More Grace

I’ll be honest: my spiritual compass has been a little off track lately. Unfortunately, I allow it to do that too often. And sadly, I frequently make excuses, procrastinate, and become too distracted by things, people, and longings to fix it. Recently I said, “No more. I miss the sweet fellowship of just talking to my heavenly Father with no barriers between us.”

And in His extravagant and uncommon grace, He held out His arms and said, “My Son, Jesus, already paid the consequences for your sin. Therefore, I never left you. I’ve been loving you the whole time. I forgive you. I’ll guide you through this.”

Because temptation and sin are daily battles for me—and let’s be honest: for all of us!—it becomes a daily choice to “stay connected.”

As part of my personal study and reading of the book of James, I read James 4:1-6 this morning. I never cease to be amazed by the fact that God’s timing, even in our Bible reading, is perfect—truly perfect.

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.

Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to him. And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

—James 4:1-6 (NIV, emphasis mine)

The words that follow are the response I recorded in my personal God-and-I-Time journal today:

It seems to me that verse 2 is reminding me of how often I seek the wrong things, lose my focus, and, sadly, lose my way. But it ends with: “Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.” [And what I want is victory over all of this!] But later, in verse 6, it tells me clearly that there is more grace than there is temptation and sin!

The note in the Bible (which Daddy had underlined in red) reminds me: “The Spirit does not want us to have divided allegiance.” Yet I am so easily pulled to want what I want—when I want it.

“But He giveth more grace…” [The NIV uses: "And He gives grace generously."]

…more grace than my undisciplined stewardship of my time and resources.

…more grace than my impatience—with others and with God’s timing.

…more grace than my pride.

…more grace than I could ever be “perfect” enough to earn.

So today I claim that grace, and I find it to be generous…to be more! Because of His grace, He can, He did, and He will!

Sweet faith-friend, please cling to this thought today when you’re feeling less than perfect, prone to wander, and weary of the constant struggles:

Nothing is greater than the greatness of His generous grace!

My Faraway Father

Writing a blog post about my deceased father on Father’s Day weekend seemed so cliché, unspectacular, and anticipated. For the last two weeks I fought hard not to give in. My mind was fully determined to remain silent; yet, my heart was pleading for a chance to honor, to remember, to form its feelings into words that could be shared. To truly honor my father, my heart had to win, because during his lifetime, my father wanted so desperately to help, teach, and lovingly guide other fathers to the heart of God.

When my father traveled to multiple foreign countries for the express purpose of living out—and therefore giving out—the love and gospel of Christ, he left part of his heart in each country. When he spoke in literally hundreds of churches over the course of his lifetime, with a desire to help strengthen families, churches, and individuals by teaching them to focus on Christ, he left part of his heart in each church, camp, or institution. When he was no longer able to travel and later became confined to his house due to the effects of Parkinson’s disease, he generously gave his heart to those who took the time to stop by and learn from him and to those who loved him dearly and were around him on a daily basis.

You see, he was always very present wherever he was: such that I knew that when I needed him, I had his full attention. He not only gave me life; he gave me his heart. Yet he gave me something even greater than that: he taught me by his life that because he had given his heart to Christ—the One Who loved him with an unconditional, forgiving, amazing love and Who provided extravagant grace for him to believe in Him—he wanted his actions to stem from the fact that his heart was longing for its heavenly home.

Because of that, “things” were insignificant. Because his heart was fixed on its final destination, his focus held its gaze on the One Who dwelt there. Because he loved the Lord his God with all his heart, he could freely give his heart to others.

Was his heart perfect? No, no, a thousand times no. (In fact, that’s not only a figurative statement; it is quite literal: five bypasses and open-heart surgery to have a valve replaced, in spite of healthy eating and consistent daily exercise.) He was ever cognizant of the fact that he daily needed what only God could give—grace, forgiveness, and pardoning love.

But it was those imperfections that drove him to the heart of God for guidance, comfort, and strength and that created within him a desire to learn all that he could (until his dying day) about his Lord.

Yes, he loved my mother. Yes, he loved all of his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. And yes, he loved so many, many, many of you. But there was more to it than that.

Though he is far away from this earth now, the lesson I think his life taught me most as a father and that he would most want other fathers to know is this:

Love others with selfless sincerity, but let that love come from a heart that loves God most.

