I Choose You

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“For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by God’s grace I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not ineffective.” 1 Corinthians 15: 9-10

As I was looking for another verse, my eyes rested again on these verses printed at the top of the page in my Bible. The handwritten word “beautiful” caught my eye. I wrote it in the margin next to the passage years ago.

For some reason, after I read these verses again this morning I pictured a group of young kids on a playground waiting to be picked for a team. I could see Jesus looking at the line up of kids and His gaze is immediately drawn to the scrawniest and most unlikely of choices. I picture Him cracking a slight, all-knowing smile, pointing to the youngster who is looking down at the ground, kicking the dirt with his shoe and assuming he’ll be standing there for a while. “I choose you” He says.

In Scripture, we see God do this over and over again, Moses, Joseph, David, Paul. Jesus picked folks to use who made the people around Him either shake their head in disbelief or shake their fist in anger.

What I love about the Easter season is it reminds me of how Jesus lived his life and then departed as one of these same characters. He was the least likely choice to be Savior. He was just a carpenter from the “nothing good comes out of that town” Bethlehem. He didn’t wear a crown or royal robes. He hung out with misfits, murderers, and prostitutes. He made the Pharisees angry for not looking the way a King should look or responding the way they thought a King should respond.

I don’t know about you but I love that this how God chose to write the story of redemption. It fills me with so much hope and so much joy.

Today, if you doubt that God is capable of choosing you or wanting you, I want you to pause for a moment and picture standing there in that line up. I want you to see Jesus extending His hand and pointing right at you. “There…that’s the one…I choose you.”

The Beauty of Unfamiliar Paths

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 For the last year, I’ve been enjoying the new and the different each season has brought along.  As much as I loved the comfortable and familiar feeling of living in North Carolina for 12 years, it’s been neat being some place different for the last eleven months. I’ve loved all the fresh scenes and new experiences.

Last summer, I shared with you all the impressive (yet rather annoying) ladybug convention that convened inside and outside my house.  We also took some fun day trips to places just a few minutes away from our house; Cloudland Canyon, Lake Winnipesaukee , Ruby Falls and Lookout Mountain were some of our favorite outings.

Last fall, we enjoyed the changing colors in this area, we took the opportunity to drive up the road to Gatlinburg to see the Smoky Mountains. We also discovered a beautiful place to run and bike just minutes from our house at the Chickamauga Battlefield. On Halloween, we enjoyed living in an actual neighborhood where we could step outside our front door and go trick or treating.  We even had kids show up at our door, something that never happened in our previous neighborhood.

In winter, we enjoyed our first snowfall in Georgia,  My ten-year old son experienced sledding for the first time, an activity we could never do on the flat terrain in Northeast North Carolina.  I even shared with you all my winter joy of woman making fire!

This Spring, I’ve been loving the trees.  The colors in our neighborhood are beautiful shades of reds, pinks, purples and whites.  I even remarked to my husband again last night as we drove down the hill and out of our neighborhood, “It’s just so different from North Carolina.”

We’ve been here almost a year now and part of me can’t believe that.  So much has happened in a year.  As I sat here reminiscing again this morning, I tried not to be a little sad that our first four seasons in Georgia will be coming to an end soon. There’s a “new” we will never experience again.  Sure, we will still have new experiences, but it will be a little different from last year. The new will have a much more “lived in” feel to it all.  Not sure why that’s bittersweet to me…but it is.

I like comfortable and familiar.  I always have. But this year, reminded me of the beauty you can only discover by walking down unknown paths.

Guess this means it’s time to search for more paths to explore!

Why I Tend to Accept But Not Trust

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Lately, I’ve been thinking about how skeptical I can be.  I want to trust others but if I’m honest with myself, I still live my life with a tendency to ‘err on the side of guarded.  I will accept others long before I fully trust them.  You have to earn trust in my book.  I don’t like being deceived.

I guess this somewhat guarded way of living comes from having to learn the hard way that when red flags go up…you don’t dismiss them.  Sometimes, the red flag means something. Other times, it just means I’m being hyper-sensitive.  Either way, I think it’s my responsibility to find out why it’s waving.

However, when I discover I’m just being overly sensitive, I tend to kick myself and say things like “Eileen, why can’t you just be more trusting? Why is your initial thought so often…is this a scam?  Why can’t your initial thought be thinking the best of people?  Why isn’t it your hearts tendency to think sincere. Why do you tend to look for the scam?”

