Challenge 57: Give Thanks by Giving Back

Give thanks

This week is the beginning of the holiday season in North America and the beginning of a season of gratitude. But if you have been reading my blogs you know that gratitude is something that I have been consciously practicing for the last two years, prompted by “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp. Gratitude has been strong on my mind today as I have contemplated the sermon husband, Flynn A. Smith, delivered at church yesterday, “A Grateful Life.” He noted that the command to give thanks is one of the most repeated commands in the Bible, the sheer volume of passages pointing to our need for constant reminding. His sermon was rich in detail about 1) the fact that we, in general, are ungrateful; 2) our need to be grateful; 3) the result of our ingratitude; and 4) what we can do to become more grateful. As soon as the recording is available, I will place it here on the blog, but for now know that Flynn emphasized that gratitude should come from the heart and not just be obligatory words off our lips. When we don’t give sincere thanks, the person may not know we aren’t being sincere but God knows and ultimately He is who we offend:

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning”(James 1:17).

When we receive good gifts, even those we don’t want, they come from God. And though some gifts that we receive aren’t good, we still need to show grace to others and truly be thankful to God. “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Our reflection on how many gifts throughout our lives that God has given should prompt us to give Him thanks with ease no matter what we are presently experiencing. This giving of thanks should be personal and not solely rely on what God has done for others. When we focus on others, we can miss the mark on showing gratitude either by trying to assume the faith of others or by condemning others. When we ourselves don’t “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8) in order to build a track record of trust in the Lord we may find ourselves looking to those strong in faith and thank god for what we know He has done for them. While that is okay, we need to be able to give thanks on our own behalf. Other times we see others who may not be where we are in a certain area, and we may have disdain for them. I was a part of a conversation recently where some women were ridiculing these parents for letting their children stand on the restaurant seats and eat only bread. They discussed how they would have handled the children if they were in charge of them and what behavior they wouldn’t allow. In essence, they were thankful that they weren’t like those parents, and their attitude reminded me of the Pharisee in the following scripture, the basis for this week’s challenge to love in a radical way:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:10-14).

Based on his scale, this Pharisee thought he was righteous in comparison to others he considered vile. His sight on his “perfection” blinded him to see that God honors the humble, those who, regardless of their position, recognize their need for God, when they were a parenting-, career-, friendship, etc. wreck. When we see others who don’t seem as mature as we are in an area, we should thank God for teaching us during our clueless days and perhaps ask Him how we might help that person. It is always easier to criticize than to strategize because strategizing takes intentional time and extra physical energy. But out of gratitude to God, let’s offer a hand instead of pointing a finger. Doing so, especially if we have the tendency to operate like the Pharisee, is truly a radical act of love.

Take a Risk Challenge: Identify someone that you have wagged a finger at in shame and strategize how you can offer your help to them in gratitude for how God helped you.

Challenge 51: Love Through God’s Reign

Yesterday, the closing lecturer at my Bible study summed up our group study on the presence of God by telling of the time when he was leaving his home in South Africa and coming to the United States for college. He was scared. He asked some people to pray that God would be with him. They prayed Hebrews 13:5 over him and he has clung to that verse ever since:

“[Let your] conversation [be] without covetousness; [and be] content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (emphasis mine)


This is one of my favorites, too. It comforts me knowing that God is right with me wherever I am. But there are greater implications than His just being there. He is there for a reason and that reason is to reign. We often forget the purpose of God’s presence in our lives. The Holy Spirit lives within us, but we are warned not to quench or grieve Him. Quenching the Holy Spirit means that we are putting out His fire to fuel our thoughts, speech and actions, and grieving the Holy Spirit is extremely saddening Him because we quenched Him. When we quench and ultimately grieve Him, we have not allowed Him to reign and are essentially denying His presence in our lives.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13-NKJV). Yes, we can, but we, first, must acknowledge His presence; second, yield to His presence, allowing Him to reign; and, third, watch Him operate in us to do the impossible of consistently loving others. We need God to help us consistently love others. Folks can wear on our nerves; they exasperate and frustrate us and we just want to stop loving them, at least for a little while. I haven’t seen anywhere in the Bible where we are told to take a break from loving others, but our flesh screams this to us. Someone who keeps challenging our love with thoughtlessness, selfishness and downright meanness doesn’t deserve our love, we say. We want to (and sometimes do) tell them where they can go and how they can go there. Those of us who are less obvious in moments of carnality would just begin ignoring the person, not taking their calls and, while in their presence, simply speaking and politely smiling or just walking away. But when God’s presence manifests in your speech and actions then that signifies that He reigns in your life (Romans 6:12-18).

