Category Archives: Sacrifice

Monday Morning Moment – Roadmap to Achieving Your Goals in Real Time and Regular Life – 10 Sure Turns

Photo Credit: edX

Life happens. Whatever our hopes, goals or dreams, we go after them in real time and regular life. The challenge is to not lose sight of them in the course of working your day-job, whatever that might be. Jon  Acuff’s book Do Over came out at a very timely place of transition in my life. The recurring theme of his book was to do what it takes to get where you hope to go – not finding yourself at the end of your career realizing you just clocked in and out of “someone else’s job”…for decades. The daily of our lives can snuff out or overshadow where we knew in our hearts we wanted to go…in work, relationships, and vision. Mark that and take positive steps through it.

I’ve read ever so much more about goal-setting than I’ve actually used. In thinking of goals and action plans, I can actually feel an eye twitch coming on…and all I want to do is eat junk food and check Facebook. Alas…goal-setting is a challenge…but a worthy one.

Roadmaps are helpful for me. Not only with finding the destination but also with marking progress, checking for more scenic routes, noting markers which teach us stuff, and pointing to rest stops.

After reading the articles linked below, a roadmap for decision-making has emerged that makes sense to me…and hopefully will be helpful to you. We need goals or we are never fixed on a mark toward which we launch our best efforts. The key, however, is not just in deriving the goal but, setting a course that aligns with our relationships and responsibilities. That way, when setbacks come, they don’t put us off-course. We just deal…and get back on course.

So here we go:

10 Sure Turns Toward Achieving Our Goals

  1. Listen to the Longing – As we get older, our goals change in life. Still at a heart level, we have longings for a life of deep purpose and genuine achievement. Those longings may be as unique as we all are as people. We are never too old or our lives too far-spent to tune into that longing. It’s never too late.
  2. Tell Those Closest to You – Don’t keep to yourself what you would love to pursue. Tell those who care for you so much that they will pour into your vision and your goals. Fear of failure or disappointment won’t diminish your hopes if others share them with you…because they love you and believe in you.
  3. Set Goals and Then Revisit Them With “Why’s?” – This is actually some of the hardest work of moving forward and stymies some of the best of us. Serge Popovic breaks this down in a helpful way by looking at the systems (or commitments) that help us get to goal. The goal is our destination but we daily make decisions and take action toward that goal. These rhythms are part of the discipline of achieving our goals. They also inform our direction as we revisit our goals and ask the necessary “why’s”.Photo Credit: Dreams Procrastinated
  4. Consider the Costs and Work Them into Your Plan – In setting course to meet life goals, there are givens we must consider. Taking care of our family is an obvious one. Managing our time around other responsibilities. Not missing our children as we strive toward that goal that can stretch years ahead. The costs don’t have to alter our course, but we must reckon with them.
  5. Organize Your Life – Why is this important? Organization can have a huge impact on recouping the costs (in #4) and in freeing us up to potentially getting to goal faster. Do be careful what your organize OUT of your life…especially relationships. Make wise decisions here… It’s one thing to get rid of stuff or downsizing time-wasters, and another thing to neglect relationships.Photo Credit: Paul Sohn
  6. Choose and Develop Your Team and Expand Your Network –
    Speaking of relationships, this is one of those circles that can pay huge dividends for all involved. Rarely do we make goals that don’t include the investment of others. Think through the people you know and who of those would be a great support to your future. They could be idea-generators, mentors, investors, content experts…and some could be family who mostly cheer you on and pray for you in the battles.
  7. Take Action or Execute Your Plan – What? Taking action is point 7 on a 10-point roadmap?! We have clearly taken action in multiple ways already, but those preparatory functions have set the stage for a strong start to execution. Even through Steps 1-6, we may have already reframed what the plan looks like. Being proactive before we set the plan in motion greases the tracks for achievement. The action plan will be revisited often…which actually makes it less stressful for me to develop. Melanie Curtin even writes about journaling our goals and action plans, giving us a daily view of progress.
  8. Deal With the Drag of the Past – This is a preemptive strike against those emotions that form barriers to reaching our goals. That dull sense of foreboding, the failures of the past, the gnawing insecurity, the temptation to blame…. None of these keep us from reaching our goals, unless we empower them to do so. Lighten the load by cutting the ropes on the past. One caveat: the “drag of the past” doesn’t include wisdom we’ve gained – Remember that part of the past always.
  9. Allow for Respites and Setbacks – Again, life happens. I have had to sideline some goals in recent months because of health and family issues. They are not gone from my mind or my habits…but they are sidelined for the moment for real life things of more urgent need. However…these kinds of things can become normative if we aren’t careful. You don’t want to lose momentum …keep moving toward your goal if at all possible…even if it’s ever so slowly. At some point, sooner than later, revisit and reset goals…and rest when that’s the greatest need.Photo Credit: Bloom to Fit
  10. Celebrate and Express Thanks All Along the Way – no explanation needed here. This isn’t just for the finish line but for every step along the way. For every barrier that we turned into a door. For every problem we forged into an opportunity. For every God-orchestrated appointment and “per chance” meeting. Celebrate. Show gratitude. Widen the circle – your achievement is enjoyed by many!Photo Credit: Morning Business Chat

Hopefully, you found this helpful. The resources below informed this piece and are all rapid reads if you want to go deeper in a direction. I hope your main-takeaway is that you can achieve and starting today is not too late…starting is the point. You’ve got this!

