The Gift That Keeps on Giving

by Lori Altebaumer

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

 Re-gifting is not a talent I possess. Fear someone will find out it’s a re-gift and realize what an ungrateful person I am causes more angst than simply keeping the unwanted gift. I’ll wear clothes I don’t like, read books that don’t interest me, and keep art I can’t explain. Someone made the effort to give me the gift, and I am determined to honor the thought no matter how much I suffer.

But there is one gift I’m not only happy to re-gift, but commanded I should—the undeserved gift of God’s love.

We love Him because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19 NKJV

The first and greatest gift of all is the love of God. Without God’s love, there would be no hope in this world and no way to spend eternity in His holy and righteous presence in the next.

This love God shows us is undeserved, unearned, and too often, unshared.

People give gifts to people they care about. Rarely will they give a gift to a stranger, and even less often to someone they don’t like. Not God. He gave His best gift to the least worthy—rowdy uneducated fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, and outcasts.

He gave this gift to us.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 NKJV

I’m not worthy of such a gift. Yet God wrapped it in swaddling clothes and rested it gently in a bed of straw just for me. Clearly he knew the gift was so awesome, He didn’t need fancy wrapping paper and a big, red bow.

 The immeasurable worth of this gift—the ability to be seen as righteous, the forgiveness of my sins, a new life—is amazing enough. But wait… there’s more.

The gift also comes with lifetime access to a helper Who will be with me forever. I get the strength and power to persevere no matter what life brings. I get wisdom as a constant companion, so I’m never without understanding.

Most treasured of all, I get to spend eternity in the presence and glory of the One who created me and knows me intimately well—the One who wanted me when I was unworthy, and He alone knew just how unworthy.

And He not only wants me to re-gift, He commands me to do so.

 “These things I command you, that you love one another.” These are the red-letter words of Jesus spoken in John 15:17 (NKJV).

God’s love is kind of like the Friendship Bread we used to make years ago.

This bread started as a bit of dough that fermented and grew. Every few days you divided it into parts for baking into loaves and for starting more dough that would become next week’s loaves. This dough had a life of its own. If I kept feeding and tending to it, I could continue making loaves of bread into perpetuity—as everyone feared I might. A person simply couldn’t out give the Friendship Bread.

Because this dough was always growing, it had to be shared.

Only when I stopped sharing did it die.

This is God’s love. Gifting it away doesn’t diminish my portion. The more I give, the greater my capacity to receive it becomes.

 This Valentine’s Day we don’t need a colorful card, fresh flowers, or fancy chocolate. We already have what the world needs most—the gift of God’s love.

And when we share it, we’ll find an even larger portion filling our own hearts. It really is the gift that keeps on giving.

This article has been brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Lori Altebaumer is a writer who only half-jokingly tells others she lives with one foot in a parallel universe. With her boots on the ground, head in the clouds, and heart in His hands, she is a wandering soul with a home-keeping heart in search of life’s best adventures. Lori loves sharing the joys of living a Christ-centered life with others through her writing.

A Firm Place to Stand by [Lori Altebaumer]

Her first novel, A Firm Place to Stand, released in January 2020. She also blogs regularly on her website www.lorialtebaumer.com. In between writing, Lori enjoys traveling with her husband and visiting her adult children where she can rummage through their refrigerators and food pantries while complaining there’s nothing good to eat here.

Join the conversation: What opportunities has God given you to share His love with others?

So Close Together

by Lori Altebaumer

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.  Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV

In a year where we’ve been forced into isolation and distancing, I am reminded of a favorite Christmas memory. It was the Christmas our family of four spent living in a travel trailer. We had no room to spare, so I joked that everyone was getting gift cards for Christmas. They would be the only thing we could fit under the twelve-inch tree on the fold out table. I also wasn’t going to be preparing a traditional Christmas feast in that limited kitchen.

But on Christmas morning, as we sat scrunched together opening gifts, our son looked up and said, “This is the best Christmas ever.”

I didn’t think he was referring to the gifts he’d received. As gifts went, this was a meager Christmas. I asked him why he thought so, and his answer has influenced my Christmases ever since. “I guess it’s just because we are all so close together.”

