Despised. Rejected. Redeemed.

“He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:3, 5 (NKJV)

“Look,” I screeched out of the blue, pointing wildly and startling the kids from their cell phone gaming in the back seat.

“Geese!”

“Mom!” Sam exclaimed, “You can’t scare us like that over some stupid geese.”

“They’re so pretty!” I retorted, ignoring the scolding I had become used to whenever I gasp aloud over the wonder of God’s creation – especially the Rocky Mountains, prairie dogs playing, and…geese.

They used to fly in to find warmer weather each winter and now they decided to stay, just like Californians. Funny, I did the same thing. I came to visit, and then, I came to stay.

Most people think the prairie dogs and Canadian geese that hang out in our neighborhood are a nuisance. Pooping in our parks. Digging up our developments.

Not me. They cheer me up. Bring me joy. Give me hope.

“Look kids, they’re so cute,” I said with a beaming grin at the prairie dogs scrambling and bringing their little paws up to their mouths, chewing and keeping watch all at once.

I find charismatic ground squirrels and distinguished black-tie birds to be absolutely charming.

While I find these majestic creatures fascinating and my heart brims with awe every chance I have to gaze at them, not everyone sees it the same.

Pests. Dirty. Stinky.

“They make a mess,” said one of my friends.

Don’t we all!

Just like our Savior, we can be seen differently than we are. He was despised just like the poor little, but seriously cute, rodents that made their colony where the contractors want to build.

We can experience judgement and rejection for what we are on the outside or for what we stand for on the inside.

And He knows. Intimately. What it is to be scorned, misjudged, unappreciated.

We are messy. We are misunderstood. We can be unlovely.

“and by His stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5

2 Corinthians 5:17 reminds us that. “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”(NKJV)

May we find hope in our redemption. No matter what we appear to be, we are His new creations.

Thank you, God that you saw fit to provide a way for us to be redeemed. You became one of us so that you could save us. May we find hope today in the truth of our salvation. You made us new.  – Amen

Scripture quotations marked (NKJV) are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

All Praise with Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day 2021

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you…” I Peter 1:3-4 (NIV)

I am thankful for cart returns. A few years ago, I began to hold myself accountable for returning my shopping cart to the return bay no matter how far away or how many oncoming cars I had to navigate to get it there.

I am thankful for parenting apps. When you have four boys, three we are still responsible to get to adulthood…having an extra pair of eyes in our corner helps. This week the alerts gave me the opportunity to have an important talk with my son. To be sure he felt courage to speak up in tough situations. To know that he is loved and can talk to me about anything.

I am thankful for hugs from my adult kiddos. We are in a rough season as a world, as a nation, as a culture, and as a family. Knowing I can nestle under my 6’5” son’s arm for an anaconda squeeze or receive a jumping-into-my-arms hug from my 22-year-old baby girl fills me with comfort and reminds me I am loved.

I am thankful for polish chicken noodle soup and the dear friend who brought it to me while I suffered through a severe cold this week.

I am thankful for seat heaters and sunglasses. A warm bed. A hot meal. A safe home. A beautiful family.

I am thankful for memories and moments, and for the free will God gives me to maximize them.

I am thankful for the living hope I have in Jesus Christ, who laid down His life so that we as a human race, full of wickedness and sin, could be forgiven.

I am thankful for the heavenly inheritance He holds for me. It will not perish, spoil, or fade away.

All Praise be to You, Oh God!

Scripture quotation marked (NIV) are taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Practice Makes Progress

“Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” – Philippians 4:8 (NLT)

“Again,” coach yelled from the sidelines. “Do it again.”

I placed my soccer ball at the corner of the field, took two giant steps back, and charged like a bull at a rodeo clown, launching the ball in an arc toward the net.

“Don’t forget to lean back,” my coach shouted as our goalie caught the ball and prevented the point.

“It takes practice,” he said. 

So, I did it again. And again. Until I made progress.

A really cool benefit to practice is muscle memory, or “the ability to reproduce a particular movement without conscious thought, acquired as a result of frequent repetition of that movement” by dictionary definition. The more I repeat the item in which I am trying to improve, the more my muscles remember how to execute it without even thinking about it.

