Mountain View

I had an MRI of my brain today.

The days, weeks and months leading up to today have been rough. Real rough. Without complaining too much I’ll just tell you that I have been plagued with a headache 24 hours a day, since MAY. Ya, it’s been rough.

When my neurologist informed me that he believed this test was necessary, he told me I’d be having a “Fiesta” MRI.

“A fiesta MRI?” I thought. What an oxymoron for a test to see if there’s something wrong with my BRAIN! A fiesta was last thing I imagined I would be experiencing while laying in a dark tube having my brain scanned. But then again, I knew I could practice some serious ‘mind over matter’ skills while lying there, so maybe I actually could conjure up a fiesta? 😂

The 🎉 “fiesta” MRI machine 😂

On my way to the hospital I was listening to my Bible. The story of Moses was read to me by a very Shakespearean sounding man on the You Version Bible. I love Moses. I’ve felt a connection with him since I first completed a 9 month study of him at BSF many, many years ago. I love how human and flawed and real Moses was with his emotions. I think I’d respond to God a lot like he did if God gave me the task of leading hundreds of thousands of people. I’d surely believe I was unqualified. I’d think God made a mistake. I’d be afraid.

But Moses obeyed. He trusted God and gave his best effort to do all God instructed him to do.

For many years I was heartbroken to think that Moses spent years and years with these stiff necked people, trying to lead them, despite all of their complaints, grumbling, and flat out disobedience. After all of the frustration, Moses reacted to a situation by disobeying God’s command to speak to a rock by hitting the rock instead. As a result, after 40 long years of desert wandering, Moses’ punishment was that he was denied access into the Promised Land. I’ll be honest, at first I thought God was being a little cruel. His punishment seemed strangely severe. I mean, Moses made 99 good choices, but was disciplined for the 1 mistake. Moses was able to lead all million of the Israelites within view of the land of milk and honey, but he did not get to enter it. Instead, God led Moses to the top of a mountain where he was able to to see it from the crest.

Photo by Jordanne Clark, Yosemite Valley.

Last year I was studying Exodus again. I soaked up all of Moses’ story, recalling all the reasons why I admire him so. And as I read the account of Moses’ last days and the verses about him looking down at Canaan it was the first time I could see God’s graciousness in His punishment. You see, although Moses didn’t get to walk in to the promised land, he did get to see it. When the Israelites entered, they saw only as much as their eyes could see from ground level. Their view was skewed. But Moses, from high above, got an aerial view of all of it. He could see the acres of grapevines, and the streams that ran through the land. He could see over and around the hilltops. He saw how vast and lush the land that God had promised his chosen people was.

And with that beautiful view fresh in Moses’ mind, he drifted off Into to eternal rest, right there on that mountain top. A moment later, when Moses opened his eyes, he was in the presence of Jesus, in the REAL promised land, heaven.

Moses may not have had the privilege of residing in Canaan, and that used to seem harsh to me. But when I realized the gift God gave him, of letting him see it, and a moment later, bringing him into eternity, it’s truly precious to me that God actually gave Moses the better reward promised land.

I’m feeling a bit like Moses today. I have some uncertainties looming ahead of me. I have dreams and goals that I long to see fulfilled. I don’t feel like I am done with my assignments here. I am on the threshold of some great things. And I want to stay here, in good health, to see them through.

Waiting on the results of my MRI has me feeling like I am metaphorically on that mountain top, surveying all the milk and honey that lies ahead for my family and me. I want to go there with them. I want to eat the fruit of righteousness with them. I want to climb more mountains and dream more dreams. I want to see wrinkles appear and laugh lines grow deeper. I want to see Jordanne walk down the aisle to marry her prince, and I want to hold the hands of future grand-babies. I want to sleep next to Dan for 50 more years as we cheer one another on to fulfill God’s callings on our lives. And I want to do it all joyfully in good health.

It’s here, on this mountain top that I am closer to heaven. Either because Jesus has plans to take me home sooner than later, or because here I have a shorter reach to the hem of Jesus’ robe, touching it full of faith that I will be healed. Either way, I win, because Heaven is the reward. Heaven here with my family in our beautiful Tennessee home, or heaven with Jesus in my new body and the house He built for me.

Photo by Jordanne Clark, Yosemite.

If you’re feeling like you’re so far from heaven that you can’t reach it, or even imagine it, can I suggest you put your hiking boots on and take the rugged journey up the mountain in front of you to the place where you can meet Jesus? He’s so excited to greet you. And if you’re already there, take some time to enjoy the view. He’s got beautiful things ahead for you.

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold Psalm 18:2
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Choosing Counterculture

“The reason self-promotion feels gross is because self-promotion is gross.”     

Emily P Freeman

These powerful words have been echoing in my heart and mind for the last few weeks, summing up exactly what I’ve been struggling with for quite some time.  But this week, Tuesday to be exact, my angst with self-promotion hit an all-time high as I came face to face with a reality surrounding it.

