Category Archives: inspiration

When the Pieces Don’t Fit

We have been watching the news out of Puerto Rico with heavy hearts this week. It’s hard to believe that the same beautiful, sunny places Jacob visited in June are now devastated. I haven’t heard anything about the camp where they worked or the people they met on their trip. I understand communication is pretty limited. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of the island.

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In the closet of my home office, I have a stash of jigsaw puzzles. Most of them are Americana-style artwork by Charles Wysocki, but I also have a Vikings stadium cartoon picture, album covers from the 1970s, and (my favorite) propaganda posters from WWII. One of my favorite ways to spend a Sunday is to turn on a football game and pick away at a jigsaw puzzle.

A while back, I was working on my favorite puzzle, again, and there was one little hole in an otherwise completed section. I was nearing the end, so I perused the remaining pieces and saw exactly what I was looking for. The colors and shape looked just right, but no matter how I turned the piece, it just didn’t fit. In my eyes it was so obvious that it was the right piece, but it just wasn’t. I had to set it aside and keep looking, trusting that the right piece was out there, and that this piece had a different space to fill. 

It dawned on me that this is just like God’s will for our lives. We see what we think is right and we try to jam it in, even though it doesn’t really fit. But that thing, be it a relationship, job, house, or whatever we’re looking for, has its own place to fit, and there may be a different piece, a right piece, for your life. You just have to trust that the God who gave you all the pieces knows which one really fits. 

I once applied for a job that I thought was absolutely perfect for me. It was close to home, great hours, with an organization I care for deeply. I sent in my resume, and quickly received an email asking me to do a phone interview. That went well, and I was invited to do an in-person interview as well. I was so confidant that my skills and their needs were a fit that I wasn’t even nervous going into the interview. A week later, I got an email thanking me for my time and letting me know that they hired someone else. I was shocked. I thought the job and I were a perfect fit for one another – the colors and shapes were all right, but it just didn’t fall into place.

God has never let me down. I didn’t get that job, but I have a job that I enjoy – one that utilizes my education. And I’m sure He hasn’t let that organization down either. I have no doubt that He provided for them just the right person to fill that role and advance their mission. I believe that because I trust the puzzle maker. He puts the pieces into place even when it doesn’t look like we expect!

Isaiah 55:8-9 says “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'”
Psalm 139:16 says, “…all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

What stories do you have of God putting things together in His perfect timing? Share in the comments! “It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.” (Daniel 4:2)

The Unflipped Pancake – A Challenge from Hosea 7

Happy Friday, friends!

This week, my husband and son are off at Scout camp, and I’ve been holding down the fort. It gets kind of lonely here by myself with our needy little dog, so I set some big goals for the week to keep myself busy. I finished the caulking work on our kitchen reno, cleaned out the shed and laundry room, participated in a service opportunity (with another coming up tonight), and set out to read five books (three done and two well under way). I still miss my family, but the busyness is keeping me out of trouble.

One of the books I’m working on is a Bible study on the book of Hosea, by Jennifer Rothschild. If you’re not familiar with Hosea, he was an Israelite prophet in the Old Testament. God had him marry an unfaithful woman named Gomer (I can’t imagine why that never took off as a baby name…) so that Hosea would know first-hand how God felt about the unfaithful Israelites, who were always straying off to this idol and that false god. The Lord was faithful to forgive, but inevitably the people would wander. Gomer was the same way. And God used Hosea’s experience to preach a message of correction, repentance, and restoration.

The other night in my reading, I came across a Bible verse that I had never noticed before. Hosea 7:8 says, “Ephraim (one of the tribes of Israel) mixes with the nations; Ephraim is a flat loaf not turned over.” Hold up! (insert record scratch sound effect) Did Hosea just call the Israelites, and the tribe of Ephraim in particular, an unflipped pancake!?! I kid you not, I sat and stared at that verse for a few minutes, trying to figure out the metaphor. Eventually I decided that something was lost in translation and moved on with my study.

But it nagged at me. Calling someone an unflipped pancake is definitely and insult – I know this because there’s nothing desirable about a pancake cooked on one side and nasty gooey on the other side – but what??? So the next day I decided to do a little digging. I found many of the good old Bible commentaries are free online now (yay for the public domain!), and they did not let me down.

God’s accusation of Israel had to do with their worship. They were followers of Yahweh, the one true God, on the surface, but behind the scenes they were dabbling in things like sorcery (4:12), idol worship (4:17), turning to pagan neighboring countries instead of turning to God (5:13), and deceitful behaviors (7:1-2). They were “mixing with the nations,” not in the sense that they were traveling or getting to know their neighbors, but in the sense that they were mixing their spiritual practices with the pagan practices of the nations around them. They failed to see that God was enough, and insulted Him by trying to supplement their faith with things flat-out opposed to God’s commands.