Achieve Your Goals – Is Your Roadmap the Right Way Up??? – Wendy Tomlinson

Goals vs. Commitments: A Simple System for Long-term SuccessSrdjan “Serge” Popovic​

10 Quotes That Will Radically Reshape Your Idea of Calling – Paul Sohn

50 Goal Quotes that Will Inspire and Motivate You – Marelisa Fabrega

When It’s Good to Be Bad – The Road to Excellence Is Paved With a Few Lapses On the Way – Cody Delistraty

6 Ways You Are Making Life Harder Than It Has to Be – Paul Angone

How to Crush Your Goals in 2017 – Travis Bradberry

Crushing Your Goals…God’s Way – Stephen Altrogge

Want to Improve Your Focus and Lower Stress in 2017 – Take Up This One Simple Habit – Melanie Curtin

YouTube Video – A Tale of Two Brains (“The Nothing Box”) – Mark Gungor

Photo Credit: AllGroanUp

5 Friday Faves – Answered Prayer, Christmas Cookies, Rogue One, Christmas Babies, and Unconditional Love

The Friday before Christmas…only children long for this day to come quickly. The rest of us try to balance work and to-do lists with the celebrations and the sweet kindnesses of this season. Sometimes our health doesn’t cooperate as I am fighting a cold writing this. Still, the weekend has arrived and Christmas fast approaches. Here are my faves for this week.

1) Answered Prayer – What an incredible thing that we can cry out to Almighty God, the Creator of all things, and He hears and responds. For several weeks, I’ve been wearing a prayer reminder on my wrist to keep a young woman in my thoughts and on my lips before God. She has been going through an unimaginable trial over many months and it seems only a merciful intervention from a loving God was going to make her situation turn around. Who knows how many people prayed for her….hundreds, for sure. I have never met her, but we were bonded together by her need and a God who calls us to come boldly to His throne…in prayer (Hebrews 4:16). We can’t presume on how God should move in a situation, but we can absolutely trust His wisdom and goodness. Over the last several days, we were able to see a miraculous turn of events…and her situation is redeemed. Does God always act in such a way? No…but He always acts on our behalf…

Any prayer that you have had answered that you could share in Comments below? Anything you continue to wait for God’s intervention? I would be pleased to pray with you.

2) Christmas Cookies – I don’t make Christmas cookies but love that others do. Just this week, we received several from sweet friends and my daughter. They are so cheery. It seems they also taste especially nice with coffee in front of a fire on a cold winter day. Hope you got to sample some this year.

3) Rogue One – On the Christmases when a Star Wars film is released, viewing it as a family has become one of our traditions. Photo Credit: Independent

Rogue One was really good. No spoilers here. It could definitely stand alone but also had several happy reminders of other Star Wars films. It is actually a prequel to one of the films, but I won’t give it away. We still get to look forward to more from LucasFilm to follow the 2015 A Force Awakens.

I love Bill Peel’s article Christmas Truth in Star Wars where he points out the themes of these films: “extreme evil, great good, desperate danger, genuine love, hopeless odds, and costly sacrifice”.

“Star Wars’ heroes are nobodies from nowhere, insignificant and irrelevant individuals as far as the world is concerned. Yet they change history.

Like Star Wars, the key characters in the Christmas story are nonentities: powerless peasants who live far from the halls of influence. A homeless couple with a powerless child born in an obscure village. Yet in fiction and real life, things are not always as they seem. These seemingly rag-tag nobodies are part of a web of cosmic events they cannot understand nor resist and take center stage in God’s kingdom.”

YouTube Medley Star Wars Medley – Beyond the Guitar

4) Christmas Babies
– A friend of mine had her first child this week…and on her birthday. This Christmas baby had a Christmas baby. Babies any time of the year are lovely, but at this time they dress up Christmas cards so beautifully. So darling, right?Photo Credit: Nameberry

Nathan of Beyond the Guitar posted a special Christmas greeting in his rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. Enjoy!

Photo Credit: YouTube

YouTube Video – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Beyond the Guitar

5) Unconditional Love – Christmas and the birth of Christ remind us of a love that we don’t deserve and cannot earn. Our parents showed us that kind of love and introduced us to the love of God.

Mom went to be with the Lord 14 years ago, and our Dad is days away from that same Homegoing. So thankful that because of what Christ did for us, we will see them again…and we can one day be face-to-face with the Lover of our souls.

YouTube Video – Noel – Chris Tomlin – Featuring Laurel Daigle

Photo Credit: Pinterest

May you have a blessed Christmas, drenched in the joy of the truth of the season…whatever your circumstances currently might be. For those who read this but do not celebrate Christmas, my prayer is that you know the love of Jesus…through those who follow Him…until the day you are personally acquainted with Him.

Worship Wednesday – Fear Is Easy, Love Is Hard – Jason Gray

Blog - Perfect Love Casts Out Fear - best of picturePhoto Credit: BestOfPicture

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. – 1 John 4:18

For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment. – 2 Timothy 1:7

Fear and love. Over the last two weeks, we’ve heard a lot about these two states of heart and mind. Well, if we’ve followed the conventions of the two major political parties in the US…. Whether we’ve watched on TV or not, the messages of both conventions have blasted our newsfeeds. What does one believe about any of it?

One convention (and political party and candidate) is purportedly all about fear. The other is all about love. One sees the solution to fear comes with building walls. The other sees the solution to our nation’s problems is love. Big fear = Big walls, guns, bluster. Big love = Big government, inclusion (unless maybe you look and think like me). Gone are the days, in both conventions, when God is mentioned in light of how we are meant to do government and treat our neighbors (both near and far).