Close together indeed. We were practically sitting in each other’s laps in that tiny little space. No fancy tree or decorations. No extravagant gifts or spectacular feast. Just four people who loved each other celebrating the birth of their Savior together.

I love the Christmas season. I love the decorations and lights. I love the music and festive feeling in the stores. I love the abundance of edible treats I know I shouldn’t eat but can’t resist.

But my heart does not belong to any of these things.

They are but a reflection of the love Christ has for us. Take them all away and that love remains. It inhabits the tiniest of living quarters and meagerest of circumstances. It shines in the faces of our loved ones and lives in sacred moments we spend together.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21 NKJV). With this statement, Jesus warns His disciples to be careful about what they choose to value most. The things of this earth won’t last. These are the things that “moth and rust destroy” or “thieves break in and steal” (see Matthew 6:19).

That Christmas, my son’s heart wasn’t on the gifts or the decorations or the food. It was on something far more valuable. What he valued most was knowing he was a part of a family who loved him, a family that chose togetherness over the ostentations of the season.

How much greater must God’s delight be in us when we choose Him over the extravagances of the holidays— when we value time with Him over fretting about holiday plans.

I don’t remember much about that Christmas as far what gifts I received or what we ate for dinner. But I will never forget the love. Moth and rust will never destroy it, and no thief can take it from me.

This year has been one of altered plans and missed events. It has been the fertile soil of confusion and fear where isolation, loneliness, and despair have taken root. The thief of COVID has stolen moments of celebration and replaced them with moments of sorrow. A contentious political election has had a rusting effect on our hearts, and the moths of hatred and division have swept in to eat holes in our sense of community.

Our earthly treasures have been proven the fragile and temporal things they are.

The holidays may look different this year. Perhaps for that we should be grateful. Maybe this is the year we put aside everything that stands between us and our loving Father. We choose our treasures wisely and we snuggle in close to our Father’s heart and say, “This is the best Christmas ever.”

And when He asks us why, we say, “Because we’re all so close together.”

This article has been brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

A Firm Place to Stand by [Lori Altebaumer]

About the author: Lori Altebaumer is a writer who only half-jokingly tells others she lives with one foot in a parallel universe. With her boots on the ground, head in the clouds, and heart in His hands, she is a wandering soul with a home-keeping heart in search of life’s best adventures. Lori loves sharing the joys of living a Christ-centered life with others through her writing. Her first novel, A Firm Place to Stand, released in January 2020. She also blogs regularly on her website www.lorialtebaumer.com. In between writing, Lori enjoys traveling with her husband and visiting her adult children where she can rummage through their refrigerators and food pantries while complaining there’s nothing good to eat here.

Join the conversation: How has 2020 changed your perspective on Christmas?

A Lesson from a Dog

by Lori Altebaumer @Lori_Altebaumer

For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Ecclesiastes 4:10 NKJV

The greeting my dog gives me when I come home from a trip is a picture of love. No matter how many hours I’ve spent inhabiting airports, navigating connecting flights, or stuck in traffic, her enthusiastic greeting never fails to make my heart rejoice. No matter how bad I smell or how cranky I am, she doesn’t know the meaning of “personal space,” much less “social distancing.”

I’m not a fan of social distancing either.

Shakespeare may have written “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” but not so with every word in the English vocabulary.

Webster’s dictionary defines “social” as marked by or passed in pleasant companionship with friends or associates. Another variation is of or relating to human society, the interaction of the individual and the group, or the welfare of human beings as members of society.

Removing ourselves from the fellowship of others is not how we were created to live. Isolation leads to loneliness, depression, suicide, addiction, and more. We are trading one disease for another—one global pandemic for another.

We a need to be aware of others’ suffering and have the desire to do something about it. This is compassion, and it is the key to sustaining society.

The term “social distancing” implies the need to avoid interaction with and the companionship of others. It suggests disengaging ourselves from society. But a disengaged society soon becomes a compassionless society.

Even the most independent among us don’t want to live in a compassionless society. We all fall. Emotionally, spiritually, or physically—no one is immune to stumbling on a broken world.

When Solomon penned the book of Ecclesiastes, he purposefully included the passage above emphasizing the importance of friends. With all his wealth and wisdom, he could have hired someone to help him up, but I think he knew sometimes we fall in ways only a friend can recognize and in places only a friend can reach. God was telling us through Solomon’s pen that we need one another.

