No Service: A Distraction-Free Zone

Cell PhoneNo service or the spinning wheel of death usually causes a groan because I can’t access Google, Facebook or text messages. It often happens at the worst time, such as when I need directions in some remote area of Amish country.  Or worse, when I’m standing in a line…bored and needing some electronic entertainment. It’s annoying to not have service on my cell phone.

Except that there is one place where I don’t receive cell service that it isn’t annoying. It’s the one place I’m grateful I don’t get service.

At my church.

I don’t get one single bar.  A continuous spinning wheel of death.  Repeated “Not Delivered” messages.  Not a tiny, itty, bitty inch of service.

And I’m glad for it.  Why?  Because it’s a total and complete break from social media and obligations through my electronic lease.

It’s a relief to have that chain broken so that I can 100% focus on God and the people within the walls of the church. I literally have no excuse to not get involved, to not engage in conversation, to not fully worship and pray.  I have no buzz in my pocket tugging me away from being present in the moment.  No service means no distractions while I’m in the walls of the church.

Have you found yourself distracted while in your church?  It may be your phone, your child, your worries from work or even your spouse. Those distractions tear your attention away from God.

*Focus During Worship

Have you struggled with focusing on God while the worship music is happening? Are you self-conscious about singing in tune?  Perhaps you are wondering where the singer got her adorable dress? Fretting over clapping verses raising your hands in praise?

All of those are distractions from the true intent of focusing on God during worship time.

You can sing like an angel or roar like a lion, but not say one thing to God. You can be tone deaf or not care for a particular song, but speak to the Father fully from your heart.  I would encourage you to examine yourself and figure out if your words of worship are simply lip-service or if you are truly offering a song to the Lord.

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” ~Matthew 15:8-9 (NIV)

*Focus During Prayer

During times of prayer, does your mind wander? Are you making a grocery list? Thinking about your child’s homework? Wishing you could pray more eloquently?

All of those are distractions from the true intent of focusing on God during prayer time.

You can get loud and pray boldly, but your prayer still won’t touch Heaven. You can stumble and use verbal pauses…..ummmmmm….., but speak directly to the Father’s heart.  Examine yourself and figure out if you are just tossing words around or are you offering a sweet sound of praise and request to the Lord.

“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock, and my Redeemer.” ~Psalm 18:14 (NIV)

*Focus During Service to Others

When you are serving others, are you considering other things you could be doing? Do you feel a sense of obligation rather than joy? Are you watching your watch, wishing the time away?

All of those are distractions from the true intent of focusing on God during times of serving others.

You can volunteer for dozens of organizations, but your service can be unpleasant to the Lord. You can serve one person in a seemingly mundane manner, but make the Father proud of you.  Examine yourself and figure out if you are serving others for yourself or are you offering the gift of your time as praise to the Lord.

“Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’” ~Mark 9:35 (NIV)

These are just three examples of where we, as Christians, need to focus:                     During worship. During prayer. During service to others.

Through focusing on God, we need to mitigate distractions.

While my phone is an asset for staying connected in business and personal relationships, it can also become a distraction.   A distraction that has been eliminated based on the lack of a service area.

I am grateful for the elimination of that distraction.  It’s one step closer to staying focused on the Lord!

I pray that you have deliberately focused week that is free from the distractions of the season!

Merry Christmas!

~Emily

 

 

Nutcracker Savior

True confession time.  I don’t care for the Nutcracker ballet.  I never have liked it and I certainly don’t associate this ballet with Christmas.

That declaration seems pretty un-American.  Or un-Russian, at the very least.

Over this last weekend, my seven-year-old and I went to saw the Montgomery Ballet’s version of the Nutcracker.  Not because I like it or because it’s Christmas time. No, we went to see it primarily because we know one of the five-year-old dancing mice in this ballet company and because I’m a firm believer in introducing my son to many different cultural aspects of society.

As we were watching (insert the word ‘suffering,’ if applicable), my mind began to wander on how the parallels of the Nutcracker are seen in the life of Jesus Christ and His gift for us.

