Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Light in the Darkness

From Jeanne Damoff today:

I haven’t done much writing this week, but that’s okay. I love what I’ve been doing instead. One of my other “jobs” is choreographing musical productions, and I always enjoy the interaction with the performers I teach. This weekend the local high school is staging a 50s musical, so we’re down to the wire on perfecting steps and adding the pizzazz that makes a show worth the ticket price.

Yesterday evening after rehearsal ended I chatted with the director about one of the young men performing. He’s so full of personality and enthusiasm, it sparkles from the stage. The director told me that he lives in a “gang” house, and that everyone in his family is connected to the gang except for the boy and his grandmother. At some point he will be forced to join the gang or move out. His grandmother told the director’s husband that the one thing keeping him straight is choir. He loves to sing and perform, and he knows he’ll be kicked out of choir if he joins the gang.

After sharing this story with me, the director said watching him shine on stage almost makes her cry. She’s so thankful that God is using her choir to give this boy a reason to steer clear of trouble.

If the director hadn’t told me, I never would have known that this young man is faced with pressure to join a gang. I also remembered that we never know how many people our lives may touch. There are people all around us dealing with who-knows-what, and we may be the light they need to see. If we encourage someone and give him hope for the future, it just may be the one thing that keeps him from giving in to peer pressure. We all have the opportunity every single day to speak words of encouragement to others. Do we take them?

Today let’s make the answer to that question a resounding, “Yes!”

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Overlooked and Underpraised

I was recently reading an interview with actress Jennifer Garner. Er, no, Jen and I weren’t reading it together. The article was about her. Anyway, she was discussing motherhood. She mentioned that one day her young daughter became transfixed by the light reflecting in the room and how this had really made her think. When was the last time she had just stopped and observed something as simple as the light in a room?

This got me to thinking about the simple things. I give God thanks for all the biggies—my house, my family, my friends, my health. But our God is a God of details. How many opportunities pass me by in which I’m not in the moment and not in a state of thankfulness for everything, even the way something catches the light?

There are SO many verses in the Bible that deal with gratitude and thankfulness. I liked this one:

Psalms 116:17 I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the LORD.

I like that verse because it reminds us that telling God thank you is an offering to him. That’s how important it is for Him to hear it. What are some thank offerings you can give God today? What have you not thanked him for in a long time—if ever? What are some simple things that you can praise him for?

I’m grateful to you, Father, for:
a. Friends to make a bad movie fun
b. My electric blanket.
c. A friend visiting my church yesterday after two years of saying, “I’d rather
d. My nose no longer dripping faster than a coffee percolator
e. My mom’s smile
f. The little thrill of a new magazine in the mail this week.
g. My cat doing belly flops and knowing it makes me laugh every time.
h. The two minutes of snow we had this weekend.
i. My six year old nephew reminding ME for once that goodbye meant a hug
and a kiss.

Get the idea? Creative, simple, mostly unproclaimed statements of gratefulness. We’d love to hear yours.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Teens Rock

Last night I sat by some teens in church. I was instantly given a bunch of hugs. One teen asked me about my new book that just came out. I passed a copy to Aaron, sitting at the end of the row. He's a teen who always finds me and lets me know how much he misses me in youth.

After nearly 18 years of hanging out on Wednesday nights with teenagers, I no longer am a youth staff member. I no longer teach a d-class on Sunday mornings to college students, or go to the Saturday night college ministry.

I was on the road, speaking. I was trying to write a book or an article. I was preparing. I was working as a community mentor. I got to the point that I was so bogged down that something had to give. I often spent time on the airplane on the way home, trying to prepare for the next morning's D-class. One day I got alone with God and set it all before him. Take a good look, Father, and tell me what I need to give up. I expected to give up many things, but the last thing I expected was to give up my Wednesday, Sunday, and Saturday night ministries.

But that's exactly what I knew God was saying.

But, God, who will teach them? This is what I'm called to do--to impact teens with your Word.

It didn't take long for me to realize that God knew exactly what he was doing (isn't it funny how we often doubt this?)

This is what I found. God allowed those same teens to do something amazing for me. Now, when I'm on my way home from a conference, exhausted, or just ready to be home with my family, I'm not preparing the next day's lesson, but I'm excited about the next day. Because I know when I walk in the door, I'm going to get refilled. Instead of giving to teens, God is showing me how powerful it is to receive what these teens give me.

Stepping back has allowed me to see the "fruit" in the teens around me. They are ordinary teens, but they are extraordinary in so many ways.

Glorianna leads a Bible study in her school. I love to hear what she's doing, and about the one student that was impacted that week. Hailey is getting ready for college. She's scared, but excited and asking God to show her what's next in her life. I love to hear her enthusiasm. Tyler's family has been through tough times, but he's living his faith with courage and strength. He goes out on his own to minister to people, telling them about Jesus. Aaron's dad is sick. It caught them all by surprise. His dad is the one who always is giving to others, who helps people go to camp when they can't afford it, and now he's facing chemo and radiation. And yet Aaron finds me wherever I am and crushes me in a huge bear hug, letting me know he's read my latest book, or just letting me know that he's thinking about my ministry and praying. Others leave comments on my facebook or myspace when I'm gone, letting me know they are praying.

The tables have turned and these amazing teens have become the encouragers in my life.

