Sand Dollar Wishes

I hate to burst the bubble of those who think following God is a somber affair. But I will. Because I simply love the fact that Father makes me smile and even giggle when He shows up in the middle of my life.

In keeping with the line from the children’s song God Knows About Everything, I continue to be reminded that: “He knows what I think before I think it.”

Walking along the ocean’s shore yesterday, this truth was reinforced in a personal way.  While I love the joy that comes with discovering all manner of shells and sea creatures, by far, my favorite findings are sand dollars. There’s something about their delicate frame that fills me with wonder, and when one breaks open to spill forth the contents of porcelain-like doves hidden within its depths, I’m reminded of the peace that God nestles deep within the core of my spirit.

The first day of vacation, God allowed me to find a solitary dollar hidden in the sand. The second day, another. The third day, there was yet another lying in wait for me. As I rounded the sand bar on the fourth day, I found myself thinking, “Well, God, I’m assuming there’s one out here for me again. Not that I believe You owe me anything. But because You’re my Father, I guess I’ve come to expect that You will bless me with it. I hope that’s okay.”

The words were still processing themselves through my mind when I looked down and saw a white sand dollar lying at my feet. And as if to just outdo Himself, there was another resting nearby. I smiled and gratefully scooped them both into my hands while thinking, “Thanks, God. But You know… the small-sized ones are my favorites.” And once again, on the tail-end of my thoughts, I glanced down to see a small, dainty sand dollar resting in the waves. A few feet ahead, there was another equally small treasure. 

Show-off.

I love when God does things like that. Shows off, I mean. As if to remind me that He is always beyond my expectations. A bit larger than I think He will be in my life. Going further than my tiny desires. Challenging me to trust him bigger. To believe for more. Not in a selfish manner, but in an I-believe-You-are-far-more-capable-than-I-give-You-credit-for manner. All to grow me in my faith and cause me to praise Him for the sheer wonder of His greatness. To thank Him for the joy of His presence in my ordinary moments. To acknowledge that He is much more aware of me than I imagine. Even down to the fact that He knows what I think before I think it.

He knows. And He chooses to meet me in the midst of my desires.

The simple sand dollar wishes of my heart.

I continued my walk with songs of praise cast upon ocean waves, words and melody pouring forth from a heart overwhelmed by the goodness of a God who is not only my Savior, but my Friend. A Father who delights in sharing my thoughts and providing for my childlike fancies, just to prove that He is listening. That he cares about the things which bring joy to my days.

Retracing my steps back along the sand bar, I wasn’t really expecting to find any more sand dollars where my feet had already tread. Or maybe I was. Because I did. Two more treasures nestled in grains of sand beneath the receding tide. And just in case I missed His awareness, Father drew my attention to the dry beach several yards inland where others’ feet had passed mere minutes before my own.

Shining white in the summer sunshine, there was another sand dollar glistening atop the surface. And another.

I could no longer contain my laughter. The giggles bubbled to the surface as I acknowledged Father’s not-so-subtleness. Hidden in plain sight. Making it obvious for these finite eyes to view eternity’s appearance in my temporal surroundings.

I’m thankful for these moments. These times when God is so utterly present. Releasing treasures one after the other, as I scurry to scoop them up as fast as I can.

These moments bring more than just a few seconds of joy. They become memorials erected in the recesses of my mind, tucked away for those times when His hand is not so easily seen.

These sand dollar wishes are not swept away with stormy gales, but become building blocks of faith in the foundation of all I believe. Treasures kept, to be pulled out and cherished when life happens and circumstances are not all sunshine and gentle ocean currents.

It’s almost comical that something so delicate and fragile as a sand dollar can become something so strong and enduring in my life.

But perhaps that’s the miracle of faith itself – when something as fragile as my belief in a God who knows me from the inside-out becomes the bedrock of all that I build my life upon.

