The Extra Mile Smile

The Extra Mile Just Ahead Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Clouds and Sky.Depositphotos

This morning, like I do every weekday morning, I dropped my son, Sean, off at his school. When I was making the turn back into our neighborhood a lady in a SUV was at the stop sign waiting to make her turn onto the main road.  As I rounded the corner, I smiled at the lady as I drove by her window.  Her eyes met mine and, instantly, a huge teeth-showing smile spread clear across the woman’s face.

Her response briefly caught me off guard. I wasn’t expecting such an enthusiastic smile in return. It’s amazing how a moment like that can fill your heart with joy. A complete stranger smiles at me and for the briefest of moments I felt and instant connection to her.

As I continued the drive back to my house, it dawned on me why I found immense pleasure in this exchange.

She far exceeded my expectations.

She didn’t simply respond with the bare minimum, she went all out!

I think there’s a lesson tucked away in this moment for me, for us, today.

The people we interact with today…friends, strangers, coworkers, relatives…surprise them…exceed their expectations.

Finding God Among the Chickpeas

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Not sure what’s gotten into me, but I’ve been cooking like Emeril for the last couple of weeks. Bam! I’ve cracked open a cookbook more this month than I have in the last 10 years combined. Tonight we are trying Curried Chickpea and Potato Stew.

This was my status update last night on Facebook, along with a picture of the dinner I created. This morning as I thought more about this sudden shift inside me from not wanting to cook to wanting to cook, a few reasons came to mind. I have a sneaking suspicion I do know what’s gotten into me.

This idea crossed my mind this morning:  Good choices are contagious. 

On a side note, the same thing can be said of bad choices too.  The verse that popped into my brain this morning is found in 1 Corinthians 15:33  “Don’t be misled: Bad company corrupts good character.

But this morning, I want to focus on how good choices can be inspired by watching others make good choices. By the way, this is the way the whole “Pay if forward” idea catches on.  People either see or are actual recipients of an act of generosity or kindness and the beauty of that moment gets under their skin, touches their heart and they can’t help but want to pass that beauty on to others. It creates a ripple effect that can reach far beyond our little “world.”

A few weeks ago my husband, Roger, and I decided we would start making better choices when it came to the food we eat.  Neither of us are horrible eaters but there definitely is room for improvement.  We’ve been buying more whole foods and choosing organic when possible. I’ve actually seen my One Word, small, come into play too. I am learning to make small shifts in our eating habits. A better choice here, a better choice there.

Just like anything we do in life, I do believe small choices in a good direction will add up.

Roger used to cook quite a bit before we got married but had gotten away from it over the years. For the last few weeks, he has been looking through cookbooks and picking out a meal to make for us on Sunday. He goes shopping for any additional ingredients he needs and I help by chopping up the vegetables. It’s been a fun journey. I have enjoyed working as a team as we both strive to make better choices.

So, to answer my first thought. This is what’s gotten into me:  I’ve watched Roger take a step in a good direction and it has stirred something inside.

This morning as I thought about my Facebook post and my statement about being like Emeril, It dawned on me I should have used Julia Child as an example instead. This realization completely amused me too. Why you ask?  Well, Julia Child became inspired to cook shortly after she got married because, as a gift, her family gave her a copy of “The Joy of Cooking.”  I find this humorous because I recently read Margaret Feinberg’s book Fight Back with Joy and my small group has been doing her study on joy for the past 4 weeks.  Joy really is contagious!

After thinking about all this while sipping my coffee this morning, I opened up my joy study to begin today’s lesson.  My heart smiled when I did too. You know what today’s lesson happens to be about… brace yourself…feasting!!

I just want to end this post by saying this:  I’ve known this for years but today I was reminded about a beautiful characteristic of our Creator…He has an incredible sense of humor, And, as we journey further up life’s path, He will find ways to use every little experience we are going through to teach us the lessons we need to learn.

