Father, thank you for all the goodness of your creation that surrounds us. Please help us see all the beauty in our world.

Thank you for all you do to protect and provide for us, your children. Please be always our leader and King, our advisor and friend.

Help us follow the guidance of your Spirit as we learn to live and grow in peace. Help us help others by giving generously with care and compassion.

Be with us always to show us your ways, and teach us to show others your love. Thank you for the love of your Son who promises eternal life in your presence.

We love you, and we ask you to help us remember how blessed we are to share life in this country.

Amen.

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“What is that supposed to be?”

We stopped before a crooked metal staircase that stretched up into nowhere. The plaque on the base read, “Where We Goin’?” and “Please do not climb on sculptures.” For a moment we contemplated the mysterious meaning of the twisted metal. I snapped a picture, then we moved on.

 

This morning the wind blew gently, stirring the leafy branches of the trees and the waving stalks of grass. The breeze blew mist toward us from the fountain in the center of the lake. Birds called overhead, and a blue heron watched us from where he stood in the water.

This morning I walked with my daughter, around and around the lake on a winding, narrow path. We walked through bright and sunny spots, alternated with shadowed and shady areas. We enjoyed the cool morning air, the warming summer sun, the sounds and scents of trees and water. We contemplated the towering metal sculptures that stood beside the lake’s circling path, and we enjoyed the time we set aside to spend together.

I love these leisurely walks with my family or longer wanderings by myself. A walk allows me to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation, birds and flowers, trees and grass. Walking reminds me to be grateful for the grace of seasonal changes, sky and sun, wind and earth.

A walk clears my head, awakens my thoughts, clears a way for new ideas and inspiration. Walking allows me time to think, consider my purpose, and wonder where my path is taking me.

A walk with someone I care about offers a time for reconnection and conversation, sharing where we’ve been and what we’ve been doing, or just commenting on the world that turns around us.

“Look, there’s a ground squirrel.”

“Where?”

“He’s gone.”

Walking makes me feel alive and grateful for all the world has to offer. A walk encourages me to commune with the God who created that world and gives us the power and freedom of movement to enjoy it.

This morning, I encourage you to take a walk with someone you love. Find a way to step outside and enjoy the brilliance God has given us to share.

For information on the physical and emotional health benefits of walking, click here or here. For tips on beginning a walking program, check here; or for a plan on losing weight by walking, try here.

How can you enjoy a walk on this summer day? What is your favorite aspect of taking a walk outdoors?

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This morning I am giving thanks for all the blessings of my life, and I am considering how I can best use this day.

Today I am thankful for warming summer breezes, blooming flowers, and sheltering trees.

I am thankful for the love of family and the support of friends who share my life.

I am thankful for receiving all I need and possessing an excess to share with others.

I am thankful for the protection of God’s love and the knowledge that he is ever with me.

“Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 118:29).

Today I can pray for someone besides myself and ask God to share his comfort, courage, and peace.

I can meet someone else’s need by sharing what I have and showing my compassion for others’ troubles and cares.

I can leave my comfortable, safe places to meet others in need wherever they may be.

I can encourage my friends with positive words and wishes for their success.

I am thankful for you! Thank you for reading these words and sharing my goal to support and strengthen others.

What are you thankful for today? How can you use this day to comfort and inspire someone in need?

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“I got one!”

The fish splashed, flipping on the end of the line. I pulled him in slowly, through grasping weeds and past jutting rocks, then held him at arm’s length in an awkward photo pose. Tom carefully removed the hook and returned the tiny, spiny sunfish to the water’s edge. The fish quivered a moment in the shallows before disappearing into the depths.

All afternoon we cast and reeled, celebrating when we got a bite, quietly watching the water when nothing stirred. Hours of waiting left me plenty of time to contemplate how fishing is the perfect metaphor for living a life of faith.

Fishing teaches patience. To fish, we stand for long hours beside a dark and mysterious pool, endure lashing rain or blistering sun, all for the chance to capture a prize. Faith requires willingness to wait through times of storm and shadow, all to receive the promise of our future reward.

Fishing requires courage. To fish, we board tiny boats and brave towering waves, knowing monsters lurk beneath the murky depths. Faith requires fortitude to step onto the water and face roaring storms and churning seas, knowing God quiets the tempest, and the wind and waves obey him.

Fishing demands wisdom. When we fish, we have to know which catch is big enough to keep and which must be returned to swim another day. Faith understands there is a time to gather and a time to release; and when life becomes hopelessly tangled in strangling weeds and debris, we may have to cut bait and start again with a different lure.

Fishing builds hope. When we cast that fishing line, we know that some days the big ones get away and we turn for home with an empty bucket, planning to try again tomorrow. Faith believes that we will always catch enough to fill our needs, and when we push off from shore and row to the middle of the stream, the blessings often leap into the boat and land, wriggling, at our feet.

“Simon said to him, ‘Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless, at your word, I will let down the net.’ And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking” (Luke 5:5-6).

When we listen to God’s command, trust, obey, and act in faith, we discover that we capture more good things than we ask or expect. When we cast out and accept the gifts that swim our way, we often find our nets filled to overflowing.

How do you stay patient while living in faith? How do you build courage, wisdom, and hope?

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I collect pitchers from garage sales, flea markets, antique malls, thrift stores. I display them on my kitchen cabinets, bookshelves, and dresser top. I prefer ceramic, but have found specimens in delicate china or glass, sturdy stoneware or enameled metal.

