Categories
Reflections

Out In the Pines, I Understand The Popular Mountain Vibe

“What is the vibe of Northern Arizona?”, our friends asked us. When we first fell in love with the place on our vacation in fall of 2020, people wondered why. I don’t think it was the vibe then, although we definitely noticed there was one.

“Outdoorsy”, was our answer. People ski, play disc golf, raft, climb, bike and hike, just to name a few of the most popular pastimes. Residents of the area work hard and play harder, outside in the fresh mountain air.

In the first week after moving here, I commented to a friend that the whole region smelled like Christmas. The fragrant cover of fresh cold pine reminded me of tree lot excursions and piles of bough wreaths. Being outside and inhaling deeply made my heart happy in an almost giddy way.

“The smell of pine needles, spruce and the smell of a Christmas tree – those to me, are the scents of the holidays.”

Blake Lively

I suddenly wonder whether outdoorsy people are drawn to the mountains or if the mountains draw people outdoors.

Mama Lava
Blooming cactus coming up amidst the pine needles and pine cones.
When you live in the mountains, but it is also the desert, you get pine cones and cactus. This is spring in the mountains of Northern Arizona.

But now that spring has sprung, and the sun has warmed the pine needles, the musky scent is an altogether different kind of wonderful. It smells like camping trips and adventure. I can barely stand to be inside. I suddenly wonder whether outdoorsy people are drawn to the mountains or if the mountains draw people outdoors.

I suspect it is the latter. Out among the pines, I understand the popular mountain vibe. It beckons me to join, and I feel helpless to resist.

“The ground’s soft with pine needles and the occasional crunch of a cone. The air smells like it’s just been born.”

Libba Bray

“To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.”

Helen Keller

“God dwells in His creation and is everywhere indivisibly present in all His works. He is transcendent above all His works even while He is immanent within them.”

A.W. Tozer

“Lord, you have been our dwelling-place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”

Psalm 90:1-2
Categories
Reflections

10 Little Updates and Latest Looming Praise Reports

Good morning and Happy May! I wanted to come to you today with 10 little updates and latest looming praise reports. I know many of you have been praying for us as we’ve settled in a new situation, in a new house, in a new state. There have been glorious answers to your prayers regarding our move to Arizona and it is my privilege to share what God has done!