Let’s go out of our way to be social. Let’s greet everyone we meet with joy—from a safe distance if need be—remembering they are walking through these crazy times just like we are. Check on friends. Perform an act of kindness, preferably one that can’t be returned, for a stranger—or even better, someone whose views and opinions might differ from your own.

Stop looking at others as though they are the problem. Do something that says, “I see you and we’re in this together.” Be as social as possible through whatever means are available…phone, internet, or six feet apart in the grocery store parking lot.

I need to see the light of love in your eyes and feel the joy of your smile. I want to be a friend who recognizes when you are lonely, fearful, angry, or uncertain. I can do that those things from a physical distance, but not a social one.

Take a lesson in love from a dog who simply wants to know I haven’t forgotten or abandoned her, and refuse the misnomer of social distancing.

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A Lesson from a Dog – encouragement from @Lori_Altebaumer on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

A Firm Place to Stand by [Lori Altebaumer]

About the author: Lori Altebaumer is a writer who only half-jokingly tells others she lives with one foot in a parallel universe. With her boots on the ground, head in the clouds, and heart in His hands, she is a wandering soul with a home-keeping heart in search of life’s best adventures. Lori loves sharing the joys of living a Christ-centered life with others through her writing. Her first novel, A Firm Place to Stand, released in January 2020. She also blogs regularly on her website www.lorialtebaumer.com. In between writing, Lori enjoys traveling with her husband and visiting her adult children where she can rummage through their refrigerators and food pantries while complaining there’s nothing good to eat here.

Join the conversation: What ways have you found to keep physical distance from interfering with social interaction?

The River of Life

by Lori Altebaumer @lori_altebaumer

And He showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.                                                               Revelation 22:1 NKJV

Standing beside the mountain stream watching the crystal-clear water rushing by, I am reminded of the river of living water spoken of in Scripture. The urge to remove my shoes and step into the flow is strong. But this stream carries snow melt straight from the mountaintops. The water is so cold it makes my bones feel like they might shatter. It’s not even close to pleasant.

Yet the beckoning is strong, an irresistible invitation to step into something sacred. My shoes slide off, and I brace myself. And in the momentary pain⸺ until thankfully my feet go numb⸺ I am a part of this river that comes from far above and flows down into places I will not see or know.

The water captures the light, illuminating the variegated colors of the rocks beneath its surface, transforming the ordinary into extraordinary. The pure water swirls around my ankles in a dance that sparkles and hops as it hurries on.

Tranquil pools of water bring a sense of much needed peace, but it is the active, flowing water that transforms the rocks and hard places of life into something so lovely we can’t resist the urge to step in.

Our lives are full of hard places, some of our own doing, some as the results of the actions of others. There is no life that escapes these stones of bitterness: hurt, fear, insecurity, grief—the list goes on. Whether they are our own hard places or the hard places of others spilling over, they make a solid lining for the pathway of our lives.

But our hearts long for more. We’ve lived with the hurt and disappointment, the confusion and doubt for so long we may have buried the longing so deep within us we no longer recognize it. But it’s there. And even more, we thirst for a beauty that inspires us, something so beautiful we can’t resist its invitation to step in. Like the river flowing from the mountain tops, quenching the thirst of all it touches, moving with purpose toward its final destination, we find our purpose in the movement of our lives. And it is there, too, we find the beauty.

What a joy to know that the hard places in our lives can be made beautiful beneath the pure, living water of our Creator. What a comfort to know He has a plan to redeem the ordinary and unwanted, to transform it into something extraordinary. That plan is the River of Life which flows from His throne to carry us into His eternal blessings when we step in through our faith in Jesus Christ.

Perhaps the first blessing is to know the beauty of those transformed hard places of our lives has the potential to inspire others. It invites them into the River of Life that has the power to transform them as well.

Like stepping into the frigid waters of the mountain stream, it may be painful at first. But as the apostle Paul declared, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory…” (2 Corinthians 4:17 NKJV).

Today I face the momentary discomfort and invite the River of Life to pour over the hard places in my life, giving God the sovereignty to transform it for His purposes, in the hope another may be encouraged to step in.