I miss teaching the teens in my home church, but their support allows me to reach out further--teaching teens across the nation, with their help.

Many of you are just the same. You leave comments. You let Julie or Sarah or Mitali know when they say something that resonates with you. You aren't afraid to be honest. You visit this blog every day. Just as we minister, you minister right back.

Teens rock. They really, really do. Thanks!


My Heart Today

I can't share the details but our family is going through something huge, difficult, and pretty scary.

Yesterday, as soon as the praise music started playing in church, I started crying. I went to the bathroom. Friends followed me, including one of the girls in my high school Sunday school class. They surrounded me in prayer.

My husband and I went to the altar. Friends prayed.

Someone told me to say this out loud: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not to your own understand. In ALL thy ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your path straight."

There's power in praying the Bible OUT LOUD. This thing is too big for me to fix or figure out.

That's how I'm living right now--by saying, "I'm trusting You, God. We can't do it without You."

If anybody reading this could whisper the name Jamie to God. She's my daughter. I know He's listening. We want to use what He's teaching us to help other girls and women.

♥ Julie

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Here's a List of My Complaints, Lord

Count my blessings? It is so much easier to count my complaints. But here is a post I received that I think is worth pondering:

"If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, and a place to sleep... you are richer than 75% of this world."
"If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish, you are among the top 8% of the world's wealthy."
"If you are reading this on your own computer, you are part of the 1% in the world who has that opportunity."
"Also, if you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the many who will not even survive this day."
"If you have never experienced the fear of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 700 million people in the world."
"If you can attend a church meeting without the fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or even death, you are envied by, and more blessed than, three billion people in the world."
"If your parents are still alive and still married you are very rare."
"If you can hold you head up and smile you are not the norm, you are unique to all those in doubt and despair."

Thursday, January 25, 2007

You're the One that He Wants!

I know I shouldn’t laugh at reality shows. They involve real people, being scrutinized and often humiliated on national television. Really, I don’t crack up over the contestants themselves. I laugh at the overall cheesiness with which certain segments are presented. Take for example, Sunday night, when I stumbled upon Grease: You’re the One that I Want. For those of you who missed out, here’s the premise: America gets to choose the leads for the next Broadway production of the musical Grease.

The nice part about this program was 1) there wasn’t a “Simon” among the judges and 2) most of the Danny and Sandy hopefuls actually had singing and dancing abilities. But I couldn’t help howling over the selection process. At one point they needed to cut a group of 50 down to 24. Suspenseful music crescendoed as everyone filed into the gym, where they were required to stand in rows singing “Tears on My Pillow,” over and over and over again, while the original Grease creator walked up and down each line, listening (as if he hadn’t already decided who would stay and who would go home). If a singer didn’t make the cut, the director touched him or her on the shoulder. The shoulder touch, of course, coincided with a musical thud, resembling the drop of a guillotine blade or the platform on the hangman’s gallows. The rejected actor then hung his/her head and walked out of the room, looking like one about the face the firing squad. It was that over-the-top dramatic. Later the camera zoomed in on whoever happened to be sobbing on the shoulder of a family member, singing coach, or friend (I didn’t find that part funny—couldn’t they grieve without all of America watching?).

The lucky remaining 24 then began rehearsal for a musical showcase, which would be presented before an audience of former Grease cast members. Groups of four potential Sandys and four potential Dannys took turns performing songs. This time they were all good! Only twice did I catch myself thinking she’ll probably be cut or he’s not as good as the other guys in his group. But they had to get down to 12, so half of those gifted kids had to go. Once everyone had performed they were called to the edge of the stage where they heard their fate.

“Kelly,” the announcer said, as if delivering a sentence in a courtroom (camera cuts to a room where the judges are discussing that contestant. “She’s too young. I don’t think she’s ready for the pressure of Broadway.” “But she does have that innocent, girl-next-door look that we’re aiming for.” “True. And she did really shine tonight. But . . .”). Music intensified as they zoomed in on Kelly’s hopeful face and the announcer continued. “You . . . are not Sandy.”

Fighting to hide her disappointment, Kelly gave her fellow Sandy wannabe a gracious hug before walking off stage and letting her tears spill with a kind-hearted coach from the show.

Next, it was Allie’s turn.

“Allie . . .” (drum roll) “You’re . . . the one that we want!”

Allie screamed with unbridled joy, hugged everyone within arm’s length, and made room for the next contestants.

As I watched these young actors respond to “You are not Sandy/Danny” or “You’re the one that we want!” I couldn’t help aching for all of them. Eventually all but one guy and one girl would hear “You are not . . .” As laughable as the musical thuds and theatrical build-ups translated on the screen, I knew that the moment of rejection felt that dramatic—much like a guillotine blade falling, decapitating their dreams. Each pictured herself or himself as the next Broadway star and now that role would go to someone else as they returned home to wait tables.

I know how they feel. I once dreamed of acting professionally and do not miss the audition experience. The writing life has provided even more training in the truth behind some annoyingly on-the-nose cliché like “Life is full of disappointments” and “There can only be one winner.” I love how we try to lessen the pain with more tired out platitudes. “It’s not about winning, it’s about having fun!” Or my all-time favorite, “Try not to be disappointed if you don’t make it.” Sorry, but I can pretty much count on feeling disappointment when I go for something and don’t get it. It hurts something fierce to hear “We don’t want you.”