Hope is the same way. We make progress and build muscle memory, creating a habit of hope, when we practice it on a consistent basis. The more we practice looking to and relying on the hope we have in Jesus, the more we approach relationships, circumstances, decisions, and actions from a place of hope – or confident expectation.

Philippians 4:8 outlines a thought practice, and in the repetition, we can confidently expect our Lord to meet us moment by moment.

FIX YOUR THOUGHTS ON WHAT IS…

TRUE: When times are tough – fix your thoughts on truth.

HONORABLE: When you face temptation – think about the honorable path, your way out.

RIGHT: When no one is looking – dwell on right instead of wrong.

PURE: When the world around you is distracted by darkness – meditate on wholesome things.

LOVELY: When you don’t get your way – renew your mind with appreciation for the beauty of God’s creation.

ADMIRABLE: When someone is suffering – remember how it feels and empathize.

EXCELLENT: When you achieve a goal you set – consider all it took to get there and be grateful.

WORTHY OF PRAISE: When you receive new mercy every morning, reflect on the goodness of God and praise His name.

I’m exchanging perfect for progress, one thought at a time. Wanna practice with me?

Friends Point Friends to Hope

Woven Women’s Ministry – Women’s Game Night (July 2021)

(The Woven Women’s Ministry talk I shared last month at game night is one I thought you may find helpful as well.)  

It has been a very challenging year and a half with COVID and the aftermath of impact it is having on our lives, and especially on our need for connection.

I read a verse this week that brought me back to the heart of God’s purpose for us in relationship –  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NKJV)

I don’t know about you, but I have needed a friend and needed to be a friend so much lately.

Just in the past few weeks…

  • One friend had a miscarriage
  • One friend calledl 9-1-1 and committed her daughter to a mental hospital
  • One discovered hidden empty bottles of alcohol all over her house and realized her husband is an alcoholic
  • Another has an adult child that is an addict, continues to struggle, and went to jail
  • One checked their mom into a facility to provide dementia care
  • One lost her father in a sudden tragic motorcycle accident
  • Another lost her mother to cancer
  • One found out her daughter’s first time resulted in a sexually transmitted disease
  • Another feels overlooked and underappreciated at work

And then there’s me…

Attending this get together was a part of me finding my way back to trusting friendship as a valuable and necessary part of my life. We are designed for connection and relationship, to comfort one another as we have needed to do over this crazy year, but there were quite a few years where I had my guard up when it came to building meaningful friendship due to past hurts.

When I chose to get divorced almost ten years ago, I experienced some very painful breaks in family and friendship that caused me to avoid church events, women’s groups, and even invites to hang out. I was hurt deeply by lies that were told about me and judgement that came my way for leaving my husband. So, I took on a fierce independence that served me well as I overcame the hardships of divorce, being a single parent with 100% custody and no child support and moving to another state to rebuild my life.

I saw my independence as a badge of honor. But I am learning that it has also been a response to my heartache in broken relationships.

I needed connection. I needed hope. I needed healing. And I needed friendship. We all do.

I was in the midst of one such frustration one afternoon earlier this year when I found out my son’s basketball game was cancelled, and his team had to quarantine due to an exposure from another team.

“What are you doing tonight?” a work colleague and new friend texted.

“Nothing.” I replied, still bitter at the cancellation of the game. (I love cheering on my boy at his sport).

“Wanna come to my IF table? It’s like salve for your soul.”

I didn’t know what that was, but she knew I needed healing. And she knew I needed Jesus.

Her invitation that day reminded me of a Bible story in Mark 2.

Mark 2:1-12 (New Living Translation)
When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home. Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. While he was preaching God’s word to them, four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.” But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there thought to themselves,“What is he saying? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!”

Jesus knew immediately what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts?Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’?So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said,“Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”

And the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers. They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!”

I was that lame man, and my friend knew that the best she could do was to bring me to Jesus for the healing I needed. She knew that Jesus would be evident to me through the kindness, listening, and connectedness I found at the dinner table that night.

We are here to be in relationship with God and with each other. And we can comfort one another with the comforts God has given to us.

The best I can do as your friend is to carry you to hope, to Jesus, the One who heals and forgives.

