The Road Less Traveled

Ariana reached a fork in the road in September. The first month of her freshman year at college.

While resting her chin on her hand and concentrating on the English assignment, Ariana’s dorm friends burst into her room.

“Hey, come with us to the party tonight. We’re gonna play the drinking game.”

Ariana frowned and returned to her book,  “I need to study.”

“You can study later. It’s the weekend, for heaven’s sake.”

“No, thanks, I don’t drink. And even if I did, how could I party and drink all night and then sit in church the next day. Or worse yet, miss church with a hangover. It doesn’t feel right.”

“C’mon, Ariana. It’s part of the college experience. Who would know?”

Without missing a beat, Ariana looked into the eyes of her friend and said, “I will know. No. Drinking and partying … that’s not me.”

Everyone wants to fit in somewhere. According to Maslow, belonging ranks third in our hierarchy of needs. We search for it only after physical and safety needs are met and before we strive to meet our need for esteem and self-actualization.

The question is how far will we go to belong or fit in? How much will we compromise for our comfort or pleasure? How far will we bend truth to fit our desires? Or to feel good about ourselves?

At her fork in the road, Ariana decided her path based on a promise. The promise that she already belonged. She claimed the words God spoke through Isaiah, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1, NKJV)

When I stand at my forks in the road and must decide whether to follow the crowd or stand for what I know to be true, I pray I will choose as Ariana chose. A road less traveled. I bet it will make all the difference in the world.

My child, listen and be wise: Keep your heart on the right course. ..O my son, give me your heart. May your eyes take delight in following my ways.  (Proverbs 23:19, 25, NLT)

This story is shared with permission by the heart of Ariana’s mother who sees the young woman her daughter has become.

©2012 Gloria Ashby. Feel free to forward this devotion in its entirety, including this copyright line. Leave comments, ask questions, read past devotions, or subscribe to receive these devotions daily in your e-mail.

 

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3 Lessons from the Lost Ax Head Prayer

I poured out the contents of my tote in desperate search of the lost flash drive. The one I borrowed and that contained a presentation I would deliver the coming weekend. The one I wanted to put in a secure place. Apparently, I succeeded. Even I couldn’t find it.

Day planner, cell phone, wallet, lipsticks, pens, keys, ear buds, Cold-Eze lozenges … all fell on my desk. Everything but the flash drive I pictured myself placing in the side pocket three days ago. Holding the tote upside down, I shook it vigorously to ensure the three-inch memory stick wasn’t stuck in some corner. Nothing.

I emptied drawers. More pens, lead refills, a timer, plastic ware, a health bar, scissors, Kleenex, spare pantyhose (does anyone even wear these anymore?), and post-its. But no flash drive.

“Did I give you my flash drive?” I asked my secretary, hoping she could produce it .

“No, you took it back from me to review your presentation.” Heavy sigh. Maybe I left it at home. As soon as I hit the back door, I marched to my office and rummaged through all eight desk drawers. Twice. Still nothing.

The next morning I made one final sweep through my office. Defeated and resigned that I lost the borrowed flash drive, a friend’s lesson on prayer drifted into my mind, “I pray the ‘axe head’ prayer when I lose something. The one about Elisha in 2 Kings.” What was that story again?

A group of prophets and Elisha walked to the Jordan River to build a new meeting-house. While cutting down trees, one prophet’s ax head flew off the handle and sunk in the river. He cried to Elisha that it was borrowed. Elisha asked, “Where did it fall?” When the prophet showed him, Elisha cut a stick and threw it into the water at that spot. The ax head floated to the surface.

Half-heartedly I bowed my head and prayed, “Lord, I lost the memory stick. Apparently distracted again instead of paying attention to where I laid it. Unless there’s a good reason You want me to buy another, please float it to the surface. Only You can retrieve it. Amen.”

I turned to sign on to my computer and shifted the keyboard to a more comfortable position. A slash of red and gray surfaced from beneath the number keys. My flash drive! Right where I laid it while trying to think of a safe and secure place to put it.