Let me explain…

I love Instagram.  I am a visual person through and through, naturally attracted to pretty pictures, lovely design spaces, colorful gardens, and happy family moments caught on camera.  I love a creative quote and never tire of Bible verses set upon beautiful backgrounds. But some time ago I started to feel a little lump in my throat when I began noticing that so many of the squares belonging to people I admire were now containing logos and hashtags and name brandings along the bottom edges of them.  And it wasn’t just on posts by notable authors and celebrities, which I had originally assumed contained these markings because of some legal reposting copyright law or something.  No, it was now appearing on the feeds of average people like you and me.  I didn’t understand it, but even so, it left me feeling (for lack of a better word) icky.  

Two weeks ago, I realized a huge dream of mine when I got to attend the She Speaks conference.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with She Speaks, it’s an annual convention, put on by Proverbs 31 Ministry, for women pursuing a future in the writing or speaking community. It included lots and lots of breakout sessions that we chose in advance to help us in our areas of need.  I learned a lot! In addition, I received a huge blessing when I was chosen to meet with two publishers one-on-one for a brief introduction.  I was told to bring a “one sheet proposal” to each meeting to leave with each publisher.  I worked and worked on my “one sheet” for hours on end, ensuring it was the very best it could be. Being a rule follower to the core I came as prepared as anyone possibly could.

My first meeting was lovely. I met a very sweet and personable publisher, who I already knew very well due to my extensive research on her. I’d read her blog top to bottom, followed her social media, and listened to the entire audio book of her latest release, ensuring I took notes so as to have something to chat about at our meeting. It was easy.  Her gracious welcoming personality made all the research needless.  I think she could talk to anyone and leave them feeling seen and heard in mere minutes. I left our meeting with some helpful feedback on the book I am writing, and an optimism that she would remember me after our meeting.

My second meeting was… well, it was nice too.  The lady was warm-ish.  She was interested in me-ish.  And she glanced at my one page write up, sort of.  But what she was very interested in was my “platform”, which up until attending She Speaks, I had never given a single thought.  She asked me specifically, “how many Instagram followers do you have?”  “How many emails do you have on your distribution list?” “Do you receive regular engagement on your blog and social media?” I know I remained composed and I know I faked confidence well in the moments following her questions, and I answered each one honestly.  I told her I have a little more than 2,800 Instagram “followers” (Why, oh why do they call it that?!), 500+ blog subscribers, and absolutely no clue how many email addresses I have, as I have never sent a distribution email out in my life.  And with that, our meeting time expired.  I know I tend to be “Betsy Sunshine” and look at most things through rose colored lenses, so I left the meeting feeling optimistic that she would love my “One Page” and my extensive book proposal which she requested. 

All through the process of writing my first book I have had absolute peace that the only way my book will be published or ever reach anyone’s hands will be at the will of Jesus.  I have no problem telling people about it, posting about it on social media, and I will even consider speaking to women about its subject matter.  But in no uncertain terms would I force anything to happen.  I am writing the book out of complete obedience, totally surrendered to God, and I remain committed to only typing the words God downloads to me.  It’s HIS story told by ME. 

But on Tuesday I received an email that forced me to really sit and reflect upon my stance on this matter.

I said a little prayer before opening the email from that second publisher that I’d met with at She Speaks.  I have a very realistic view on my book being published. I totally know that for the vast majority of writers, publication doesn’t come with the first, second, or often third manuscript. Lots and lots of publishers will pass you by before the right one crosses your path. I set my expectations here knowing I have a very long road ahead of me. And with that mindset I steadily read the email. It was a very warm and it contained a lot of encouragement and positive feedback on my sample chapters, my writing style, and on the purpose of my book.  She gave some helpful and well received suggestions for me to consider, which I appreciated. All in all, it was a super positive email, but with all of that said, she closed telling me that due to my “lack of a substantial platform” I should spend the next few months building it before she could consider my book for publication.  

That word again, “platform”. 

My mind swirled as I processed what she was asking of me.  As opposed to making the book I was writing the priority for publication, the thing that she expressed needed precedence over it was… me; who I was, who I knew, who knew me, and what I could bring to the book.  Was I supposed to start a Cyndi Clark hashtag?  Should I create a pretty logo to overlay on all of my social media?  Did I need to create a website?  Oh Lord, with each passing thought I felt more and more nauseous. Please know, I am not judging the actions of folks who are comfortable with self-promotion.  I trust that Jesus may have told them with certainty to proceed in this way.  But for me, He did the opposite.  He gave me a guttural response that left me certain that self-promotion was not for me. 

Yes, I am committed to be a light for Jesus, but y’all, I’d describe myself as more of a fairy light or a little twinkly light as opposed to one of those great big spotlights that drown out all of the other lights. That’s never been me and as long as I get a say so, it’s never going to be me.  