Scripture quotations marked (NKJV) are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Common Ground

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NKJV)

Image by Gisela Merkuur from Pixabay

I was typing away on my laptop lost in my to do list when I heard the exterior door to my office click open. I had no appointments scheduled and I was trying to meet a deadline, until a familiar voice I hadn’t heard in quite a while greeted me.

“Hi, Codie. Are you able to sign this purchase order?” Mark said.

“Mark. How are you?” I replied, “it’s so good to see you.”

Like many of us, Mark was among those who struggled to process the impacts of the pandemic, and as a result, I hadn’t seen him. He worked remote. He worked behind a closed door, limiting interactions. He insisted on a mask for as long as we have been navigating COVID. He was paralyzed by fear.

Today, not so much.

“I just got back from Orange County,” he said, knowing I am from Southern California.

“Did you go to Disneyland?” I asked, beaming a smile just thinking about the happiest place on earth.

“Three times!” he chimed, “and it was so much fun.”

We fell into conversation like old friends catching up at a high school reunion. We shared the highlights and challenges of the past year. It was common. Familiar. Comforting.

It is rare that we have experienced something every other human has experienced. The worldwide pandemic brought us so much closer together in this way. And today, I was able to comfort and be comforted by the comfort God poured into our lives in specific and unique ways.

It only takes a moment to find common ground when what we need most is to belong, to feel connected, and to recognize that we are not alone in our circumstances.

God also accomplished this for us when He sent His only Son to earth to understand life from our perspective. Hebrews 4:14-16 (NKJV) puts it this way, “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

“My wife and I didn’t agree on vaccines at first,” he shared, “and it caused conflict. It was tough.”

“We struggled too since we have a blended family and have to share our decisions with my step-kids’ mom,” I reciprocated, “I think it was a struggle for all of us in some way.”

I signed the purchase order and Mark was on his way. But what stays with me is the sense of hope I feel knowing God sees us in our times of need. He is our great High Priest who understands. And He gave us each other as ambassadors of comfort, connection, and common ground.  

My Great High Priest, You knew I needed to be seen today. You knew I had words of comfort I could share. You orchestrated a moment of common ground that infused hope into what may have seemed like an ordinary day. Thank you for reminding us that You understand. Thank You for calling us to comfort one another with the comfort You have so generously given to us. May we maximize the moments You present to us. – Amen

Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved

El Shaddai, Our Sanctuary

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” – Psalm 91:1-2 (NIV)

 The whir of the landing gear triggered joy. I took a full breath in through my nose, eyes pressed shut, and let the air out slowly through my mouth as if guided by a yoga instructor in cool down exercises. We touched down.

The palms waved to me as I peered out the port-hole sized window at America’s Finest City – San Diego, California. Home. Like riding a bike.

I could not wait to savor a carne asada burrito from Roberto’s taco shop and fall into conversation with my favorite friends like kids jumping into the pool in the summer heat. Magic.

Then to the beach. Take Interstate 5, across the Coronado Bay Bridge to my favorite spot on the planet – feet in the silky sand smack dab in front of the Hotel Del Coronado facing the Pacific.

Deep breath in. Out.

Sanctuary.

My rituals and my habitual visits home meet a need I cannot seem to fill elsewhere. A familiar love that fills in the cracks and patches the wounds of everyday life.

However, the refreshment I experience in the familiar rhythms of home sustain me for a short while. It is good, and it is temporary. Hence, I must return to fill my bucket once again.

As I reflect on my most recent visit back home, I am reminded of the one, true, all-sufficient sanctuary – the presence of God.

She stood at the front of the church, gaze steady on the audience of family and friends all gathered to remember the life of her mom. My dear friend shared a beautiful tribute. I flew home to stand by her as she mourned and celebrated the life of her mom – a strong, funny, sacrificial woman who touched many lives – mine included.

Her mom had been diagnosed with dementia, and there was a rapid decline just a few months ago. I can hold her, Lord, but only You keep record of her tears.

My visit, my hugs, my help for my friend – temporary. Just like the respite I find in traveling back to San Diego.

Sure and sustaining rest, hope, and refreshment is found in the everlasting arms of El Shaddai, Hebrew for almighty, all-sufficient God.  

Pastor Craig Groeschel of Life.Church said it this way in a recent sermon, “God is always ample. His presence is adequate. God is always enough. God is exactly what you need when you need him,” he said, “God is exactly what you need at this moment, in this time, at this place, by His power. El Shaddai.”

