God’s Transforming Power: From Pumpkin to Jack-o-Lantern?

If we allow it, God will transform our hearts and lives. We hear analogies of the potter and the clay, sweeping away the dust and dirt, or renovating our hearts, knocking down walls. However, for some reason, I thought of the analogy of transforming a pumpkin to a jack-o-lantern. Of course, most of the time jack-o-lanterns display scary or even grotesque faces. Well, some people do amazing and artistic carvings without the gore and horror. The pretty ones are what I have in mind…

Flowers-3To make a Jack-o-Lantern, slice through the thick outer shell to create an opening to reach the inside. Scoop out the messy goop and slimy seeds, scraping the walls clean. Using a variety of tools, carefully puncture, cut, and scrape out a unique carving. Sometimes it’s tricky and delicate work. Ignite a fire to place inside. The burning light shines through the design into the darkness, lighting the way for others.

pumpkin-carving-ideas-8God uses many means to penetrate our tough exterior. It might be through friends, difficult circumstances, or emotions. Once we let Him in, he begins to clean out the ugliness within us – the things that keep us from enjoying a real relationship with Him. There’s a lot there to do away with, both the big and obvious things and also the small things that stick to the edges. As He works, He begins revealing a beautiful design. The cuts and scrapes might cause pain, but through the process, He forms in us the unique characteristics He intended for us before we were born. His Spirit then ignites within us, guiding our actions, so we live a life of purpose and light.

http://www.hudsonvalley.org/events/blaze;  http://www.cathkidston.com/fcs/blog/8-ways-to-carve-your-pumpkin-this-halloween/;  http://www.rugusavay.com/different-pumpkin-carving-ideas/

Sometimes You Have to Sell Your House

Budgeting. It might as well be a four-letter word. Despite the initial hatred of the idea, we learned how freeing it is to spend within a budget.

We never kept a close eye on where our paychecks went. We had one income for the most part while I was a stay-at-home mom. We paid the bills fine. We took vacations. But, we had a little bit of debt. Although it wasn’t much, it was there all the same. We both believe in tithing, and we made sure that didn’t fall through the cracks. Yet when opportunities came up to give something extra to a cause, we couldn’t do much, if anything.

A friend told me about YouNeedABudget.com. She told me what a huge difference it had made in her finances. We decided to try it out. We started keeping track of all our spending. It was tedious – keeping receipts, entering expenditures in the proper categories, budgeting the next paycheck. After about a year, we really started seeing a difference. It was becoming easier to pay bills, and we had a little left to save!

About the time we started budgeting, I got a full-time job working from home. That was a big jump in income from my stay-at-home mom pay… So, not only was our budgeting paying off, we were now able to start saving more and having extra for those times when we wanted to give to special offerings at church or give to a charity. We were also starting to get involved in missions. We both wanted to be able to give to missions, and also to be able to go on mission trips.

Sometimes you have to sell your houseMy husband felt it first. He half joked about selling our house and getting something less expensive. I always said, “No way! I don’t want to move!” We built our house on an acre and a third. We had a creek, trees, and lots of space (which is kind of a rare find in our area). We planned to raise our kids there until they graduated high school. I loved our home. We had lived there for 11 years.

In 2012, I went on a mission trip to Zambia. It’s funny how God uses mission trips to change our perspective. When I returned, I began to feel what my husband had already been feeling. “God, you want us to sell our house?”

This was a tough decision for me. However, I came to recognize this was something God was asking of us. He wanted to make it possible for us to have more freedom to be generous like never before. We could refuse and stay in the home we’d been comfortable in for so long. But in doing so, we would miss out on his greater plan.

Sometimes you have to sell your houseWe followed His leading and sold the house we loved. We moved 10 minutes away to another house the same size – with a considerably smaller yard. (My husband doesn’t mind the yard work so much now!) We cut our mortgage in half. We are living debt free. We have paid cash for home improvements, a new car, vacations, and mission trips. Last year, we were able to be generous like never before! God is providing for those in need through our obedience, and we are blessed in the process!