This may sound as cheesy as the musical guillotine-like thuds or the feel good statements that we use to lighten the blows, but it’s comforting to know that, in those moments of rejection, I still have a Father who wants me. No matter what the judges of life say, I will always be the one that He wants. In His eyes, I’m talented enough, pretty enough, good enough. If I’m “not Sandy” (or whatever) it’s because He honestly does have something better waiting around the corner. I may have to wait a year for it and feel more pain in the process, but when I finally get there, I’ll see how He used all the hard parts in-between to help me grow into the child that He created me to be.

Remember this today as you face the highs and lows, yes’s and no’s, joys and heartbreaks. No matter what others say, you will always be the one that He wants!

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3). And this comes from One who always means what He says.

Blessings and Hugs,


Sunday, January 21, 2007

A Better You in 6 Weeks!

I workout a LA Fitness and it is amazing how crowded the gym became after January 1. Everyone seems to what to be a better looking person at the beginning of the year. I have seen countless weight loss commercials on TV promoting a better you in 6 weeks. Last week, I took a step aerobics class. I haven’t done that kind of aerobics in about 10 years! I was exhausted. My legs were like noodles! It’s amazing that I used to be a college athlete.

When I was in college, I played tennis so I had to work out a lot whether I wanted to or not. We would have practice every afternoon which included lots of running and conditioning. In the winter, we would meet at 6:00am to run and lift weights. Conditioning was one of those things that I both loved and hated. I loved that it got me in shape for the season, but I hated how much sacrifice and physical pain it took.

The thing about building muscle and getting in shape is that it takes a lot of time. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it’s frustrating. But it’s always rewarding. The same is true with our character. God is in a process of building our character. He wants to build in us a character like His. The truth is that it is a challenge to pursue that type of character. Most people give up after a week in the gym because it’s too hard. Just like building muscle, building character takes discipline and perseverance. We would rather spend time working on our outward appearance than take the time to build our character. 1 Samuel 16:7 says that man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. What kind of heart is God looking for? He is looking for a pure and honest heart.

Who may ascend the hill of the LORD ? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. He will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God his Savior. Psalm 24:3-5 (NIV)

In order to build muscle, you have to practice. The same is true spiritually. In order to build a character you have to practice. If you want a better you in 6 weeks, then you need to practice. Practice the characteristics that God wants to build into you. I promise that you will be a better you in 6 weeks!

Sarah Bragg

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Good Morning!

Rise and shine, campers! It's Saturday!

So, what are you planning to do today? Surely not sit like a lump in front of your computer all day mindlessly munching Froot Loops until the box is empty. There's no time to waste. Saturday, January 20, 2007 will come only once in your lifetime, so seize the day!

Okay, sorry if that paragraph was a bit too chipper, but I'm serious about grabbing some gusto on this mid-winter weekend. Maybe bundle up in a snug winter coat, get outside, and let the icy air invigorate your lungs. If you have a camera, snap some artistic close-ups of ice-laden twigs or an interesting lamp post. Or, if it's just too cold to go out, get creative inside. Here are a few suggestions:

~ Put on some fun music, grab a partner, and dance. (A "partner" can be a friend, family member, pet, or stuffed animal. He can also be the invisible man--one of my favorites. He never steps on your toes.)

~ Spread out an array of colorful paper, stickers, markers, magazine pictures, or other supplies, and create homemade thank-you notes for the dear people who gave you Christmas presents. (Or just for people who love you. A thank-you for no reason other than "being there" would make someone's day.)

~ Call your granny on the phone and tell her what's going on in your life.

~ Spend some time praying for your friends or anyone you know who's going through a hard time.

~ Snuggle up in a comfy chair with a good book.

Hopefully that's enough to set your creative wheels a-turning. On your marks, get set, GO!

(Come back later and let us know what you did today. I can't wait to hear about your adventures!)

Friday, January 19, 2007

Enough Already!

I love my entertainment. I check the Internet throughout the day for Hollywood updates. I read my People magazine. I even watch the occasional (okay, frequent) E! and Entertainment Tonight. And yes, Hollywood lets me down on a regular basis. But I've officially had it. Monday and Tuesday night of American Idol was the last straw.

In my classes this week we are talking about how words carry weight and they are burdens that can stay with someone the rest of their lives, like a cancer. I always joke to my students, "Be careful how you treat people. Don't you be the person who gets their tires slashed at their ten year high school reunion."

I was totally disgusted with American Idol this week with all the meanness. To a certain extent, we expect it from Simon and know that contestants know what they are walking into. But this year's crop of wannabe's inspired especially cheap and malicious barbs from ALL the judges--even the ones who are typically kinder. Things were said to contestants that can never be taken back. That aired before MILLIONS of people. There will be people going back to home towns in which the entire population saw or heard of their humiliation, of their ridicule. When Simon said one guy looked like some sort of monkey from the forest, I wanted to bawl. I was so outraged at the cruelty--words these people will carry with them forever. Then I realized, I'm the one holding the remote. Am I any better? If people would take a stand and turn the TV off, American Idol and FOX would get the message. So I turned it off. (Okay, it took a while. In fact, it took a long while. But eventually that TV did go off. I have witnesses.)