Sidebar: Regarding fear, John Piper does talk about the importance of a certain type of temporary fear. “The painful fear, the guilty fear, the craven fear, the humiliating fear — all such fear will one day be taken way. But only in the way God intends. And in his time. We should not be done with it in the wrong way, or too soon.

Here is the way C. S. Lewis puts it:

Perfect love, we know, casteth out fear [1 John 4:18]. But so do several other things — ignorance, alcohol, passion, presumption, and stupidity.

It is very desirable that we should all advance to that perfection of love in which we shall fear no longer; but it is very undesirable, until we have reached that stage, that we should allow any inferior agent to cast out our fear. (“The World’s Last Night” in C. S. Lewis: Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces, 51)” – John Piper

I wasn’t revved by the one convention’s soberness, nor was I wooed by the other convention’s frivolity. The jokes just weren’t funny, but everyone there was laughing.

Until the reality seemed to sink in for the supporters of a minority candidate, that it might be over…and the tears flowed.Blog - Fear and Love - PoliticsBlog - Fear and Love - Politics - tearsPhoto Credit: FoxNews, PressDemocrat

I actually felt some of their pain.

What is a follower of Christ to do?

Scripture makes it very clear that we are not to give into worldly fear. Scripture also convicts us that love is the solution – not the love of government, or a political party, or like for like. For us as Christ followers, we are called to love…even those who don’t agree with us, even our enemies. This kind of love is extremely costly – it’s the kind of love Jesus taught us through his life…and through his death.

We’re not meant to give into a fear that builds walls, nor are we to clamor for a love that costs us nothing…a love that comes out of government and not out of our own skin.

During a season in this country, when we’re being hammered with media messages that divide us, may we as the followers of Christ unite – not by political party or by our own offended or soothed sensibilities. May we unite in keeping our eyes on God when we fear, and apply our lives to truly loving – not just people like us but all peoples. Not just looking to an outside agency to “show the love”, but to extend ourselves to that loving…as we’ve experienced in the God of love.

Worship with me with this song from Jason Gray‘s album A Way to See in the Dark

Turn on the T.V. for the evening news
They got plenty to fear and nothing to do
Another somebody who’s gone too far
Makes you want to put up your guard
Fear is easy, love is hard
So we draw up another dividing line
We label each other and we choose a side
Peace could come at quite a cost
So we won’t build a bridge across
Fear is easy, but love is hard
Fear will leave you hiding in the dark
But love will bring a light into your heart
So do not be afraid, do not be afraid
I’m sorry baby is what he should’ve said
But she wouldn’t listen even if he did
They’ll die without forgiveness soon
But no one wants to make a move
When fear is easy and love is hard
Fear will leave you hiding in the dark
But love will bring a light into your heart
So do not be afraid, do not be afraid
It’s hard to bring your heart to a world that can break it
To offer love to those you’re afraid will forsake it
But a well-defended heart is always looking for a fight
In a lonely war against an endless night
But love can bring a light
Fear will leave you hiding in the dark
But love will bring a light into your heart
So do not be afraid
It comes down to a simple choice
Shouting devils or a still small voice
One is spreading fear and dread
Oh but love has always said
Do not be afraid
Do not be afraid
Do not be afraid
Do not be afraid.*

Blog - Fear and Love - GrowinginHisGracePhoto Credit: Growing In His Grace

I love the truth in Paul’s writing to Timothy. God doesn’t mean for us to fear what surrounds us, what seems to loom ahead, or what has happened in the past. He means for us to gather ourselves, as His children, to act with the power He’s given us, to love with the example He’s shown us, and to think, (and reason together), with sound minds. Sound minds. We can think through and manage this election year if we keep our wits and guard our hearts, with faith unblemished in a God “whose arm is not too short to save!” (Isaiah 59:1)

*Lyrics to Fear Is Easy, Love Is Hard

Fear or Love? Responding to Terrorism Like Jesus – Nicole Simpson – Christ & Pop Culture

Responding to the Tragedy in This World – Growing In His Grace

YouTube – Chris Tomlin – Whom Shall I Fear? [God of Angel Armies] – Lyrics

BLog - Fear and Love - Nothing is too hard for God - facebook - Mariah KingPhoto Credit: Facebook

60 Years Married – Mom & Dad – a Tribute & Photo Montage

MomMom PopPop - Wedding Day - Anniversary (2)MomMom PopPop - 50th wedding anniversary (2)John & Julia – on their wedding day and their 50th anniversary

This week we celebrate Dave’s parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. 60 years! How thankful I am to have been part of their lives for a bit over 30 years thus far. Living in the embrace of their love for God, us and each other has been a journey of constancy and intentionality.

Julia and John have been another set of parents to me. My own mom raised us four children pretty much alone, finally leaving my biological father, without looking back. She later came close to God again and wondered if she’d stayed what might have happened. After a couple of visits, right after their divorce, that dad never came again…and we grew up knowing he didn’t love us.

[I’m very, very thankful for a step-dad, who I write about, who loved us as his own. So I do know the love of both a devoted mom and dad.]

With my own mom with the Lord, and my dad dealing with Alzheimer’s, I am grateful for all the years with my mom and the years still with Dad, wherever his mind will wander.

