Enjoying God, the Artist

I’m in Yosemite National Park this week. Or church, as I like to call it.

Yosemite Valley – Photo by Tami Romani

Isn’t it amazing how we feel closer to God when we are in His majestic creation? I hear this a lot from my friends, “being at the ocean is so calming to me,” and “when I’m in the mountains I feel like I’m being restored” – these are common themes in conversations lately. A friend told me the other day, “The reason people feel closest to God in nature is because nature is not trying to be anything other than what God created it to be.”

God’s creation isn’t trying to show off. It doesn’t need to. God created it to be what it is – an expression of His handiwork. We could learn a lot from God’s beautiful creation.

In his hand are the depths of the earth,
    and the mountain peaks belong to him.
 The sea is his, for he made it,
    and his hands formed the dry land.

Psalm 95:4-5

My yearly pilgrimage to Yosemite has become a necessity. It fills me up & gets me ready to tackle the rest of the year. The serenity of a bike ride whenever I want, the reading a book just because, the laughing and lingering with friends over a morning cup of coffee without a meeting to rush off to… these are the things that make being in this place extra special.

Yosemite Bike Path - Photo by Tami Romani

Yosemite Bike Path – Photo by Tami Romani

Not only is it wonderful to be away from the busyness of life sometimes, there’s an awe that takes over when I’m in such a place. I’m reminded that in the mundane of my life, there is majesty all around if I take the time to experience it. I believe it’s no accident there is very limited cell phone service and excruciatingly slow internet in the few places you can pick up a signal here. This place is meant for unplugging. And if you won’t do it on your own, it’s kind of forced upon you. It’s a good kind of coercion. For if I don’t worship Him in the midst of His glorious artwork, the rocks will surely cry out.

Yosemite Falls - Photo by Tami Romani

Yosemite Falls – Photo by Tami Romani

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
    let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
    let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.

Psalm 96:11-12

But you don’t have to trek to your nearest National Park to find this kind of peace. Sit outside during your next lunch break and listen to the birds sing their melody. When the sun begins to set, turn off your electronics and watch the miracle of the dance as the light fades from the sky.

What Yosemite reminds me of every year, is the importance of being in God’s presence in the moment. It’s kind of a shame that I need this reminder, but I am so very grateful it’s there.

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Give Voice to Change

I love springtime. It brings the promise of new life and change. At any given moment, the new songs of birds and vibrant colors of budding flowers saturate the senses. I was granted life in springtime, which may be why I love it so much.

Seasons come and go in life. Like the coming of spring, a new season has been brewing in me for awhile now and just when I’m reaching the age when many women slow down, I’m feeling a desire to ramp things up.

Life. Isn’t it funny? Change is inevitable, and we can either embrace it, or fight it. We can grow with it, or stunt our growth by kicking and screaming our way to oblivion. Okay, that might be a bit dramatic. Think about it, though… don’t you know that person who just wants to quit on life? To just sit and vegetate for the rest of his or her days? I do.

But that’s not me. And if you’re reading this, I suspect that’s not you either.

We know we need to change and grow. It’s a strong desire we think about. A lot. What I’ve found though, is a chasm of disconnect between the knowing and the doing. I know I need to lose a few pounds. I know I need to organize my life. I know I need to allow for some down time to relax and recharge. But do I DO it? Nope. Not whole-heartedly, anyway.

It’s nice to think about changing myself. I envision what it would be like to be my ideal (for me) weight and shop for clothes without disgust. I think about how efficient I would be if my office was tidy. I love the idea of how much my mind would be cleared if I got rid of some of the clutter in my home. I fantasize about taking a day off to play with my grandson without feeling like I have a ton of things that need to be accomplished.

A month later, I’m still thinking. There is no doing. And in all of this thinking and not doing, I’ve learned something very important: I have to speak the change I want to happen. It must have a voice. Thinking about it to myself gets me absolutely nowhere. Goals and visions for my future must be written down and spoken to allow for my  brain to actually get it, and begin moving towards the changes I seek. I need to speak to Jesus about all of it, and ask him for direction.