 He is our consistent, permanent, all-powerful God. Our rest. Our sanctuary.

Scripture quotation marked (NIV) are taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Hope in Thee, Not in Me

“But I will hope continually and will praise You yet more and more.”  – Psalm 71:14

I didn’t wake up expecting God’s provision this morning. I was coughing, my ears plugged up by a cold, and my heart heavy with regret from the night before. I went to bed frazzled by an argument with one of my children. It kept me awake all night like a nightmare waiting to frighten me each time I closed my eyes.

Merriam-Webster defines hope as a “desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment.”

My deep soul desire for my children is that they grow up knowing and serving God all their days.

Last night, I wanted to clamp my hands around my child’s future and arm wrestle it to the ground by sheer force of my will. I wanted to stand in the way of the devastation I imagined as a sure outcome of decisions made. I wanted my hope to be enough.

Or was I wishing?

Hope in myself is a birthday-candle bid – full of whimsy and uncertainty.

Hope in myself is like a thirsty traveler running to an imagined oasis in the desert just to scoop up a mouthful of sand.

Hope in myself produces frustration and a gaggle of ungodly words.

Forgive me, Lord.

We all experience moments like this, when we place our hope in things or people or ourselves, when we cease to place our trust in the Lord.

Jeremiah 17:7-8 says, “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water.

What a great reminder. We are refreshed by Him, our Living Water, when we choose to make Him our hope. We are blessed when we put our trust in Whom it belongs.

I am believing Him for my children’s paths. He is my hope. He is my confidence.

Lord, I praise You continually for Your grace that allows me to peel my fingers once again off my kids’ futures. I am grateful that You have the whole world in Your capable, loving hands. You are good and You are God – the only hope that is true.

To Be Known

“So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.”  – Acts 2:46

COVID strikes again. My son’s basketball game was cancelled. The one I was so excited to watch. The one I was looking forward to all week. The one I was going to get to watch – in person – with his siblings as a family. The one he was going to get to start as Point Guard and lead the team to victory…of course.

“Why, God?” I pouted.

Some kid on another team he played last week popped positive for COVID-19 and now my night is ruined. My hopes, dashed.
My source of joy, cancelled.

Or, so I thought.

“What are you doing tonight?”

Jeanette’s text interrupted my wallowing.

“Nothing.” I replied.

“You wanna come to my IF table…it’s like salve for your soul,” she said.

“What is that?” I typed back reluctantly.

“Fellowship. Candlelight, linen napkins, and good food.”

I was invited to the table.  

“We talk freely about one God topic, sometimes even how the fire isn’t lit. It’s a safe, open share of mature women who speak life and share love and griefs,” she continued.

A sacred gathering of four women from various backgrounds and ages who met once a month to dine, sip wine, and share life. Real, raw relating.

Why not.

I pushed pause on my disappointment and pulled up a chair to the table.

Since I was a guest, we enjoyed a round of introductions and the cozy conversation warmed me up from the inside out along with our fifteen-bean soup and cornbread.

We laughed and dined and shared our moments.

Family. Frustration. Fatigue.

It’s as IF God knew exactly what I needed and who I needed to be with at this moment.

Friendship.

To be known.

“What’s is God saying this year? What does He want you to focus on?” Shaye, the hostess, asked.

“For me, it is follow through. God has called me to write a book and to share what He has done in my life with others,” I said.

“What COVID taught me is that there is no more time. The time is now, and I need to be faithful to write it, share it, and live it out.”

We can hope in a God who knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what we need and how to meet our needs at the right time in the most intimate way. We are His and He cares for us in simple, special ways.

For me, it was over candlelight conversation with new friends.

Thank you, Lord for the intimacy of being known. You meet our deepest needs and care for us in ways that demonstrate your devotion to us.

For more information on how to “Gather women around your table once a month, creating a space for them to feel known and providing an environment for conversation about following God and giving Him away,” check out https://www.ifgathering.com/.

Choose Joy

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”- Romans 15:13 (NKJV)

I logged into the Find Joy Virtual Retreat not knowing quite what to expect. Besides my mom and a few close friends whom I had invited to join me, I did not REALLY know the people running the show. I “met” several of the retreat speakers through various virtual courses I have taken in the last year. Online professional development pals who seemed to want to live life the way I do – on purpose.

