Are You Using Quality Tools ?

Most of us have some sort of toolbox or collection of tools that we use for various household tasks…maybe a hammer, nails, a screwdriver…..you get the idea. When you stop and think about it, every type of profession has it’s own unique set of “tools”. Artists have brushes, paint, canvas or paper. Teachers have blackboards, books and their training and experience. Politicians have knowledge, information, experience and lots of people assigned to help and guide them. We all use a slightly different set of tools to get our jobs done and to impact the world around us. There’s one tool, though, that we ALL use for ALL our work….and it’s the most powerful one in the toolbox…..our mind.

In my devotions this morning, I decided to go back through the book of Philippians, one of my favorites, and was reminded of something so very important that is so overlooked in our increasingly evil world. “Whatever we put into our mind determines what comes out in our words and actions”. Read that again. Such a simple statement and yet with such PROFOUND meaning and truth. Our mind is the priceless “computer” ….the “operating system” that we use 24/7 to run our lives.

Paul tells us to “program” our mind with thoughts that are “true, honorable , right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and worthy of praise”. In practical terms this means we are to replace harmful and negative input from TV, movies, magazines, the internet, books, and conversations with other people with wholesome material. It means that WHAT you watch, WHAT you let your children watch, WHAT you look at on the internet, WHAT books you read, WHAT kinds of conversations you have with others and the things you talk about, WHAT kinds of thoughts you think about yourself and others….what we put into our minds and those of our children, friends and families, determines what will, at some point, come back out in our actions and words. Junk in……junk out. It’s really that simple.

Another step to this that many overlook is WHAT you ALLOW others to put into your mind. You can eliminate your own inputing of “junk” with lots of effort, prayer and determination but then we have to go a step further and make sure we’re not allowing or tolerating other influences in our lives that add “junk” to our ‘toolbox’. I’m referring to things like tolerating foul language wherever you encounter it. Someone starts dropping the “F” bomb in your presence…..walk away. Someone starts viciously gossiping to you about someone else….walk away, or change the subject. Someone complains constantly every time you talk to them, they always seem to have an “axe to grind” about something…everything is always negative with them…avoid them. You’re watching a movie and the language starts getting foul ….turn the channel or walk out of the theater. What we allow has just as much of a negative impact on our mind as what we actively put into it ourselves. Even more critical, what our children see us allowing makes a huge impact on their minds and the way in which they program their own, in turn. Let it be crystal clear to those around you that you will not tolerate this kind of “junk”…..period.

If I’ve given you the impression that I think I’m perfect or that I’ve never allowed any “junk” or put any “junk” into my own “computer”, I want to pop a hole in that little balloon right now. None of us is or ever will be perfect this side of Heaven, myself very much included. It is only by making some of these kinds of mistakes and experiencing the outcomes that I can stand on the other side and see them more clearly and wish that I had been more watchful of them over the years. That and my ever evolving and deepening relationship with Christ who helps me see the error of my ways and then helps me make much better choices.

The bottom line is the same whether we’re talking about your hardware tools, your artist tools or the greatest tool God blessed you with……your mind. Quality matters. What you put into it directly determines what you will get out of it. Choose wisely.

Gaze Upon Or Drink? …

Today’s subject is the hibiscus. My particular reference photo was of a hibiscus tree, as opposed to a plant. There are over 220 varieties of hibiscus, some tropical and some more hardy but none are designed for weather colder than about 50 degrees, according to my source…….the internet……and of course, we all know that everything on the internet is absolutely TRUE!

Not only are they a thing of beauty, but they are also used to make a very distinctive red tea that is purported to have all kinds of health benefits. Personally I am not very fond of hibiscus tea, nor any fruit-flavored tea, for that matter. Oh I’ve tried it on many occasions because I would like to like it, in order to benefit from it’s properties, but, it is just not my “cup of tea”, pun intended.

Unfortunately I forgot to snap a picture of my beginning sketch, so, what you see here is the completed piece. I sketched it on Arches 100% cotton 140lb. watercolor paper with a TWSBI Eco fountain pen filled with Noodler’s brown ink. Daniel Smith watercolors were used to complete it.

Beauty Abounds…

I am eternally awed by God’s magnificent and unparalleled artistry. For an unending supply of examples, we have no further to look than at all the beautiful varieties of flowers and plants around us.

“Consider how the lilies grow: they do not work or make their clothing, and yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.” – Luke 12:27.

