An Issue of Character



I was born with a unique DNA and there is much that goes into that genetic makeup, helps determine my temperament, my gifting, my intellect, and my tendencies as well as the personality, which began before I was born. The same is true for each one of us.


Those nine months before I was officially born influenced every aspect of my functioning. From the day of my birth, environmental factors and experiences were added to the mix of what shaped who I was. All of these did not, however, bear the burden of the development of my character.


Yet, I could certainly look at all the history of the things I have mentioned and choose to blame them for my character and its shape.


I could easily blame any number of my flaws, weaknesses, and negative qualities on all these other things. I think we are all good at that. I think it comes from the DNA from the original garden where we humans began when Eve blamed the serpent and Adam blamed Eve.


Were the things they chose which led to so much turmoil influenced by forces outside of themselves?


Of course!



Even so, they made a choice to allow those influences to determine the shape of their character and absolve them of the responsibility of their choices. They forgot they were players in a great battle against forces that were not flesh and blood, but used flesh and blood to taunt, tempt, tease, and triumph over them.


Thousands of years later, we are tempted to be not much different than Adam and Eve.


We blame our brother or sister when we are young children for why we chose to act in a certain way. Oddly enough, when we grow up to be adults, we often do the same thing. We blame our parents for not providing us for what we needed so we could be smarter, better, and more successful.


As adults, we might blame our bosses, our spouses, our professors, or the government. We can blame the neighborhood we grew up in and what happened to us there at any age or stage of life.


Adam and Eve ultimately blamed the serpent, the evil challenging them there and we can do that as well. Before we are done, we might also be tempted to blame God since He was the one who got everything started in the first place.


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If we continue to do these things, these are the very things that will shape our character and result in tendencies to feel victimized, bitter, angry, resentful, and more. We can insist that many of the things that are in play were not our fault and that might also be true, but the issue is what we do with those very things.


What truth do we allow to have the power to inform us about who we were and are as well as whose we are?


The battle is not about flesh and blood but make no mistake we are definitely caught up in a great battle. Perhaps that is why some of my favorite movies are those in the trilogy of The Lord of the Rings because they serve to remind me in powerful ways of what is happening and what my role is to be.


I love the lines between Frodo and Gandalf as Frodo regrets the burden of the ring that has fallen to him:


“’I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo.

‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’”


Today each of us has that same choice.


In a wonderful book by Ken Gire entitled The North Face of God, Ken writes a description that stirs my mind, heart, and spirit and helps shape my character and my choices. It reads as follows:


“There is a battle that lies before us, before each of us, a battle set in motion before the dawn of time and fought in every generation until the once and future King returns. Now the fate of our Middle-earth falls on us, on you and on me and on all who bear the name of the King. The enemy has never been more relentless, never more cunning, never more ruthless. A daunting decision stands between us and that enemy.

We can sheathe our swords in retreat. We can lay down our swords in surrender. We can fall on our swords in despair. Or we can, with the brave who have gone before us, draw our swords and ride with full fury into the enemy’s ranks.”

 He has not promised us ease, world peace, or a perfect life without challenges, wounds, and scars, but He HAS promised us He will be with us always, never stop loving us, and grant us grace when we falter.


Today I choose to ride with the One who has won my heart and affection.







Say It Again



Our days can get pretty cluttered with messages in words and other forms from every direction that by the time we lay our heads on our pillows we can easily lose track of all of them. But sometimes we are blessed with a message we would love to hear again because it blessed us, encouraged us, gave us new insight, buoyed our sagging confidence, gave us hope, or reminded us we were loved for who we are rather than what we do.


No matter what your love language – “hearing” something that lightens a day again is something we wish we could recapture.


The problem is that too often all those other messages bombarding us also distract us from saying it or expressing it in whatever way blesses the other person. We let moments slip away with that tyranny of the urgent instead of focusing on the important.


It happens to us all.


Few contexts provide more opportunities than within our family life, but some days or maybe many days we don’t “say it again” or say it as if we were expressing it the first time. As a result, those most important relationships can get stale with the dailiness of life.


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Sure – we might do well with birthdays, Christmas or other special occasions. We recall what candy a person likes, what fragrance brings a smile, what food is a favorite, or what place “takes us back.” All that is good, but what if we tried for a “better?”


It’s not about being more expensive or exotic, but more about being creative about delighting the other person the way you took time to do when you were first in relationship with them. The things we always do together are hopefully ones we enjoy, but so many of those are to the same places, doing the same things, and the pop and sizzle of feeling appreciated and cared for doesn’t land as it once did.