A faith that steadies itself in the fanciful sand dollar wishes of my heart.IMG_2865How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand. ~ Psalm 139:17-18a

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Waste or Worship?

The world calls Mary’s expenditure a waste because it carried no returns. Jesus loved her gift precisely because it didn’t. 
(from A Childlike Heart by Alan Wright)

When was the last time you did something totally selfless?

Served another without expectations of receiving anything in return?

It’s alarming how often we have built-in stipulations for doing things. Whether consciously or subconsciously, our motives are often tainted. Even if it is merely with the satisfaction of knowing we served someone without expectations.

What was Mary thinking when she approached Jesus with her jar of expensive perfume? (See John 12: 1-8.) Was she expecting to be rewarded for her lavish outpouring? Was she expecting the criticism that came from the roomful of men seated at the table with the soon-to-be-realized Savior?

Or was there really no expectation at all?

Just a gentle tugging in her spirit which caused her to waste her worship upon Jesus.

For that’s what others accused it of being. A waste. The squandering of perfectly good valuables.

In the eyes of wise money management, Mary’s outpouring was a complete and total failure. Her anointing of Jesus’ feet was akin to throwing a few thousand dollars over the edge of a cliff while surrounded by a crowd of hungry orphans. It just didn’t add up.

But then again, serving others seldom does.

If looking to live by a logical formula of 1 + 2 = 3, Christians are sure to be disappointed. Because God seldom does things according to the equations of man. His ways tend to stretch finite minds to their furthest limits and still leave us wondering how to wrap our thinking around them.

Mary’s gift could be entered as Exhibit A in the “His ways are not my own” trial. As much as I’d like to think I’d be enthralled with such a lavish outpouring of love extended to Jesus, I’m fairly certain I would have sided with Judas, becoming frustrated at what appeared to be an act so wasteful to these natural, earthly eyes.

I would have joined in labeling Mary’s expenditure a waste because it carried no returns.  But Jesus didn’t.

Jesus loved Mary’s gift because it was given without any thought of a return for her investment. Unlike the story of the widow and her sons who were directed to gather empty vessels for a filling from the Lord (2 Kings 4:1-7), Mary was not expecting her jar to be filled again. She simply emptied it at the feet of Jesus, no turning back. No restitution required.

Just the fragrant spilling of love poured freely from a heart overflowing with overwhelming gratitude for who Jesus was.

And the Lord received her act of worship. Not as a waste of treasures, but treasured because she was willing to waste her most valuable possession in worship to her Lord.

Sometimes we are called to places of significant sacrifice.

Sometimes we are prompted to release our greatest treasures into God’s keeping — without any signs of return in the natural realm.

And in those moments, we each have a choice to make.

Will we begrudge the giving of the gift?

Or will we, like Mary, surrender it freely?

Trusting to be received with God’s love and favor, even if all others fail to understand.

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When Your World is Shaking

Last evening I sat down with an old friend… a worn notebook dated 2005. As I perused the pages of this familiar journal, I smiled at the memories these penned words conjured up. I winced at the rawness of some of the entries I had written in brokenness, and I sighed with relief to see the glimpses of growth that have taken place within me with the passing of years.

There are treasures found in memories.

Lessons to be learned.

Praises to be pondered.

Gratefulness to be expressed to the One who has remained faithful and true through all of life’s twists and turns.

Today, I am sharing words from another. Words that I had deemed worthy of being copied into my daily life many years ago. Words that I still find worth in today. Words that are worth repeating for the sake of bringing hope to you, as well. May you be encouraged in reading this excerpt from the life of Peter as he describes his denial of Christ in Larry Huntsperger’s novel The Fisherman:

Each of us constructs our lives on beliefs we accept as unshakable. These beliefs form the great support pillars of our existence, pillars on which everything else is built. We rarely or perhaps never acknowledge their existence in our conscious minds. Yet every choice we make, every word we utter, every goal we hold for the future assumes this certainty.

