January Joy Challenge #1: Step Outside Yourself


Have you ever had one of those days where everything goes wrong? You just want to crawl up in a hole and stay there for the day, but life continues on and the kids still need to go to soccer practice and the milk is all gone, so you have to go to the store, and it just happens to be on the day you have a mandatory meeting at work or church.

I handle those awful days two different ways with two very different outcomes.

The first way is to just keep completely to myself. I don’t look at anyone, I don’t acknowledge the clerk that is checking me out, and I sit in my car, far away from people while I wait for soccer practice to finish. I say very little, if anything, while sitting in a meeting. I play sad music and, quite honestly, just plain out sulk.

The fruit of all that ungodly self-love is: nothing. Well, that is, if you don’t count the terrible example I am setting for my kids and the lack of love I am showing to the people around me. I guess there is fruit, but it certainly isn’t good.

The second way I have handled days like this is to just stop thinking about myself. On those days, on God’s strength alone, I climb out of my self-created pit to say hello to the store clerk and ask her about her day. Most times, she will look up pleasantly surprised that someone cared to ask. On those days, I am able to step outside my frustration and ask the customer service rep what the weather is like in Pakistan today. I am able to listen intently in my mandatory meeting and add some ideas. I will get out of my car and enjoy talking to other moms, building relationships, while we wait for the end of practice together. I usually feel so much better when I stop thinking about myself.

The fruit of this response is: a deep-down joy because I am doing the right thing, the opportunity to encourage or help someone, new or better relationships, and unexpected opportunities to tell others about Jesus, as well as setting a good and godly example.

And honestly, we don’t have to be having a bad day to be self-centered. Sometimes we are preoccupied or worried about something. Many times we are simply in a hurry. And, quite frankly, some of us are just in the habit of never thinking about someone else.

But here’s the problem: I truly believe that we cannot experience joy without stepping outside of ourselves by showing interests in the lives of others. Jesus set a good example for us when He did this with the Samaritan woman in John 4. Samaritans were hated by the Jews, but Jesus showed an interest in her life by talking with her and asking her questions about her life.

This interest in others is becoming rarer and rarer in our self-centered world. Have you ever run into an old friend or acquaintance and realize after the conversation is over that the whole conversation was about them? There was never even a hint of interest in your life? That is the world we live in.

If we can smile and kindly show interest in the lives of others, we will look different to the world around us. And, ironically, we will feel different, too.

So here’s the FIRST CHALLENGE: 

When you talk with someone this week, make a concentrated effort to smile and to ask them about themselves.

Treat the customer service rep from India and the store clerk at Wal-Mart like they are real people. Ask the elderly lady at church or the man that sits on the same bench every day when you are walking the dog about their lives. Show an interest in others and see if it doesn’t increase your joy.

Comments welcome! I would love to hear about how it goes :)


jumpstart to joyDon’t forget my new e-book is ready! If you sign up as a new subscriber to the blog or like the Growing 4 Life Facebook page, I will send you a copy for free. If you are already an e-mail subscriber or facebook fan, but would like a copy, just let me know your e-mail address and I will be happy to send one to you :)

Wednesday Wisdom: The Gold and Ivory Tablecloth


This is one of my favorite stories. You may ask, “did this really happen?” as it seems so impossible.  I have always thought that it is a true story but cannot verify that for sure. However, no matter if it is or isn’t,  I have heard many miraculous true stories and I do know that anything is possible with God.

At Christmas time men and women everywhere gather in their churches to wonder anew at the greatest miracle the world has ever known. But the story I like best to recall was not a miracle — not exactly.

It happened to a pastor who was very young. His church was very old. Once, long ago, it had flourished. Famous men had preached from its pulpit, prayed before its altar. Rich and poor alike had worshipped there and built it beautifully. Now the good days had passed from the section of town where it stood. But the pastor and his young wife believed in their run-down church. They felt that with paint, hammer, and faith they could get it in shape. Together they went to work.

But late in December a severe storm whipped through the river valley, and the worst blow fell on the little church — a huge chunk of rain-soaked plaster fell out of the inside wall just behind the altar. Sorrowfully the pastor and his wife swept away the mess, but they couldn’t hide the ragged hole.

The pastor looked at it and had to remind himself quickly, “Thy will be done!” But his wife wept, “Christmas is only two days away!”

That afternoon the dispirited couple attended the auction held for the benefit of a youth group. The auctioneer opened a box and shook out of its folds a handsome gold and ivory lace tablecloth. It was a magnificent item, nearly 15 feet long. but it, too, dated from a long vanished era. Who, today, had any use for such a thing? There were a few halfhearted bids. Then the pastor was seized with what he thought was a great idea.

