A merciful miracle story

By Erika Rizkallah

Have you ever heard the phrase: Be careful what you pray for?

It’s often said after something dreadful or amazing has happened, and my case is no different.

A few weeks ago, on Father’s Day to be exact, my family decided to take an evening boat ride. It also happened to be my son’s 16th birthday and he wanted to ride our jetski instead. He’s experienced and has his boating license so we thought nothing of it.

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We decided to go to one of the many waterfront restaurants for dinner but they were all packed. The sun began to set and beautiful streaks of pinks and oranges blazed against the sky — it was quite magical.

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Then the dolphins began to appear but my daughter and I kept missing them. Each time my husband slowed the boat they’d disappear beneath the water. Dolphins are as common as squirrels here and normally we wouldn’t stop to see them, but my photographer daughter wanted to get a sunset shot.

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After a fruitless search we turned the boat and sped home, happy and hungry. A few minutes later, my husband yelled, “Dolphin!” and pulled the throttle. We heard a horrendous crunching noise and were thrown forward.

It took a minute to realize what happened and I was stunned. My daughter and husband started screaming in fear but from my vantage point I could see the problem.

My son, still on the jetski, was wedged vertically between the engine and the roof.

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We went into crisis mode. We yelled at him to jump off the roof and so he did, landing in the water. The current was strong and even though he had a life vest on he’d had a bit of a shock. A boat pulled up and offered to bring him in.

By this time a crowd had gathered to help, ask questions and stare. People began taking pictures of the astonishing sight. We called a tow boat and on the agonizingly long ride home — with us sitting in the back of our boat – the reality sank in.

In my quiet time that morning, I had foolishly prayed, Lord, show me your glory.

He not only showed me, but everyone else! Hundreds of pictures were taken by gawkers. We appeared on a well-known Instagram boating account with thousands of views.

The next day, we were on the news and the story appeared in headlines across the country. Reporters called the Fish and Wildlife Department trying to get interviews. Our response was “No comment.”

Until now.

Anyone can see that this was a perfectly timed miracle. Consider the speed of the boat and the velocity of the jetski combined with the lift of the wake and position of the engines and roof. Any variation in these factors could have proved deadly, but no one was hurt.

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As believers, we’re called to report on the mercy of God and the daily miracles he provides us. We’re to shout his praise and glory from the rooftops and sing out with joy.

I haven’t stopped thanking him for what he did that day but I won’t ask to see his glory again. That was enough for me!

Your turn: Do you have any miracle stories you can share?

 

 

Feel like you don’t have much to offer?

When I was growing up, one of the most popular tunes on the radio was a song called Stand By Your Man, co-written and recorded by Tammy Wynette. Though it contains only 128 words and was written in 15 minutes, it’s sparked debate and controversy for years.

No one predicted the surprising results this scant and quickly written song produced; Tammy catapulted to fame and it remains one of country music’s Top hits 50 years later.

I’ve been married to the same guy for 24 years and consider myself fortunate. He’s a business owner and we have a great life despite many ups and downs. Long ago, God told me he’d provide for me through my husband and I’ve accepted his promise gratefully.

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But it’s difficult at times, especially in this day and age when we voraciously compare ourselves to others. Though I’ve worked off and on through the years and have my own online business, I’m not “self-supporting.” When I fill out paperwork, I put “Not Applicable” under the employment section. One time at a doctor’s office, the receptionist shouted across the room, “Are you still unemployed?”

These questions make me cringe — I hate labels. I’m independent and was the main breadwinner in our family for several years before I quit work to take care of my children. In my hometown near Washington D.C., women would ask, “What do you do for a living?” When I explained I was a stay-at-home mom, they often discreetly drifted off looking for someone more interesting to talk to.

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True story.

The bulk of my work goes unseen and uncompensated. I’m not what the world considers “successful,” but I know I am. So does my family and most importantly, so does my God.

Still, sometimes I want the sacrifices I’ve made to be seen and dare I say, celebrated.

It reminds me of the Bible story known as the widow’s offering. One day, Jesus was teaching in the temple and he sat down across from where people were putting in their required offerings.

Mark 12:41-44 says: Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything — all she had to live on.” 

Sometimes women at any stage of life can feel like our offerings are meager. On low  strength and energy days, the only fuel I have is knowing that Jesus sees me. He accepts my small offerings and he loves it.