For me, the greatest of those pillars, the one upon which all the others depended, the one rooted in the deepest core of my being, was the understanding that Simon Barjonah would always ultimately prevail. If I tried hard enough, if I learned from my mistakes, if I regrouped following my failures, I could and I would succeed. This was not simply something I hoped for, it was the foundation of my life.

When Jesus entered my world, He brought massive changes with Him. When I finally submitted to His lordship, He became my reason for being. His goals became my goals. His successes became my successes. His techniques became my techniques. His affirmations became my greatest joys, and His reprimands pierced me deeply. In a word, He became the center of my world.

But even though I had forsaken all and followed Him, the central pillar of my life was still undisturbed. My goals were different. My techniques were different. My reason for living was changed. But the means by which I pursued all of these remained unaltered. Whereas once my determination, my strength, my wit, my charisma, indeed, all my fleshly attributes had been focused on becoming Simon the great fisherman, through Jesus all those fleshly attributes had been refocused on becoming Simon the great disciple.

Then, in one terrifying instant, at the very moment when He knew all my weight rested upon it, Jesus reached His almighty arms around that pillar and wrenched it out from under me, and everything that rested upon it came crashing down. Now there was only the shattered ruins of my existence surrounding a cold, black, gaping chasm where once my pillar had been.

If you have ever been there, you will understand. It wasn’t just that I had failed. Failure I understand. Failure was simply a call to try harder and reach higher. This was not failure; this was death. The foundation of my life had collapsed, and now my spirit wandered aimlessly through the piles of rubble, through the broken bricks and crumpled mortar, listening to the wind whistling through the ruins of my life…

Perhaps you are in the same position today as Peter found himself when the true knowledge of Christ collided with the flesh of Simon. Jolted and undermined. Shaken and found weak.

Sifted and found wanting.

What are we to do when all that we have rested our lives upon has been shaken?

Rebuild.

But not in our own strength.

Not according to our flesh.

If you are in a place where it seems as if the very foundations of your faith are being rattled to the core, then I invite you to invite the Rock of salvation to come to your rescue.

Those pillars upon which you have rested for so long are not strong enough to withstand this storm. Indeed, they were never meant to.

So let them tumble, dear one. And with the crumbling of all those hollow pillars that you thought were holding you firmly, you will find the truth.

Those pillars of self-reliance have no strength.

But the Cornerstone called Christ is powerful enough to uphold all things.

If the very foundations of the world can rest upon His shoulders, how much more can the  foundations of one hurting child who is floundering in her faith rest in His care?

Remember, dear friend, when your world is shaking… the pillars of heaven stand.

And they will continue to do so throughout all eternity.

Now that’s a foundation worth building upon.

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Small Blessings That Aren’t

My kitchen windowsill is filled with treasures from the beach. There is a conglomeration of seashells, sand dollars, driftwood, sand, and even a sea star gracing my view every time I wash the dishes. All are a reminder of special times of refreshing alongside a coastal shore. And wistful dreams of returning again… hopefully, soon.

Today while washing dishes, my gaze came to rest upon a tiny sand dollar nestled among this myriad of seaside riches, and my thoughts turned toward the day I found it. That day was shared with a special friend, one who was brave enough to face a very chilly and windy walk along a February beach just so we could spend time together. As we walked, my friend Heidi chanced upon a tiny sand dollar hugging the shore. A few minutes later, I had the pleasure of finding an equally delicate sand dollar laid out before me. This tiny treasure was toted home and placed among my daily reminders of life at the beach. (Which is very much needed in what is often a cold winter season in Ohio.)

In noticing this sand dollar today, my thoughts and prayers quickly turned to my friend. I smiled in fond remembrance of our breezy walk and thanked God for tucking special treasures along the shoreline of my life. Heidi is one of those treasures. We only see each other once a year, but she is more frequently in my thoughts. And although I’ve yet to learn her entire life story, I enjoy sharing the bits and pieces of it when we have the rare pleasure of being together. She and her husband have servants’ hearts and a love for missions that drew us to them the first time we chanced to enter the church where Mark serves as pastor. Now one of the highlights of our yearly trip to the beach is worshiping together during a Sunday morning service, then gathering at the beach house for a meal and warm conversation.