Jesus said, “The thief enters only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.” (John 10:10)

Maybe your life is busy but not full. Does that make sense? Jesus promised a full life. Actually, He promised the fullest life, but we so often choose to just think about it and not take the action he requires for that to happen.

Okay, so let’s make a deal: I’m in if you are. I turned 57 years old yesterday and I’ve got big dreams and plans that I believe have been planted in me by God himself. We’re talking BIG, setting captives free kind of dreams. Even so, nothing will happen unless I take the leap of giving a voice to those things that must change in order to reach those dreams. I’d like a fuller life, but there’s some stuff in the way. How about we work together on voicing change to a fuller life?

That sounds pretty good.

I just had a birthday and it’s time for a change. I’m giving it a voice. You can follow along on my personal blog, Voicing Change. Let’s do this!

voicing change - 1200x900

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The Choice

There’s something about waiting for an appliance repairman to show up that has me feeling captive. I spent the better part of the day today wondering exactly when during the 10am to 2pm window he would arrive. He finally called at 1:55 informing me he’d be there in about a half hour. Oh well. Day lost. Or was it?

Usually, I spend this time frustrated that I can’t leave the house, or trying not to start something big because I may have to run to answer the door. There was plenty to do. Laundry & the ever present tidying up beckoned for my attention. But today I heard a still, small voice inviting me to quiet myself and spend the time in Bible study and prayer. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I struggle with calming myself long enough to hear from God. With 3 business ventures to pursue, I am BUSY. But you know what? Today was different. Today was good. So good.

“Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord.” Psalm 89:15

It’s so easy to forget that God longs to spend time with us. There’s nothing he’d love more than to have us seek his presence in our lives. In this journey towards more intimacy with God, I’m learning that sometimes he boldly provides that time and waits to see if we will use it to pursue a deeper relationship with him. It’s still our choice.

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Colossians 4:2

Today, I had a few hours of what could have been limbo, but instead I made the choice for spending time with Jesus & the rest of my day has gone well. There’s a peace in knowing God is in control and he’s got my back. A cup of coffee, a good Bible study book and some quiet time while chatting about the future and handing over the reigns for my business and family needs is so refreshing.

I highly recommend it.

Books and a coffee cup on a wooden table

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Where’s Your War Room?

I’ve been doing it wrong.

Prayer, I mean.

Don’t misunderstand. I pray. Life’s bumps and bruises have taught me to pray without ceasing at times, that’s for sure. There’s a place for whispering prayers constantly as you go through your day. But I had neglected to remember there’s more. So much more.

In her book, Fervent, Priscilla Shirer explains, “If all we’re doing is flinging words and emotions in all directions without any real consideration for the specific ways the enemy is targeting us and the promises of God that apply to us, we’re mostly just wasting our time.”

Ouch.

She continues, “Prayer is the portal that brings the power of heaven down to earth. It is kryptonite to the enemy and to all his ploys against you.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had some ploys aimed against me lately. Big ones. I found myself feeling the need to pray harder, but not really knowing HOW. Then I was at a Propel Women conference and heard some talk about a movie called War Room. Huh. It stayed at the back of my mind until I noticed it was playing at a local theater recently. And I did something I’ve never done: I took myself to the movies. Alone. On a Tuesday afternoon.

I went with an open mind and a willing heart. And God met me there. He used a movie to teach me an important lesson: big needs require big prayer, and big prayer requires intentional strategy. I grew up in the church and I’ve never heard this concept presented in this way before, with detailed specifics and ideas. We are doing battle with unseen forces. Powerful forces, yes. But they are defeatable forces… if we are smart about it.