Matthew 5:16 says, “let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven.”  The key to this verse is that we let our lights shine, but NOT for our own illumination. Our light is designed to glorify Jesus. My light, my life, my blog, my social media, I use it all to intentionally bring glory to God.  Every ounce of it.  If I post a photo of a recent home renovation, you can be sure that I’m giving glory to God for our home, our gift and talents, and the family He’s given me to bless through the renovation.  Every Bible Journaling page I ever painted was posted to tell of Jesus and the work He’s doing in me.  I am fully committed to using my spiritual gift of encouragement for His purposes, and that takes obedience on my part, because by nature I am more of an introvert who is insecure in myself.  But in Christ I have full confidence.

When I joined social media, I made a commitment to use it for God’s glory.  You’ll never find any political rants, worldly advice, or, God help me, any words that read contradictory to the Bible.  I guess you could say that my “platform” has been to make Jesus more famous all along. 

So, the message I hope to convey to all of you who’ve been so kind to read this far into this long blog is to remain steadfast in your holy convictions.  I am going to continue writing the book Jesus has given me. I will, if He tells me, seek publication.  I will, if He tells me, share about it and talk about it.  But I will not, in any way, seek to build a “Cyndi platform”. My platform will forever be for the glory and edification of Jesus, and where that leads me will 100% depend on the will of God for me.  I pray the same thing for any of you who are wrestling with this same trend.  I understand it’s complicated.  I understand there may feel like a lot is on the line for your career and the success you desire.  I can see how fear could creep in and propel you to think self-promotion is necessary to get your book published, or to win that speaking engagement, or to get that promotion at work.  But friends, I humbly want to remind you that we are children of a God who split the red sea for His chosen ones.  He turned water into wine to spare a humble father’s humiliation.  He healed the woman who bled for 12 years without even lifting a hand.  His death on the cross split the veil in two from the top down.  There absolutely nothing He can’t accomplish, so certainly He can put my book into the hands of a woman who needs it without her ever having heard my name or seen my Instagram account, for heaven’s sake.  And He can do immeasurably more than you can imagine for you and the dreams He’s placed in your heart.  I say, let’s walk in obedience and follow His holy lead to the destination He’s chosen for us, instead of inviting Him along on the journey that we are having to power through with Him in tow.  As for me, I never want to take one step in front of Jesus.  

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.  Philippians 1:6 

As always, I appreciate your feedback and I welcome any prayer requests.

Sunday Acres

Hey friends!! I’ve added a new page onto the All Things blog. If you’ll go to the menu above and click the Sunday Acres tab, it will take you to a whole new site. I hope and pray our story will bless and encourage you exactly where you are today!! God is always working.

Do You Believe God is Good?

Photo by Cyndi Clark

If you’re like me and you’ve grown up in the church, or if you’re a seasoned church goer, there’s a strong likelihood that you’ve been a part of a tradition in the church called a “response”. It’s kind of like saying ‘bless you’ to someone after they sneeze. We all sort of do it instinctively and know what the response is without even thinking about it. In the Lutheran church were I grew up as a young child I can remember our pastor ending our services with a blessing such as “The Lord be with you,” to which the congregation would respond, “And also with you.”

A few times I visited an old aunt’s Catholic church and I can remember the congregation reciting lots of ‘responses’ to their priest. I wasn’t Catholic so I didn’t know by memory what to say, but the Lutheran in me felt very proud that I knew the Niacin and Apostles Creed’s by memory when it came time for those ones. I still remember thinking it was amazing just how many they knew by heart.

My favorite of all the church ‘responses’ is the most special to me for a few reasons, but mostly because it can be said anytime and anywhere by anyone for any reason. It can be ignited by a pastor, a Sunday School teacher, a seasoned elder, and it’s especially sweet if one of those cute little grey-haired-hat-and-glove-wearing church ladies starts the ball rolling. The response I am talking about is the one that goes like this:

“God is good…all the time.”

To which enthusiastic Jesus loving Christians joyfully respond,

“All the time, God is good.”

I’ve always loved this tradition. I love it because I think it’s awesome to hear people showing their conviction about our loving God.

I love it because it’s joy filled and always brings a smile to my face.

And…..If I’m honest, I also love it because I feel like I am a part of a club where only a members’ ear perks up within the first three words, recognizing the cue that after the next three it’s our turn to respond. I think of it like a church sorority and the response is our secret handshake. 😉

I do, as a matter of fact believe that God is good.

It takes very little effort to list a thousand reasons why I believe God is good. My quest at Ann Voskamp’s challenge to write out 1000 gifts didn’t stump me one bit! God is good because He made the sun rise today. He’s good because I have a safe place to live… with a healthy family who loves Jesus. And they love… me. God is good because I have clothes and food and frivolous things that He has seen fit to bless me with. He is good because He has forgiven my countless sins. He’s good because He created chocolate and empowered some genius to invent Diet Coke and queso. God surely is gooooooood. 🙂

But I have to be honest. I have some friends on my heart right now whose situations have given me pause. Out of love and compassion for what they’re going through, I don’t quite think right now is the time to ask them to respond to my declaration that God is good, all the time. Because right now, in all sincerity, if I asked them if God is good, it might not be so easy to respond that ALL THE TIME He is good.

