Book Five

“I DON’T CARE!” Harry yelled at them, snatching up a lunascope and throwing it into the fireplace. “I’VE HAD ENOUGH, I’VE SEEN ENOUGH, I WANT OUT, I WANT IT TO END, I DON’T CARE ANYMORE!”
“You do care,” said Dumbledore. He had not flinched or made a single move to stop Harry demolishing his office. His expression was calm, almost detached. “You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it.”
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
First of all, let me say, I am not about to compare Harry Potter to the Bible. What I am about to do is tell you about some ideas that were sparked by a Harry Potter book today.

Also, I am doing my best to avoid spoilers. I hope I’m being discreet enough for those who have not read nor seen Harry Potter and want to uncover the story on their own. If you haven’t read the Bible, spoiler alert: Jesus dies, conquers death, comes back to life, and offers to save us all.

Carry on.

In addition to/conjunction with my PopSugar reading challenge this year, I am listening to all of the Harry Potter books on audiobook. I have read them all before, but the audio version has been a fun journey with a magnificent narrator. My least favorite book in the series is the fifth book, Order of the Phoenix. There are so many events and circumstances that just make my stomach turn. Injustice. Devastation. Betrayal. Chaos. Lies. It’s the longest book in the series, and, to me, it’s the hardest to read.

However, there is a conversation in the last few chapters between Harry and his school’s headmaster, Dumbledore. Dumbledore reveals his side of the story. He explains to Harry why things unfolded the way they did. He explains why he hid certain details from Harry in order to protect him.  Harry still has a difficult time swallowing the events of his fifth year at Hogwarts, but he sees them with clarity in hindsight.

It’s no secret that terrifying things are happening in our country and our world as a whole. It is seemingly impossible to pass a day without hearing gut-wrenching news. Our world is broken and we are weary. Our everyday life is book five. There is corruption within our leadership. People are dying. Evil is taking over.

But the difference is that Harry Potter doesn’t know the ending. As Christians, we know that Jesus wins. As Christians, we know that this world is not our home. As Christians our faith lies in Jesus Christ as our Savior. We may…we will suffer. We will continue to see death and destruction. But we can rest assured that the end will be victorious, because the moment we leave this earth, we will rejoice with God in heaven. As it says in the Bible:

““O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:55-58 NKJV)

 

I have always imagined that when we get to heaven, we will get to see a playback of our lives. Sometimes that thought makes me cringe, but other times I think about how my iPhone sized view of my world will be placed into the big picture of what God has seen in my life. I will see how all the pieces connected and how things I didn’t see shaped what I did. I will see how each decision built up the next and how “a sudden turn of events” was the orchestration of an all-knowing God.

No, Dumbledore is certainly not God. Dumbledore blamed himself for the way things unfolded in Harry’s life. He had regrets about things he kept hidden from Harry. He made mistakes. God doesn’t make mistakes. We do. The evil in this world is a result of a sinful man who passed that sin from generation to generation. We are broken, and no magic spells or wands or potions can fix us. Only God can. The bad in this world sends us running to Him. Until He comes back, may we pray for peace, may we pray for boldness to speak His name, and may we trust that all of this will make sense when we reach eternity.

Be near, Jesus.

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The Saga of Maddie at the Mall

Never have I been so sure of my status as a sojourner than I was today at the mall. I honestly felt a little culture shock in my own city. I don’t spend a lot of time at the mall, if you can’t tell. I had a very specific errand to run, which was to pick up a cookie cake for a No Mo Chemo party at work; otherwise, I would have ordered whatever it was I needed on Amazon– I am all about my Prime membership.

So, I was walking as fast as I could to get the cookie cake, and this woman at a kiosk asked if I wanted a sample. I knew enough to say “No, thanks!” and keep walking. But she got me with “Can I ask you a question?”. I was sure she wanted to talk about my Texas Forever t-shirt, so I obliged. Nope. Before I knew it, she’s rubbing something that came out of a syringe under my eye. Just one. And she’s fanning me with a paper fan, explaining that it’s from stem cells-from plants not from babies (Umm WHAT?!).

If you know me, you know that I am low maintenance in the make up department. I wash my face with the off-brand of Clean and Clear. I have a St. Ives exfoliator that I’ve used since high school, and my make up is easy, breezy, and beautiful. Or, maybe I’m born with it? Either way, she’s asking me about my face routine, and she’s obviously appalled. While my eye is setting, she puts an exfoliator on my hand, and proceeds to ask “When was the last time you had a bath? Last month?” This morning. Thanks. I’m ready to run for the hills. At this point, I was halfway sitting on her stool, purse on my shoulder, explaining that I had a very tight timeline, and I needed to run. She decides to start telling me all the prices of what she’s just used on my face, showing me a mirror multiple times to compare my two eyes. All the while, I’m waiting for her to just do the second eye so I can move on with my life. Fifteen minutes later, I left with less wrinkles(?), and her business card. She wasn’t concerned about the money, she just wants to know I’m taking care of my face. I told her I would keep that in mind when I purchase my next pack of Biore strips. (Just kidding!)

