Beginnings: It Can Only Get Better from Here! By Jo Russell

“What could be better than this? Dinner in the great outdoors, a river trip, and camping under the stars?” Nancy voiced out loud to her now-grown sons who were preparing dinner over a campfire and outdoor stove.

Over her sons’ growing-up years, Nancy had prepared many meals around a campfire.  Campfire-roasted corn on the cob. Sizzling steak. Baked potatoes steaming with melted butter. Buttermilk pancakes drizzled with syrup or jam. Browned hash topped with pouched eggs.

“This will be good!”  Her voice echoed off the wild riverside canyon.

So far, their mom was impressed. In their first season as river guides, they’d proved they were skilled raft-handlers in dangerous waters. They tied necessary and safety gear on the raft securely for the sometimes-rough ride. The men had been trained to use rifles for protection against bears.

She was convinced Bert and Tom could leap tall pines in a single bound, setting up tents at the same time. Inside the cozy domes, the bedding inside was thick and comfortable.

Would the young men’s camp cooking pass muster?

“This has to be good,” Nancy mused, thinking over the great pleasure the men in the family got from creating gourmet meals indoors and out. Ah, the Dutch oven masterpieces!  She sniffed the air for a hint of camp cooking aroma. There was none.

“The first course!” Bert announced as he handed his mom an enamelware cup full to the brim.

“And this is?”

“Tang orange drink!”

Not long after, Tom handed her the second course. “Here, Mom. My favorite!”  Spaghetti noodles were red with sauce straight from the jar.

After the main meal, Bert tore the cellophane bag containing the third course: red licorice sticks.

Though the three-course meal created from jars and bags wouldn’t make it to the chef’s hall of fame, it was a start.

Nancy had great expectations. It would only get better from there. And over time, it did.

God does smiles at our beginnings and progress, for He knows the whole journey of our lives.

“O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. When know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar…you are familiar with all my ways.” Psalm 139:1-3.

So stand up tall, all of you who burn the bottoms out of your tea kettles, who only know how to incinerate eggs just now, or who don’t know how to season cast-iron cookware. God isn’t finished with you yet. It only gets better from here!

[Jo Russell is a Christian speaker, author of articles, anthology contributions, and award-winning Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women. available from Amazon.com, her speaking engagements and  website, www.button-to-god.com. Enjoy chuckles and speeches, tips and excerpts in website options and weekly blog.]

 

 

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First place winner in the spiritual division of the 2013 Beach Book Festival Contest, Which Button brings  Americana to life with Jo Russell’s humorous stories with Biblical concepts that make this study fun and helpful. Men, don’t feel left out! Laughter is good medicine for all Read and enjoy!!

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What? Road Kill Again? By Jo Russell

As Roberta turned into the driveway after being gone all evening, she saw the car’s headlights illuminate a dark, furry and very still shape.

“Chalk another one up to the coyotes,” she thought. Remembering the meat-eaters roam free in the country, Roberta figured that’s what it was. Road kill. Carnivore kill. Whatever. She sighed heavily as she steered around the shape and got out of the car on the other side.

“Not tonight, God. I just can’t deal with this. It’s too dark now.” The shape, size and color ruled out the remains being any of her critters, Roberta knew, but by morning, rigor mortis would turn the body into something as stiff as a stale pizza crust.

At first light, Roberta donned gloves and hoisted a shovel. Ahead was the unpleasant task of burying the furry shape in the driveway. It hadn’t moved, of course. Resurrection only applies to Jesus.

But in spite of the dread she felt as she approached the still shape, she got a close look. Then her fear and assumptions vaporized. She erupted in laughter!

For there in the driveway–dark, furry and very still–was a pair of her lined winter gloves that had fallen out of the passenger side door pouch when she cleaned the car earlier. It was just a bad case of mistaken identity.

Mistaken identity and drawing the wrong conclusions happen often enough.
How often do you fail to understand what you see or experience? Where is the reality?
How will you get around the latest knotty problem? You might be asking yourself, “Why is God doing this to me? “

It happens often enough during any journey, including one with God. Paul says, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” [1 Corinthians 13:12] NIV

We can be assured that God sees the entire length and width of our life and our challenges. He knows the solution, the outcome, the journey and the end. God is there to help us through all. Someday we will see and understand all. Not now.

His love prevails over all the fears and challenges of our lives, including a decent burial for gloves in the driveway!