I love pitchers because of their simple, graceful shapes and the concept they symbolize. Pitchers hold and serve all manner of good things: fresh milk or cold water, tart lemonade or sweet tea, cut flowers for display or wooden spoons for stirring soup, collected spare coins or secretly saved dollar bills. Pitchers are always ready, waiting to receive what we give them and spill out what they have to share.

“We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Pitchers remind me that we are all empty vessels waiting to be filled with the blessings God wants to pour into our lives. If we keep open hearts and receptive minds, we will be filled with God’s power and share the good things provided by his Spirit: peace and grace, generosity and forgiveness, joy and acceptance, courage and hope. When we recognize our true purpose, the power of God’s Spirit flows into and through us, only to stream out again and be shared with others.

We come in differing shapes and varying capacities, but we are all designed to receive what God offers and pour out what he gives. God does not intend to keep us displayed on a shelf. He uses us to serve and share his love.

What qualities do you want God to pour into your life? How can you share these gifts with others?

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My friend brought her son, Evan, to my house for a visit when he was two years old.

While his mom and I talked, Evan walked to my refrigerator, opened the door, helped himself to a pear, and started munching.

Evan’s mom seemed embarrassed and scolded him for invading my refrigerator, but I laughed.

“He can have a pear if he wants one,” I said. “I buy them for people to eat. They only go to waste if no one opens the door and enjoys them.”

If a two-year-old helps himself to food in my kitchen, I know he feels safe, comfortable, and welcomed in my home.

“Refrigerator privilege” is the trust we feel when we spend a lot of time with someone and know them well. Like a two-year-old who is unafraid to raid the refrigerator, we feel confident to help ourselves. We trust that we are welcomed, and we are free to accept whatever goodies our host has to offer.

My daughter is married and now has a home of her own, but she is always my child. She will always hold a key to my house and refrigerator privilege to help herself to anything in my kitchen. I want every child to feel he or she is invited to share what I provide.

“Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it” (Mark 10:15).

“Refrigerator privilege” in God’s house is the confidence to ask him for anything we need, the trust that God wants to give us all good things, and the freedom to accept the blessings he makes available to us.

No matter how old we become or how mature in our faith, each of us is always God’s child. We will always hold the keys to God’s heart and the privilege to receive all the gifts he has to offer. God wants us to open the door and sample the flavors of the good life he invites us to share.

God has gifts in store for us, just chilling on the shelf, waiting for us to investigate and help ourselves. All the blessings he offers will only go to waste if we never open the door and see what’s inside.

Who has refrigerator privileges in your home? Do you feel you have free access to the blessings God provides?

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“Abby is giving henna tattoos in the cafeteria after yoga class!”

We moved through tree pose and downward dog, then rolled our mats and hurried to the cafeteria.

The big room echoed with the voices of a few scattered groups sitting around at tables. The dimmed lights made the atmosphere calm and serene while Abby patiently painted brown henna dye onto offered forearms and hands.

For me she designed playful paisleys and sunbursts. My daughter requested a blooming flower surrounded by swirling waves. While Abby worked on my daughter’s design, I chatted with Hank.

My daughter and I had attended this women’s nature retreat together for two years. We hiked in the woods and watched for birds in the treetops, stretched and twisted through yoga class, aimed arrows toward paper targets, roasted marshmallows over the late-night bonfire. Hank, my favorite workshop instructor, had led the birdwatching hikes.

As we talked over tea cups in the cafeteria, Hank told me about his health problems, his wedding anniversary, and the appreciation for family and friends he developed as he grew older.

“Enjoy your life while you can,” he told me. “Enjoy your partner while you can. You never know how much time you have left.”

Abbey finished her work on my daughter’s arm. I thanked Hank and said good-night, left my cup in the kitchen window, and retreated to our cabin for the night.

It occurred to me that I may not return to the nature retreat next fall. I may never sit and chat with Hank again. That evening’s talk in the cafeteria may be the last conversation he and I will share.

In the morning we packed the car and headed home. The henna dye had cracked and crumbled. The dust washed off in that night’s shower. The red markings that remained gradually faded through the next week of washings.

“You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).

Our lives are like henna tattoos, beautiful designs lovingly crafted and carefully painted into place, destined to give temporary joy before fading into memory. Our lives are as beautiful and brief as flowers that fall in the field, clouds that skim across the sky, waves that break and churn upon the shore.

“Enjoy your life while you can. You never know how much time you have left.”

We cannot know how long we have to share with the people who improve our world. All we can do is decide to be grateful and choose to enjoy the special moments and companions while we have them.

Today when we pray, I encourage my friends to give thanks for every moment of our short and amazing existence.

Thank God for every minute we spend with people who encourage and cheer us.  Appreciate conversations shared over teacups, wisdom offered and welcomed, and every chance to speak positive words into someone else’s life.

Thank God for beauty of trees and birds, clouds and sky, made more precious because we know this world around us is constantly changing.

Thank God for opportunities to help others and share, for the privilege of praying for the people we love, and the time we can spend enriching someone else’s experience.

Thank God for the unique abilities he has given to each one of us, for all the talents he entrusts us to invest, and for every cherished gift that blesses our days.

I thank God you are reading today and I pray you will remember that every life is a work of art. We are all merely the creations of God’s generous and loving hands.

What do you have to thank God for today? How can you be grateful and appreciate each beautiful moment of your amazing life?

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