Y’all. I love to smile at people as they walk by. We are all in this together! It’s nice to give a little encouragement! But I kept my face down for the duration of my mall trip. I walked so fast, I rubbed a blister on the bottom of my foot. Never again.

The Message translation of 1 Peter 2:11-12 tells us “Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul.” I’m not about to go on a rant about how it’s bad to spend money on your looks or that botox is evil. You do you. What I do know, is that I was uncomfortable in the mall today. I am okay without the things it has to offer. God uses us in different places on this earth, but we are not home right now. Our home is in heaven with Him, and one day very soon, those of us who are believers, will all get there, and I feel confident my eye wrinkles will not matter one iota.

Until then, we must evaluate what we are doing with an eternal perspective. Spend time on what matters. For some of you, a good skincare routine is what matters. Maybe you use it as a ministry. Maybe you truly enjoy learning about contouring and highlighting. That’s great. It’s just not what matters to me. My time might be spent reading or baking cookies. Could some of that time be better spent? Absolutely. I’m a work in progress. We get the opportunity to grow on earth so we will be ready to spend eternity with God.

I pray for more opportunities to see this world as temporary and not my home because I can focus on Him even more. When I’m tied down to earthly treasures, I’m putting my heart in those, rather than heaven (see Matthew 6:19).

So there you have it. The Saga of Maddie at the Mall. Here’s to hoping there will not be a sequel. And for the record, I could write a sequel to God’s Green Earth for the price of the eye cream.

 

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And the Rain Keeps Falling

Noah and the Ark was a lesson I really enjoyed in Sunday School as a child. It had all the makings of a good story: a hero and his family, good winning over evil, animals, and a rainbow. 

I grew up in the Houston area, and a nearby community suffered flooding anytime we had a big storm. I distinctly remember questioning the flooding, since God promised not to ever flood the earth again. But I kept it to myself. I didn’t want to argue with God, after all. As I got a little older, I realized His promise was to never flood the whole earth again,  nor destroy every living thing (Genesis 8:21). 

I think about this passage of Scripture as the rains continue to fall on my hometown. And my prayer time this morning led me to a thought. 

When Baton Rouge suffered The Great Flood last year, it came on the heels of a terrible wave of racial tension. We had experienced great loss, racism, fear, and acts of hatred. And then, in what seemed like moments, all of that literally washed away. As many quoted, we no longer saw black or white, just dry or wet. 

We move to the present, where our our nation has been portrayed as divided by color, once again. Two sides, very publicly, calling each other every name in the book and physically harming one another. Tensions have risen, sides have been taken, mouths have spewed hatred, and those who should have spoken have remained silent. 

It’s almost like God said, “I must not have made myself clear. I said to love one another.” We saw our beloved Baton Rouge under water. We are just a dot on the map compared to Houston. Everything is bigger in Texas, even the floods. 

I see the familiar pictures of all shades bringing families of all shades through the murky waters. I see the same panic on rooftops and the same determination of rescuers in boats. I see dry and wet. 

Do I believe this flood is meant to punish? No, but I do believe that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:28‬ ‭NKJV‬‬). I believe that until we love one another as God has commanded us (see John 13:34-35), we will see devastation as a direct and indirect result of our hatred. 

Please join me in praying for the waters to evaporate, for the rain to stop, for homes and lives to be spared, and for all of us to sincerely love our brothers and sisters.

Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world. 

 

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This is Not Famous to Me…

One time, when I was a freshman in high school, my mom was driving my sister and me home from dance class. This happened several times a week, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary, but this particular time stands out. Back then, in our community, we could safely pick up people who needed a ride. Typically it was an elderly gentleman with Alzheimer’s who lived near us, but this one night sticks out because it was a woman and her son who we picked up. It was dark, and they were walking on the side of the road, a few bags of groceries in hand. We couldn’t just leave them–they looked terrified. My mom asked if they wanted a ride, and the woman accepted. When we asked where they were going, it was clear that English was not her first language. “Blackberry nine”. Her address*. Where I grew up, most of the street names had something to do with nature. I had ridden the bus for a few years, and the street name sounded familiar from my bus route, but I couldn’t quite pin it down to an exact neighborhood-there were dozens of streets named after berries. We headed in that general direction, but when we got there, this woman’s reaction became a household quote: “This is not famous to me.” What she knew in the light was not enough to help her in the dark. After a few more tries, we found it. Relief swept through the car. We found Blackberry nine!

