language and darker skins, all bowing in worship.
Two-year old Jesus, reaching out to touch the shiny gold.
The wizened old magi kissing his hand and calling him Lord.

Joy. Wonder. Gratitude for the gifts.
And then Joseph, shaking her shoulder in the middle of the night.
“We have to flee! God warned me in a dream!”

Strangers on the road again, this time with a toddler in tow.
The long journey to Egypt.
To another strange place.
Stranger than Bethlehem.
New language, new foods, new faces, new places.
Strangers in a strange land.

And then finally, after the death of the wicked king who slaughtered babies out of jealousy, the return to Nazareth.
Picking up plans again.
Looking to the future.
Perhaps less outward disruption for a while.
But always with the prophet’s words in the back of her mind, “A sword will pierce your soul.”

I don’t know if every detail above happened exactly that way. Some of it I am imagining based on what the Bible says.
But I do know that Mary and Joseph’s life went nothing like it was “supposed to” in their culture.

I don’t know about you, but I like plans.
I dislike waiting.
I like to know.
And to be able to look ahead.
I get frustrated when things are unsure.
When the props get knocked out from under me once again.

But then I look in Scripture.
And I see how so many people – not just Mary – had their plans interrupted by God for a much higher, much greater purpose than they could ever imagine.

Abraham and Sarah never planned on infertility being the hallmark of their lives.
Abraham never planned on sacrificing his beloved son.
Jacob never planned on losing his favorite son “to wild animals”.
And Joseph never planned on being a slave in Egypt.
His brothers never planned on confessing to their father what they had done.
The whole family never planned on moving to Egypt.

Moses never planned on returning to Egypt after his botched attempt at saving his people.
And he never planned to walk THROUGH the Red Sea on the way back out.
Joshua never planned on defeating a city by walking around it.
Gideon never planned on being a hero of any kind.
David never planned on having to flee for his life after God anointed him king.
And Elijah never planned on being fed by unclean ravens and a heathen widow.
Daniel and his friends never planned on being captives in Babylon.
And Esther never planned to be queen.

Peter, Andrew, James and John never planned to quit the fishing-for-fish business.
And Matthew never planned to stop cheating the people when he taxed them.
Paul never planned to be blinded by truth that upended his life and his reputation.
And John never planned to be an exile the next time he saw Jesus face to face.

And that is just some of them. Moving on through history, there is story after story of others.

Like Jim Eliot, who never planned on being killed by the people he came to serve.
But out of his death and those of his friends, a new church was born, and a people group was saved.

And Amy Carmichael, who never planned to break her back by falling in a hole in the dark.
But the last 20 of her 56 years in ministry took place from her bed of suffering, where book after book was born.
And the ministry of rescuing India’s children that she started in 1901 continues to this day.

Or Corrie ten Boom, who never planned on saving Jews from Hitler nor watching her sister die in a concentration camp.
But out of those experiences came 50 years of ministry, forgiveness, writing and speaking, turning former camps into rehabilitation centers.

We make plans.
Plans for comfort.
Plans for safety.
Plans for security.
Expected outcomes.
Carefully calculated equations.

But then God steps in.
And often, His plans look like disasters from this side of heaven.
They are never, ever, ever what we would have chosen for ourselves.
They involve suffering.
Dying to self.
Laying down dreams.
And picking up crosses.

But in every single one of the examples above – from Mary of Nazareth to Corrie ten Boom – God has used those disrupted plans to change the world.
Accomplish His purpose.
Transform lives.
And bring beauty from brokenness.

He alone sees the big picture.
He alone has the Master Plan.

So when my plans implode, what do I do?
Do I trust that He is still on His throne, still in control, still working out “everything in conformity to the purpose of His will”? (Ephesians 1)
Or do I throw a pity party?
Do I allow doubt to flood my soul?
Do I decide He is not good and does not know what He is doing?

That is how Eve wrecked HIS plans for us.
But doubting His character.
Doubting His heart.
And deciding she knew best.

May my plans – and dreams – and hopes – and desires – be sketched in pencil on the tablet of my heart so that His plans can be accomplished however He chooses.

Because He is good. And everything He does is right.
Including His plans that feel like disasters from my point of view.
Oh for grace to trust Him more!