As believers in Jesus Christ we should want God to reign in our lives so that burden of leadership is not on us. Jesus’ reign in our lives also allows others to see what a mighty God we serve. If we allow Jesus to reign through how we love others—one of the greatest commandments—I have no doubt that we would see an increase in Christian conversions, not just those coming into the faith but also those whose views have changed positively toward Christianity (John 13:34-35). We must love the way God directs and can do so when we allow His presence to fully manifest in our lives. Jesus reigning in our lives enables us to radically love others just as we should.

Take a Risk Challenge: Obey God when He tells you to love someone this week so God’s presence will clearly manifest in your life and indicate that Jesus reigns in your life.

My One Thousand Gifts List

Wearing shorts in October
Seeing my nieces and nephew
Watermelon in October
80 degrees in a Michigan October
My Natural Health Tour
Satisfied Natural Health Tour customers
The Lord’s chastening
An apology letter and full confession to a friend
Apple picking at a friend’s home
Apple products from picked apples (cider, juice and apple cheesecake)
A kind and supportive husband
My God who speaks clearly to me
God’s peace
Bible study revelation about God’s presence=God’s reigning
A new hairstyle

Challenge 50: Shine on Others

This day was glorious. Sun shining and blue skies made me want to ride my bike to feel what my eyes were witnessing. After stretching in my workout clothes, I strapped on my helmet and rode around my neighborhood among sprawling green trees, a light breeze and stately homes with well-manicured lawns. But quickly, pretty turned to ugly when my sites went from this


to this


And my insides turned from happy to sad from such beauty to despair. The more I looked the more I felt helpless, hopeless, and I wallowed there for just a few seconds because I then saw house after house like this and smiled:

sun through abandoned home

When the sun shines on or through something that’s broken, things just look better or they remind you of something better. As the light peered through broken windows, I saw aspects of the homes not easily seen through dark shadows: sturdy walls, strong floors, what used to be, and what could be. The abandoned homes suddenly had hope, the possibility of something better. Illumination and hope are key components of light. When light comes, there is no darkness and you can see clearly. We all need light in our lives. We need to receive and give light so those abandoned places in us don’t fall into despair and can recover from disrepair.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5).

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:11-14—ESV).

As we seek Jesus, the light of the world, He will shine on us to reveal our righteousness and give us hope. Whatever our issue—inflicted upon us from someone else or the suffering we experience as a result of our disobedience—God is there to help us navigate out of our darkness. Jesus has to be in the midst of our dark times. He is the only one who can restore us, giving us continual hope and peace. And many times He doesn’t shine directly upon us but on us through others:

“For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to [give] the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:5-7—KJV).

So as we shine the light of Christ on others, we are bringing hope to the abandoned places, the emptiness of

  • Marital discord
  • Divorce
  • Fatherlessness
  • Child waywardness
  • Personal insecurity
  • Friendlessness
  • Addiction

and whatever other soul holes others may have. When we see someone abandoned, a structure of a person, let’s not seek to retreat, crossing the street for safer ground. Let’s stand firm, knowing that the God of the universe, the hope of glory, lives in and shines through us, and can illuminate the darkness of any situation. Shining the light of Christ is indeed a radical act of love.

Take a Risk Challenge: Find someone that you know has been abandoned—physically, emotionally or mentally—and shine the light of Christ by encouraging them according to the Word of God.