That being said, what a joy to also have Julia and John, my “in-loves” still together, hanging in there with each other and with us. Growing older is not an easy thing. All the vows we make in our weddings become all the more vital in the days when mind and body wear down. To see the kindnesses between these two, and their enduring love, patience, and regard for each other is such a witness to what marriage is meant to be…

They teach us and our children so much through how they have both celebrated and weathered life together – the weddings, the divorces of loved ones, the births, the deaths, the distances between us, and the seasons of all our lives. All the stamps in their passports to be with us overseas…so grateful for that. They have spent long days apart because of work in the early years, and long days together in a different work in the latter years. The interruptions of illnesses and accidents. The great grace they’ve known and lavished on us. Their faith in a God who never left them; never forsook them…ever.

Pictures will tell you more than my words…let them speak for me:

John - PopPop - Dave & MarkMomMom home with us in tennesseeMomMom, MamaLu, Dave, & Christie - 4 Generations4 GenerationsMomMom, PopPop, ChristieMomMom, PopPop, Aunt nancy & Uncle BobJulia & John w/ her sister, Nancy & husband Bob – four close  friends

MomMom & PopPop - WilliamsburgMomMom, PopPop, Christie, Nathan, DanielMomMom & PopPop youngerMomMom, PopPop, DaveMomMom & PopPop earlierMomMom & PopPop 2014 (2)PopPop & ChristieMomMom, Nathan, Daniel 2015PopPop Stacie 2011 (2)MomMom & PopPop with grandkids2015 June - Mills Family PictureThe Mills Family, 2015

60 years…of faithfulness, and honoring, and loving through sweet times and hard times. So glad to be part of this journey with them…to be family with them.MomMom PopPop Nancy BobMomMom & PopPop - 60th wedding annviersary - with Dave and Mark, Stacie, and meHappy 60th Anniversary, Dear Ones. You show us what love is and how it’s done across a lifetime.MomMom & PopPop - 60th wedding anniversary

Worship Wednesday – How Many Kings? – Downhere

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For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

Two out of so many favorite December experiences are Christmas songs on the radio and Christmas cards in my mailbox. For some maybe, all that Christmas music on various stations gets old…but for me, it’s a continual feast. Then those old-fashioned cards in red or green envelopes with stamps on them transform our mailbox from bill and junk mail holders to a wonder of news from friends and family.

[Most of the images you see on this blog are from treasured old Christmas cards.]

The song How Many Kings, out since 2009, by the Canadian Christian band Downhere is new to me. I’m so thankful my favorite radio station is playing this one lately. The lyrics allude to a visitation of some number of wise men from the Far East. Through their knowledge of both the ancient Scriptures (Micah 5:2)and the stars of Heaven, they were able to chart a course right to the baby Jesus, in his home in Bethlehem. How Many Kings speaks of their amazement and wonder…and ours…at the coming of the Christ Child. It is the story of such love as God had…has…for us in that even His own son He would not withhold from us…to make a path for us back to Him.IMG_0048

God sent His son to us. Our triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – perfectly One in unity through the ages – would somehow include 33 years of life on earth to bring Himself close to us. God with skin on – that we might understand better what love looks like and how we can live because of that love… Glory! 

Blog - Worship Wednesday - What KingsPhoto Credit: Quotesgram.com

Worship with me:

Follow the star to a place unexpected
Would you believe, after all we’ve projected, A child in a manger?
Lowly and small, the weakest of all
Unlikeliest hero, wrapped in his mother’s shawl – Just a child – Is this who we’ve waited for? ’cause…

How many kings step down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
And how many gods have poured out their hearts to romance a world that is torn all apart – how many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Bringing our gifts for the newborn Savior All that we have, whether costly or meek because we believe.
Gold for his honor, and frankincense for his pleasure and myrrh for the cross he will suffer Do you believe?
Is this who we’ve waited for?

Only one did that for me
All, all for me…
All for you…

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I am not sure Downhere is even performing together currently, but thank you, Brothers, for this song…and thank You, God, for giving Your Son for me…for us all.Blog - How Many Kings - DownherePhoto Credit: Downhere.com

Lyrics to How Many Kings – Songwriters – Marc A. Martel and Jason Germain

Story Behind the Song How Many Kings

Downhere Band Website

Bethlehem Skyline – album including How Many Kings

Grit – When You’re Hurtin’ But Not Quittin’ – the Role of Personal Resolve and a Team Alongside

131118-Z-WM549-015Photo Credit: Pacific News Center

Diligence is a word that defined my many years in learning Arabic while we lived overseas. Keeping at it, even when I wanted to quit, helped immensely. The joy of living life in a second language is worth all the work. Diligence is a great assist to staying on course, but it is not “grit”.

I saw grit at work recently in a group of servicemen, in Virginia Beach, doing their morning exercise. [Not the picture above but that image has its own neat story of grit]. We had taken a couple of days away from the city to get our breath, by the ocean. Walking on the boardwalk early in the morning, we encountered this small group of airmen from the nearby Naval Base, doing a group jog. We saw them starting the run and saw them again coming back – 6 miles total. Most of them were young, thin, and fit.

What caught our eye, in particular, were two men in mid-life, carrying a bit of weight, bringing up the rear. Approaching the end of that run, they looked like they were hurting, but they definitely weren’t quitting. I’m sure to stay as fit as the rest of the group was, a certain measure of grit was at play…but these two, in this snapshot of life, showed the grit that brought me to write today.