 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12 NKJV

Photo credit: David Whitlow, courtesy of AFFIRM Films/Provident Films

Photo credit: David Whitlow, courtesy of AFFIRM Films/Provident Films

We are often blindsided by this kind of opponent. We just don’t see the attack coming. And when we are in the midst of the battle, too often we just fling little prayer arrows here and there in a feeble attempt to get some traction and keep the enemy at bay. It’s what I did.

I was doing it wrong.

When I picked up that copy of Fervent by Priscilla Shirer, the subtitle made me steel in anticipation: “A Woman’s Battle Plan for Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer.” I’m studying. I’m preparing for battle.

The enemy better watch his back. I’m coming for him.

(Guys, don’t take this the wrong way, but sometimes a woman needs specifics about how to pray for our unique situations… you should check out The Battle Plan for Prayer: From Basic Training to Targeted Strategies by Stephen and Alex Kendrick, producers of the War Room movie.)

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Walking in FREEDOM

So much talk about Freedom lately. Some of it hotly debated to the point of exhaustion. I’m not talking about freedom of this or that, so I’ll not get into that today. I’m talking about true personal over the top joyful FREEDOM. The kind that oozes from your pores. The kind that makes people want to be near you.

How can a prison inmate experience true freedom?

How can persecuted Christians around the world live in the freedom and joy when they know their very lives might be taken from them at any moment?

“They triumphed over him
    by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
    as to shrink from death.” Revelation 12:11

This type of freedom is indeed a mystery for those of us who carry so many offenses and past abuse and pain around that we don’t allow ourselves to experience the true freedom Jesus paid for on the cross. We know it’s there, but it’s not so easy to actually live in that freedom. Jesus has set us free, but we don’t live like it.

Before we can talk about freedom, we need to talk about bondage. Before we can talk about bondage, we need to know what that bondage is.

Let me just plant some food for thought for you to ponder over the next few days…

True freedom only comes from knowing what your bondage is… if Satan is going to keep you from your purpose, what’s he going to use? Here’s a hint: when looking for things that bind you, start by looking at the things that you LIKE. The things that distract you. Then move on to the nitty gritty life-sucking events like chronic illness and circumstances. ALL of these things can bind your hands and feet and keep you from walking into your purpose.

Ask God to reveal to you those things that keep you in bondage. He will do it.

Then, apply the Blood of the Lamb and KNOW you have been set free! This is what Jesus gave his life for! The ability to walk in your purpose and calling, to change lives, to set the captives free!

The part about setting others free is a sticky one for some, for it involves telling your story. Do it. Tell your story. There is someone who needs to hear it.

They triumphed over him
    by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony; (Revelation 12:11)

When I was a kid, we used to have testimony services where people would stand up and share what God was doing in their lives. I was just a little girl, but oh how I loved those times. I’d hear over and over again about the faithfulness of God to his people.

At my church recently, the pastor took time at the end of service for testimonies, so that we might “overcome by the blood of the lamb and the power of our testimonies.” He asked people to share by saying “God has set me free from ____________” or “God is setting me free from ______________.” Here’s what we heard:

God has/is setting me free from: suicide – porn – anxiety – depression – stressful job – self reliance – fear – shame of abortion – loving money – drugs – violence – abuse – cancer – my ideals – pursuit of perfection – fear – need to be in control – self doubt – fear of lack of finances – feeling responsible for being raped – debt – obesity & overeating – loneliness – lack of trust – abusive past – PTSD – hatred of myself – substance abuse – bipolar disorder – rage & hatred

As each person stood up to take the microphone, something began to happen. The Holy Spirit was inhabiting those testimonies with great power! People were moved to tears. Hope was restored to those who were experiencing the same bondage. God used the stories of the broken and began a miracle in the hearts of hundreds of people by bringing them HOPE.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay, jill111

Photo courtesy of Pixabay, jill111

Want freedom? The kind that makes you ooze with joy? Get to that place by dealing with the accuser and then exposing his lies. You don’t have to speak it to a crowd of people, but share your story with someone. God is in the business of deliverance. Your deliverance may have been delayed, but it has not been denied.