That’s how the Father loves us. And that’s how fathers can change the world that they have been called upon to love—even when they are far away.

Four Words of Comfort

You know that moment when it feels like everything seems to be crashing around you, and you’re just not even certain where to begin to get it all back on track? I had that moment last night. In fact, I began my prayer with these exact three words:

“God, I’m there.”

Before I could get out another word, He reminded me of a worry-silencing truth with these four words:

“I know. I’m here.”

“So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them.
For the LORD your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you” (Deuteronomy 31:6, NLT).

At Home in the Hallway

One of my favorite quotations recently is: “Until God opens the next door for you, praise Him in the hallway.” (There are many versions and photo memes of this all around Facebook and the Internet in general, including my own.)

Sometimes it seems like the hallway is my permanent residence. Waiting, hoping, praying, longing, and waiting some more. But then I wonder what I’m waiting for. I’m where He wants me, and He wants (and deserves) my praise from that location, in this moment.

He may have me in the hallway so that I can cheer others on as they enter their chosen or assigned doorways.

He may have me in the hallway so that I can cry with those who exit a doorway in grief or loss or realize that the door they’ve been pounding on and trying to break down held heartaches that they could have or should have avoided.

He may have me in the hallway so that I can stand beside others who are waiting, hoping, praying, and longing. He may want me to be there, with a heart of firsthand understanding, to pray with them, listen to them, and point them to the unchanging, unshakable truths in His Word.

He may have me in the hallway…until.

Or…

He may have me in the hallway. Period.

Either way, for as long as I am there, I will praise Him.

“I will praise the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live” (Psalm 146:2, NIV).

How to Make a Profound Difference

There’s a product available that makes it possible for writers (bloggers, in particular) to offer a “Tweet this” link following something that they think might be “quotable” or worthy of passing along in succinct form from their article or blog post. When used properly, it can be extremely helpful for spreading the word about something a reader wants to share that made an impact as he or she read the article/post. However, I am noticing that some of these bloggers are now trying so hard to be profound and “Tweetable” that their words are beginning to sound contrived and ingenuous. If not utilized properly, the tool can turn a potentially powerful statement into an arrogant plea for popularity through self-promotion.

Yet, how often do we fall into this trap in our everyday service to God and others? We give in order to be thought generous. We try to accomplish something big with a self-serving end result in mind. We try to say or write something profound with the desire of “going viral.” We post on Facebook solely to get “likes.” We try to make a difference by helping people, but in the process we become so enamored with the difference that we forget the people—not only those we desire to help but those who have been and will continue to be there beside us, encouraging us and loving us in spite of our neglect of them.

When our love for God and others provides the impetus for our actions and our words, when our giving comes from a heart of love that sees a need, a longing, and a hope and from a heart that selflessly desires to help meet that need, fulfill that longing, or offer that hope, then we will know the true joy of giving. That is the moment when we will fulfill God’s command:

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12, NIV).

He doesn’t love us so that He will be great. He loves us and generously gives to us because He is great—and good and kind and caring and patient and humble and….

Don’t set out to be profound. Don’t even set out to make a difference. From the outset, determine to care, to see the needs and hopes of others, to vulnerably and sincerely give from deep inside your heart, and in so doing, you will make a profound difference.

How Will You Use Your Memories?

Treasured memories should never hold us captive in the past; they should compel us to be grateful and to keep moving forward. My father taught me that truth through words similar to these and through actions that displayed them.

In the Bible, Paul used his memories this way. He said, in my own retelling of the historical truths found in the book of Acts, “Sure, I once had the admiration of others (for the wrong reasons); I was important; I had a well-known reputation; I used to hang out with the really big-name people who were proud of the fact that they got to hang out with me. Now I’m hated, talked about with disdain, and not someone the important people want to associate with. But here’s the thing: ‘none of these things move me.’ In fact, ‘my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace’ [Acts 20:24, NIV]. That, my friends, is what matters.”

Treasure your memories; learn from your memories. But keep moving forward. Paul (and my precious father) knew that you don’t “finish the race” by standing still.

_____________________

Photo story: One of my favorite photos now is from a day when I sat and held my father’s hand
while he talked to me about waiting on God, waiting patiently for those I love and care about,
and moving forward with my dreams and desires—because life is short.