Wikipedia.org defines grit as a character trait  of applying passion and perseverance over time toward a goal, end state or objective. Grit goes beyond ability and can withstand failure, keeping the end goal in sight, and pushing through to it.Blog - Grit - Definition 2

Bill Hybels, at the Global Leadership Summit 2015*, talked about grit as “one of the greatest indicators of success”. Gritty people, he said, are the ones who “play hurt” and rarely ever give up. “They expect progress to be difficult, but believe with their whole being that they can be successful if they don’t quit.” It’s “The Little Engine That Could”. Abraham Lincoln. Nelson Mandela. Gandhi. Martin Luther King. Hybels also encouraged the audience that grit can be developed. From childhood through adulthood.

Jon Acuff (author of Do Over) defines grit as “stubbornness in the face of fear“.  In his book, he gives a short list of what’s needed in making gritty decisions (in the “hustle” of work):

  • Time – we think the world “hustle” has to mean fast, but it can also mean focus, intention, pace.
  • Counsel – Lean on your relationships. Some of the worst decisions are made alone. Who are your advocates? Have you given them time to reflect on it or are you rushing right by the wisdom they have to offer? Let them speak into it. A year from now, looking back on the decision, you’ll be glad you made it as a team.
  • Questions – Always ask awesome opportunities, awesome questions. We skimp on due diligence. “What am I not seeing right now?”
  • Kindness – Give yourself permission to make the wrong decision, because…you’re going to. Break the tension of feeling like you’re going to be perfect by giving yourself some kindness from the outset.
  • Honesty – When you look back on a decision, remember that you made that decision with the best information you had at the time.

As we saw those two older heavyset men running just behind their younger airmen colleagues, we saw men with a goal in mind. There was also something more – the cadence to the group’s run that seemed to work to keep them all together. Whether at work or in family relationships, we want to do all we can to help those gritty ones be successful. Their resolve may get them to the goal anyway, but we all benefit when we are able to “stay on course” together.

Have you “grown gritty” over your lifetime? Are there gritty folks in your life who you love to champion? Tell us about them below.

*Session 1: Bill Hybels Opening Session – Global Leadership Summit

Wikipedia Article on Grit

The Truth About Grit

The Grit Test

Jon Acuff on the Role of Hustle in Taking Hold of Career Opportunities – Notes & Quotes – Part 5 of Do Over Series

How to Make Grit Decisions and Built a Grit List by Jon Acuff

Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, and Never Get Stuck by Jon Acuff

Does Teaching Kids To Get ‘Gritty’ Help Them Get Ahead?

Eid al-Adha – Feast of the Sacrifice – A Day of Prayers & Celebration Around the World

Indian Muslim boys take a goat for sacrifice after offering prayers on Eid al-Adha in Hyderabad, India, Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010.Photo Credit: blogs.sacbee.com

“My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together. Genesis 22:7-8

…Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the LORD it will be provided.”  – Genesis 22:13-14

عيد أضحى مبارك كل عام وانتم بخير
“Happy Eid Adha or Eid Mubarak!”

For Muslims, Eid al-Adha (“Feast of the Sacrifice”) is a holy day of similar importance as Easter and Christmas are to believing Christians. It is the day each year that they remember and celebrate God’s provision of a sacrificial animal for obedient Abraham. Abraham submitted himself to God’s instructions on that day centuries ago, and God provided.

Eid al-Adha actually falls during the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. For those who are able and can afford to make the “hajj”, they will celebrate this day as part of their journey in Saudi Arabia.

We spent many years in North Africa and observed our friends and neighbors celebration of Eid al-Adha. Sometimes we were included but usually our friends spent the primary activities of the Eid (prayers, slaughter of an animal, and feasting through the day) together as family. We would be invited over the next days to enjoy the bounty of food that continued through the 3-day celebration.

The memories of those days remain with me. In the days before the feast, sheep markets popped up everywhere.Blog - Sheep for sale - Morocco

As neighbors bought their sheep, the bleating of these animals would spread through the city. Then in the early morning of the Eid, the streets filled with families making their way to the mosque for prayers. Children in new clothes would join their parents, boys with their dads, and girls with their moms, in their designated areas of the mosque. These chanted prayers would fill the air.

Our experience of the killing of the sheep was that butchers would come to where the sheep were – on roofs of apartment buildings or in alleyways beside them, or in the courtyard of villas. There was a prayer over the animal, and the butcher quickly killed the sheep and prepared the body for the grilling that would come later in the day. Sometimes, the animal was carved up and divided to be shared with other family members and with the poor.

There were three distinct smells on that day – the smell of blood, the smell of hair burning (as the sheep heads were burned on an open fire), and the smell of grilled meat. That last smell makes up for the earlier ones. I have seen satellite views online of the predominantly Muslim world on Eid al-Adha where there’s actually a visible cover of smoke. Not sure if it was true or not, but there is so much burning on this day.

Anyway, to my Muslim friends, I greet you on this feast day. Safe travels and sweet times together with those you love. May you know the provision of God for all you need in this life and the next.

We share the same Father Abraham. I shared, from the Torah/Bible, some of the account of his experience with the Lord that day. [In the Quran, the account is found in sura 37.] For us as believing Christians, the Biblical account was a foreshadowing of another Sacrifice, another provision of God.Blog - Abraham's sacrifice and God's provision - sheep - Domenichino en wikipedia org (2)Photo Credit: Domenichino, en.wikipedia.org

“It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” [John the Baptist, speaking – John 1:27]

The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29

There are others, both religious and irreligious, who find these stories of blood and killing/dying repulsive and off-putting. When Adam and Eve rebelled against God, He covered them with the skins of animals, when they hid from God in their no longer innocent nakedness (Genesis 3:21). Our rebellion, our human condition really, requires a provision from a holy God. This is not such a popular view these days…but it is what comes to mind for me on this day.

