Praise Project, Week 17

On most Sundays at the end of the sermon, our pastor will often invite anyone who needs prayer to come forward and meet with a member of the prayer team. One particular Sunday several months back I found myself talking to the sweetest woman who listened as I blabbered on about how tight money was that week (when isn’t it?). She prayed for me asking God to open the coffers of blessing. Well, He did just that last week, all on one day. So this week I’m praising God for:

1). $1000+ of my medical bills written off by the hospital (Friday).

2). Giving us a much-needed new refrigerator courtesy of one of my clients (Friday).

3). For giving my daughter a new bed (as the one she currently has is being held together by blocks of wood) courtesy of the same client (Friday).

4). For warm layers on a cold night of baseball.

5). For being reminded of my warm layers on a cold night of baseball (thanks, Robin).

6). That my daughter has one, possibly two jobs for the summer. There really are jobs to be had out there!

7). For the sheer enjoyment of watching my son pitch well this weekend. Makes my heart sing!

Malachi 3:10

“‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,'” says the Lord Almighty, “’and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.


Praise Project, Week 16

This week’s praise project is very special because it centers around one event that, upon reflection, I have much to praise God for. My grandmother went home to be with Jesus on Easter Sunday. You’ll forgive me if I’m not sad. I couldn’t be happier for her. The following are the things I’m praising God for regarding her life.

1). For 89 years of a really good life.

2). For saying “yes” to her friend who begged her to go on a double date with a guy she really didn’t like initially, resulting in 62 years of of wedded bliss (most of the time) to my grandpa.

3). For modeling what it means to stand by your man.

4). For her salvation, a legacy of hope for the rest of us.

5). For finally getting her wish to go home and on Easter Sunday of all days!

6).  For the many friendships she enjoyed.

7). Finally, I am praising God that she had more years of living in a relationship with Jesus than she had without.


Praise Project, Week 15

This week I’m feeling very rich and praising God:

1). That Bruce and I have jobs and insurance.

2). For healthy kids.

3). For cars that work-all three of them!

4). For space in our house so people can stay with us.

5). That summer break is mere weeks away.

6). For a full pantry and refrigerator.

7). That I serve a God that is not dead but is risen indeed!


Ground Zero

I will never forget that day. It was morning, and I’d just made the bed where my three-year old and one-year old sat and played. Folding clothes I watched the news as I waited for the curlers to do their job in Abby’s hair. And then across the screen shot the scene of an airplane plowing into the first Twin Tower. Confused I stared at the TV wondering if I’d misunderstood and was simply watching a clip from a movie. Then like a right hook to the jaw, reality punched me in the heart, and a new reality was born.

Nine eleven is a day most of us will never forget. The scene of the Twin Towers crumbling to the ground, people jumping to their deaths, and thick billowing smoke choking the New York City air will not soon be forgotten. Like our parents and grandparents could ramble off the details of where they were during JFK’s assassination in striking detail, so too can our current culture tell you where they were, whom they were with and what they were doing on 9/11.

We watched as smoke and debris coursed through the streets of New York City between the buildings choking out the oxygen. Those fortunate enough not to be in those buildings that fateful day were still impacted. It changed the entire world. People lost loved ones, homes, jobs; as a country we lost our sense of security whether false or real.

Emotionally the devastation went deeper. Ground Zero represented shattered dreams, lives, and hope in the future. It humbled a country that to that point seemed invincible, untouchable. For a brief moment, all seemed lost. Physically, the place was a mess. Brokenness littered the city in the form of collapsed buildings and unaccounted-for loved ones. I remember seeing the photos and being so overwhelmed at the magnitude of it all. How would they ever clean it up?

Though I wasn’t there I felt the affects as clearly as if I had been. The sense of fear and vulnerability rippled through the rest of the world. We waited on pins and needles for what would happen next. Every human being on the planet with access to some sort of media knew what was going on and was deeply affected by the event. We asked things like, could this happen in my city? Will America ever be the same? What happens next? What kind of world will my babies grow up in?

Two thousand years ago Jerusalem experienced it’s own devastation. I wonder if Mary and the disciples, if they were here today, would be able to recount in vivid detail that day. What was the atmosphere around them? Could they sense the evil that snaked through the crowd? What were they wearing? What were they feeling? What were they worried about? Did they have regrets?