Gratitude and Joy

A spirit of gratitude and joy doesn’t depend on whether or not things go as I planned, whether or not I get that longed-for call or e-mail or text, whether or not my bank account is overflowing, or whether or not my past has left me in a present that I would not have chosen on my own.

It comes from within, where God dwells, and therefore, it need not depart when outward circumstances fail or change, because He never changes. His character is always the same.

So today, I not only rejoice in the new mercies I’m given each day to face these outward elements, but I also choose gratitude for the fact that He will not ask me to face them alone!

Your Book Is Available!

Yes, this is your book. You are the (earthly) reason that it exists. And for that, I cannot thank you enough! And because of that, I’m thrilled to announce that Petals from the Basket (Book 2) is now available on Amazon!


In December 2014, I released Petals from the Basket: Devotional Thoughts for Women, praying that it would be an encouragement to the readers of this blog. Instead, the readers of these brief devotional thoughts encouraged me!

“I truly believe that God had you put that devotional in that specific place in the book so that I would read it this morning when I needed that verse and the reminders you shared!” —Reader in Indiana

“I was going to read one devotional a day, but I couldn’t put it down! When is the next one coming out?” —Reader in California

“You helped me simplify my Christmas shopping! I’m giving this to every woman on my list! I loved it!” —Reader in Michigan

How does a writer respond to that? By gratefully praying in sincere humility that this second book of devotional thoughts will be a salve for sorrow, a spiritual booster shot when you feel like shutting down, a reminder of redemption, a glimpse at His amazing grace, and a means for pointing you to the One who all too often gets lost in the crowd of everyday life.

This book, Petals from the Basket (Book 2): Devotional Thoughts for Women, contains several favorite blog posts from this blog. The posts appear in random order of dates, topics, and titles, because try as we might, life generally ends up far more random than our desire for order and predictability would like it to!

Several readers requested additional lines for journaling, so I listened, and you’ll find more room for that in this book! However, not everyone likes to journal their thoughts at the end of the devotionals, so I’m once again giving you permission to leave some (or all) of the lines blank and to simply use them if and when you wish to write in your own thoughts! But I’d also like to encourage you to jot down some of your responses and be honest about what God is doing in your heart as you read and learn. After all, without sincerity and the freedom to acknowledge our weaknesses, it’s difficult to grow stronger.

I say it often, but I mean it: thank you for walking this journey with me! To God be the glory!

[Click the photo of the book cover to learn more about the book and/or to order your copy!]

The View from the Middle of the Road

In many ways, this is one of the most uncomfortable blog posts I’ve written in my three years at Petals from the Basket. And that’s probably the reason I’ve put off writing it for at least two of those three years. Because of the familiar Christian terminology that most of you—and I—grew up hearing, I want to make sure that my words are both clearly stated and therefore clearly understood in the light of their true meaning. My fear is that someone will take a familiar term (aka: “Christianese”) and attach his or her own meanings or feelings to it. Therefore, I have been very deliberate in my wording, my explanations, and the choice of the material in this post. I have prayed over it long and hard, and I woke this morning with great peace that today was the day to put “pen to page”—or “fingers to keyboard,” as it were. My one request is that you read it in its entirety. It is a package, the contents of which each rely upon the others contained therein.

My background is conservative, meaning clearly on “the right.” While my home life was a rare one where what was taught was lived and where Scripture was sincerely the foundational element for major (and minor) decisions, I had a very “prescribed religion.” My life followed a plan, and the result of some of that plan was that I followed every segment of it, even those areas that left me empty or uncertain of their purpose. Therefore, as did many of my generational and similarly raised friends, I chose to taste “the left” for a while as well. I learned much from both, and I found that the perfect place for me was smack-dab in the middle of the road.

Pause here…please.

For many of you, your thoughts may be rushing to the words lukewarm or compromise. I am not nor have I done either—not about the things that matter.

Others of you may be thinking even stronger words like weak or unwilling to take a stand. I believe that I am not only brave but also that I am standing firmly in the truths of God’s Word: truths that are unwavering, immovable, and unchanging; truths that provide uncommon courage.

Now let’s continue.

