Not All Smiles are Sweet

Wait! Did she really see what she thought she saw? She had to find out, so she turned around and backtracked down the sidewalk until she got to the spot. She looked down and thought, “No way!”

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She was looking at a sidewalk after a flock of geese had spent some time there. Their… droppings… were everywhere. But in this spot, they were not spread out, but rather gathered in a unique formation.  Was it a natural formation? Or did someone give it a little… direction?

Either way, it totally caught her by surprise and got her to thinking. Most smiles are supposed to be sweet and happy and life giving. This smile looked happy alright, but sweet and life giving?

Nope. Definitely not.

Just like the smiles on some people, she thought. Bright and cheerful on the outside, but deep inside they were full of nasty crap. Like the Pharisees Jesus had addressed way back when He walked the earth.

Having looked long enough, she continued on her walk, knowing that, even if she couldn’t trust some people’s smiles, she could always trust God’s smiles.

 

Matt 23:27-28  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Proverbs 26:24  Enemies disguise themselves with their lips, but in their hearts they harbor deceit.

Proverbs 26:23-25 Smooth words may hide a wicked heart, just as a pretty glaze covers a clay pot.

What Does Your Chair Look Like?

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“Look at the lounge chairs.”

She turned and looked.

“What do you see?”

She looked at the lounges. They were the usual blue lounges found at most pool sides. All were pointed towards the water. All were well used. All were empty. So?

“Look again.”

She took another look.  Although the chairs were all pointing in the same direction, they were not lined up in a perfect row, and the backs were all set at different angles. She frowned in concentration.

“What are they telling you?”

Hmmm… she thought. What would these chairs be telling me if I could hear them? That they were there to serve people? That they were enjoying the sun just as she was? That they were in the place they were supposed to be? That they were lined up casually and set at different angles?

She thought about how the angles would affect her line of vision.  If she sat in the chair with the back straight up, her eyes would look out over the pool. She would see the sparkling blue water and all the people who were in it. If she sat in the chair with the back all the way down, she would be able to see the brilliant white clouds as they slowly passed by and birds as they flew overhead. But she would no longer be able to see the water or the people. The other chairs, with backs set at different angles, would allow her to see varying amounts of both water and sky.

The chairs are like our faith, she mused. Sitting in one with the back straight up doesn’t take much faith. Our muscles could hold us upright comfortably even if the back of the chair should give way. But lying back, no longer using our own strength but trusting the chair to hold us up requires more faith.

And the amount of faith we practice affects what we focus on. With little faith, like sitting upright in a lounge chair, our view is limited on what we see around us. Our focus is on the physical world and all its troubles along with its beauty with little ability to see into the spiritual realm.  The more faith we practice, like the further back we recline, the more of the spiritual world we’ll be able to see. We can still see the physical world, but our focus becomes increasingly centered on God and His kingdom. We are better able to see things as God does. And lying fully back? That probably only happens when in the midst of fully worshipping God… or when we die, she thought wryly.

“So, what does your chair look like?”

She thought about that. She knew what she would have liked to have answered. But the truth was – her chair was constantly changing angles. And then, she knew. That was the whole point of this lesson. Her chair was not going to stay in one position, or even progress steadily to a flat position. And that was OK. The important thing was to ask herself, especially in times of stress, “What does your chair look like?”

Because her chair may need a little adjusting from time to time to get the best view.

Bella – Part 12 Apologies

“I’m OK. Really,” Amanda tried to convince the man holding her arm while trying to pull away from him.

He let go of her and said. “I know you’re upset. I can see it in your face. Want to go to Waffle House and talk?”

Amanda looked from him to the Waffle House a couple of blocks away then back at him.

“We can walk. By the way, I’m Andy. I’m one of the assistant pastors here.”

“Nice to meet you,” Bella said politely, hiding her surprise. This  young guy was an assistant pastor?

“So?” he asked as he motioned towards Waffle House.