He bid it in for $6.50.

He carried the cloth back to the church and tacked it up on the wall behind the altar. It completely hid the hole! And the extraordinary beauty of its shimmering handwork cast a fine, holiday glow over the chancel. It was a great triumph. Happily he went back to preparing his Christmas sermon.

Just before noon on the day of Christmas Eve, as the pastor was opening the church, he noticed a woman standing in the cold at the bus stop. “The bus won’t be here for 40 minutes!” he called, and invited her into the church to get warm.

She told him that she had come from the city that morning to be interviewed for a job as governess to the children of one of the wealthy families in town but she had been turned down. A war refugee, her English was imperfect.

The woman sat down in a pew and chafed her hands and rested. After a while she dropped her head and prayed. She looked up as the pastor began to adjust the great gold and ivory cloth across the hole. She rose suddenly and walked up the steps of the chancel. She looked at the tablecloth. The pastor smiled and started to tell her about the storm damage, but she didn’t seem to listen. She took up a fold of the cloth and rubbed it between her fingers.

“It is mine!” she said. “It is my banquet cloth!” She lifted up a corner and showed the surprised pastor that there were initials monogrammed on it. “My husband had the cloth made especially for me in Brussels! There could not be another like it.”

For the next few minutes the woman and the pastor talked excitedly together. She explained that she was Viennese; that she and her husband had opposed the Nazis and decided to leave the country. They were advised to go separately. Her husband put her on a train for Switzerland. They planned that he would join her as soon as he could arrange to ship their household goods across the border. She never saw him again. Later she heard that he had died in a concentration camp.

“I have always felt that it was my fault — to leave without him,” she said. “Perhaps these years of wandering have been my punishment!” The pastor tried to comfort her and urged her to take the cloth with her. She refused. Then she went away.

As the church began to fill on Christmas Eve, it was clear that the cloth was going to be a great success. It had been skillfully designed to look its best by candlelight.

After the service, the pastor stood at the doorway. Many people told him that the church looked beautiful. One gentle-faced middle-aged man — he was the local clock-and-watch repairman — looked rather puzzled.

“It is strange,” he said in his soft accent. “Many years ago my wife – God rest her — and I owned such a cloth. In our home in Vienna, my wife put it on the table” — and here he smiled — “only when the bishop came to dinner.”

The pastor suddenly became very excited. He told the jeweler about the woman who had been in church earlier that day. The startled jeweler clutched the pastor’s arm. “Can it be? Does she live?”

Together the two got in touch with the family who had interviewed her. Then, in the pastor’s car they started for the city. And as Christmas Day was born, this man and his wife, who had been separated through so many saddened Yule tides, were reunited.

To all who hear this story, the joyful purpose of the storm that had knocked a hole in the wall of the church was now quite clear. Of course, people said it was a miracle, but I think you will agree it was the season for it!

Wednesday Wisdom: Mrs. Hildebrandt’s Christmas

For the Christmas Season, I am going to dedicate Wednesday Wisdom to sharing some beautiful short stories. The first story I would like to share is from Joe Wheeler’s Christmas in My Heart, Volume 19. It is called “Mrs. Hildebrandt’s Christmas.”  It was written by Robert Smith many years ago.

It is a great reminder that there are many lonely, heartbroken people who could use some encouragement during the holidays. We can not only bless them by reaching out but also be blessed. There is such tremendous joy when we give of ourselves to others. And, oh, what an important lesson this is to teach our children! I hope you enjoy this story–