Deception is one of the factors that contributed to the downfall of my first marriage.  There were many factors but deception was a biggie.  Because of this, I tend to be more on the look out for scams than maybe the average Joe. This can be a good thing and a bad thing. And I guess I spend quite a bit of my life trying to find the balance between healthy skepticism and unhealthy skepticism.

I shake my head at some of the stories people share on Facebook.  Folks, in general, if the story seems truly unbelievable…it probably is.  My one piece of advice: get in the practice of checking Google or Snopes before re-positng.  My favorite (recent) bogus story someone shared was the one announcing that the missing Malaysia flight had been found.  It had been nearly two weeks and in my news feed I see a picture of a plane in the water with all the passengers standing on the wing of the plane.  Really?

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Like I said,  I think accepting others is the first and necessary step to any relationship.  But, trust only comes when you look at the track record of the one you want to trust.  And, once that trust is broken, it’s no wonder that it’s a difficult journey to establish it again.  When I think about my relationship with Christ, I realize how the process played out very much the same way.  When I first accepted Christ into my life, there was a part of me that held back my love and devotion for Him.  But, over the years,  the more I’ve been willing to let go, to be vulnerable, and to give Him the pieces of my life, the more He’s proven to me that I can fully trust Him.  His track record is impeccable.

How are you with trust?  Is it hard or easy for you? 

 

 

What is the Theme of Your Story?

Today, please welcome my friend Jeremy Riley to The Scenic Route.  I encourage you to check out his blog where he shares openly and honestly about his journey.  This quote from his bio about why he blogs pretty much sums up why I think he’s a cool guy… “This is here to work through life, faith, stories, and hope.  Lately, doubt has become a major theme of this place, so bring your doubts and baggage, please kick off your shoes and relax.  This is a place where we explore the journey of faith and all that it implies.”

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Does Your Story Have a Theme?

Last year this question came up to me from a blog post I read here on The Scenic Route and it made me think about where I was in life. Since 2013 was an incredibly disruptive year for me with the end of seminary, a new baby, a new job, and a cross state move, the theme that came to mind was hope in uncertainty.

Quite frankly there were points in that chapter where I simply had no idea how we would survive, where money would come from, and when the stress would stop. It was a very difficult year.

Have you ever been there?

The thing I discovered in that time was that through the uncertainty, God decided to do something different and called us out of our home in Orange County to somewhere else. He called us onto a new adventure.

Last year reminded me of the story of Abraham, when he was told to hit the road and go on an adventure. And at the risk of sounding corny, if my theme for 2013 was hope in uncertainty, then the character I most resembled was the weak and fearful Abraham.

2014 has started us in a place with new hopes and difficulties, with more certainly on the way. Recently, I have found myself in the character of Moses, and it’s not in the ultra-manly Charlton Heston figure, but the one who tries to talk God out of sending him to Pharaoh. The one who is not eloquent, who is not a powerful presence, and who is in way over his head.

Perhaps you’re like me, coming to the realization that life is rather difficult at times. The funny thing is that I have found how God likes it when we’re in Moses like situations. While there might be great people who seem to have it together like a Joshua or Deborah, there are so many other screw ups and near failures in the Biblical narrative that bring me comfort. The beautiful hope that I cling to is that God redeems those screw ups and near failures, he flips it somehow into something beautiful and whole.

Dear reader, I don’t have the answers to why we feel like miserable failures when things are not going well, but I can offer you hope that is found in Jesus. I can offer you the same promise God extended to Moses that he will be with you even if you face a Pharaoh, a writing project, a youth group, a toddler, or the inner monologue that whispers “you are worthless.” If you are in Christ, I can boldly say that God will be with you. God is with you. Go in peace. Amen.

What is the theme of your story?

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Jeremy Riley is a twenty-something husband, father to a beautiful daughter, and recent graduate student living the dream. A Southern California transplant in San Francisco, he works as a youth mentor and helps them think through big questions of life. He is a Christ follower, political junkie, history lover, and stand-up desk guy. You can connect with Jeremy on Twitter @jeremydriley and read more of his thoughts on faith and life at jeremydriley.com.

From Turbulence to Triumph

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On our flight back to Georgia last Saturday we had some of the worst turbulence I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.  Okay, so I’m being sarcastic with my word choice.  I couldn’t stand it.  As we bounced around the not so friendly skies several times for several minutes, I tried not to be nervous. I glanced at my son thinking maybe I would need to reassure him.  His head was buried in his Kindle and he was busy designing another house in Minecraft.