[Jo Russell is a Christian teacher, speaker, author of many articles, contributor to several anthologies, and Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women, available from her website, www.button-to-god.com and Amazon. For more chuckles, to hear a speech, read excerpts, check this website and also Amazon.com the second edition e-book just released. Free Mother’s Day download May 9 to May 12, 2013.]

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Shall We Fast Forward to the Good Stuff? By Jo Russell

On the rare occasion that Joan watches thrillers, she holds up her hand over her eyes and peeks through her fingers when the action gets tense.

Her husband, John, sat beside her on the sofa one evening ready to enjoy one of his action-filled dramas. Joan screamed, reacting to the scene on the screen that was pitching with overturned cars, gunfire, blood, and flames.

“Honey, it’s not scary!” John pulled her closer to him. “Don’t you think you’re being silly? This is only the preview!”

It is no secret John likes action films. It is also common knowledge among their friends that Joan likes chic flicks and comedies. Fortunately, the couple’s preferences in media do not present a difference of opinion in their marriage any more serious than one liking cream in his coffee and the other liking it black.

Joan sighed, got up, and apologized, “Sorry, John, I’m a ‘happily ever after’ kind of gal. I leave you to your movie.”

Sometimes late at night when Joan has the remote control to herself to watch movies of her choice, she finds herself hitting the fast-forward button. Zip! The painful parts of the story disappear and the film speeds to the end where everyone is smiling and kissing.

What if screenwriters and novelists didn’t include conflict? Joan wished it were so. Writers will tell you it’s an essential part of fiction story-building. If there weren’t a problem, the reader or viewer would be too bored to turn the page. In real life, problems help us to grow. Second chances also give us a new lease on life. But how often do we want to fast forward to the happy ending? Can a story move to a happy ending without conflicts and challenges?

What about Adam and Eve? When God created the idyllic Garden of Eden, he provided an underground watering system, great, loose soil full of nutrients, and lush fruit-bearing plants and trees. The couple didn’t have to mix up Miracle Grow, amend the soil, compost, dig out rocks, foxtails, goat heads, or worry about drought. A gardener’s dream! Lots of yield and not much work! It was all the fruits, nuts, veggies, and variety that a person could need. At that time of grace and favor, no animals were carnivores, nor did the first couple kill any for meat within the garden.

God planned on the couple to keep on living and to raise a family. He had given them a bigger brain than all the critters, plus the opportunity to reason and choose. They and we are created in His image, after all.
If I were watching a movie of Adam of Eve messing up, like Joan, I would be tempted to fast forward through all the pain and hardship they brought on themselves and look for a happy ending. In their lifetimes, Adam and Eve might not have found it.

But soon after the conflict, God stepped in with a solution. First, he demoted the serpent, pledging that the clever creature would crawl on its belly the rest of its existence.

But God really did plan a happy ending for man and womankind, and He introduced it in the Garden of Eden.

While talking with the serpent, God promised, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” Genesis 3:15 [NIV].

It was the promise of a second chance for all generations. God told the serpent Satan that would be defeated. Satan would try, but Christ would crush the creature’s head, resulting in a fatal injury. The final blow came when Jesus defeated Satan and death by being raised from the dead.

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8. [NIV]. The ultimate gift of love.

At the birth of Christ, an angel cried with happiness, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11 [NIV]. Three decades later, Christ, the Savior recognized the time had come to finish God’s promise.

Conflict: bad choices. Resolution: another chance. It all came with Christ. Though the creation and Noah’s ark weren’t set in a time frame we understand, scholars established a reference point after that to the time Christ came. It was more than several thousand years. But the Savior was worth the wait.

If we fast forward from the conflict in the Garden of Eden to now, we’re missing out on the good stuff. So put down the remote take it slow. Savor the gift from the Lord of All. A gift for all to open: a second chance of a new beginning and a clean slate through forgiveness.

[Jo Russell is a Christian teacher, speaker, author of many articles, contributor to several anthologies, and Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women, available from her website, www.button-to-god.com. For more chuckles and to hear a speech, enjoy excerpts of her book and tips, check her entire website options and weekly blog.]

Christmas Surprises Over the Centuries By Jo Russell

With a home security system Bob and Shelly thought was more foolproof than a bank vault, the young parents awoke hours before dawn on Christmas to the rise of a terrible clatter. Had some team bypassed their system?