The verse goes on to say, “Ephraim is a flat loaf not turned over” – the unflipped pancake. Think about that one for a minute. If you were making pancakes and you decided that instead of flipping it over, you would just let the one side cook longer, in just a couple minutes you would have a pancake burned on one side, uncooked on the other, and completely and totally inedible. The meaning is similar to Revelation 3:15-16, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” I think it would be fair to say, “Ephraim, I know your worship, that you neither worship Me the way I commanded, nor do you whole-heartedly worship the gods of your neighbors. Because you are this unflipped pancake – both burned and raw – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Now the metaphor makes sense! And it stings!!!

This type of “faith” that needs Jesus plus something else is a pretty common problem in developed nations. We think we need Jesus plus good insurance, or Jesus plus a fat investment portfolio. If we lose our job, our health, our savings, or any number of security blankets, we lose our peace, joy, and strength. But our peace, joy, and strength should not come from our earthly accomplishments and inheritances. Our peace, joy, and strength should come only from our faith in God and the work of his son, Jesus. He’s good for a lot more than insurance against hell!

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” (Isaiah 40:29) He doesn’t give strength and power to those who save up for it, He gives it to the weak and weary.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) He doesn’t say that His power is available to those who can afford the deductible, it’s offered to the weak.

(James 1:5) “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” I see two criteria here – God is offering His wisdom to those who recognize that they lack it, and who are humble enough to ask.

“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14) – Not if they put together a good committee or have a quality economic development strategy, but if they humble themselves, pray and seek God’s face, and turn from their wicked ways.

The answer is too simple to believe sometimes, and too much out of our control to be comfortable. But time and time again we see it in God’s word – God calls us to trust Him, to let go of ourselves and the abilities we think will save us, and just let Him be God. Ugh, this is such a tough one for me. I am all about figuring it out and doing it myself. But that doesn’t honor God.

Don’t be the unflipped pancake; trust Him, His timing is perfect and you won’t get burned or left unusable in His hands.

The Value of a Volunteer

Happy Friday! It’s extra happy for me, because tonight Jacob comes home from Puerto Rico. Never mind the fact that tomorrow morning he leaves for Scout camp; I don’t want to think about that right now. Thanks to modern technology, his absence hasn’t been too hard for me. We’ve texted back and forth each day, and the adults on the trip have been posting pictures to the team Facebook page. It looks like the trip has been a nice combination of work, relationship building, and fun. I can’t wait to hear all the details tonight!

As you may know, I work at a history museum. Although different from hunger-relief orgs, our small educational non-profit faces some of the same challenges – things like fundraising, fulfilling our mission on a tight budget, and doing it all with a tiny (and mostly part-time) staff. I know for a fact that the key to meeting our objectives in a quality way is our other staff – the volunteers.

If you assume that a small non-profit would pay about $10 per hour for help (that number is low, I know. Many of our volunteers are worth far more than that. But it’s a nice round number for this math-phobe, and it makes the point without any chance of exaggerating), then even our most occasional event volunteer is saving us hundreds of dollars per year. Our top volunteer at the museum worked over 400 hours last year – that’s more than $4000 in free labor. But you and I both know that without these volunteers we wouldn’t be spending that much more money – we would be getting a lot less done.

A couple weeks ago, my family and I participated in Feed My Starving Children’s Love Somalia mobile pack event in St Paul. During the four days of packing, volunteers assembled 4.5 million meals. Volunteers. If FMSC had to replace the volunteers with packing machines, they would also have to add staff to maintain and supervise the machines. They would have to work harder to raise awareness and funds. They couldn’t hold special events where 4.5 million EXTRA meals are packed in a weekend.

I found some statistics from the Bureau of Labor that show you just how powerful volunteers are in America. From September 2015-September 2016, 62.6 million Americans volunteered at least once with a non-profit organization. The median number of volunteer hours each person gave was 54 hours per year. The biggest recipient of volunteer labor was religious non-profits. This makes sense, right? If you’re a member of a church, you’re probably doing some kind of volunteer service there – teaching Sunday school, greeting visitors, serving in the kitchen during weddings and funerals, etc. Educational and youth-services non-profits came in second. If you have kids or grandkids in school, it’s hard to avoid the pleas for PTO members, fundraiser parents, and classroom volunteers.

One statistic I found stated that in 2013, Americans volunteered more than 7.7 billion hours. BILLION! If we multiply that by our paltry sum of $10/hour, that’s over $77 billion dollars in free labor given to help others learn, grow in faith, or meet their physical needs!

If you volunteer, and you’re feeling discouraged and wondering if your service is doing any good, think about that number. You are part of something HUGE – something that runs our schools, museums, art institutions, churches, food shelves, homeless shelters, job programs, and many more vital places! If you believe in their mission, make a difference with your time!

What is your favorite place to volunteer? Join the discussion by posting in the comments!

Light it up!

