Our family lived in Costa Rica in 2005. When we first moved there, I hated it.
I know. You’re thinking I’m a crazy whiner. And you’re right. But here’s the deal: I was expecting tropical paradise. The reality – at least in San Jose – wasn’t quite that.
We didn’t have a car when we lived there, so we walked. A lot. And those first few weeks, all I saw was what was on the ground – it was nasty. And when I happened to look up a little, I just saw all the gates in front of the houses, the barbed wire protecting the gates, the armed guards protecting the barbed wire protecting the gates.Until we moved to Costa Rica, the only foreign countries I had visited were Canada and Spain. And, while Costa Rica is not third world, it is not Canada or Spain, either.
So I whined and complained and wiped the mold and trash and animal debris from my shoes everyday and wondered why in the world people I had talked to raved so much about this country. It was smelly and gross and the end of our year there couldn’t come fast enough.
And then, one day, I looked up. Way up. And suddenly, immediately, my perspective changed.
San Jose is in a valley, completely surrounded by mountains. Beautiful, green mountains. Above the mountains, there is an incredibly blue sky. Having grown up in central Florida and moved to north Texas, mountains were a vacation destination, not a daily sight. And these mountains were amazing. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. Then I started noticing other things. I’d be sitting in class (we were studying Spanish at the amazing Spanish Language Institute) and see a hummingbird flitting outside. Occasionally, we’d even seen parakeets. I looked around and saw trees with fruits that I couldn’t identify. In our own front yard, we had an avocado tree — free, fresh guacamole year ’round! I started noticing smells, too. Good smells. Coffee beans roasting. Bread being baked. Tropical flowers.
In less than two months, I went from hating this city to being in love with it. I barely even noticed the nasty ground, the bars or barbed wire. By the time our year there had ended, I was in mourning. I didn’t want to leave. I knew I’d miss it so much. And I do.
I’m sure you can see the spiritual parallels to this story. I know God has reminded me of this often in the years since. It’s easy to see the “yuck” factor in our lives. People we don’t like, situations that annoy us. We can get stuck looking at the yuck, thinking about the yuck, wallowing in the yuck. And we miss the beauty. It’s there. Even in the worst of situations. Sometimes, I know, you have to look really hard. You have to force your eyes up. Way up. But beauty is there because God is there. Right with you. Every step of the way.
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
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I know you’ve all heard this…
And when we hear it, we normally think of peer pressure. Of going to that party or or seeing that movie or dating that guy.
But I believe there’s a more subtle “cliff jump” happening everyday, and we don’t even realize we’re in the air: it’s in our minds, how we think. We allow the world’s standards, their version of what “should be”, to be our standards.
In dating, for example, many Christian teens/young adults have been sucked into the mindset that you should “date around” or “sow your wild oats” when you’re young. Many are told sex before marriage is fine and living together before marriage is beneficial. But God’s word – and divorce statistics – tell us just the opposite.
We adults are told to adopt the “me first” attitude at work and at home. We are told to tell ourselves “I deserve ________ (whatever we want most).” And, sure, it sounds great. I’d like to believe I deserve a spa day or “me time.” But I don’t “deserve” anything. I would like things. I am refreshed by time alone. But deserve…? I think that is one of the most dangerous words in our vocabulary – it is the complete opposite of the “put the needs of others above yourself” lifestyle that we are told to live.
What about you? How do you develop your opinions? Your standards? Are they based on God’s word or are they based on the standards of those around you? Or maybe they’re one step more “holy” than those around you (“my friends are all having sex, but I’m not going nearly that far…”)?
Is where you are where you should be? Where you want to be? Have you followed all your friends off a cliff? If you have, stop and think. Pray. Seek the Mind of Christ, not the mind of the world.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2
When my oldest daughter, Emma, started trying to walk, she fell all over the place, all the time. It was painful to watch. She was getting bruises and scrapes, she was crying, frustrated. Part of me wanted to just save her the heartache, to pick her up and take her where she wanted to go. But I didn’t. Why? Because the only way to learn how to walk is to keep at it, to get back up when you fall down. Though I felt cruel, letting her poor little bottom keep hitting the hard floor, I knew in the long run, it was for her good.
We get that. It makes sense. But we have a hard time getting that when it comes to our Christian walk. We fall down and yell at God for allowing it. We throw our hands up and say, “What good is being a Christian if God lets me get hurt? What kind of loving Father is He??” Some of us even turn away from Him, refusing to continue to follow a God that allows us to endure difficult situations.
James tells us to be joyful when we face trials because “the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:4) And Paul tells us that perseverance develops character and character develops hope. (Romans 5:4)
Those of you “regular” visitors, and those of you who know me well, know that one of the most difficult experiences of my life was when our family had to leave Spain. We thought we’d be serving as missionaries there for years and years, but God had us return after just ten months. I was angry, hurt, confused, embarrassed. I didn’t see why we had to leave, didn’t understand God’s purposes. It was a dark time for me. But, looking back, six years later, I see how that experience changed me for the better, how it shaped my character. I am far more compassionate now, far more humble. I’m not perfect, but God used that very difficult time to shape my character so that it better reflects Him. And reflecting Him – glorifying Him – is why I am here. God’s will isn’t a location, it is a state of the heart. I would not have learned that lesson had I not been through that experience.