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He sees and loves you as well. No offering is too small to make a huge difference in the world and for his kingdom.

Sometimes I wonder what happened to the widow. I know God provided for her because it’s one of his promises. He’s close to the poor, the oppressed, those who feel small.

The lesson was so important that he called his disciples over to witness it. The story is told in the books of Mark and Luke; the nameless woman is still held up as an example over 2,000 years later.

That’s incredible . . . and so are you!

 

 

 

What’s missing in your walk with Jesus?

By Erika Rizkallah

One of the most well known stories in the New Testament begins in Mark 10:17. It’s the story of the rich young ruler.

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a young man ran up to him, threw himself at his feet and said, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

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The first thing Jesus points out is his error. He asks, “Why do you call me good? No one is good — except God alone.”

I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the response he expected. After all, he was rich, young and a ruler. He would have been used to people kowtowing to him.

His had the correct approach. First of all, he ran up to Jesus — something a dignified and respected man would never do in that culture. Then he threw himself at Jesus’ feet, another unusual action for a man in his position.

It was a declaration of worship and I believe he really wanted to know the answer to his question.

But Jesus often does and says the unexpected.

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Jesus responded, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’

The ruler declared, “Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

I love the next sentence. The Bible says Jesus looked at him and loved him. This story is often told and preached in pulpits all over the world . . . with the love part left out.

“One thing you lack,” said Jesus. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

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At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

I always feel for the guy when I hear this story. Here was a person who seemingly had it all: youth, wealth and power and yet, he walks away from the conversation in a state of sadness and uncertainty.

Jesus used the episode as a teaching moment for his disciples. He says, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

This flips the disciples out — they’re shocked and amazed — because during that time, it was thought that wealth and power were signs of blessing from God. A guarantee of gaining entrance to Heaven.

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Sometimes we come to Jesus asking deep questions and don’t get the expected answers. But maybe that’s the point.

Only he knows what we truly lack. Only he knows what hinders our faith walk.

But like the rich young ruler, we first have to be brave enough to ask the question.

How about you? What questions have you asked Jesus lately?

 

 

Pursuing peace and quiet

By Erika Rizkallah

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The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

he leads me beside quiet waters,

he restores my soul.

Psalm 23:1-3

What pictures come to mind when you think about the words peace and quiet?

Try closing your eyes and pondering for a moment. Go ahead, I’m waiting.

These are a few images that come to my mind:

landscape-photo-2930249_1920I don’t fish so I’m not sure why this is.

canola-fields-1911392_1920I’m not a farmer, but whenever I see rolling hills and fields, my spirit sighs and settles.

snow-3084740_1920  Maybe I’ve read one too many fairy tales, but this makes my heart happy!

The moments I savor and crave most are those when my home or yard is still. The house is silent and I’m alone. No groan of lawnmowers chewing up the grass, horns honking, or people whining.

Silence energizes and the sounds of nature refresh our souls. And yet, what a nosy and noisy world we live in.

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Sometimes I imagine what it was like before God created mankind. But of course, mankind what just what he had in mind. The Bible teaches us that after he created the world, he made Adam out of the dust. He created Eve out of Adam’s rib — flesh of his flesh, bone of his bone.

He placed them in a garden and walked with them and all was well for awhile.

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I think that original beauty and silence is sorely lacking today. I believe we need to find our way back and snatch up as much of it as we can. But silence is scary for a lot of people these days.

How can we hear the Holy Spirit’s whispers if our ears are crammed with noise and our homes rife with strife?

How can we commune with the creator if we stuff our lives with the busyness of the world?

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What do you think? Do you have enough quiet time in your life? Do you make getting alone with God (or yourself) a priority? Do you fear what you might hear?

God loves when we seek him in this way. He loves to whisper into our spirit and he delights in our attempts to hear him.

In 1 Timothy 2:2 the apostle Paul gives instructions for worship and prayer. He asks that we pray for our leaders “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

This is worth pursuing.

Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. James 3:18

 

He believes we can fly

By Erika Rizkallah 

Yesterday morning during my quiet time with God, my feral cat Moo Moo, began to bark. These were strange sounds coming from a kitty who’s named for a cow and meows like a mouse.

I looked up to see him standing on his hind legs on the back of my sitting room chair. He swiped furiously at something in the corner of a casement window. He’s a weird dude, but this was unusual behavior, even for him.