“OK, I guess so.”

“Great!”

As they walked past several closed stores, he apologized for the bulletin lady’s behavior.IMG_20180807_180712883

“She’s not always like that.” He said with a twinkle in his eyes. “Sometimes she’s worse. She must like you.”

Amanda smiled as she gave him a sideways glance.

“Worse? I guess it’s a good thing she likes me then.”

He laughed.

He seemed warm and genuinely concerned about her just like Pastor Toby and Jude. But was he really an assistant pastor? He didn’t look any older than her, which seemed kind of young to be a pastor already.

“Is this your first visit to our church?” he asked.

“No, I’ve been here before but not when there was this many people. This was my first service.”

“Did you enjoy it?”

“The service, yes, I did. But…”  She stopped. It wasn’t her place to criticize the people in his church but the difference between what she had experienced in Pastor Toby’s living room, and what she had experienced in the lobby was drastic.

“It’s not important.”

“Sure it is. If it matters to you, it matters to me.”

“What? Is that a slogan you saw written somewhere?”

“Actually, it’s kind of in our church’s mission statement.”

“Do the church members know that?”

“Ah, Mrs. Tanell’s behavior.”

“Not just hers”

“What happened?”

“I’d rather not talk…” she began but he stopped her.

“It’s OK if you don’t want to, but I’ve found that talking usually helps.” He smiled at her. “And I’d really like to know what people think when they visit us.”

“Well, it’s just the people seemed to be… opposite of Pastor Toby.”

“How so?”

“Pastor Toby is so nice. I always feel like he wants me here.  But when I was in the lobby, it was so crowded and most people seemed to be too busy with each other to notice me. And each time I did get noticed, it turned out badly.”

“I don’t know. I think tripping me turned out rather nice.” His eyes twinkled again. “At least it did for me.”

She smiled back. “I wish they had all turned out that way.”

“So, what happened that turned out badly?”

Bella didn’t know how to answer that without revealing how stupid she had been. Had she really asked Amanda if she was being led by an alien? Of course Amanda would have thought that ludicrous. Aliens didn’t really exist, did they? And if, by some long stretch, they did, and, if Toby really was an alien, he’d probably not want anyone else to know. Either way, Bella’s question would have sounded totally bizarre, and she wasn’t about to repeat that mistake with Andy.

“Well,” she hedged. “I had some questions and there was a lady who offered to answer them. We were talking over coffee, and then… she had to leave. And I think… I’m pretty sure… she was talking about me to some other people in the kitchen. I heard them laughing.”

“What makes you think it was about you?”

“I don’t know. Just a feeling.”

“Maybe it wasn’t about you at all. But I’m sorry you thought it was. That must have embarrassed you.”

Bella nodded. “I did feel bad. And when I tried to leave I kept bumping into people, who weren’t too happy about it.”

“People can be a bit self-absorbed at times. They often don’t realize what they’re doing. But I apologize for them, too.”

“That’s OK. It’s not your fault.”

“So,” he said as he held the Waffle House door open for her, “do you still have questions?”

“Well, actually, I do.” Bella entered the restaurant, looked around, then pointed towards a booth nearest the door. “How about that booth?”

“Fine with me. I like booths.”

They sat down opposite each other, gave their drink orders to the waitress, then studied their menus.

“Order whatever you want,” Andy said. “My treat.”

Bella looked up surprised. “You don’t have to.”

“No, I don’t. But I want to.” He smiled at her. “By the way, what do I call you?”

“Bella,” she said.

“Nice name,” he said, still smiling. “Do you know what it means?”

“Yeah, it’s Spanish. It means beautiful.”

“Which fits you well. But it’s also Hebrew and means devoted to God.”

“Which doesn’t fit me at all. I don’t know if I really believe in God. I’m certainly not devoted to Him.”

“At the moment, but that can change.”

Bella eyed him. He didn’t ask her here to try to convert her, did he? That would make this brunch awkward as she had no intention of going down that road. Her questions were about Pastor Toby, Jude, and this church. Not about God.