As I mentioned in my last post, I seem to be drawn, more often than not, to drawing and painting florals a great deal of the time. Today’s piece is my rendition of a Canada Lily….in all her finest. I first sketched it on Arches 100% cotton, 140 lb. cold press watercolor paper with my favorite mechanical pencil, refined it further, took almost all the graphite off with a kneaded eraser, went over all the lines with my fountain pen — a TWSBI Eco with a bold nib and filled with Noodler’s brown ink. Then I went back in with my Platinum Plaisir EF fountain pen and did all the rest of the line work. After letting it all dry overnight, I went back in and erased any visible pencil lines and then did all the painting with Daniel Smith watercolors. The photo here below is the inked sketch and the other is obviously the final painted one.

This will ultimately become part of a set of 4 card prints for my Etsy shop at http://www.TeresaMillerArt.com. Perhaps I will also make these available in wall prints as well…. we’ll see. I’m just starting on the other two in the set, so, it will probably be a little while before they’re ready.

I hope you too are taking note of all of God’s blessings and handiwork that surround you every day.

Have a wonderful day! 🙂

Fall Is Knocking …But Spring’s Still On My Mind

I often go months between blog posts, so I’m on a roll I guess. Not too much to say about today’s post. Despite yesterday’s evidence, I generally do not sketch or paint animals, as I find fur tediously time-consuming and sometimes frustrating to try to render in ink and watercolor. My preference….at the moment, anyway, tends to be florals or oddly enough, vegetables and fruits. For some reason, that last part makes me laugh. Probably because it’s almost bedtime for me and my brain has already checked out for the day. Seriously, though, over the past several months I have truly enjoyed sitting down with the seed catalogs and sketching and painting all the veggies and a few fruits. I’m easily entertained…lol.

Anyways, I was attracted to this iris. The first photo is my inked sketch, the 2nd is halfway done and the last is the completed piece. I used a TWSBI Eco with a broad nib, a Platinum Plaisir with an EF nib….both filled with Noodler’s Brown ink and then Daniel Smith watercolors on Arches 100% cotton 140 lb cold press paper.

If you are so inclined to check out more of my work, please feel free to visit my humble little Etsy shop at http://www.TeresaMillerArt.com

Thank you for stopping by!

New Additions…..

In the 5 years since I started this blog, I have almost exclusively filled it with my writing, one of the deep loves of my life. I have another love, though, that, until just a couple years ago, remained “dormant” and undeveloped for many, many years. I love art … more specifically, I love to create art. Oh I’ve been a “crafter” my entire life, and have tried so many different crafts and been knee-deep in so many hobbies over the years that it makes my head spin if I dwell on it. This is different, in my mind. What I feel called to now and what has captured my heart plants me…in my mind only, I’m sure…..more square on the path to fulfilling a childhood dream….to maybe SOMEDAY feel qualified to use the term “artist”.

About two and a half years ago, I re-discovered my love of sketching. Oh I hadn’t really done any sketching since junior high, when I sketched the image of a pirate that was part of an ad for an art school. It was present in many different publications. You were to sketch the buccaneer and send it in and supposedly if it was good enough, you might win a scholarship to their art school. Well, I have never been one to “toot my own horn”, but, my rendition of their pirate, done in charcoal, was pretty spot-on and the innocent child in me took them at their word and thought I might actually win. Of course that never came to pass, as they claimed my ‘masterpiece’ got lost in the mail. However, they were more than willing to enroll me for a sum way outside of my family’s resources back then. Shortly after re-discovering my love of sketching, I also discovered fountain pens and groups of people who love to sketch artwork with their fountain pens. Oh my, what a marvelous discovery this has been. Who would have ever thought that there were actually huge groups of people who do this, share their work with each other and support each other with inspiration and guidance?! Well, that turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg for me. Not long after that, I discovered watercolors and then groups of people who use watercolor to paint their sketches created with the fountain pens. An epiphany of sorts for me! A whole new world opened up that, unlike many of my other interests that came and went, is here for the duration because I am passionate about it and enjoying it so very much. Oh I don’t claim to be the “A word”….as much as I would dearly love to embrace that. More importantly, I am finding deep pleasure and previously unknown abilities as I go further and further down this path.