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The River of Life – encouragement from @Lori_Altebaumer @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

About the author: Lori Altebaumer is a writer who only half-jokingly tells others she lives with one foot in a parallel universe. With her boots on the ground, head in the clouds, and heart in His hands, she is a wandering soul with a home-keeping heart in search of life’s best adventures. Lori loves sharing the joys of living a Christ-centered life with others through her writing. Her first novel, A Firm Place to Stand, released in January 2020. She also

A Firm Place to Stand by [Lori Altebaumer]

blogs regularly on her website www.lorialtebaumer.com. In between writing, Lori enjoys traveling with her husband and visiting her adult children where she can rummage through their refrigerators and food pantries while complaining there’s nothing good to eat here.

Join the conversation: What is there in nature that really speaks to you about God?

Follow the Road

by Lori Altebaumer @Lori_Altebaumer

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” Psalm 32:8 NIV

I have never understood why the very first thing my vehicle’s navigation system feels compelled to tell me is “Follow the road.” Is it worried I might drive through the neighbor’s front yard instead? I think perhaps my GPS has control issues. And if you know me, you know how I feel about control issues.

Of course, there is a time to admit our weaknesses and seek dependable guidance.

Recently I found myself driving home from a writing conference in Oklahoma City on Labor Day. Since the trip would take me through the holiday weekend traffic of Fort Worth, I decided to program my navigation to direct me home by a different route through the country. A friend recommended an app for my phone that would not only direct me but warn me of things like cars parked on the side of the road or dangerous debris in my lane. This app told me everything—to the point of being annoying.

I reached the last major turn I was unfamiliar with and knew it was a straight shot down to the next town about thirty miles away. From there I easily knew my way home. Finally, I felt confident in turning off the pesky voice that kept interrupting my music. What could possibly go wrong?

Well let’s review a few things that could possibly go wrong. For starters, I have terrible night vision, and it was almost dark. And while I was currently on the correct road, I failed to notice that there were two highways joined here. The one I needed to continue taking would split off in a few miles. And we can’t leave out the fact that I have a terrible sense of direction.

To make a long story short, I made a long trip even longer. I missed my turn and ended up driving in the exact opposite direction I needed to go. I was headed right toward the place I had gone out of my way to avoid.

I now had plenty of driving time to consider the error of my ways. I thought about all the times I do this with God. He is my perfect guide. He alone knows the path I’m meant to take and what lies ahead.

But sometimes I let a few miles of smooth travel make me overconfident. This directly impacts my decisions. Maybe it’s a situation I’ve faced many times before. I think I’ve got it handled—no need to pray about it this time.

How about when I am reading a devotion or Bible study and I skim over or even skip reading the Scripture because I already know that one, and, well…I’m in a hurry? In my overconfidence, I stop listening to the only voice that sees the path before me and can guide me safely home.

Before I know it, suddenly I’ve missed a turn and find myself careening into trouble that could have been avoided.

Thankfully when this happens, if I seek His leading, God will always guide me back to the right path. First, I repent—I stop going in the direction I’m headed. Then I turn the GPS—God Positioning System—back on through prayer and Bible reading.

God’s Word isn’t meant to bore us with trivial observations or repetitions. If He says it, then it is significant.

There is no way we can go, no path so familiar, that God’s direction isn’t still needed. He alone knows what lies ahead.

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Follow the Road – insight from @Lori_Altebaumer on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Lori AltebaumerAbout the author: Lori Altebaumer is a writer and editor who only half-jokingly tells others she lives with one foot in a parallel universe. She is a wandering soul with a home-keeping heart and a love of words and story. Lori loves sharing the joys of living a Christ-centered life with others through her writing. Now that her nest is empty, Lori enjoys traveling with her husband and visiting her adult children where she can rummage through their refrigerators and food pantries while complaining there’s nothing good to eat here (payback!). She blogs regularly from her website at www.lorialtebaumer.com, and can also be reached on her Facebook page @lorialtebaumerwrites.

Join the conversation: What is the best “direction” you have received from the Lord lately?