 

Bella stories:

I’m Not Hurt, Not Really Part 1 Part 2

Bella part 6   9  10  11 

Clouds

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Clouds are amazing! So many tiny droplets of water moving across the sky powered by the wind!  Clouds continually change shape and will eventually disappear as the droplets fall back to earth. But before they do, the people who watch them are filled with fascination and wonder.

 

 

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Just like life.

 

So many moments moving across time powered by the breath of God! Our lives continually change shape and eventually disappear as we return to the dust from which we were made. But while we are here, if we take the time to really look, our lives are just as fascinating.

 

What is life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:14

Bella – part 11 Humiliation

“Strange? Like what?” Amanda looked at Bella as she sipped on her coffee in the church lobby.

“Like… they… aren’t like other people. Like… maybe… they’re not from here.”

“Well, Pastor Toby and Jude have been here longer than I have so I can’t speak on where they might be from. But I do agree that they aren’t like other people.”

“How so?”

“They’re nicer. They’re good all the time. Everyone else I know have times when they’re selfish or maybe do something that hurts someone else. But Toby and Jude never do. They are always supportive, loving, and kind no matter what I say or what I do.”

“Sounds too good to be true,” muttered Bella.

“You would think so, but in the ten years I’ve been here, I’ve never seen them be anything but good.”

“Haven’t you wondered about their background? Where they came from?”

“Sure, sometimes, when I first joined this church. I asked a few people and got a few crazy answers, but mostly I was told they had always been here. And after talking with them, I came to believe that also.”

“What were some of the crazy answers you got?”

Amanda looked curiously at Bella. “Why do you ask?”

Bella thought about pretending it wasn’t so important, that she was just curious. But she decided to be upfront.

“They just seem out of this world. Like they’re not only not from here, but they aren’t from anywhere near here. Like they are from a whole other world.”

“Ah, yes. They do say things sometimes that is so opposite to what we hear all around us. And their values are very different. I can see how you might think that And maybe you’re right. Maybe they are from another world. But they’re here now, and that’s all that matters to me.”

“So, you’re saying they might be aliens?”

“Maybe, but they don’t have any accents or anything that would suggest which country.”

“No,” Bella said slowly. “Not another country. Another world. Another planet.”

Amanda stared at her and then burst out laughing. “Who put you up to this? Was it Robert? Robert is always kidding me about my love for sci fi.” She looked around, still laughing. “Robert! Where are you?”

Bella, feeling foolish and not wanting to involve anyone else in this, forced a laugh and said, “Um, no. I don’t even know Robert. It’s just me and my stupid sense of humor. Sorry.”

“Oh, no problem. I needed a good laugh.” Amanda stood up. “It was a pleasure meeting you. Let me know if you have any other… questions.” Still laughing, Amanda waved and headed to the kitchen.

Bella got up and thought about finding someone else to talk to when she heard a burst of laughter come from the kitchen. Amanda! She must have told everyone about their conversation. Humiliated, Bella looked around for the nearest exit door, then quickly joined the people who were headed that way.

“Hey, watch where you’re going!” growled a voice. She looked up just in time to avoid bumping into a man who was carrying a toddler.

“Sorry,” she said. She veered away from him and ran into a lady who was handing out IMG_20180804_082909664bulletins. The bulletins went flying, causing the lady to yell out.

“Sorry,” Bella said again, embarrassed. As she bent over to help gather them back up, she heard a loud grunt as someone tripped over her and landed with a crash.

“What are you doing?” cried the lady with the bulletins. “Stand up. You’re in the way.”

“I was trying to help you pick up the papers.”

“I don’t need your help.” She frowned and pointed to the door. “I can handle this. You just go ahead and leave.”

As Bella, eyes filling with tears, hurried through the door, she heard a voice behind her.  “Aw, don’t be so rough on her. She didn’t mean to trip me. It was my own fault for not watching where I was going.”