As I have meandered my way along this “artsy, fartsy” trail, it occurred to me (largely, I think, from having been married for 24 years to a professional salesman who could have probably sold sand to the Arabs and in his expertise and enthusiasm, “infected” me with his burning desire to have his own business…lol..) that perhaps I could find a way to make a little extra income by doing something I really and truly love. At the very least, my hope is to make enough to keep me in art supplies after I retire. Having already dipped my toes in this pool with other ventures several times over the years, I knew that it would be critically important to construct this plan in such a way as to not kill my love for this new hobby by putting myself in a situation where I felt I HAD to create art. I knew first hand that that was the quickest way to start not enjoying something anymore. A complete death sentence for my newfound “friend”. So, contrary to my impulsive, instant-gratification-loving nature, I decided to start this new venture very slowly with NO pressure to produce artworks and with the long-range goal of it not having to generate much income until I HOPEFULLY retire in what will now be about 7 years. Hence the birth of my little Etsy shop http://www.TeresaMillerArt.com . So far, it is right on track with the “starting out slow” goal, but I keep telling myself that is OK and exactly how you planned it.

So, enough of all this serious, introspective talk! Those of you who know me well know that I can be serious as a heart-attack on one hand but totally silly, lighthearted and playful on the other. Let’s switch gears! The entire point of all this rambling is just to say that starting today, much as I enjoy seeing others who do this, I too am going to start adding some of my artwork to my blog here…not because I think I’m all that great at it, but because I think others who enjoy the same hobby might find a snippet of pleasure in it, as I find in their work every day.

With that, I will introduce you to Winston….my 20 lb hurly burly tabby cat whom I adore, along with his “girlfriend” Molly, a much smaller calico. Winston began life under my dear friend Clara’s front steps. About 7 years ago when my daughter met her future husband and I started feeling the need for some companionship in my empty home, Clara called me to look at some kitties she was trying to find homes for. On the chance that I might fall for one, I grabbed an empty cardboard Mighty Leaf Tea box on my way out the door. When I arrived and spotted teeny tiny Winston with his beautiful “striped onesies” on and his huge badminton racket feet, I knew I was done for. Into the tea box he went for the ride home, during which his constant “mewings” cried out to my tender heart. He was too tiny to eat solid food yet, so I acquired a recipe for kitten formula from an old retired veterinarian which I lovingly fed him with an eyedropper several times a day. He obviously thrived, as have I with his loving companionship and unconditional love. I would be lost without my feline housemates.

As I always do, I first took a photo of Winston, in order to refer to it constantly during my process. I sketched him with pencil first. Refined it. Then I go back with a kneaded eraser and lighten all the pencil markings until I can barely see them. My next step is always to then go over all those pencil marks with my fountain pen. However, in this particular case, I did not use a fountain pen at all….and after all that ‘blathering on’ about fountain pens! I went straight in with my watercolors. I almost exclusively use Daniel Smith watercolors and an assortment of brushes on Arches 100% cotton 140 lb cold press paper. I hope you will enjoy my rendition of my dear Winston as much as I enjoy the real deal.

My Dearest Summer …

Please say it isn’t so, my rapidly fleeting friend! Signs of your impending departure have begun to immerge.. leaves starting to yellow and fall from my crabapple, darkness coming a little earlier, the pesky walnuts littering my back yard. It seems like you’ve hardly been here….and the next thing we know, you’ll be gone.

Over the last 60 years you’ve gone from being my least favored season to my most cherished. Your longer, sunnier days are a balm to my psyche. The beloved ‘green’ that you bring is one of the greatest gifts I know. I love to drink it all in everywhere I look…the leaves on the trees, the grass, the farmer’s fields…nothing escapes my searching eyes. Add to that all the magnificent flowers decked out in their finest frocks and you have the makings of a work of art no human could have ever imagined, let alone create. Your beauty, sweet Summer, is beyond compare.

Of course your party wouldn’t be complete without the extra little “furry, fluttery and flying friends” whom I adore. The squirrels chasing each other around my trees and feasting on the peanuts I lovingly scatter for them. The chorus of songbirds whose music fills the air. The colorful butterflies flitting from flower to flower. I am in awe of every bit of it…and the Master Artist who gifted us with it all.

If I could have one wish though, My Dear, in addition to having your stay extended, the choice would not be hard. I would wish for either a return to the quiet old “reel mowers” or that everyone do all their mowing on the same day every week. The unending noise that you bring…the neighbors each mowing one by one followed by the noisy whirr of weed eaters…extra cars and trucks and campers passing by…..all combine to destroy my quiet reverie. I love nothing more than to sit on my little porch with you, a book, pen or paintbrush in hand and listen to the sounds of nature. Alas, that is apparently not something you and I can share very often my Friend.