The Root of Bitterness

by Lori Altebaumer @Lori_Altebaumer

“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Hebrews 12:14-15 NIV

Where I live in Texas, Mesquite trees are an invasive and often destructive problem.  Ranchers have been known to refer to them as “Devil Trees” or “The Devil with Roots.” They are hard to destroy.

We can cut them off at ground level. That solves the problem, for about a day, because they come back—with enthusiasm. The Mesquite tree has a tap root that reaches deep underground. Far down the root is a knot, and in order to get rid of the tree for good, we have to dig down to that knot and cut it out.  Anything less, and we’ll be dealing with that tree again before too long.

Bitterness in my soul is the same. It comes in so easily, a comment made, or a look given. Sometimes it floats in like the soft weightless seeds of the dandelion, so lightly that I don’t even know I’ve allowed an offense to settle in and turn to bitterness.

But once it takes root and starts to grow, it interrupts my fellowship with God.

Less than ten seconds of watching the news tells me I’m not alone in this. The urge to be bitter is a temptation—and we know from whom temptations come. We want to give in to the bitterness, because it is our justification for feeling anything other than love towards another.

Sometimes we must distance ourselves from the source, if we aren’t yet able to withstand the temptations: social media, certain people, or even the news channel. As long as we are still feeding the root of bitterness with the fertilizer accessible from these sources, we can’t begin to dig down and remove the root.

I know some situations are impossible to avoid. Your job, your neighbors, family members. But what if it’s your church?

Paul wrote: “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (Ephesians 4:26-27 NASB). Holding a grudge and refusing to forgive gives Satan a foothold—not only in me, but in God’s Church.

I suggest that sometimes we need to step away until we can recognize where the bitterness is coming from. My tendency to be fertile ground always stems from something in me more than anything someone has done to me. Perhaps the offense spoke into one of my insecurities or threatened the control I try to keep on my life—or highlighted the fact that I’m not really in control anyway.

My bitterness will be contagious. Perhaps I will spread it through the way I respond to a comment or answer a question, what events I choose to attend, or where I sit. A little look here or there. Body language that reflects something other than joy and love. On a bad day, I might be tempted to make an innocent remark that isn’t really innocent at all. Like the weightless seeds of the dandelion, my bitterness can spread with very little effort. And Scripture tells me that the seed will grow to cause trouble and division, and become the burden of many.

Keeping myself in the same environment that feeds my bitterness only distracts me from getting to the true source. Like the pesky mesquite trees, I can be so busy fighting what is above the surface that I don’t take time to dig down below and get to the real source of the problem.

Paul wrote: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with malice…” (Ephesians 4:31 NASB).  Don’t allow that invasive, stubborn root to remain in you. Ask the Lord to help you forgive, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

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The Root of Bitterness – insight on #FollowingGod from @Lori_Altebaumer on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Lori AltebaumerAbout the author: Lori Altebaumer is a writer and editor who only half-jokingly tells others she lives with one foot in a parallel universe. She is a wandering soul with a home-keeping heart and a love of words and story. Lori loves sharing the joys of living a Christ-centered life with others through her writing. Now that her nest is empty, Lori enjoys traveling with her husband and visiting her adult children where she can rummage through their refrigerators and food pantries while complaining there’s nothing good to eat here (payback!). She blogs regularly from her website at www.lorialtebaumer.com, and can also be reached on her Facebook page @lorialtebaumerwrites.

Join the conversation: How do you deal with bitterness?

Facing My Fears by Learning to Look Up

by Lori Altebaumer @Lori_Altebaumer

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.                                                                                                                                   2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV   

Acrophobia, the fear of heights. And the curse of a woman whose husband and offspring seemingly fearless.

They do, however, get a mutual enjoyment out of tormenting me by dangling themselves from high places. Of course, it’s not the height that scares me, so much as the possibility of falling from the height. The landing is the real issue.

But I have found that it is good to challenge myself by facing some of our fears. When we do, we often experience something we would have otherwise missed, and we allow God to grow our faith.

That’s why a couple of years ago I found myself on the entirely too wobbly and far too high platform for a zip line at a women’s retreat. I didn’t want to do this, and I was sure God would still love me even if I backed out. But ever since I had registered for the event, knowing it was a completely optional activity, I had the unmistakable feeling this was something I was supposed to do. I felt God was extending an invitation to experience something new. I waited until the last minute praying the feeling would pass. But God seemed to keep whispering in my ear, “Do you trust me?”