Obedience = Love

The setting: My 5th grade classroom just outside Guatemala City
The context: Online school
The problem: Yet again, over half the class did not complete an assignment correctly.
Why? Because they didn’t bother to read the directions.
They glided right over them, did what they thought was correct and clicked “Turn in.”

After opening my sixth incomplete assignment, I buried my head in my hands and moaned, “Why can’t they just follow instructions???” Then I looked at my coworker and said,
“I just want to say to them, ‘If you love me at all, please follow the directions!’”

And just like that, conviction struck.
“To the dividing of bone from sinew” as the writer of Hebrews put it.
The sharp, two-edged sword of the Word of God pierced my heart.
As the Man with the pierced hands and feet said,
“Exactly, Kathy. If you love Me at all, please follow My directions!”

Oh, how often I do what my students do!
I glance at the assignment, also known as the Word of God, and decide I know what is best.
And then I do it.
Not what is says – but what I want it to say.
What I am comfortable with it saying.
Rewriting the Word of God so that it becomes the Gospel According to Kathy.

And often what I manage to do is partially correct – but not totally.
Which makes it completely wrong.

I may have the right actions, but the wrong heart.
Or I may say the right words but to the wrong people.
I may give a half-hearted attempt to follow the Word but I am not trusting Him with ALL my heart.
Or I say I trust Him – but I lean on my understanding of the situation, my view of the world.

No matter how you shake it, I blow the assignment when I don’t simply obey the words of the Master.

He says, “Be kind and tenderhearted.”
I say, “But they aren’t being kind.”

He says, “Consider others before yourself.”
I say, “But won’t that make me a doormat?”

He says, “Forgive everyone.”
I say, “OK, everyone but them, right?”

He says, “Love everyone.”
I say, “OK, everyone but them, right?”

He says, “Give as freely as I have given to you.”
I say, “But I have to take care of myself, right?”

He says, “Do not worry.”
I say, “OK, I won’t be worried. I’ll just be concerned, OK?”

He says, “Tell the world that I love them.”
I say, “When it is safe, I will.”

He says, “Count it all joy when you face trials of various kinds.”
I say, “OK, I will praise You after You solve the trials of various kinds.”

Tweaking His directions to make them easier for me to do.
Completely forgetting that, if it is something He has called me to do, HE will give me the power to do it.
ALL of it. As written. Because He said so. End of discussion.

Obedience equals love.

That’s what Jesus told the disciples in John 15.
“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”

To my great sorrow, I can easily picture Him putting His head in nail-scarred hands far too often and saying, “Oh, Kathy. If you love Me, you’ll follow My directions.”

Thank goodness His mercies are new every morning!
And that His love for me is not predicated on my obedience but rather His heart.
He doesn’t love me any less when I disobey.
But I am saying, “I love me more than You” when I do.

May I do a better job with obedience today than I did yesterday.
May every choice I make today shout, “I love You, Lord!”
May my obedience be even more consistent tomorrow.

And may the same be true of you (as well as my students!)

“Whatever Happens…”

“Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.” – Paul, from jail, to the believers in Philippi

Whatever happens globally…
Corona virus
Racial horrors
Financial distress
More infighting
Mask wars
Political maneuvering
Wars and rumors of wars

Whatever happens personally…
Unfulfilled expectations
Unmet desires
Cultural adjustments
Online teaching
People letting you down

“Whatever happens…rejoice in the Lord.”

I used to think that “rejoice in the Lord” was simply another way to say “praise the Lord”.
And I do believe that is part of it.
But as I have chewed on what it means to “rejoice in the Lord” I have come to realize it is bigger than remembering to be thankful, bigger than praising Him for His attributes, bigger than singing a praise song.

Those things are good, important, even vital.
But rejoicing IN the Lord…I think that is reveling in Him.
Enjoying Him.
Craving Him.

Have you ever hung out with someone that you just enjoyed being with?
I think of time spent with some of my favorite kids through the years, playing silly games, singing songs, snuggling sleeping babies.
I think of perfect days with friends, laughing, sharing, sometimes crying but just enjoying time. Sometimes over coffee. Sometimes over games. Sometimes over shared experiences.
Just enjoying them.
Reveling in the time, the presence, the joy.

I think that is what it means to “Rejoice in the Lord.”
Literally enjoying life with God.
Reveling in what it means to be His friend. His kid. His beloved.
Hanging out with Him.
Loving being with Him.
Every moment of every day.