As I prayed for God to give the pilots wisdom, I watched my son’s lack of concern. The turbulence didn’t even phase him. We could have simply been riding along uneven pavement down I-75.  He was completely oblivious to the fact that we were thousands of feet in the air and lacking any means to “control” the situation.

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Easter fell on March 31 last year. Last Easter, we were still living in North Carolina. My husband had recently gotten word that his job was coming to an end and we were in the process of trying to figure out what was next for our family.  My husband had some job interviews lined up down in Georgia the first week of April so we made the 11 hour drive down there the Saturday before Easter.  We stayed the night at my brother in-law’s house and attended Easter services at his church the next morning.

One of things I remember about that service was John Mark McMillan’s song, Death in His Grave.  After the service was over, I said to my husband, “wouldn’t it be cool if you ended up getting this job, we would already have a church to go to.”

As Easter approaches this year, I’ve been thinking about that song quite a bit again.  I’ve been thinking about the hope packed in the words “on Friday a thief,on Sunday a King. Laid down in grief, but awoke holding keys”  The journey to triumph will often start with turbulence.  The words in this song remind me to keep holding on.  They remind me to keep praying to the pilot in my life, to the One who conquered the dark and hopeless looking days.

There are very few things in my life that I have “control” over.  When bumps and uncertainties arise, my job is to hold on tight and trust the King.

I love the story of Easter and the way it unfolded. It’s a constant reminder of hope and comfort. Turbulent and challenging seasons are often inevitable and unavoidable. And, sometimes, as we learn from the Easter story, they are even necessary in order to get us to the desired destination…to a place of victory.

Hold on.  The King is coming.

Putting Down the Hammer

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5:00am came early this Monday morning.  I forced myself out of bed trying not to do the math but doing it anyway. It’s 2:00am in Arizona.  I just spent a week in Arizona.  My family and I arrived home Saturday night.  It felt so good to pull into our driveway.  I posted the following on Facebook shortly after we stepped through the front door.

Home. I love that word…and that place.

Yesterday I attended the late morning service at church.  As a chronic early riser, I’ve never attended the third service before but it was the perfect way to ease my way back onto east coast time.

The message was about our hearts needing an output.  The pastor used two visuals to illustrate his point.  The first was a sealed up glass jar.  The second was a pour-able glass measuring cup filled with Hershey’s Kisses.  Once God comes into our hearts and begins doing His work we have this strong desire to pour that goodness and that love out again.

The pastor made a great point.  He mentioned how, so often, we come in wanting to fill a need, we want to be fixers.  But, God doesn’t need us to be fixers.  God simply desires for our hearts to be focused on Him.  As I sat there listening to this reminder yesterday I thought about a quote I love from Rick McKinley, “The kingdom is. That’s it. Jesus does not need you or me to nail it together.”

Yesterday we looked at the story in 2 Samuel 7 where David desires to build the Lord a home, “Here I am living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

I love God’s response to him.  I didn’t ask you to build me a house.  And then, he goes on to list all the things He has done for David and all the plans He still has for David.  I love all the “I”s we see in God’s response.   “I took you from the pasture…I have been with you where ever you have gone…I will provide a place…I appointed leaders…I will also give rest…I will raise up the offspring…I will establish the kingdom…

I love the reminder yesterday that sometimes our good intention to meet a need isn’t the healthy output God desires from us.  Our pastor summed it up this way: “God doesn’t need us…Don’t focus on the need focus on ME.”

As a person who loves “home” and loves to “fix”  I can relate to David’s desire to fill a need. After spending a week out in Arizona with my dad, who wants nothing more than to get back to his home, I can relate to that desire to want to “pick up the hammer” and make things better for my earthly father.  Like David, I needed the reminder that God has a plan that goes far beyond our attempts to fix things.

This week:   Less me.  More Him.

Ever struggle with feeling as if it’s your job to fix?  

Seeing Old Through New Eyes

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“I’d rather be bored than bored and depressed.”

This was my son’s response when I asked him yesterday why he would prefer to stay behind at my brother’s house (and potentially alone) than to come along with me and my husband to take my dad out to dinner again last night.

My son has been a trooper these last few days. He’s sat through several visits and outings with his grandpa but yesterday he needed a break.  I really don’t blame him.  It’s a lot of “reality” for a 10-year-old to process. My son is a sensitive and compassionate little boy.  He has a big heart and watching my dad unable to do so many things he used to do makes him sad and uncomfortable.