Some countries and cultures celebrate Valentine’s Day focusing on those we love with candy, cards, flowers, a night out, and more, but what about all those other days that we might call “ordinary?”


One of my favorite assignments for couples I worked with as a marriage and family therapist was to assign one of the two persons to plan a date that could not cost more than $5-$10 at most. It can be easy to not take special time together because of the cost because it isn’t just the cost of the movie (Who knew so much money would be needed for that little outing?) or dinner out, it’s the cost of the gas or transit and maybe the cost of a babysitter.


When we are just starting out, we more often tend to be more creative with our outings because we are more limited in money. When we look fondly over our shoulders, those times always make us smile because they were so much fun.


When I gave this assignment to a couple married more than 45 years whose marriage had gotten a bit “stale,” I had no idea what to expect. The assignment went to the husband whose wife thought he didn’t have a romantic bone left in his body.


But guess what?


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He told her the time and date for their outing and what the appropriate clothing would be. When the time arrived, he took her to a local park near time for the sun to go down. where there was an observation tower. He also took binoculars and a small basket of treats and together they sat on the top watching and listening the chorus of the birds at sunset.


His wife had always loved birds and this time of day, but she could not have guessed he would come up with such an idea. It happened when I put a limit on the dollar amount ($5 for them) when they were typically going to movies, theater, and upscale places for dinner.


His wife was not only shocked, but thought it was one of the most romantic dates they had ever had together. It took a little thought and consideration of the person he wanted to delight, and he nailed it!!


If you have never tried something like this, you might want to give it a whirl. I have done it from time-to-time with various people who are dear to me. One example was when our daughter was about to turn 12 and I celebrated with the “12 Days of Birthday.” Each day leading up to her birthday there was some little surprise meant to delight her heart, many of those involved more time than expense such as giving her a manicure while she sipped tea. That turned out to be such a fun time that she has done it for each of her four children as they were turning 12.


Another example was last Christmas when I gave my husband a box that contained a “Year of Dates.”  Tucked inside he would open a note each first day of the month and discover a special date for that month that I had planned. The parameters I gave myself was that it needed to be something new we had not done together or something we had not done in a long time. I know he enjoyed it, but I think I may have had the most fun planning and thinking through something different for each month.


The “Year of Dates” ended this past December when we celebrated our 55th anniversary. Some of the dates were as simple as a walk on a path we had not done together along with coffee at a coffee shop he had never been to. One involved visiting old friends who had moved to a city three hours away and getting reconnected after more than a few years and enjoying a local museum together. Another was taking a cooking class together even though my hubby only does grilling where food prep is concerned.  I could list all 12, but I would want you to use your own imagination if you try this one.


Now I am looking for when I can be creative again and with whom.


Sometimes we need to remember to say it again, but also say it in a fresh new way that reminds us of when that spark of love and appreciation was first born.




Time to Prune Again?

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Photo by Pixabay


Here we are in the midst of winter in the northern hemisphere and images of my father pouring over various gardening catalogs and magazines come to mind. He grew up on a farm and even when farming was not his full time occupation, he was intrigued by all the ways to prepare soil, plant and nurture new seeds, plants, and trees, and also how to assure they would flourish and produce the very best as a reward for all his hard work.


I recall one of the tasks was pruning. How I respected his knowledge of knowing when each thing needed to be pruned. He died in 1995 and I did not gain his knowledge along the way except in the broadest terms.



My dad knew when to prune apple, cherry, and peach trees he grew. I only know it wasn’t the same time he pruned the roses, blueberry, and blackberry bushes. It also wasn’t the same time he pruned the grape vines that grew producing their luscious delights in early fall.


No matter where I shop for produce, I cannot find anything that compares with the bounty that came from my dad’s hard work, knowledge, and passion for gardening. The closest I can come is to visit our local orchard.


Beyond the luscious results, why is pruning so important?


If you check online for that answer you will see that pruning not only gets rid of the dead and dying parts of the plant, shrub, or tree and allows for new healthy growth, but it also deters pests and other enemies of healthy vegetation and reduces the risk of healthy parts being broken off. Additionally, good pruning allows the vegetation to be shaped as you desire to promote the best healthy growth possible.


But there are other kinds of pruning as well.


