The crowd pressed around the little table, everyone nudging, leaning, and reaching. The organizers of this event had wrapped dozens of donated books in plain brown paper and labeled them with short descriptions of the stories concealed inside: “Shirtless men with swords,” “Rich people problems $,” “Rare eye disease vs. power of love.” I selected “For when you have to flee the city due to the zombie apocalypse,” and escaped the mob.

We chose our books based on the scantily-worded descriptions, not knowing what we had gotten until we slipped away and peeled off the paper to reveal the history, mystery, or fantasy concealed inside. With only a few clues, we made a decision and trusted we would enjoy the story that ended up in our hands.

So many times in our lives we make choices based on a few scarcely-revealed details: “Romantic marriage proposal,” “Exciting career opportunity,” “A stranger needs our help.” We have to choose a path and trust that our decisions will lead us to a happy ending.

We cannot know how our story ends until we open the package and uncover the story beneath. Faith means facing the unknown with trust and excitement instead of fear and uncertainty about the future. It is receiving what we’re given with the belief that God always knows the outcome, and he will place the right volume into our hands.

In the car I opened my “zombie apocalypse” package and found Scott and Helen Nearing’s The Good Life, the true story of a couple who left New York during the Great Depression and moved to a farm in Vermont. The Nearings dug their gardens and built their stone house by hand. They didn’t know what to expect when they left the city, but their books tells the story of the great future they found.

And it reminds me that sometimes we come to the table expecting an apocalypse and discover the good life instead.

What surprise are you unwrapping today? How do you feel about the story that awaits you?

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My daughter and I created our own “On the Edge” masterpieces at one of those “paint your own” places, where a young instructor in paint-spattered sneakers patiently prompted us through the steps. I dried the surface with a hairdryer, then carefully carried the canvas home and hung it on my office wall. It reminds me that when darkness looms and storm winds blow, God remains unmoved. It is by faith that we cling to him and his promises.

When tempests howl and threaten to throw us down from our foundations, there are a few things we can do to stand strong on our faith in God.

Pray. Sometimes it is difficult to praise God in the midst of our troubles, but the Bible says we should thank God for our challenges because hard times increase our strength. Trials produce patience and prepare us for greater work to come.

“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thessalonians 5:18).

Help others. When it seems hardest for us to move forward, it is time to reach out and lift up another person who is struggling. When we know we have people counting on our help, we are given new purpose and reason to forge ahead.

“Through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).

Trust God. When we feel burdened with worry and uncertainty, we can know that God holds every outcome in his hands. We can choose to believe that everything happens for a reason and every circumstance offers us a lesson to be learned.

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Believe we are loved. Despite the concerns and struggles of our lives, God’s word declares his unending love and compassion for all people. No matter the depth of the problems we face, we know we cannot be separated from the love of God.

“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8:38-39).

Throughout the storms that batter our lives; through death, divorce, disaster, or crushing disappointment; through every time and season of tempest or turmoil, God is ever-present. His love is always promised, and his faithfulness never fails.

Today I pray you hold tightly to the faith that holds us in return.

What helps you hold onto your faith in God? How do you know you have a firm foundation in him?

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Today I pray that you greet each changing season of your life with grace and hope for the future.

May you know that God is with you through warm and sunny days or dark and chilly nights.

May you always reveal your best and brightest colors.

May you feel the comfort and warmth of God’s presence and the support of people you love.

This autumn season, I pray that you move forward into a rich and rewarding time of fulfillment and joy.

What are your prayers for this fall? How do you display your colors to the world?

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The automatic doors whooshed open, and we walked inside the glass dome. The air felt heavy and humid. Voices hushed and murmured. Despite the general peace and quiet under the sparkling dome, the botanical garden had much to teach about the colorful abundance and orderly chaos of life.

Reach for the light. The flowers in the garden turn their blooms toward the sun and rise slowly upward from the ground. The trees are always striving from the darkness of the earth toward the brightness of the sky. In life, we grow when we look up. We have to keep stretching skyward, always reaching toward a better life and a brighter atmosphere.  

Have deep roots. Tall trees and shrubs spread their root systems downward to hold them firmly in place. The taller the tree reaches, the farther its roots spread beneath, and the stronger the trunk will stand. The values we practice and the beliefs we hold will secure us firmly when storms rage and winds blow. The higher we want to go, the stronger and deeper our foundations need to be.

Hold on to what you love. Vines entwine great tree trunks and climb forever upwards with their support. Their clinging branches need something to support them as they seek for higher ground. We all need others to hold us up and help us reach our highest purpose. When we find the causes and people that give our lives meaning, we need to wrap them tight and hold them close.

But know when to let go. The earth turns, the air cools, and trees lose their once-green leaves. Seasons of growth and change are part of the natural progression of life. We need to recognize when old situations or relationships are no longer helping us learn. Sometimes we will have to release what we once had and move on to a new season of growth.

Be colorful. Each leaf in the botanical garden is different. Every bloom is a carefully crafted original of beauty and design. Each person is made to fulfill a different purpose within God’s vast creation. Every one of us can find her perfect place and perform her unique contribution.

The doors whooshed shut behind us when we left the garden. The trees continued reaching, flowers went on blooming without our interference. Life moves on without our constant direction or control. The earth turns at God’s command, and we can be comforted that all is safe within his hands.