I harnessed up, climbed the unstable steps, sat, and yes… scooted myself inch by inch to the edge. I knew my legs completely freeze up when my fear kicks in, so there was no way I’d be stepping off the platform like all the fearless people were doing.

It wasn’t a pretty launch, but I managed to lean forward enough to let gravity do what I couldn’t. I won’t lie, the instant I left the platform was nothing short of sheer terror. But in the next moment, I was flying and free. And I was aware that as long as I kept looking up to God, the distance between me and the ground would no longer concern me. For a few moments, I was swept away in a moment of surrender to the Lord. Yes, Lord I trust you.

God had not given me the fear of heights, but He would use it to teach me.

Recently I had another opportunity to do something that scared me—a helicopter tour of the island of Kauai. I had never flown in a helicopter before, and I’m not a fan of flying (the acrophobia thing again). But I knew my husband wanted to, and that he wouldn’t if I didn’t. So being the Proverbs 31 wife that I am, here I went again.

And it was spectacular. I saw parts of the island I never would have seen, had I not done this. Beautiful, breathtaking scenes that could only have been created by the hands and creativity of the Master Creator. Things that could only be seen from a sky view.

We can’t avoid every disease, accident, job loss, or loss of a loved one. We will face things that scare us, whether we want to or not. I believe God gives us opportunities like ziplining and helicopter rides to teach us to trust Him. Taking a risk is an opportunity to build our faith muscles. By trusting God in facing some of these fears, we learn to trust Him in those we don’t choose.

Facing the things that frighten us, we step off the edge and let go, and God brings us to places of victory we wouldn’t have otherwise known.

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Facing My Fears by Learning to Look Up – insight from @Lori_Altebaumer on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Lori AltebaumerAbout the author: Lori Altebaumer is a writer and editor who only half-jokingly tells others she lives with one foot in a parallel universe. She is a wandering soul with a home-keeping heart and a love of words and story. Lori loves sharing the joys of living a Christ-centered life with others through her writing. Now that her nest is empty, Lori enjoys traveling with her husband and visiting her adult children where she can rummage through their refrigerators and food pantries while complaining there’s nothing good to eat here (payback!). She blogs regularly from her website at www.lorialtebaumer.com, and can also be reached on her Facebook page @lorialtebaumerwrites.

Join the conversation: What fears have you faced head-on?

Puzzled No More

by Lori Altebaumer by @Lori_Altebaumer

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. ”                                                                                                                                                      1 Corinthians 12:27 NIV

Winter puzzle season. In early November the jigsaw puzzles make their appearances. With create confidence and enthusiasm, we clear off a spare table, dump out the pile of pieces, and begin working the tiny fragments together in gleeful harmony until we have a beautiful picture.

That is the vision anyway.

This year we added a new one to our collection. A one-thousand-piece picture of the Swiss Alps at sunset. Since only three colors were needed to print it, they could afford to sell it at a discounted rate.  A little black along the bottom edge where the landscape is in shadows, shades of orange as the sun bounces off the mountains, and blue sky.  At least one half of this puzzle is nothing but amoeba shaped tidbits of blue cardboard. And this is why my husband no longer has the privilege of picking out puzzles to buy. But we were able to use the money we saved for marriage counseling afterwards.

Now because I’m a problem solver—or maybe because I am impatient and easily frustrated—I often try coaxing a piece of the puzzle into the place I need it to go. But we all know what happens when I do this—anything less than a perfect fit throws the entire puzzle off. The piece made to go there now must find another place where it wasn’t really meant to be, and so on and so forth.

I believe God appreciates a good puzzle too. He designed each of us—all our curves and edges—to fit exactly where He needs us in the bigger picture. I admire the artistry and creativity that goes into making the mosaics of faces using tiny tiles of other faces. I wonder if this is how God sees humanity.

Every person has a specific place they fit. When they aren’t in place it leaves a hole. When they try to fill a place that isn’t theirs, it throws the picture off.