I say this to highlight the importance of truly knowing something. This woman knew what her street looked like. She probably left for the store in daylight, and felt prepared to get home. But she didn’t know the surrounding areas with enough confidence to actually bring her to her front door. I will never forget her huge grin as she ran with her precious little boy to her house. Her fear subsided, and she was back to the “famous”.

Familiarity in prayer is a beautiful thing. I was recently asked how I just pray out loud and know what to say. As I have come to understand, prayer is an ongoing conversation with God. I’m just picking up where I left off with my Father. The more time I spend in prayer, the more I understand His character and the more confident I feel in His presence. Don’t get me wrong, I’m learning each and every day. I’m learning  how to pray scripture. I’m learning to pray out loud. I’m learning to write my prayers. It’s a beautiful thing, and it comes with time.

Look at it like this: The way I talk to my husband is different than the way I talk to a person at they gym. The way I talk to my coworker is different than how I talk to a new patient’s mother. How I converse with my sister is…well different than anyone.(Mostly in movie quotes, voices, and emoji-worthy facial expressions) It’s the familiarity that turns “God is great, God is good” to “Father God, You are beautiful”.

I never thought I would use Will Ferrell in a blog post, but there’s a time for everything, right? Remember in Elf, when Buddy sees Santa, and yells “I know him!!!”, only to realize it’s a fake? How did he know the Santa in the store was fake? He knew the real deal. He was so confident in his relationship with Santa, that he spotted a fake right away. That is how our relationship with God should be. That familiarity allows us not only to come into His presence with a deeper understanding of who He is, but it also allows us to recognize when something doesn’t line up with His word.

On the flip side, just think about how familiar our Creator is with us. Psalm 139 is a beautiful song of God’s love for us. Verses 1-6 say:

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.
You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high, I cannot attain it. (NKJV)

I would definitely urge you to read the chapter in its entirety-it’s short, but so full! I love this passage because it shows us the understanding God has of us, and it displays an awesome example of familiarity with God from the writer, David’s perspective. How did David write such an intimate song? He knew his Maker. God put that understanding in David’s heart through a lifetime of prayer and devotion. As David has been considered to be a man after God’s own heart, we should also aspire for the same closeness.

Know your Bible so well that you could navigate scripture in the dark. When you’re troubled, know where to turn. When you’re rejoicing, sing the songs of David (see James 5:13). When you hear someone speak about the Bible in a way that seems unsettling, know the Scripture so well that you can refute it if it’s wrong, or wrestle with it if it’s true. God (and His word) should be “famous” to you.

“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16 NKJV)

 

 

*Changed for her protection, on the off chance you are a stalker, and she still lives there.

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Rejected

Today I got rejected. It was just a little rejection, but it immediately triggered memories of past rejections. Book proposal refusals, not making a dance team, Twitter unfollowers, not receiving a solo in a choir show– we’re talking “way back when” here. Healthy, right? Thankfully, I now know how to stop that thinking dead in its tracks (Jesus), but for a moment, I felt a little crushed.

You see, I was running errands, and I figured I would ask the manager of a local store if he could carry my book. I know this store is a small part of a large chain, and I know the decision to carry a book could be a corporate decision, but it never hurts to ask. Except when it does. The manager was very nice, and he suggested I ask my book rep to contact their corporate office. The slight problem with this is that as a self-published author, I am my book rep. I smiled and nodded, and thanked him for his time, but I could feel myself deflate. Rejection is hard. And it’s hard to get back up and try again.

This past Sunday, I had an opportunity to see my church family welcome a prodigal son of sorts into worship. We have several “prodigal children” within our church family, and I can say without hesitation that we welcome each and every one back. Are we disappointed in the decisions they make? Yes. Do we let them know we are disappointed? Yes. But do we hug them when they return? Always. And almost always with happy tears in our eyes. I love that our church is a safe haven for those who have lost their ways. It’s home base. Yesterday, our returning member came back, and he brought friends. He came to worship, acknowledging that God was more important than circumstances.

There could have been drama, there could have been rejection; he’s experienced both, yet he came back. Remember when I said I knew how to stop that rejection mentality? It’s Jesus. Yes, the most basic, Sunday School answer there ever was: Jesus. And this man knew it.