And don't even get me started on the verbal spewage between Rosie O'Donnell and Mr. Donnie Trump. These people are wearing me out. But it's entertainment. And was I the only one tuning into The View to see what Rosie or Barbara would say next? Was I the only one who tuned into AI to see if Paula Abdul would be able to hold her head up and coherently complete a sentence?

In the second chapter of Titus it says to set an example by doing what is good. To show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned so that no one can say anything bad about you. So that no one can say that you frequently pull a Simon. Or you call people names like a Donald. And I would even go one step further and say don't hang out with people who DO stoop to that level.

So Rosie, Donald, Randy, Simon, and're fired.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Confession: I'm a nerd

Short post. Quick point today.

I'm one of those people who would probably drive you nuts. I do everything ahead of schedule (except clean my house). I make lists. I make lists for my husband. Sometimes I wear my watch to bed. I love calendars. You know the type. Always early for everything.

Last night at youth group my pastor said, "So, what's the weather supposed to do tonight? When's the ice storm gonna hit?" He grinned really big. He knew I'd be prepared.

I quoted him the latest weather report I'd heard on the way to church.

My son is 15. I told him we needed to leave ON TIME last night. No hanging around talking. We had to get home before the ice/sleet/wintry mix.

Well, this morning it's only raining. No ice. No school closings. It's 39 degrees.

I think I try to be smarter than God. Be overly prepared. Stay one step ahead of the game. That gets pretty tiring.

When I'm still and quiet, God seems to say, "Trust me. You can relax. I'm in control--no matter what."

So, I've just added a New Year's Resolution to my LIST. I'm going to stop being such a nerd. And start trusting Him more. Maybe rip up my lists. :-)


♥ Julie

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


I am either really, really good at priorities, or really, really bad. I can't decide. Even after all these years of being a Christian, I struggle.
Why can't God just send me a "to-do" list. I would gladly follow it. But instead, I have an aisle, like in the grocery store, that I must walk down and make decisions. Do I pick canned beans and canned corn. Once I decide on beans, what type do I get--green, wax, pinto, black-eyed? Once I decide on what type, what brand should I get?
And that's what my priority choices feel like every day!

Do I spend time with grandsons, and if I do, what kind of activity do I do with them? Read books, draw pictures, do puzzles?

Then there are the folks who read my books. Should I spend time with them? Answer reader mail, work on website, write in this blog, write the next book (that one would make my publisher happy!)

And then there is me. Should I take a nap? (I've been ill and naps are essential. I nap as often as a cat and curled up in the sunshine is best.) Should I straighten my mess? Really, I am a happier, more productive person when I don't have to wade through clutter. Should I diet and exercise? (Nah, surely diet and exercise aren't on my priority list!)

Okay, so everyday, I'm making all these decisions. Did I mention I don't like to make decisions? I procrastinate.

Now, here's the thing, as Detective Monk would say.

I don't have to make decisions daily. I can set up my priorities based on what God has told me and then follow that guideline.

In Jane Eyre, Rochester asks Jane to go travel through Europe with him, pretending to be his wife. She loves him, but he has a crazy wife locked in the attic. Honest! I'm not making this up. Charlotte Bronte (or her sister) made it up. Anyway, her answer to him is that she won't. (You go, girl.) Because, she decided when she was not under pressure by temptation to do the right thing. And since she had already made up her mind, she didn't have to make up her mind again. She didn't have to decide daily what her priorities are. She only had to act on what she already decided.

Isn't that great? You can decide today, when there is no pressure, that you don't do drugs, you don't have sex with your boyfriend, you don't shoplift, you don't lie to your parents, -- oh you know the list. Then when the temptation comes up, you can say with confidence "I know my priorities and I .. . "

As to my priorities, family, work, and self, I juggle. All of them are at the top and I devote myself to each priority based on that day's needs. After all, God has ordered my days.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Thanks for the Reminder, Harold!

I always know when Harold arrives at church on Sunday mornings. He likes to hear our worship team practice so he shows up early. Sometime between the sound check and practice for the final song I hear a deep voice bellow from the back row, “Jeanette’s flat!”

Sometimes I’m tempted to thank Harold for his almost weekly insult. It stands as a repeated reminder of my growth. At one time I took such teasing—even if I knew it was done in fun—very personally, allowing it to throw me head-first into a secret well of despair. Maybe I am flat. That’s not usually the case, but then again . . . How many others are thinking the same thing? What’s wrong with me today? See, I’m really not a very good singer. No wonder I didn’t get the solo part this morning.

Pretty pitiful, I know. Let’s just say, I have some baggage. But with the help of God and some precious friends I’m unloading and trashing more of it all the time.

Harold can now count on me to shout right back at him, “Good morning, Harold. I always know when you’re here.”

A few weeks ago he asked if I minded when he teased me about being flat. I was telling the truth when I told him no. It has become a funny Sunday morning tradition among those that I sing with. I can laugh off his ongoing game because I’ve considered the facts. I know Harold and that he likes to kid. I know that he cares about me and that he showers me with as many compliments on my singing as he does mock put-downs. Not to sound prideful, but I also know that I’m not a flat, off-key singer—that God gave me a gift to enjoy and serve His people with. I know the truth, so I can take Harold’s proclamation of “Jeanette’s flat” as the joke that he intends it to be and even play along.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” John 8:32.