As if to impress upon me that there was more to this than just a “magic” prayer, the found memory stick and Elisha’s miracle stalked my mind all day. I walked away with three lessons…

1. Admit when I lose my “edge.” Caught in the swirl of busyness, work that I began with good intentions and enthusiasm dissolved into just another task to hurry up and check off my list. I lost sight of why I was doing what I was doing.

2. Determine why I lost my “edge.” For me, I fell back into my habit of working to exhaustion out of fear one moment would be wasted. I forgot to pause periodically, refresh, and take stock. To listen for His voice to see where He was at work or setting direction.

3. Determine where I lost my “edge.” Like Elisha who asked the worker where he last had the ax head, I needed to ask, “Where did I last have my “edge?” Where was I last walking in stride with God and His purpose?

And when He surfaced that place in my heart, I grabbed it. Thank you, Lord, for giving me yet another chance to recover my “edge” for your glory.

“When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it into the water at that spot. Then the ax head floated to the surface. “Grab it,” Elisha said. And the man reached out and grabbed it.” (2 Kings 6:6-7, NLT)

©2012 Gloria Ashby. Feel free to forward this devotion in its entirety, including this copyright line.  e-mail.

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Work in Progress

I’m a Completer-Finisher. At least that’s what the personality trait test asserted. One who looks at projects and declares: The End. Period. Finished. Time to celebrate victory or reflect on failure. Either way, I like to tie loose ends into a bow and claim an initiative completed.

First time I did that at work, one surprised team member commented, “In all my years with companies, no one declared an initiative finished. People drifted into other roles or the project trailed off into the sunset, but no one said ‘We’re done.’ “

Ahhh. There was the challenge. Knowing when assigned projects were finished. Did I declare too soon? Should we have kept going? Marketer and entrepreneur Seth Godin justified my radical behavior when he wrote:

“Whenever you start a project, you should have a plan for finishing it. One outcome is to declare victory, to find that moment when you have satisfied your objectives and reached a goal.

The other outcome, … is to declare failure, to realize that you’ve run out of useful string and it’s time to move on … If you are unable to declare, then you’re going to slog, and instead of starting new projects based on what you’ve learned, you’ll merely end up trapped.

Declare one or the other, but declare.” Seth Godin’s blog:  Jan 13, 2012

Christ was a Completer-Finisher, too. Hanging on the cross, he declared “It is finished” (John 19:30). He fulfilled his plan. And because he put the period at the end of the mission his Father gave him, we were no longer trapped. Not by sin and not by death.

However, work remained. The next project commenced … spreading the gospel so all would hear about God’s saving grace.

We’re all on that mission. Each of us is one of God’s projects. And God is the only One who declares when that project is finished. Until then, as the framed saying on my shelf suggests, “Please be patient. God isn’t finished with me yet.” We are a work in progress. Doing His work in progress, on His kingdom to come.

But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus — the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God. (Acts 20:24, NLT)

©2012 Gloria Ashby. Feel free to forward this devotion in its entirety, including this copyright line. Leave comments, ask questions, read past devotions, or subscribe to receive these devotions daily in your e-mail.

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The Easter Story

Easter played out on my patio this year in my ficus tree…

He Lives!

“Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” (Matthew 28:5, NIV)

©2012 Gloria Ashby. Feel free to forward this devotion in its entirety, including this copyright line. Leave comments, ask questions, read past devotions, or subscribe to receive these devotions daily in your e-mail.

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Managing Change: What to Do When We Can’t See Where We’re Going

Sometimes, we just don’t see change coming. It’s not a matter of intelligence or foresight. After all, we anticipated past shifts in status quo. And it’s not that we don’t like change. We even pioneered a few. We got on the bandwagon and made impassioned pleas for what we believed needed to occur.

But eventually, we all face it. Unexpected change, not of our making or desire. A slight tremble in the world we know, or an earthquake that rocks our souls. And we wonder how we might come out of the shift in our normal. We grumble for “good ole times” but trudge forward hoping for a safe journey and positive outcomes. Like I did one morning two weeks ago.

A driving rain was falling when I left for work. Water pooled on streets, and oncoming car lights blinded me. Worse yet, no street lights. Blackness shrouded the road, making it like the Colorado cave I visited several summers ago. When the tour guide asked her group to extinguish all flashlights and experience being lost deep inside the mountain, everyone vanished with the change. Only a pitch-black void remained.