Opening my eyes to see His fingerprints everywhere.
Gorgeous sunrise? “Way to God, God! That’s a good one.”
Someone says something funny? “Did you hear that one, Lord? It was a good one!”
Getting back safely from a drive anywhere? “Thanks, God, for your protection.”
Getting ready to answer an email, a message, a phone call? “Thanks that You go before me into this one, Abba!”
Having a conversation with a person? In a parallel conversation in my head, “Abba, You know her heart. Give me wisdom on what to say – and when to shut up.”
Looking in the mirror in the morning? “Well, Lord, it’s not what I would like to see. But thank You that inner beauty is way more important. Make me beautiful today by Your definition, please!”
A delicious snack? “Thanks for this, Abba!”
And everything else.

Moment by moment, heartbeat by heartbeat, enjoying Him.
Reveling in Him.
Seeing Him all around.
Acknowledging Him in all of it.
The fun stuff.
The daily grind stuff.
The hard stuff.
The no brainer stuff.
Inviting Him in.
Chatting with Him.
And being quick, quick, quick to give Him praise in ALL of it.

“Abba, my heart is breaking right now. Thank You for being the glue that holds me together.”
“Lord, I am not feeling heard or understood. Thank You that You do both.”
“God, I feel the need for vindication. Thank You that that is Your job and not mine.”
“God, I don’t know what to say, what to do, how to address this. Thank You for the wisdom You will give.”

Reveling in Him.
Soaking in Him.
Hanging out with Him.
Whatever happens, rejoicing IN the Lord.

Because the way Paul finishes Philippians 3:1 is so, so true:
“I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.”

The enemy is always, always on the prowl, always looking for an ear to fill with lies.
“God is not good. He isn’t looking out for you. He doesn’t know what He’s doing. You can’t trust Him. You are better off on your own….”

But a heart that is busy reveling in her best friend doesn’t have time, space or inclination to let those whispers even land, let alone take root.

When I stop rejoicing in the Lord, when I stop looking for His fingerprints, when I stop the ongoing chat that fills my days, when I choose sin and block that flow of fellowship temporarily – that is when those lies not only take root but they grow quickly into temptation that rapidly sprouts sinful choices.
Suddenly, my mind is filled with what I deserve, my rights, my desires and how I have been wronged.
How others are so hard to deal with.
How my life is so much less wonderful than yours.
Selfishness. Pride. Bitterness.

Motives are questioned.
People are denigrated.
And joy leaks out like the air from a punctured tire.

Rejoicing in the Lord is a safeguard for my faith.
Delighting in Him because He is delightful, delight-worthy, is a protection for my spirit.
And I am much less likely to sin when I am busy marinating myself in the wonder of Him.

That is why Paul expounded on this idea again in chapter 4 of Philippians.
“Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS, and again I say, REJOICE!”

But what about those hard things, those hard times, those emotions that swamp me? Fear, regret, jealousy, anger, resentment…what about those?

The very next verses address those times:
Don’t worry about those things. Instead, pray about them! Tell God EVERTHING – and give thanks while you do it! And when you do that, His peace will replace all of those things. It is what He wants to do! That way you can get back to reveling in Him – and everything that is worth thinking about. Things that are “true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

Full circle, back to delighting in Him.
Back to reveling in His character, even when I cannot explain His conduct.
Back to believing He is for me and not against me, even when I am walking in the dark.
Back to knowing that if He loved me enough to die for me, surely He loves me enough to give me all I need to live.

It’s been a hard season.
But if Paul can revel in the Lord from prison and can exhort us to do the same, I know it is possible.
Not by my own strength.
But by the grace of God and through His power, I can choose to rejoice in the Lord.
And so can you.

“Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.”

Words From A Hero

My life at the moment is ridiculously busy. Teaching online is not for the faint of heart!

And, while God is teaching me stuff “along the way”, there is nothing I can share here yet.

So, since I have no encouraging words to share this week, I thought I would offer you a set of quotes from one of my heroes, Corrie ten Boom.

Corrie was born in 1892 and was about my age when World War II broke out. Because of their faith, she and her family worked together to hide Jews in Holland from Hitler’s Gestapo. They were eventually found out.

