Spread Life

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     What a joy to observe the reproduction of plant life, every plant and tree has been created to seed – including weeds, much to my chagrin. In order to enjoy the beauty of many, we have resorted to planting them in pots, and I have a plethora of pots, loaded with beauty. But, no matter how you care for them, within three to five years the result is the same – unproductive and dying. However, upon inspection of these unproductive and seemingly dying specimens you will find a simple fact, they are root-bound. Once removed from their confinement and re-positioned into a fertile expansive bed they will flourish as they were created to.

     I think you can imagine where my thoughts went as I have watched this phenomena play out this season. I transplanted eight previously unproductive and dying pots this spring and – “presto, chango” – they have now become spots of happy growing plants covered with flowers.

     This is a true spiritual phenomenon as well. We are created to create – to produce! Often, due to many circumstances we become unproductive and look as if we are dying – we too, become root-bound. The simple fix is no different then my pots – lift and cultivate (wake-up) the root-bound entity, place it in a fertile environment with ample space to move and grow. Step back and watch as HIS new life, joy and creativity begin to bloom in and all around you. You are meant to create, to produce, to re-produce and spread – in fact His ultimate purpose for your life is just that; to spread His life, love and joy to those around you.

     If you find yourself in a root-bound place in life, decide to do some cultivating. Willingly chose to lift your eyes back to the face of Jesus – here you will find that HE will do the lifting as you allow the transplant to occur. He will re-assign you exactly where you will find new life and joy. This new fertile ground will probably be where you would never have imagined or chosen but it will always be the very best – because He always chooses the very best for His kids.

     Nestle into His chosen spot – and enjoy the journey as you grow into the beauty He has created you to be – and spread, spread, spread. Become His life, love and joy everywhere you go.

Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you my abound in hope.

I Corinthians 3:8-9 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

 

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall – I Don’t Know This Person at all!

In reality this transformation had begun many years ago. As I began knowing His love and sitting at His feet – through the good, the bad, the tears, the joys, His spirit began to change me. As I walked a journey that taught me to bring everything to His feet, to trust Him through every event that transpired, pieces of the old me were chiseled away.

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I recently was given a birthday gift that shocked me to my core; a simple blank black notebook. It had been lovingly filled with comments from people who know me – those from high school, those from different states and different churches, those I have worked with as well as family, friends, kids and grand-kids. It was a very special gift. The next morning I picked it up with tea in hand and proceeded to enjoy this gift. Not expecting the impact it would have, I sat down to read this little book.

For the next hour I sat with Kleenex in hand as tears seeped down my checks, a few smiles and chuckles erupted and one or two outright sobs escaped my heart. I was confused – these descriptions didn’t match whom I see. It was like looking into a mirror and not recognizing the reflection looking back.

I set the book down – contemplating, meditating and asking God’s explanation of this dichotomy placed before me. Soon this question was stated as I prayed – “Ok, God what are you showing me?” “I don’t know this person at all, is this who I really am?”

I soon realized that this little book was a gift that was a glimpse of me through the eyes of Jesus. The person I have seen is so different. I have been looking at me with an out-dated blocked lens. Who I have become is no longer me, but Jesus in and through me.

As a Christian we always hope our light will shine and that the love of Jesus will permeate our lives but my thinking has been “it’s just me”, “it’s just who I am”.

“How do I see this person when I don’t know her”, I asked? His quiet loving response resounded in my heart like an explosion, as He whispered, “It’s just me – it isn’t you. It is my transformation as you have yielded time after time to my love”

In reality this transformation had begun many years ago. As I began knowing His love and sitting at His feet – through the good, the bad, the tears, the joys, His spirit began to change me.  As I walked a journey that taught me to bring everything to His feet, to trust Him through every event that transpired, pieces of the old me were chiseled away. Over years of life, this faith has created and transformed me into who I never really saw. The emerging transformed person is no longer “just Judy” – but has begun to shine out as “just JESUS”.

Do I shine out Jesus every day? Nope – I have to lay my human thoughts, words, desires, and actions down every day. But I believe He has shown me a glimpse of me through an unexpected mirror held up in the hands of those in my life, and I am humbled by that possibility.

