Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Christmas Story

Had fun playing around with words and putting the Christmas story in rhyme!  Hope you enjoy!

Mary surprised
Joseph denies
Angel explains
Joseph reclaims

Couple wed
No marriage bed
Elizabeth learns
Baby turns

Now must travel
Plans unravel
No room within
Stable birth then

Angels proclaimed
Shepherds came
Name is given
Hope is livin'

A star in the east
Much awaited peace
Magi give
Prophesies live

Herod schemes
Joseph dreams
Magi tricked
Herod ticked

Escape a must
Egypt or bust
Babies die
Mothers cry

Simeon and Anna see
Fulfilled legacy
Family returns
The whole world learns

Jesus invites
Come into the light
We celebrate
Heaven's open gate

Marla Dec 2011

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Just Because

What is your house like on Sunday morning?  Does your family all wake up smiling and eager to go and worship the Lord?  Does praise and kindness drip from everyone’s lips as you calmly and peacefully prepare for church? OR…… is it a little less than picture perfect?  I can tell you what my house is like on Sunday morning and it isn’t perfect!  There is a lot more grumping, whining, and yelling than there is praising.  Trying to get six children and myself all up and ready for  service is not pretty!  Therefore we usually arrive at church somewhat frazzled (at least me) and often close to tears. 
            When my husband first started in the ministry I was very self-conscious  whenever we were at church.  I was always watching my kids making sure they didn’t blow it.  Why?  Well, because it would make us look bad, of course!  Shortly after our journey into the ministry, the Lord must have decided that enough was enough.  It was a day like all others, we were already running late by the time we managed to arrive at church.  I sent my children down to Sunday school and went off to church.  When the service was over I left the sanctuary and was quickly flagged down by one of the Sunday school leaders.  I thought nothing of it and went over to see what she needed.  Well, first you have to understand a little bit about this lady.  She is the mother of one little girl.  This little girl is always dressed perfectly with ribbons or bows in her hair.  Now at the time, I was the mother of 4 children under the age of eight and three of them were girls who rarely have ribbons or bows in their hair.  In fact I was quite proud if we managed to get to church and everyone had managed to comb their hair before we arrived.  So this mother of one calls me over and proceeds to inform me that my then five year old, who had chosen to wear a dress this particular morning, was not wearing any panties.  Well I did what any mother would do, I stood there in disbelief praying for this woman to laugh or smile or give the punch line.   But there was no punch line.  As the reality of her words began to sink in I began to berate myself.  How could I not notice this?  What kind of a mother takes her kid to church without panties??  A million questions flooded my mind but they all lead to me being an absolute failure.  Why?  Because I was defining my self worth by how well my family “performed” in public.
How do you define your self worth?  Really what measure do you use?  Is it job success?  Maybe it’s a happy marriage that defines your success?  What makes you feel good about you?  Is it defined in what you do?  Or maybe I should ask who defines your self worth?  Your parents?  Husband?  Children?  Friends?
            Let’s think about that a bit.  There are many ways that we try to impress people.  We have to look our best, do our make-up just so, say just the right things.  Then we have children and they always have to look just so and behave perfectly.  The list goes on and on.  This is especially true within the realm of church.  We struggle to reveal our weaknesses for fear of what others might think of us.  We desire to be liked and accepted, to even be looked up to by those around us.  Donna Partow expressed it this way, “We want other people to look at us and say, ‘Wow, what a remarkable women.  What a remarkable Christian.  That’s wrong! People should look at us and say, ‘What a remarkable God she must serve.  If God can work through an ordinary woman like her, maybe he can work through me, too!”[1]  Remember that Paul tells us in 2nd Corinthians 12:10, “When I am weak then I am strong.”  Why is that?  Well verse 9 of the same chapter gives us the answer.  Paul shares Christ’s words, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”  I have often heard the saying that God does not call the equipped, he equips the called.  You see if we can accomplish things in our own strength then what would we need God for?  We would quickly become self reliant and not God centered.  It is when we dare to do something beyond our abilities that we begin to truly trust in God and His power.
            A few years ago I felt a strong calling to share my testimony.  I must admit I really wrestled with the whole idea.  You see no one except God and my husband had ever been allowed to peek at that part of my life.  I argued with God that people may judge me or not like me if they knew the truth about my life.  I argued that it may hurt the witness I have had up to this point.  People may be disappointed in me.  Surely God, you wouldn’t want that.  But his answer for every single excuse I had was, “My grace is sufficient for you.”  Now how can you argue with that? 