I understand that Jesus was talking about a different type of truth in this verse than I am, but for some reason it comes to mind when I think of my response to the Harolds in my life. Lately I’ve recognized the damage that I can do to my own spirit when I let my emotions, insecurities, and fears evaluate words or situations instead of lining them up against the truth.

For example, last week I crumbled over some news from a dear friend, automatically assuming that I’d messed up and might drive her and others away with my neediness. After a sleepless night, God helped me see that I was reacting based, not on reality, but on some cruel experiences from the past that I clearly hadn’t let go of. Once again, I had to put my warn-out, ugly memories in their place and choose to look at the truth, to believe the soothing voice reminding me, this friend loves you dearly. She isn’t like the mean people who hurt you years ago. None of your friends are. Relax, trust those who have proven countless times that they care about you, and move on with your day.

The truth set me free from unnecessary misery.

Obviously I’m still learning and probably will until I get to heaven. But I’m trying to take my responses to Harold and apply them in other areas as well—to consider the source much more often. In fact, maybe I will seize the next opportunity to thank him for the regular reminder to examine and believe the truth instead of giving in to the enemy’s lies.

In what areas is God showing you the power of recognizing truth? How is it setting you free?

I pray that His truth will bring you glorious freedom today!

Many Blessings,

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Tyra Banks & me

Update! The full scoop (with pics) is posted at Girls & God.

I just realized, depsite my mushy, jet-lagged brain, that today is my day to post. Sorry, but there is absolutely nothing profound in me today. At all. That's because on Thursday afternoon I got an e-mail that I thought was a prank.

It wasn't.

It was from "The Tyra Banks Show" and they wanted me to come appear on the program - on Friday (keep in mind it is Thursday afternnon on the East Coast. Well, because I have a super-supportive husband, the show sent a car to my driveway and picked me up within the hour, whisked me to the airport and flew me to LA. Yes, that fast.

It's a fun and crazy story that I want to tell with all my super-dorky tourist photos that I took. And no, I didn't get one with Tyra and me together. I'm going to try and pull a screen shot when they air the episode.

Oh, I didn't mention why they wanted me on did I? Yeah, they were doing a program called "The Lives of Witches" and wanted to "balance" out the program by having another viewpoint. That would be. The token Christian.

It was a really cool experience though - and I will post a full-report at Girls & God when I can think straight enough to download the pics off my camera...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Risky Curiosity

A friend of mine recently read the book called “Dangerous Wonder: The Adventure of a Childlike Faith” by Mike Yaconelli. When you are a child, you life is full of wonder. You don’t know all the answers to life’s so-called problems, yet that doesn’t bother you. Things intrigue you. You are excited about discovering things. But somewhere along the way, we lose that wonder. We begin to see things through our “grown-up” eyes and things become dull. Our dreams subside and we lose the sparkle in our eyes.

This author said, “Faith has been reduced to a comfortable system of beliefs about God instead of an uncomfortable encounter with God. Childlike faith understands that God is as capable of destroying us as He is of saving us.” Then, he brought up the story of Thomas in the Bible. We’ve all read about “Doubting Thomas”. I have always viewed Thomas as a negative character or a man of no faith. But maybe, he was expressing a childlike faith. Maybe he had risky curiosity.... And that was good.
Yaconelli said that “curiosity is a hunger of the soul, and because Thomas was strong and courageous and spoke bluntly, he was daring to ask tough questions.” Here’s the kicker for me: “He was not refusing to believe, he was refusing to settle for secondhand faith.” Thomas wanted to discover the truth about Jesus for himself. So often, we lose the curiosity of God and settle for a secondhand faith.

I want to give you the freedom to wrestle with God’s truth. Spend some time discovering for yourself who He is. Don’t feel ashamed if you want to ask questions. Jesus welcomed Thomas and He welcomes you.

Sarah Bragg

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Words are worse than sticks or stones

Have you ever said something you wished you could take back? I read a story once that compared words to dandelion seeds. Once they've scattered to the wind, it's impossible to gather them back up.

The Bible has a lot to say about the power of words. Yesterday I read some sobering verses in Proverbs 26. "For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down. Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife."

We're dealing with this problem in our church right now. A few complainers have taken it upon themselves to "whisper" about the things they don't like, and the result is a bunch of disgruntled people. I can't imagine such petty nonsense in countries where believers are persecuted for their faith, but we're in good ol' God-Bless-America. Here in the U.S. of A. we're comfy and we don't like it if the sermon stomps on our perfectly pedicured toes. Isn't the preacher supposed to make us feel good about ourselves? Isn't the worship music supposed to be as exciting as a rock concert? Doesn't God exist to satisfy our every selfish whim?

Um, no. To all of the above.

I'm pretty disgusted by whisperers right now. But I can't really point the finger, because I'm guilty, too. How many times have I made some sarcastic crack to get a laugh, then seen the pain in the eyes of the person at whose expense I made the joke? It's too late then. The dandelion seeds have scattered, and I can't gather them back up.

When I was little my mom taught me the classic comeback: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me." I know Mom meant well, but that phrase is simply not true. Broken bones can be set and mended. Broken hearts sometimes never completely heal.