My quietly courageous father reminded me several years ago that I must choose for myself what I will do, where I will stand, and how will that will look in my everyday actions. And in his reminder, he was unquestionably clear that each choice must withstand the test of the commands of Scripture. “But in the end,” he told me with great love in words similar to these, “you will stand alone before God. You can’t take Mom and me with you. You can’t point the finger at leaders who have disappointed you—they will give account for their own actions (though, if those actions are wrong or illegal, don’t hesitate even one second to speak up). You can’t blame institutional or traditional rules that may or may not have been wrong within their given context. It’s just you and God, and if you’ve made your choices in light of His Word, you’ll stand there with joy that you have pleased your Lord.”

So each day, each moment, I choose. I choose to follow Christ from a place that has been carved out for me in “the middle of the road.” I am not as conservative as some of you would desire me to be. I’m far more conservative than others of you would like me to be. The extreme “right” wants me to write about “issues” and to speak scathingly of those who live a life that does not follow the humanly devised pattern of “religious” perfection. The extreme “left” wants me to tell you everything you’ve been taught that you should “throw out the window.” I will do neither of these.

Instead, I will keep choosing to have a clear, unobstructed view from the middle of the road. I will remain zealous (the opposite of lukewarm) in my desire to focus my thoughts, my desires, my words, my actions on Christ alone. I’ll mess up along the way, just as I have in the past and in the present. I’ll change course when necessary, as guided by the unfailing, unchanging “lamp to my feet and light to my path.” And just as I have attempted to do all along the way, I’ll continue to focus my writing on what it looks like to be a recipient of God’s unending, uncommon grace and to claim that, apply that, and live that out on a daily, very human basis…from smack-dab in the middle of the road.

______________________________

I have used my own personal photo today, not because I dig on my own looks, but because these are my words and my heart, and I am willing to own them. 

A New Study in Proverbs!


There’s a new study in Proverbs launching today on Amazon and CreateSpace! This book, titled The Words of the Wisewas published posthumously. The author of this material, Dr. Ben Strohbehn, entered into the presence of his Lord early in 2015, after living with Parkinson’s disease for many years. I am Ben Strohbehn’s youngest daughter and the editor of this book.

At the time of my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary (in December 2001), they chose Psalm 71:18 as their goal for their “senior” years: “Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to everyone that is to come.”

Because my father was confined to his bed in the last months of his life, it seemed nearly impossible for him to have a means to continue teaching and sharing the Word of God that he so dearly loved. So what better way to show God’s strength to “this generation” and His power “to everyone that is to come” than through the written word, which could reach through the walls of home hospice care and beyond the limitations of this earthly life and minister to others long after the writer could share these truths in person?

It is my desire, in publishing this work, to carry out my father’s earnest prayer that this book will help you to avoid the potholes of life as you listen to and follow “the words of the wise” from the book of Proverbs.

Here are a few introductory words from the book itself, written by my father:

The words of the wise—one of the most interesting and instructive sections in the book of Proverbs. Interesting because its unique content is a series of thirty-five warnings about potholes along the road of life and instructive because it gives insight and directions that, if followed, will help one to avoid those potholes.

This “words of the wise” section consists of two parts. The first, introduced as the words of the wise, consists of thirty sayings found in Proverbs 22:17–24:22. “These things also belong to the wise” (verse 23) introduces us to the second part, the remaining five sayings, as recorded in Proverbs 24:23–34.

This portion of Proverbs is one of the most neglected. Why? Primarily because it is not seen as a unit. This also explains why so many people have fallen into one of the potholes: they have missed the warnings of these timeless gems of wisdom and insight. Anyone who has driven a car understands this. When do we hit a pothole with our car? When we fail to keep our eyes on the road or when we fail to heed the warning signs. In the same way, we fall into potholes along the road of life. How unnecessary that some people experience heartaches and “burned-out” lives when the words of the wise provide answers to the challenges and the crises of life. Insight into many spiritual questions and problems can be found in this section. Additionally, there is practical direction for daily living.

On two separate occasions, my father ministered in the country of Togo, West Africa, and he left a part of his heart there each time. Therefore, our family will donate in my father’s name and for God’s glory all proceeds and royalties from the sale of this book directly to the Hospital of Hope in Mango, Togo. 

Click here to learn more about the book and to order your copy (this would make an EXCELLENT graduation gift, birthday gift, Mother’s Day/Father’s Day gift, or personal study book):

Amazon: The Words of the Wise

CreateSpace: The Words of the Wise