My One Thousand Gifts List

The start of our homeschool cooperative
Free vegetables from an organic garden
Meeting with a potential business partner
A new meal preparation schedule
Reasonable friends
A harmonious home
Discerning sisters
My discipleship group
Deep belly laughs
A dynamic sermon on reconciliation

Challenge 49: Love as God Commands

Photo courtesy of Sacrosanct Gospel

Photo courtesy of Sacrosanct Gospel

For so long I had my life figured out. I would go to school, study journalism, be a journalist and travel the world as a foreign correspondent. I’ve told you before that I didn’t care if I married or had children. I just wanted to fulfill my career dreams and if that’s all I had, I would be content. Well, none of that, except for going to school, turned out like I thought. I am a sometime journalist, have never traveled the world as a journalist, got married and have three children. My plan for me didn’t work, but God’s plan is what is working. You would think that after my career plans got nixed for God’s plans, I would just allow Him to tell me what will be and simply embrace His plans. But you know that’s not how most of us do. We know what we want, how we want it and when we want it, and this includes just about everything, including who and how we love. But even that, as God has been impressing upon me lately, must be done according to His plan.

“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

“Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently…” (1 Peter 1:22).

“With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).

“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:39).

“But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you…” (Luke 6:27).

So God tells us to love those who we are connected to and those we are not, those who are in the Kingdom of God and those who are not, those who love us and those who don’t, those whose actions we like and those whose actions we don’t like. This, I believe, includes everyone we encounter. And then God tells us how we are to love them. We are to love

  • As Jesus loved us (John 15:12)
  • With a pure heart (1 Peter 1:22)
  • Fervently (1 Peter 1:22)
  • With forbearance (Ephesians 4:2)
  • As we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39)

We don’t have a choice because all these verses are commands, not suggestions, and they are our guide to love. So when we would rather not deal with someone who is not connected to us, who is not a Christian, whose actions we don’t like or who hates us, we have to love them. We don’t get to plan our escape from those we don’t care for, but we instead must decide how we will love by using the five ways listed above. Our lives belong to Jesus and, as such, Jesus decides what the plans are for our lives, even plans to love others.

Take a Risk Challenge: Choose this week to love someone with a pure heart, fervently, with forbearance and as you love yourself (which all encompass how Jesus loved us). Doing either of these is truly a radical act of love.

My One Thousand Gifts List

A warning about coming spiritual warfare
A revelation about the depth of the spiritual warfare
A friend who makes chocolate trip cookies and shares
Time at Woodside Bible Church-Detroit
The Watermans
Kendall’s amazingly hilarious story
Time in the sun with Renee
Talking with Carla
Shoes from Sharon for Justus
Justus saying he wants “to go to Mexico, California, Trader Joe’s and Target”

Challenge 48: Take Inventory


About two weeks ago I finally organized my shoes. The several-years old shoe rack behind my bedroom door and two on my closet floor had been overtaxed with the weight of shoes and little boys testing their strength and finding a new hiding space. But, of course, as I moved the racks to organize the shoes, I had to clean the entire closet by dusting, sweeping and discarding shoes, purses and other items that no longer suited my needs. As I threw out the old I was clearly able to see what I was in need of and developed my list of and action plan to obtain what I lacked. My broken shoe racks caused me to take inventory, not just of my shoes but of other items in my closet. The broken racks helped me see the obvious and hidden issues in my closet. The same should happen in our love life, not just with romantic partners but with everyone, for we are called to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). We need to focus on fixing the broken, those places where we are having a hard time loving others, and see if there are other, hidden, areas of brokenness that we need to address so we are equipped to love others as we are called to do.

For almost a year I have given you specific challenges to love others in a radical way. Today I want to challenge you to take inventory of how you love others. We are more effective in loving others when we examine how well we are doing and what we need to do to change. This week’s challenge has us looking at ourselves through the lens of 1 Corinthians 13 with an assignment my husband and I frequently give married couples that we counsel. But because the wisdom of this passage transcends marriage, this challenge is for everyone.