Little did I know my commute would arm me to face changes awaiting the day … and weeks … ahead. Like the Israelites who traveled the desert, but couldn’t see the ultimate plan or destination, neither could I. Yet, God guided them as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. When His cloud moved and signaled time to change locations, the people packed their tents and followed. And He met all their needs along the journey.

Two things helped me navigate to a lighted freeway that morning . Keeping my eye on the double-striped, yellow line on the ground to my left and my familiarity with a road I had traveled every day and evening for the last year.

And only two things can guide me through darkness of change to safety. Familiarity with God by traveling every day with Him, who is present in all things, and keeping my eye on His Word, the double-striped yellow line that keeps me on the path He lays before me.

Change can obscure roads ahead. Make me leery about next steps and scared of possible terrors that lurk in the unknown. Yet, when His cloud moves and change drifts through the air, I follow. I pack up my routines and expectations, and travel behind the cloud. Though the journey will be an adventure and the destination may surprise me, I don’t need to see what’s ahead. God does.

Whenever the cloud lifted from over the sacred tent, the people of Israel would break camp and follow it. And wherever the cloud settled, the people of Israel would set up camp. In this way, they traveled and camped at the LORD’s command wherever he told them to go. … Whether the cloud stayed above the Tabernacle for two days, a month, or a year, the people of Israel stayed in camp and did not move on. But as soon as it lifted, they broke camp and moved on. So they camped or traveled at the LORD’s command … (Numbers 9:17-18, 22-23, NLT).

©2012 Gloria Ashby. Feel free to forward this devotion in its entirety, including this copyright line. Leave comments, ask questions, read past devotions, or subscribe to receive these devotions daily in your e-mail.

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From Mustard Seed Idea to a Tree

The mustard seed of an idea grew into a magnificent tree of churches that dot surrounding Brazilian communities today.

Jean and her husband landed in Brazil more than 50 years ago as missionaries. A young couple with servants’ hearts, they planted the first church in a remote part of the land for natives in the  area.

When Jean and her husband returned from Brazil, they seeded a scholarship fund for future missionaries at Weatherford College. The fund grew and sent more missionaries to Brazil to add branches to the original church.

Last week, more than 40 years later, Jean sat at a banquet table with scholarship recipients. One gentleman received a scholarship from the endowment, graduated and served as a missionary in Brazil for 40 years. In the same area where young Jean and her husband landed and built a church. He added to the original seed’s branches.

Also at the table sat a young man and recent scholarship recipient. “The scholarship makes it possible for me to be here. And one day I hope to be a missionary,” the student spoke to Jean, not knowing he talked with the lady who established the fund that would help him fulfill his dream.

Christ told his disciples that the Kingdom of God will grow from the smallest seed into the largest plant in the garden. The kingdom they expected would not start as majestic. Rather, it  would begin as an insignificant body of believers, easily overlooked. Its greatness would come as a surprise. Like Jean’s endowed scholarship fund, still producing missionaries and a growing number of churches for Christ 40 years later.

Consider: What small action or word of encouragement have you seen grow to greater heights than imagined? What spark of inspiration has God placed on your heart that could grow into a roaring fire if only you will feed it?

What you may think is only a mustard seed of an idea has a tree of potential when God is in it.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32, NIV)

©2012 Gloria Ashby. Feel free to forward this devotion in its entirety, including this copyright line. Leave comments, ask questions, read past devotions, or subscribe to receive these devotions daily in your e-mail.

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Unity in Diversity?

About six months ago three business units merged. The challenge: How to unify three ways of doing things into one integrated whole. A problem-solving exercise hinted at the road to success.

Teams of eight grabbed materials from a table … an odd assortment of toy trucks, pulleys, PVC pipes, bungee cords, bags of sugar, kite twine, and slinkies. The goal: Within 60 minutes, invent a transportable mechanism that launched a tennis ball to roll around the perimeter of a circle, 3′ in diameter, and raise a flag at the finish line.

Frowns of skepticism stared at each other. Yet, we tackled the problem as if lives depended on it. Or, at least egos and reputations.