            I remember the night I sat down and wrote out my testimony.  I had read a book by Steven Curtis Chapman and his pastor Scotty Smith entitled, Speechless.  In the book Scotty Smith says something that began to work in the part of my heart that I rarely looked at, the place I stored the hurt and mistakes of my past.  He basically said that as believers there is no reason why we should feel compelled to keep secrets.  That was the extent of his comment but God used it to say much more to me.  I heard him saying that satan is the king of darkness and secrets and God is a God of light and truth.  Verses like John 8:32, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” began flooding my mind.  And then it struck me that if I continued to keep these things quiet satan would continue to have the victory.  Romans 8:28 says that “all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord.”  I was not allowing God to do that.  I would not allow him to use this for His good.  That was the beginning of God working to change things within me.
One night shortly after reading Speechless I found myself wide awake at 4:30 in the morning.  I knew instantly that I was supposed to do is get up and write down my testimony.  The problem was that I was still struggling to face this issue.  So I tried to appease God by praying for everyone I know or have ever known.  It is at this point that my husband begins snoring beside me.  Now I am not talking about a soft, quiet snore but instead an earth shattering, the neighbors will be calling any minute, snore!  I am ashamed to say that I woke him up three times trying to get him to quit snoring so I could fall back asleep.  Then my son, who had gotten in bed with us, started throwing his leg over me and crowding me out of my side of the bed.  I finally gave in to the idea that the Lord was not going to allow me any rest or comfort until I got up and wrote my testimony down.  So I headed downstairs still quite reluctant.  When I got down there I decided I needed to “get in the mood” to write by listening to some praise music.  I can just picture God shaking his head at me and thinking, “What am I going to do with this girl?”  Well the praise music went on, the couch called me and finally sleep found me.  As morning came I still felt a deep tug to do this but kept myself busy.  By evening I was tired and dropped into bed looking forward to a good nights rest.  However, God was not even going to let me sleep this night and finally at about 12:30 I headed for the computer.  I sat down and my fingers began typing.  I did not even have to think.  The Lord poured the words into my head and I pounded them into my computer.  Five pages later I was finally free.  Free from all the hiding I had done, free from all the shame of poor life choices, free of the self-hatred I had built up for all those years.  I could have danced forever in that freedom!
            Of course the next step was to share my story.  That, too, has been hard.  Again the question arises, “What will people think of me?  Will people say unkind things about me?” That would be unbearable to me if I continued in my pattern of allowing others to define my worth. If I can allow myself to look through the eyes of Christ when I view my life, then I will know that the Lord can use my mistakes, my hurt to help others.  That will make it all worth it.  “All things work together for the good of those who love the Lord~! 
            So then the question arises, who should define my significance?  The answer, of course, is God for we are nothing without him.  It is not self confidence we need to pursue, for this is sinful and selfish, instead we should be in constant pursuit of what Donna Partow coined, “God confidence,” that is, who we are in Christ.  This is what makes us significant and unique.  Psalm 139 tells us that we were knit together in our mother’s womb and that the Lord knew all of our days even before they came to be.  God created each of us for a specific purpose; our lives have meaning because He gives us meaning.  Wow!
            Maybe we need to explore the question of why God loves us.  Is it because we can fulfill this purpose that we were created for?  Is it because we make good choices?  Is it because we go to church every Sunday?  Is it because we teach Sunday School or lead the choir?  Well the truth is that God loves us just because.  Because what??  Just because!.  He created us in His image.  He made us knowing full well we would need to be redeemed by His one and only son.  There is NOTHING we can do to earn his love.  Therefore there is NOTHING we can do that would cause him to stop loving us.  As I struggled through growing up I made many mistakes.  I knew what it meant to be a Christian and often I chose to disobey God.  At one point I felt that I had moved so far away from God that I had committed the unpardonable sin, that God could not love me after this.  Maybe you feel that way?  Maybe you have had an abortion?  Maybe you have been divorced?  Maybe you are struggling deeply with jealousy or lust?  Well if you have never heard this truth let me be the first to tell you, God loves you anyway.  God’s love is not based on conditions and our performance.  John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him will have everlasting life.”  That is all you have to do, believe in Jesus.  Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
“You mean. someone could love us for no reason? Well they must not know what I have done, the mistakes I have made.”  That answer is found in Romans 5:8, “God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  In fact before you were even created God loved you and sent His son to die on a lonely cross for you.  It so goes against our thinking. We do love people based on conditions.  Think about dating.  Why did we like the other person?  Most likely because of how they made us feel or what they could offer us.  I bet if we took a long hard look at our lives we would not see too many people that we love “just because.”  So it is hard for us to fathom that someone we have never even seen could love us for no good reason.  Not only that but he would be willing to send his one and only son to come and suffer for me.  In case you aren’t convinced let’s look at one more passage.  Romans 8: 38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Why would He love us like that?  That is just crazy!  Yes, it is crazy but I am here to tell you that God is crazy, crazy about you.  Why??  Just because! 