Nevertheless, I remain your most loyal devotee and will soak in your sunshine and bask in your warmth until Fall finally kidnaps you and hides you away in Spring’s lair until next year.

With all my love…

A Vacation To Remember

Family vacation.  I’ve been seeing a lot of the usual posts and articles here and there about family vacations ….typical for this time of the year when most folks are dreaming of getting out of the house and enjoying some time outside in the sun, away from the daily pressures of one’s job.  One article in particular, written by one of my fellow WordPress bloggers, really brought back a lot of memories for me about a particular ‘family vacation’ from my youth.

My blogger friend had noticed several Pinterest posts from young moms who had created all kinds of 5 star traveling “accoutrements” to make the trip in the car ultra Disney-like with all kinds of fancy and abundant snacks, laminated maps, a special project kit every hour and even a pulley system….yes, I said a pulley system…whereby she would shuttle all these wonders from the front seat to those clear in the back.  Holy cow…..I wonder if they  remembered to bring the ‘silver spoons’ too!  My friend then waxed tongue-in-cheek about how vastly different her family vacations back in the day were, by contrast.  She regaled us with details that made me hoot with laughter…..not just because they were so starkly different from the privileged and pampered youth of today….but also because they were very reminiscent of my own experience as well.

I will preface the following remarks by assuring you that I loved my parents more than anyone in the world and they were very good people, only wanting the best for my sister and I. And, like most parents, they did the best they could with the resources they had….which were next to nothing compared to many today.  And if they were still alive and reading this, I have no doubt they would both laughingly agree with my observations.

To begin with, our budget as I was growing up did not even allow for family vacations. Period. When I see posts on Facebook of folks taking BIG family trips on ships and planes to destinations far and wide and many on the other side of the planet, and the fact that some take more than 1 of these types of excursions in any given season….I am in wonderment of their apparent resources that seem endless or at least way beyond anything of my personal experience. So, that being said, when my parents decided one year that we were going to take a vacation to Denver, Colorado to see my aunt and uncle that I believe my sister and I had maybe only met one other time in our young lives, it was like the first lunar landing, in our minds….thrilling beyond belief to just think about it!  Spoiler Alert ….As it turns out, this was to be the ONE AND ONLY family vacation we EVER took.  Making the experience even more important and memorable.

Of course it was summer, I was in 8th grade, so, roughly 13 and my sister Lisa was in 3rd grade, about 8. We had the pleasure of sharing the back seat of our old Buick LaSabre. Nope…no big fancy van or SUV for us. No bucket seats or TV screens on the back of the seat in front of us. Not only that, but our old Buick had NO air conditioning and NO radio….yep, quite the luxury vehicle it was not! But we started out from here in Ohio excited as could be nonetheless.  Notice I said “started out excited”….that will be important to note for later in the story. 

The fact that my 60 year old memory is, well…just that…a 60 year old memory…I’m quite sure I have forgotten some of the finer points of this excursion over the years.  However, whenever memories of this trip resurface, the very first thing that pops up in my mind is Kansas. Right after that, the words HOTTER THAN HADES and BORING come in second and third. I have no doubt those themes gained marquee-status because of our lack of air conditioning and the lack of music for my teen ears. Now mind you, I had tried to circumvent the music issue by bringing along my own very treasured radio that had been a very special Christmas gift. However, I was soon to find that getting reception while on the road was not something it was capable of.  So, I chucked it up onto the back dash….the big back dash under the big back GLASS window….to basically be forgotten until we reached our destination. 

By the time we reached Kansas, the novelty of this once-in-a-lifetime trip was starting to lose its’ luster. During our overnight stay in a motel, my sister had stepped on a part of a broken pop bottle with her bare feet…..yes, you Millenials may not realize that pop (aka Coke, Pepsi, Mt.Dew, etc.) came in glass bottles back in those dark ages. Bottles that we saved and then took back to the grocery store for a whopping savings of maybe 25 cents or so….for a carton of 6.  We also recycled them for other things…like filling them with water and attaching a little “sprinkler-like head” and using them to “sprinkle” clean laundry while ironing it.  Sorry…I know I’m blowing your socks off right now because most of you probably don’t even know what an iron is, let alone why we would be “sprinkling” the clothes with water while ironing.  Oh my…..I digress.  Back to the motel.  Anyways, Lisa now had her first souvenir of the trip…..a lovely little chunk of glass in her foot that I’m sure hurt with each step. Did my parents take her to the nearest Urgent Care center to have it removed?  Excuse me….I just spit up some of my tea while laughing. I have another shocking revelation that you may find hard to wrap your head around…..there was no such thing as an Urgent Care center…..anywhere. Nope, there were only emergency rooms and using one was not included in the meager budget for the trip unless there was perhaps blood from a major artery, persistent loss of consciousness or 3rd degree burns. The fact that my uncle that we were attempting to visit was an OB/GYN probably had something to do with that too. I’m sure my parents had full confidence that he could help solve this predicament, whenever we reached our destination.  So, back on the road we went.