The main character is a girl, Clara, who represents all of humanity as she waits between now and the future.  She receives a nutcracker that comes to life to fight evil. The nutcracker eventually dies in the ballet while fighting evil, but is brought back to life by Clara’s godfather. Once the nutcracker comes back to life, he is a handsome prince who takes Clara to a beautiful kingdom and everyone in the kingdom is excited about the prince’s return.

Do you see a familiar pattern? Humans desperately need to be saved, which is highlighted by the little girl Clara. Like the Nutcracker, Jesus comes and saves humanity from sin and evil. The Nutcracker, in parallel with Jesus, saves Clara from the evil Mouse King (Satan) and God (the Godfather) raises the nutcracker from the dead and he is transformed into a beautiful prince.

The Nutcracker explores evil versus good, death and resurrection, anxiously waiting, the tension between the now and future, and the triumphal return of the Prince of Peace.

While I’m not making light of Jesus in comparison to a nutcracker gift, I am contending that He came in flesh on Christmas as a newborn babe…ready to fight evil…ready to die for us…ready to come back.

I am observing that even in the parts of the Christmas celebrations that we don’t enjoy, we can find the hope of Christ nestled into the messaging.  As we gear up for the next few hectic weeks before Christmas, I encourage you to pause and draw some parallels for yourself.

Merry Christmas!
~Emily

Nutcracker

Transitions: Change and Growth

I am overwhelmed by all the changes that happened in my life this last week.  I officially retired from the Air Force after 24 years, 10 months, and 26 days (would it just be easier to continue saying 25 years?!?!?!).  That means I was accepted into the “blue card club”; AKA I got my retired military ID card.

As a result of that transition, I was given 30 days to establish formal residency in the state of Alabama.  That means I gave up my Oregon driver’s license this week, which I might add had a 28-year-old-Emily photo and weight.  I traded that in for a Jabba-The-Hut photo with a 25-pound weight gain on a black and white temporary Alabama ID.

This week also brought a switch in health care insurance to retired status for my whole family, as well as registration for voting.  The next Alabama voting season will literally be the first time I have ever voted in an actual polling booth and not through an absentee ballot.

Overwhelming transitions that changed many of my self-identifiers.

*No longer active duty…now retired.

*No longer an Oregonian…now an Alabamian (is that the correct term??!?!?!).

*No longer insured for free…now paying lots for healthcare.

*No longer absentee voter…now a poll voter.

While I was feeling overwhelmed this week, our good-good God took time to remind me that we are all in transition.  Sometimes those transitions are overwhelming and sometimes they seem minor, but those transitions are always blessings from God. Those transitions grow us into stronger women…stronger wives & mommas…stronger friends…stronger Christians.

The book of Joshua is filled with amazing reminders that we are not the only ones who have faced transition.  I would argue that after forty years of wandering through the wilderness, God’s people were facing transition as they prepared to enter the promised land.  They faced transition when Moses died.  They faced a transition when Moses’ assistant, Joshua, was placed in charge.

Joshua faced a life-changing transition from the support team to a leader.

As always, God provided guidance.  He told Joshua, “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:7-8 NIV).

God’s words of direction became a foundation of Joshua’s leadership.  Our Father went on to state, “Have I not commanded you Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 NIV).

Joshua’s leadership status and mission were huge transitions in comparison with me getting a couple of new ID cards.  Yet, it illustrates that transitions happen to us all. Large and small transitions happen every day.

Your identity may change.  Your status may change. Your circumstance may change. But remember this; overwhelming or not, His hand is with us in every transition.

~Emily

Military

 

The Heirloom Quilt

The room is a chilly 65 degrees. It’s super dark. There are half a dozen heavy blankets on the bed.  This, my friends, is my classic formula for a wonderful night of sleep.

Recently, my husband was asking for Christmas present suggestions and I casually mentioned that I wanted to try the weighted blankets.  (Have you seen these blankets?!??!?! They are 20 or 40 pounds and lull you to sleep like you are an infant rocking in your momma’s arms!)