So, I think we should rewrite the old phrase and use it to remind ourselves that words DO hurt. Your mission, readers of GG&TGL, is to come up with a better saying and post it in the comments. Then maybe we can all pick our favorite and teach it to our children, and someday--instead of the weedy dandelions of cruel words--the world will be filled with fields of fragrant flowers.

I look forward to reading your ideas!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Step On The Line

This weekend I heard that a fellow classmate of mine had died. I don't know how. I really don't know anything about him. I remember Mark from our days in elementary school. I will never forget him. And sadly, I will never forget how I treated him.

I was a good kid. But I wasn't always the kindest kid. In elementary I was aware of people who were different from me, different from my friends. And Mark and his sister? They were the poor kids. They were the kids who didn't dress like us. Didn't look like us. Total outsiders. And the ironic thing is, I was a kid living with a single mom barely making it. I was a poor kid! Maybe that's why I wasn't too nice to this brother and sister--because it made me feel better about myself, about where I came from. Because it sent a message to my friends that I was one of them--our clique--and not like Mark.

This weekend I saw the movie Freedom Writers. It's a great example of a school and community defined by differences. In Mrs. Gruwell's class she had various racial and ethnic groups that HATED one another. Obviously it caused a lot of problems. So one day she tapes a line down the center of the room. And she begins to read off statements, saying if this applies to you, step on the line. These kids, who were so diversely different, found themselves toe to toe with their classmates and enemies at every statement. They began to see themselves as more than a member of a certain gang, more than a color, more than an ethnic group. They were people--people who shared the same hurts, the same fears, and the same desire for something better.

When I became a teacher I got a new perspective of students. I saw how teens looked at each other vs. how I saw kids now as an adult. It's a totally different view from the outside looking in. When I was younger I saw characteristics that automatically put someone in a particular clique. I saw people by hair, style, shoes, home, car, family life, etc. Now? Now I just see potential in every teen I teach. And I see commonalities such as pain, loneliness, suffering, love of laughter, a desire to have someone care, a need to be acknowledged. I wish I saw those similarities when I was younger. I wish people had held me accountable and said, "Hey, you're being a total jerk." I wish I hadn't used hurtful words that might've been etched on Mark's heart when he died.

Whereas the object and purpose of our instruction and charge is love, which springs from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith.
1 Timothy 1: 5

What would life be like if God judged us with the same check list we used to judge others? Through his grace and mercy, He doesn't. And not only that, but He commands us to love others and treat everyone--even those who aren't like you--with love. It is part of our purpose here. It's part of sincere faith.

As you go about this week--or the rest of your life--remember you have more in common with those around you than you think. Be the girl who makes the difference. When the time comes for God to ask us to step to the line, will you be the girl with regrets or the girl with righteouness?

Monday, January 08, 2007

A "we" hooked over your name

Last weekend I turned in a new book to my publisher. It's a book for 20-somethings called "The Woman I Am Becoming". I had a blast hanging out with my friends and the focus group as we talked about life, love, faith, relationships, and more.

One thing that came up was guys.

One person asked why girls accepted guys who weren't the greatest. Not in looks. Not in what they had, like a cool car or even what they do. But guys who didn't treat them well, or who were selfish, or who asked for way too much emotionally or sexually.

That started a whole new conversation. This is one thing that one 20-something friend said:

"I have a friend who is 22 and has been "talking to" a guy long distance for a year now. They are "best friends" and she "loves him". Yet they've never talked about "us". They've never had the all-important "DTR" (define the relationship) talk. And she is so anxious for definition. She worries and wonders where he is at, yet she refuses to bring it up. She is all caught up emotionally, spiritually, all of that. I really don't think its healthy or what God intended."

As we talked I asked them why girls of any age would settle for any of this.

They said it is because it hooks a "we" over your name. He may not be the right guy. He may not treat you well. He may not be honest with you. But at least it's a relationship.

This is something I see a lot when I speak to teens. When I spoke at a school recently, one girl said, "I know I've had a good day if a guy talks to me."


Wouldn't it be better to have the "we" over your name spell out "you and God" as you wait for a godly guy who is into you, and who treats you like he really cares about you?

I don't want to wait. . .

Hey, nobody likes to wait. I get that, but I also believe that waiting is often the best thing to happen in my life. I've learned that waiting is part of my destiny.

I wait until it's the right person, or the right thing to do, or when I have a green light from God that says, "hey Suz, this is what I have for you".

Jason Illian in Jason Illian, in Undressed – The Naked Truth about Love, Sex and Dating, says:“Staying put” is about allowing our hearts to be still long enough for God to share his remarkable plan for our lives."

Romans 8:24-25 (The Message) says this: "That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don't see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy."

What do you think?

New book coming soon: Making It Real: Whose Faith Is It Anyway?

Hung by the Tongue

Yesterday, I used M & M candy to teach high school girls in Sunday school. The lesson, Hung by the Tongue, was about our words.

I passed out little packages of M & M's. This is how we played a game.

Red M & M = Loving words
Blue M & M = Words of encouragement
Orange M & M = Words of hatred
Yellow M & M = Lies we tell
Brown M & M = Ugly thoughts that come out
Green M & M = Jealous words

I remembered back to when I was a little girl. Way back when, I can still remember ugly things I said--including hateful things I said just yesterday. Our neighborhood group of girls was heading to the movies one Saturday. I must have been about ten. All of us wore jeans except for Diana. She wore a church dress. I said, "I can't believe you're wearing THAT to the movies. Nobody dresses up THAT much for a movie."