As previously mentioned, my memories of Kansas were at the forefront of my mind……unending fields of yellow as far from the road as the eyes could see, interrupted sporadically by a few freakish-looking billboards for upcoming snake purveyors.  Yes….that’s correct, people displaying and apparently selling weird snakes.  I know, it seems surreal even to my own mind as I recall it now. Being a car full of snake-haters, we were not even tempted once to stop and take a peek, thank goodness. Kansas became like the infamous “Groundhog Day” movie….the same thing over and over. Lisa and I were baking in the back seat and became irritable and argumentative….foreign concepts….or not.  My dad, who was all about “making good time” soon got sick and tired of us asking “how much longer”.  I had long hair at the time and because I was hanging my head out the window like a dog so much, trying to cool off, it soon became so  ratted up that the thought of just cutting it all off down to my scalp seemed preferable to the pain of working out all the tangles with a comb.  Of course I did not…..I was a vain, self-conscious teenager after all….but the thought did flit through my brain.

Interestingly enough, I have no recall of any of the food we ate enroute. That alone confirms my thoughts on the subject.  To us back then, McDonalds was a ‘special occasion’.  I have no doubt, that, like my blogger friend’s trip, we too were treated to bologna sandwiches and thermoses of water or lemonade or something similar. I am quite sure my dad did not take us out to eat more than once or twice on that 2 day trip. A stark contrast to most of today’s families who not only set out with a bounty of snacks and goodies in their laps but then also usually stop at eateries along the way as well.

When we finally…and mercifully crossed the border from Kansas into Colorado, I remember vividly being shocked by the scrubby, tumble-weed-strewn terrain.  Being geographically challenged,  as I pretty much remain today, I had been expecting to see the gorgeous woods and mountains immediately.  As we got closer and closer to Denver, however, I was thrilled to see those majestic mountains come into view, the type of landscape that remains my favorite to this day.

I’m sure we looked a sight to my aunt and uncle upon pulling into their drive at last. Me with my Don King hair (you young people will have to Google that …or ask an old person), Lisa limping and my poor mom, who had badly sprained her ankle at home right before we left, also limping. My dad, who always had the ability to make you think everything was ok with him, was probably at the end of his rope too after 2 days of driving 3 women across country in a steaming hot metal box, with no sound but us whining and repeatedly asking our ETA.

For me personally, this arrival was marked forever in time as bitter sweet, because as we were unloading the car, I discovered that my precious radio…with the controls that slid up and down in slots on the front…had been slowly rendered mute, as the hot summer sun had beat down on it through that big glass window and melted the entire front to where the controls were all welded shut. This was quite tragic to my young teenage self who knew there would be no replacing it.  

Life goes on though, and we were very excited to see my aunt and uncle and their infamous huge German shepherd Max. I think I only saw Aunt Freda and Uncle Bob 2 or 3 times in the entirety of my life, but they left some pretty big impressions on me nonetheless.  Uncle Bob was to me then, the kindest, most gentle man I had ever encountered who, despite his gentle demeanor, also seemed to be the master of his domain. He had trained Max to be the most obedient dog I had ever encountered in my young life and I was quite fascinated with both of them. His orneriness popped up, though, when he took us, at breakneck speed around hairpin mountain roads on our grand tour in their station wagon.  Aunt Freda was also very kind and I remember watching her quietly and comparing her with her sister…my mother.  I believe that she and their other sister Marian had a boldness and innate confidence that my mother did not possess. She was the more meek and hesitant of the 3…except when it came to music and singing. That was her element and the one in which she excelled…..much like Aunt Freda, as I understand it.

Goodness……I digress terribly…..this is what happens once I start down “memory lane”….too many little alleys to get lost in along the way.