My big burly guy has a teeny-tiny girly voice except when he’s “hunting” indoors  — he’s terrified of the outside.

I got up to look and noticed a bee hovering near the top of my leaky window. It was a sunny and windy day so I figured I’d do him (and me) a favor and send him on his way.

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I popped open the window to give him plenty of room to fly. Instead, he flattened his wings and clung to the glass. I waited, thinking surely it’s a better option than death by cat, but he didn’t seem to agree.

So then I grabbed a magazine and gave him a gentle push, but he clung to the magazine. I helped him further by shaking the magazine into the wind, and instead of flying, he seemed to fall.

I yelled, What’s the problem you dumb bee? You’re in your element. God gave you wings!

Just then, a small still voice spoke into my spirit, Look who’s talking. You’re in your element. I gave you gifts. I gave you wings and yet you cling and refuse to pursue the purpose I have in mind for you. 

God. Smacked.

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Can you relate? Do you feel like God’s been calling you to something more and yet you choose to bide your time, waiting in fear or apprehension?

Sometimes he uses the pressure of an enemy or a gentle wind to shake us out of complacency. Sometimes he pushes us out of the window himself.

I wanted to share my lesson with you today because I feel like someone needs to hear it.

Our Heavenly Father created us with purpose and a plan to fill this broken world with love and light. He’s the only one who truly knows what we’re capable of, and he’ll do whatever it takes to push us toward the goal.

He won’t let us fall — he believes we can fly.

 

 

 

Sharing the hope of Christ

By Erika Rizkallah

The other day my son and I drove one of his buddies home from school. I got the chance to listen in on an interesting conversation. His friend, Matt, is part of a growing movement of Millennials who believe the earth is flat.

Shocked, I struggled to keep my mouth shut and just listen, but I had to butt in.

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“Matt, do you seriously think the earth is flat or are you joking?” I asked.

“Yes ma’am, I do. I’ve spent months researching it and there’s compelling evidence out there that proves the earth is not round.”

“No mom!” my son shouted, “Don’t get him started — he’ll never stop talking about it.”

Let me first say that Matt is a super smart kid, very respectful and a self-described  “super hard-core Christian.”

And my son was right, once he got going, he didn’t want to stop. I expressed my skepticism and he had answers (good ones!) for every challenge I issued. In fact, a few of his questions made me really think. I admit to doing a little research of my own when I got home.

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He said, “How can you be certain we landed on the moon? Did you see it yourself? No, you were told about it in school and you accepted it as truth. Do you know that most pictures of earth are computer generated models? And what about the fake picture of the moon walk?

He told me he wasn’t just going to accept what the government told him about the world without researching it first. He also said his tactics sometimes got him in trouble with school administrators.

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While I don’t share his views, they’re popular with a group of people known as the Flat Earthers — an organization founded centuries ago by The Flat Earth Society.

His diligence and unbridled passion about the subject reminded me of the Apostle Peter’s exhortation in 1 Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 

Matt taught me a lesson that day — I need to be equally prepared and courageous enough to share the hope of Christ with others. I must be willing to gently argue my case and tell my story to skeptics.

Maybe my efforts will pay off and help someone dig deeper into the message about His love for them.

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How about you? Kids say the darnedest things! What lessons about God have you learned from them?

 

 

 

 

Lessons from a Liar

By Erika Rizkallah

Have you ever heard the Bible story about Ananias and Sapphira? This couple carries the unfortunate legacy of being some of the most dishonest people in the New Testament.

Their story is told in Acts 5:1-11 — it’s a warning for the ages.

To fully understand it we must read the previous passages in Acts 4:32-37. The author tells about a special time in the early church. Jesus has ascended to Heaven and the persecution of his disciples has begun. The Holy Spirit settled on the believers who’d gathered together and formed a close-knit community.

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The Bible says: All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. Acts 4:32.

The apostles boldly testified about Jesus’ resurrection and there were no needy people in the community. The generosity was so great that some individuals with land and property sold it off and gave it to the apostles to distribute to anyone with need. They practiced Christ’s command of brotherly love. One man who did this was Joseph, who they nicknamed Barnabus, which means Son of Encouragement.

This sounds Utopian, but there’s always a snake in the garden.