When God calls, He usually asks us to do something we might not do on our own. But, wow, what amazing things happen when we do what he asks! We are already seeing new things He has in mind for us. And, we’re ready to say, “Yes!” More to come…

Build Bridges, Not Walls

Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32

When someone hurts you – I mean really hurts you – it can take a very long time to allow forgiveness in. Why is it we tend to wallow in our emotional pain and anger? We were hurt, so we want to stay mad.

I understand this tendency when we are wronged in some dramatic or terrible way. Unfortunately, those things happen. It takes huge doses of courage for parents to forgive their child’s killer, or for an abuse victim to forgive their abuser. I can’t say for sure I would have that kind of courage.

But, what about when we’re hurt by a series of small things – arguments, thoughtless comments, exclusion? Small things can add up. But, can we forgive and move on, especially when a friendship is at stake?

For the sake of our relationships, forgiveness is essential. Friendships aren’t perfect because we are imperfect. We all start arguments, say thoughtless things, exclude people at times. We are in a constant battle between selfishness and selflessness, pride and humility. To keep from building walls between us, we have to humble ourselves when we are wrong and say, “I’m sorry.” And we have to be able to forgive when wronged. The longer we wait, the higher and stronger the wall that’s built, until it’s near impossible to break it down.

As Christ-followers, we are called to forgive as we were forgiven by Christ. We are to extend infinite grace and forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we agree with or condone the other person’s actions. But, it does mean that we care enough to talk through issues and work out solutions together.

Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!” Matthew 18:21-22

Lack of forgiveness affects not only you and the relationship with the person you refuse to forgive, but it affects those around you who watch you pile on brick and mortar.

Christ was a carpenter, not a mason. He didn’t build walls, but bridges.

Trust Despite the Question Marks

My first mission trip was to Swaziland, Africa in 2008. I learned a lot about trusting in God’s provision when he calls us to do something for His kingdom.

It was September, 2007. I had just made the decision to go on my first mission trip. Wow, Africa! I was excited to be going on a performing arts trip. We were planning to partner with a local Wesleyan church for a free concert in a park in the middle of the city of Manzini. My role was to sing on the worship team, but also to dance with my two dancer friends. We had two dances as a group, and one dancer (not me) did a ballet solo on pointe.

DSC_0172Shortly after making the decision to go on this grand adventure, my husband and I took a vacation to Maine. It was beautiful! We stayed in a nice bed and breakfast on a hilltop with a wonderful view. A couple days before heading home, we spent the day hiking. Our trail followed the shoreline. The path was an uneven path, not a paved walkway. Yet, not too difficult. We were hiking on the mountain side. It was a full day, and I slept well that night!

The next morning, I awoke to something completely unexpected – pain – all over. Before I even got out of bed, I asked my husband to find me some ibuprofen. Was I THAT out of shape? Our trip ended, and we went home, but the pain continued. I’m not one to go to the doctor at the first sign of a cough or runny nose. I just ride it out until it’s gone. But this was different. The next week, I made an appointment. My pain was in most of my joints, on both sides. The doctor referred me to a rheumatologist. What just happened??

The day I went to the rheumatologist, the pain had gotten so bad I couldn’t even bend down to tie my shoes. What was I going to do? I was supposed to be traveling to Africa in 5 months. I began to give in to fear and anger – and doubt. The rheumatologist did lots of blood tests. My symptoms were presenting like rheumatoid arthritis. I began steroids to reduce the inflammation and pain. Then, she decided to put me on long term drugs used for treating RA. How were these going to affect me physically? Would there be side affects?

Do I go to Africa?