Back to Uncle Bob’s tour of Denver and the surrounding mountains!  A few things stand out all these years later.  He took us to a old “mining town” and to a Swedish smorgasbord there for lunch.  Is it just me, or does that somehow seem an odd combination?  Anyways, I remember that all the different foods seemed “white” and in white sauces and very unappealing to me back then….interesting because it was different from our normal fare, but not great. Maybe the forerunner of the Ikea cafe’.  He also took us to a ski resort high in the mountains where we found a large gift shop that I was enthralled with.  I must have bought some small trinket because when I went up to pay, the cashier told me that we had just missed John Denver who had been there just a short time before us.  To a dyed-in-the-wool John Denver fan, this was beyond tragic, to have missed one of my all-time teenage idols by a few mere minutes. And yet, it was also exciting at the same time to imagine that he had been there in the same spot too!

I honestly don’t remember too much else from that singular family trip…a few snippets here and there.  Yes, Uncle Bob DID dig the glass out of Lisa’s foot and I did manage to get all the gazillion tangles out of my hair. Alas, my mom’s poor ankle only got worse with the exploring of the mountains and probably ruined the trip for her, as she partially revealed much later.  And, as I recall, I think maybe my dad whittled around with a knife and managed to get some of those sliding controls on my radio to work again after we got back home. 

It’s interesting what one remembers from a “family vacation”. Sometimes it’s not at all what you would think. Regardless, though, whether they are the typically indulgent and bountiful trips of today’s families or the more frugal and sparse versions of generations past, they are times when togetherness is cherished and memories are made….good or otherwise.  

Here’s to wishing you a happy one this year!

Is Proof Important To You?

How important is “proof” of something? Is proof really necessary or can we get by without it?  In today’s society we require proof of all kinds of things for all kinds of reasons … proof of age, proof of ownership, proof of residency … the list goes on and on. The kind of proof I’m talking about today on this beautiful sunny Easter morning is a different type of proof with a world-wide outcome that affects every single human on this planet of ours … proof of life. Not just any old life…the life of Jesus Christ.

Whether you believe it or not does not change anything about the cold, hard facts. Jesus was savagely nailed to a cross and left there to die so that you and I could be forgiven for our sins … past, present and future. His poor beaten, bloodied and punctured dead body was tenderly wrapped in cloth, as was the custom of those times, and laid in a tomb … a rocky cave. A huge stone that probably took multiple people to push was used to seal up the only entrance to that tomb. Three days later that tomb was discovered open and the cloth that had wrapped Jesus’s body was all that remained inside. The people that had loved and followed him knew immediately that what he had told them beforehand was really true…even though they had not really been able to wrap their heads around it at the time.  He confirmed it later that same day when he appeared to a select few….not in the exact same body they had buried but in his “new, heavenly body”…like the ones those who live eternally in Heaven with Him will have some day. JESUS WAS NO LONGER DEAD, BUT VERY MUCH ALIVE!!  They saw Him and talked with Him.  Imagine the shock and shame felt by those who had laughed and scoffed, those who made fun of him and beat him and drove the huge nails into the tender skin of his hands and feet. And yet, as He hung there bleeding and in terrible pain and agony, He begged God, his Father to FORGIVE those people who had treated Him so terribly.  Jesus did that for US … to make it possible for us to join Him in Heaven some day after we die. 

He’s already done the hard part. All we have to do is believe it and then because we believe it and are so grateful for His unprecedented, unfathomable and gracious gift, we give the rest of our lives to Him and His service in whatever way He chooses to use us. We accept his offer to save us from an eternity apart from Him …aka Hell. The choice is ours…He has given us the freedom to choose. The Bible tells us that the path to Heaven will be very narrow, because most people on this planet will unfortunately choose the bigger path…the wrong path.  Each and every one of us has that very choice to make….which one will you choose?

Jesus didn’t have to give us proof of His life, but He did with the empty tomb. He continues that proof each and every day in the lives of those who love and follow Him; those who have accepted his offer. When they ask Him for help he loves nothing more than to shower them with comfort, peace, joy and the assurance that they will travel the “narrow path” and join Him someday in Paradise. All the Proof we will ever need is hiding in plain sight for all who truly want to see it.

Gettin’ Real …

How are you at tolerating discomfort? How about when someone is brutally honest and tells you something you don’t really want to hear? Well, this is your WARNING that tough stuff…..for some of you…..is ahead.  If you can’t take uncomfortableness, you might want to stop right here and skip on to the nearest post on rainbows and unicorns….or something equally numbing, because today, I’m ripping off the bandaid slowly….waking up every nerve ending along the way……and there is a really good chance you will not like it…not one little bit. 

You’ve been warned.