If ONLY we will have the appetite (see what I did there?) to seek these lessons out!

Today: open your eyes and crave more of Him and the gifts He is waiting to give to you along the way!  Who knows, you just might catch glimpses of Him in the chickpeas. :)

Could You Love Me For Me?

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For the last few days the story of Nathanael meeting Jesus has been on my heart again. You can find this moment in John 1: 43-51. This has got to be one of my favorite accounts in Scripture. I find these verses to be packed full of love and hope.

Several years ago I wrote a post called From Fig Tree to Follower and I shared a little bit about how Jesus knows and loves each of us personally and intimately. When Jesus tells Nathanael that he saw Him sitting under the fig tree, something clicks inside of Nathanael. It was a pivotal moment for him.

The other part of this account I love happens when Philip comes to find Nathanael and they have this exchange:

“We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law (and so did the prophets): Jesus the son of Joseph, from Nazareth!”

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael asked him.

“Come and see,” Philip answered.

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

I love that, despite not having such a great reputation, this is where Jesus grew up.  I did a little research and discovered that “the Hebrew word netzer, from which Nazareth is derived, refers to the small twigs that are worthless…such was deemed an appropriate name for a small village of little use.”  Can you see why I love this question from Nathanael?  The whole reason Jesus showed up to earth was to bring redemption to us….and where does he start?  He picks the most “useless” place on the map to call home. It’s almost as if He is reassuring future generations that there is indeed hope for anyone/anywhere.  No matter what your reputation might have been, no matter what other people say about you…there is HOPE!  For me, this detail is Jesus quietly reminding us…I can redeem anything and anyone!

“Come and see,” Philip answered.

I love this response from Philip because this is what Jesus invites us all do when we have doubts and suspicions…just come and see for yourself.  You know, Nathanael could have said no. Nathanael could have just clung tightly to what he understood…that nothing good comes from Nazareth. He could have refused to set aside his questions and doubts and go with his friend to see for himself.

Again, there is such a great lesson in this story for us today.  As people in search of Truth, are we willing to step out into the unknown despite our questions and preconceived notions?  But, amazing things happen when we do. In Nathanael’s case, he met his Savior and his doubts were put to rest.

Sharing this old song by JJ Heller today.  I love the reminder God desires to pour his love and grace out on everyone. EVERYONE.

A Thought I’ve Carried With Me For 23 Years

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A week ago I went in for my annual mammogram.  Because of a family history of breast cancer, I had a baseline mammogram at age 35. At the age of 40, I began getting my routine mammograms every year.

I received a notice in the mail yesterday letting me know the results.  All looked good. The only thing they noted on a separate pink slip of paper was that my breast tissue is considered dense.  It went on to say that “dense tissue is common and not abnormal. However, dense tissue can make it harder to evaluate the results of a mammogram and may also be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.”  I wasn’t  sure what “dense” actually meant, so I did a Google search for more information. Here’s the answer I found:

“Breast density is not a measure of how the breasts feel, but rather how the breasts look on a mammogram. It compares the area of breast and connective tissue seen on a mammogram to the area of fat. Breast and connective tissue are denser than fat and this difference shows up on a mammogram… High breast density means there is a greater amount of breast and connective tissue compared to fat.”

While looking for this information I, unfortunately, found this statistic too:  Women with high breast density are six times more likely to get breast cancer.  After that I looked around a little more and that number dropped to 4-5 times more likely depending on what site I visited.

My mom and her mom both had breast cancer. When my grandmother was diagnosed she was treated and ended up living the rest of her years on earth cancer free.  My mom was diagnosed in 1986 when she was 50 years old. She had a mastectomy, radiation and chemotherapy. But, unfortunately, due to a rather late diagnosis, the cancer returned and metastasized into her bones. In 1991, after a long battle, my mom did pass away.