 

How do you recognize the abundance of life surrounding you? Where do you go to remember the perfection of God’s creation?

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Sometimes life stinks. At the Fair, animal barns flank the entry gates. As we enter the gate, my companion always comments about the smell of the barns, as if complaining will change the situation. Life is often messy and offensive, and complaining doesn’t improve it. If we stay home because we can’t handle the occasional stench, we miss out on the fun things life has to offer.

Look for the sweet stuff. At the Fair, food stands line the walkways. Hungry people stand in line to sample decadent treats like bacon-wrapped corn dogs, deep fried donuts, ice cream, waffles, or cookie dough on a stick. Life presents us with an endless array of blessings that make it delicious.  Sometimes we should accept, be grateful, and enjoy the good things life has to offer.

Be patient. A day at the Fair requires standing in line. While we wait for the bus from the parking lot, for our ticket at the gate, for iced tea or lemonade at the food stand; all we can do is accept where we are and be patient for the line to move. Much of life involves waiting for the right time, the right circumstances, the right conditions to propel us forward. When we are forced to wait, we can use that time to learn what we need and practice patience for the change that will arrive soon.

It is OK to rest. Walking all day through Fair crowds and summer sun can make us tired and irritable. Sometimes we need to buy a lemonade, claim a bench in the shade, and watch the crowds pass for a while. In life, we need to know when to step back, take a break, and regroup while we watch the world go on without us. We will know when it’s time to jump back into the flow and move on again.

Wear good shoes. Fairgoers walk for miles across dusty sidewalks, gravel paths, steep and curving trails. Uncomfortable shoes shorten our endurance and make the journey miserable. We see more of life when we are sure of our goals and the footing that carries us. When we are comfortable with ourselves, we can travel farther and faster than when we try to follow someone else’s tracks.

Watch where you step. All those animals at the Fair can leave a mess on streets and sidewalks. Prudent people are mindful of what lies before them on their path. Wise people take care of themselves and watch the road ahead as they travel throughout life. When we are aware of where our walk is taking us, we can avoid those pitfalls we don’t want to encounter.

Life, like the Fair, is a wonderful mix of danger and risk, fun and opportunity. At the Fair, we have to be cautious and know where our limits of endurance lie. In life, we can test those limits and be grateful for the experiences we share and the lessons we learn.

What have you learned about life this summer? What do you enjoy as you walk your unique path?

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“Are you awake?”

Some mornings I find it difficult to drag myself out of bed at 5:00. I shuffle to the sink to brush my teeth, then pull on yoga pants and tie on running shoes. When I open the front door and step outside, the sky is just beginning to brighten beyond the trees.

Despite my reluctance some days, I enjoy these early morning summer walks when the air is still cool and most of the world sleeps. Our path takes us on three winding miles over tree-lined trails and past still-snoozing suburban housing. Wildlife occasionally wanders in our way. We’ve seen opossums, raccoons, and rabbits too numerous to count. Once a deer watched us warily as we strolled by.

My morning walks all seem the same: the smooth and slowly unfolding trail, the peaceful and slumbering houses, the sheltering and whispering trees.

Yet every morning walk is different.

The wind constantly changes directions – cool and rushing one day, heavy and clinging the next. The light changes by the minute, bringing brightness and clarity to areas that were wrapped in shadow. I never know what four-footed creature may choose to cross my path. Every walk is an adventure. Every step outside explores a new and altered world.

Like early morning light, our lives are always changing. Every sunrise is different, and each day is the start of a new journey. Every moment offers the chance to choose our next move differently, and each step we make may lead us in a new and unexpected direction.

The only way to fail is to stop moving. Only when we refuse to step forward do we get left behind. If we choose to stay safely behind our locked doors and curtained windows, we miss the changing sights just beyond our point of view.

After the three-mile hike, I’m ready to return to my safe and welcoming home, but I am never the same when I unlock and enter the door. My day lies ahead, filled with opportunity, and I am awake to a new beginning.

This morning I encourage you to greet your day as the start of a new adventure. I pray you step forward in faith that God is with you on your walk.

How will you choose to begin your morning? What do you hope to discover on your journey?

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2

The bell jingled when we opened the door. We walked through narrow aisles, between shelves piled high with teacups and toy tractors. We passed towering stacks of cookbooks and photographs, angled through crooked passageways to rooms overflowing with tools and jewelry.

I love shopping for antiques in quiet corners of dusty shops. I collect pitchers, and I love to discover a unique and valuable treasure that someone else has left behind. I pluck my prize from the dust and disorder of the cluttered shelf, clean the piece carefully in my kitchen sink, and proudly display it atop my kitchen cabinet. I enjoy the unique beauty of each piece I bring home, and I am grateful I can give each one a new place and new beginning in my possession.

It occurs to me that God performs a similar function in our lives. He sees each of us as useful and valuable, an original piece of unique beauty. He lifts us from the disarray and uncertainty of our lives and cleans us carefully in his loving hands. God sets us where he can enjoy our presence and appreciate us as his cherished treasure. He gives each follower a new life in a new home, where we begin again with new place and purpose.

I enjoy antique shopping because I love to find the pieces other people leave behind. I am grateful because I know God has seen my value and he has claimed me for his own.

Do you know your own unique worth? Do you realize how God treasures you?

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