For some of my friends, they might not even be able to declare that ‘sometimes’ God is good.

Photo by Cyndi Clark – my husband’s most recent cancer surgery.

Last week a sweet family I know found out that their three year old son has Leukemia. Within hours of his diagnosis he’d already receive his first dose of chemo. In my Monday group a precious gal’s heart is broken over the totally devastating unwanted end of her 37 year marriage. And this week a beautiful friend is mourning the one year anniversary of her son’s tragic accident that promoted him to Heaven at the tender age of just 16.

It got me wondering. Could you say that God still good if your child decided to leave the family of faith? Or could you still declare it if you moved across the country for a job and 6 weeks later you unexpectedly get fired and lost your healthcare? Would God be good if you found a lump in your breast? For the second time. Or, like we recently experienced, is God good if your husband has to have a $28,000 surgery that your insurance won’t cover and you have absolutely no money in your savings account to pay up front? What’s your answer when things like these are thrown at you and it seems there’s absolutely nothing good about them?

What I want to tell all of these friends and family members whose current life situations are filled with grief and pain and despair is that even if they can’t say for certain that they feel like God is g.o.o.d, I do know for sure is that God is G – O – D GOD.

The Bible tells us in Isaiah 55:8-9 that God’s thoughts aren’t our thoughts, and God’s ways aren’t our ways. It says “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. And because of these facts, He allows things in our lives that we can’t possibly associate with a good God because our human minds just can’t fathom why He allows certain things.

Truly, when my daughter was battling a brain tumor, I could not imagine that this was a part of a good God’s plan for her life, and when my other daughter’s heart was shattered by someone she trusted, was God in the mix being good to her? In fact, in the midst of every horrible situation, like my cancer, my husband’s cancer, and the tremendous high’s and lows of owning and funding our own business, I can honestly say that there have been times when it was very, very hard to respond that “all the time, He is good.”

Beauty in the rear view mirror.

There’s a reason one of my favorite expressions is, “Hindsight is 20/20”, especially in regards to God. Over and over again as I look in my life’s rear view mirror I undoubtedly see that God was absolutely more than good during those times. He was, in fact, great! For Christ-followers, Romans 8:28 has and will always be worth banking your life on. We know -that we know -that we know- that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”

Instead of a list of ways God is good, or a 1000 gifts list, perhaps we should start making Romans 8:28 lists, recounting the ways God has worked our horrible circumstances into good? My list would start with my parents divorce. It devastated me, at the time leaving me utterly certain my world would never be whole again. But, God “Romans 8:28’d” it completely. Both parents remarried better partners. Through my mom’s marriage we moved- to a much nicer and safer area- which allowed me to meet my future husband, which of course resulted in our two precious daughters. My daughter’s horrific health battle was the catalyst for her future calling into ministry. And only because of my oldest daughter’s heartbreak did she met the love of her life who she just just married one month ago. My list is endless. God redeems. He heals. He always turns things for good for His children.

So today, my dear hurting, heartbroken, traumatized or scared friends, I want to encourage you with the response that generations before and every generations to come, and that YOU, undoubtedly will one day confidently claim to be true.

God is good, ALL THE TIME, and all the time GOD IS GOOD.

Amen & amen & amen.

1000 Gifts

Several years ago I read the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp shortly after our daughter finished fighting a horrific, long battle for her life. Though grateful that our daughter appeared to have won her battle, I was weary & left with such severe PTSD that I found myself in a state of constant doom. I woke up every morning afraid she wasn’t going to open her eyes. Most mornings the first thing I did was to sleepily stumble out of bed and make my way into her bedroom to check to be sure her little lungs were still filling with air.

One Thousand Gifts helped me to start shifting my way of thinking. In the book, Ann tells of her own journey to find joy and gratitude in her life which had been clouded by traumatic events in her earlier years. After a friend challenged her to shift her thinking, Ann decided to start a list of gratitude, eventually accumulating 1000 things she is thankful for. 1000 gifts. Because I was seriously in need of my own healing, I took the challenge and started making my list of 1000 gifts. I tried to be original & come up with all different things. Eventually I was able to see the glory in a pile of freshly grated cheddar cheese! (You have to read the book to understand this.🙂) But as I progressed in my attempt to list 1000 original things (because I am a perfectionist and felt like it was cheating if each one wasn’t totally unique in and of itself) I found myself EVERY SINGLE DAY wanting to make mention of the beauty of sun rays streaming through my windows, both in the morning and in the golden hour. In my attempt to create an original list I wouldn’t write it down. About 2 years ago I finally gave in and thought, “THIS IS MY LIST so I’m going to write whatever feels like a gift to me in the moment, even if it’s a duplicate!” If I were to guess I’d say my list has something sunrise, sun-rays, or sunset related almost every single day for the past few years! 🌤

I believe writing my list was the most cathartic thing I could’ve done to help me overcome the PTSD that overwhelmed me in the mornings. It helped retrain my compulsion to check on my daughter before I even thought to say good morning to Jesus. It gave me freedom to open my eyes & gaze out my window & thank God for another day. I photograph countless clouds, sunrises, sunsets, and sun-ray photos. I make it a point to go outside to watch the sunset day after day, often dragging a family member with me to look at it. I am drawn to the light, each day thanking God for another sun gift .