The world tries to shove us into places we aren’t intended to be, jamming our hearts into a hole too small, too tight and confining, bending and battering us until it looks like we fit. Or it pushes us into a hole too big for us, leaving too much room to wiggle, to much open space around us, eventually wearing us down. The world doesn’t care about the bigger picture of God’s creation. It seeks to serve its own needs by telling us we should go here, be on this committee, serve this ministry, stay in this job and sign our kids up for XYZ.

But when we find the place we were uniquely designed to fit, everything clicks. We cease to struggle against our inner nature trying to fit a role not meant for us. A piece of God’s puzzle in the perfect and proper place, filling the role only it can fill in order to make the mosaic of God’s Kingdom the flawless masterpiece He intended.

Sometimes it’s not easy to find the place we are meant to be. I often pick up pieces of the puzzle that are close fits, they look like they might be the one, only to find that isn’t their place after all. Sometimes we need to try different things before we find our perfect fit. Sometimes learning where we don’t fit is a part of discovering where we do.

And we have the Master Puzzler Maker to help us.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6 NASB

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Puzzled No More – Learning to See Where I Fit In God’s Plan – @Lori_Altebaumer on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Lori AltebaumerAbout the author: Lori Altebaumer is a writer and editor who only half-jokingly tells others she lives with one foot in a parallel universe. She is a wandering soul with a home-keeping heart and a love of words and story. Lori loves sharing the joys of living a Christ-centered life with others through her writing. Now that her nest is empty, Lori enjoys traveling with her husband and visiting her adult children where she can rummage through their refrigerators and food pantries while complaining there’s nothing good to eat here (payback!). She blogs regularly from her website at www.lorialtebaumer.com, and can also be reached on her Facebook page @lorialtebaumerwrites.

Join the conversation: Has God shown you where you fit in?

March Madness

by Lori Altebaumer @Lori_Altebaumer

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.                                                                              Ephesians 6:12 NIV

Confession time. I’m a Texan, but basketball is my favorite sport. College basketball specifically, and that means March Madness as the NCAA Tournament takes center stage at our house (after God, of course).

My kids played basketball in school, and one thing that always amazed me was how passionate the fans could get. I don’t mean passionate as in “Go Team!” I mean outright nasty about the opposing team, players, and especially the referees.

These were often the same parents who didn’t have a clue about what was on the video games their kids played, or the music they listened to, or the content that came at their kids like water from a fire hydrant through the cell phones that were never far from their reach.

Eager to yell at the referees over a bad call, the players for a bad pass, or the coach for a bad play, but what about the real enemy in their kids’ lives? Where was the passion and righteous indignation then?

Satan is playing an even more important game with our children than anything that will ever take place on a court or field. One where a lot more than bragging rights or a possible scholarship are on the line. It’s a game for their very lives. He won’t play fair. To kill, steal, and destroy—that is his victory—and he plays to win.

The enemy prowls around seeking to devour our kids, and we give him a set of keys—social media accounts, cell phones, the internet—to their hearts and minds, turning a blind eye because…well, what can we do about it anyway. We don’t come out of seats, shaking our fist at the enemy, with veins popping from our foreheads, yelling at the top of our lungs for justice.

But let a referee make a bad call and we’re on our feet yelling every kind of derogatory statement we can think of.

Of course, Satan isn’t fazed by our ranting, yelling, and name calling. We aren’t going to hurt his feelings or shame him into leaving our kids alone. What he is fazed by, though, is the power of the name of Jesus Christ. And by our actions as Christians when we call on that power on behalf of our children. That is the first thing we need to do.

We yell at the players on our team to “D-up” meaning go into defensive position against their opponent. But are we teaching them how to D-up in their everyday life? Do we tell them to D-up on their way out the door to school or to watch a movie with their friends? Teaching them how to D-up for themselves is the second thing we need to do.

Then we need to constantly watch for wolves. In the basketball league our kids played in, a “wolf” was an opponent sneaking up in a player’s blind spot to steal the ball. In the game of life, Satan is a wolf lurking everywhere, eager to attack and cunning in the way he gets close.

When we yell at a referee over a call we don’t agree with, but look the other way at the lies the world is selling our kids…well, it feels a little like suiting up for the enemy’s team.

Instead of giving the game more importance than it should have, I think it may be time we get out of the stands and start channeling our anger at the real enemy who has the power and the desire to steal, kill, and destroy our children.

