Letter to a Friend

Tree SwingDearly BELOVED friend,

I decided to stop what I was doing to encourage you.

You’re not alone. Even when it doesn’t feel like it. Even when there’s no one physically beside you. Even when you haven’t talked to any one for days.

I’ve been there. I know.

It was when the space around me felt so frigidly empty, that I was filled.

When all my friends scattered like wind-blown leaves, He was the deeply rooted tree that sat beside me; sheltering me.

His silent presence filled the empty space that burdened me. He was there. I could feel His warm breath whispering life to my naked and battered soul.

When I stopped filling my hands and stood empty-handed, He came.

It was when everything was stripped from me, that He gave me all of Him.

Don’t let your eyes fool you, my friend.

Close your eyes tightly to the reality around you and you’ll know the TRUTH.

You’re NEVER alone.

Loving you hard,

Ibelisse

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The Old Paths, The Good Way

Chicago Botanic GardenFinding our way back home isn’t always easy. We’ve wandered rather far. Actually, it’s in our nature to wander. We’ve been sidetracked. Our pride, shame, fear, guilt, anger, unbelief yanked us by the neck and veered us to the right and to the left. We’ve swerved down a lengthy, winding road, took a wild, treacherous one and even crossed some abysmal waters. We’ve even traveled down newfangled paths others have freshly carved, leading us to where we are today.

But where are we exactly? Some of us have been wandering around in circles for years and haven’t moved an inch. We’re clearly not where we’re supposed to be. Drained and dehydrated from the journey, we keep walking or running and not moving forward.

If we replay our thoughts we’d see how they guided every step we’ve taken, every stride made. Many of our decisions felt right, in their season. Some were complete dead ends. The blazing Do Not Enter sign warning us must’ve blinded us. Some were clearly marked Private Property, yet we trespassed anyway.

Whatever the case may be, here we are. But is here where we are to be? And where is here? Are you satisfied with where you are?

Most of us are just plain weary and burdened from trekking through life without some measure of purpose. We hear that promise from long ago, faintly. That there’s a future out there, a plan, a hope. We believe we can do it. We can get there. Wherever there is. Where are we going, anyway?

Are you interested in unearthing those old paths, the good way to get to where you’re supposed to be? If so, you’ll need a light for your path and a lamp for your feet. What path? The one that leads to that garden where you can hear the heartbeat of God. Where you smell His fragrance and breathe in His very love. You know. The one from once upon a time, in the land of Eden. The one where something unforeseen slithered into our lives. The one we left behind.

We may not be able to retrace our steps, but there’s a voice calling out to us that will lead us there, saying, Where are you?

 Thus says the Lord:

“Stand in the ways and see,
And ask for the old paths, where the good way is,
And walk in it;
Then you will find rest for your souls.”

Jeremiah 6:16

Why are the Angry Birds angry?

photo(47)Truth is I’m not a smartphone game app player. In fact, I’ve never downloaded one to my phone. I mean, really. Ain’t nobody got time fo dat! {smile} I prided myself on holding out on those timestealers but my curiosity got the best of me. Which one did I gravitate towards? Angry Birds, of course. And so have over a billion other users.

I’m greedy for any information about birds nowadays. So I asked myself, Why are the Angry Birds angry? I had absolutely no idea. I decided to find out before downloading the app. In my quest, I came across a blog post by Marwa Aly, a former Muslim Chaplain. Her post, Angry Birds or Self Sacrificing Soldiers? got my wheels turning.

My answer to her question is both. The birds are angry because some blue pigs kidnapped their eggs and ate them. Now they’re out for revenge, and losing their life in the process isn’t stopping them. Aly says that when we play the game, we are the angry birds. That blew my socks off!

By playing the game we’re subconsciously agreeing to the premise of the game; self-sacrifice to achieve an end. We’re not only applauding the mission of these angry birds, we’re stepping into their shoes, or shall I say their wings? Over and over and over again, we’re going after those blue pigs.

What about real life scenarios? What do we do when we’re offended? When someone steals something of value from us? Before we put on the angry bird super-hero(ine) costume and propel ourselves with a slingshot to squash our target, let’s pause and think about why we do what we do. Where does our anger take us? Would we die for something we believed in? Is it for justice or revenge, to save another life or for something entirely vain? Is losing our life ever worth it?

I don’t know about you but I don’t want to be an angry bird. I’m attracted to the idea of a sacrificial life though. We don’t necessarily have to lose our physical life to live one either. A sacrificial life is meaningful, even if the days are shortened. Empty days trying to figure out why we’re here are drudgery. If done with a noble motive, it can be life-transforming and life-giving.