There were so many unknowns about the drugs, the arthritis and about going to Africa in general. I prayed to God to tell me what to do. After I got over the self-pity because of what I was experiencing, my fear began to subside. My prayers were being heard. I knew what I needed to do. I would NOT let the devil convince me that my fear should keep me home. I would go to Africa. And then there was peace.

The long flight was a bit difficult. I experienced some stiffness and pain, but it was manageable. The dancers and I rehearsed for quite a while after arriving and settling in. I overdid it. I started hurting and had to lay down for a while. That evening, we were supposed to dance at a worship service. When I woke up from my nap, the pain was still bad. It hurt to walk. How could I possibly dance? Fear began to set in again. How would I manage this trip if I can hardly walk? I prayed, and others prayed, too. This is where God showed me he gives power and ability to those he calls for a purpose.

About 45 minutes before the worship service was to begin, I started feeling better quickly. I realized I would be able to dance after all – and I did! I knew for a fact, that was God at work.

During the remainder of the trip, I still had some stiffness and pain, but every time I needed to walk, stand to sing, or dance, I was able. The glory of that goes to God who gives what we need just in time.

swazi1 swazi2 swazi3

Since then, the arthritis has only gotten better. I’ve never had an episode again like the first one. I still take medications, but on a much smaller scale. In fact, there is a possibility I will be off of them within the next couple years. We’re taking it slow just in case.

“He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases.” Psalms 103:3

Maybe He will heal my physical disease this side of Heaven. If not, I know my spiritual “diseases” are being healed daily. The lesson I learned on that trip to Swaziland about trust prepared me for more things to come.

To Win the Prize

Blogging. Something I thought I’d never do. One, I’ve never thought I have enough to say to the world at large (i.e. anyone who follows my posts). Two, I’m not the deep thinking, introspective type. I likely won’t have much wisdom to impart – maybe only a nugget here and there. Well, here I am. Blogging.

Let me give you some background on the name of my blogging site – ipressontowintheprize. I’m a late adopter when it comes to technology, and that includes social media. I was a few years after my friends stepping into the Facebook arena. Twitter, why on earth would I do that? Who has the time? I already experience information overload as it is. (I did start up with Instagram because I like pictures. But, I’m definitely not an active user.)

Less than a year ago, the marketing department where I work started getting more involved in the social media scene. Employees were asked to take part in being “social.” Well, ok. I posted a few things here and there on Facebook. That was my small contribution.

Then, our company added a new Twitter handle. This one was meant to get us more involved in the Twitter community of software developers. So, there was this employee contest to post a picture to Twitter using a targeted hashtag. The selected tweeter would get a free vacation day. Argh! Dang. Time to get a Twitter account.

I am horrible at coming up with clever user IDs. Other people have cool, fun, or cute ones. Mine tends to be some derivative of my name. Boring! So, I thought about it for a while. I decided to use something from my selected life verse.

“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14”

to win the prizeAfter trying several phrases, @towintheprize was available. Yay! I finally had a more interesting user name. Armed with my new Twitter handle, my coworker friend and I worked together and posted a tweet with a photo of us working by the pool. We hoped to both get that free day off!

Well, a different coworker in charge of tracking the submissions laughed, loving my handle. She thought I chose it because I wanted “to win the prize” of the free vacation day. Ha! I’m more clever than I thought. I picked a handle with a double meaning and didn’t even know it. I didn’t win the vacation day.

That brings me to this blog. I decided to start a blog chronicling what God is doing in my life. He’s been doing quite a bit lately. Maybe my stories, comments, etc. will encourage or inspire someone, even if it’s only in a small way.  I wanted to name by blog site the same as my Twitter handle. That didn’t work out. towintheprize was already taken. After trying several iterations, I got something close. ipressontowintheprize. In fact, it’s even better because it includes an action – I press on. This is what I intend to do – through the good and bad, the hard and easy, the fun and not-so-fun. With God’s leading, do things that are “way beyond me,” to steal the lyrics from Toby Mac’s latest tune.

Press on.