I am grateful for those things we share with our Muslim friends. Deep relationships and conversations. Sweet memories and making more.

We also celebrate, in different ways, a God who provides. Thanks be to God for His indescribable, unspeakable, all surpassing, exceedingly great gift. (2 Corinthians 9:14)

The Frame: Eid Al-Adha, Feast of the Sacrifice – Photos from around the world

Behold the Lamb of God – John Piper

Perfected for All Time by a Single Offering – John Piper

An Uncle Like Abraham – Do You Have One? Would You Be One?

Three Years’ Work Gone…Not so! A Story – Going from a Deep Sad to Hopeful Glad

Blog - Sunset 2 = Brenda McEwenPhoto Credit: Brenda McEwen

“God can take the broken bridges and make something beautiful. I am living proof.” – Brenda McEwen

This is a story. It is my brief account of a 3-year journey of a small group of like-minded individuals, strangers really at first, who came together for an extraordinary purpose. It is how I see it – these three years, this work, these colleagues who became friends.

The story begins many years earlier, when a seed was planted providentially in the heart of a man who became the president of a large non-profit organization. It was a seed of possibility – of what if we thought bigger, beyond our own company. What if we took the essence of what we did well and expand it to include all those who had our same vision? Across agencies, most much smaller than ours – to do a work with long-term global impact. For great good.

The particulars are not needed in this story…just the heart of it. The people in it.

As happens with God-shaped direction, this new president arrived, with this dream, to an organization where that vision was already stirring. He fueled the fire by appointing a leader to gather a team to move this dream to reality.

I had the privilege of writing some of the story of this team’s work. It was a small team, gathered from around the world for this purpose. For them, this was a dream job, for they also had that vision, that “what if” in their own hearts. For me, watching them work, this was a dream team, with differing gifts, strong character and great resolve. Praying, talking, researching, floating ideas, designing, creating, developing, networking, building relationships, talking some more, praying some more.

I won’t use pictures for this story, but there is a picture – a group of guys around a work table constructing and deconstructing and reconstructing a framework of “what if”. Whiteboard walls filled with ideas and timelines and names of partner organizations and notes from conversations. So much thinking and talking and praying.

This is the team I wrote about…these around this table and all the many we discovered around the world with the same vision – who were also moving in the same direction of this larger idea. Such a God thing. Even in this moment, I feel so privileged to have been a tiny part of such an endeavor.

In this last of the three years, the “what if” was in full launch with stories mounting of God at work.

In this same year, God was at work in other ways as well, affecting this team differently than they would have imagined. There was a change in leadership. A financial shortfall deepened. An overall strategy took a slight but dramatic turn.

This team’s work would not be the course taken to get to the “what if”…at least not for now.

If you have been in this place before – then you understand. We have probably all been through company reorganizations, maybe a personnel downsizing, possibly even a project termination or failure to launch. It happens.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the deep emotional toll of this story’s end. The conflicted anger mixed with deep, unrelenting sadness. The “what if” that went away… at least from this team, for now. At least…it seemed so.

Then I came to this amazing moment in the story…when it came to me that this isn’t the end.

One afternoon last week, after a fitful night of interrupted sleep, I took a nap. Upon waking, a Bible verse came to mind. It was the account of Israel’s King David who had prayed intently for his very ill little son not to die. God did not answer that prayer in the way David hoped.

“Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. He then went to his own house. And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate.” 2 Samuel 12:20

It was as if the Lord woke me from that sadness over this team and this work. I was also reminded of the story of Job receiving terrible news from a messenger:

“Behold, a great wind came from across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people and they died, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.” – Job 1:19-21

There comes a time…you stop grieving, and get up, and on with the life before you. That same afternoon, in the car doing errands, I heard a song lyric for the first time, after many times listening:

There’s a place where mercy reigns and never dies,
There’s a place where streams of grace flow deep and wide.
Where all the love I’ve ever found,
Comes like a flood, comes flowing down.

There’s a place where sin and shame are powerless.
Where my heart has peace with God and forgiveness.
Where all the love I’ve ever found.
Comes like a flood, comes flowing down.

Here my hope is found
Here on holy ground
Here I bow down. – Chris Tomlin, At the Cross (Love Ran Red)

That afternoon, peace, over this team and their efforts, reigned in my heart. I was reminded of another One who had only a 3-year public ministry. He changed the world and continues to do so. We have that hope. We have that confidence. Our “what if” can be transformed to “what will be”.

Don’t hear me over-spiritualizing what “feels” really bad right now. The situation isn’t changed, but my perception of it has somewhat, with God’s tender help. Sadness, loss, and confusion will cloud my thinking from time to time. However, it won’t be where I live. Where I live, where this team lives, is about finishing strong – to be good stewards of what remains, to be faithful to God and the vision He planted in their hearts.

I want to celebrate them, and my season with them. How much our lives are changed by the giants of the past. Those who went before us, who picked up rocks, and cleared the way. Pioneers. This team stood on the shoulders of giants.Blog - On the shoulders of giants

Photo Credit: Pinterest.com

These guys are giants to me.

When the day arrives that the sign comes down off the office door and the members of this team take different assignments or pursue different work, I will be forever thankful for these three years I got to watch them work. My life has been radically changed by being a small part of this team’s faithful tackling the “what if’s”. Life today continues to be radically changed by this Giant of a God we serve, who lifts us up on His shoulders.