Bella slowed a bit and chanced a glance behind her. A man was speaking to the bulletin lady as he got back on his feet, but his eyes were on Bella.

“Wait up,” he called when they made eye contact.

She waited for him on the other side of the door. “Are you OK?,” she began as soon as he caught up. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to trip you.”

“I’m fine. I’m more worried about you. I didn’t want you to leave upset.” he said, taking her arm and directing her to the side of the large number of people streaming through the doors.

“Thanks, but I’m fine. Have a great day.” Relieved that he hadn’t gotten hurt, Amanda tried to leave. She felt humiliated and confused, and needed time to think which she always did best when alone. But the guy holding her arm wasn’t letting go.

 

Bella stories:

I’m Not Hurt, Not Really Part 1 Part 2

Bella part 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Bella, part 10 – What Forest?

An hour later, Bella joined the other people heading to the lobby. The service had been way different than anything she could have imagined and she was still filled with that golden goodness that had filled the air as Pastor Toby talked. Funny, she couldn’t recall anything that he had said but it didn’t matter. Just being there was what counted.

“Can I help you?” asked an older woman. “You look kind of lost.”

“Are the services always like this?” Bella asked her.

“Well, yes and no. Each service is different in many ways but they are all filled with Pastor Toby’s special touch. He’s pretty wonderful, isn’t he?” The lady smiled at Bella. “Hi, my name is Amanda. Is this your first time here?”

“Bella. Nice to meet you.” Bella answered politely. “Yes, this is my first service.”

“Welcome! I hope you enjoyed it. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them. And if I can’t, I can find someone who can.”

“Actually, I do have questions.”

“Let’s get some coffee and we can sit over there at that table.”

“Sounds good,” Bella smiled. Coffee did sound good but getting some answers sounded even better.

After getting their coffee and settling down, Amanda said, “OK, what do you want to IMG_20180730_170130302know?”

“How long have you been coming here?”

“Oh, hmmm, let me think.” Amanda took a sip of her coffee. “I guess it’s been about ten years now.”

“So you know Pastor Toby pretty well, then?”

“Sure. He’s friendly and totally approachable. Why?”

“He just seems to be too good. And a bit mysterious.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, for one, he seems to love me even though he doesn’t’ know me. And he’s very interested in whatever I say.”

“Yes, he does love everyone. I don’t know why. It’s like he can’t help it. And he is a great listener.”

“So he’s not just pretending?”

“Nope. That’s one thing he never does. He never pretends. He’s always honest with us.”

“What about his son, Jude?”

“He’s just like his father. He’s also a great problem solver. Talking with him always seems to help when I have a problem, or even just a decision I have to make. His insight is amazing.”

“Have you been in their backyard?”

“Sure.”

“Don’t you think it’s kind of strange?”

“No, why should I?”

“Because it’s so big. Way bigger than it looks from the outside.”

“That’s part of the magic of this place…”

Bella cut in quickly. “So there IS magic here?”

Amanda laughed. “No, not magic like magic tricks and trickery. I mean magic as in out of the ordinary, beyond words. Like if I said I had a magical time with my family on our last vacation.”

“Oh. OK. I get it. So how is the backyard so big? All those wild flowers. And a lake! How is that even possible?”

“They do have a lot of flowers in their greenhouse, but no lake. At least I haven’t seen one. But maybe it’s on the other side of the forest, where I haven’t been yet.”

“Forest?”

“Yes, it’s pretty amazing. I’m glad Pastor Toby didn’t cut down the trees when this church was built. His little forest is my favorite place to come when I’m feeling down.”

“Forest?” Bella asked again. “But there’s no forest back there. There’s only the garden, a large field of flowers, and a lake.”

“You must be mistaken. I’ve never seen anything but the forest.”

Bella stared at her. Were they talking about the same back yard? Just how big was this place? Then she thought about a holodeck again. And again it began to make sense. Different programs for different people. She could buy that, if only she could buy the whole alien thing.