Unfortunately, the church does a lot of rejecting. This isn’t new. For goodness sake, we rejected Jesus. In Luke 4:14-30, Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth to preach. He was literally “thrust out of the city”. Praise God, Jesus didn’t stop at rejection. We reject those who aren’t like us, those who sin- but really just sin differently than us, those who speak differently than us, those who look like someone who did something terrible, those who hurt our feelings, etc. But that isn’t what Jesus modeled for us. Jesus did not reject the rejectors, and He gave us the perfect example of how to handle rejection: We look to the Father.

Today, instead of having an all out meltdown, I can bring my disappointment to God. I can pray for Him to restore my courage and my emotions, I can thank Him for future opportunities and for comfort. I will continue to shop at this store, because there is no reason to hold a grudge. I was not wronged in any way, I simply did not get the answer I wanted. God gave me the avenue of words to prayerfully process, and maybe have a milkshake on the side.

I’m grateful for His truths, and I’m grateful for a body of believers who gracefully models what it is to give second and twenty-seventh chances. Whether you are feeling rejected, or maybe you are the rejector, your answer is Jesus. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 NKJV)

 

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Faith Like a Pecan Tree

When Daniel and I moved into our house, one of the things we liked best was the beautiful pecan tree in the front yard. Seven years ago, we had been married for a little over a year, I was pregnant with Hudson, and we had big dreams of lots of pecan pie in our perfect home. That first year, Daniel spent a day cracking pecans on the back porch and made our first pecan pie. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

The thing about trees is that they are finite. As with all living things, they are susceptible to disease, weather, old age, etc. Ours found its kryptonite in the form of a lightning bolt. It took us a while to realize what had happened. We noticed it didn’t produce pecans our second year. Some friends said it may only produce every other year. We made sure to fertilize it, and we waited patiently for the next season. Only, we didn’t see growth. No leaves, no pecans. It was looking pretty dead. Then the limbs began to fall. We would notice a small branch in the yard after a storm, or a larger one after particularly strong winds. We thought about calling a tree service multiple times, but then the tree perked up with leaves again. It did have life! But still no pecans and still one solitary dead branch. We discussed the situation with our neighbors, who had a lightning stricken pecan tree, and we came to the conclusion that our tree had met the same fate.

Branch after branch continued to fall, creating some close encounters with our roof, the road, and the flag on our house. A neighbor with a chain saw offered to cut the tree down for free, in exchange for the wood, and we thought it was too good to be true. Turns out it was. He did cut up a large limb, but we never saw him again after that. The tree still stands. It really made me wonder, “What can I learn from this? This tree has roots, metaphorically and physically speaking. I hate to see it go, but I can’t risk a hole in my roof or damage to my house.”

I started thinking about how we hold onto things that aren’t good for us because we fear what life might look like without them. Sin is hard to give up. Sinful behaviors can come along with our family and friends. They can become what we feel defines us. They can be our hobbies. Sin can be what we use to look good or exciting. When we feel conviction to stop doing something that has been part of our nature, we get uncomfortable and defiant. “How can I stop gossiping? I’m the one who ALWAYS knows what’s going on!” “How can I stop using drugs? It’s how I cope and my friends do it with me.” “How do you expect me to stop using profanity? It’s not that big of a deal.” We find excuses and justifications to avoid the tug that God places on our hearts.

When we come to Christ, we are not expected to change every detail about our lives all at once. As our relationships with God grow deeper, we start changing little by little. Some major things might change right away, but the rest come in time. Jeremiah 18:6 says, “Family of Israel, you know that I can do the same thing with you. You are like the clay in the potter’s hands, and I am the potter.” This message is from the Lord.” A potter doesn’t just pick up a lump of clay and have a masterpiece. He molds, he chisels, he smooths, he kneads. It takes time and a lot of work. It takes great effort to eliminate imperfections.

Sin is kind of like our tree.

  • We didn’t recognize the problem at first. It still looked good and the leaves were still green, but it didn’t produce fruit. Sin hinders our ability to bear fruit also. Some sins are easy to hide. We think we look like we have it all together and that no one will notice our sin, but we don’t tend to witness well to others if we are disobeying the very Word we are trying to preach.
  • Our branches began to fall one by one, leaving a mess to clean up, but nothing devastating. Like I said, we have not experienced any major damage from the lost limbs. Breaking a sinful habit might be hard, but it will not be damaging; in fact, it will make your relationship with God, and probably others, that much better.
  • Once one limb falls, another tends to follow suit. Like sin, when we recognize one area for improvement, the other problems become more apparent.
  • Our friends may have good intentions, but it is ultimately up to us to make a change.
  • The pecan tree does not make or break our house. We love our home. We have made memories here, we have an amazing back yard, and we have the best next door neighbors. We are not defined by our pecan tree, and we are not defined by our sin.
  • Once the tree is gone, we will have a clear view of our house. Without sin, we have a clearer picture of God. We aren’t impeded by our own shortcomings. 1 Corinthians 13:11-12 says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” When we meet Jesus, our eyes will be opened. We can have a glimpse of that on earth if we depart from sin. Will we be perfect? Of course not. But we can strive to be like Christ. As Philippians 3:14 says, “I press on”. 