We give our lives over to something everyday, whether we’re aware of it or not. Either we lose our days to unworthy causes or we’re investing them in something other than ourselves. The latter is the kind of living that leaves a legacy. It gives us purpose.

I’m thoroughly convinced that the most widely known model of self-sacrifice in the history of history is Jesus. He laid His life down for the world. Not for the innocent either. For the guilty. For those that despised Him, rejected Him, spit on Him, and cursed Him. It was love that motivated Him to willingly lay down His life. He did it for His friends. He did it for His enemies. He did it for me and He did it for you.

Jesus teaches us that love should motive our sacrificial lives. Not anger. Not revenge. Love for God and love for others.

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Writers

photo(46)I’m actually shocked I’ve never read a Chicken Soup for the Soul book until a few months ago! Their recent release was right up my alley and it came at the most opportune time. Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Writers: 101 Motivational Stories for Writers—Budding or Bestselling—from Books to Blogs landed in my hands as I began to write my first book. It has encouraged, guided, and taught me, not to mention yanked tears from my eyes.

As a writer who’s never taken a writing course or attended a writing conference, the content of the stories and the different writing styles and voices were an invaluable tool. Written by a wide gamut of writers, from published to hopefuls, it’s a meaty read for insatiable readers. It makes a delightful gift for beginning writers.

The stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Writers help writers face their fears, overcome writer’s block, deal with rejection, manage their time and find inspiration.  It also stresses the significance of fellow writers, friends and family in the writing journey, and the role of mentors and writer’s groups.

The section that gripped my writer’s heart was how writing can impact others. For someone who hopes that my words will be seeds blooming life in others, these stories were encouraging as I embrace the exhilarating art of writing.

One of the stories I’m eager to highlight is that of my author-friend Amelia Rhodes. “The Surprise Party” was a tearjerker! In it, Amelia shares about the importance of her supportive friends and family as she was writing her first book, Isn’t it Time for a Coffee Break?  Her story reminded me to put things in perspective. While writing is a passion, it shouldn’t consume our life to the detriment of our relationships. Cultivating friendships/relationships keeps our life in optimal balance, allowing for a healthy writing life.  It’s quite simple. Living a life of love will give our words breath. 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a review copy of the above mentioned book from Chicken Soup for the Soul. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Lemongrass + Lavender Facial Scrub + Giveaway

Lemongrass + Lavender Facial ScrubDoes your face need an invigorating morning pick-me-up? Try this facial scrub. The lemongrass essential oil has a light, fresh, citrus aroma, while the lavender flowers offer a calming yet floral-herbal kick. You can read about the properties and benefits of essential oils by visiting Mountain Rose Herbs website. The essential oils offered by Mountain Rose Herbs are 100% pure steam distilled plant oils with an unsurpassable fragrance, exceptional depth, magnificent keynote, and are free of carriers, diluents and other inputs.

You can use sugar or salt for this facial scrub. Sugar is a natural glycolic acid which is used to exfoliate dead skin cells to stimulate the growth of new cells. Sea salt scrubs, however, are more abrasive, and are recommended for oily skin. They may be a bit harsh for sensitive skin. You may want to consider using it as a body or foot scrub. This particular scrub has both exfoliating and moisturizing components. The sea salt dries out excess oils and the coconut oil moisturizes, so your skin won’t dry out. You may want to take a warm shower or a steam bath to clean and open up your pores before using the facial scrub. Following is a list of ingredients and supplies you will need.

  • 1 cup Organic Raw Cane Sugar or Fine Sea Salt
  • Glass jar (or another container)
  • Homemade Tag (for gift-giving)
  • Twine (or ribbon) to attach the tag

photo(38)Measure the sugar and place it in a mixing bowl. With a pestle and mortar, crush the lavender flowers. This will release more of the aroma of the lavender. Add the flowers, the coconut oil, and the lemongrass essential oil to the sugar or salt and stir it until the mixture is thoroughly moistened. Place the mixture in a jar. The coconut oil will settle some at the bottom of the jar, so it’s always a good idea to remix it or invert the jar for a while before each use.

If you use the mixture fairly quickly, you can keep it out in room temperature. However, if you prefer, you can keep it refrigerated.

The coconut oil I used in this recipe is made by Tropical Traditions. Their Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil is produced by hand, using the wet-milling process of extracting the oil from fresh coconuts. This coconut oil is made on Mt. Banahaw and surrounding areas from organic coconuts. Coconuts are used fresh (within 24-48 hours of harvest) from small family farms on Mt. Banahaw and other rural places in Quezon Province, the coconut capital of the Philippines. Only the highest quality coconuts are handpicked from each harvest. The volcanic soil of Mt. Banahaw makes these organic coconuts some of the most nutritionally rich coconuts in the world!