Growth is painful. But it is necessary. Just like I love Emma too much to “save” her the pain of learning to walk, God loves us infinitely too much to let us remain babies. And while being “happy” during hard times may be impossible, we can be joyful.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
“Would you be willing to switch genres - to science fiction?”
This question, posed by my editor at Thomas Nelson over a year ago, brought about a mixture of excitement, fear, and awe. Switch genres? I’d only just begun writing contemporary fiction. The question hung in cyberspace, haunting me. Could I switch genres? I felt (still feel) so insecure about my writing. And some of my all-time favorite authors write science fiction, some of my all-time favorite books are in that genre: Ted Dekker’s Circle trilogy, CS Lewis’ space trilogy, Brave New World….I can’t do THAT!!
But God delights in using the improbable. I have seen that over and over again. None of my English teachers from high school would have ever guessed I would grow up to be an English teacher, and they sure wouldn’t have guessed I’d be a writer. But that’s what God does – He uses us in ways we never expected so that we know it is through His power and a result of His grace that we accomplish His plans.
So I said, “Sure” (sounding far more confident than I felt!), and I began to draft ideas for what would be the Anomaly trilogy – a Christian dystopian/romance, set in a future where the world has been destroyed by nuclear war and the only survivors were scientists who created an underground community in preparation of just such an event. The first book in this series comes out next month (!), and I couldn’t be more excited. This is something I think I have always secretly wanted to do, but never thought I really could do. I am humbled and encouraged that the amazing team at Thomas Nelson believed in me more than I believed in myself.
I’ll be giving away copies later this month, and they’ll be a blog tour where free copies AND a mini-iPad will be given away!! Stay tuned for info on that.
But, for now, let me introduce you to my new “baby”….
Thalli has fifteen minutes and twenty-three seconds left to live. The toxic gas that will complete her annihilation is invading her bloodstream. But she is not afraid.
Decades before Thalli’s birth, the world ended in a nuclear war. But life went on deep underground, thanks to a handful of scientists known as The Ten. Since then, they have genetically engineered humans to be free from emotions in the hopes that war won’t threaten their lives again.
But Thalli was born with the ability to feel emotions and a sense of curiosity she can barely contain. She has survived so far thanks to her ability to hide those differences. But Thalli’s secret is discovered when she is overwhelmed by the emotion in an ancient piece of music.
Sheis quickly scheduled for annihilation, but her childhood friend, Berk, convinces The Ten to postpone her death and study her instead. While in the scientists’ Pod, Thalli and Berk form a dangerous alliance, one strictly forbiddenby the constant surveillance in the pods.
As her life ticks away, she hears rumors of someone called the Designer—someone even more powerful than The Ten. What’s more, the parts of her that have always been an anomaly could in fact be part of a much larger plan. And the parts ofher that she has always guarded could be the answer she’s been looking for all along.
Thalli must sort out what to believe and who she can trust, before her time runs out…
Yesterday marked the end of the school year. Hooray! While it was a great year, it was also the busiest year I think I have ever had. All the things I did were good, they were fun, fulfilling. But there were just too many of them. I learned that there really can be too much of a good thing. Being busy can be dangerous.
Being too busy prevents me from enjoying the moments as they come. Because this year was a constant rush from one event to another, one deadline to another, one activity to another, even one ministry to another, I felt like I was racing through everything. I spent my time planning for what was next instead of enjoying what was.
Being too busy creates stress. Because I was constantly rushing from one thing to the next, I was also constantly stressed. I was worried I”d miss a deadline, be late to an appointment, disappoint one of the hundred people who had expectations of me that I was sure I couldn’t meet.
Bring too busy inhibits my ability to do my best. I can’t do 20 things well. I take shortcuts, rush through assignments, neglect relationships. I am too divided to give my whole self to any one project, and as a result, everyone loses out.
Being too busy hinders my relationship with God. While I had my time with God every day (most days), I had neither the quality nor quantity of time that I really need. Far too often, He became one of the “Things to Do Today” boxes I needed to check off my list instead of being my Savior who I want, more than anything, to be with and learn from and worship.
So it is time to rest. It is time to say no. It is time to be still.
I’m not old. But I can see old. I am perilously close to the top of the hill.
I know I’m getting older because people look at my wedding pics and say, “Look how cute you were!” (emphasis on the were). And because people think I’m lying when I say that I just got my first gray hair this year (It’s true! And it’s still just the one). And because my firstborn is two and half days away from being in high school (excuse me while I hyperventilate).
