having the faith to starthaving the faith to starthaving the faith to startMy favorite journal is brown with antique maps wrapped around its cover. Just inside it carries a 2008 inscription from my husband. Words of love and encouragement. Words that urge me to “become intoxicated by the fragrance of every flower that makes up the beauty of (my) heart.”

Beyond that is a blank page. And another, followed by another.

In seven years, my pen has never landed there, never rolled across the lines for fear my words wouldn’t be sturdy enough to hold my expectations.

What if my penmanship was messy? What if all I could think of to write was a shopping list? How fragrant would those words be?

The edges are turning with age and thankfully I’m turning as well – toward beginning and enjoying.

I have a handful of resolutions for 2015, and they all fall under a one-word theme: start.

Start writing in the journal, even if it gets filled with ramblings and doodles.

Start the project I’m afraid I’ll never be able to finish.

Start learning something new.

Start scheduling regular dates with my husband.

Start praying out loud for my kids.

Start kicking fear out the door, and start trusting that – whatever it is – God’s got this.

Start acting like this life here is a gift, and I really don’t have a moment to waste on worry or self-doubt or unforgiveness.

Start.

It’s a good word, and I suspect it’s a good way to come alive in 2015, a good step toward true faith.

That eloquent husband of mine, he likes a scene in one of the X-Men movies from more than a decade ago. One of the characters, Magneto, is crossing a dark abyss. At first, there is no bridge. No rope. Nothing. But when Magneto lifts his foot to take the first step, rocks rise and form a steady walkway. Each step after that – each start – brings more rocks for Magneto to walk on until he has safely crossed.

It’s that way with faith, too, my husband tells me. We start and we trust, even without a visible pathway. Without all the answers. Without all the resources lined up in neat rows. Without knowing how we’ll fill the page.

So, here’s to having the faith to start in 2015.

What's in the Bible DVD

I’ve heard many feisty sermons – the kind that step on toes and challenge even good, moral people to improve. Those are the sermons you remember years later.

Sometimes those sermons are delivered by clergy. Sometimes by a frail grandmother who refuses to complain. Or, in my case, by a kids’ show.

The guy who created VeggieTales, Phil Vischer, also has a DVD series called “What’s in the Bible” ($14.99 Tyndale). Even though everyone loves his singing vegetables with their great lessons, Vischer wanted to provide more context – more of the big picture – for kids and the adults they hang out with.

“Through Sunday School and kids’ videos like VeggieTales, kids get snapshots from the Bible. Moses. Noah. Jesus. They’re like pictures in a photo album,” Vischer told me. “What we’re missing is the ‘connective tissue.’ What does Jesus have to do with Moses? What does any of this have to do with Adam and Eve? How do all these stories fit together to tell ONE story, and how does that one story explain our world today?”

I kept that in mind as I watched the first video. I thought my son was going to roll off the couch laughing at some of the clever jokes and silly songs. But I was busy thinking of something else: The realization that I have never read the Bible cover to cover.

I’ve tried to read it straight through several times, and I know I’m not alone – lots of churches have huge initiatives to get people reading more. But this is one time I don’t feel comfort in numbers.

I’ve done lots of devotionals and Bible studies that are based on one book or one theme. I’ve jotted notes as ministers read from the pulpit. I’ve even considered myself pretty knowledgeable about the Bible, when in reality, I’ve only read the Cliff notes. And I haven’t even read those in order.

I’d never open up another bestseller and start reading in the middle and then jump back to the second chapter. That would make it almost impossible to follow the plot. Yet I do that all the time to a book that’s central to my faith. And it took some puppets to teach me that.

Thank God for challenging sermons, no matter how they are delivered.

Day 3 of a three-part series on New Year’s resolutions…

The first time I remember feeling self-conscious about my weight was when my family was in Hawaii. We had enjoyed just about every minute of our week-long vacation and were having a special dinner on our final evening. I loved the new dress I was wearing because it had the bold, beautiful fabric you’d expect on the islands, and I remember sucking in my stomach for the pictures.

I had just turned 6.

In all those years since then, you’d think weight loss would have come up on my prayer list, even if it was merely a mention. But I didn’t really start talking to God about it until fairly recently, when I began worrying about the health risks of being over weight and about the example I’m setting for my children.

Photo courtesy of Amazon.com

Photo courtesy of Amazon.com

My prayers are still in what I’d call the exploratory phase right now, which means I’m only circling around the idea of healthy eating and exercise – preparing slowly for those first steps toward a more disciplined life. But there are many people who are miles ahead of me, people like Carol Showalter who recognized decades ago that God could help with matters of sweets and carbohydrates.