  1. We LOVE it here! We aren’t as content as we will be when we finally reach our eternal home, but while we’re on earth, Northern Arizona is awesome! We are so grateful for the kick in the pants God gave us. My faithful readers know that I waivered a bit, but God was clear with His direction and I am fully awed by His gracious faithfulness. (*See photos below.)
  2. We found a great church! That might not seem like a big deal to some, but it was priority for us. We did a lot of on-line research, and we only had to visit two. The first one was nice, but we quickly discovered some theological differences and decided not to return. The second one checked all the boxes and then some! We’ve been attending ever since. Praise the Lord!
  3. We have been unaffected by the fires. You might be aware of a couple of major wildfires burning in Northern Arizona. A few of you have even reached out to check on me. Wow – thank you! We have not been “in the line of fire” but have been daily reminded to pray for those who are. It seems the hard work of many firefighters is paying off and the danger is subsiding. There has been no loss of life reported, but several homes have been lost and I’m sure those affected would be blessed by your prayers.
  4. I have a “prayer chair”. I’ve always wanted one. Several years ago, I read a challenge by Anne Graham Lotz to create a dedicated space for devotional time with the Lord. Since then, I’ve had my “typical spots” but, because I lived with so many people, my spots had to serve several purposes. That was ok. But now, I have my own prayer chair in the corner, overlooking the pine and oak trees. (**See photos below.)
  5. God has been so faithful! I found a prayer list I’d written last fall in regard to, what was then, our upcoming move. It had 4 specific requests. All of them were answered above and beyond what I could have imagined. The most touching part is that this list had gotten misplaced shortly after I’d penned it. I hadn’t prayed over it daily, as I’d planned. But you know what? Our God is not dependent on us to be organized. He answered every item on that list, buried as it as, and I was blessed and blown away when the piece of paper resurfaced today.
  6. My son got a job! 4 of my kids stayed in California for the time being. My youngest, Marcus, is 18. He left a job he enjoyed to move to Arizona with us. We expected he would continue working for the same company here. They don’t do transfers, so he had to quit and reapply, but he had great experience and glowing recommendations from the managers in CA. They had open positions in AZ. He applied. He went in person to introduce himself and drop off his resume. Nothing. He called. He went in person again. It was shocking to us when he couldn’t even get an interview. After a month, we had to assume God just didn’t want him to work there anymore. So, he applied somewhere else. He got called in for an interview the next day and was hired on the spot! Well, to God be the glory! He made His will abundantly clear!
  7. I’m enjoying quality time with my youngest child. By the time Marcus was born, we had a loud and busy family. It is true that the squeaky wheel gets the oil and he is the quietest of my bunch. I’ve told him over the years that his time would come. Eventually, he’d be the only one left in the house and he’d probably get more attention than he wanted. Well, that time is now, and we’ve found something fun to do together. He has a YouTube channel and we’re making a series of reaction videos. I’ve not seen any of the Marvel movies, so Marcus and I are watching them together, one by one, and he is recording my reactions. Who knew people would take an interest or would consider my newbie questions and expressions as entertainment, but apparently that’s a thing. I’m just enjoying the time with my son.
  8. My girls are doing well. One of my biggest concerns, which I wrote about before I moved, was the wellbeing of my daughters and grandkids. They needed to find affordable places to live. I put it out there, you prayed, God miraculously delivered. They are teaming up, taking care of each other, and this mama’s heart is at peace. Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, prayer warriors!
  9. I’m settling into my new job with my old company. I had expected to quit before I moved but, at the last minute, was offered the opportunity to stay in a new role, working remotely from Arizona. The logistical transition has turned out to be more complex than any of us realized. I’m happy to report that I’m at least 75% settled in – maybe more, depending on the outcome of an open ticket with IT. God is faithful!
  10. I’m getting to explore the Arizona Trail! I am concluding my list of 10 little updates and latest looming praise reports with this detail because it was like a housewarming gift from God. We had no idea, when we applied to rent this home, that it was right across from the Arizona Trail. This relatively new trail runs the entire length of the state. North, it goes up to Utah. South, I can take it all the way to Mexico. I’m not likely to hike for days on end, but it is a wonderful escape which intersects countless other trails and offers hours of interesting exercise and conversation with Jesus. (***See photos below.)

I feel certain this update and praise report post would have been different if it weren’t for you all. You have prayed for me, encouraged me, and been an amazing support system. Today I find myself steadied, strengthened, and settled. Glory to God and gratitude to you! God bless you, my precious friends! Please enjoy some photos below.



Categories
Reflections

A Complete Reset To The Factory Settings Of Life

I had an outlandish dream last night where something was going terribly wrong. I don’t remember the specifics, only that I was on a high balcony, of sorts, looking down on a skirmish.

skir·mish /ˈskərmiSH/ noun
an episode of irregular or unpremeditated fighting
(definition from Oxford Languages Dictionary)

The right side of the rectangular space, onto which I peered, was elevated above the left side. People from both sides were yelling at each other. The tension mounted quickly.

Someone from the higher side picked up a huge, stone statue from the corner, and hurled it down on the lower side. Just as it was about to crush the people below. I yelled “RESET TO FACTORY SETTINGS” and everything immediately returned to normal. The statue stood in the corner, and the people – all minding their own business, were eating, dancing, and chatting quietly amongst each other. Whew, that was close!

Dreams are often unrealistic like that. And sometimes, they are meaningful. Those words “reset to factory settings” have been reverberating in my mind all morning.