It’s interesting to me how I approach the idea of breast cancer.  Ever since my mom died, 23 years ago, I feel like I’ve carried with me (in the back of my mind) that matter-of-fact understanding that one day I might get that dreaded call from my doctor’s office with that diagnosis. It’s not like I’ve lived my years in fear of it, it’s just that a part of me would not be at all shocked if a doctor were to one day tell me I have it. The family history is there. I’m not being pessimistic. I just tend to look at things rationally like this.

One reason I don’t live in fear when I think about this is because I know that every case is different.  Being diagnosed with breast cancer is not a death sentence.  I know that in the last 23 years, awareness and prevention, early diagnosis, and incredible advances in medicine have greatly increased survival rates.  I also know many woman who are living in victory today. I am so thankful for this too.

Still, I have to say, the closer I get to the age my mom was when she was diagnosed, the more often the idea of maybe one day being diagnosed with this disease crosses my mind. I even thought about it again today while out for a run.

This is one reason I felt compelled to read Margaret Feinberg’s new book Fight Back With Joy. Over the years, I have read several of Margaret’s books. I’ve been encouraged by all of them too. They tend to show up in my life right when I need to read them.

In Fight Back With Joy, Margaret takes us along on her battle with breast cancer. On the day she receives the dreaded call from the doctor’s office she bravely tells her husband, Leif, her desire is to fight back with joy. Through her difficult journey, Margaret teaches us that joy is a weapon. And we are encouraged to wield that weapon during the most challenging seasons of our lives.

There’s a chance I will develop breast cancer one day. There’s also a good chance it will never be a part of my story.  I, like each of you, have no clue how my days will play out.

But one thing I do know for sure is that I want to be spiritually prepared to fight any battle that may be waiting further up the road. I want my arsenal of weapons to be fully stocked and loaded.  And, the best way I can do that is to fill my mind and my heart, on an ongoing basis, with much-needed truth.

Personally, that’s what Margaret’s book has given me…more ammo to fight life’s battles with!

Open a New Door and Step Into Your Future

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Yesterday I watched a powerful video about how a boy who had been the victim of bullying for years chose to begin doing one small thing everyday and it completely changed the outlook and the course of his future. I love this story for so many reasons. Would you take 6 minutes and watch it?

Here are just a few thoughts I had as I watched the clip about Josh.

  • Treat others the way you want to be treated. Everyone wants to feel seen and appreciated.  In fact, that was the whole reason behind the One Word I chose last year “validate.” I love how Josh says it: “opening doors is more than just a physical act…it gives people hope that people care.”
  • I thought about my One Word for this year, “small.” I love how this story reminds us that small gestures are anything but. Like I mentioned in a blog post earlier this month,  “perhaps the small roads are really big roads hidden in disguise.”
  • Instead of accepting that things are the way they are, Josh chooses to act.  One of my friends on Facebook expressed it well here:  “What a powerful leader this boy is!. He influenced the culture of his whole school by choosing to give himself away in service to others, which allowed him to step into the power of who he was created to be!”
  • The bad things that happen to us on the road can actually lead us to where we need to be all along. That’s the beauty of redemption. That’s the incredible power it has. The bad is never wasted. When we look back over our journeys, the bad can actually be the catalyst that puts us on the right road.  I LOVE THAT!

This story made me think back on the pivotal moments in my own journey.  I thought about the small actions that changed everything in my life.  We all have the power to have these kinds of moments in our life too. No matter how many times you’ve gotten out of bed in the mornings feeling stuck or defeated, it’s never too late to wake up one morning and make a different choice or consider a different perspective.

What is one small action you’ve taken in your life that turned out to be a big moment in disguise?

What is one small positive choice you could make today that might just put you on the path headed in the right direction? 

Joy Bombs- When God Blows You Away

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So many thoughts are bouncing around in my head and in my heart this morning.  I’m not sure where to begin.  As I mentioned in my last post, I just started Margaret Feinberg’s new Bible study, Fight Back with Joy. One activity participants are asked to do is write down three “joy bombs” every day–those things that have brought us joy (big or small). I love this assignment. What a simple way to remember the little things we see or hear or do that we may have a tendency to take for granted. I can already see how this “homework” is raising my gratitude-o-meter.