[1] Partow, Donna.  Becoming A Vessel God Can Use (Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.  1996) 79

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

No Room Within

            Most of us are familiar with the Christmas story and how Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem.  As you may recall, they were traveling to register because Caesar Augustus had issued a decree that everyone travel to their home town for the census.  A very pregnant Mary traveled with her husband, Joseph and arrived just in time for nightfall.  Here’s where the story gets interesting.  Joseph tries to check in at the hotel but there is no room at the inn.  Those famous words have been repeated for centuries as the Christmas story has been told and retold; and those are the words I want to focus on today.
            No room at the inn!  Now that is interesting.  Think of all the pomp and circumstance that a King or Queen receive.  Even here in America where we do not have monarchs that rule, we understand that they are to be celebrated.  All of us remember Princess Diana and how much she filled our news, and she was only ex-royalty.  Oh we know how to treat “important” people.  How about our president, I doubt that he goes too many places without an entourage of people to escort him.  These people are special, we celebrate them, protect them, cherish them.  If President Obama was coming to the little town of LaMoille, imagine the preparation we would do.  Room at the inn, shoot we might even build a new high class hotel to house him and “his people.”  A few years ago, the children of our church were working had on their play for Christmas.  It was called, “A King is Coming” and took place in the little town of Rumors Mill.  In the story, the people in town catch wind of the news that a king is coming and the town is set to work preparing for this important visitor. 
            Israel knew that a king was coming.  They should have been ready to welcome him, celebrate him, cherish him.  They should have been waiting like a child for Christmas morning, in eager expectation for His coming, but that is not at all what happened.  There were no preparations made, no celebrations, and no news reports.  In fact, most of them missed it.  A tiny baby wasn’t what they expected.  They were looking for someone with more power and certainly someone more majestic than a baby.  You know, a real king.  Most of Israel slept right through the coming of the Christ child.  Not only was there no room at the inn but there was no room in all of busy Bethlehem, save for a lowly stable.  Few people even took notice.  Perhaps the Inn Keeper muttered a “congratulations” to the new parents but no one called the mayor.  There was not a rush of visitors to the stable only a few shepherds. There is Casting Crowns song that puts it this way, “O little town of Bethlehem, looks like another silent night.  Above your deep and dreamless sleep a giant star lights up the sky.  While you’re lying in the dark, there shines an everlasting light, for the King has left His throne and is sleeping in a manger tonight…O Bethlehem, what you have missed while you were sleeping.  For God became a man and stepped into your world today.  O Bethlehem, you will go down in history as a city with no room for its King…” 
            Wow, they missed it big time.  Good thing we aren’t like them, right?  Or are we?  This question is two fold.  First let’s look at this Christmas season.  The time has come once again to celebrate the birth of our Savior.  How much time have we spent celebrating that?  Have we been too busy buying gifts, decorating, baking, etc. to stop and celebrate this King?  Has Jesus come only to find that there is “No room Within?” 
           Now the second part of the question focuses on the promise that this very same Savior will come again.  Like Israel, we have read the prophesies.  We know that this same King is coming again.  The truth has been told and retold for generations.  We should be waiting in hopeful expectation for His return.  But are we ready?  When He comes will He find that we still have no room within?  The final verse to the Casting Crowns song goes like this, “United States of America, looks like another silent night.  As we’re sound asleep by philosophies of save the trees and kill the children.  While we’re lying in the dark there’s a shout heard across the eastern skies.  For the Bridegroom has returned and He’s carried his bride away in the night…America what will we miss while we are sleeping?  Will Jesus come again and leave us slumbering where we lay?  America, will we go down in history as a nation with no room for its King?” 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


