On a gray and rainy day in a dark and drizzly week, all I wanted to do was retreat to the sofa with a book and a blanket. All the cold and damp aggravated my old knee injury, so just hobbling to my desk seemed like too much effort. All I wanted to do was curl up in a cocoon on the couch.

Instead, I called Terra, a former coworker, and asked her to meet for lunch. I braved the tempest and limped through the crowded Chinese restaurant. We ate beef and broccoli while Terra told me about the breakup of her marriage, her upcoming move to a new city, the medical problem that put her in the hospital for two days.

“But I’m not crying anymore,” Terra said. She shook off her slump and again became the cheerful and positive friend I worked with years ago. “I know God is taking care of me. God will work it out.”

“This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

On that cold and dreary day, I was reminded that my aching knee is not the only pain in the world. My story is only one of many stories. God hears every prayer, and he knows every concern. Each day he offers me a new opportunity to choose joy in the life I am given, look for the reasons I have to be grateful, trust in him for the resolution of the future, and care for someone else within my reach.

Leaving my cozy and comfortable home reminds me of my purpose: to reach out and connect with friends, offer companionship and support on our shared journey, spread cheer and encouragement wherever I am able. When I trust that God is taking care of me, I am free to forget my small problems and focus on caring for others instead.

When we choose to confront each new day with joy, give thanks for all we are given, and love others we meet on the way; then the drizzle becomes less dreary, and the sun begins to break through the clouds.

How will you face the new day the Lord has made? How do you rejoice and give thanks for God’s care?

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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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“Look what I made for you, Mama.”

From the arts and crafts room at the YMCA summer camp, my daughter brought home beaded keychains, pressed flowers, handprint hearts, crayon drawings.

One summer she gave me two little clay pots, each barely big enough to hold a ring or a handful of paperclips on my desk. She had painted them bright green and purple, pink and gold, and fired them in the Y’s art room kiln.

The pots stood slightly lopsided, their sides thick and unevenly shaped by my daughter’s eight-year-old fingers. Despite their lumpy and imperfect appearance, I loved them because she made them.

“We are the clay, and you our potter; And we are the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8).

God crafts us carefully, lovingly molding each of us to fulfill his desired purpose. We are turned and shaped by his sure, gentle hands and then fired to give us strength and substance. Some emerge from the kiln hardened, cracked, or broken hearted. Some shatter in the process and are painstakingly glued together again. Every one of us is uniquely designed and brightly colored by our creator.

We may look imperfect, clumsy, or slightly off-kilter; but we are always treasured and perfectly loved because he made us.

Today I pray you remember whose hands formed you to fulfill a special purpose. I pray you always know that you are loved!

Are you feeling imperfect today? Do you know God loves you just as you are?

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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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What am I doing here? I wondered as I trudged up the hill toward the middle school.

In 2001 I worked as a teaching assistant while I finished my Elementary Ed degree. I had no experience working with kids, felt very insecure about my abilities, and quickly questioned how I had gotten hired.

I thought: God made a mistake bringing me to this place in my life, this school, this job, this town.

Within walking distance from my apartment stood a small shopping mall with a big bookstore.

I like books, I decided. I’ll quit my job and drop out of school to sell books instead.

On Saturday I revised my resume walked through the hilly neighborhood to the mall, but when I rounded the corner, I encountered an enormous “Going out of Business” banner tacked to the front of the bookstore and flapping in the breeze. I literally turned in my tracks and marched home.

When I called my friend Paege and told her what happened, she said, “I guess God gave you a pretty big sign.” On Monday I went back to work at the middle school, and I worked there for two more years.

Signs are not always as big and bright as a “Going out of Business” banner on the side of a building. Many signs arrive as subtle clues, quiet whispers, or gentle nudges turning us in the direction God wants us to travel. Signs may be missed if we’re not vigilant and watchful for the methods God often uses to steer our steps.

Conviction is that gut feeling we get telling us when one option is right and the other wrong. Conviction often defies logic and relies on hunches and emotions. Going to college as a single mom made no logical sense at the time, and though I often questioned my abilities and claimed I would quit, I always felt a certainty that I was called to return to class.

Coincidences are those seemingly unrelated events that happen at just the right time and place. Coincidences are often unexpected and unexplainable. I had not applied to work at the middle school where my daughter was a student, but the principal coincidentally found my resume in the school’s district office and called to offer me a job.

Conversations with friends and advisors often offer insights and revelations about God’s intended purposes. Chance comments from others often help us see and understand our circumstances more clearly. “I’m glad I work with you,” my coworker Molly told me after one particularly disappointing day. “God brought you here because he wants you here.”

For two years I worked at that middle school. The work was never easy, but I began to see the reasons God wanted me to stay. I received college credit for my hours in the sixth-grade classroom. I made connections with teachers who helped me with my homework assignments and later offered me job references. For two years I walked to school with my daughter every day. I knew her teachers and friends, and I felt we developed a better relationship through our time together. Most importantly, I learned to persevere through sometimes difficult and discouraging circumstances, and I began to realize that when we pay attention and follow God’s directions, we are always exactly where God wants us to be. God never makes mistakes.

What sign is God showing you today? How do you watch for his clues and direction?

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Many years ago, I worked briefly as a proofreader in a government office. One of my coworkers was an older gentleman who enjoyed chatting more than he enjoyed proofreading.

Whenever the office had a difficult day, when deadlines loomed, or attitudes and morale suffered, my coworker said, “We need to throw off some ballast around here. We need to throw some stuff overboard so we can rise above it.”

Ballast is the row of sandbags tied to the sides of hot air balloons. Ballast keeps the balloon balanced and grounded, but for the balloon to lift off the ground, some weight has to be untied and left behind.

We all have ballast in our lives that we sometimes need to let go so we can gain altitude and start soaring.

Memories of past mistakes keep us tied to the past. We need to leave behind our regrets, forgive ourselves for what we didn’t know then, and carry only the lessons we’ve learned as we navigate forward.

The need for control can keep us bound to situations that are not our responsibility to fix. We have to let others own their own balloons and control their own altitude and steering.

Anger is a particularly heavy burden to bear. Everyone has some anger to release, or it will drag us scraping and bumping along the ground, unable to lift off and take flight.

When we recognize what is holding us back, we can pitch it over the side and watch it drop as we soar on, growing faster and lifting higher. When we leave behind the things that hold us down, we will gain new experiences, grow into new perspectives, and travel much faster than we ever thought possible.

What is holding you down today? What do you need to leave behind so you can fly a little higher?

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