This morning, after reading Margaret’s suggestions to pray for God to open our eyes to where we are missing out on joy and for HIm to allow us to experience more of His joy, I found myself saying these words to God: Lord, just blow me away! 

I paused for a second after I said it too. A memory came flooding back to me. A couple of years ago I wrote a guest post for my blogging friend, Joseph Iregbu. I called the post “Blow Me Away, Lord.”  I couldn’t recall, exactly, what I had written about so after my quiet time this morning I decided to go back and read that post again. It was all about being “blown away” by how God works in our life, how He take us from one place in life and moves us some place else. You can read the entire post over at Joseph Iregbu’s place but here’s an except:

I look back at the timid little girl of my youth who was terrified of opening her mouth in public and who feared looking at her thoughts on paper and I often ask God:

“How do You do it, Lord?  How do You take our biggest fears and use them for Your glory?”…

I am humbled every single day by how God can take the shattered pieces of my past and use it to encourage others who are hurting and in need of hope.

How do You do it, Lord?

I hope I never stop asking this question while living here on this earth. I pray God will continue to blow me away with His greatness. I love standing in wonder and in awe.  I look forward to the day when I will understand fully, but in the meantime, I rejoice each time I catch a breathtaking glimpse of His greatness.

A few thoughts flooded my mind as I read through the list of ways God has blown me away.

  • I thought about the daily joy bomb assignment I’m currently doing. We are only a couple of days in and it’s already increased my capacity to see God’s goodness in my life.
  • I thought about the message at church on Sunday. We started a new series called The Exodus Revolution: A Journey from Then to Now. I wrote down a ton of takeaways, but here are a few:

-God works through movement.
-From – To
-God is forming people. Forming people requires moving people
-Life is a process, not an event. Life is about movement more than moments.
-Don’t underestimate the power of movement
-God is responsible for the movement but we are responsible for faithfulness in the moment.

  • I thought about how I’ve gotten away from asking that question “How do you do it, Lord?” I am thankful for the reminder this morning…it’s questions like this that have the power to increase my capacity for joy. When we spend time meditating on His goodness and greatness joy and gratitude will flood our hearts.  I recall a verse Margaret had us look up the other day in the Bible study:

“They feast on the abundance of your house. you give them a drink from your river of delights.”

I love that verse.  I love the phrase a drink from your river of delights…for some reason it makes me think of one of those chocolate fountains…but with cascading coffee instead of chocolate. Or maybe both. ;)

Today, spend some time retracing your steps. Think back on those moments in your life when God has blown you away.  I’d love to hear about them!

Soak it Up…Live it Out

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I recently read Margaret Feinberg’s new book Fight Back with Joy. Tonight I’ll be joining a few other ladies to go through the six-week study together. Yay!

Yesterday afternoon I watched the introductory DVD lesson in preparation for tonight’s kick-off lesson.

The first main point Margaret makes in the video is this:

Joy emanates out of the abiding sense of God’s fierce love for us.
Tactic 1: Marinate in the truth of God’s fierce love for you.

This morning I went to church and one of the songs we sang was Furious by Jeremy Riddle.

Joy filled my heart as we sang these words:

His love is deep, His love is wide and it covers us
His love is fierce, His love is strong, it is furious
His love is sweet, His love is wild
And it’s waking hearts to life

Marinate in the truth of God’s fierce love for you.

Fierce love

This morning’s song almost felt like a precursor of what’s to come. It was a small taste, the appetizer, the dipping sauce.

I’m excited about this new study.  My prayer is that our little group will soak up this truth and it will spill out into every area of our lives.