Showalter is the author of a book and a 12-week program called Your Whole Life: The 3D Plan for Eating Right, Living Well, Loving God ($24.95, Paraclete Press).
More than 1 million people have participated in the program since it started in the early 1970s, when Showalter’s husband served as senior pastor at Parkminster Presbyterian Church in Rochester, NY.

A few years ago Lois Brower helped lead a group through the program at Pearce Memorial Church in Chili, NY. Participants had daily devotions and weekly meetings and were asked to pray daily, keep a food journal, memorize Bible verses and be willing to share their struggles and encourage one another.

Brower, who took her first diet pill at age 15, lost about 10 pounds when she went through the program. In its place, she gained a sense of balance in her life and closeness to God. Who wouldn’t want to make that trade?

Part 2 of a three-day series…

Finding beauty in the mess

Normally I don’t make New Year’s resolutions until March. It seems there’s just such a rush on them at the first of the year, so it’s my little way of avoiding the crowd. But I’m feeling ambitious this time around – and I’ve found someone who I think can help me with all the Legos and toy trains in the basement.



Diane Zielinski, a reformed clutterbug from Gates, NY, offers seminars and one-on-one sessions for people who want to let go of some of their stuff and make more room for calm, for peace and for God.



That sounds divine.



“The more stuff you have on the outside, the less capable you are of dealing with the stuff on the inside,” Zielinski said. “If you come in your house and it stresses you out, then you have no place to calm down and reflect.”



Zielinski knows that first-hand because she’s been there, surrounded by piles of cookbooks and turtlenecks (28 to be exact). She always wanted to appear neat and organized, so she’d spend hours cleaning before guests arrived – like the time her brother visited from Japan.

She stuffed her closets and drawers full, hid magazines under the couch cushions and tucked some snowmen and other Christmas decorations behind the pillow shams on her bed. When she was giving her jet-lagged brother a tour of the house, he plopped down on the bed, and, you guessed it, he broke some of the decorations. He felt terrible and Zielinski felt something had to change.

Two years of steady de-cluttering later, Zielinski had reclaimed her home and her life. Now, she’s helping other people to forgive themselves, to focus on the great lives they’ll have when they aren’t tethered to all that clutter – and to really trust that God “can support you in dealing with stuff and with relationships.”

If you don’t have someone like Zielinski nearby, try Marla Cilley’s site, flylady.net, for free tips or check out her book, “Sink Reflections.” Tsh Oxenreider also has a beautiful book available called “Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living.” Both books are available at many public libraries, which means they won’t become clutter in your home!

Friends, a few years ago I wrote a series of columns on what I believe are the three most common New Year’s resolutions — money, organization and weight loss. I’ll share them here in the next three days, and I welcome your comments and your encouragement for this little community we have here. Let’s make 2015 the year we take care of some things that are getting in our way. Yes?

Financial peace

I made a novice mom mistake a few years ago. I was out shopping with my sons and had the grand idea of stopping by a pet store just so the little guy could see some birds and look at the fish. Maybe we’d pick up some dog biscuits while we were out, I thought.

Instead, my oldest son picked up a huge interest in a gerbil, an animal I have absolutely no interest in touching, let alone inviting into my home. Still, in a moment of insanity, I made a deal with Jessie: If he wanted the gerbil badly enough to save his allowance and do some research on how to care for one, I’d let him have it.

He saved for about a month before he caved and bought several cheap toys – thank goodness. For his birthday he got a battery-operated hamster and I got a furry reminder about budgeting, just in time for the new year.

I’ve always made sure our bills were paid on time, but I’ve often traded our money for things I don’t even remember instead of using it for what I really want, which is to live a generous, debt-free life. A life where my money choices are respectful of God, not wasteful.

I know it can be done. One man paid off a $25,000 home equity loan in six months, said Mark Janosky, who taught people about finances at Hope Lutheran Church in Greece, NY. Another couple in his class got rid of credit card debt while living only on disability checks.

“God talks more about money in the Bible than he does about faith,” said Janosky, who believes he should be a good steward of the money God has entrusted to him. “He teaches us through money how we need to be disciplined.”

David Palermo, a certified financial planner, has taught the same Financial Peace University classes at Northridge Church in Rochester, NY. Time after time he has seen debt go down and savings go up. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen.

Here’s hoping it happens in all of our homes this year.

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