Tropical Traditions is America’s source for coconut oil. Their Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil is hand crafted in small batches by family producers, and it is the highest quality coconut oil they offer. You can read more about how virgin coconut oil is different from other coconut oils on their website: What is Virgin Coconut Oil?

ENTER TO WIN LEMONGRASS ESSENTIAL OIL + LAVENDER FLOWERS

You have a wonderful opportunity to win a 4 0z. package of Organic Lavender Flowers and a 1/2 oz. bottle of Organic Lemongrass Essential Oil from Mountain Rose Herbs! Mountain Rose Herbs will ship the winner the items at no charge. This giveaway is open to US & Canada and ends 4/18! Please leave a separate comment on this post for EACH of the following entries.

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Bulk organic herbs, spices and essential oils. Sin

Divine Nobodies: Shedding Religion to Find God

dn_bookcoverJim Palmer’s book Divine Nobodies: Shedding Religion to Find God has serendipitously become a timely landmark in my spiritual journey with God. An unveiling took place right before my eyes. It’s as if someone wiped away layers of tradition and opened up a world of possibilities, yet, in keeping with God’s truth.

In all honesty, when I read that the author was described as an Emergent pastor on the back cover of the book, I was holding my breath as I turned each page. Why? Well, I was expecting some sort of radical, divergent thinking. The truth is that I’m not versed on the movement. I’m actually glad I wasn’t before reading his book. My reading would have been even more biased. There’s much I need to learn but I’m from the persuasion that glares at new ideas with skepticism, as far as they concern challenging long held views of Christianity. The possibility of heretical teachings infiltrating the church is a viable concern for me and for many.

However, Palmer wasn’t bent on overhauling Christianity to push new ideas. On the contrary, he challenges each of us to seek a raw, organic knowledge of and intimacy with God. His writing style was down to earth, engaging, comical, reflective and revelatory. The book wasn’t written in a standard preachy form but more like a personal testimony of one man’s journey; the kind that says, Look what God has done in my life. Look for God everywhere He can be found. Don’t dismiss anyone that walks into your life because they don’t hold the same set of beliefs and practices you do. God is at work in each of our lives.

Reading Divine Nobodies is like putting on a fresh pair of eyeglasses while unhinging the theological box we’ve put God into. God is so much bigger than we can imagine and the manner in which He chooses to work in each of our lives is incomprehensible. Much of our thinking has alienated us from an authentic relationship with the God of the universe and each other. Caught up in the whirlwind of do’s and don’ts, you miss God’s still, small voice.

Palmer’s thoughts were resonating with something deep within me that knows everything isn’t as it should be in Christendom. Traditions of men creep their way into church. It takes people who are willing to stand up and speak up to help extract religious thoughts and impositions that stifle a vibrant, flowing, power-induced walk with Jesus. Following the Master and loving His heart is key. To love what He loves and walk as He walked is true religion. Loving the orphans, the widows, and if I may add, the homeless, the aids patient, the divorcee, isn’t something we do Sunday mornings. It’s a lifestyle. Living our life to its fullest extent and embracing who we were created to be in Christ is the journey.

I recently changed my Facebook religious view from Christian to Jesus Follower. Not because I’m rebelling against the descriptor but because the former is a label of what I am, while the latter describes what I do. I want to be a doer of the Word of God. I’m following. I may stumble, I may fall but at least I’m moving forward and trying my best to follow in Jesus’ footsteps; to be a divine nobody.

We don’t have to agree on everything but each of us should be receptive to learning from others. Of the utmost significance for me was that the contents of Palmer’s book challenged my walk with Jesus. That’s more than good enough for me. That’s life transforming. Even though we haven’t met in person, I consider Jim Palmer a friend I’ve met on the journey.

Isn’t it Time for a Coffee Break?

CoffeeBreakIsn’t it Time for a Coffee Break? Author Amelia Rhodes undeniably thinks so. Her debut book by the same title challenges women to seriously consider making time for friendships with other Godly women as part and parcel of living life.

Rhodes offers a smooth and aromatic read you can visually gobble up in a few hours. This pop art-esque designed book offers a handful of spiritual seeds you can sow in order to reap a rich and overflowing brew of friendship.

Using a coffee metaphor skillfully woven throughout, Rhodes expands on the essentials of love, honesty, encouragement, prayer, generosity, hospitality, forgiveness, and unity. The author also graces the pages of her book with personal anecdotes harvested from her journey through friendship.

With discussion questions at the end of each chapter, this book is perfectly suited for a women’s Bible study or book club. It’s a wise handbook for women who desire to be more intentional in their relationships with other women.

As I read the book, I instantly thought of a particular friend God has blessed me with this past year. She’s a kindred spirit. It’s hard to imagine life without those types of friendships.

Purchase this book through Amazon!