Needless to say, I think we may have a date with a chain saw pretty soon. You get to a point when enough is enough. You realize the risk does not outweigh the benefit of putting it off. God has gently broken the branches of our tree, and He gently urges us to eliminate sin in our lives. Sin separates us from God, and there literally is no benefit to pursuing it. When the tree is gone, we won’t have to worry about pulling in the driveway to find a hole in our roof or a branch through our window. When we stop sinning, we stop worrying about getting caught. We stop worrying about the negative effects of our actions because the only thing to do is replace sin with God.

Are you at a point where you need a tree trimmer or a stump grinder? My prayer is that it will become evident in our lives. A close relationship with God is the most beautiful thing—more than any tree or pecan pie. Don’t miss what is best for what is good.

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Be Strong in the Grace

Strength. We associate it with being tough. Being hard. Being physically fit. We typically don’t associate it with grace; but in 2 Timothy, that is what Paul asks Timothy to do: “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” The first time I read it, I wasn’t sure what it meant. But then God worked to show me the meaning behind His Word in a way I would never expect.

Not too long ago, my friend made a mistake– a big mistake that could have cost a life. It could have been anyone. Moms, think about little mishaps that happen each day that make us stop and thank God for His protection. Teenagers and former teenagers, think about stupid choices you made that didn’t result in the consequences they could have. Anyone in the medical field is faced with life altering calculations and decisions each day of work. If we want to be honest, each time we sit behind the wheel of a car, we are entrusting our lives to others and have the potential to make deadly mistakes. Accidents happen. Mistakes happen. But sometimes it leaves us feeling like we have rocks in our stomachs. Sometimes the thought of “what if” can be paralyzing.

My friend struggled to forgive herself. She felt like a failure and was struggling to move on. The fact of the matter is that Satan wants this in our lives. If we are choosing to follow God’s calling on our lives, if we are making a difference for the Kingdom, Satan will try to thwart our efforts. If a nurse stopped practicing because of a near miss, if a financial advisor quit his job because of a miscalculation, or if a musician stopped playing because he played a wrong chord, no one would be in practice very long. Our mistakes truly do help us grow and see more clearly the next time.

In one of my favorite movies, “Elizabethtown”, the main character is a shoe designer who makes a design mistake, causing his shoe to be recalled, resulting in an overwhelming loss for his company, and the loss of his job. He finally confesses this faux pas to a girl he’s seeing, expecting her to join in his enormous pity party. Her reaction? “So you failed. Alright you really failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You think I care about that? I do understand. You wanna be really great? Then have the courage to fail big and stick around. Make them wonder why you’re still smiling.”

Here’s what I would like to add: Admit failure, but then admit forgiveness. It can be hard to accept that God has offered forgiveness, but when we fail to forgive ourselves, we place our opinion over God’s. If God has deemed us worthy of forgiveness, we are worthy. End of story. Being strong in grace is hard. It’s choosing to stand back up and try again. It’s living like we have been forgiven. It’s sharing what happened to us with others to encourage them and potentially save them some heartache later down the road. Being strong in grace means being strong enough to identify the devil’s schemes.

We are, by no means, perfect. We have made mistakes, and we will continue to make them until our last days on earth. Ask for forgiveness when your mistake was due to sin (ignorance is a sin); praise God when your mistake doesn’t end in devastation; apologize when necessary, and by all means, get back up.

Just like with the muscles in your body, strength doesn’t happen overnight. Being strong in grace requires practice. It requires an ongoing relationship with God. We can’t just decide to be strong in grace if we don’t have solid foundations of understanding grace. Daily prayer and communication with God and a firm understanding of Scripture is how we become strong; admitting weakness and our need for a Savior is how we become strong (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). Less of us, more of Him equals strength (see John 3:30).

Strength and grace may seem like opposites, but grace can be hard, not only to accept, but to give as well. Grace is not a sign of weakness, by any means. Accepting grace is working against the devil’s agenda, and that is no easy task. If you trust God, accept His grace, live in His grace, and overflow with His grace.

Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

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