“Amanda,” Bella began slowly. “Have you ever noticed anything… strange… about Pastor Toby or Jude?”

 

Bella stories:

I’m Not Hurt, Not Really Part 1 Part 2

Bella part 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

If New Homes Could Talk

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“Do you hear them?” she asked her friend as they were taking a walk through their new neighborhood.

“Hear what?” he asked, looking around.

“Hear those houses.”

Now he looked at her. “Um… you can hear houses?” He frowned at her, concerned that she had finally lost it. “I know you’re a bit sleep deprived, but…”

She laughed. “No, I’m not going crazy. I don’t actually hear them talking like I hear you. But I do hear a message.”

“What message?”

Instead of answering, she asked him a question. “What if they could talk, what would they be saying to you?”

He looked at them a few minutes, cocked his head, frowned and said, “I give up. I can’t hear anything.”

“OK, then, what do you think of when you look at them?”

He studied them a bit longer. “I think of the potential each one has. And how they all seem to have the same basic construction plan but small changes makes them each unique.”

“You don’t think a finished one is better than an unfinished one? The finished ones are much prettier to look at.”

“No, they’re just in different stages of construction. One house is not better than another just because it’s further along. They are all interesting in whatever stage they’re in. And one day they will all provide strong, well built homes for the people who will move into them.”

“Exactly.” She sighed. “It’s just like us. Like people. We are all in different stages of development. Some look more finished than others. Some are nicer to look at, or listen to. But all of us are being built by the Master and are perfect in whatever stage we’re in. If only we weren’t so quick to judge others by what we see instead of by what God sees.”

“Is that the message you’re hearing?”

“Yes. We – people – are new homes being built. We are all made from a basic plan yet the Master has made each of us unique. We are all as we should be at whatever stage we’re in and we should stand content in the progress our Father is making as He molds and builds us. And most of all, we should allow other people to be at different stages than we are in. We should be delighting in their progress instead of comparing and judging them.”

She turned and looked at her friend. “I have to admit, I’m as guilty as anyone else. But that’s going to change. With God’s help, that’s going to change.”

He smiled at her, took her hand, and together, they continued on their walk.

Life in a Swimming Pool

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The pool was filling up. Maybe she should leave now, before it got too crowded.  But not really wanting to leave the cool water, she decided to watch the people around her instead. Everyone was enjoying the water in different ways.

“Marco.” The voice caught her attention and she looked to her left and saw a young girl standing in water up to her chin, eyes closed, calling out, “Marco” every few seconds. Each time she called, several other children moving around her called back, “Polo.”  As she heard their responses, she would turn in their direction and, without opening her eyes, reach out to try to tag one of them. But she never moved from where she was. It reminded her of something she had read in Proverbs. “The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.” That’s so much like us, she thought. There is wisdom all around us, and if we call out, we can hear it. But we won’t ever find it if we just stay put in one place and make half-hearted attempts to touch it.

Laughter caught her attention. She turned to look and saw some mothers and daughters playing keep away. They were laughing as they tossed a water ball back and forth, no one having very good aim, and teams changing places in the middle frequently.

“Keep away,” she muttered. “I hate that game. Either the players on the ends are too good at tossing the ball high over the middle person’s head, or no one really cares about the game and end up half-heartedly tossing the ball. There’s no good challenge either way.”

So why are they laughing?

She had to think about that for awhile. Maybe the kids are laughing because they’re so little and don’t really know anything about the game. They just enjoy being in the water and throwing a ball around. And maybe the moms are laughing because their daughters are laughing. Is that how God sees us? He takes delight in watching us enjoy His creation?