May our chains all be broken, in the name of Jesus. There is power in the Name of Jesus.

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I’m Offended. You’re Offended. Let’s All Be Offended Together!

I'm offended

Everyone’s offended. All. The. Time.

It seems that way, doesn’t it?

Sometimes, there’s a great reason. A true offense has taken place that must be faced head on and reconciled.

Sometimes. But most times it feels like our politics, religion and choice of coffee have to match each other, or we take offense.

I cannot deal with this. Literally. Can NOT. I shake my head when people comment about this or that terrible difference in someone else. I shudder at comments on social media by those who act like it’s perfectly okay to tell someone what they’ve said on their personal account is wrong. Their personal account. Personal, as in, it belongs to them. “I know this is YOUR Facebook post and all, but what you’ve said here is stupid and it really offends me, and I think you should not think this way or be this way or have this opinion because it’s stupid and you’re stupid. But hey, we can still be friends, right?”

Don’t believe me? Just tonight this popped up as I scrolled through Facebook:

“My friends,
I can see the things you like or comment on.
When I see you liking racist posts, gun nut posts, anti-LGBT posts, sexist posts, pro-right wing religious impingement, I will unfriend you.
No discussion, no bickering. Done. Simple.
I have zero tolerance for bigotry and
uneducated, fear based views.
I wish you all a beautiful evening.”

Ouch. I’m guessing we won’t be “friends” for long. Who could possibly live up to not offending this person?

The more I see people being offended at every little thing, or giving me the cold shoulder because I said something the wrong way, the more I worry about the future of our culture. Sadly, we Christians are not immune to this. As Christians, we are to bring light to the world. But how can we, if all we ever do is complain that everyone else is doing it wrong?

The world will be offended by us. That’s just the way things are. But we are called to more.  

The way I see it, offense is the enemy’s trick to render us ineffective in business and in ministry. In life, really.

When we hang on to all those times someone has hurt us, intentionally or not, we are trapped in a dark den of feeling sorry for ourselves, unable to release love into the world. And that, my friend, will be the beginning of the darkest days our planet will ever see.

“And then many will be offended, and will betray one another, and will hate one another.”   Matthew 24:10

Let me be blunt: being offended is a daily happening.  Staying offended is a choice, and a dangerous choice.

In his book, The Bait of Satan, John Bevere points out, “Anyone who has trapped animals knows a trap needs one of two things to be successful. It must be hidden, in the hope that an animal will stumble upon it, and it must be baited to lure the animal into the trap’s deadly jaws.” He goes on to say, “One of (Satan’s) most deceptive and insidious kinds of bait is something every Christian has encountered – offense. Actually, offense itself is not deadly – if it stays in the trap. But if we pick it up and consume it and feed on it in our hearts, then we have become offended. Offended people produce much fruit, such as hurt, anger, outrage, jealousy, resentment, strife, bitterness, hatred and envy.” I would even add depression to this list.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; against such there is no law.”   Galations 5:22-23

My mother, Gladys, was all kinds of awesome. I learned first hand from watching her how to be unoffendable. We had a family friend who was a gruff and grumpy old guy, who filled the air with swear words and cigarette smoke whenever we were with him. Although it may have made her cringe inside and she could’ve said, “not in front of my daughter, please…” or berated him about how he wasn’t behaving the way a former Bible college student should, she never said a word. She just loved him. Consequently, she was the only preacher he ever darkened the doors of a church to hear.

I watched her befriend the local teenagers in the 1970’s and instead of condemning them for their pothead behavior or the way they dressed, she created a coffee house called The Turning Point – a place for them to hang out on the weekends and hear some music, and just maybe learn something about love and Jesus while they were there. While other preachers of the day were busy being offended by these kids and condemning them to hell, my mom was planting seeds of love into their lives.

“Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.”  Romans 14:13

Let me be clear: I am not some superhuman who doesn’t feel the sting when a friend neglects to invite me to a fun event, or when I am brushed off as not being important when I feel like I have some really great news to share. When I see blatant blasphemy in socialmedialand I know it must hurt God’s heart even more than it hurts mine. Ouch. But I truly have learned and chosen that the best way to deal with offenses of all kinds is to let them go. I still need lots of work on this, but fortunately today’s culture of offense gives me plenty of practice!

When our outward appearance belies the torment inside, it’s a good time to seek out some healing for the wound hanging onto an offense can cause. An offense that is coddled starts like a little scratch that gets infected and is allowed to grow. Soon, that scratch becomes a festering wound, taking up all your time and energy to try and fix it, but now it’s gotten out of control, and may even land you in the hospital; far greater consequences can occur, even to the point of losing a limb or death. (Truth. Believe me, my best friend is an ER nurse and I’ve heard all the stories…) So, just as you wouldn’t want to hold on to an infected wound, don’t hold on to that little scratch of a hurt feeling. It will grow into a festering wound.

Grace is the salve that heals the wound. Let’s spread a little more of it around, shall we? GRACE.

 

From Tami: I have learned that holding on to an offense can wound us deep in our soul and keep us from doing the work God has set aside for us to do. If you’d like to dive deeper into this concept of becoming unoffendable, I invite you to check out these resources: 

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Is It Well With Your Soul?

“It is well with my soul.”

It was what I heard as I awoke this morning. I had listened to this song a few times yesterday, and now it was embedded in my soul and mind.

Funny, when I went to bed, I didn’t feel like all was well with my soul. I had let myself get lost in the tension of the unknown. The stress of family members struggling. The loss of three dear ones in the last month, with another sweet friend in the last days of her cancer battle. I was tormented by the suffering of my loved ones.

All is certainly not well.

As I shared some of my angst with a friend last night, she told me God has been teaching her to just sit with him in the midst of her circumstances.

What would that be like, I wondered? Sit with Jesus in my circumstances. Just BE.

There is a strange comfort in knowing I must let go. If I believe God is in control, why do I feel like I have to take care of the details? As I let my mind slip away into his presence, He speaks softly to me, reminding me that His ways are not my ways; reminding me that He is GOOD, that every story He is crafting is His story to write, not mine.

Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on You.

Through it all, through it all, it is well.

It is well with my soul.

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We Don’t Mourn Like the World Does

Two funerals in two weeks.

My cousin Kyle was in his 40’s, he battled cancer for years.

My aunt Darlene was in her 80’s, God took her suddenly one night in her home.

Both were believers. Both were instantly transported into the presence of Jesus, and welcomed with love by family and friends who’d gone before them.

So where does that leave us?

Shocked, yes. Lonely, perhaps. Sorrowful for our loss, for sure. But what has been evident to me is the fact that we Christians truly don’t mourn like the rest of the world mourns. We remember their lives with joyful celebration. We miss them, and feel the pain of this loss, but we have hope that we will see them again in eternity.

We grieve, but not in the same way as those who have no HOPE.

It’s perfectly normal to have a sadness about a loved one’s death, and to feel the emptiness of their absence, but interspersed with the sorrow and tears are memories that bring us to laughter. We’ve heard the comments, “How can you be happy right now?” or “Why is she laughing today?”

We grieve, but not in the same way as those who have no HOPE.

It’s hard to explain. Lest you think I’m callous about death – let’s be honest, death is not pretty. There’s nothing fun about it. These dear ones will be terribly missed, and it is painful.

Photo: pixabay.com/geralt

Photo: pixabay.com ~ user: geralt

But I’ve been to the memorial services laced with despair, and I’ve been to the ones rejoicing in hope. I’ll always choose the latter. In fact, my wish when I have been snatched away into eternity is that you all get together and have a PARTY in my honor. A BIG one. Celebrate for me. Rejoice in my good fortune. And then make sure you’re ready when your time comes.