Girl biting her pencil, looking at computer
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash
If you choose a complete reset to a device’s factory settings, your customizations will be erased, whether you like it or not!

I accidentally reset a device to factory settings once. I lost everything I had worked hard to customize and save. That was devastating!

I have also intentionally reset devices to factory settings. It creates a clean slate – a new blank canvas, so to speak. It can’t be done to reverse a skirmish. But I do believe God used my dream to teach me about what He’s done and what you and I can do.

What has He done?

In essence, when I accepted Christ, I was reset to factory settings. He threw my sin as far as the east is from the west, making me – in His eyes – as fresh as the day He created Adam. And every time I make a mistake, I can repent, and He will completely forgive me, taking me back to that setting of life.

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

Psalm 103:11, 12

I have an advantage in that I retain memory of my experiences when I am reset to factory settings. I have a clean slate AND the wisdom of lessons learned. That is the best of both worlds! What a smart program Jesus has built!

What can I do?

I can reset my relationships to factory settings. I don’t mean that I can maneuver other people’s lives before their creator, but I can wipe their slates clean, as far as it applies to me. I can offer complete forgiveness. I can give new chances and fresh starts to my people connections which have gone awry.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

Romans 12:18
An iPhone with the introductory Hello screen
Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Unsplash
Taking it all the way back to Hello!

What can you do?

We don’t have the power to catch people getting out of control and simply reset them to factory settings, like I did in my dream. But God does. We must buy in to it, of course, but the offer stands.

Oh, what the skirmish must look like from His perspective! The statues have been thrown, so to speak. The idols of this world are heavy and we are sure to be crushed by the weight of them. But God.

Does your life need a complete reset to factory settings? Talk to God about it. He is faithful. He wants to wipe your slate clean. He will renew your right standing if you ask.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

1 John 1:9

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

Psalm 51:10
Categories
Reflections

This Is Why I Made SEO ‘Someone Else’s Obsession’

The crescendo had been building and the clash was deafening. It reverberated through my mind and deep into my soul. I’d been dancing with opposing ideas which could no longer coexist. I needed to choose. Was I going to submit to man’s wisdom or God’s? It could not be both.

Excuse the dramatic introduction, but this is what it had come to. From the beginning I knew God wanted me to put people first in my blogging. And yet I was strangely romanced by the idea of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and increased visibility on Google. A collision was inevitable.

This is why I made SEO ‘Someone Else’s Obsession’

I could do both, right? I mean, what would be the harm of optimizing my people-first blogs so they could be discovered and read by more people? If this is your approach, I am certainly not saying there is anything wrong with it. But it isn’t for me.

I wrote the title for this blog 9 months ago. That is how long it’s taken me to surrender to it. Since then, I’ve been trying to write the encouragement God has given me to share, while at the same time making little optimizing and self-serving tweaks to the messages.

There is a lot of advice on SEO. I’ve read it, I’ve saved it, I’ve experimented with it. I’ve intended to put it all together “one day”. And it has become a gate, of sorts, through which my writing passes as it leaves my head on its way to my fingers.

A brainstorm bubble about SEO
Photo by Tobias Dziuba on Pexels.com
SEO vigilance is literally a full-time job for some people!

Posting schedule, number of words, trending keywords, proper format, headline length… all this effort offered on the altar of the almighty search engine. And for what? For popularity, to be noticed, and yes – to get my message to the masses.

Human wisdom says SEO. You know what God says? 3 things come to mind.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Matthew 6:33

Ok, this scripture isn’t talking about optimal google rankings, but it is saying that God knows what I need. And if I seek Him first, He will make sure I have it.

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”

Matthew 6:24

I can’t be completely devoted to both God and any temporal offering of this world. Not money, not fame, not glory, not success.

I like a definition I recently read for the word “despise”. It means “to have it in for”. Yes, when two things battle for supremacy in my heart, one will get the top spot and the other is going down.

