The Reveal | Luke 1

Welcome to Real Life. Sometimes a pregnancy elicits mixed reactions.

“I think that carrying a baby inside you is like running as fast as you can. It feels like finally letting go and filling yourself up to the wildest limits.” –Author unknown[1]

“Have you heard?” the woman asks her neighbor, “Mary’s pregnant.”

“Joseph’s Mary? But they aren’t married yet,” her friend replies.

“Joseph isn’t the father. It probably happened in Judea while she was visiting her cousin Elizabeth, and away from her parents’ watchful eyes.”

“No, I can’t believe it. Sweet, innocent Mary?” the woman’s eyes pop. “Poor Joseph. What will he do?”

“Well, you know Joseph. He’s an upright man. He’ll deal with it quietly. I hope he finds a good, faithful wife who will appreciate him.”

God rarely arrives as expected. The king of kings didn’t enter a capital city with pomp and ceremony. He came quietly. As a helpless infant. Born in a humble village, to a young virgin, in a family lacking prominence—except in Go…

Just Ask | James 4

Welcome to Real Life. What do I need?

Dear Lord, As your humble servant 
let me prove to you that  winning the lottery won’t change me. Amen.[1]
“You don’t have because you don’t ask God.” This gentle chide in the book of James never fails to encourage me to pray. If you need something, ask for it. Easy-peasy. The Lord is handing out blank checks. So, I begin contemplating. What do I need? What do I want to see happen? 

But James’ next words give me pause.
When you ask, you do not receive,
because you ask with wrong motives
that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
James 4:2–3 NIV Yikes! Motivation is key. Maybe the lottery prayer isn’t a good idea. God’s blank check comes with a caveat. What's driving my desires? Do I need a better car or just want a shiny, new, candy-apple-red one? Do I seek success in writing because I love to encourage people or has selfish ambition crept in? I usually begin with pure intentions, but along the way my focus easily shifts to me, me, me.

Speak Life! | James 3

Welcome to Real Life. Our words speak life or death.

Some things are better left unsaid,
which I usually realize after I say them.

My friend Sandy broke her leg. Her lack of mobility has been frustrating as she must rely on others to meet her needs. So, she begins each morning with her surrender prayer.

Help me be humble and grateful, Lord.  Keep me from acting ugly.  Guard my lips
Don’t you love it? Her prayer so practical. It’s easy to let ugly words fly as we face daily frustrations.

“The tongue is a fire” says James.[1] When we camp, evenings are spent around the campfire, eating s’mores, sharing stories, and watching flames dance. The campfire warms and cheers us. It's safe because it's controlled. But when fires rage out-of-control, like the ones in California, they destroy land, homes, and even taken lives.
So it is with the fire of our tongue. We can speak life or death. When our tongues are under control, they light fires of healing, peace, and love. The other d…

Do It Now! | James 1:22

Welcome to Real Life. Just do it!
We will never change the world by going to church. We will only change the world by being the church. –Unknown 
“If you’re waiting to do something for God, don’t wait. Do it now,” Pastor Schaeffer said in a sermon. His words ignited my spirit. I kept thinking God wanted me to start a women’s retreat. We were new at the church. When I asked, I discovered they didn’t have a women's retreat per se. Instead, they participated in a regional denomination retreat.
Retreats have impacted my life. The act of setting aside extended time to seek the Lord had resulted in breakthroughs, epiphanies, and a renewed sense of intimacy with my God. More practically, I needed a break from daily responsibilities to rest, reflect, and have fun with the girls, of course!

“Maybe God wants me to coordinate a retreat for the church,” I began thinking. “But I’m too busy now. I’ll do it when the kids are older.” However, after Pastor Schaeffer’s sermon, I contacted the church.…

The Pursuit of Holiness | Hebrews 12

Welcome to Real Life. What are you pursuing?
Run swiftly toward holiness,
for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.
Hebrews 12:14 TPT Dark clouds gather. A storm brews. I try. But nothing I do-say-think seems good enough, pure enough for a holy God. Holiness feels daunting at times—like scaling One World Trade Center!

When I think this way, I'm caught in an old trap. I’m attempting holiness in my own strength. And it is impossible! It's also a form of legalism.
“Legalism is a matter of the heart, (legalism is) not obedience to God and radical love for others. Legalism is when we’re trying to earn God’s favor to be saved, not when we’re following Jesus because we’re saved by grace.”
 –John Piper[1] Legalism places us back on Mt. Sinai. The stormy mountain is ablaze. The ground quakes. God’s voice booms like thunder. “Please don’t speak!” we beg, trembling. “Who can stand before you?” In our own strength, we try. We offer endless sacrifices. But nothing removes the stai…

Ministry Spotlight: Rita Ballenger, Abolition Bakery

Welcome to Real Life! Join my conversation with… 

Rita Ballenger, Founder
Abolition Bakery

Mission: To raise awareness of human trafficking and to raise funds for organizations that serve human trafficking survivors.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,
For the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
And to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.”
Isaiah 61:1 NLT

I was shocked. I fully expected to hear about human trafficking in third world countries. Instead, I learned about human trafficking in our states, our city, and in every city!  Rita thought when she attended a human trafficking presentation by the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking.

Rita, how did Abolition Bakery happen?

After hearing the HT presentation, I immediately took their speaker training to promote HT awareness. At the time, I was enrolled in the Culinary Baking Track at Cuyahoga Community Co…

The Happy Place of Hardship | Hebrews 12

Welcome to Real Life. “Discipline yourself so no one else has to.” –John Wooden
Endure hardship as discipline. Honestly, I don't like this verse. Endure. Hardship. Discipline. Those aren’t happy place words. However, during a season of hardship, they earned a trophy in my heart.

Suddenly, life had grown difficult. It seemed terribly unfair. “Why?” I kept asking God. Just when things were getting easier. The kids were growing up. Dennis had left for his first year of college. Cal and I were homeschooling his final years of high school. I could breathe.

And then, BAM! My elderly parents needed assistance. They left Florida and moved in with us. Suddenly, I was drowning in pain. Emotional pain in grieving my parents’ loss of strength, health, and vitality. Physical pain as the added responsibilities stressed and exhausted me (and my back throbbed from lifting Mom). Spiritual pain as I vacillated between “If I had more faith, I could handle this” and “If God loves me, why is he allo…