A Year of Smiles – Day 217


What draws us to certain people, groups or organizations? Why do we feel at home in particular surroundings or atmospheres? What makes us feel connected to something or someone? 

I began to ask myself these questions as I stepped back to survey the finished bulletin board at my church this afternoon. Our congregation is beginning a study on life in the church and the connection church members have through Christ, Unity, Growth, Words, Service and Prayer. I’m excited for this study and I’m anxious to get back to the basics of what it means to be a functioning part of the body of Christ. As I finished the display, however, my thoughts moved to more than just the church member but to humanity as a whole.

It’s funny that this simple Connect the Dots themed bulletin board raised so many questions about our connections with each other. But the answer to all of these pervading questions is really just as simple as this basic children’s activity. What draws us to others? What makes us feel accepted? What gives us that connection? Love. The answer is simply love.

Colossians 3:13-14 (NIV) Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Love binds us all together. Love is the connection. And when you find that Love, you can’t help but SMILE.

A Year of Smiles – Day 216

Reason to SMILE #216: SECURITY

“Ma’am, how I am supposed to know that you weren’t actually trying to brake in to this house?” asked the police officer.

At least, that’s what I imagined he would ask after he arrived at my parents’ house finding me on the front porch while the security alarm wailed. You see, I had only gone to pick up my child who was probably two or three at the time. I knew my parents had taken him out for a while and they hadn’t made it back home. I also knew I would get to their house before they did and I would have to wait on them. I should have waited in the car. Instead, I decided to sit on their front porch.

As I made my way onto the porch, I noticed my parents’ cat looking out of a large picture window. So, I did what any normal person would do. I walked up to the window, bent down to get a closer look, said, “Hello, Cali,” and gently tapped the window at the vicinity of the cat’s face.

Do you know those signs at the pet store that say, “Do not tap glass”? That also applies to any window anywhere through which animals are staring at you from the other side. Just don’t do it. Ever.

As soon as I tapped the glass – and I mean, I barely touched it – the alarm began to blast. I froze. What was I going to do? My parents weren’t home, yet, and I couldn’t get into the house to turn the alarm off. All I could do was sit there listening to the alarm and imagining what I was going to tell the police when they pulled up in the yard.

Fortunately, my parents returned home shortly thereafter and the police were never dispatched. As my parents were unlocking the house, I began explaining how I set off the alarm. “I didn’t know what I was going to do if the police arrived. I didn’t know how I was going to prove my relationship to you and that I belonged here.”

“Karen,” my mom replied as she opened the front door and pointed in the house to the wall directly in front of us, “Your picture is right there as you walk in the door. That’s all the proof they’d need.”

You know, one day we are all going to stand before an even greater authority than our fine men and women in blue. We are all going to stand before our Creator and the question of our belonging in His eternal home is going to be posed. What are you going to do? Are you going to rattle off examples of your good deeds, your acts of charity, your adherence to the Ten Commandments? Are you certain that you will even have a place in Heaven one day?

The Bible tells us that the only way to an eternal home with our Heavenly Father is by faith in His Son Jesus Christ. (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9John 14:6) The Bible also tells us that once we make the decision to become a follower of Jesus by admitting we are sinners and in need of salvation from an eternal death, believing Jesus is the only Son of God and He paid the price for our sins through death on a cross and resurrection from the grave, and confessing our sins and committing our lives to Him, then we can know for sure that we have an eternal home in heaven that no one can question or take away. (John 10:28-29; Romans 8:35-39) And on the day you stand before the throne of God and your belonging is questioned, you won’t have to wonder what you will say. Your Savior will step forward, point to your name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life and say, “Yes. she’s mine. See right there. That’s her name!”

I know my eternity is secure. What a SMILE that brings to my soul! What about you? Are you sure of your eternal home?

Help my Unbelief!

Faith. The Bible tells us that faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). With it, we can move mountains (Mark 11:22-24). Through faith, we are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9) and in faith, we are able to take our petitions to the Heavenly Father and believe that He will meet our needs (Matthew 21:22).

Faith. I’d love to tell you that I have a lot of it and that I live my life by it. I’d love to stand tall, hold my head high, puff out my chest and tell you that nothing causes me to doubt or worry because I have such great FAITH. I’d love to tell you that…. But if I did, I’d be lying.