Well, SEO, I have it in for you. As far as I’m concerned, from now on you will be Someone Else’s Obsession. I will write what God puts on my heart to say. I will write it when it needs to be written in the way it should be said. I will not abide by your rules or give you any power over my blog anymore. I do not write for you.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.”

Colossians 3:23, 24

Writing for Google or any other search engine is no longer an enticing idea for me. I’ve laid it down, put my priorities in order and solidified my resolve to blog for the Lord with all my heart. The rewards He offers will be my fixation instead.

My dear reader, I’m not telling you how to manage your blog. But some of you may need to hear this. You may need someone to tell you what you already know. If God is nudging you the way He has been me, it’s okay – it’s wise – it’s imperative and necessary to make SEO Someone Else’s Obsession!

Categories
Emotions

5 Reliable Reasons to Rejoice Through Unexpected Tears

My dog died this morning. We were in the kitchen. When I bent to brush something off his face, he lay his head heavily in my hand and his legs gave way. I caught him and lowered him gently to the floor.

I got down on my belly, forehead to forehead with him. I petted him and spoke softly to him, reassuring him and telling him how much he was loved. I texted my son and husband to come quick, but I felt his last breath on my cheek before they got downstairs.

I am surprised how hard this hit me. Makali’i, aka “Maka”, just turned 12. Because of his breed, pug mixed with Japanese Chin, he’d already exceeded lifespan expectations. He was slowing down. I knew this was coming, yet is anyone ever really prepared?

As sad as today has been, I have found 5 reliable reasons to rejoice through the many – oh so many – unexpected tears.

1. God’s Timing

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die…”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2a

God’s timing is a reason for me to rejoice through tears today. I am so thankful we were home when the end came for our pup. If it had happened yesterday, we would not have been. I was even in the same room when his strength gave out.

I am appreciative that it didn’t happen on Easter Sunday, when assistance resources may have been closed and when our family might have carried a twinge of our sorrow into future Resurrection celebrations. There is no time I would want my pet to die, but the inevitable was timely in God’s plan and is giving me joy through my tears.

Are you sad about anything today? The circumstances which cause your tears are likely different than mine. Still, God’s timing is perfect for you too. Have you noticed it?

2. God’s Provision

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:19

If you read Part 2 of the Amazing News series, you know that the thing I disliked most about my new house was the back door. It is not compatible with a doggie door, so I had to walk Maka several times a day. Oh, what a fool I was!

That door was a precious provision from God! You know why? Because taking my dog out 4 times a day, meant over 100 walks together just since we moved here 26 (ish) days ago! I cherish the memories, the photos, and the quality time I got to spend with him while we got accustomed to this new habit.

Pug on a sunny sidewalk
Makali’i (means “Little Chief” in Hawaiian)
March 2010 – April 2022


This photo was taken on a walk yesterday. He always loved the sun and he appeared to be smiling as it shone down on him.

The first thing I did when I woke up this morning was take Maka outside. It was apparent that he was unwell, so my husband booked the first vet appointment he could find. It was for 10:30am, which was miraculous because most offices were booking weeks out.

Maka didn’t live long enough to keep his appointment, but when we called to cancel it, the receptionist had answers to all of our questions. She was God’s provision for us. She had the right words, she knew the next steps, and she gave us direction when we were lost in loss.

We rejoice through our tears because God provides what we need. He knows what is ahead and lays all the proper groundwork. This has been a recurring theme. If you need proof and encouragement regarding God’s provision, please read this true story and this one.

3. God’s Grace

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Hebrews 4:16

I asked earlier if we’re ever really prepared for tragedy. I can say with certainty I wasn’t. I’ll bet you’d answer in kind. This verse in Hebrews tells us why. God gives us grace in our time of need. He doesn’t promise to make it available in advance. He comes through with what we need when we need it.