As I took a walk this morning I was struck by an encouraging thought.  It occurred to me how incredible consistent the Lord is.  Every morning the sun is there to greet us and each evening the moon lulls us to sleep.  Every spring the grass greens up and the flowers start budding.  Summer always brings warmth and beauty from the ashes of winter. God is a faithful father, a consistent and reliable father.  Oh how I long to be that kind of parent to my children.  To say what I mean and mean what I say, to never break a promise or fail to be consistent in anyway.  Lord that is my prayer today.  Please help me to be consistent with my children so that they know what to expect from me.
            I wonder if that is why we get complacent.  Is it because we just expect the sun to rise? What if we woke up one morning and the sun didn’t rise??  What if spring never came to chase winter away?  I bet it wouldn’t take us long to begin grumbling and questioning God.  Why is it we often only notice the blessings when they are gone?  Maybe that is why sometimes things don’t go as WE plan.  How many of us have heard the stories of how a near death experience awoke someone to the everyday blessings in their lives.  How that kept them from taking these things for granted. But is it that God has failed to be consistent when someone gets sick or passes away too soon from this earth?  No, God never promised that life would be fair or that there would be smooth sailing.  He only promises to comfort those who mourn, to love us unconditionally, and to never give up on us.  And of course He sent His one and only son to bring us the promise of an everlasting life, should we choose to accept.
          As we head into this Thanksgiving season, will you join me in thanking God for the things we might have been taking for granted?  


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Watch Your Words

Have you ever noticed how quick people are to speak and how slow they are to listen?  I even find myself doing this all the time with my kids.  They start to tell me something and I interrupt to "correct" their thinking, without ever really listening to what they had to say, or to see if their thinking even needed correcting.  Maybe it comes from thinking I am wiser than them and I have some sort of need to share that wisdom, but the truth is a truly wise person rarely speaks!  The book of Proverbs is full of verses that tell us things like, "Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues." (Proverbs 17:28) and "The prudent keep their knowledge to themselves, but a fool's heart blurts out folly."  Proverbs 12:23 Ouch!

Recently, my husband and I have been on the other side of the advice cart.  We have been receiving loads of advice, and honestly, most of it is not helpful.  You see, we are expecting another child.  Not in the traditional sense, as I am not pregnant, but a sibling to my niece and nephew (whom are in our custody) is about to be born and we have been asked to consider taking the child in.  For us, this means child number 7, and I know that it seems crazy to even think about.  My husband and I are not rich. He is a pastor and I am an unemployed teacher.  However, we live in a house that is overflowing with love and acceptance, and isn't that what children really need?  We have sat down and talked as a family, we have prayed about the decision before us, and then we made it.  From the outside looking in, it may not seem like a wise decision. 

What I am learning is that there is a difference between wise words and helpful words.  There are a lot of well meaning people who say things like, "You guys have no business taking in another child." and "There are plenty of other foster homes this baby could go to."  And in truth, there is some wisdom in their words.  However, their words are not helpful.   The decision has been made.  On the other hand do you know how many offers I have had for someone to come help with laundry or cooking or cleaning or any other type of support we might need?  There have been some, but I can count them on one hand.

I am not saying all of these things to make anyone feel bad, but I am hoping to wake all of us up, me included.  We can see a situation from the outside and think we have all the answers, but the truth is, unless we know all of the details, we probably don't have all of the answers.  I was the best parent in the world BEFORE I actually had kids!  Now, I have more questions than answers! 

I have a friend who has been going through some life changes due to circumstances beyond her control.  She lost her job and has decided, to return to school and get a degree in a different area.  She recently shared with me some of the hurtful comments people have made to her regarding her decision.  Now I bet if we asked those people, they would be surprised to hear that their words caused her pain.  The intent of their words was to help but the effect of their words was pain.

The truth is your words are either a blessing or a curse...they cannot be both.  They either bring life, or they bring death.  So the next time you go to speak, stop and think about what effect your words are going to have.  God gave us 2 ears and only 1 mouth!

In the wise words of James (1:19) "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak..."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What Would Matter to Your Son

I woke up this morning
overwhelmed by all that needed done.
Then this thought crossed my mind,
“What would matter to Your son?”

If the halls are neatly vacuumed
the laundry - not piled high.
If dinner is served right on time
and the dishes are clean and dry?

Is that what really matters
on Your scale of one to ten?
Am I serving God
or am I serving men?

So, I need to focus
on the people in my life
and serving You completely
 to be a better mom and wife.

When I stand before you,
when all my days are done
What will I have accomplished
that mattered to Your son?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Don't Touch my Tuesdays!

"Busy, busy, dreadfully busy. More than a bumblebee, more than an ant. Busy, busy, dreadfully busy, I'd love to help but I can't." These are the lyrics of an old Veggie Tale tune but they ring in my ears and sadly sum up many of my days. With six kids (three in high school) life is never dull, and never slow!