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March Madness and Preparing Our Kids to Face Life from @Lori_Altebaumer on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Lori AltebaumerAbout the author: Lori Altebaumer is a writer and editor who only half-jokingly tells others she lives with one foot in a parallel universe. She is a wandering soul with a home-keeping heart and a love of words and story. Lori loves sharing the joys of living a Christ-centered life with others through her writing. Now that her nest is empty, Lori enjoys traveling with her husband and visiting her adult children where she can rummage through their refrigerators and food pantries while complaining there’s nothing good to eat here (payback!). She blogs regularly from her website at www.lorialtebaumer.com, and can also be reached on her Facebook page @lorialtebaumerwrites.

Join the conversation: How do you help your children to D-up against the enemy?

Love Notes from God

by Lori Altebaumer @Lori_Altebaumer

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  Jeremiah 29:13 NIV

God wants us to pursue Him. He wants us to search for the evidence of His favor in the first light of dawn, in the dew on the grass and the web of the spider, in the taste of an apple, and the smell of honeysuckle on a warm evening breeze. And He promises us when we seek Him with our heart, we will find him.

Because God wants us to seek and pursue Him, He instilled in us the same desire to be sought after, to be pursued. Dare I say, to be romanced?

The desire to be romanced is the desire to be pursued. It is not a weakness, but a God given gift that reveals God’s heart for us. Similar to the pursuit of a boyfriend or husband—and yet so much more. God longs for us to know He is pursuing us—relentlessly.

Jesus told three parables in which God was portrayed as a seeker (in Luke 15). The shepherd determinedly seeking a lost sheep. The woman turning the house upside down in search of a lost coin. And the father of the wayward son, forever watching the horizon for his son’s return home. In each story the seeker was relentless. Something was so valuable to them, it was worth the effort to look. And there was great joy in the finding.

God seeks out what is valuable to Him. Us. And He does it with love notes.

Oh, but he doesn’t use a generic box of pre-made valentines. He created each of us as a one of a kind original and would never use a one-size-fits-all kind of note to express His love.  As unique as we are in so many ways, so too God crafts His love notes tailor-made  for us.

I have twins—a girl and a boy—and the only thing they have in common is they share the same birthday. He loves chocolate cake. She loves plain white cake. I am not going to communicate my love to her by baking her a chocolate cake, nor would I let him know he was loved by baking him a white cake. I speak to each of them in the individual ways I know mean the most to them. And yes, this does mean that we have two birthday cakes every November twenty-ninth—as if we weren’t already stuffed full of Thanksgiving leftovers.

I know someone who says prime parking places are her love notes from God. I like to park a little farther out and walk. God isn’t going to use a parking space for me. I wouldn’t recognize it as a love note. It would be just another vacant spot of asphalt.

For me, a love note from God may be a gentle breeze, soft against my cheek, gently tugging at my hair. It is the tender touch of a lover. A lover who knows me like no other can because He formed me, knitting together my very being in my mother’s womb. I can assure you, my husband could blow air on my face and the feeling it would trigger would not be even close to the same no matter how lovingly he did it.

How about sunsets, tulips, the taste of chocolate, or the sound of a child laughing? The smell of rain, light through a stained-glass window, a phone call from a friend, or just the right song on the radio at just the time we need to hear it?

God is speaking to us.  And when we hear Him, we should turn our faces to Him. Take our focus off the problems of the world and instead look into the face of our greatest love and most powerful hope.

God is calling, “Come to me.” And waits with arms opened wide.

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Love Notes from God – thoughts from @Lori_Altebaumer on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Lori AltebaumerAbout the author: Lori Altebaumer is a writer and editor who only half-jokingly tells others she lives with one foot in a parallel universe. She is a wandering soul with a home-keeping heart and a love of words and story. Lori loves sharing the joys of living a Christ-centered life with others through her writing. Now that her nest is empty, Lori enjoys traveling with her husband and visiting her adult children where she can rummage through their refrigerators and food pantries while complaining there’s nothing good to eat here (payback!). She blogs regularly from her website at www.lorialtebaumer.com, and can also be reached on her Facebook page @lorialtebaumerwrites.

Join the conversation: What love note has God given you recently?