This is an unexpectedly tearful day. And yet I’ve been able to rejoice because of God’s grace. He has taken the load and directed my thoughts. This doesn’t bring my sweet puppy back, but it does soothe my heart. It gives me strength to focus on the gift I had instead of what I’ve lost.

‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’

~God

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

2 Corinthians 12:8, 9

If you are in need, God’s grace is sufficient. Open your hurting heart to Him. He makes it possible to rejoice through our tears.

4. God’s Comfort

“The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Psalm 34:18

I would love to say that I crawled near to God in my grief today. I don’t think I’ve had the wherewithal. But He has pulled me close. I feel His comforting presence.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Matthew 5:4

All day, through reassuring my dying dog, reminiscing with my husband, and helping break the news to our kids one by one, I am being comforted by God. And as news spreads, friends who have been in these shoes are reaching out with knowing words of empathy.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

2 Corinthians 1:3, 4

The amazing thing about comfort is that we get to pay it forward. Our grief gives us first-hand understanding and enables us to encourage others through theirs. If you’re not ready to help someone else, that means you’re still in need of comfort yourself. Accept it from God and others. One day you’ll be able to give it back out.

5. God’s Understanding

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

John 3:16

I am relying heavily on God’s understanding. I lost a pet, but God the Father watched His Son die. And God the Son was described by the prophet Isaiah as a “Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief”.

My heart is not held by One who does not understand. My God created me, knows me, and understands me like no other. I’m so grateful to lean on Him today.

Do you feel like no one understands you? God does. My friend, I pray you allow yourself to be known by Him, especially when you’re sad.

A pug photo with text that reads "I'm grateful, blessed, and kind of a mess..."
I saw this phrase somewhere today and adopted it wholeheartedly!

No question about it, today is tough. I now expect my tears. But I have 5 reliable reasons to rejoice my way through them as I grieve.

If you are unsettled today, I hope you find encouragement in the goodness of God. He is ready to meet you where you are. Cry out to Him and He will answer!

To everyone who’s lost someone they love
Long before it was their time
You feel like the days you had were not enough
When you said goodbye
And to all of the people with burdens and pains
Keeping you back from your life
You believe that there’s nothing and there is no one
Who can make it right
There is hope for the helpless
Rest for the weary
And love for the broken heart
And there is grace and forgiveness
Mercy and healing
He’ll meet you wherever you are
Cry out to Jesus

Cry Out to Jesus (<– Click to listen)
Song by Third Day
Categories
Devotions

Celebrate Full Forgiveness, Rich Reconciliation, and Lessons for Life

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a King
Laid down in grief
But awoke with the keys
Of Hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The Man Jesus Christ
Laid death in his grave

Death in His Grave – Song by John Mark McMillan

Hello, my precious friends! I’m here to testify to God’s grace. I blew it and let my mouth get ahead of me. Again. But while God let me feel the painful pinch of my mistake, He also encouraged me through His Word with a timely, seasonal lesson.

Celebrate full forgiveness, rich reconciliation, and lessons for life

Are you familiar with Simon Peter? He was a disciple, who had left everything behind to follow and learn from Jesus. And he was impulsive – known for letting his mouth and muscle run ahead of his mind.

I found myself identifying with Peter because  I also lost control of my tongue. I shared details in a conversation which should have been left unsaid. I felt so convicted!

I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned all night, just wanting morning to come so I could ask forgiveness from the friend to whom I had misspoken.  While I lay awake, I felt for Simon Peter.    

At dawn, on the morning the world would forever celebrate as the first Easter, Peter was in a bad space, physically and emotionally.  He was with the other disciples of Jesus in self-quarantine, something we all know a little bit about these days.  They were sequestered because of fear and grief. 

They had seen their Lord arrested, beaten beyond recognition, and crucified with a taunting sign over his head that read “King of the Jews”.  Peter and the others had upheld that title and helped to propagate it.  Would the soldiers come for them next? 