This was my view this morning as I walked around the corner. Those sun rays, pouring in the front of our home reminded me of what I am most thankful for, THE SON, Jesus, who reminds me of His mercy every morning.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV

Have a blessed day y’all.

Cyndi

My Mosaic

Have you ever seen one of those mosaic pictures that are made from a thousand tiny photos? It’s amazing to me that some very creative person came up with the idea of perfectly arranging all sorts of random colorful photos in just the right order to recreate replicas of images of things like the Mona Lisa, the Eiffel Tower, Elvis Presley, even the Last Supper. Captivated by these, I even gifted my husband a big coffee table book filled with a whole variety of these mosaics several years ago for Christmas. We spent countless hours examining all the photos. The fun thing about these mosaics is that your eyes can either focus on the bigger intended subject, or you can refocus them and be able to view all the tiny photos that compose it.

Today I had an epiphany as I was randomly walking past our entryway’s hall tree. I couldn’t help but smile as I gazed at our coats hanging from the hooks. You might wonder what about this very simple, everyday sight could possibly be special? You see, several months back when we first bought our property in Tennessee (which we lovingly call “Sunday Acres”) I put on my best Joanna Gaines hat and took on the rehabilitation of our house, painting room after room for months on end. Early in August I challenged myself to build an entryway hall tree all by myself. I’d never done anything like this before and was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed it and how well it turned out. The cherry on top was when I added the very last pieces, a hook for each of our family members. At the time that I built it I was the only one living at “Sunday Acres” full time. My husband was commuting back and forth, 10 days here and 10 days back in CA. Near the end of the summer our youngest daughter returned from her missions trip to Africa and moved here permanently. Finally, on the last day of 2017 our oldest daughter arrived and officially changed her zip code to match ours. I felt like I had been waiting and waiting for the moment we would all four be back together under one roof. For the past two weeks I’ve been in a bit of a giddy haze as we’ve been able to experience the first days of normalcy together in over 7 long months. So now you can probably understand why seeing all 4 of our coats hanging from that hall tree was a special sight.

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The Lord always speaks to me in word pictures. Today, through our simple little hall tree He reminded me of those intricate mosaics. Looking at our coats is a bit like focusing my eyes on the tiny images that come together to create the mosaic. It’s just a tiny detail that can be added with other images like setting 4 plates at the breakfast table, or reserving 4 seats at the movie theatre, or hanging 4 stockings over the fireplace. All these images combined with the heart-to-heart conversations, the tiffs, the laughter and tears over the past two weeks have all meshed together to create the most beautiful mosaic that I can imagine; my precious family being back together as one.

I can truly say that it wasn’t my strength or actions that enabled our mosaic to become what it is. It’s very much the result of living by Proverbs 16:3. Every single day of my life, I submit my dreams, goals, desires and prayers to the Lord. In complete transparency, I’ll admit to wrestling with Him. I’ve begged Him. I’ve cried out to Him. Trust me, He’s heard it all. BUT! I am sure to end every petition with these words, “Lord, you know my heart’s desire, but even greater than my desires, I never want to step one inch in front of You. If my desire isn’t in Your best will for me, remove the desire from my heart and keep my feet firmly planted on the path YOU have for me.” It’s scary to say those words sometimes when my heart is burning for something. I’ve trembled saying it. But I honestly never want to spend a day of my life outside of God’s perfect will for me.

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I want to sincerely encourage every person reading this who might feel like they will never see the many aspects of their lives come together to create a beautiful mosaic. It is possible for every single one of us. The question is this: who is the artist of your mosaic? Are you the one who is trying to orchestrate the order of things or are you allowing God to have control of the details of your life? Have you consecrated your days to Him? Have you surrendered your desires to Him? Have you entrusted Him to orchestrate the path you are traveling down? He is the Creator of all things, big and small.  He is the artist that paints the magnificent sunsets, who hangs the stars in the sky, and who colors the earth’s landscape in ever-changing seasonal hues.  Surely He can weave all of our choices, both good and bad, into a much more beautiful work of art.  So today, dear ones, I encourage you to lay down the pieces you have been frantically trying to arrange and let The Master create your mosaic for you.

TGR.Divider

Just one final thought regarding the mosaic analogy.  I couldn’t help but think of the many images that outsiders might see of me. It’s my heart’s desire that my attitude, my words, my actions, my everything come together to create a beautifully constructed mosaic. I pray people will NOT look at me and see a well put together Cyndi. In all sincerity, I cringe at the thought of drawing attention to myself. I suffer from total and complete stage fright at the thought of a spotlight on me. I pray that like the mosaic below, I may always be the tiny photos in the background and that the reason for all I do is what people see. I pray that friends and strangers alike only see Jesus when they look at me.