In the days that followed 9/11 I spent every free moment I had in between changing diapers and feeding babies, glued to the TV and internet watching and reading anything that had to do with the gloomy situation our country found itself in. I wanted hope. I wanted it to not be true. I wanted to wake up and have the whole thing turn out to be nothing but a bad dream.

I imagine Mary wanted the same thing. I imagine she would have given anything to wake up and have the scene in front of her, her Son hanging by His hands, skin shredded and broken, to be nothing but a horrible nightmare. I imagine His followers wished they’d had more time with Him, listened more carefully, and paid closer attention. I imagine the warnings He gave of this day never prepared them for what they would see, and I imagine the devastation they felt must have threatened to choke out their very breath.

Mercifully, God doesn’t leave us in our devastation but finishes every story in a way only He can. On a day that had become New York’s normal, volunteers and firefighters continued their tireless work of sorting through the wreckage. And there it was: two pieces of metal intersecting to shape a cross in the middle of the mess. I believe this piece of metal was placed in the middle of the wreckage by divine hands for a divine purpose: to give us hope.

Right there in the middle of it all, the reminder that God had not abandoned us, that He was the hope in the darkness. The thing that struck me most about that picture is how loud the wreckage surrounding the cross was. It was big and messy and overwhelming, and the cross sat quietly in the middle of it, the material that hung on it blowing quietly in the breeze.

The scene at the foot of the cross was no less messy, no quieter. Pools of blood on the ground, groaning, crying and jeering all contributed to the chaotic scene. But again, God never leaves the story at hopelessness. Three days later with His body having been buried in a dark hole sealed by a stone, Hope awakened, got up and walked out defying death and anything else Satan throws His direction.

Every single one of us comes to a point of decision, a ground zero, if you will. Faced with our sin, our mess, our mistakes, wrong choices, sinful actions, we have to decide. Do we wallow in the chaos or do we choose life? Because Jesus didn’t stay dead, we don’t have to either. Just as He carried His cross to the top of the hill, we too drag our sin to the foot of it and leave it there. Do you remember where you were when the reality of that haggard cross and the empty tomb changed your life? What pit were you in? What emotion had swallowed you up leaving you desperate? What sin brought you to the end of yourself? Do you remember? God help us if we ever stop dragging our sorry selves to the cross. It’s there that we find redemption, reconciliation and renewal.

There are those who were angry at God for allowing terrorism to hit our country in the evil way it did. Why would a loving God do that? Where was He when the breath of 3000 plus people was snuffed out so needlessly? Because I know God and have been privileged to be a student of His character, I know that 9/11 broke His heart like it broke ours. I believe that if He was walking the earth that day, He would have stood in the middle of the chaos and cried with those who cried. But because His story didn’t end at the cross but at the open tomb, there’s the reminder of God’s love in things like crosses made out of twisted metal.

“’He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay’”(Matthew 28:6, NIV).

Jesus is risen.




Praise Project, Week 14

This week I’m praising God:

1). For perspective (you’ll understand if you read my latest blog post).

2). For a nest to feather (working on some cheapo projects at the old homestead).

3). For a rare evening of dinner and chatting with our houseguests.

4). For the yummy ground beef we got for Christmas and are still enjoying. Nothing beats fresh beef straight from the local farm.

5). For the simplicity of resting in Christ (thank you, Jeanie, for the reminder).

6). For free coffee at McDonald’s (all month long!)

7). That I don’t have to put my house on the market. The thought of all that work makes me tired.



A Matter of Perspective

Puma Two years ago my husband and I and our two kids flew to Germany to visit my sister and her family for two weeks. I prepared for weeks, planning, purchasing and finally packing two weeks’ worth of clothing and shoes in a small carry-on. Having traveled with my husband off and on over twenty years of marriage I knew the most important item in my bag was my shoes. I could forget just about anything else and survive, but the shoes were non-negotiable. To leave without them would set the trip up for misery before it even started. But the shoes I needed were not just any shoes. They had to be able to withstand hours, and I mean hours, of uninterrupted walking.

Though my husband and I both love to travel, we have different opinions as to how it should be done. For instance, compared to my husband I am a lazy traveler. My goal is to arrive at my destination as quickly as possible. I want no layovers, not a lot of stopping for bathroom breaks or eating.  And if you must eat while en route, bring your own food. It’s cheaper and timesaving. Once there I want to park myself on a beach or in a café sipping coffee and people watching. That’s all. I’m not interested in seeing anything historical or artsy-fartsy. I just want to eat the local food, drink coffee and be.