The End…but not yet.

Blog - Sunset 1 - Brenda McEwenPhoto Credit: Brenda McEwen

“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip.” – King David – Psalm 121:2-3

The Story of Us – A Quick Bit about Marriage Through Its Difficult Seasons

2009 August 25th Wedding Anniversary in Paris 128

“Contempt is conceived with expectations. Respect is conceived with expressions of gratitude. We can choose which one we will obsess over—expectations, or thanksgivings.”   – Gary Thomas*

“I wouldn’t be surprised if many marriages end in divorce largely because one or both partners are running from their own revealed weaknesses as much as they are running from something they can’t tolerate in their spouse.”   – Gary Thomas*

The Story of Us (1999), a film, starring Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer, details a marriage gone flat. I wanted to see the film at the time but the R rating (for language and brief sexuality) deterred me. Just yesterday, I caught the last half-hour of it, and loved that bit. Not recommending the whole film necessarily (it got terrible reviews) but Michelle Pfeiffer’s monolog at the end is amazing.Blog - Story_of_us - Wikipedia, Universal Pics, Warner Bros Pictures

To set the scene (if you didn’t see the movie either), Willis and Pfeiffer (actors I love) are Ben and Kate in a 15-year marriage. It has unwoven terribly over time. While their two children are away at summer camp, they decide to separate. Toward the end of the film, they are both rethinking their decision. As they pick up their children together, the emotional tension of that reunion is so touching. The monolog, in that last scene, is a great declaration of why not to destroy “the story of us”.

Before you watch (or read**) that scene, let me just say this about marriage and divorce…

My family history is riddled with divorce, and I was afraid of marriage because of all my biological family issues. Divorce happens, and honestly, there are situations when we can’t see any other way out, or through. Still, marriage, as we all at least say if not always believe, is worth the fight.

There are so many reasons to work through the dry and difficult seasons of marriage. Gary L. Thomas is a great teacher on this subject and I recommend all of his books on marriage. They are practical and empathetic and full of hope.

One thing I value is history in relationships. When we went through our hard seasons in marriage, I held on to three things: 1) wanting to honor God in my marriage; 2) never wanting the consequences of divorce (had experienced those as a child growing up in divorce); and 3) not wanting to lose our life together (“the story of us”).

We, my husband and I, are in a different place now, and I can say to any in fragile relationships right now, “Wait for it!” “Work for it!” Of course, it takes two. Pfeiffer’s monolog would have had a whole other feel if Willis didn’t respond, in the film, the way he did. In married life, it does take two, but God, in His mercy and love, adds great power and grace to the one willing. Hold on to that.

So here’s just a part of Pfeiffer’s monolog (women, especially, might enjoy reading this out loud, if you’re in a private place – so full of earnestness and vulnerability – just sayin’):

“We’re an “us”. There’s a history and histories don’t happen overnight. In Mesopotamia or Ancient Troy or somewhere back there, there were cities built on top of other cities, but I don’t want to build another city. I like this city…That’s a dance you perfect over time. And it’s hard, it’s much harder than I thought it would be, but there’s more good than bad. And you don’t just give up. And it’s not for the sake of the children, but they’re great kids aren’t they? And we made them – I mean think about that – there were no people there and then there were people – two of them. And they grew…  Let’s face it, anybody is going to have traits that get on your nerves, why shouldn’t it be your annoying traits? I’m no day at the beach, but I do have a good sense of direction so at least I can find the beach, but that’s not a criticism of you, it’s just a strength of mine. And you’re a good friend and good friends are hard to find… I mean I guess what I’m trying to say is – I love you.”**

[I know this is just a movie and maybe not a great one – it just reminded me – the bit I saw, and the monolog – of possibilities and hope. For you who have been terribly hurt in marriages you saw no way to save, God knows…and wants to heal that place in your heart.]

*Gary L. Thomas Quotes at Goodreads

YouTube Video – The Story of Us – Ending – Michelle Pfeiffer’s Amazing Monolog

**One of the Best Monologs Ever

The Story of Us film

How The Story of Us Should Have Ended – just for fun – a variation but with the same conclusion

A Lifelong Love: How to Have Lasting Intimacy, Friendship, and Purpose in Your Marriage by Gary Thomas

A Lifelong Love Quotes

Gary Thomas Answers Your Marriage Questions

YouTube Video – The Story of Us – Taylor Swift – Great song – Disclaimer – NOT about marriage

Photo Credit: Wikipedia.com

Ramadan – Much More Than Fasting – A Quick Study for the Sake of Your Friends & Coworkers

2008270mnj287From the Archives – June 30, 2014

“Ramadan Kareem!” “Ramadan Mabrouk!” “Ramadan Mabarak!” may be familiar words to you…or not so much. Around the world, among Muslims, these are greetings of blessing for their holy month of Ramadan. In this month, all Islamic peoples are united in the observance of their religion, more than any other time of the year.

Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar and is considered holy because Muhammad, Islam’s most revered prophet, reported receiving the Qu’ran during this month. At the sighting of the new moon at the beginning of Ramadan, Muslims begin a month-long exercise of six tenets of their faith, consistent, to a large extent, among all of the world’s practicing Muslims.