Some worked alone. Some partnered. Leadership eased from one to another as one idea or modification built on the last. Five minutes before deadline, we launched our tennis ball. It rolled down a groove formed by table legs, two PVC pipes and dowels, all duck-taped together. At the end of the runway, the ball circled the edge of two more PVC pipes taped to a foam board platform before it thumped a 6 inch plastic arch, which sprang loose and upright, holding a paper flag. A collective exhale of relief and cheer followed.

Then came the greater challenge. The exercise leader instructed three groups to combine their different inventions so they worked together. Groans erupted. Exhaustion sidelined some momentarily. But, no one quit. At the end of 60 minutes, three inventions worked as one.

I didn’t miss the message. Three distinct business units merged, but we could find our way to become a single unit. Just like the three contraptions. And achieve more together than alone.

That evening, another parallel dawned on me. Could this exercise apply to life? An allegory for God’s intention with us, His creations? We each grow up on different “platforms” — different backgrounds, ideas, skills, and experiences. Then God groups different units at different times and says, “Now find a way to work as one.” Isn’t that what He has in mind when individuals marry? So, what about different divisions within God’s Church?

Maybe we’re one, too, like it or not. Consider James Howell’s perspective in his book, The Kiss of God, “Are our differences precisely the bizarre design of the Spirit, not so we might bicker or splinter off but so real people, in all their startling diversity and uniqueness, might find a place in Christ’s body? … Together we are not a many-headed monster, but a body, reaching out to all kinds of people, accomplishing together unfathomably good things we could never manage alone.”

We can find unity in our diversity. What do you think? What is God’s call to action for us?

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, … one hope, … one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:3-5, NIV).

©2012 Gloria Ashby. Feel free to forward this devotion in its entirety, including this copyright line. Leave comments, ask questions, read past devotions, or subscribe to receive these devotions daily in your e-mail.

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The Heart’s Desire

When the young man interviewed, he boasted of being a Great White in the ocean of sales. Yet,  his results were those of a snail. A bottom dweller in stack ranks. Despite the plastic shark he placed on his desk as a reminder of his promise, he was not a shark at heart.

After reviewing the month’s results, the manager leaned back in his chair and studied the young man sitting across from him. Eyes downcast, shoulders drooped, hands gripping knees.

“Short of targets again, huh?” the young man said. He drew in a long breath, and confessed, “I don’t think this job is a good fit for me.”

“So, where is your heart?” The manager elbowed the door left cracked open. “If you could do anything with your life, what would you do?”

“I’d be a nurse.”

Of all possible answers, the manager had not fathomed that one from someone working in sales. Somewhere, amidst the young man’s story peppered with ought-to’s and have-to’s, he dashed desires of his heart against am-nots and can-nots.

We, too, can be tempted to walk in that young man’s shoes. To give up against obstacles we can’t see how to overcome. To get hung up on sandbars of doubt and fear. Or, to wallow in self-pity when we fail to live up to expectations.

Like the apostle Peter after he denied Christ three times. Guilt-ridden, Peter returned to his former life as a fisherman. Perhaps he thought that was all he was meant for after failure to live up to his promise to follow Christ to prison and death (John 21:1-17).

Yet, the resurrected Christ surprised Peter. He came looking for his disciple. From the seashore, Christ called to Peter and his companions, “Friends… .” And He called Peter back to his heart’s desire…to be a rock. Not the rock on which dreams were dashed, but the rock on which Christ built his church.

The manager surprised his sales rep. Rather than issue a performance warning, he called the associate back to his dream and committed to help him achieve it. Three years later, the young man entered nursing school. Today, he’s an RN, living out his true purpose, his heart’s desire.

“…for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13, NIV).

©2012 Gloria Ashby. Feel free to forward this devotion in its entirety, including this copyright line. Leave comments, ask questions, read past devotions, or subscribe to receive these devotions daily in your e-mail.

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How Long is a Good Life?

“Slaying victim had a strong faith, heart.” The headline blurred as I choked back tears over the  story in the Dallas News, March 4, 2003.

The 29-year-old was returning to his Cedar Hill home early Saturday after shuttling church friends around the city when a gunman shot and killed him in what police and friends say was a random slaying….He had been shot once in the head.