Several years ago, I stumbled upon a prayer of Dr. Rick Warren as I was perusing Facebook. (Ah! The treasure trove that is Facebook!) Dr. Warren’s prayer was simple but packed quite a powerful punch. He prayed, “Holy Spirit, enlarge my vision, stretch my faith, and liberate me from self-imposed limitations that dishonor you.”

“Wow!” I thought as I read those words. “I need to be praying that daily!”

So, I made this my prayer for the next year…

Have you ever prayed for something and then, after receiving the answer, wish you had never prayed for that something in the first place? I must admit that I’ve wished many times over the past several years that I had never found this prayer of Dr. Warren. (Cursed Facebook!) But God has a way of revealing what we need in our lives and this prayer was, and still is, a part of His plan for growing me into the woman of faith that He wants me to be. However, I am quite certain that when I began praying this prayer, I was not ready for God to answer it.

Let me see if I can explain.

Have you ever prayed for patience? Have you ever prayed for a loving spirit? What about strength? If you have prayed for any of these wonderful characteristics, did God instantly bless you with them? My guess would be “No.” Like any other virtue, patience, a loving spirit and strength must be learned. They must be practiced and developed over time.

So, how does God answer the prayer for patience? He answers by allowing us to encounter situations that will require patience. How does He answer the prayer for a loving spirit? He places the unlovable in our paths. How does He answer the prayer for strength? He pushes us beyond our self-perceived limits and tests our endurance. That’s our God. He doesn’t just snap his fingers or wiggle his nose and instantly transform us into a better person. He molds us. He reshapes us. He teaches us through life lessons, through tough situations, through challenging seasons. And when the lessons are learned, we are the better for them.

Do you see where I’m going here?

Daily, I prayed, “Lord, enlarge my vision, stretch my faith and free me from self-imposed limitations.” I realize now that with this prayer, I was literally telling God that I was ready to be challenged. I was asking God to take me out of my comfort zone, to push me beyond my limits, to take me to the next level. Basically, I was saying, “OK, God, bring it on!”

God listened and obliged.

Though I prayed for three things and saw God moving in all three areas of my life, it seems He was most interested in my request concerning faith! And how do you suppose God answered my request for Him to stretch my faith? Yep, you guessed it. God is quite consistent with His teaching methods. I have to be honest, though, His methods are not always fun.

Challenge after challenge has been thrown at me over the past several years. From health scares, personally and with my older son, to school struggles with my younger son to learning to let go as my older son pursues and explores the calling on his life to financial stresses and job problems to watching my husband be pushed away from the church family that I love and serve, the road to increased faith has not been easy. I’ve failed perfectly many, many times in these tests of my faith and found myself wondering if I had any faith at all.

“Stretch my faith,” I prayed. What was I thinking?

I wish I could continue my story with a mind-blowing ending:

I have conquered all doubts and fears and learned to trust God with every facet of my life.  When trials come my way, I don’t even blink.  I take up my shield of faith and keep marching on.

I’m no where near there.  I can tell you that I have seen God move in mighty ways and I’ve seen Him provide for my family in the toughest of times. Yet, I still struggle with faith in many situations, such as my husband’s discouragement with the church and my newly discovered issue with anxiety. But (such a powerful little word that is) God is still working – despite my lack of faith.  You see, I may not be faithful but my God surely is! And “He who began a good work in [me] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6) And, yes, that promise includes continuing to allow situations in my life that stretch my faith!

Faith. I still have a long way to go before I become that woman of faith that God wants me to be. But as I face the challenges God lays before me – those circumstances He uses to stretch my faith – I find myself repeating yet another prayer. The words of a desperate father in Mark chapter 9 beseeching Jesus to heal his son sum up my daily plea, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!”

A Year of Smiles – Day 147

Reason to SMILE #147: FAITH

“… Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this 8728-seedlingmountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭17:20‬ ‭NIV

How big is your faith? Are you moving mountains?  Are you defeating the giants in your life?  No?  Don’t worry.  God’s still growing my faith, too.  It’s not always easy to live by faith, to trust God with every aspect of our lives, but we have a faithful God who loves us and has proven His faithfulness to us time and time again.

My faith may not be great or even the size of a mustard seed (which is pretty small, by the way) but God’s great faithfulness keeps me SMILING every day and wanting to share those SMILES with you.