His response reminded me of the times when I was a little girl and my family would travel from Arizona back to Michigan to visit my grandparents. I loved visiting my dad’s side of the family but I dreaded the visits with my mom’s side of the family. My Grandma Stamm (Grandpa Stamm died before I was born) was older and I didn’t know her very well.  Her house was old and it always smelled funny…like propane.

I vividly remember one visit when we had to go over to her house for dinner. Every spoonful of scalloped potatoes on my plate, felt like a spoonful of poison sliding down my throat. I feared the food was as old as the house we were in and the old woman who lived there.  It was that same visit when I briefly got locked in her bathroom too, the rusty old doorknob got stuck and I panicked.  The 30 seconds I was trapped inside the old felt like a lifetime.

I can now see those annual trips to visit Grandma Stamm through a different set of eyes.  I can now see them through my mom’s eyes.  I am now the daughter who watches an elderly parent navigate their way through these final stages of life.  It can be hard.  It can be exhausting.  And, yes, it can be sad.

But, one thing I’ve learned as I grow older is that you can’t run away from it.  You can’t avoid the sad. You must face it and walk through it.  Even though these visits are bittersweet, I’m grateful for this time I’ve had with my dad this week,  And, I would much prefer bittersweet than a head and heart weighed down by a ton of “I should haves.”

What sad things in life are you tempted to run away from?

Beauty in the Midst

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It’s hard to fathom life without a subtle ache for what’s to come.

This was one of thoughts that came to mind as my family and I drove to the Atlanta airport last Saturday morning.  We are in Tucson this week spending time visiting my family.

As we drove along, the topic of March Madness came up.  I told my husband when the whole basketball tournament started my only thought about Arizona was, I sure hope they make it beyond the first couple of rounds.  They’ve had a great season,  I would just hate to see them go out in the first round.

And then when they won the first round, I noticed my thoughts changed to, wow, it sure would be nice if they made it to the Sweet Sixteen. That would be good enough.  That would be cool. 

And then when they made it to the Elite Eight, my thoughts changed again, “Wow, there’s a chance they could make it to the Final Four. Even if they didn’t win the whole thing, that would be really cool.”

Arizona lost last weekend.  They had a great season, but this year won’t include a trip to the Final Four.  I was a little disappointed.  They’d had a great run. I’m already looking forward to next year. :)

Back to my first thought:  It’s hard to fathom life without a subtle ache for what’s to come.

There will come a day when I will no longer have this tendency to hope for the “more” that lies ahead.  The ache won’t be there anymore.  I’m not talking about basketball anymore, by the way.

The “more” that we deeply yearn and hope for will, one day, be a way of life when we reach eternity.  No more looking forward in the same way we have a tendency to look forward here. Again, I can’t even fathom how that will “feel.”  What will complete and uninterrupted contentment be like?  .

We know that the Apostle Paul came to a point where he lived his life content in whatever moment he was in:  ”I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need.  I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4: 11-13

In my old house back in North Carolina I taped those verses to my bathroom mirror shortly after we moved in. They were a constant reminder of one of my goals in life.  I said I was going to leave them there until I was living it out everyday.  We lived in that house for 11 years…and those verses remained there until the day we moved out.

I’m getting there…but I’m a long way from living this way every moment of everyday.

I’m thankful that life really is a journey toward the ultimate contentment.  As much as I love my life, as much as I have learned to be thankful for today, I am equally thankful that when I take my final breath that subtle ache I have will be fully and forever satisfied.

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This week, while visiting my dad, my goal has been to take him out of the assisted living home frequently to enjoy other things.  We’ve gone to lunch and breakfast together this week. Yesterday, we picked him up and made the 80 mile drive down to his home, a trip he dreams about daily.  Ever since having his stroke (nearly two years ago), he’s wanted nothing else but to live in his house again. But, because of the daily care he now requires, there is no way for him to stay alone and 24 hour in home care is not feasible.

As we drove along Interstate 10 my dad explained again what he told me the last time I visited him.  ”He feels like he’s been sentenced to prison but he has no idea how long he will be doing time.

As I thought about his statement, the words I wrote above came to mind.  My dad’s life has changed so much.  My dad doesn’t ache for what’s to come, he aches for what’s been taken away. He longs to have it back.  And, if there was any way my brothers and I could let him have his life before back, we would.

I’m not in my dad’s shoes.  I don’t know how it feels to be completely dependent on others, but I do know how gratitude can change even the worst of situations.  I do know that gratitude, even in the midst of suck, is the only way to approach these types of circumstances.

When life does not play out the way you hope…you have to seek the beauty in the life you are given.  You have to.