I promise to greet you at the gate with Kyle and Darlene.

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” 1Thessalonians 4:13 (NIV)

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Unlock God’s Blessing

I’m notoriously unorganized. Something I’m always working on to correct, to be sure. To reign in the random pieces of paper floating around the house, I’ve found taking a small journal with me to church or various meetings for note taking has been a good thing. A very good thing.

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Recently I was thumbing through my sermon notes journal. For the past several months, I’ve written sentences like

Obedience always unlocks God’s blessing!

When we are broken we are the most available and the most effective.

WE are God’s delivery system.

God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

You don’t have to earn it. You don’t have to beg for it. You have to trust ME.

Be unleashed to live out God’s glory in your life.

He lavishes grace on us to overflowing, let it spill over to everyone around you.

Come to the end of yourself.

The pattern of these truths is not lost on me. Different preachers. Similar ideas. One calling.

So now what? When God is knocking gently at your heart to take that next step of faith, what would you do?

If you’re like me, you overthink it. You analyze it. You question it. And in doing so, you shrink back from what God is asking of you because

It’s too big.

I’m not qualified.

I’m afraid. 

Is this really you, God?

I don’t know how to accomplish this.

But God is not asking you to see the big picture. He’s asking you to simply take that next step with him. The one you can see. The one that makes sense. The one that takes you on a wildly exciting adventure with him.

One day at a time.

Are you game? He’s waiting.

“Oh, how great is your goodness to those who publicly declare that you will rescue them. For you have stored up great blessings for those who trust and reverence you.”             Psalm 31:19

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Present over Perfect

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Christmas is less than a week away. Are you ready?

I hear this almost daily. And the truth is, I’m not ready. Gifts are not all purchased, cards are not addressed, and cookies are not baked.

And I’m okay with that.

It’s been coming on for a while, I suppose. At Thanksgiving, I amazed myself by using disposable plates so we would have more family time instead of doing dishes. Nikki had just returned the night before from 11 months of ministry on The World Race & I didn’t want to miss a minute with her. The difference did not go unnoticed. We ALL were relaxed and enjoying each other’s company. I chose to be present with the family over having a perfect table. Present over perfect.

As the days fly by, choose to be present over perfect this holiday season. For some of us, that is extra difficult. We want to appear perfect at this festive time – the perfectly trimmed tree, beautiful greeting cards and lovely decorations…. when in reality, that often just produces days filled with empty busy-ness and neglected families.

We are so caught up in the appearance of a happy holiday, we forget what it means to be present.

We believe the lies that

1) EVERYTHING is important. (Truth: You get to dictate what’s important.)

2) My possessions are adding value. (Truth: most likely, your possessions weigh you down.)

3) If I’m busy, I’m important. (Truth: If you’re busy, you’re making yourself unavailable.)

4) Achievements will bring me fulfillment. (Truth: God has already spoken fulfillment over you.)

5) I don’t have a choice. (Truth: It’s OK to say NO.)

6) I am needed. (Truth: The situation will be just fine without you.)

7) Quietness is laziness. (Truth: Quietness is necessary.)

Yes, Christmas is 4 days away. And I’m not ready.

As I write this, I’m sitting with a loved one in the hospital. Present over perfect.

My Christmas cards will most likely be mailed on December 26th (or later), because I want to enjoy my family to the fullest. Present over perfect.

Not a single gift is wrapped and under the tree. This will surely be a gift card year. Present over perfect.

Let go of your need to be perfect & see how it frees you. You may cringe a little (I know I have), but you will not regret being Present over appearing Perfect.

And it will be okay.

(7 lies introduced by Joshua Becker of the Becoming Minimalist blog, as told to me by an attendee of Storyline Conference 2014 Chicago)

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