This summer, my husband and I went away together for a whole week. It was the first time we had gotten away by ourselves for more than a night or two since we were married 18 years ago and it was delightful. We took part in an amazing ministry called, Broomtree ( It is a ministry for pastor's and their spouse to get away from the busyness of life and regroup. One of the conditions of the retreat was that you leave your computers and home and your cell phones off. That was quite a challenge for me because I am plugged in....I love to connect with people over the phone, through texts, via facebook, or email. So I have a confession to make, I did leave my computer home but I brought my phone. Now I left in my room most of the time but it was there just in case someone needed me (or I needed someone??) But you know what I did every time I walked back into my room? I ran over and checked to see what I had missed. Not only that, but I have a smart phone, which means I can still see facebook and check my emails. I could still be connected.

As the week progressed though I began to realize how I was affected by being connected. I spent one of my "retreat" days in tears because of a phone message I had gotten. Of course that never would have happened had I not had my phone on but I justified it by telling my husband that our kids might need us, or something might go wrong back home and we wouldn't know. I realized how much being connected was draining me. The Lord began to work on my heart through others at the retreat and through His word. "Be still..." (Psalm 46:10) If you know me, you know I don't really have it in me to "be still." I rarely sit through a whole movie or even television show without getting up to do something. If you call me you can be certain that I am folding laundry or doing dishes while we are talking. And finish a meal without hopping up ten times? Don't be ridiculous! Of course, part of that is just being a mom, but part of it is that I just can't be still.

Years ago, when the kids were younger, I started a routine of seeking God's face during my quiet time. I must admit it was very difficult at first. My quiet time folder was dived into sections: Study, Prayer, Praise, Listening. When I got to the listening section I would just sit quietly and try to process what I had read in the Scriptures and then just listen to what God had to say to me. This is when I would remember that we needed milk, or that I needed to switch loads of laundry, or call to make an appointment. So to help, I always brought along a notepad where I could jot those things down and then get back to listening. As I think back on it now, I realize how much I grew in my faith during that time and even as I write this, I am yearning to begin this practice again. In fact, I will start today!

One other thing that came from my Broomtree retreat was the realization that everyone doesn't need me...if I don't answer a phone call or a text right away, the world will not end. (This was a shocking reality for me :) I love helping people, and God made me to be a servant to others, but it is okay to take a step back from time to time and regroup! So I am working on a new challenge that I have decided to call, "Don't touch my Tuesdays." I am going to stay off facebook and not check my emails on Tuesday. This is a day I will save for blogging, for stepping back to listen and seek God's face. I am even going to try to limit my phone calls and text to my children and hubby only. It will be difficult for me (I have already taken several calls today and spent time on Facebook...and it is Tuesday so I am going to have to work on this!) But I am going to work on this! I wonder if any of you would like to join me in this challenge to choose one day a week to disconnect? Let me hear your thoughts!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I see Jesus!

While doing my devotions this morning, I was struck by this phrase: "When the people recognized Jesus..." I mean how did they recognize Him? Had they seen his picture on the evening news? Did they see his latest sermon on youtube? No, of course not! They hadn't even seen a photo of Him, because the camera had not yet been invented. So how is it that they recognized Him?

I think two things come into play here: 1- the people were talking, and everyone knows that word of mouth is the best advertisement! and 2- they recognized the face of hope, the face of salvation, because we all long for that.

The people were talking, and what a challenge to us today! We have so many more resources than the people of Jesus' day had. They didn't have facebook, twitter, blogspots, newspapers, televisions, youtube, etc... and yet they managed to spread the word about Jesus. It should be so much easier for us to spread the message. So my challenge here is simple, who are you going to tell today? D.L. Moody never went to bed until he had shared God's word with at least one person. Will you agree to do the same? I am going to give it a try!

They recognized the face of hope, the face of salvation! I know I have shared this analogy before but I can't resist the truth of it so here it comes again! Matthew 5 tells us that we are a city on a hill, that CANNOT be hidden. Think about the light of a flashlight, if you look at it, even in the daytime, you can see the light coming out. That is how we, as believers should be, when people look at us they should see the face of Jesus, shining through. But, you and I know that the world is not always "daytime." In fact, there is much darkness in the world we live in. Let's think about that same flashlight on a dark, moonless night. Your eyes are drawn to the light it sheds, you cannot help but seek it out. That, too is how we as believers should be, when the world around us is walking in darkness, their eyes will be drawn to the light of Christ in us, they won't be able to help it! And then we can be ready to give an answer for the hope that lives within us. (1 Peter 3:15) My second challenge is as simple as the first, be the light of Jesus today!