I Corinthians 13:12-13 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then fact to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (ESV))

A Day of Miraculous Multiplication

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     With anticipation I unlocked the door to the auditorium. Last night a large crew of “little elves” and I had prepared for what looked to be our most successful year for our Holiday Helps program. The food boxes were overflowing, the oversized chest freezer was cram-packed with turkeys, the toy tables were stacked high and we still had a closet full of extras. Plus in the center of the room stood a 6-foot-tall mountain of donated clothes in every size possible waiting for those who would partake in this year’s “blessing”.

     Every family was scheduled, so there was plenty of time for mom, dad or grandparent to shop “free of charge” for Christmas gifts and the ability to load up leaf-bags full of clothes for each child in their family. Each would also go home with a holiday box brimming full of food, complete with a turkey. The love and hours of preparation for this project began way back at the end of August, and today was the day!!

     The doors opened and the morning began as I had planned, with each appreciative parent that was scheduled appearing as if on queue. But schedules are meant to be broken when it comes to God-appointed appointments, and mid-morning unscheduled people began to show up, each with broken lives and humble stories. I could not say no – I knew HE had sent them and was asking me to believe! Today was a day to stand in faith, and not turn any away, trusting in His ability to provide.

     The anticipation of something miraculous was stirring and seemed to crackle in the room.

   The door rattled as the wind blasted it shut and a timid young woman walked in. I was drawn to her hopeless stance and approached her. She hung her head and looked up at me, “I heard you might help me. I have twin 3-year- old girls and I have nothing for them. I don’t have an appointment, but if I could just get some clothes?” I was overwhelmed with her humility and reached out to hug her, “we have plenty, let’s shop for them”, I encouraged. For the next hour, with tears spilling from both of us, we found toys and clothes that were just perfect for her twins. How perfect was the miracle that waited.

     We sat on the floor digging through the mountain of clothes. We sorted, and resorted, looking for the correct size. Then with great joy the young mom pulled out a beautiful, brand new Christmas dress the exact size for one of her daughters. But slowly that smile began to change. I watched the smile slowly go out of her eyes as she realized, “but which one do I give this to?” “Let’s keep looking, maybe there is another pretty dress” I spoke with more faith then I felt, and within my mind I quickly sent up a request for God’s hand to provide. As I saw her shake her head in hopelessness I declared, “Let’s just take a minute and ask for one”. The shock was obvious – she didn’t have a concept of a Father God who would hear her – much less provide for her – but she humbly conceded as I sent up a quick prayer. Off we went in search of more clothes for her girls; by now she was on one side and I on the other of our mountain of clothes. Suddenly, I heard a gasp and a shriek, which catapulted me around the pile to her side as she sat dazed – laughing and crying, with the matching dress in the same size, for her other daughter, clutched to her chest. That day changed that mother’s life – she saw very clearly that she has a Father God, who does care, hear and provide in twin-size ways.

     But the day wasn’t over yet, and as the hours passed on, more unexpected families appeared needing our help. I knew the answer was to be YES for each of them; the schedule no longer mattered.

     Nearing 3:00 I began to count those who were still scheduled, and realized that we had only packed food boxes for those who had been scheduled. The number of turkeys had also been prepared for according to those numbers. My concern now was growing – we would not have enough! Two of my teen helpers were realizing the dilemma as well, and asked me what we were going to do. Again – my response – “Lets ask God to provide”. So that we did, and then I sent them off to count the turkeys, knowing how many we still needed.

     Hearing excitement over by the freezer, I approached to find both girls, with eyes as large as saucers chattering and now quickly proclaimed how many were left – the exact number of turkeys that were needed for the last group of families coming. It made no sense – in fact, I had to go look and re-count! But there they were just as they had said, on the bottom of the freezer.

   Over the next 2 hours, appointments came and unscheduled families still filtered in – and now I knew we were going to run out; but we gave and gave and gave, and yet the food boxes and turkeys NEVER ran out. As the doors closed and all was finished, one of my volunteers and I lifted the lid of the freezer to find one turkey still there. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she revealed her need to me. That turkey was there for her and her family, as well.

     It makes NO sense, but miracles never do – “whys” will never be answered, but it is enough to know that when we believe – when we say YES and when we love – HE shows up in miraculous ways of multiplication.

A Warrior’s Unexpected “Call to Arms”! (by J. K. Sanchez)

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     The air in the room instantly became thick and hot, her ears hearing only her crashing heart beat; four unexpected words spoken in a sterile environment now bouncing through her head like a ping pong ball – “you have breast cancer”. How she receives, processes and walks through today and the months and years ahead will transform her and impact everyone her life touches.