Did you know our bodies have been designed for something called synaptic pruning that is done naturally in the brain between childhood (when large amounts of growth happens) and adulthood?  The process results in the brain eliminating extra synapses, removing connections we no longer need so that our brain functions are more efficient as we get older and start to acquire more complex bits of information.


And of course, there is the pruning Jesus talks about in the Gospel of John:


“He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

John 15:2 (NIV)


Photo by Tim Mossholder from Pexels

Unquestionably the Lord knows more about pruning than any one of his human creation. We might be tempted to think His pruning is only of the “not so good” parts of us, but pruning is a long-term investment and commitment and He has more in mind than getting rid of what seems to be unproductive.


I love the fascinating work of Margaret Feinberg in her book Scouting the Divine: My Search for God in Wine, Wool, and Wild Honey. If this book has not come your way, I would encourage you to add it to your reading list.


In the parable of the vineyard John writes about in his Gospel, consider the metaphor evident in the realities of being a vintner and preparing and nurturing a vineyard:


  • Soil needs to be prepared to provide for the very best root systems to develop.


  • Dormant shoots from a grape vine from a nursery are planted and pruned all the way down to two buds on the cane according to the chapter on wine and vineyards in Margaret’s book.


  • The second-year vines are scrutinized and managed even more carefully and pruned to assure they will develop in a way allowing the vine to be healthy and to produce for decades to come.


  • When the third-year results in some fruit on those vines, vintners let it drop to the ground. (It won’t be until the fourth year a small harvest will result in a little wine to be aged.)


Of course, it doesn’t stop there, but to delve into the fascinating intricacy of being a vintner, check out Margaret’s chapters on this in the book noted above.


Think of yourself as part of the Lord’s vineyard and how patiently He tends and prunes you over the course of your faith journey. And don’t forget there will be times when He trims fruitful areas because He knows the design He has for each of us and wants to develop even more fruit.


Sometimes He will prune something we enjoy or believe in and we will be tempted to alcohol-bar-beverage-black-background-312080believe it was a failure on our part or the enemy’s handiwork. Those possibilities might be true, but sometimes it is Him. Sometimes He prunes some area of ministry that we have given all of ourselves to or He may prune relationships that were precious to us.


Consider then that He is developing the most bountiful vineyard and the very best award-winning wine like we see in His first miracle of water to wine that the Gospel of John tells us about in the second chapter of that Gospel.


The Lord chose us, died for us even when we were broken and messy, and prunes us to produce the most incredible fruit and delicious wine anyone can imagine.


Trust Him with the pruning.





This Doesn’t Fit



I am sure I am not the only one who goes into my closet and pulls out a favorite skirt that I haven’t worn for awhile only to discover that it doesn’t fit. Yikes!


The crunchy, clunky feeling that comes with trying to make the skirt work by pulling it one way or another, adding a decorative scarf at the waist, or wearing a longer tunic might work on some days, but the problem remains that I know it doesn’t fit and I don’t feel good in it. As a result, I am not my best self when I have tried to engineer it to work somehow.


I am also so focused on what is wrong with me that I sometimes cannot see others accurately.


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Trying on things that do not fit brings our minds back to Cinderella and the glass slipper and the horrid, jealous stepsisters who insist that their over-sized feet can fit into Cinderella’s glass slipper.


When we are dealing with clothing, we end up with some basic choices. We can get back to the diet and exercise we promised ourselves we would do or we can buy new clothes. In either case, when something doesn’t fit it requires us to look at ourselves more honestly and make a choice.


It would be fairly straightforward if clothing were the only thing that might not fit.


There are habits, lifestyles, hobbies, relationships, and even ministries that might not fit for us or at least might not fit for us for the season we are in. Too often, we handle these much like the clothes solutions. We try to make them work while at the same time knowing that we are spinning our wheels and putting energy where our hearts do not connect.


If we cannot look at the truth and make a healthy choice, we might decide to simply drop out, drift away, or give up. Sometimes we feel frozen in fear or caged and are unable to make a choice or refuse to do so.

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The truth is that much as we would like things to be predictable and not change in many areas, that is not reality.


Change is a constant in this life.


It happens with our bodies, our jobs, our families, our friends, our lifestyles, our hobbies, our ministries, and our churches. Some of those changes we welcome and some we cringe about or even hate.


It would help if we could remember the truth that change is continuous in this life. That doesn’t make us bad or good.


It means we are alive and human.


It also means that Christ within us has provision for us in the midst of change whether it is good or not so good.