Corrie’s father died in prison and her sister died at Ravensbruck, one of the concentration camps, where the two of them were sent. Corrie was eventually released due to a clerical error and spent the rest of her life teaching, writing and serving others. You can read her story in “The Hiding Place”.

Keeping that context in mind, here are some of her thoughts about life, the Lord and walking with Him. I hope they bless you as much as they bless me!

“Don’t bother to give God instructions, just report for duty.”

“You can never learn that Christ is all you need, until Christ is all you have.”

“Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?”

“What wings are to a bird and sails to a ship, so is prayer to the soul.”

“It is not my ability, but my response to God’s ability that counts.”

“This is what the past is for! Every experience God gives us, every person he puts in our lives is the perfect preparation for the future that only he can see.”

“The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration, but its donation.”

“Faith sees the invisible, believes the unbelievable, and receives the impossible.”

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

“Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.”

“There is no panic in Heaven! God has no problems, only plans.”

“When I try, I fail. When I trust, he succeeds.”

“Worry is a cycle of inefficient thoughts whirling around a center of fear.”

“When we are powerless to do a thing, it is a great joy that we can come and step inside the ability of Jesus.”

“Faith is like radar that sees through the fog — the reality of things at a distance that the human eye cannot see.”

“We never know how God will answer our prayers, but we can expect that He will get us involved in His plan for the answer. If we are true intercessors, we must be ready to take part in God’s work on behalf of the people for whom we pray.”

“My job was to simply follow His leading one step at a time, holding every decision up to him in prayer.”

“Whatever in our life is hardest to bear, love can transform into beauty.”

“The wonderful thing about praying is that you leave a world of not being able to do something, and enter God’s realm where everything is possible. He specializes in the impossible. Nothing is too great for His almighty power. Nothing is too small for His love.”

“Jesus can turn loss into glory.”

On Heart Goals…

I recently read a devotional that asked:
“What is your heart’s goal on a daily basis?”

I sat and pondered my answer.
What I say they are.
Contrasted with what they really are when my actions speak louder than my answers.

I considered how others I know might answer the question.
Not what they would say.
But what their lives express.

And I realized that these would be some of the potential answers for me and for others I know:

Daily Heart Goals:
To be liked
To be loved
To be pretty
To be skinny
To bulk up
To be a good teacher
To be a good friend
To be a good boss
To be a good employee
To get married
To stay single
To belong
To be successful
To be sought after
To be effective
To be busy
To be less busy
To be noticed
To be heard
To see justice done
To be merciful
To protect others
To protect myself

Cries of the heart.
True goals of the heart.
Again – not what is stated.
But what is lived.

But then I had to ask myself the original question:
What is the daily goal of MY heart?

And even more important – no matter what it is today, what do I want it to be?

And the only answer I could come up with that satisfied my soul:
To stay in step with the Spirit of God.

I desperately need Him.

Because in my interactions with people – even those I know well and love best – I can’t read hearts, minds, or motives.
My view is skewed, always, by my own filters and my own lack of knowledge.
What part of the story am I missing?
What is the truth?
Did that person have a terrible experience that is skewing their view?
Are they wrestling through something awful?
What is their perception of me?
What is their perception of themselves?
What baggage and filters do they bring to the table?
I really have no idea.

Honestly, I don’t even really know my own heart at times!

And because my view is skewed, any goal other than staying in step with the Spirit is flawed.
I do not see the big picture.
I do not know the end from the beginning.
I do not know what is best for me.
Or for them.

But I know the One Who does know all of that.
The One Who desires to be my Good Shepherd. Their Good Shepherd, too.
Who has said, “Humble yourself. Put Me first. Recognize how little you know and how little you are compared to Me. And then, after you have faced that reality, cast all of your cares on Me. I see it all. I know it all. And I love you passionately. So I will take care of it all. Stop worrying what others think – or do – or know – and focus SOLELY on what I think. I’ll take care of the rest!” (I Peter 5:6-7, Kathy-phrased)

So I can most definitely work towards things.
Like beating my body into submission.
Taking every thought captive.
Being a life-long learner so I can be a life-long teacher.
Choosing to die to self with every action.
Putting your needs ahead of my own.
Recognizing sinful thoughts, words, deeds and repenting of them, quickly and consistently turning to walk in a different direction.

Those things take effort.