Diana went home crying and didn't go with us.

I'm 46. This many years later I still remember my "orange" words.

I was hung by my tongue. James 3 is a great place in the Bible to learn all about our tongues. "But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison."

We talked about times we'd hurt our friends with our words. We also talked about the words of encouragement spoken to us and how powerful they are.

Being a writer is hard work--at least for me. Many days I've considered quitting. It never fails. I'll get a hand-written note from someone. "You'll never know how much your story meant to me. Please keep writing. I didn't think anybody else had ever felt this way."

See how it works?

Let's see if we can use blue and red M & M words today to the people around us.


Friday, January 05, 2007

Life Lessons from the Pursuit of Happyness

Last week my friend Sherry “kidnapped” me to see the movie the Pursuit of Happyness (misspelling intentional—see the movie to find out why). I had no idea what to expect. I only knew that it was a true story about a single father who went from homelessness to having his dream job and that this guy is now a self-made millionaire. Honestly, I didn’t care what the movie was about; I jumped at the opportunity to get out for a rare spontaneous break from the same old thing. I certainly didn’t go expecting to learn anything about life. I mean, who goes to movies to learn, especially during Christmas break? But besides weaving an amazing success story, Chris Gardner’s experience sent me away with a few things to apply when my own life seems to be teetering on the brink.

Aim high. At the beginning of the movie Chris Gardner is struggling to support his son and wife by selling Bone Density Scanners to doctors. All he manages to do is get them stolen by left-over hippies who mistake the scanners for time machines. When he decides to apply for an internship that could lead to a job as a stock broker his wife almost literally laughs in his face. Then she leaves. Nice. Chris goes for it anyway. After a lifetime of settling for second best, he shoots higher than seems possible.

Too often I settle for less than I really want. Why? Fear of failing mostly. Watching Chris’s new life unfold inspired me to stop and ask myself, what if I did have the guts to . . . ?

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something . . . not even yourself. Chris gives his son these instructions after discouraging him with an off-handed comment during a father/son basketball game. Throughout the movie he models his own advice, as he goes for his goal, regardless of how unrealistic it seems or how hopeless his circumstances look.

I’m too often guilty of listening to the “you can’t” voices, especially those in my own head. My prayer now is that I’ll shut them off—that the only one I’ll allow to say, “This isn’t for you” is God.

Focus on others. Chris had a living, breathing reason to keep going when life fell apart around him—his son. Instead of wallowing in pity he focusing on his little boy’s needs—for example, turning their first homeless night into an imaginary dinosaur adventure.

It’s easy to get caught up in the “Poor me” act when life is tough. So how can I focus instead on meeting the needs of my family, encouraging my friends, or ministering to those who need help or an extra touch? The view of life turns from dismal to hopeful when the lens is zoomed in on someone besides me.

Work hard. While finishing his unpaid internship, Christ devoted weekends to his “day job.” He eliminated time wasters, studied at night, and cared for his son alone. Not once do we see him asking for a handout or special treatment, or complaining about his overflowing plate of responsibility. He was willing to do anything to make life better. His work ethic makes the end result that more satisfying to witness.

I’ll admit I’m not one to shy away from hard work. I’m more apt to burn out from overload than be accused of lazing around expecting to have life handed to me on a pretty serving tray. But there are times when I get sick of being the responsible one, when enough is enough and I just want to veg out for a day. Make that a month. The final scene of the Pursuit of Happyness renewed my appreciation for the rewards of honest, persistent work.

Never give up Chris could have easily taken a long look at his situation and said, “That’s it. I’m tired of wasting my time only to be disappointed, again and again. This is just too hard. I quit.” His wonderful internship held no guarantees. Some days the cruelties of life knocked him down at every turn. Yet he kept getting up in the morning, taking deep breaths, and moving forward. And eventually he got his much-needed reprieve.

It’s embarrassing to think back on the many times I said, “God, I quit. This is too hard.” And I haven’t even faced homelessness and destitution! Remembering the times when my perseverance eventually led to answered prayer keeps me going usually, but not enough to stop my whining before it starts. I left the theater thinking, “Okay, God, if Chris could stick it out, so can I.”

What are you facing right now that seems too big to handle? In what areas would you like to aim a little higher? What kind of toll are the “you can’t” messages taking on your spirit and sense of worth? Ask God, right now, to fill you with the drive to live as Chris did, as you and your Father embark on your own personal pursuit of happiness.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

To sleep...perchance to dream

A study published in the Nature Neuroscience journal examined how memories are processed in the brain during sleep. During the non-dreaming portion of sleep, the brain replays the day's events, helping people reflect on recent happenings and learn from them, said Matthew Wilson, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory.

The bottom line: Information crammed into the brain during a sleepless night has less chance of sticking. When deprived of sleep, students may be able to regurgitate information they've memorized overnight, but they have decreased their ability to understand its meaning or to apply it to future experience.

"Sleep isn't just a passive event," said Wilson, co-author of the study. "The best way to take advantage of sleep is to have it interspersed between periods of wakefulness in a regular way."