Finding joy was an inviting idea like a glassy pool on a hot summer day. So why the tingles in my tummy?  I mean, I want more joy. Doesn’t everyone?!

Would I have to open up? Will it be worth my time? Who were they really and what was this Joy Retreat?

I pondered as I clicked through the links and settled into my cozy couch for a morning of…joy.

“Nothing will change in your life unless you take action,” the host declared, and she shared her heart to host events that connect people to the hope they need.

This virtual retreat was Laura’s maiden voyage of alignment with her calling. And it resonated with mine immediately.

The name of this blog is Hope for the Road and the mission is to point people to a strategy that endures – hope in God. Confident expectation that we are saved by grace, not works, through faith in Jesus, our Savior and Redeemer.

We can have joy because we do not have to perform for God’s love. We do not have to earn it. It is ours by faith. Amen!

As I continued to listen through the next three days to the inspired speakers who shared about how to tap into joy in trials and how I could overcome joyless moments, I knew that God was there in our midst.   

“Joy is a birthright,” Joy Evangelist, Jolynn Swafford of Beyond Brave declared.

“Keep joy at the center,” life coach Amber Kierra encouraged.

 “It is my responsibility to let joy shine,” Fit Mom Staci Stills outlined.

God drew me to the well for a drink of His living water. He reminded me that He is my source of hope and joy even when life’s circumstances are hard or overwhelming as this past year has been.

“We have the power to choose. Therefore, we have the power to change,” my friend and pastor, Mark T. Keene shared.

“Refuse to play the victim,” he implored me.

At least I felt like he was talking only to me. Like when you are at church and you are sure God’s message for the day is all yours like you are alone in the pew on a personal date with God Almighty.

“Be honest. Feel it. And choose joy,” he said.

Do I really have the power to have more joy? I do. And so do you. Believe, and it will be yours.

Hope and joy go hand in hand. Belief in God is the source, and it is independent of circumstances.

Thank you to Find Joy Virtual Retreat, my fellow comrades and faithful proclaimers of truth, joy, and hope.

Make Room for Hope

“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” John 1:4

There were no open tables at the food court the day I met Irene. I joined a group of twenty-somethings hanging at the mall on a sunny San Diego afternoon, and we paused the shopping spree for a bite to eat.  

“Is this seat taken?” she blurted.

“I can’t find anywhere to sit.”

She demanded attention with her loud print shirt and her east coast accent.

“Of course,” one of the guys responded waving his hand for her to join us.

And the conversation was as lively as her blouse.

She had taken the bus to the mall to get out from her small apartment, she had two sons who did not spend much time with her, and she was lonely. We obliged her, and she stayed so long visiting over lunch that she missed her bus back. We squeezed her into our Honda hatchback, along with the four of us, and gave her a lift back home.

A divine appointment. A flicker of hope. A moment of purpose with many to follow.

Irene’s hair was bright white like the light she saw at the end of the tunnel in her near-death experience. She did not take kindly to pastor’s preaching the week I invited her to church.

“God is not a white light at the end of a dark tunnel,” he stated as a matter of fact.

She whipped her head around and I could feel the laser beam stare melting my cheek like wax. Disdain dripped from her countenance.

“You told him my secret!” she yelled at me after the service, shaking her fists in the air.

“God knows all our secrets,” I replied with a smirk.

It took the entire forty-minute drive back to her apartment to calm her down and to explain that it was Jesus showing up in her world, inviting her to get to know him.

And she invited me to get to know her. I visited her often and we swapped stories about life, love, and writing. She was a poet.

I imagined her on stage at open mic night with her attitude, her doctrine, and her colorful shirt on full display like a soap box preacher. Animated. Intentional. Flamboyant.

 She knew the power of words, and it became a force between us.

We had in depth conversations about Jesus, and though she was Jewish and did not understand him to be the Messiah, the Word was there with us.  

Knowing Irene was a treasure to me. And when I spoke at her memorial service, I shared the power of poetry to honor her and I shared the Word of hope to honor Him.

May we notice and respond to the subtle, and flamboyant, invitations to share the hope of Jesus.

Make room at your table.