But that is the beauty of it:
When my goal is keeping in step with the Spirit of the Living God, everything else falls into place.
It is HIS power that does all that work that needs to be done.
It is HIS voice that tells me to do it!
It is HIS prompting that says, “Get going!” Or “Stop!” Or “Where did that thought come from? It wasn’t Me!”

He is the One who gives me the grace to see it from your point of view.
But to also value His opinion above yours.
He is the One who gives me the ability to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
And to love you as He has loved me.

He is the One who pours through me so I can be characterized by love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Goodness. Kindness. Gentleness. And Self-Control.
The One who will cause the hallmarks of my life to be His fingerprints.
And He is the One who will give me the power, grace and strength to let go of what you think. Or what I think you think.

Are there things about me that I would LOVE to change, goals I would LOVE to accomplish?
No doubt.

But neither those goals nor your opinion can be the driving force of my life.

At best, I am a weak and foolish sheep.
A flower quickly fading.

So my ONLY goal HAS TO BE keeping in step with the Spirit of God who dwells in me.
Listening for His voice.
Getting to know Him better through the Word. Through prayer. Through worship.
Practicing instant obedience so that we can move on to the next thing and not get stuck mastering this one area.
Being quick to listen to HIM, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
Bowing the knees of my heart constantly and consistently.
Keeping short accounts with Him. When He nudges me to repent, doing it instantly.
Recognizing that He does not need me to accomplish His work in this earth.
But that He has given me the privilege of being useful to His Kingdom.
Not because I am wonderful – but because HE is.

This is freedom.

All the other goals can quickly become chains.
And what I think you think of me is definitely a chain as well.
But walking hand-in-hand with the Spirit?
Listening to His counsel and practicing instant obedience?
Considering HIS opinion above all others?
That is freedom.
That is joy.
And that is the abundant life Jesus offered.

Thank God For Clouds

I did one of my favorite things yesterday.
I sat and watched the sunrise from my tiny porch at my apartment in Guatemala.
What a blessing!
I didn’t know when I would be able to return.
Some said the earliest would be October.
Others said January.
But God said, ‘’Mid-September, just as you asked.’’

And I am blown away once again by His kindness.

The sunrise yesterday was gorgeous at first.
But then clouds rolled in, obscuring it.
I could still see glimmers of the glorious light show that was happening behind the clouds.
But most of it was obscured from my view.

And I realized how very, very much that represents life right now.
For many of us, life is extremely complicated and extremely filled with unknowns.
And while God has answered MANY of my questions in incredible ways, I still have more.
More questions.
More things I am waiting for.
More things I cannot see.
Things I do not know.

But here’s what God impressed on my heart yesterday morning:
The sunrise was still there, whether I could see it or not.
I could not see the whole picture that I wanted to see.
But I could see enough to know that it was happening.

And I had a choice.
I could rail against the clouds – the things I could not control that were obscuring my view.
Or I could enjoy the glimmers I did see, celebrating them in spite of the clouds.

And more than that, celebrating the faithfulness of the God who created them.
And who allowed them to block my view.

The God who ‘’works for those who wait for Him.’’ (Isaiah 64)

The sun was rising, even though I could not see it as clearly as I wanted.
And God is working, even when I cannot clearly see it.
And even when I cannot see it at all.

I knew the sun was rising because I could see the effects.
The sky was growing lighter.
The blue was growing deeper.
The shadows were fleeing.

I know that God is working in the areas of my life where I have no sight because I can see the evidence in the places where He is plainly seen.
In my life.
And in the lives of others.
So I thank God for the clouds, even though they made the sunrise less spectacular than I wanted.
Because they pointed me to the God who is more spectacular than I can comprehend.

Will you join me in thanking God for the clouds?
They may obscure your view, but they will never stop God from working.
The Son has risen.
And the glory of God will rise until the day the whole world bows before Him.
And in the meantime, we get to see glimpses of what He is up to as we wait for that final glorious day to dawn.
After that, there will be no more dawns because there will be no night.
Just the light of His glory shining.
So we press on, waiting in hope, even when we cannot see.

Thank God for the clouds.

Testimony Time!

What a year!

And yet, when I look back at this year, and particularly this past summer, I see the faithfulness of God.

Psalm 107:2a says, ‘’Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out!’’ Let me ‘’speak out’’ just some of what I have seen Him do. May my eye-witness testimony encourage your heart.