I can't even tell you how many all-nighters I pulled in high school and college getting ready for an exam. Staying out late, sleeping in, my roommates famous "ten-minute naps" in the middle of the day when we couldn't keep our eyes open another second! I'm a night-owl by nature so I'd rather stay up late than rise early. No matter how many times I drag myself out of bed early in the morning "to get something accomplished" I find I am utterly useless.

Today I crawled back into bed after seeing my kids off to school because I had a headache and I was feeling grumpy about it. I fell back asleep and when I woke up the second time, I was ready to face the day. But I felt guilty. I seem to have this idea that sleeping is equal to "wasting time", yet, if it is how God created us, then how can it be a bad thing?

Sleep deprivation has been linked to all sorts of bad things - chronic fatigue, depression, weight gain, irritability, headaches, memory loss, makes health conditions worse, causes accidents, failing grades, can impede physical growth, affects your immune can even kill you.

Related to sleep is the concept of rest...I read a note from someone recently that talked about how they always honor the Sabbath by taking rest from sundown Saturday, to sundown on Sunday. The Sabbath is actually one of the ten commandments, yet most of us have trouble carving out ten minutes of rest much less a whole 24 hours.

I don't think we know what rest is anymore.

I know I don't. My life, just like most of your lives, runs at a frenzied pace sometimes. Slowing down, taking time to rest, and also sleep, can seem counter-productive. But we have to. God created us to need rest and sleep, not just ocasionally, but regularly.

So let's hear it for no-guilt sleep and a weekly rest. We should probably listen to Him - after all, I think He knows what He is doing, don't you?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Year's Resolution: Watch My Reality TV

Along with other more worthy (and weighty, if you get my drift) resolutions for 2007, I've decided not to feel guilty about tuning into reality shows like American Idol or Little People, Big World. There might actually be a good reason why I like watching real people bumble around on the tube instead of professional sitcom actors delivering well-rehearsed punchlines. A new study, Faith in a Box 2005-2006, reviewed how religion is portrayed on prime time broadcast television:
Reality shows are more positive towards religion: The format of the program was a significant factor in the portrayal which religion received. A majority (57.8%) of the positive portrayals of religion were to be found on reality programs. By contrast, an overwhelming percentage (95.5%) of the negative portrayals of religion came from such Hollywood-scripted drama and comedy programs; only 4.5% of negative portrayals of religion were found on reality shows.
Examples in the report include:
  • Cindy Teas, who started a summer camp for handicapped children, states: “I thought about how many times I felt like God held my hand and walked me through this walk of faith…and there were all those little hands I’ve had the opportunity to hold.” (ABC, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition October 16, 2005)
  • Dunstin, who is suffering from cancer, says: “I just trust in the Lord to take care of my children and family…Sometimes you wonder, why me? But then…you give thanks to the Lord, pray, and move on.” (ABC, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, March 19, 2006)
  • P. Miller says: “You gotta pray and you gotta thank The Man up above for just givin’ you the opportunity to do some of the things that you wanna do.” Miller and his dance partner Ashly are shown holding hands in prayer before their dance performance. Both say “Amen” at the conclusion of their prayer. (ABC, Dancing with the Stars, January 27, 2006)
  • Danni leads her group in prayer to Jesus, giving thanks for their meal. (CBS, Survivor: Guatemala, October 13, 2005)
  • Mandisa tells Simon Cowell that she has forgiven him for his rude remarks about her weight because of the grace she was given through Jesus Christ. (Fox, American Idol, February 15, 2006)
  • Melony states: “I’ve been blessed to still be alive this year, and God gave me life. He gave me another chance, and I’m going to live and live it healthy!” (NBC, The Biggest Loser, January 4, 2006)
  • Carly, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor when she was four years old but recovered, says: “A lot of people prayed for me and I think that really helped me.” (NBC, Three Wishes, September 30, 2005)
  • The Weaver family prays and asks God to keep them safe. Mrs. Weaver is heard in voice-over stating that it was the family’s relationship with God that enabled the family to get through her husband’s death. Throughout the episode Mrs. Weaver prays for help in accomplishing her tasks. (CBS, The Amazing Race: Family Edition, September 27, 2005)
Brent Bozell, President of PTC, finds this ironic:
"...(In) reality shows such as Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and The Amazing Race, where real characters freely express themselves, faith and religion are positively portrayed. But in scripted shows, where Hollywood writers express their worldviews, faith and religion become four letter words – to the tune of 95.5% negative portrayals. This is an industry that is completely out of touch with reality."
I'm not so sure he's right about that last statement. After all, producers edit reality television for public consumption, and the references to faith cited above could have been cut. They could have been used to denigrate the characters rather than endear them to the viewing audience. But they weren't. Could profit-driven Hollywood actually be responding to the spiritual hunger for authenticity in our culture by shifting positive expressions of faith into reality television? As Anastasia Goodstein of Ypulse puts it:
(Young people are)... more cynical when it comes to marketers' motivations, more savvy about what is authentic or cool or offers real value, and a much tougher audience to reach in general. There's just so much noise.
Is it any wonder, then, that teens, both inside and outside the church, prefer a simple declaration of belief from people of genuine faith to a slick, scripted profession articulated by writers and actors who don't believe a word of it? (Item no. 42 on a list of reasons why I love this generation ... Happy New Year, everybody!)