Small blessings.

We’ve all experienced them.

People whom God joins to us in the most unexpected ways. In the most unexpected places. Just to remind us of His love.

And as I ponder the small blessings of this life, I realize that small blessings are really not very small at all. Often, they grow into something much larger than we originally anticipate.

Small blessings come and go, just like the ocean’s tide, but the marks they leave behind are noticeable and needed.

Small blessings keep things in balance as they remind us of a faithful Father who notices the details of our lives and delights in showering gifts upon us… just because.

Small blessings stem from an introduction and grow into a friendship that bridges time and distance, connecting us spiritually even though we may live miles apart.

Small blessings are found in the presence of a faithful friend whom you may not see for months at a time but know you can call at the drop of a hat for prayer and support.

Small blessings.

The very term is an oxymoron. Because when I think of all the many blessings with which my life has been graced, day after day, year after year, I realize that the only blessings I have received are BIG blessings. It’s just that often what is really too small is my perspective. Maybe yours is, too.

I encourage you to take a moment and set your gaze on the things that are before you – your health, your job, your family, your home, the meal you ate this morning, the bed in which you rested last night – all those seemingly little things we often take for granted.

To someone, the things you have are BIG blessings.

I hope that someone is you.

And if you’re feeling yourself still longing for blessings, keep your eyes open and your face to the wind, even when it’s blowing full force against you. Just like my precious sand dollar, there are treasures lying in wait to be discovered. Uncover them, beloved. Then carry them with you as a reminder of God’s grace and presence surrounding you always.

And remember… there’s no such thing as small blessings.

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Spanky and the Sand Pail

I couldn’t help but notice him as I walked along the ocean’s edge. After all, it’s not often you see a man in his mid-fifties strolling through the surf while carrying a lime-green sand pail. Mind you, no small children were in sight; just a portly adult with graying hair that formed a fringe of a halo around his head. With bucket in hand, he scoured the shallow tides, bending every so often to examine a shell before adding it to the contents of his lime-green pail.

The sight of him made me smile as I walked past. What a precious, albeit, unusual sight. Oblivious to the other beachcombers, he continued intently on his way. Searching, bending, gathering. Collecting the treasured shells scattered so liberally across the sands. As I walked a bit beyond his position, I chuckled to myself as I wondered if he had any idea of how perfectly childlike he looked. A grown-up version of Little Rascal’s Spanky had hit the beach and was headed on an adventure. I couldn’t help but envision his goal to be that of discovering some amazing find to brag about with his pals. (I’ll bet he could barely wait to share at the next meeting of the He-Man Woman Haters Club.)

Rather unexpectedly, my chuckle turned into a choking sob as my thoughts cried out, “Oh God, help me to live with a lime-green bucket in my hand! I never want to outgrow the joy of finding treasures in the sand. Instead, I want always to be looking for the lovely things so I can brag about You to my pals.”

That’s right; forget the adult world’s form of the Bucket List. In fact, that has always been somewhat of a pet peeve of mine – to have a goal that stems from Before I die…  Instead, I want my life to spring from While I yet live…

So give me a lime-green sand pail and turn me loose! Loose to live with a freedom that dashes through the waves, laughing at the top of my lungs with the sheer delight that comes in being surrounded by so many treasures. Treasures in the here and now of homeschooling, grading papers, editing articles, planning meals, cleaning the toilet… Give me the courage to live like a child – carefree, unhindered by adult expectations or obligations. Give me a lime-green bucket and let me fill it to the brim again and again as I search and gather the beauty You invite me to collect each day. And always, always help me find reason to brag about You to others.