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Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostle’s feet. Acts 5:1-2

Peter knew something was up. He said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.” (v.3,4)

When Ananias heard this he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. (v. 5)

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©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The story continues with Sapphira, who wasn’t there when the offering was made. She arrived three hours later and Peter questioned her, asking if they withheld any money. She lied and Peter said, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.” (v. 9)

Then she dropped dead!

In hindsight, we could read this and wonder why they did the things they did. But we might also feel sympathetic — haven’t we been tempted to lie or hold out on God?

Did pride cause Ananias to lie? Greed? Maybe it was both. Or maybe he wanted to be like Joseph — maybe he wanted to be called a Barnabus. I know when I see a friend do something awesome, I want to be like her.

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What about Sapphira? Didn’t she have a clue that something might be wrong when her husband didn’t come home? Maybe she feared what he might do if she told the truth.

Either way it’s a sad story that hurt their loving community.

It’s also a reminder to us. We must continually check our hearts for evidence of greed and dishonesty. We must always remember that our enemy — the great serpent — lives to tempt us into grieving the Holy Spirit.

His goal is our destruction and the dissolution of Christianity.

 

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We must remember that like those in the early church, we are filled with the Holy Spirit and his grace is sufficient for us.

Heavenly Father, we praise you. We ask that you give us the courage and strength to rely on you for all our needs. We ask that you make us aware of any evil in our hearts and keep us from the temptations of the evil one. Above all, we seek your glory and not our own. Amen

God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth. John 4:24

 

 

Ringing Out the Old: 3 things to leave behind us in the new year

By Erika Rizkallah

Goodbye 2016. I’m not sad to see you go!fireworks-1759

The lessons and difficulties won’t soon be forgotten. I learned a lot – and I’m thankful for that – but I won’t make the same mistakes this year.

I’ll ring in the new year quietly working the Christmas puzzle I started yesterday, eating Mexican food and hitting the hay. Right after I let my son shoot his paintball gun into the midnight sky.

Some of you will gather with friends, dance your heads off and watch the ball drop in Times Square.

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Our family tradition is to kiss one another at midnight. Sometimes we watch the worldwide celebrations on television. And sometimes, we mumble the words (we remember) of the song, Auld Lang Syne . . . but I have no idea why.

I don’t even know what it means!

So today I looked it up and it’s not at all what I thought it was. Reader’s Digest has a good article about the origins. And an informative post from the Scotland website provides the full lyrics in case we want to sing along. In English the words translate, “old long since.”

Truthfully, I’ve always thought it was about leaving things behind – hence the title of this post. So as far as these three things are concerned, let’s give them a farewell kiss . . .

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Sin – Sin separates us from God. He won’t tolerate it because it’s against his nature. He is holy. Let’s separate ourselves from it!

Despair – I’ve had my fill of despairing people this year. It may come across as mean-spirited but that’s not my intent. Never have I encountered as many dismal souls as I have this year. Despair doesn’t belong in Christ followers. Let’s toss it out!

Deceit – I’m no stranger to the power of deceit. As I reflect on 2016 I see how the enemy’s lies crept into my spirit and mind, like a lion waiting to devour. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Let’s shoot that sucker in the heart!

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Auld Lang Syne is actually an ancient Scottish reunion song . . . and a good song to drink to. It’s about friendship, a sense of belonging and thinking about days gone by. 

I think it’s an apt metaphor for the here and now.

In the end, when Christ comes again, we’ll be reunited with Jesus and all the other believers – past and present. We’ll sit down at a banquet together with a cup of wine in hand (both hands for me) and toast the days gone by.

We’ll say goodbye to the old earth, the old ways and the old life. We’ll celebrate the new life and catch up with old friends.

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What a lovely picture of heaven!

But make no mistake, we’ll find ourselves weeping and filled with anguish if we don’t renounce sin, despair and deceit now. We’ll never make it into God’s kingdom with those burdens in our spirit.

Let’s do the work.

There’s one glorious celebration ahead!

Happy New Year and God bless you friends!

 

 

Christmas Offerings:5 tips for living a life dedicated to God

 

By Erika Rizkallah

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2

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For many, New Year’s Eve is the day to leave the things of the past behind and start fresh. But for me this process begins on Christmas Eve.

December 24 is my “Dedication Day” and is the most important day of the year to me. It’s become sort of a ritual over the last seven years. It happened like this: In 2009, I left my old life in the D.C. area behind to follow God to a new place.