I planned to come home in April to clean out my house, get it ready for market, do all the things needed to list it.
And COVID-19 closed that door.

I planned to keep renting my place for another year just because of market uncertainty.
But a series of events closed that door.

I planned to come back to Maryland in mid-June to deal with my house.
But that ticket was cancelled.

Throughout this time, I had no idea how I was going to pay my bills.

In fact, that was true of the entire 2019-2020 school year.
Due to circumstances beyond my control, 10 out of 12 months, from the time I left in August to go to Guatemala to the time I sold my house this past August, my income was not sufficient to meet my expenses.

But I never got behind on a single bill.
Every month God showed up.

I bought a ticket to come to Maryland at the end of June. A nasty itinerary with an 18-hour layover, but at least a way back.
Shortly after I bought it, the airline added a direct flight to DC. I was able to change my ticket with no fees, no issues. Went from 22+ hours of travel to a nonstop, 4.5-hour direct flight to DC.

The day after I landed in the U.S. I “just happened” to run into friends from church.
One of them offered me the use of their brand-new basement apartment.
They had gotten final use and occupancy that week.
The only thing it didn’t have?
Kitchen stuff.
Which, of course, I had.

And, since God loves the details, He arranged it so that my kitchen stuff matches the décor of the apartment.

A few days after I got home, friends approached me, telling me of their interest in buying my house.
I never listed it.
I never had to show it.

And they bought it “as-is”.
I made no repairs.
I did no cleaning.
I painted nothing.

Six weeks after I landed, the house was sold.
99% of my possessions were dealt with, given away.

And even in that, God worked in awesome ways.
Thrift stores are taking minimal donations because everyone cleaned out during the quarantine.
Yet God provided people and non-profits to take it all.

I needed to do some adjustment with an organization that was coming to get stuff.
I had the phone in my hand, getting ready to call an 800 number to navigate the process.
I was dreading it – trying to get to a human being, dealing with being on hold, figuring out who I needed to talk to – and as I sat there, getting ready to dial, my phone rang.
They were calling me to confirm.
I was able to make the changes without any effort on my part at all.

I needed to finish raising my funds for the year.
Without churches meeting in person.
With people being in huge amounts of financial uncertainty.
Unofficially, I am at 100% of my needed support. (The online tracking needs to catch up with the promised giving…)
Officially, I am at 76% of my needed support.

The airport in Guatemala was supposed to open June 30.
It didn’t.
It was supposed to open at the end of July. It didn’t.
So I started praying then, asking to get back in mid-September.
At the time, officials there were planning a staggered re-opening: first in-country flights only; then Central America only; then international flights.
So the prognosticators were saying October at the earliest for people like me. Many were saying January.
But I kept asking specifically for mid-September.

When the airport did not open as scheduled on September 1st – the only hope I had of getting back by mid-September – I took a deep breath and instructed myself: “Kathy, sometimes God says ‘no’ and sometimes He says ‘wait’. His timing and ways are perfect. So trust Him and keep waiting with a happy heart.”

And then came word that the airport is opening on September 18th.
This coming Friday.
With no gradual reopening.

I asked for mid-September.
It looked impossible.
And God made a way where there seemed to be no way.
I am scheduled to land at noon on Friday.

And there’s even more!
But in the interest of conserving words, let me just say that I have seen God do impossible things. All school year long. And particularly this past summer.

Jesus said, “Put My interests ahead of your own and watch what I will do to provide. You are so easily consumed with the unimportant stuff, the things that NONE of the rest of My creation worries about. But if you will let go of your kingdom to focus on Mine instead, I promise I will take care of the rest.” (Matthew 6, Kathy-phrased)

And He has.
Oh, how He has!

If you weigh my current choices with the philosophy of the day, they are sadly lacking in “wisdom”.
But Paul put it this way: “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God…This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1)

The ‘’foolishness’’ of the cross:
Deny yourself. Live for God’s agenda. Follow in His footsteps. Die to self.

Impossible to do in our own strength.
But the way of the cross is the ONLY way to resurrection!
You have to die in order to experience resurrection power.

And not just on the day you trusted Christ to be your Savior.
That day you gained eternal life. Guaranteed.
But every day that you walk in obedience, every day that you die to yourself, every day that you hold ALL of your life in open hands before Him – those are the days that you gain the abundant life that Jesus promised.