My husband is completely different, of course. He’s like a bear having awakened from a long winter’s nap ready to hunt and attack. He’s starving for culture, adventure and has an unnatural desire to learn stuff. What this translates to be is lots of walking. For our trip to Disney several years ago, he had a three-page itinerary for a seven-day vacation. By day five, we were all begging for mercy. He let us have one day off to swim.

I knew Germany, and any place we went on this particular trip, would be no different. Probably worse. So I shopped and researched for the best shoes I could afford. I pictured myself skipping and running from place to place, my feet barely touching the ground because I had on a good pair of shoes. Finally, I’d be able to keep up with my husband. I was going to Forest Gump my way through Western Europe.

We spent two and a half days in Prague immersing ourselves in the culture. It was awesome, but by the end of day one we were, once again, begging for mercy. For hours we walked all over the city, across the Charles Bridge, over to the place where Mission: Impossible was filmed; through the Jewish section of Prague. We saw statues and historical monuments, churches and a flea market, took a boat ride and climbed the stairs to a fake Eiffel Tower. By evening we were tired and my feet were screaming. The shoes I’d spent so much money on were worthless. I couldn’t understand it. They had a puma on them. They were supposed to make me stealthy and light footed like a cat.

What was worse, my only other option was leather flip-flops. Flip flops for heaven’s sake!  I got them several years prior for $5 at a consignment store. If my expensive Puma’s couldn’t carry me through Europe, there was no way these could either.

Having no other choice, the next day I slipped my feet into my summer footwear and hoped for the best. Oddly enough, by the end of the day my feet were not hurting. I couldn’t figure it out. They were old and flip-flops and nothing to look at and not the least bit exciting. But they were tried and true and had formed to my feet after years of wear.

Last week I talked about how for months I had been sensing that God was shaking things up at my house, like He was getting us ready for a move. I thought the move was Texas. It wasn’t. Then another possibility popped up, and I was sure this was it. It wasn’t. Had I completely misread God? Was my relationship with him so shallow that I mistook a “feeling” of His moving in our lives as something that it wasn’t? What was going on? And then it hit me like ocean waves crashing against rock; so loud and obvious I almost missed it. What I thought was going to be a geographical change or a career move for us, ended up being something far more valuable: a change in perspective.

What we thought was a need for physical, tangible change turned out to be a deeper need to get off the rabbit trail of complaining and frustration. We needed to get back on the straight and narrow to a life of service seeped in gratitude; a life lived for Someone above our petty frustrations and ourselves. I reasoned that a move was in order because our lives had become so routine we could do life here with our eyes closed. They were closed all right; closed to all that God had given us and opened only to the negative.

A good marketing campaign does two things: it enlightens you to something you didn’t know you needed until it was marketed to you; and two, it breeds discontentment with what you already have. I’ve often said that I could be perfectly content until I walk into a store. Within minutes of browsing I’ve suddenly found twenty things that I can’t live without and am now completely depressed and ungrateful for what I have hanging in my closet.

I didn’t need those overpriced shoes for my trip to Europe. Sure, they were new, name brand and had a cat on them promising things no pair of shoes could ever deliver. Instead, I already had what I needed: my old faithful, $5 leather flip flops that have been worn so much they are a natural extension of my feet in summer. I often wonder what I’ll do when they finally wear out. Our life here is no different. It fits like well-worn leather shoes. It’s familiar like a book that’s been read so much the spine is broken and the pages are torn. It works. It’s home.

Suffice it to say, my eyes are wide open to what God has done, is doing and will do in our lives. We are no longer looking for jobs and locations, or even money, beyond what God has provided.

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life” (Phil. 2:12).

Jesus is perspective.



Praise Project, Week 13

This week I’m praising God:

1). For home

2). For baseball season. I once told my son when he was thinking of taking a summer off from baseball that there was no way I would let him ruin my summer social life! I love this season!


3). For His Word: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1, NIV)

4). For friends who are willing to ask the tough questions.

5). That we are no longer coasting through life with our eyes closed. God is moving.

6). For the privilege of watching 44 believers get baptized on Sunday. God is moving in Peoria!

7). That this week’s “scheduled” precipitation is rain (and not snow). Yay!