It was even worse for Peter because, not only was he sad and afraid, but he was also ashamed.  He had disowned his Savior! Jesus had tried to warn him that he’d fail this way. But Peter had indignantly rejected the possibility. Instead, he raised the stakes and promised to die with Jesus if it came to that.

But it happened. Peter’s tongue leapt before his thoughts and he denied he was a friend of Jesus; not once, not twice, but three times!  Jesus heard the whole thing and had looked him straight in the eyes while the awful words still rung in the air. And then Jesus was led away to his death.

The story is in Luke 22:54-62. I imagine Peter lay awake those next few nights, wishing he could find forgiveness.  But how could he?

Lessons for Life

Have you ever done something awful that you never intended to do, or not done something that you really should have? Maybe you betrayed a close confidence or didn’t stand by someone when they needed you most?

If so, you know that a heavy heart is a burdensome thing. As I wrestled with mine, I felt for Peter. I was anxiously awaiting dawn so I could make things right.

Peter must have felt hopeless in his shame. Jesus was gone. He couldn’t have expected dawn to hold any hope of reconciliation for him.

A rowboat in the water near the shore. Celebrate!
Photo by TheOther Kev on Pexels.com

Oh but it did! Dawn brought news of the Resurrection! And that changed everything!

On that glorious Sunday when Jesus arose, there was so much for Peter to celebrate. His Lord was alive! And so were his chances for restoration.

When Peter’s opportunity came, he was in a boat offshore. He saw the Lord on the beach and jumped into the water. He couldn’t get to Jesus fast enough. He really needed to make things right.

What a succinct lesson for life! Jesus is alive! And so is our opportunity to receive forgiveness and reconciliation.

Rich Reconciliation

Jesus had no words of accusation. He simply asked Peter if he loved Him. Peter said he did. Jesus told him, “Feed my lambs”. Then He asked him again, and a third time. In each instance, Peter responded the same and Jesus repeated His command.

How precious is that turn of events? What a rich reconciliation! Jesus allowed Peter to settle his own heart with a reiteration of love, and a promise to serve, for each of the three times he had failed. You can read the account in John 21:7-17.

Full Forgiveness

Jesus not only granted Peter full forgiveness and took away his devastating remorse, but He also reinstated his purpose. It was Peter who founded the church. His forgiveness was so full, so complete, it was as if nothing had ever come between them.

Now, as we celebrate the miraculous implications of the Resurrection, I wonder if there are possibilities of restoration in your life? Are you needing forgiveness? Have you been carrying a heavy load of regret or shame?

Do you crave another chance to fulfill your purpose? Well, my dear friend, launch yourself out of that boat you’re in and hasten toward Jesus. He knows what’s in your heart and He is eager to unburden you.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9

What better day than Easter to come to the Risen Lord, confess your sins, and reconcile with Him? Will you take the opportunity to profess your devotion, and allow Him to set you free toward your renewed purpose? The victory of Easter means new life and new beginnings! I’d love to celebrate yours with you today!

God of salvation,
You chased down my heart
Through all of my failure and pride.
On a hill You created,
The light of the world,
Abandoned in darkness to die.
And as You speak,
A hundred billion failures disappear;
Where You lost Your life so I could find it here.
If You left the grave behind You so will I.

So Will I (100 Billion X) – Song by Hillsong Worship

If you would like more information on what it means to reconcile with Jesus, please reach out to me in the Comments or via the Contact link at the top of the page. You can also read The Gospel in a Nutshell.

The word gospel means good news. We all need more of that. And oh, this Gospel, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is the BEST NEWS!

And in case you’re wondering, I reached out to the person whose confidence I’d broken as early as was reasonable to do so. I repented and my burden was relieved by mercy and grace. My friend was a beautiful example of Jesus to me.

I learned a life lesson about second chances and our resurrected Savior. We find nothing less than full forgiveness and rich reconciliation when we ask it of Him. We have the opportunity because He arose. What a reason to celebrate!

Related Post: Might Have Missed the Miracle