Take a Risk Challenge: 1) Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 and note every word that describes what love is; 2) Look up each word in a Bible concordance to ensure you have the original meaning of the word; 3) Once you have the meanings, ask yourself how well you are loving others according to each love attribute; and 4) Pray that the Lord will show you, if you don’t already know, a) your areas of brokenness that prevent you from loving others as you should and b) how to love others according to 1 Corinthians 13. We will deal with more of this challenge in upcoming Take a Risk Challenge blog posts. Until then, take inventory to equip yourself to be able to consistently love others in a radical way.

My One Thousand Gifts List

Carla’s cooking
Blissful sleep
My husband’s love
Bible study on Multiply by Francis Chan
A visit with Nichole
Nichole’s spicy tortilla soup
Praise in the car before church
My 3 year old reminding me to pray before we drove to church
A faithful, personal God, Jesus, my Savior and Lord

Challenge 47: Give Others Your Best

20130910-000250.jpg With a philosophy that good food belongs to everybody, Executive Chef Alison Costello makes that a daily reality for meal recipients of Detroit’s Capuchin Soup Kitchen. “Why would I serve food to them that I wouldn’t eat?” she says, after showing me shelves, a freezer and a refrigerator of organic products and fresh produce that comes from Capuchin’s garden. This is unlike any kitchen, beside my own, that I have seen. I am surprised that Costello would have such a loving attitude for others that she wouldn’t just take the least expensive route and expect those in need to be satisfied that they got something, more than what they had. She epitomizes the challenge that I give you this day: Serve others your best, not whatever you can get your hands on just to say that you met their need. When you give your best you are truly engaging in a radical act of love.


Take a Risk Challenge: Remember, we always must follow the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This week, have the Golden Rule in mind as you seek to love someone in need by serving them your best and nothing less.


In an effort to prepare you to serve your best to yourselves and others, I am hosting for those in the Metro Detroit area a natural health tour Saturday, October 5, 2013. Those of you who register for both the tour and my Your Fast for Life food and lifestyle program at the same time get both for the price of one. Go here to register for either program or both and have more in your health arsenal to radically love yourselves and others.

My One Thousand Gifts List

My five year old folding a shirt
Making a calender with my five year old
My husband being faithful to God, family and work
Christen calling
Latitia calling
My 10 year old asking solid biblical questions
My three year old telling my five year old “Jesus will help you.”
Sharing what I have
Late-night popcorn
A challenging sermon
Women who love Jesus and love me

Challenge 45: Love Beyond the Flaw

A few weeks ago I was enraged. The night surprised me because I couldn’t remember the last time I had gotten like that. An interaction with a loved one had my eyes blinking out tears and squinting to see the situation clearly and trying to settle my shaking legs and just not sin. I was hurt, disappointed and made to feel bad about the person helping me after the person had agreed to help me. The conversation ended with the person hanging up on me and me proclaiming that “I am through.”

I thought I had a right to dismiss the person; to me, it didn’t matter that we were close or the person had helped me before or that I knew the person was Godly and always had my best interest at heart. In this moment, my moment of deep disappointment, hurt and shame, my remedy was to not deal with the person on a certain level—to stop doing for them in the way they seemed bothered to help me. I was tired of this person, more often than not, detailing how helping me would be problematic. Tired of this glaring flaw, I said I was through with helping this person. God Himself would have to sit on my lap and tell me to help.

And with my words—my attitude—my chastening began.

Soon after my conversation with the person and fits of rage, I heard the Lord say “give your cloak,” referencing the scriptural passage that gives several commands of how to deal with your enemies. Though this person by far could not be classified as my enemy, I sure felt like they were in that moment. I complained to my husband, but he, like the objective guy he is, didn’t join me in my rage. Instead, he tried to help me be biblical, telling me I still had to help the person “because it’s the right thing to do.” But I didn’t care about right things; I wanted the person to suffer like I was suffering. I wanted them to experience the pain, disappointment, anger and frustration from being treated like I did something wrong after all the “right” I had already done by helping this person out numerous times. I wanted to turn off my love supply, let the person experience a love famine, and maybe the hunger pangs would cause them to not just long for my love but show appreciation for my love. I was in a bad way. I didn’t read the cloak scripture immediately, but as soon as my husband said “because it’s the right thing to do,” I turned to the scripture to get a mega dose of love goodness.