She watched another group play a game she wasn’t familiar with. Evidently, one person is a shark and calls out “Swim”, then tries to catch the other people (minnows) as they swim from one side of the pool to the other. Most of the time, the minnows would just start swimming as fast as they could hoping to out swim the shark but the shark was able to catch whichever minnow it was after. However there was one minnow who stood out. She would watch the shark intently , wait for the shark to go after a minnow, then move quietly in a different direction, staying as far away from the shark as she could. If the shark happened to see her, she would sink into the water, causing the shark to have more difficulty seeing her. Underwater, she could swim faster and when she emerged, she’d be ten feet away. Time and time again she got away from the shark using this strategy.

Now, that’s a whole like us and temptation, she thought. Most of the time when temptation arises, we either fall easy prey to it, or we try to use out own power to avoid it. It might work now and then, but eventually that shark is going to get us. We should be more like that wise girl. Stay as far away as we can, and, when that doesn’t work, dive deep into Jesus, allowing Him to cover us as we make our escape.

A loud cry from the other side of the pool brought her attention to a man holding a very little girl, trying to talk her into letting him toss her up and catching her. She cried each time he mentioned it. The mom called from the side to quit talking about it and just do it. So he did and the little girl laughed. He repeated it several times, delighting in her laughter. Then he tried to talk her into going underwater with him so he could toss her higher. She refused and began crying again.

So much like us and God, she thought. It’s probably why He won’t tell us all His plans for us. We’d be as terrified as that little girl and refuse every invitation He gives us. Yet, He knows how much we would enjoy it once we got past the fear.

She was intrigued watching a young girl chatting with her friend, totally ignoring a younger girl who kept hitting her with a water ball. How could she do that? She knew if anyone kept hitting her with something, she’d get irritated and angry. But then she thought, isn’t that what Satan does? Constantly hitting us with something to mess with our peace and cause us to get irritated and angry? “God,” she prayed silently, “help me be able to ignore the arrows Satan throws at me as well as this little girl is ignoring the ball being slammed on her.”

There was a man floating in the midst of all this, eyes closed, ignoring everything around him as he relaxed.

Now that’s the right idea, she thought. To be able to rest on Jesus and ignore all the problems around us would be amazing!

She was dismayed to see another group of people enter the pool. OK, now it was just getting too crowded. Regretfully she climbed out of the pool and prepared to go home. As she did, she had one final thought: “This is like how one day I will climb out of the swimming pool of life and head to my heavenly home!” She smiled.  “Only I’ll do so with way more excitement than I feel right now!”

Dear Frustrated One, (From Someone Who Loves You series)

 

Dear Frustrated One,

Why do you keep pushing me away when it’s my hand that holds what you want?  I can see how hungry you are. I know what you want and I want to give it to you. But you are the one stopping me. All that hitting and flailing out prevents me from doing what we both want.  I can keep battling your efforts to do it yourself but it would be so much easier if you would just relax and let me do for you what you can’t yet do for yourself. Oh, and those screams are not helping. Be still, Little One, and know I am here, ready to feed you as soon as you let me.

Always,

Someone who loves you

 

For He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.  Ps 107:9

 

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These letters have double meaning. On the surface they are letters I’m writing to my granddaughter. But they are also letters God is writing to you. Reread them, replacing the greeting with your own name, and the closure with God’s name – and get to know the great love God has for you!

Dear Brave One, (from Someone Who Loves You Series)

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Dear Brave One,

It’s so hard to watch you hurt as you struggle to grow. Your face all red and grimacing reveals the battle going on inside you. Your body is fighting to get rid of the things that don’t belong in there. Be strong, Little One, and let them go. I know it hurts sometimes but you don’t need them.  And you will feel so much better once they are gone. Can you feel my hand on your back, supporting and encouraging you? Probably not, but that’s OK. I’m here whether you know it or not. I’m not going anywhere.

Always,

Someone who loves you

 

Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

These letters have double meaning. On the surface they are letters I’m writing to my new granddaughter. But deeper down I hear God telling us the same things.  As you reread them, replace the greeting with your own name, and the closure with God’s name – and get to know the great love God has for you!