     The insidious leviathan called “breast cancer” begins to surface, having already begun its rampage within the territory belonging to her. Does she run or fight? Her first responses to this attack are terror, numbness and inability to move. But soon instructions, research and information are received and the sword is offered; now decisions loom. The still surreal question before her – surrender to this monster’s fiery breath or take that sword with both hands, brace her feet and prepare to move forward into the fight of her life?

     This devouring disease looms as a possible destroyer over every woman. There is no discrimination to its destruction – all are at risk. Every year over 200,000 women are faced with this monster’s appearance.   Every year the decision to take up a sword of defense is forced into trembling hands of women of all generations – the single woman, the mother, the career woman, and the retired woman. They all will receive a “call-to-arms” that was never expected. This battle is one that is a life-long sentence! These women may make it through the skirmish, but will live everyday for the rest of their lives with this leviathan and its smoldering breath lurking under the surface; never knowing if it will resurface again.

     Two brave warriors: Cherrie, a vibrant grandmother in her 60’s, and Rachael, a single mother of two in her 30’s, live each day with this lurking monster’s presence, but they walk with positive attitudes of thankfulness. The determination to fight – to lift the heavy sword – is wielded by three powerful words that stand strong within each of them: Faith, Hope and Love – the greatest of these is LOVE.

     Each of my friends and every woman who will encounter, fight, survive or succumb to this insidious disease are already winners, for they have made the stand against it. How the battle is fought is the key – it is the positive attitude within them that knows that they were made for more.

     At 64, the unexpected jolts in Cherrie’s life had adjusted to a soft daily roll. But one morning in March 2011, everything in her life quickly changed. As an exuberant positive person not much could shake her; but as the doctor spoke she barely heard anything past “stage 1a breast cancer”. This was a routine mammogram that now had turned into a tidal wave crashing over her mind. Shock, fear, anger, and tears all flooded unbidden over her, but within minutes the destructive wake stirred a determination as she announced, “Let’s get this taken care of NOW!”

     Her years of experience and research skills immediately kicked into gear. Her first contacts and rapid response came from friends working in the local hospital. They connected her to some of the best cancer specialists and within weeks she was scheduled to have a lumpectomy and begin a regiment of radiation.

     Though her greatest fears were of the cancer spreading or cells being left undetected, she knew her positive attitude had to stay intact.

     Cherrie was overwhelmed with love and support from her daughter, granddaughter and friends; this love became her strength. Shortly after surgery she received a surprise visit from co-workers touting pink roses and champagne to celebrate, cheer her on and stand beside her – just in case she grew tired as she wielded this heavy sword. They were in her corner to fight this fire-breathing leviathan – they knew this red head had enough fire in her to breathe right back at him. Their support, encouragement and love were what helped her through the hardest days. The very best medicine is often found in friends – laughter, love and of course some “furry” snuggles.

     Now 5 years cancer-free, Cherrie knows that love was the reinforcement she needed every day, “To be with those who were positive and loved me unconditionally kept my hope up. ”

     This destructive tsunami hits new women every day, but from one warrior to the next, Cherrie’s advice is “above all else try to remain positive, it is frightening but necessary to be optimistic. Put your trust in your medical team BUT ask questions at every opportunity. If you need help – ask for it! The people who love you sometimes don’t know how to help – so tell them.” And with a smile and some sweet levity Cherrie advises, “be thankful for Lane Bryant push up lingerie – I am!”

     Rachel, a 34 year-old mother of two with no risk factors, was unprepared to hear the results of the recently found rapidly growing and painful lump on her breast. As the doctor diagnosed, “It’s an invasive aggressive cancer”, the words sounded as if a death sentence had just been handed to her – this aggressive cancer could mean less then a year to live. Within weeks, armed with firsthand encouragement and research, she chose her best option for surgery and a double mastectomy, lymph-node removal and implantation of expanders were accomplished.

     Life as she had known it had come to a screeching halt – surgery, weeks of chemo and a myriad of medications took over her life with her biggest fear looming in front of her – her two young sons without a mother.

     Rachel lives a life that is positive – always looking at the best in life and others, so it was time to focus that positive attitude on the fight of her life.

     Family stepped up! With her sister’s ability to research healthy options in every arena and help with her boys, as well as her mother’s strong shoulder and prayer warrior spirit – she found the fuel that helped her make the decisions to fight this leviathan. The onslaught of support through kind words, prayers, and gifts of all types overwhelmed her with love and hope that she would complete this journey.