This coming Friday, “Good Friday” is the MOST important day in the life of true Christians. It is the day commemorating the afternoon when Jesus Christ, son of the only living God, was tortured terribly and died an excruciating death nailed to a cross…..for us.  He did it because, thanks to Adam and Eve and their sinful behavior in the Garden of Eden, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US….right from birth…. has “HELL” stamped on our “boarding pass”….our final destination after death. He died to SAVE US from that unspeakably horrible and totally final destination. The Holy Bible…..our “Owner’s Manual” for life….tells us in Acts 4:11 & 12 that “there is salvation in NO ONE ELSE….salvation is found in no other name than Jesus.”  That salvation…..that cancellation of the original destination and issuance of a new “ticket” to Heaven….is only given to those who ACCEPT Jesus’s offer. Those who believe in Jesus Christ….believe that He is the son of God….the only God….not the Buddhist “God”…not the Hindu “God”….not the “God” of Islam…..there is only ONE true God. Those who believe that he came to earth as a man to live like us, except totally sinless…totally. Those that believe that His message of hope and forgiveness and salvation was so totally despised by the wicked people led by Satan, and made them feel so guilty and threatened …….because they didn’t want to change how they were living and doing whatever they wanted in all their corrupt and immoral ways……that they decided to get rid of him and make an example of him by using the worst possible punishment of those times. He died that miserable death because our all-knowing God had ordained that blood was the only acceptable sacrifice for sin. To give us the chance to avoid going to Hell after death, Jesus stepped up to the plate to take that “hit” for us……He sacrificed His life and literally poured out his blood onto the ground at the foot of the cross…….in front of his dear mother and others who loved him …in order for those of us who accept His offer…..and ONLY those….to live in Heaven with Him after we die, instead of going to Hell. Those who can swallow their pride long enough to confess that they’ve made many mistakes and bad choices and that they are sorry for all those…..and that they truly want to change….they accept Jesus’s offer to help them become a better person….the person He specifically created them to be. Those who can stop rebelling and embrace the concept of submission have another option. Submission to Jesus’s plan for us…the specific and unique “job description” He created for each of us…….instead of just living for ourselves in whatever way we feel like living.

Oh I felt that…..your squirming in your seat at the word “submission”. I can imagine the slide show in your brain flipping to a famous scene of people in a tent lined up accepting little Dixie cups of “KoolAid”…followed closely by the subsequent “dirt nap” that never ended.  Nothing could be further from the truth my friends! That was at the hands of someone on the opposite “team”….someone working for Satan. 

I am reminded of an event at least 22 years ago when the world-famous Christian rock group from Australia, the “Newsboys” performed at little old Triway high school’s gym. I was in the audience that night and it was a life-changing moment for me and probably many others. My family and I were seated on the bleachers and there was a young man in front of me. The lights were turned very low and as the heart-stopping rhythms and lyrics of hope, God’s truth and goodness filled me more and more, I began to notice that fellow in front of me. He appeared “wild” with the inability to pay attention or sit relatively still…and it got worse and worse. I cannot begin to explain it in a way that will convince you of what I truly believe  was going on.  The Bible tells us that the closer you get to God, the harder that Satan…and all his “workers” will try to stop you and defeat you, trip you up in front of others and convince you that you’re being a fool and whatever other tactics he can use in his desperate attempt to keep you away from the one and only source of love, power, worth, identity and eternal life in Heaven. If you are a Believer, you know that, along with God and His army of angels, that gym that night was also filled with Satan and his henchmen as well. I believe with all my heart that those two forces were dueling it out over that young man…within him.  As his heart was pulling him closer to God, Satan was pulling out all his stops trying to get him to stop listening, stop feeling the love, stop paying attention. 

If you are squirming now…..if this information I’m sharing is making you feel really uncomfortable and skeptical and like laughing or making fun of it…………have NO DOUBT ABOUT IT……there is REAL “spiritual warfare” going on right now for your soul.  Satan doesn’t want you to accept God’s offer. That would spell failure for him. He wants you to think this is the most ridiculous pile of nonsense you’ve ever read….truly.  I didn’t make that up…..it’s in the Bible…all of this, for that matter…read it for yourself. No, “submission” to Jesus does not mean you won’t ever sin again, and it does not mean that while still this side of Heaven you won’t have pain, hardships, and loss. What it means is that from that point…the point that you submit…you will be forgiven for all you have ever done and that He will help you get through every single moment of your life….no matter how hard….from that point forward.  He will be your best Friend. He will comfort you and guide you and help you make decisions. He will fill you with peace…if you trust him, and stop trying to control things yourself. That’s what submission to Jesus looks like. No spiked KoolAid needed.