We all know or have heard of folks who do this well.  The first person who popped in the my mind was Nick Vujicic, the man born without arms and legs.  He lives a beautiful, joy-filled story.  If he can do it, then you and I can do it too.

No, I have not walked in my dad’s shoes, but I know incredible beauty is still possible.  I’ve seen God take the most painful experiences in my own life and turn them around for good.  I know He is capable of doing this in my dad’s story too.

My prayer this week is that my dad will have eyes to see the beauty in his life. It’s there, I know it is.

Confidence in the Final Score

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When my family and I relocated to Georgia last summer we decided to order DirecTV for the first time. My husband was interested in the opportunity to watch more major league soccer. He and our 10-year-old son love the sport.

I, too, was looking forward to the chance to watch more of my favorite basketball team. I grew up in Arizona and attended the University of Arizona. I loved rooting for the Cats and attended most of the games. Unfortunately, they waited until the year after I graduated to win their first national championship. They played Kentucky that year. It was the Wildcats vs. the Wildcats. It was a thrilling, on the edge of your seat, game…

Today, I’m thrilled to be the featured writer over at the High Calling. I would love for you to join me over there today Confidence in the Final Score

Light Upon Light

This morning I woke up thinking about something that occurred on Sunday. As I thought more about it, a portion of a particular verse came to mind “…expect God to get here soon.” It’s from the Message translation of Psalm 31: 24 “Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up. Expect God to get here soon.”

On Sunday morning before heading out to church, I read the devotional for the day in Sarah Young’s “Jesus Calling.” I was given this book back around Christmastime, but it’s only been recently that I’ve started reading the devotionals and scriptures on a daily basis.

I shared this quote from the reading on my blog Sunday, “I am the God of both intricate detail and overflowing abundance.” Another portion of the devotional that caught my eye that morning was the following verse from Psalm 36.

You’re a fountain of cascading light,
and you open our eyes to light. – Ps 36:9

As I read those words, the image below immediately came to mind. It’s a picture of Ruby Falls. My family and I toured this site shortly after moving to Georgia last year. It’s a spectacular underground waterfall, found in Lookout Mountain, over 1000 feet below the earth. I snapped this photo while on the tour we took last summer.

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You’re a fountain of cascading light, and you open our eyes to light.

I didn’t blog about this verse from Psalm 36 on Sunday, but the words were tucked away as I headed out the door to church.

And, of course,  it happened.  It always seems to happen.  As much as Godincidences delight me, I also expect them…cause that ‘s just how cool God is!

Sunday’s message at church was focused in-depth on, you guessed it, Psalm 36.  Here was the translation the Pastor read of the same verse:  ”for with You is life’s fountain.
In Your light we will see light.”

I love when this happens.  Sometimes, I don’t immediately know the scope of the lesson.  I don’t know what I’m supposed to learn. But, I do know it’s always significant, it’s always worth a pause.

Here are a couple of quotes I wrote down from Sunday’s message…

“Position yourself to receive God’s provisions”
“We don’t perform to receive God’s love, we position ourselves to receive God’s love.”

Yesterday, I was compelled to reread the quote from, Leo Lambert, the explorer who discovered Ruby Falls. I’ve blogged about it before, but I really love his words…

Discovering Ruby Falls was like discovering God. At first, it is very dark, scary, and uncertain. You don’t know what lies ahead.

You bump into things you didn’t even realize were there and you suffer injuries, bumps, and bruises. You fall down in sticky mud and mire and feel like you cannot go on. But you get up with a feeling that somewhere ahead lies something more wonderful than you can ever imagine.

As you add light to what you discovered, you find that the things that caused you suffering and injury were wonderful God made things put there for you to witness and give you joy. It is all more than you ever imagined you could witness. It is God, and Ruby Falls and the Lookout Mountain Cave are God’s creations, made for man to enjoy.

I am just a little proud that He used me.

~Leo Lambert, December 30, 1928

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You’re a fountain of cascading light, and you open our eyes to light.

To go back to the original verse that popped into my brain this morning…”Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up. Expect God to get here soon.”

Expecting God to get here soon is positioning our hearts in the direction they need to be in order to see the beauty on the path ahead of us.

Can you imagine the beauty Leo Lambert (and the world) might be missing out on, had he chose to stop short on his journey to the falls…on his journey to God?

Our quest is just as important. There is beauty waiting on the other side of the dark.  There is light that we can only see and understand if we choose to travel and position ourselves in His light. As we move forward in expectation, God’s light becomes brighter and more beautiful.  I don’t want to miss a single ray illuminating the path…do you?