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”—Luke 6:27-36 (ESV, emphasis mine)

I heard God that night but didn’t like what He was saying. So as I read the verses, I clucked my teeth, even talked badly about the passage because I have never liked it and really didn’t like it in that moment. It took two days, after praying for the person and for me, for me to receive God’s words. This is when I heard Him say “that is not the total sum of” who they are. “You can’t forget a person for one flaw.” Though I had heard what God was saying in the cliché “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” His words directly to me this night penetrated my heart and made me want to love the person in spite of their glaring flaw. Their flaw was blinding me from seeing all the wonderful aspects about the person and from seeing the love of Jesus in my life that we are commanded to give to others.

[B]ut God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This is what the scriptures in Luke are saying. Do good for people even when they do wrong. Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins while we were in the midst of our wrong. He didn’t say “I’m only going to die for them when they get themselves together.” If He did, He would never have taken on human form to be born to die for us. In order for us to love like Jesus, we must die to our fleshy desire for revenge and love others beyond their flaw. I believe I loved the person in the heat of the moment, not raising my voice, being sarcastic or bringing up irrelevant issues just to “win” the argument, but the words “I am through” took me out of love and into sin. I decided I couldn’t love beyond the flaw. Whenever we do that, and remain in that position, we declare Jesus’ sacrifice not worthy of adulation. But because He commands that we love others as He has loved us, we are duty bound to love sacrificially—beyond the flaw—and we will be the better for it (Luke 6:35). Jesus’ sacrifice and ours are praiseworthy.

Take a Risk Challenge: Do something kind for a person whose glaring flaw has made you stop helping them. Perhaps, because their flaw may place you in physical danger, you must love them from afar but do so in a tangible way (in addition to prayer), like sending a card. Performing a tangible act in spite of their flaw is indeed a radical act of love.

My One Thousand Gifts List

An impromptu visit from Andrina and seeing the boys love on her
Money to download the worship CD “Alone” by Clint Brown that I’ve wanted for months
An outline and some writing on my discipline column
Hearing Lysa TerKeurst on the radio tell her amazing story of adopting two teenage boys from Liberia
All the boys being their own person at London’s birthday party
Talking to my postal worker about the state of Christianity
Marlin at church with her girls
Flynn’s challenging sermon “What Report Do You Give?”
A quiet evening of writing
Technical difficulties with WordPress that allowed God to show me the perspective I should have about blogging (why He has me doing so)

Challenge 44: Be Silent like Jesus

Mouth taped

“…Yea, all [of you] be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time….” (1 Peter 5:5-6).

These verses are quite challenging when we’re trying to love others God’s way instead of our own, but they are definitive in the approach and explicit with the outcome of humility: 1) Be subject to each other; 2) Let humility guide you; and 3) Let God’s power help you walk in humility. if you do, God 1) won’t oppose you for being proud; 2) will exalt the humble in due time; and 3) will give grace to the humble.

We are prone not to help one another out of humility and allowing the power of GOD to help us do so. We can be guilty of helping each other out of pride, constantly reminding others, like I said in the last post, of our great sacrifice to help them. When we do this, we are not operating in God’s strength but out of our own supply and our supply can cause hurt feelings, resentment and even shame. Jesus is our greatest model of humility, and when we look at His life, we find an incredible amount of self-denial for the TOTAL good of others. I say TOTAL good because if he had just died on the cross for our sins, we still would have a way to eternal life. But what good would it have been to us if God constantly reminded us about this great sacrifice that He was making on our behalf?

What if Jesus told all the Jews who demanded His crucifixion and mocked, spat on, beat and ultimately crucified Him, “Do you know who I am? I am God, who left my home in glory, to come down to earth to take on flesh to experience all your human experiences, good and bad. Where I come from is perfect but I gave that up for you. I came to die on the cross so you wouldn’t have to continue to live miserable lives. I’m going to die for you because that’s the only way you will be saved, but it is really hard for me to have to suffer for you.”?