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It was a big deal because not only did I leave family and friends, I left my job in ministry. I’d been on staff at a church when I heard the Lord tell me to GO. It didn’t make sense to me then and it certainly didn’t make sense to my boss.

My family and friends were also skeptical. After all, why would God send me to an unfamiliar place when I was succeeding where I was? Especially when I had no idea what I was going to do!

But go I did.

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That leap of faith has rewarded me in ways I can’t express. However, I went through a tremendous identity crisis with buckets of tears and confusion. I didn’t know how to just “be”. . . without a home, career or support system. Ironically, He sent me to North Carolina whose state motto is: Esse Quam Videri which means To be, rather than to seem.

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Isn’t God wonderful?!

He sent me here for that purpose. To be my authentic self – his daughter in Christ.

After a period of loneliness and settling in, I had a “moment” with Him I’ll never forget. I was in the bedroom of my rental home praying about the year ahead. I said, “Okay Lord, I followed you here. I’m waiting for my new assignment.” I didn’t hear anything. So I thought, Well, I’ll just serve you in whatever thing you place in my path.

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In that moment, I was filled – and I mean filled – with a sense of overwhelming joy. I literally danced! I carried that joy into the new year and I served my “old self” off.

Since then, I’ve rededicated myself to the Lord – to his plans and purposes for me – each Christmas Eve.

If this sounds like a welcome adventure to you, here are five tips to help get started . . .

Pray – All conversation with God begins and ends in prayer. Ask him to reveal His will for you in the upcoming year. He’s kind and generous and wants to lead us to authentic life in Him.

Remember – What is it about the current year you want to revisit or leave behind? Remembering needs to be done in a place of solitude with plenty of time set aside.

Listen – Bend your ear toward Him, keeping in mind His voice is often soft. You may not hear anything immediately but when you do make sure to write it down!

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Commit – With a heart intent on heeding his will, devote yourself to the task ahead. Even just “being” is hard work and requires trust, perseverance and faithfulness.

Obey – Obedience isn’t a word we like to hear or practice in our culture but it’s a requirement for all God’s children. You may need to clear your schedule, distance yourself from toxic people or learn to say no to good things so you can say yes to better ones.

That first year of service wasn’t always butterflies and jellybeans. I served in obscurity, behind the scenes on every occasion. I scrubbed toilets, ran errands, served meals and babysat the neighbor’s kids.

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But through obedience, I experienced overarching peace and clarity. Best of all, my relationship with our Heavenly Father and His son, Jesus, deepened my faith and soothed my soul.

How about you: What offering can you give to Jesus this year? 

 

 

The Secular and the Sacred: Is one more important than the other?

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Do you ever wonder if what you’re doing in the world – whether it be running a business, homeschooling children, or bandaging a friend’s paper cut – is making a difference in the world?

I do. All the time.

I’m constantly criticizing myself or listening to the critic in my head tell me I’m small potatoes. That I have nothing, nada, zilch to offer. And worse, I’m running out of time and if I don’t do something soon then . . .

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I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think secretly many women struggle with similar thoughts. Maybe they’ve even occurred to you?

But really, what’s the worst that could happen? We’d become “irrelevant?” (as my teenage boy likes to say). We’d leave no legacy? Or be forgotten?

I was reminded of this at an estate sale I went to last weekend. I was rummaging through stuff in a Mid-century modern home that was like a time capsule. I even took a picture of their linoleum . . .

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They don’t make it like this anymore . . . thank God.

Anyway, the owner of the company and I were marveling at the goodies the homeowners curated. I mean this stuff would make even top-tier interior designers wet their pants – I know I almost did. Especially over these . . .

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#vintagecameras   Follow me on Instagram @ springbythesea

Another customer chimed in, “You know I was talking to my daughter about a Dean Martin record I picked up and she didn’t even know who he was!”

Is he irrelevant? My kids would say, “definitely,” but I disagree. In his day he was known as the “King of Cool.” And he may be gone, but his music and movies touched millions of people, set the stage for romance and gave people someone to look up to.

His audience was considered secular, but he wasn’t secular to Jesus – in whom all things were created.  Our Jesus, who also isn’t irrelevant. He’s God Incarnate . . . God in the flesh.

And as for being small potatoes, there’s nothing wrong that. Our world is made better by those who choose to serve on the sidelines. And by those being served on the sideboards . . . they’re particularly yummy fried. And very much appreciated in my home!

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Small potatoes. Yummy!