There are benefits to getting older: I have 38 years of life lessons behind me. My wrinkles reflect wisdom. My gray hair (did I mention I just have the one?), survival. I no longer ask Dave if my butt looks big in those jeans. Of course it does! I’ve had three kids and I hardly ever exercise. I no longer try and compare myself to supermodels. Instead, I think about writing their mothers and telling them to put on some clothes.
Getting older is part of life. Sadly, our tendency in facing that reality is to focus on the outside. We want to surgically remove all vestiges of age – suck it out, perk it up, lift it away. But too often this results in a complete lack of focus on the inside. And while there is nothing wrong with wanting to look nice, there is something really wrong with making that all you think about.
Here’s a verse many of you have heard before, but all of us need to be reminded of: “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” I Sam. 16:7b
If, as Christians, our goal in this – and the next – life is to glorify God, then constantly worrying about what we look like, how we’re aging, counting our gray hairs and Googling ways to minimize crow’s feet is not beneficial. Being grateful for the years God has given us, the lessons He has taught us in those years, looking for ways to serve others and share Christ’s love – that is where our focus should be.
So even if you’re not old, or almost old, you should still be focusing your energy on developing your inner beauty. It sounds cliche – but only because it is true. Inner beauty is more important! It is more lasting. So forget your butt. Start asking “how does my heart look?”
Last night was graduation. It is always a bittersweet time for me. I am happy – the students work hard for years to earn their diplomas. But I am also sad – I hate losing students I have come to love.
This year’s class is especially close to my heart. I have taught some of them since 8th grade (my one and only year teaching 8th grade English). They are also an “artsy” bunch – I love the artsy kids! But, more than anything, they are a Jesus-loving group.
I have a weekly Bible study with the senior girls. We started out this year with me asking what they hoped to accomplish their senior year. All of the girls said they wanted to a leave a legacy to their fellow students – a legacy of faith and action and love. As the year went on, they worked to accomplish the goals they set for themselves.
I watched as they grew in relationship with God and each other, as they sought His will in choosing colleges and boyfriends. I saw them reach out to fellow students, encourage them, challenge them, care for them.
The boys in this class are my son’s heroes. They would grab Thomas in the hall, throw him around, let him tackle them. They’d ask him about his sports and his classes. They didn’t need to be nice to a little 4th grader. But they did, anyway, and I know Thomas will never forget them.
So I am sad today, sad that I won’t be seeing these boys in the halls, won’t be meeting with the girls on Monday. But I am also incredibly proud – proud of the example they set, proud that they accomplished the goal they set for themselves.
What about you? Are you leaving a legacy? If not, start now!
If a kid is sick, he needs to stay home. I don’t want him coming to school, breathing all over me and my healthy family just so he can get an award.
I’d like to make a new award: “The thank-you-for-staying-home-when-you-were-sick” award. Kids who come to school every day won’t be eligible. No awards for them. Only shame and embarrassment. Perfect attendance will result in detentions. A healthy return from an illness-related absence = ice cream.
For the kids who actually are healthy an entire school year – they have their reward. No doctors’ visits, no antibiotics, no forced days on the couch watching Lifetime movies and overdosing on OJ.
I know some of you are reading my blog and crying because I won’t buy you ice cream. But there it is. I am pro-sickie and proud of it. Mine will be a snot-colored ribbon, embroidered onto a surgical mask. All of us anti-perfect-attendance folks will wear them on awards day. And we will mock you as you go to get that award that cost us so dearly.
So there, you perfect attender. Na-na-na-na-na.
Seventeen years ago today, I married David Alan McGee. It was a small wedding, inexpensive. We had neither the budget nor the desire to spend a fortune on our day. We just wanted to get married and to have our family and friends there to watch.
We were young (21 and 27), but we knew what we were getting into. We knew marriage would be hard, that the “for worse” parts would come, but we also knew that marriage was God’s idea. We knew if we committed our marriage to Him, He would help us through the difficult times. We also knew God brought us together. We prayed about dating, we prayed while dating. I have only had a handful of moments in my life where I have heard God speaking directly to my soul. “Dave McGee is the one” is one of those moments. I have had moments of frustration, of anger, times when giving up seems easier than moving forward, but I have never once doubted that this is the man God chose for me. And because of that, we have been able to move past those difficult times, to learn from them, grow from them.
God knew that Dave and I would complement each other. Dave is very analytical. I am spontaneous. Dave plans ahead. I live in the moment. Dave is cautious. I am naive. Dave delves deeply into relationships. I tend to make do with small talk. Dave has made me think deeper, slow down, examine myself and others more. I help him have fun, relax, enjoy today. We are a good team.
So as we celebrate 17 years, I can honestly say I love Dave more today than I did on our wedding day. I know him better. I appreciate him more. We have experienced heartaches and joys, we have worked through what at times seemed like insurmountable obstacles and come out stronger. There have been many “for better” days and our share of “for worse.” And there will be more of both because we are both human and happily-ever-after takes a whole lot of work. But we are committed to working toward it, committed to each other, and committed to the God who designed us for each other.