Mosaic created using TurboMosaic software from www.TurboMosaic.com
“Praying they see Jesus when they look at me.”     -Cyndi

 

 

Childlike Joy

 

Yesterday I had the wonderful privilege of attending our little town’s annual Christmas parade. I’ve seen photos of it for the past 5 years and couldn’t wait for the day that I got to be there. Let me tell you, it did not disappoint! It was the cutest, silliest, most heartwarming parade I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t like most parades. There weren’t any floats covered in flowers or marching bands. There wasn’t a single giant balloon being led down Main Street, or elaborately costumed equestrian riders on the backs of Clydesdales. This parade was completely and totally one of a kind! It featured sweet little farmers driving their tractors, the local Boy Scout troop, and participants of the town’s 4H and FFA. There were several adorably sweet vintage pick up trucks that were decorated with Christmas wreaths and red bows on the front grill that carried local celebrities such as our Sheriff, our Mayor, and our local pageant queens. There were flatbeds filled with hay bails and Christmas trees and swarms of local friends who happily rode down the parade route joyfully tossing candy to the hundreds and hundreds of children who lined the streets eagerly awaiting the final float upon which the “big guy” himself would ride along with a few real reindeer.

Once the parade began I quickly lost myself in the utter joy that filled the air. Without a single care in the world I found myself cheering and clapping and smiling from ear to ear, feeling pure bliss. I watched the children who were absolutely captivated by every passing participant. They’d scream for joy at the parade animals and wave with full stretched arms as the policemen passed by. They jumped for candy and excitedly show their mom and dad each piece that they got. I saw parents and grandparents whose faces lit up at the sight of their kid’s childlike wonder, which to a sentimental girl like me was almost a better sight than the actual parade itself. It was, in no exaggeration, pure JOY!

After enjoying the parade I was left with an overwhelming thought that the Lord placed on my heart to share with you, dear reader. This might sound trite, but I ask you sincerely, when was the last time you felt childlike joy? I mean, the kind of joy that makes you forget about everything that’s been on your mind or weighing you down. When did you last feel joy that elicited a physical response ranging from a great big full-teeth-showing-kind-of-smile to the uncontrollable laughter that leaves your cheeks hurting the next day? When was the last time you had joy so deep that it allowed you to even forget where you are for a few minutes because you are swept away by how deeply it goes into your bones? Joy so deep that you could almost swear you were catapulted back in time to when you were six years old again.

As adults it is not our disposition to be childlike. So many of us go through our days feeling like we are carrying the weight of the world upon our shoulders.   The day and age we live in surely isn’t making it easy either. Social Media, celebrity obsessions, and our hyper-judgmental society also place an expectation upon so many of us to behave in dignified, politically correct, almost uptight manners so as to seem all-together and totally in control of our emotions. We’ve been conditioned to put on our masks when we venture out into the world guarding ourselves against any appearance of weakness. And through all this striving and achieving and fakeness, we also block our hearts and minds from being able to just be free to exhibit unfiltered joy.

Charles Dickens once wrote “It’s good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmastime, when it’s mighty Founder was a child Himself.”

I thing he was on to something so very true and despite everything I just wrote about the expectations we live with, I propose that childlikeness is easily achievable at Christmastime. It’s literally right in front of you if you just open your eyes to see it and your heart to feel it. For example, if you’re out and about, pause to notice the amazing window scenes that the stores have put together for you. Sure they did it to elicit consumerism, but forget about that! Instead, stand and soak in the beauty. Think back to how it felt as a child to look in that window and see that shiny bicycle you’ve dreamt of, or that dollhouse filled with miniature furniture, or, perhaps, that elusive Red Rider BB gun that mom claims will shoot your eye out. Remember how it felt to just daydream? If your kids want to stop to gaze at the displays, don’t rush them. Let them experience that same feeling you had as a child. When you’re driving and you see a neighborhood that has a lot of Christmas lights, turn down that street and slow down to savor the sight of the colors and the characters and how they make you feel young again. Note: You don’t have to have kids in the car with you. Do this even if you’re alone. 🙂 Pull that candy cane out of your glove box and actually break off a piece and let it melt on your tongue like you did as a kid. These calories don’t count! When you scroll through the TV channels, keep scrolling until you come to one of those 1960’s claymation specials, such as 1964’s “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer”, or the timeless classic from 1965, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and watch a little of it. It’s got to be better for your blood pressure than a CSI episode. Dig out your old Chipmunk’s Christmas album and play it, loudly, and sing along loudly, because, quite frankly, this is the only time of year that you can do this without completely looking like you’ve flipped your lid. (haha). And finally, why not sit down and write your own letter to Santa? I’m being serious. But instead of addressing it to Santa, address it to Jesus, and share your Christmas wishes (prayers) with Him. He’s the giver of the greatest Gift ever, so surely He can handle whatever you are asking for this Christmas.