Home: You Can Take it With You

Friends Playing on the Beach

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched-they must be felt with the heart.” – Helen Keller

This beautiful quote caught my eye (a little ironic considering the quote :) ) as I was scrolling my Facebook feed last night. I’ve always loved these words from Helen Keller and even included it in my Mistake Makers eBook a few years ago.

Yesterday, author Jeff Goins, included it in his Facebook post along with a link to his article, The Wonderful Ache of Beauty: Why We Need Art. Words like art, beauty and ache will typically pique my curiosity. So, of course, I clicked the link to check it out. It was great article about that ache you often experience when your heart collides with beautiful works of art.

Last night I woke up in the middle of the night and began thinking about yesterday morning. As many of you know, I volunteer for Second Life of Chattanooga an organization that helps to spread awareness of human trafficking in our area. January is National Human Trafficking Awareness month and, yesterday, Second Life hosted their annual event Unite. Wear White. The guest speaker this year was Becca Stevens from Thistle Farms and Magdalene.

I was first introduced to Thistle Farms and Magdalene when I heard Becca give a talk a year and a half ago in Nashville. This beautiful ministry helps to give women who have been out on the streets and trapped in a life of prostitution and human trafficking a second chance.  And, as you know, I never get tired of cheerleading for second chances.  At Thistle Farms, survivors are employed and create fabulous all natural candles and also bath and body products. You can learn more and support them here if you’ve never heard of it.

Anyways back to why I woke up last night and had hard time falling back to sleep. Yesterday, I heard a survivor and past resident of Magdalene share a little bit of her journey. Sheila’s story was a powerful story of redemption. After she spoke, the audience gave her a standing ovation. I had goosebumps and chills as I stood there clapping for Sheila.

When Becca took the stage she said something that stuck with me:  “If you mention the word home (at Magdalene and Thistle Farms) women will weep. A home is what these women have longed for because community heals.”

Becca shared another story of a lady who came to Magdalene house after serving time in prison. She began her journey of healing  and also began making candles. Because of charges still being processed through the legal system, this lady ended up having to go back to jail for 3 1/2  more years. Upon her release, she came right back to Thistle Farms and began making candles again. Becca asked her how she was able to remain hopeful after tasting freedom and healing and then having to go back to confinement. The lady told Becca that it was the first time in her life when she was behind bars and had a community of people supporting her, encouraging her, and believing in her.

As I thought more about this last night, I realized that the women of Magdalene weep at the word “home” because community, when done well, is a beautiful and powerful thing.  Like Helen Keller’s quote, home isn’t necessarily a place you can see and touch, its beauty is so much bigger than that. Home means you feel loved and accepted and cared for. A true home is a place of hope. It touches your heart and your soul and you can carry it with you.  That’s what I love about beauty that touches our heart…it’s portable.

I know you all might be getting sick of my obsession with the movie Shawshank Redemption but this whole idea made me think of the scene where Andy gets out of solitary confinement after his little opera music playing stunt. He survived because he carried the beauty of hope with him.

The survivor from Magdalene who had to go back to prison held on because, for the first time in her life, she had hope she could hold onto, she had a community of people who loved her and were encouraging her along the way.

Again, one of the most beautiful things about community: You carry it with you.

Last night I also thought about the Apostle Paul and all the time he spent in prison. He was one of the most hope-filled people in all of Scripture. Why?  Yes, it was his faith in Christ but it was also because he had a small community of people who loved on him through the journey. Many times he would mention in his letters how much his friends encouraged him to keep going.

Community, done well, is powerful. It touch lives in ways we can’t even fathom. It offers us beauty that most of the time goes so much deeper than the visible eye can see.

Be that to someone today.

The Red Cardinal

Male Northern Cardinal ProfileDreamstime

The other day I wrote about how my One Word found me for 2015.

My word is small.

I hope this word helps to remind me of ways in which I want to grow, change and move forward this year. I want to remember that small doesn’t mean helpless. To me, small, makes me think of scenes like David and Goliath. David was small but David was far from helpless. He picked up the stones and trusted his Savior.