     With months of pain, medications that made her sick, loss of her hair, setbacks, surgeries and more surgeries, as well as living through months of hormone inhibitors which made her feel dead inside, this young warrior responded, “Giving up was never an option or a thought.  No matter what I am facing and going through, God has given me this life and it is His to give and take away. My goal is love, truth and kindness – even on the hardest days.”

     Now only months since her last medications, she thoughtfully responds, “I am still often tired, but grateful for each day with my sons. I’m lucky to be alive, even though I still have pain and hard days.”

     She thinks often of those who unexpectedly helped her in many of the little everyday ways – providing meals, finances, occupying the boys, and a myriad of thoughtful gestures. She is filled with joy as she sees the example of God’s grace having been walked out in her family – seeing them come together, reconcile differences and support both her and each other has been an unexpected blessing.

       Life is never the same and this battle is never really over. Once you have cancer it is always lurking. The thoughts that ring loud and clear from Rachel are “before this, the world and life felt so big – full of wonder and possibilities. Now I don’t feel that way. Hopes and dreams are simple now, but I have deeper peace and security. I’m able to be more honest and direct. My relationships are all simple because I’m at peace with others and myself. I don’t place expectations on anyone and I allow myself to have weakness and space to rest.”

     Rachel’s thoughts for those beginning and fighting this battle are to walk daily with “Focus- Laser focus! Focus on what is in front of you right now. Whether it is a person, a project, decision, pain, recovery, gift, blessing, sunshine, or storm – all you have is right now. Soak it in. Also, every step is temporary, whether good or bad. Pain comes and goes and healing takes its place.”

     Though cancer takes over every thought in this journey, it is not what defines these women – they have not chosen this battle and have no control as to how, why or when it attacks – but they do have a choice; how they respond to it.

   Loving support and prayer are the covering and glue that seem to hold together as well as strengthen body, mind and spirit while these warriors trudge through this darkness.

     Human beings are able to pick up, move-on and overcome so many horrific obstacles in life because of three seemingly small words: Faith, Hope and Love. Faith that there is a God bigger than all of this, who loves us and is the ultimate one in control; Hope that our life (our story) is not finished yet, and that there is still a promised future waiting for us. And the greatest of these – love. A love that will change, support and bring life, growth and strength to the atmosphere that surrounds us. Love is the adhesive that is the key to any type of recovery.

     Let’s come along side these fighting warriors with faith, hope and love; bringing some small strength to them as they fight this insidious leviathan. For we know not if we may be the next warrior in need of strength to lift the sword in the fight of our life, as its lurking presence may beckon our own unexpected call-to-action.

 

Photo courtesy of : saphatthachat@freedigitalphotos.net

A Gorgeous Bouquet Surrounds Us!

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     Recently I was on a hunt for just the right flowers to add into a few new borders in my yard and the Holy Spirit began to highlight my love for flowers.

     I love flowers – they just draw me in. From the tiny to the huge – crocus and grape hyacinths that sprout through the frozen ground in early spring to the huge dinner plate size dahlia’s, that stand in strength and presentation. The beautifully scented – freesia, wisterias and jasmine as well as the ones with no scent or even the adversely scented ones.

     I am continually amazed at the beauty and diversity that God created in such a gorgeous bouquet, all just for us to enjoy.

     BUT that’s not all. What about the bouquet he has made out of all of us? Just like the flowers he created, each flower being completely different – so are we.   Enjoying the differences in flowers is easy – but when it’s differences in people, we pull away from those who are different. Instead of pulling away, separating and isolating into the “right” groups, He has created us to be a world changing bouquet. Each of us with all of our differing sizes, shapes, and scents complimenting one another.

     Look around – spend time with those who are different from you and you will walk away smiling. Those you think are so different are pretty amazing. We were created to compliment each other – to enjoy the differences of our brothers and sisters and most of all to love each other. Take time to enjoy the human bouquet that surrounds you.

Love – The Medicine that Matters

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     We are made up of billions of microscopic cells. These cells make us who we are but sometimes they get infiltrated, mutate and change. Those changes forever change lives.

     For the last several months I have been writing an article on breast cancer; I have researched, studied and cried profusely over stories of women who have battled this insidious disease. The stories are different, the procedures are different, and the outcomes are different, but three small words seem to jump out of every story – faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these inevitably is love.