When my husband and I found out we were going to be parents, we did what any new parents-to-be do: marched ourselves into the nearest Toys R Us for the purpose of registering for every baby product we believed would enhance this new experience. Because this was our first, the first grandchild on both sides and a “staff baby,” as my husband was a pastor at the time, we knew baby showers would abound, and we were more than happy to “shop” for them.

High chairs, car seats, wipes, diapers, clothes, toys, all of it lined the aisles of the store ushering us into a whole new world of existence. My husband stood in the center of one of the aisles and just took it all in. Not to be slowed down I grabbed the scanning gun out of his hands and aimed it at everything I wanted. While he pondered I pursued with Roadrunner-like speed whizzing past him.

Ever cautious, my husband questioned every choice down to whether or not we should register for bottles that slanted or stood straight up and down. After all, research had shown that the slanted bottles helped to prevent ear infections as a result of liquid getting in baby’s ears. What could have been an hour activity turned into several more with additional trips to the store after having done plenty of research. We’d read (and by “we” I mean my husband) every word off of every box that each product came in. We’d discussed and debated and removed items from the registry in favor of better choices.

It all came to a head when we had to decide on a stroller. In my head, with the exception of a few bells and whistles, they all pretty much did the same thing: that is, stroll baby from point A to point B. By the time we’d read all the reviews of the different strollers and all of the product descriptions, my eyes were bleeding. At one point I remember thinking that if he didn’t pick one soon, I was going to snatch all of them off of the store shelves, throw them at him, and purchase whichever one hit him first.

In fairness to my sweet husband, what he lacks in quick decision-making skills, I more than make up for in being rash, quick and unthinking in making said decisions. While he thinks the thing to death, I jump and ask questions later. Neither is good in the extreme, and both characteristics have run our lives over the last week. Only this time we weren’t mulling over stroller choices but rather job choices and a twelve-hour move.

We’ve sensed for a while that God was going to be shaking things up in the Nielson house. It finally happened a couple of weeks ago when my husband was offered an administrative position at a Christian school in Texas. This was it. This was what we had been waiting for. Change. Warm weather. A new start.

In my head it was done. Immediately a mental list of things that needed to be accomplished before the sign could go in the yard formed in my head.  Daunting though it was, I was determined and undeterred. Meanwhile, my husband was sick with fear and doubting. Could he really do this job? Is this what God really wanted? Did he have what it takes? Operating from the perspective that he is insanely talented and could do any job under the umbrella of ministry, I didn’t understand the hesitation. Back and forth we went until I became as doubtful and fearful as he. I began wondering if God’s plans are really as specific as I’d always believed them to be.

We had in front of us two choices: stay or go. And though I believe there are instances in life when one choice is not better over another (like in purchasing strollers), I just can’t bring myself to believe that a choice of this magnitude doesn’t matter, that either would be fine. Make no mistake, in choosing incorrectly there is always room for God to redeem the choice and make something good out of it.

Psalm 139:16 says,

“All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

The Hebrew word for ordained is translated “yatsar”. Within the framework of divine activity it means: as a potter forming; figurative for frame, pre-ordain, plan (in divine purpose), of a situation, of an occurrence (Strong’s).

If my situations are planned for a divine purpose, then on the calendar of my life there are more than just blank spaces. They are filled with activities and choices that are already decided. I’m not a robot. I can decide to choose my path without asking for God’s help, but I can’t believe for a moment that in choosing to ask for His help He won’t make it clear what He wants.

About three weeks ago we decided that we needed to trade in our truck for something more fuel-efficient and smaller that our daughter could drive. We took the truck and a 1995 Chevy Lumina to a car dealership and asked if maybe they had something small we could trade the two vehicles for. Not only were we able to get a smaller newer car than either of the two we traded, we also got $1200 in cash. The money would go straight to our $1000 emergency fund as part of our Financial Peace University class homework.

But wait, that’s not all. We had another choice. We could trade in my van along with the other two vehicles; get a small car for my daughter and a newer, less problematic car for me, which happened to be a Volkswagen Passat. It was beautiful and European with a sunroof. The only difference would be no cash back. Even with something as unimportant as a car purchase, we knew which choice was better. Keep my van and take the cash.

As for Texas, we aren’t going. It is now a closed door. I have no doubt that my husband would have done well at the job, that God would have blessed our efforts and that great lessons would have been learned. It would have been a good choice, but not the best one. So we’re waiting. The only thing I know for sure is that God knows the plans He has for me, and in His time He will enlighten me to them. In the meantime, I’ve learned that Jesus is specific.