Matthew 5:13-16 – You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Last weekend my family and I packed meals for Feed My Starving Children‘s #LoveSomalia mobile pack event here in the Twin Cities. Our first shift was on Sunday, so of course I came down with a migraine that afternoon. Some prescription meds and a nap later, I called on my faithful prayer warrior friends to pray that I would have “a supernatural burst of health and energy” for the event. God answered our prayers, and a burst of health and energy is exactly what I got! By the time the introduction/training portion of the event was done, I felt great. And as we developed a rhythm on the packing floor (I run a sealer and Jacob is a pro boxing coordinator/table lead. Scott usually helps in the warehouse, but for this event he stayed with the fam and scooped the vitamins and veggies), I was having a lot of fun! Jacob and I had a rhythm going. As I finished sealing a bag, I tested the seal then flipped it into the air, and he would reach out and snatch it up and put it in the right place. (We were very careful. I never threw them high enough to damage a bag if he didn’t catch it, and I tossed them over the sorting table so they didn’t hit the floor. One actually missed the table and landed right in the box!) We laughed, we sang along with the music playing in the arena, and even danced a little (or what passes for “dancing” in our family…) I physically worked to pack meals for about two hours, yet I left with more energy than I had going in! When Scott and I talked about it later, the only way I could explain that energy and why I keep signing up for events like that was to say that it “lights me up.”

Do you know the feeling of being lit up? Maybe you LOVE babies, kids, or teens, and spending time with them gives you that burst. Maybe you’re an actor, musician, comedian, or public speaker, and you feel the thrill of the live audience. Maybe creating artwork, playing a sport, or writing your novel gets you too excited to sleep. I’ll bet that there is something in your life that energizes you in spite of the calories it burns. This is passion. This is what you were put on this earth to do.

That may leave some of you baffled, or even insulted. The first time I heard a sermon on giftings and passion, I was hurt. I remember sitting in church and praying, “God, I make good cookies. What are you going to do with that?” I didn’t see my passion for food as something God could or would use. My “spiritual gifts” test always came out as “helps” which means pitching in where needed. So my passion was food and my gifting was pitching in. I thought that was pathetic. I thought it relegated me to bake sales and funeral lunches. But I wanted to make a difference in the world!

It took time for me to mature and for my interests and giftings to come together into something I could think of as a calling. Now here I am: writing, sometimes raising funds, and volunteering to my heart’s content for the cause of global hunger relief. I believe that when I asked God what He could do with my talent for making cookies, He had a fatherly chuckle and said, “Watch me.” Your talent may seem small, or like something that doesn’t coincide with spreading the gospel or changing the world, but God doesn’t make mistakes. He gave you your gifts and personality because He needed just that you in just the life He gave you. Let your light shine!

My Confession: Off the Wagon

I have a confession to make: I fell off the wagon. No, I’m not becoming an alcoholic. I haven’t even failed at another diet. No, I’ve failed at a different goal. Back in January I made a plan to go through all of 2017 without purchasing any clothing, shoes, or accessories for myself that were not fair trade produced. I thought I could pull it off because I have a bathing suit that fits, and I didn’t need new athletic shoes. Those are typically the hardest things to find fair trade. But I only made it to May.

This week I went looking for a sundress or two for some summer events we have coming up. I found a couple options on Amazon that were made in the USA. Since there is a minimum wage in America and labor laws in place to protect workers, I figured it was safe to buy American. I’m not sure where the fabric was produced, just that the construction was done here, so it was a bit of a compromise.

Then my favorite bra turned on me. There is nothing quite like being stabbed in the heart… There are a few companies making fair trade under things, I’m a big fan of my Pact Organic socks, and I buy their undershirts for my guys, but I haven’t found a company that caters to plus sized people. In fact, everything fair trade is hard to find in plus sizes, but undergarments and swimwear are the worst.

Since I was already making an order, I bought a few other things. That’s how it goes, isn’t it? If I mess up my diet, I eat the whole buffet. If I break my shopping fast, I make it worth paying shipping. I didn’t max out a credit card or anything, but I picked up a bathing suit cover-up and a pair of pajamas along with some underthings.

My husband is turning 40 this summer, and he decided that rather than throw a party, he would like to go on a short trip, just the two of us (as an introvert, this was more his style). So we booked a birthday weekend in Vegas. In August. Yikes. August in the desert… Since I already failed at my goal, I bought a second bathing suit for the trip, and a pair of cute shoes that were really cheap.

I did it. I messed up. I can’t change that (well, I could return some things. But that’s not always an option). But I have to pick myself up and start again. I went four full months without buying anything that wasn’t fair trade. That’s pretty good. I learned some things about need vs. want and making do with what you have, and I practiced saying no to my urge to medicate my feelings with shopping (it’s like eating your feelings, but more expensive…). Because of my commitment, I also learned about some great fair trade companies. There were some wins, for sure. Now I need to dust myself off and start again. It’s never too late to do the right thing. One binge does not make me a bad person. I’ve only failed if I don’t pick myself up and get back on track. (I’m trying to convince myself here. Is it working? I think so.)

I’m always looking for fair trade retailers, especially if they carry hard-to-find items like swimwear, plus sizes, and athletic shoes! Share your favorite fair trade or American-made company in the comments!