Fasting [Sawm (Arabic: صوم‎)]  From sunrise to sunset, during Ramadan, devout Muslims fast. In some countries, in fact, it’s illegal for a Muslim to be seen eating or drinking during these hours. There are exceptions (young children, the sick, elderly, and others in a few defined temporary situations). However, the fast is intended to be complete during the day (no food, drink, smoking, sexual intercourse, or profane speech). At sunset, the fast is broken with a meal together as family and eating can continue into the night until just before sunrise the next day. Because of this “flipped day”, Muslims, when possible, sleep during the day or spend time in recreation, exercise, or visiting. The women must still cook for that “break-fast” meal. School and work hours are shortened during Ramadan because of the fast.

Tip for you: Be sensitive to your fasting friend or coworker. If possible refrain from eating, drinking, smoking in front of him/her. Invite them to break their fast with your family (it means a meal later than usual, if Ramadan is in the long summer months). Don’t miss an opportunity to join them if you’re invited to a meal in their home.2008270mnj285

Charity [Sadaqah or Saddka (Arabic: صدقة‎, plural ṣadaqāt صدقات)] and/or Alms-giving [Zakāt (Arabic: زكاة‎ )] Part of the reason for fasting is to experience the life of one poorer than you. The idea is to eat less and use the money saved to give to the poor during Ramadan. Islam has two types of charity – one is voluntary charity to the poor that is seen often during Ramadan; the other is the mandatory alms-giving, required by faithful adherents to Islam. Ramadan is sometimes the month when Muslims give their alms through their mosque(s).

Tip for you: You and your Muslim friends/colleagues may share a concern for the poor of your city or for an oppressed people group somewhere in the world. This could open a door for you to act together on behalf of those in need.

Prayers [Ṣalāt (Arabic: صلاة‎ ṣalāt; pl. صلوات ṣalawāt)] Prayers are a major tenet of the Muslim faith. During Ramadan, prayers are considered even more powerful to the faithful Muslim. Entry into Paradise can hoped to be won by Muslims through the careful attention to religious practices during Ramadan. During the last 10 days of Ramadan, a special Night of Power [Laylat al-Qadr (Arabic: لیلة القدر‎)], is believed to have even greater weight in the practicing Muslim’s pursuit of favor with God.Cairo086

Tip for you: Even if you do not usually notice your Muslim friend or coworker’s prayers, during Ramadan, you may see them praying in their homes or at their desks. The mosques in your neighborhood will be much more noticeably busy during Ramadan. Besides the usual Friday service, and the 5 regular prayer-times during the day, there are often special opportunities for Muslims to gather to pray and read and discuss the Qu’ran. Pray for them as they pray.Cairo100

God-consciousness or Piety [Taqwa (Arabic: تقوى‎ )] For many devout Muslims, Ramadan may not be so exceptional, except for the fast. Most, however, count on this month for its spiritual focus. Both men and women will have opportunities to learn more about their God and the teachings of their prophet Muhammad. The global observance of Ramadan is a galvanizing experience for Muslims, with each other, and with the history of their religion, and, their hope, with God.

Tip for you: Ramadan is an excellent time of the year to increase your own understanding of what your Muslim friends/co-workers believe. Questions about their faith are usually welcomed. Arguments about faith are not. Do your own homework about the faith issues where you may disagree with Islamic teaching. This type of information is prolific on the internet (especially related to differences in thinking between Christians and Muslims). Then you can ask or discuss the faith issues that matter most to your friends/colleagues, because during Ramadan, they have been thinking about them.Cairo094

Community [Ummah (Arabic: أمة‎)] Breaking the fast together and praying together in the mosque are clear signs of the strong bond between Muslims, especially seen during Ramadan. Christians enjoy this experience through similar celebrations (Christmas and Easter, to name two) and through their faith in Christ, bringing them into the larger Family or Kingdom of God. This Muslim observance of Ramadan, in its 30-day concentration of focus and universal religious practice, is unique to this religion.

Tip for you: For some, the community of the Islamic world, in their religious practices and political views, can be a little uncomfortable. A good reminder to self is that Islam is a religion, and Muslims are people. Whatever you agree with or disagree with, regarding the religion, needs to be separate from how you engage with the persons who identify with a certain religion. All of us need community and affiliation. So don’t be put off by the Islamic practices you see in Ramadan. Remember, the people who are fasting, praying, and trying to understand God may share very similar concerns and struggles. AND if your Muslim friend/colleague is observing Ramadan away from his family/religious community, he or she is especially isolated and could really use your friendship during this time.

Ramadan’s Festival Day(s) [Eid ul-Fitr (Arabic: عيد الفطر‎)] – at the end of this month’s fasting and praying – in a future blog.

Muslim Website on Getting the Most Benefit Out of Ramadan

YouTube Video – Iftar (Breaking the Fast) Ramadan 2015 Around the World

YouTube Video – Ramadan | Month of Mercy | Almarai Emotional Commercial

Breaking Fast with Family – English Subtitles – Coca-Cola Commercial – Strong Message of Perceived Power of Month of Ramadan in Changes of Heart

Short Public Service Announcement on Breaking the Fast & Family Time Together After

Breaking the Fast – Ramadan Subway Commercial – You Don’t Have to Know the Language to Appreciate the Message

California Muslim Teens Explaining Ramadan

A Morality Tale (Ramadan Pepsi/Lays Potato Chip Commercial) on the pull of society on Muslim Youth & How Ramadan Holds Family Together

What Growing Up in a Muslim Country Taught Us About Ramadan – Another Author’s View

Glossary of Islamic (Arabic) Terms for the Month of Ramadan

Arabic Words & English Transliteration