Of course Jesus would NEVER have said that but He would not have been prideful in saying any of it. See, biblical humility means recognizing your pitiful state and your inadequacy and that you need God to help you. That definition could never fit Jesus because He is God. But what if He, in His humanity, had reminded us of the magnitude of His sacrifice? Would His lack of humility in loving us make us feel special? Would we want to show Jesus gratitude for His sacrifice? I don’t think so. I think we would give obeisance to God only out of fear and not loving reverence for a God who loved us so much that “he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8) and never said a word in defense of His innocence (Luke 23:9).

Likewise, I believe our lack of humility in love not only makes people feel bad and not want to show us gratitude but it also makes them less inclined to show us love. So we must remember to walk in humility in relation to our enemies and friends, when we are just showing common courtesies AND when we have to love them intentionally in a huge way. If you don’t, you both may miss the blessing God intends to give to you and them. I am experiencing this mutual blessing. Recently my family extended a huge offer to friends and they accepted it. We were all prayerful about the offer because we knew that we would each have to make major adjustments to our lives that could cause major inconveniences and ultimately negatively impact our relationship. I praise God that we followed God’s leading and have trusted Him for the outcome. Not only were we able to bless our friends but I am experiencing so much joy as we have shown biblical love by having “all things common” (Acts 2:44).

As we seek to love with humility, let’s remember that Jesus, who didn’t have to be humble, did so and walked in subjection to God the Father. And Jesus, as the song writer said, “never said a mumbling word” in His defense. We have the power, because of the Holy Spirit within us, to be silent like Jesus so we can bless others for their TOTAL good.

Take a Risk Challenge: Pray that God will keep a watch over your mouth to prevent you from telling those you are helping just how much you are sacrificing to love them (Psalm 141:3). If you do, you might just receive, as I did with my friends, an unexpected blessing.

My One Thousand Gifts List

Flynn voluntarily cooking
Not cooking a full meal in four days
A midday rendezvous
Clothes shopping with the family and getting a lot for a little
Justus clinging to me on the porch while Nate played in the sprinkler
Not having to cook a full meal in six days
Flynn saying he enjoyed our family outing to the clothing store, a place he usually dreads going to with the entire family
A surprisingly content-rich blog post regarding organic products
Words of advice for Tabitha when I knew I didn’t have any
Flynn taking the boys to get haircuts and shopping, giving me much needed alone time

Challenge 43: Love with Humility

About two months ago I taught a workshop on prayer in the sanctuary of a church and I felt the Lord telling me to sit down for the presentation. I sat the entire time. Last week I taught a workshop on prayer in a conference center and I felt the Lord telling me to take off my shoes. I had bare feet the entire time. As I have been thinking about the similarities of these two incidents—workshops on prayer and positions of humility—I was only making the connection between the type of teaching I was doing with the position that I had been commanded to be in. I simply thought God was trying to communicate that teaching on prayer required that I demonstrated the humility necessary when praying. While I still believe this is true, I began to get a bigger meaning of those two acts when thinking of my service for the past two years to my mother.

Recently, in addition to the errands, phone calls and bill payments, she asked me to cut her toenails and scrub her heels. In essence, she wanted me to give her a pedicure. My mother has NEVER been prone to get pedicures and probably has had less than 10 in her entire 71 years. She would cut her toenails, but never thought much of the importance of grooming her feet beyond that. You may remember me writing about how the Lord spared my mom’s life several times after extreme health issues. After a long hospital stay and rehabilitation work, she is alive and physically stable, but her body is weak. Because of her feeble condition she can’t reach to cut her nails or otherwise really groom her feet. So when she asked me to do so I KNEW she was really in need. I got my tools and headed to her place.

I got on my hands and knees, even laid on my side to get to parts of her feet that I couldn’t reach (because she couldn’t lift her leg to make her feet easily accessible). So as I laid and kneeled I soaked, scrubbed, cut, shaved, smoothed, dried, creamed and polished various parts of her feet. All the while, we talked and laughed, strengthening our bond. Four hours later, even with more work to do, she and I were pleased with the outcome; she was grateful and my heart felt good. And after those times of teaching on prayer, my heart felt good just like when I cared for my mom’s feet. The obvious connection to all these incidents is humility, which is the message of service, which is the message of love.