The last “boarding call” is coming over the speakers…..are you going to accept the offer to exchange your ticket for a beautiful, sunny, final destination where there is no stress, no crying, no sadness and no tears? Or are you going to keep the ticket you already have?  Have no doubt….all the most brilliant minds and resources of NASA will never be able to create anything to protect you from the fire and heat if you stay with your current ticket.

Who Are You A “Rep” For?

What kinds of “reps” do you encounter in your life? Who do they “rep” for? Over the course of my career in the medical field, I have encountered many “reps”, short for company ‘representative’ … drug company reps, medical equipment reps, nursing home marketing reps, home health care reps and the list goes on and on. I was also married to a sales rep for 24 years. Lots of exposure to “reps” of all kinds. It can be a very demanding, time consuming and challenging type of profession. My devotional for today talks about another kind of “rep” position….this one supersedes ALL others and is intended for ALL of us, no matter if we FEEL particularly capable or not.

This devotional that I’m referring to really hit me like a brick this morning….every bit of it. As I’ve shared before, I have followed Dr. Charles Stanley for many years and consider him to be one of the most devout and trustworthy “reps” when it comes to explaining God’s Holy Word – the Bible, to us. He is the author of this and I want to share all of it with you.  It’s based on Ephesians 5:1:

“ The Father cares for you so much that He made you in His own image.  To be His child. To be His representative in this world.  Think about how profound that is.  It means He created you with the ability to experience Him in a deep, intimate relationship.  Likewise, He made it possible to pour His life into you and work through you in ways that will impact eternity.  His desire is that when people see you, they are reminded of Him and give Him the glory.

So no matter how you feel about yourself, embrace the truth: You bear the image of the living God.  You have the capacity to know Him, walk with Him, and carry out His wonderful plans – with His power, wisdom, and leadership.  He loves you, enables you, and works out His will through you.  Pondering being created in His image not only will bless your life, but can absolutely transform the world in a manner you never imagined possible.  So walk in His ways. Obey God and do your best to represent your Father well.”

Let’s break it apart a little. God created the very blueprint of each and every living organism on this entire planet. Think ……I mean REALLY THINK about the unimaginably complex anatomy, physiology, and biology involved. We are talking “MAD SKILLS” here people!!! Truly supernatural skills.  Skills unequaled by anyone else …past, present or future.  He is truly the MASTER scientist and artist.  Think of His artistry alone…..all our different faces with their subtle and not-so-subtle nuances, all our different types and color of hair and all the beautiful shades of our skin in this world….He created those with His palette of “Heavenly watercolors”, if you will. All the different sizes and shapes of our bodies in all different degrees of strength, frailty, and capability.  He created all the different animals and creatures of the sea and air too, but do we look like them? Can we do what they do? He created all the beautiful trees and plants from the mountains to the deserts to the jungles. Do we resemble those? Can we do what they do?  The answer is NO, we cannot. God designed us on his “heavenly drafting table” and then created us Himself to be exactly the way He wants….not like the animals or plants, but like Him….”in His image”…..specifically for His purposes. Not for our purposes….not to work like a fiend for the goal of becoming a millionaire or in order to acquire a new car every year or two or in order to have a big fancy house filled with all the nicest furniture or in order to send our kids to ivy league schools, or even to simply “be happy”.  Those are NOT in the job description of the “rep” position He created us to fill.  Contrary to popular thought, He did not create us to “be happy”. Oh no my friends, He created us for a much higher, more challenging “position”. The animals are simple creatures who perhaps can just “be happy/content” as they go about their simple lives. We, however, are capable of much more complex thought and action, by God’s specific design. In turn, we are also EXPECTED to carry out our more important role as well….to let Him flow through us, to be to others what He wants us to be….what He would be to them. To share the “company information and specifics”….to share His love and truth and His message of salvation, in hopes of gathering others who know nothing about his “product” to join His team. Sound familiar? Oh we each are unique and, by His design, the way we will accomplish these tasks will look a little different than the way our believing friends or family members might go about it. We are all created to be his “reps”…..a “God Rep”, if you will. Picture that on the badge you wear to work everyday. “Jim Smith, God Rep”. Guess what…if people know you are a follower of Christ, you are already wearing that badge. Whether you realize it or not, you are “representing”…..every day and everywhere you go. Are you fulfilling your assignment in the job description He created? Are you gathering others for His team? Are you sharing the “company information”?  What kind of a “Rep” are you?