As Bob checked their toddlers’ room for their fleece-covered sleeping forms, he only spotted empty beds. Soon, he followed his twin boys’ excited cries to the Christmas tree. Having experienced only one other Christmas and they were just babies, the toddlers knew Christmas had something to do with surprises. It was 3:15 in the morning! Their parents were surprised, all right.

The one-and-a-half year old twin boys had flipped the switch on the electric fireplace, shed their clothes, and unwrapped every gift under the tree as well as the stockings on the mantle. Each nudist was taking turns on a spring-mounted rocking horse. As for the presents, you couldn’t blame the boys. The toddlers couldn’t read yet. Just as their parents promised, Christmas is full of surprises! Proof of that were the hills of crumpled wrapping paper in a wide swath around the youngsters and the tree.

In the same way these young parents were surprised by their sons’ pre-dawn celebration, the first family and the first Christmas included quite a few surprises as well.

Though the birth of a King of Heaven had been predicted hundreds of years earlier, today’s worldwide publicity got the word out that Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton’s pregnancy “makes history” because the baby due in six months will become a future king or queen of England. All this in less time than it takes to check new messages on the internet.

Who knew about Jesus around the time of his birth? Maybe two dozen people.
What were the angelic publicists doing keeping the Messiah’s birth such a secret?

Gabriel told Mary she would be the virgin mother of Jesus, the savior of the entire world. Joseph got the divine message in a dream, too. Only a small number of people knew about the birth of the King of the Jews. He wasn’t what they expected.

While most waited, they pictured a king in traditional robes with wealth, privileges, power, and prestige. Jesus, the King, actually came into the world in a surprise package: wrapped in cloths, the newborn took his first breath in the lowliest of places: a stable. But as had been prophesied centuries before, Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times. [ Micah 5:2]

Who knew about Jesus around the time of his birth? Mary’s relative Elizabeth, wife of Zechariah, and later mother of John the Baptist, learned of Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus at when the young woman went to visit her. What about the shepherds outside Bethlehem who got a madrigal performance and announcements from angels about the Savior’s birth? How many could that be? A dozen? Then there was the innkeeper, who directed the couple to a cave where he stabled his animals. Did he have any idea Jesus wasn’t just an ordinary baby? Or was he simply annoyed the couple showed up without much money or planning needing a midwife and a bed–with none in sight?

After Jesus was a week old, Mary and Joseph took him to Jerusalem for a purification ceremony. Two others knew for sure they were seeing and touching the Messiah: prophetess Anna and the devout Temple worker Simeon. What a surprise! They were just doing what they normally did that day.

Check the Bible for Luke 1 and 2, Matthew 1 and 2 for the stories and quotes.
As the wise men from the east found Jesus’ star and followed it, they told King Herod about the infant king. He called together the people’s teachers of the law and chief priests. The wise men found the infant king. Herod and his people didn’t.

Jesus grew to be a man fulfilling the prophecy as healer, teacher and savior like no other. Surprise!

So Christmas surprises come with the territory and the season. Hang loose and enjoy the moments as well as the clatter. But remember that Jesus is the real reason for the season.

[Jo Russell is a Christian teacher, speaker, author of many articles, contributor to several anthologies, and Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women, available from Amazon and her website, www.button-to-god.com. For more chuckles and to hear a speech, enjoy excerpts of her book and tips, check her entire website options and weekly blog.]

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When to Celebrate the Savior? Anytime! By Jo Russell

Some say that Jesus wasn’t really born in December, so while parties and celebrations unfold all over the world, celebrating in mid-winter could be what my family would call an “un-birthday party!”

For example, during a boring weekend at the isolated hardship teaching post where I had lived with my school-aged sons, three of us were left by ourselves in the tiny settlement. Nearly everyone else had taken off for town for the weekend. A dust storm was sandpapering us to grit, making the boys and I feel rough and on edge. I wasn’t surprised when my twins suggested, “Mom, how ‘bout you bake a cake and we’ll have an un-birthday party?!”

Now that was something we could do anytime at the drop of a party hat! The boys dragged out a packed tub filled with all the supplies and fun. Just an hour later, we were wearing party hats, shaking noisemakers, singing loudly, and eating cake on birthday plates. We played games inside and laughed much. We celebrated life!

When it comes to Jesus’ birthday celebration, many enjoy the party. Except for Evelyn. She’s a Christian acquaintance who eliminated the holiday entirely from her life, her husband’s and her family’s. No crèche. No cards out or in. No Christmas letters coming or going. No gifts accepted. Even a bowl of pinecones in the house with a ribbon is forbidden. Stems of mistletoe? Absolutely not! What about a sticker that reads, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”? Nope, not that either.