            It’s been 30 years since I last saw her, but in memory she’s still there every holiday season. I especially feel her presence when I receive my first Christmas card.
            I was twelve years old, and Christmas was only two days away. This season’s first blanket of white magnified the excitement.
            I dressed hurriedly, for the snow was waiting. What would I do first – build a snowman, slide down the hill, or just throw the flakes in the air and watch them flutter down?
            Our station wagon pulled into the driveway, and Mom called me over to help with the groceries. When we finished carrying in the bags, she said, “Bob, here are Mrs. Hildebrandt’s groceries.”
            No other instructions were necessary. As far back as I could remember, my mom shopped for Mrs. Hildebrandt’s food and I delivered it. Our ninety-five-year-old neighbor, who lived alone, was crippled from arthritis and could take only a few steps with her cane.
            Even though she was old, crippled, and didn’t play baseball, I liked Mrs. Hildebrandt. I enjoyed talking with her; more accurately, I enjoyed listening to her. She told wonderful stories of her life – about a steepled church in the woods, horse and buggy rides on Sunday afternoons, and her family farm without running water or electricity.
            She always gave me a dime for bringing her groceries. It got so that I would refuse only halfheartedly, knowing she would insist. Five minutes later, I’d be across the street in Beyer’s candy store.
            As I headed over with the bags, I decided this time would be different, though. I wouldn’t accept any money. This would be my Christmas present to her.
            Impatiently, I rang Mrs. Hildebrand’s doorbell. Almost inaudible at first were the slow, weary shuffles of her feet and the slower thump of her cane. The chain on the door rattled and the door creaked open. Two shiny eyes peered from the crack.
            “Hello, Mrs. Hildebrandt,” I said. “It’s me, Bob. I have your groceries. “
            “Oh, yes, come in, come in, “she said cheerfully. “Put that bag on the table.” I did so more hurriedly than usual, because I could almost hear the snow calling me back outside,.
            As we talked, I began to realize how lonely she was. Her husband had died more than 20 years before, she had no children, and her only living relative with a nephew in Philadelphia who never visited. Nobody ever called on her at Christmas. There would be no tree, no presents, no stocking.
            She offered me a cup of tea, which she did every time I brought the groceries. Well, maybe the snow could wait.
            We sat and talked about what Christmas was like when she was a child. We traveled far away and long ago, and an hour passed before I knew it.
            “Well, Bob, you must be wanting to play outside in the snow, ” she said as she reached for her purse.
            “No, Mrs. Hildebrandt, I can’t take your money this time. You can use it for more important things,” I resisted.
            She looked at me and smiled. “What more important thing could I use this money for, if not to give it to a friend at Christmas?” she asked, and then placed a whole quarter in my hand.
            I tried to give it back, but she would have none of it.
            I hurried out the door and ran over to Beyer’s candy store with my fortune. I had no idea what to buy–comic books, chocolate, soda, ice cream. Then I spotted something–a Christmas card with an old country church in the woods on the cover. It was just like the one she’d described.
            I handed Mr. Beyer my quarter for the card and borrowed a pen to sign my name.
            “For your girlfriend?” he asked. I started to say “no,” but quickly changed my mind. “Well, yeah, I guess so.”
            As I walked back across the street with my gift, I was so proud of myself I felt like I had just hit a home run to win the World Series. No, I felt better than that!
            I rang Mrs. Hildebrandt’s doorbell. The almost inaudible sounds of shuffling again reached my ears. The chain rattled and the door creaked open. Two shiny eyes peered from within.
            “Hello, Mrs. Hildebrandt, ” I said as I handed her the card. “Merry Christmas.”
            Her hand trembled as she slowly opened the envelope, studied the card, and began to cry. “Thank you very much, ” she said almost in a whisper. “Merry Christmas.”     
            On a cold and windy afternoon a few weeks later, the ambulance arrived next door. My mom said they found her in bed; she had died peacefully in her sleep. Her night table light was still on, illuminating a solitary Christmas card. 


How do we keep love from fading?

We met the man and his family while they were going through a personal tragedy. His wife had just had a miscarriage in the last couple of days and it was a rough time. They already had a couple of young children and seemed like a very nice Christian family with whom we could enjoy a friendship. Alas, circumstances often dictate who you truly get to know in life and so we were never able to develop a relationship with them.

Fast forward a couple of years.

Eric is giving an estimate to a lady who has a lot of time to talk. She tells him about the couple across the street who are going through a nasty divorce. Words like prostitution and pornography come up.  Eric tries to be polite but he is really there to give an estimate. But the more she talks, the more he starts to suspect that he may know who this couple is.

When Eric arrived home we did a little investigating. Oh, how sad. The couple getting the nasty divorce is the couple we met a few years earlier. Our hearts ached for them. What in the world had happened?

This story is not a strange one to any of us. All too frequently, a husband or wife is trapped in sexual sin, marriages break up, and life changes drastically for the entire family.

But why? How does this happen?

I do not even begin to presume I have the answer to this. But I can think of a few ways to protect ourselves from being “that” couple. Of course, you are only one half of the equation, so that is what makes it tricky, isn’t it?? But, for what it’s worth, here are a few suggestions–

1.  Get to know God by faithfully reading His Word, praying, and listening to godly {doctrinally-sound} men expound His word via church and podcast. How can we even know what pleases God if we don’t know His Word? Conviction can be conveniently bypassed if we aren’t in tune with God.

2.  Talk, talk, and talk some more with your spouse. No secrets.  Keep communicating even when it is really hard. And, trust me, it is really hard sometimes.

3.  Forgive and move on. I know it sounds so basic, but it is so critical. Forgiveness holds the key to many of our relationships, quite honestly.