Finally, on Christmas Eve, as the children are looking up to the sky for Santa and his sleigh that is being pulled by his magical reindeer, how about if you look up too? Look up to the sky and call upon Him who is altogether lovely[1]. Look up to the bright Morning Star[2]. Take the time to look UP to Jesus and quit looking down at all the things of this world. Desire Jesus like a child desires a shiny new bicycle. Cherish Him and hold Him close to your heart like the little girl nuzzles her first baby doll. Expect Him to come and fulfill your wish list in the ways He sees fit for you, just as the children give over their wishes to Santa. And with childlike abandon, give yourself permission to rejoice over Him with shouts of adoration, songs of praise, and allow yourself to unashamedly cry happy tears of joy. By choosing to let Christ be the Christ of Christmas, and allowing yourself the unadulterated blessing of celebrating Him in these ways, I can promise that your heart and soul will be filled with abounding childlike joy, making this a season where you can’t help but be reminded of how wonderful it feels to be a child at Christmastime. And, finally, beloved, why not stay in that place of childlike joy as you live your life embracing the glorious and greatest truth of all? Today and everyday you are the chosen children of the King![3]

Merry Jesus-mas to you all.  Now, turn up your volume and sing it loud!

 

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[1] Song of Solomon 5:16: “He is altogether lovely” 1 Peter 1:18-19 “you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold” 1 John 1:7 “the blood of Jesus purifies us from sin.”

[2] Revelation 22:16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

[3] Luke 18:17 “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

Matthew 18:3 “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 19:14 “But Jesus said, “let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

Love Notes

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One of my favorite movies is a charming love story called, “You’ve Got Mail,” starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. It’s the story of two business rivals who unintentionally meet each other online. Over time they find themselves in a sweet anonymous Internet romance. Their journey begins with a few simple surface level emails, which over time, evolve to reveal more thoughts and feelings that are very special to them. Their love notes lay such a strong foundation that once their identities are revealed, the former rivals can’t deny the love they’ve established through sharing their hearts with one another.

Before my husband and I were married we had a courtship that was filled with all the makings of a great romantic comedy. As newlyweds we spent hours and hours talking to one another about everything but the kitchen sink (actually I think there might have been several “conversations” about his lack of wiping out the kitchen sink.). But, as you can guess, most of that changed when our two daughters were added to the mix. I can honestly admit that there were many days when we probably didn’t talk about much at all. We were both exhausted and found that our new roles as young parents didn’t leave much time to sit and have an intentional conversation about anything substantial, not to mention our deepest thoughts and feelings.

Most of us are familiar with the passages of scripture that talk about how spouses should love one another. Husbands are told specifically to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). Wives are told specifically to respect their husbands as the church does Christ (Ephesians 5:33). But, on a practical level, how in the world do you do this when you can barely find time to shower some days? I started to really think about ways that I could be sure that I was showing my husband the respect that I knew I had in my heart for him. One day, while caring for one of our sick daughters, that movie, “You’ve Got Mail” came on TV. It sparked an idea! I decided to start writing my husband little LOVE NOTES every day. Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not talking about 8 ½ x 11 sheets of notebook paper filled with sonnets and poems. Most of them fit on a post-it note that I stuck on the coffee pot where he was sure to find it every morning. I purposely wrote words that I knew the Bible said a man needed from his wife. I told him I respected him. I thanked him for providing for our family. I complimented him on how handsome he was. I repeatedly told him I was proud of him. I left Bible verses to encourage him. It was not only great for him to know I felt that way, it was also extremely beneficial for me to spend purposeful time thinking about how much I do respect my husband. Shortly after I started this habit I was blessed to start finding love notes that HE began leaving me. It was fun because the playful side of my husband came out and he would leave them in all sorts of funny places, from my make-up drawer to the box of laundry soap to the deli drawer in our refrigerator. Every time I found one my heart would flutter and I would remember all the things that made me fall in love with him in the first place. When our daughters became old enough to read we started leaving love notes for them too. I’d put one in their lunchbox every single day of school. Daddy often put one on their pillows before he left for work. And what do you think happened next? You guessed it, both of our girls started leaving us love notes. We have been married for 25 years now and our girls are 22 and 20, and we are still in the practice of doing this, never missing a day to at least text one another on our family group text, a simple little love note.

I believe with all of my heart that this has been an integral reason why our family is so close. Taking the time to show the love of Christ, our love and respect for one another through little love notes has been one of the easiest but greatest habits in our relationships, and it has proven what 1 Corinthians 13:8 says, “love never fails.”

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I have hundreds of our notes saved.

 

A Hallmark Christmas

 

I have a Christmas confession to make. No, it’s not that I have unwrapped and then re-wrapped a few of my hubby’s gifts for me before Christmas morning, or that I occasionally sneak a piece of homemade fudge after my family has gone to bed. I’ll own up to those with no problem. But this confession is a little different. I don’t know why, but I find it slightly embarrassing to admit this. Perhaps it is because of my husband’s emphatically negative reactions to it? Or maybe it’s because my daughters have jokingly mocked it a little bit? Or perhaps I feel a little silly to admit that I actually spend legitimately large amounts of time with it? Regardless of all of this, my confession is that I LOVE HALMARK CHRISTMAS MOVIES!