Marcus’s picture stared back at me. News of his death rocked our tight-knit department.

A 6′ 3″ Tennessee Tech linebacker, we dubbed him our “gentle giant.” He found Christ at 14 years old and never stopped living his faith. Words of encouragement for the troubled, acts of kindness for the challenged. Adopting a fatherless five-year-old as his “little brother,” serving as a leader and role model in the young men’s ministry.

When cleaning out his desk, I found one last note he wrote. “What do I want to do? Help others turn their potential into reality.” Yet Saturday morning, a single bullet ended that dream on a lonely stretch of highway.

As I sat in Marcus’s memorial service, his pastor asked the question on everyone’s mind: “How can I or anyone make sense of such a senseless death? I prayed, ‘God, I don’t know what to say to family and friends who gather tomorrow in memory of Marcus. What message can his death possibly have for us?’ “

The minister scanned his audience. “God said to me, ‘March 4th.’ “

He cocked his head and wrinkled his brow as he preached on. “March 4th? Okay, but what message can I deliver? And God said, ‘March 4th. March Forth.’ “

Marcus marched forth to fulfill his mission, to help others turn potential into reality. And for those he touched, it was now our turn. Today, I post to honor his memory and example. Marcus left a legacy the minister summarized in his closing words.

“A long life might not be good enough, but a good life is always long enough. “

Marcus led a good life. And we who mourn, celebrate his life and March Forth.

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:35-36, NIV).

©2011 Gloria Ashby. Feel free to forward this devotion in its entirety, including this copyright line. Leave comments, ask questions, read past devotions, or subscribe to receive these devotions daily in your e-mail.

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A Shabby Chic Life

I found the quilt at the bottom of my quilt box. A hand-sewn memory from my childhood.

The quilt took shape one weekend when I spent the night with Mama Walker, my maternal grandmother. At first, she tried to teach me to play her guitar, but my six-year-old fingers couldn’t press the strings hard enough to form a note nor move fast enough to change chords. Not to mention I was tone-deaf and couldn’t tell a right note from a wrong one.

“You’ll make a better quilter,” she said, returning the guitar to its case. “C’mon. I’ll show you.”

For most of the morning, I cut 4×4″ squares from scraps of fabric piled next to her trestle sewing machine—a mix of florals, geometrics, stripes and calicos in a rainbow of colors. Placing the pattern she fashioned out of cardboard, I cut one square at a time. When a blister formed on my thumb from using Mama Walker’s adult-sized scissors, I doubled and tripled the material to multiply squares in a single cut.

“Now sew the blocks together,” she instructed. “Three to a row. Then three rows to make a nine-square block.” I plopped in the chair by her sewing machine and pumped the pedal. The machine whirred to life. Its needle rose and fell to the rhythm of my foot.

“Slow down. Steady pace,” Mama Walker cautioned when my foot speed increased and the needle ate fabric faster than I could match seams. By dinner time I had stacked enough squares at my feet to cover my twin bed. Mama Walker declared my part done. Over the next month and with hands gnarled by arthritis, she pieced my fabric blocks together, quilted the top, and finished the raw edges.

I fingered the now-worn quilt of my youth. Close up, I noticed non-squared squares and uneven stitches. I eyed telltale holes where I ripped out seams after discovering I sewed a right side to a wrong side of fabric. I spied traces of knotted thread where my erratic foot rhythm on the trestle tensed the spool of twine feeding the needle.

Yet, when I looked at the quilt from across the room, mistakes disappeared. A shabby chic topper remained, its beauty in its worn, vintage look. Its perfection in its not-so-perfectly assembled pattern. And I see Mama Walker again. Stitching together my squares. Making them into something useful. Like God. Stitching together fragments of my existence. Piecing together a shabby chic life out of the mismatched blocks and knotted threads of my being. Making it into something useful. As only He can do.

“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” (Gen 3:21, NIV)

©2011 Gloria Ashby. Feel free to forward this devotion in its entirety, including this copyright line. Leave comments, ask questions, read past devotions, or subscribe to receive these devotions daily in your e-mail.

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