4.  Protect your spouse. Don’t downgrade your spouse to your co-workers or on the sidelines of the soccer field. Sure he may be a jerk or she may be lazy, but that doesn’t give us the right to talk negatively about them. If you are really struggling, pick one or two godly counselors or friends who can encourage you to make biblical choices and keep your mouth shut around everyone else.

5.  Be the same person at home as you are at church.  Who are we really?  You have heard it said that true character is who you are when no one is around. There is a lot of truth in that.  Do you make the choice to do what’s right even when no one is looking?  We need to be same person no matter where we are. By the way, this is key in keeping your children’s hearts, as well. No one respects a hypocrite.

6.  Don’t be too proud to ask for help. Sometimes the problems are so big, you know that your marriage will not survive without some help. Be very careful to choose a godly counselor. I heard a story many years ago of a couple who went for Christian marriage counseling and a few sessions in they were told they should get a divorce. Come again?  That is not Christian marriage counseling.  Just because someone says they are a Christian counselor doesn’t mean they are. Get references and mission statements before entrusting your entire life in their hands.

7.  And, last but not least, have fun together!  Nothing is better for Eric and I than doing something fun and outside routine together. It is a great reminder of why we fell in love in the first place.  I know how tough it is to make time for this. Our schedules are so busy with soccer games and piano lessons and homework and church commitments and work functions and…the list could go on and on. However, it is critical that we make this a priority. It helps us stay connected as married couples.

These are seven tips, but I am not so naive to think that it is that simple. I know that so many struggles and problems that arise in marriages stem back to childhood issues never resolved or affairs never discussed. There are many cases of abuse and pride and addictions. Christian marriages are facing an explosion of darts from the enemy. However, I do believe that if we could put these seven tips in place in our own marriages, we’d have a new beginning on a great marriage! And we know, without a shadow of a doubt, that it is God’s will for us to love each other and stay married ’til death do us part.

As much as it is up to us personally, let’s keep our marriages strong and healthy.


This is linked up here :)

Loving the Unlovely

I’d pick her, too!

The little girl’s eyes searched the faces of the waiting adults. She made a move towards me and then saw my young, beautiful daughter standing behind me.  Her eyes lit up and she made a beeline for her.  I watched several girls come out and do the same thing–always moving towards the young, beautiful girls in our group and always passing me by.

We were in Guatemala and we were ministering to orphans. I didn’t think they would care how I looked.  But, of course, while they loved any attention they received from anyone, the young and pretty girls were a definite favorite among the little girls there.

I don’t blame them, quite honestly. I would rather hold the hand of one of them, too, if I was a child.  But I have to admit, I felt hurt and rejected. Oh, I know they didn’t mean it intentionally. Not even a bit. But it hurt, nevertheless.

Thankfully, my daughter had been looking most forward to spending time holding the babies and so I spent most of my time in the baby house cradling little ones and playing with 2 year olds, who really don’t care what you look like as long as you are fun!

But what had happened to me with the little girls got me to thinking about the people that it happens to all of the time. The disabled, the ones that make us feel uncomfortable, the unlovely ones. Do they grow used to being passed by? Does it still hurt after it happens so often?

In the baby house where we spent most of our time, they have a few special needs kids. For the first few days, I felt uncomfortable and avoided all of them. But as I watched a lady from our team love on one of these little guys, I grew braver. What could it hurt to talk to them? The turning point came when I watched one of the “special moms” (this is what the caregivers are called) play peek-a-boo with a severely disabled 15 year-old boy named Alex.  I watched his eyes light up as a big smile came over his face. And I realized that locked inside that boy was a real live person.  He would laugh and tease his “special mom” by moving his head so that she would have to lift it up again. All the while, I could see by his expression that he was having a ball.

I reflected back on what had happened to me earlier that week. How was I any different than those little girls? I would make a beeline for the beautiful babies and the cute toddlers, barely glancing towards the special needs kids.

But I was given a gift that day. An important reminder of something we should never forget: every person has value, no matter what they look like or how unlovely (inside or out) they are.  It is our job to love them, just like Jesus loves us.

After that day, I would always spend a little time with those three special needs boys. Oh, I was still a little uncomfortable– that did not just disappear–but I did it, anyway.  And, little by little, it grew more natural for me to give a big smile and say hello.

I guess it will always be our human nature to run towards the lovely. But, while we are running, may we not forget that there is a person with feelings who knows we didn’t choose them…who stands there forlorn and broken as they get passed by one more time.


John 13:34 A new commandment I give you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you are to love one another. 

John 13:35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. 

John 15:12 This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 

John 15:17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

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