That’s how I want to view small this year as I move further up the unknown path in front of me.

A few mornings ago, I was out on another run and once again beauty crossed my path…beauty on the wings of a lesson. I love how those two things will often go hand in hand. “God, Help Me to Be” by Cloverton began playing on my iPod. The words to this song hit my soul in such a way that I can, for the briefest of moments, understand better what it means to be small standing next to a great God in a big universe. The lyrics humble me.

God, help me to be
closer to you, Lord
so that I am farther from me
May your kingdom be
the only one that I seek
Oh God
And, God, help me to see
that everything was good
when you created all things
Now let me see with those same
eyes that created me.
Oh, God.

As I ran along listening, a red cardinal flew across my path. I know I’m not the only one who loves to see this brightly colored bird in the dead of winter. Sightings of one will often trigger feelings of hope and revival. I watched as the cardinal landed on a leafless barren branch and then fluttered to the next and then the next. Whatever scene the bird entered, he brightened up the world around him.

Beauty followed him wherever he settled because beauty was his garment.

As I watched the cardinal rest again on another leafless branch I heard these words playing in my ears:

“God help me to go- to follow where you lead me so all nations will know, The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of this world. Oh, God, my God.”

When I think of the words “Lamb of God” the first image that enters my mind is the color red. I think of the blood shed on behalf of us. We were the leafless barren branches in the middle of winter. His red flew down into our drab world. He entered each of our stories. He stretched out His wings and gave us hope.

Hallelujah!
Thank God! Pray to him by name!
Tell everyone you meet what he has done!
Sing him songs, belt out hymns,
translate his wonders into music!
Honor his holy name with Hallelujahs,
you who seek God. Live a happy life!
Keep your eyes open for God, watch for his works;
be alert for signs of his presence. (Psalm 105:1-5 Message)

My One Word 2015

A small GiftDepositphotos

This morning I thought about an old post I wrote a couple of years ago about being a tiny trailblazer. You can read a portion of it below. I was prompted to write it after hearing a great quote from Emily Freeman. “Leave your unique trail of beauty no matter how small it is.”

I love that quote. I thought about it again after reading these words in the Jesus Calling devotional this morning.  “I am leading you along a way that is uniquely right for you…marvel at the beauty of a life intertwined with My Presence. Rejoice as we journey together in intimate communion. Enjoy the adventure of finding yourself through losing yourself in Me.”

On Saturday, I had a similar thought about beauty being discovered off the beaten path (out of the limelight) as a I ran along a quiet path. It was there where I encountered life and loveliness all around me.

Two years ago, these were the thoughts I wrote down about taking our own unique paths:

My trail isn’t a major highway. It might never be a major highway. But when I keep my eyes focused on the reason behind the journey then I am more than okay with this. This journey is for Him. Every step and every direction should glorify Him. More than anything, I desire to follow along the paths that He calls me down.

Occasionally, I even have this thought: Maybe all the little roads are in fact the big roads. Major highways in disguise. I just can’t fully comprehend it from my human perspective.

The more I travel the little streets God tends to take me down, the more I appreciate them. He reminds me over and over that the most beautiful and life changing attractions aren’t on the major roads, they are tucked away off the beaten path. I don’t want to miss all the heart touching scenery God is showing me along the way.

He knows a truth that I sometimes have hard time remembering. Popular, fast-moving, interstates have a way of bypassing many of the joy-filled lessons. I need the small because I need the lessons. (excerpt from Tiny Trailblazers, Originally posted July 12, 2012)

I need the small because I need the lessons. 

I have chosen my One Word for 2015. Or, maybe, my word has chosen me. :-)

small 

This year, I want to look for and embrace the small. I want to look for the gifts tucked away in the moments, those small gifts we often overlook because our eyes are forever wandering off the path looking for something bigger.

Maybe all the little roads are in fact the big roads. Major highways in disguise.