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EVERY day is a Hallmark kind of day.

I was thinking about my fascination with Hallmark movies and why they draw me in every year. One of the reasons I enjoy them so much is because they are predictably heartwarming. Every story starts with one character that has his or her life pretty well on track and is perfectly happy. We are then introduced to the second main character who is already in a relationship with the one they believe to be their ‘perfect match’…though 10 minutes into the plot you begin to see that this relationship is not as picture perfect as he or she thinks. Unexpected circumstances arise, sending one of the two main characters into a situation they didn’t foresee where they are introduced to their actual perfect mate, only to spend the next hour and 52 minutes denying their feelings for each other. We viewers are taken through a topsy-turvy and often whimsical journey as the two of them can’t help but realize that they are in love. With only two or three minutes left in the movie the characters finally confess their love for one other and they share the perfect Hallmark kiss as the end credits begin to roll. Though not one bit of the movie is a surprise to the viewer, we still find ourselves rooting for the characters and even get a little misty when that long awaited kiss finally happens. Inevitably we are left with a warm fuzzy feeling that all is right in the world and that love always conquers all.

Another reason I love these sweet movies is because of the dreamy locations where they film them. Who knew so many picture perfect small towns existed? From the adorable main street to the perfectly coifed gardens, everything seems to be frozen in time from a simpler more innocent era. Each town seems to have a festival of some sort that draws the whole community out of their perfectly manicured farmhouses, colorful Victorian homes, classic Craftsman’s or a majestic mountain lodge where they all partner together. As if the beautiful scenery isn’t enough, the supporting characters are even sweeter than the town they live in! Whether it’s an adorable inn-keeper who plays a role in the budding romance, a sweet-talking grandma who gives tender hugs and perfectly timed words of wisdom or the most polite clean cut child you can imagine, the cast instills a hope in us viewers that the town of Mayberry could still exist. I don’t know about you, but I spent the better part of my life dreaming of living in a town straight out of a Hallmark movie!

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Our adorable town, Franklin TN,                                                                            voted America’s Favorite Main Street 

Last night as I finished watching another one of their absolutely adorable movies, I was struck with an idea that I thought I would share with you. Do you suppose the reason we are drawn to Hallmark Christmas movies runs deeper than the satisfaction we feel when the story concludes like a perfectly wrapped gift under your Christmas tree? Perhaps there is something inside of us that longs for our own “Hallmark” story?   I dare to say that even if we got to live in one of those towns with our soul mate, our dream job, the adorable inn-keeper, that sweet talking grandma, and even if Santa Clause himself were our next-door neighbor, we would still feel a longing for something more.

In the humblest way possible, I want to tell you that I know this to be true. This past year my lifelong dream of moving to the country came true. I literally live in the town where the original Mayberry car sits on display when you drive in. It is the most dreamy, wholesome, beautiful town filled with the kindest people I have ever met!   My heart dances as I drive roads that are so blindingly beautiful that I have been brought to tears on more than one occasion. Strangers are kind, generous, and so polite that the California girl in me sometimes finds it suspicious. I have never lived in a more beautiful place, untouched by time and I have never felt so overwhelmed with peace and joy. And yet…. even in the closest thing to a Hallmark setting that is filled with every good thing you can imagine, there is only ONE thing that makes it completely perfect; my relationship with Jesus!

 

When we were created, God left a void within us that can never be filled by anything that Hallmark is capable of creating. That void is God shaped and can only be satisfied by inviting Him in to fill it. We were created with souls that thirst for the living God (Psalm 42:2). Even our very flesh yearns for God (Psalm 63:1). Without Jesus in us we will never be satisfied as long as we live (John 4:13-14). In case you might think that a change of location could give you relief from the desire for something more, I am here to tell you that even that isn’t going to fulfill you. We were made to crave Jesus in every way, even geographically! The Bible says in Philippians 3:20 that our citizenship is in heaven. Even though we live in this world, Christians are not of this world. We will never feel completely at home as long as we are here. Our true home is in Heaven, and there is only ONE WAY to get there: Jesus.

My Christmas wish for everyone who reads this is that you will open your heart and mind to what I am humbly sharing with you. Whether you have tried to fill your life with people, places or things, I pray you will recognize the real reason for the season and consider the one perfect gift that is available to you today. It isn’t wrapped under your tree, available through Amazon Prime, or being delivered by Santa on December 25th. It’s right where you are this very second and it is completely free! All you have to do is sincerely ask for Jesus to come in to your heart and be the Lord of your life. It’s that simple. He will do the rest. As He does what only He can do, I promise that your craving for a Hallmark Christmas movie kind of happy ending will be satisfied within you. You will know exactly how your story ends and you will rejoice when your end credits roll and you join with all the other believers in Heaven. Together we will celebrate The Main Character, the Star of the show, the Light of the World and the King of all Kings, God Himself, Jesus. Now that will be the BEST “Hallmark” ending of all times.

Merry Christmas everyone,

Cyndi

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My view all too often… 🙂