In each case, change gives us an opportunity. It gives us the opportunity to try something new, reinvent ourselves, grow, develop, and trust at deeper levels. Whether we see it as an opportunity or get stuck depends on what lens we use to look at it and whether we are relying on ourselves or relying on the One who knows and loves us most.


One excellent example comes to mind. When I was serving on a church staff, a woman came into my office that was new to our church. She had looked over the list of ministries operating at the time and shared with me that none of them fit, none of them connected with her heart or passion.


My response to her was to bring me a vision of what might fit for her. When she came back to my office sometime later, she was bubbling with excitement as she told me about a new ministry she sensed the Lord was showing her. There was no question this DID fit for her. The Lord used it to grow her in incredible ways and also used it for His Kingdom to create something that had not existed previously.


How incredibly awesome our opportunities can be when change comes or something doesn’t fit, if we look to the One who knows us best and loves us most and risk following Him.

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Love Is the Linchpin




Linchpin is a word not commonly used by most of us these days, but sometimes a word that has gone out of fashion is one that describes something better than any other word.


The word linchpin seems to first appear in use in the late 14th century and was used to describe a fastener whose purpose was to prevent a wheel or other part from sliding off of an axle when it was in use riding. It was absolutely vital to make things work.


As opposed to linchpin, love is a word used so often and easily in connection with so many things that it has almost lost a great deal of its significance. We say we love someone, but we also say we love pizza or jogging or sleeping late, etc. And that is why so many say the English language is inadequate based on how broadly this one word is used.



It’s little wonder that we don’t weigh the word love with this full meaning when it comes to our faith, God’s love and how it is demonstrated over and over and lived out in the life of Christ. It shouldn’t be surprising that some are tempted to think God’s love is as conditional and uncertain as human love. And the enemy would have it so because when it comes to a relationship with God love really is the linchpin that connects all the various complex interweaving aspects of faith.


Love isn’t just a word God says.


It’s who He is.


Some readers of the Old Testament dispute that because they miss the whole point of the laws that were given and God’s reason for giving them. They miss the point when bad things happen because they lose sight of the forces of evil present in the world or that bad choices have real life consequences even if forgiveness and grace are extended again and again.


A closer reading of the Old Testament will reveal a great deal of grace evident from Genesis to Malachi – before we ever begin the New Testament that we routinely associate with grace. Jesus comes in part to help us see what we are missing and have missed since the fall in the Garden of Eden.



“Jesus already knows that in this broken world, we will endure suffering. Our faith will be tested, and we will fall short. But we have a Savior whose love stretches across the great cavern of our failings and across the sea of our shifting faith. Jesus leaves a breadcrumb trail again back to His heart, ever beating the great gospel message of grace – “My Covenant is greater than your commitment.”

Eric and Kristen Hill


In this great quote from The First Breakfast we see one of those other words not commonly used today – covenant. We associate it with the word contract, but it had a greater depth of meaning than a contract that can be amended or ignored by too many. (Maybe that is what has happened in marriage. We started looking at it as a contract instead of a Covenant.)


Covenant in the Bible was not referencing two equal parties, but rather something that was initiated by a benefactor to a recipient, not unlike something we receive in a will from a benefactor. It also involved a solemn oath from the one who initiated the covenant and bore the greater responsibility for keeping it.


We first see an example of that most clearly between God and Abraham. Who initiated it?  God.


A Covenant was translated from Greek meaning “a legal term denoting a formal and legally binding declaration of benefits to be given by one party to another, with or without conditions attached.”  Where God is concerned “covenant does not have the character of a contract between two parties, but rather that of a one-sided grant.” (From


From the beginning God has offered covering for our failing out of love for us. He covered the nakedness of Adam and Eve with the skins of animals He killed for their sake.


God loved us so much that He sent Jesus to stretch out his arms wide on the punishing death of a cross to cover our sins that we could never repay. Love was the linchpin in it all.


“Our faith is not simply about our hands reaching to the Father but, even more so, about His hands reaching to us. It is not just that our eyes are on God but that His eyes are on us. It is not just our prayers to Jesus, but His prayers for us. The prayers of Jesus sustain our faith. It is not our commitment to Him, but His Covenant with us that holds us. It is less about our own faith or our own abilities, and more about His perfect love toward us. Jesus already sees beyond the present testing of our faith and is already holding us up.”

Eric and Kristen Hill


Love is the linchpin and He is love!  His Covenant does not waver.