My biggest concern as I write this is that you will think that this kind of thing, these kinds of provisions only happen for us “professional Christians” – pastors, missionaries, etc.
But the reality is that I am not something special.
I am a stubborn, foolish, stinker of a girl, a sinner saved by grace alone.

But God?
God is wonderful.
He is faithful, good, kind, able, near and utterly powerful without my help.
He does not need me.
But I am desperate for Him.

And that is my testimony.
Look at God!!

On Seeking First The Kingdom

It consumes us.
And yet, Jesus gave us the antidote to it.
He not only said, ‘’Don’t put your energy there”, He also gave us a place to redirect it.
He said told us to use the energy that it takes to worry and replace it with seeking first the Kingdom of God. (Matthew 6)

I have been thinking a lot on what that means.
How do we seek first His Kingdom?
I don’t know about you, but I am sick of worrying.
Exhausted from the soundtracks that loop in my mind; the “what if” scenarios that are always humming if I let them.

Here is the “how to” that I have learned:

First, you have to acknowledge that there IS a Kingdom of God.
That it is bigger than you
And eternal.
That this world will burn.
But that His Kingdom will never end.

But that acknowledgement can’t just be head knowledge.
It has to change your posture.
In order to seek HIS Kingdom above yours, you MUST bow your knee to the King.
Bringing with you all that you are.
And are not.
All that you have.
And all that you want.

Living the truth that there is a Kingdom that is more real than anything your five senses can comprehend.
That it is a Kingdom at war.
And that you are ALREADY on one side of the battle or the other.
Even when you don’t realize it.
You are either with the King or against Him.
There is no middle ground.

And, once you have acknowledged the reality of the King and His Kingdom by humbling yourself before Him, you have to live as a citizen of that Kingdom.
Obeying His rules.
Not what you want Him to say.
But what He has actually established in His Word.

You don’t get to decide which portions to obey and which to toss.
You don’t get to redefine His definitions.
You don’t get to cherry pick what you consider to be the good, comforting, lovely parts while ignoring the tough stuff.

And if you are going to live by Kingdom rules, you have to actually study them.
More than just a cursory glance on Sunday through the lens of the preacher.
But for yourself.
Saturating yourself in the Word.
Checking ALL other voices against it.
Asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate it.

Because there is no such thing as neutral.
For Him or against Him. That’s it.

But then what you find in His Word has to be lived out daily.
Otherwise, you are saying you are seeking His Kingdom, but you’re actually living for your own.
Which makes you act like a traitor to the King.

For example, when He says, ‘’Respect the government because God puts in power the leaders of His choosing”, you do it.
When He says, “Defend the widows and orphans, do justly, love mercy and walk humbly in my Kingdom”, you do it.
And when those two principles feel mutually exclusive, you don’t lean on your own understanding, your feelings or the way the wind of culture is blowing.
You ‘’trust in the Lord with all your heart’’ as you ‘’acknowledge Him in all your ways” while you trust Him to “direct your path”.
So somehow you do both.
Speaking when He directs.
And shutting your mouth when He says so.
But always, always, loving as He loves.

By the power of the Holy Spirit.
You live what the Word of God says.
Allowing Him and it to instruct, convict, correct and train you. (2 Timothy 3:16)

And not just in that case.
But in so many others where the Truth of the Word meets the stickiness of life.
You seek first His priorities and agenda. As they are laid out in His Word.
While laying down your own wisdom.

That is the simplicity of seeking first His Kingdom.
Obey the King.
And let Him worry about the consequences.
In your politics.
In your relationships.
In your sex life.
In your finances.
In your parenting.
In your dealings with your parents. Or your kids. Or your neighbors. Or your boss.
In your workplace.
In your playtime.
In every area of life.

One Kingdom or the other.
No neutral.
For Him or against Him.
With Him or not.

The remarkable thing?
This Kingdom thing actually works.
Take it from me.

I can shout with the Psalmist that I have “seen in my history the faithful love of the Lord”.
As the old hymn says, ‘’I have proven Him o’er and o’er.”

I can testify:
He will blow you away with His kindness, His mercy and His unfailing love.
He will hold you as you cry.
Help you when you fall apart.
Provide for your every need.
Rejoice over you with singing.
Fill your life with good things.

But don’t take me at my word.
Take Him at His.
Seek first His Kingdom.
And see what He does.