He looked at me, as though I’d threatened to cut off his pinky toe.  He responded, “You don’t need a weighted blanket. You have THE quilt.”

THE quilt is my favorite quilt.  THE quilt is large enough to cover a full bed, but just a tad too big for a twin bed.  THE quilt needs febreze frequently, as it’s way past the washing machine phase.  THE quilt probably weighs about 40 pounds. And yes, I have THE quilt.

The quilt was first sewn in the late 1800s by my great-great-grandmother in a small farming community of Wisconsin.  It was originally sewn from worn-out garments and was the definition of a “patchwork” quilt.

In 1920, my great grandmother sewed over that quilt with another layer of worn-out garments and scraps of fabric.  She tried her best to find feminine colors, as this quilt then became my grandmother’s quilt.  My grandmother recovered the quilt when she got married and again when she had my Aunt.

By 1950, the quilt was passed to my mom as her baby blanket with another layer added.  My mom added her own crazy quilt patchwork layer in the late 1960s, as she headed off to college.  She recovered it again in 1975 as my first blanket.  She taught me to sew and let me recover the quilt when I was 10 years old. After joining the military, I recovered the quilt again.

In 2013, I recovered the quilt one more time. But this time, I could not help but really concentrate on the love and history in this blanket.  The last four generations of my mom’s family have added to this blanket, simply by covering it up with another layer.  That concentration translated to an insatiable curiosity about what the layers-upon-layers looked like.  Could I touch fabric that my great-grandmother had sewn?

As I sewed the new covering, I thought about generational blessings.  I understand that the phrase “generational blessings” is not overtly found in scripture; however, there is evidence of how generations are blessed throughout the years.

Think about Matthew 1:1, where we see the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.  This is a verse that presents evidence of Jesus being the seed of Abraham.  While it does not say, “you will be blessed through all the previous generations,” it does indicate that we are indeed blessed by generational lineage.  A lineage that created the provision of the perfect Son of God, who came solely to die for us.  That is a generational blessing, indeed.

With scriptures in mind, I paused to give thanks to the Lord for that blessing and for providing a way to heaven through His Son. I also gave praise to a family of women who were resourceful in getting supplies to sew a quilt over 100 years ago.

And then I carefully cut through a seam in the middle of the quilt covering from when I was 19 and 10 years old. I cut through the quilt seam of my early childhood to my mom’s college years.  I cut through another seam and another seam…all through the years until I came to the very first thin layer of well worn-garments that was first sewn in the late 1800s.

It was dingy grey and threadbare.  Paper thin to the point I thought it may fall apart in my hands.  The tiny hand sewn stitches still holding fast after a century. As I sat looking at the seamstress work of my great-grandmother, I cried tears of happiness to have seen the center of the quilt.

I put a few loose stitches into each layer of the quilt and finally slipped the newest cover onto the old, yet still new, quilt.  A quilt of generational blessings.  THE quilt.

What family heirlooms that make your heart cry and smile in the same breath? Come tell us at the porch…

~Emily

 “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” ~Psalm 100:5 (NIV)

quilt2

Feeling Gratitude

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude.” ~A.A. Milne

Several years ago, I posted on Facebook daily in the month of November, something or someone that I was grateful to have in my life. I did it for three years in a row. Which means that at this time of the year, Facebook likes to provide the memories of what I was grateful for in the past.

Sometimes they were silly things like kittens, warm showers, or hugs.  Other times they were more serious, like my brother’s cancer treatments, the breath of a newborn baby, or having my grandmother’s crotched blanket to keep me warm.

In all that time, I never wrote that I was thankful for my salvation.  I never wrote that I was thankful for a loving God, who gave His only son so that I can have eternal life.  I never wrote that I was thankful for Jesus and His ultimate sacrifice on my behalf. I never wrote that I was thankful for the written word.  I never wrote that I was thankful I lived in a country where freedom of religion means I can openly be a Christian.