No matter the act of service—whether teaching in front of crowds or helping the weak, like the elderly or your own children—humility is required. Too often many of us may do an act of service and murmur and complain about what we are doing. We tell the person how we hope they are grateful for what we are doing, mention that we had to rearrange our schedule to help them, keep looking at our watch, huff, roll our eyes or something else like that. We constantly remind them of how great we are for helping them and how pitiful they should feel for having to have us help them. This is not loving service but is lording service which is not really love at all (Mark 10:42-45). The key to love is humility and humility shows in service to others.

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:4-8).

Our Lord Jesus, God Himself, served us willingly and because of Him, our world is eternally better. Let us seek to make someone else’s world better by following Christ and loving others with humility. They will be grateful and your heart just may feel good.

Take a Risk Challenge: This week when you serve someone, commit to doing so without murmuring and complaining but with humility.

My One Thousand Gifts List

Listening to Selah in the early morning
Praying with Flynn, Joshua and Nate
A visit to Nana’s and helping her feel at ease using her alarm system
Carla forgiving me for forgetting to edit her blog post
An early evening family nap
Receiving an unexpected email from LaSonjia telling me of her admiration of me as a woman of God
A Spirit-filled and fulfilling conversation with a friend
Watching The Wiz with the boys
Lunch at Leo’s Coney Island with the family
Having a kind waitress

Challenge 42: Embrace Your Family

Like many young ambitious girls I knew early what I wanted my life to be like: I would be a professional writer or professor and travel within that line of work. Perhaps a husband would come; maybe there would be children, but what I really knew was that I would be a career woman, working outside of my home. After a short stint as a journalist and academician, I felt the Lord pulling my heart home. I loved my job as a speech instructor and didn’t believe I would leave the workforce after six years in the position, but God’s calling me was so clear. I followed God’s leading though my heart didn’t settle with my body. My heart finally caught up about a week ago when I was on a much needed getaway alone.

I was looking forward to my time away from the demands of motherhood, marriage and ministry. I told my three boys and husband that I really needed a break from all their testosterone energy; I could be alone with my estrogen whims and simply be okay in my own space. On my two-night bed and breakfast stay about a 45 minutes drive from my house (a gift from the women I spiritually mentor), I planned to ride my bike, shop, read and watch an independent film. As soon as I arrived, I settled in then immediately unloaded my bike, rode downtown and continued to engage in my plans. I reveled in my day as I got to stroll leisurely through the town, find some bargains and laugh through a quirky movie. When I got back to my room, I tried to read but no longer wanted to. I was satisfied with what I had done and was now ready to go home.

Where did that feeling come from? I was looking forward to my break. I was in much need of a break but on day one I was ready to go home and be with my family. My trip was already paid for and I had an appointment in the area in two days so going home was not an option. I talked to my husband, went to bed and the next day decided to take advantage of my time and watch some movies on Netflix. Unbeknown to me, each movie, though different genres and story lines, had the same basic meaning: no matter the differences, oddities and distances of family members, the love among them can be life sustaining. And this is the message for us all: Whether natural or spiritual relatives, we need the love of family. Whether high-octane or subdued, familial love can fuel our tanks and keep us going, even if we need to discover that, like I did, after a short break.

Take a Risk Challenge: Take a break from interacting with challenging loved ones, reflect on the value of their love and reengage them as God leads you, remembering God doesn’t desire us to avoid our relatives who need us (Isaiah 58:7).

One Thousand Gifts List

Justus being content in church service
Nate napping in the car for an hour
An enjoyable boat ride with good food, family and entertainment
The breeze coming off the water
Seeing and talking to Wanda Stubbs
The boys squealing in delight
Staying in my pajamas until 4:30 p.m.
A sweet daughter saying I’m a good mommy and appreciating some mothering I give that she didn’t get from her mother
Realizing that holidays aren’t the same with my extended family and coming to grips with that
Finding “Good Hair” on the Xfinity Play Now option