     In all of our lives we face life-impacting monsters that threaten to pull us under. During those times these same three words surface and are ultimately what allow us to stand through the storm – and the greatest of these words is love.

     The greatest love ever given was the love poured out on the cross of Jesus Christ – that love was for us and now lives inside our cells. What we do with that love makes everything change. Just like infiltrating mutating cancer cells change lives forever – so much more does the love of Christ infiltrate and mutate our cells into ones that infuse our lives and the very atmosphere around us. Those changes are then transferred to others and bring strength, life and change.

     Every story of struggle and pain is peppered with the only medicine that matters – Love. The simple out-pouring of everyday needs, given out of love is what makes the difference in the midst of the chaos. Those who step up – stand beside, lie beside, cry, laugh and walk through the fire are the ones that bring the medicine that matters. A love that saturates, strengthens, supports and brings relief; coming as unconditional love, surrounding the struggling warrior. Often it is only a hand-full of “love” carriers that stand beside and weather the storm – but that is all that is needed.

     Not many “friends” make it.  Unfortunately those who find themselves in the battle also find that those we thought would always be there for us are often times the first to go. Leaving us alone, hurting, broken and needy, but then just as surprising the unexpected people of love step in.

     Our society has become one of “fixers” – we always have the answer, an opinion, direction and judgments for the one who is struggling. Often because we are uncomfortable – we give out those “fixes” instead of just being there and allowing the love within us to become the salve, which brings strength to rise up.

     Within each of us is housed a quiet simple place where love resides. The noise and craziness of society often drowns it out. It is not hidden there for us but for the broken, hurting and needy. Step out of your comfort zone into a place where you become a dispenser of the greatest medicine ever; allow His love to bring healing, restoration and release into lives that are living in chaos. No opinions, No directions, No judgments – No fixes of any kind – simply love.

     No matter what the outcome – Love truly is the only medicine that matters. It is the only eternal medicine. Allow the cellular level change of His infused love to permeate you and those around you by simply being His love to those your life touches every day.

I Corinthians 13:13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.   (ESV)
Photo Courtesy of : taoty@freedigitalphotos.net

A Sanctuary Within

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Walking through my yard this morning with birds and butterflies swooping and fluttering by, an unexpected peace settled over me as the word “Sanctuary” dropped into my heart. Thankfulness grew within as I looked at our little paradise – a not so big home and a way to big yard that has matured over our 18 years of care giving.

     Our home has been filled often to the bursting point at family gatherings. Family has been added and grown to include so many who have truly become “family” though not by any reason other then our love for each other.  As well as the times when we have opened our home to house those in need of a place of refuge. We have often questioned – why us? But we too, have matured as the house and yard have. Now, realizing it has been His love that has drawn the broken, needy and just those who needed a little TLC into our home – this sanctuary. We have simply said yes to His request and invited them in and watched as in some small way we have helped to heal, restore and release people onto the next steps in the journey that God has begun for them.

     Our yard with it’s enormity overwhelmed us many times over these years but my vision of what it was to be has slowly evolved as many hours of work have created our little oasis. I researched and chose many plants and flowers that would draw hummingbirds and butterflies – planting and often re-planting. Every year has brought more work; more plants, more flowers and more ways to creatively landscape. By creating less grass to maintain yet producing our slowly materializing park the vision has slowly come to pass. Today, I look out and see a plethora of birds of all species as well as my hummingbird friends who fill the skies throughout the day. And now joining them butterflies swoop in and out to nibble on my flowers. What began 18 years ago has become an amazing sanctuary for birds, butterflies and me! The peace of God surrounds every area we have lovingly created.

     Paralleling this long-term creation in the natural to my spiritual walk I realized that to truly see and experience the sanctuary that God has created within me and around my life requires TIME. As we continually turn construction over to Him – He digs, plants, moves things in and out – and suddenly His peace is reigning and we begin to SEE the fruit and are blessed to enjoy it. It is always after much has been done and all of the hard work and mess has been cleaned up that the beauty presents itself and fruit is flourishing.

    As we allow the loving hand of Christ to create His sanctuary within us we are allowed the great joy of being part of the same process of creation in others. In love we pour out His healing, His restoration and encourage the release of His children into who He created them to be.

   Our lives then become a place that is filled with love, peace, and refuge, which draws those in to this “God” place of sanctuary.