I never wrote any of that.

But I am grateful for all of it.  I am probably more grateful for my salvation than for anything else I’ve ever considered.

On this week of Thanksgiving, what are you most grateful for in your life?

~Emily

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; His love endures forever.” ~1 Chronicles 16:34

Pooh Bear

 

Describe Yourself- Two Words

Describe yourself.

Wife, mother, friend, daughter, sister, traveler, student, gardener, volunteer, Chief Master Sergeant, scrapbooker, author, blogger, retiree…the list goes on and on.

When someone asks me this question, I have a difficult time determining what information is being solicited.  Mainly because there are plenty of titles that I can proudly use to describe myself.

But what if I could only choose two words?

Christian & Veteran.

The two titles that I am most proud of and the two titles that best define me. Probably the two titles that I have been most faithful to throughout my adult life.

On this last Veteran’s Day as an Active Duty member and during the last 25 years as a military member, I have had to lean on one particular verse that I found to be applicable to both of these titles.

 Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. 2 Timothy 2:3-4 (NIV)

It’s important to note that Paul was not advocating violence as a good soldier of Jesus, but rather he was advocating the merits of possessing the characteristics of a military member with well-defined bearing and discipline.  The military member focuses on the orders of those above them, as well as the mission…rather than the details of distractions.  Paul is encouraging the Christian to maintain a similar bearing, keeping in mind that the details of life will be cared for by our Father in Heaven, rather than becoming distracted from our mission to contribute to the Kingdom.

In my own life, it’s a beautiful reminder from God, through Paul, that I can be both a Christian and a Veteran.  The training I received as a military member should assist me with translating focus and bearing into my walk with Christ. It’s a beautiful reminder that God’s titles for my life are ones He chose for me.

If I asked you to describe yourself with two titles…what two would you choose?  How would they relate to God’s plan for you?

~Emily

Sweet land of liberty

Shadows & The Light

With my heart pounding out of my chest, I jumped backward, fists up, and screamed bloody murder…something incoherent with a few swear words.

Can you picture my kung-fu fighting stance? What would cause such a commotion in my life?

As I was closing the bedroom door, a shadow passed along the hallway, which scared me into the defensive position.  The shadow?  My husband coming down the hall with a fresh cup of coffee for me. A sweet gesture that was met with much aggression, simply because I got frightened.

Shadows seem scary and often they indicate a scenario where we should be on defense.

Shadow in the woods = lions and tigers and bears.

Shadow behind my car = zombie about to get me.

Shadow over my head = bird about to poop on me.

Shadow in the hallway = bad guy in the house.

The shadow mentioned in Psalm 23:4, the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” has always frightened me.  Mostly because it sounds so ominous.  The passage that seems to be most popular for funerals makes me conjure up a picture in my mind that is scary.

But more often than not, the shadow isn’t what is truly scary. Most of the time, it’s my imagination that makes the shadow scarier than it deserves to be. Shadows appear frightening, but they can’t hurt us.

Consider this:  the presence of a shadow is also an indicator of light.  When we are frightened by an object casting a shadow, we should look for the light behind the shadow.

Take the same scary scenarios above…

Shadow in the woods = sunset behind a redwood tree.

Shadow behind my car = puppy running to greet me.

Shadow over my head = cloud providing shade relief from an Alabama blazing hot sun.

Shadow in the hallway = husband bringing wife hot coffee.

There is one more super amazing light behind darkness.  Jesus.

Jesus is that light (John 8:12).  He can provide the glimmer of reassurance when we have a momentary fright.  When the shadows are imaginary, He is the light. When the shadows are overwhelming, He is light.  He the shadows indicate true danger, He is the light.

Always.  Jesus is our light in the midst of the shadows.

With that in mind, Psalm 23:4 becomes a whole lot more comforting than the imaginary picture I have previously had in my mind.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” ~Psalm 23:4 (NIV)

I’m praying that each of you have a week where the shadows are a reminder that there is always light present.

~Emily