It isn’t that she doesn’t believe in Jesus, the Savior of the world.

“Jesus wasn’t born in December, and it was a pagan holiday that just got converted to a Christian one. It’s not accurate. I OBJECT!” Evelyn finished.

Theologians suggest the shepherds would not have moved the sheep to the hills unless it was hot in the valley, just like in the southern U.S. across California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Consider also how scantily baby Jesus was dressed. So it was probably spring. From my years in the southern U.S. states, spring with moderate temperatures lasts about three days, and then it rises gradually into chili-roasting temperatures. Southern Arizona residents claim there are only two seasons, “summer and hell.”

But does it really matter what time of year Jesus was born?

To Evelyn it did. She kept right on objecting for about an hour. She would sprinkle the conversation with the question, “Don’t you agree?”

No, I couldn’t. She had been spending much of her time at her church trying to get others to cancel Christmas as well. I even heard she’d circulated a petition. Last I heard, no one had signed it–not even her husband.

I interrupted, “So when do you celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world?”

“We don’t.”

“No other time of the year, either?”

“Never.”

I thought back to the silly family un-birthday parties with my sons. We didn’t need a date or a season to celebrate, we just did.

So can you in celebrating the birth of the Savior of the world! Anytime is good! Christmas is good, too! In Isaiah 9:6, the prophet’s words, later used in Handel’s Messiah, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be on his shoulder, and his name will be called, ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…” [KJV]

Now Jesus’s coming and value is worth a party, un-birthday or not!

[Jo Russell is a Christian teacher, speaker, author of many articles, contributor to several anthologies, and Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women, available from her website, www.button-to-god.com. For more chuckles and to hear a speech, enjoy excerpts of her book and tips, check her entire website options and weekly blog.]

Getting Over Messiness: God Can Do the Impossible! By Jo Russell

“I’m Jo and I’m a slob.” I could just imagine standing up in a 12-step meeting and admitting this horrible habit. Before God stepped in, I figured I was helpless to overcome this behavior. I’m a great test case for God’s promise that with Him all things are possible. [Matthew 19:26.]

Now and then, I felt guilty when I remembered a friend who has an immaculate home 24/7. She never battles disorder, dirt, and chaos. Her children learned to give themselves a bath,19:26. make their beds and fix their own meals by the time they were four. None ever showed up in a mud-covered trash bag after being towed on an inner tube behind someone’s four-wheel drive. That was my sons’ style.
Messiness seemed like our family’s shared gene. “Dear Lord, I know you can heal me of anything. Please guide me and help me over my sloppiness.” It wasn’t long after my prayer that I forgot I’d asked Him. If you pray for God to heal you of your messiness, then stock up on cleaning supplies and rags. I didn’t.

God has a sense of humor, you know that?

One day, the doorbell rang and I answered wearing my project clothes covered with a layer of drywall dust, which I’d tracked through the house. On the porch were two women: Miss Beauty Contest Winner with immaculate hair and manicured fingernails, tiara, heels and hose, plus a designer dress. Her sponsor stood beside her with her mouth open. I’d completely forgotten this day I was coaching the scholarship candidate on her public speaking. The appointment was in my day planner, but I hadn’t looked at it that day. My fingernails were as ragged as the Grand Teton range. Dusted white were my face, glasses and clothes. Two tufts of hair stuck out through the leg holes of an old pair of underwear over my hair. The two women were stunned.

Grand Mal Embarrassment set in. It was time to be serious about changing my habit for good and turning to God for help, not just with the house, but with organization. God got busy right away as I overhauled my day planner. Then I changed my habits after painting a few houses during the summer. I went to the first house to work. The dust bunnies were big enough to knit together into a Volkswagen. To say there was disorder in that house was like calling a boat wake the same as a tidal wave. After that 15-hour day, I went home, vacuumed, cleaned toilets and washed dishes. “I can actually do this,” I realized.

The next two houses were about the same.

“Very funny, God!” I told Him. “What’s next?”
Over time, I changed for the better. Though I would like to use the word “spotless,” that’s entirely too strong a word. What I did learn was if you do something for 30 days, it becomes a habit. You can tackle all messes a little at a time this way.

There is all planning and no disorder in God’s world. Having an uncluttered house helps to have an uncluttered life. God smiles down at us when we don’t have to make a second trip to the hardware store for cup hooks because we couldn’t find the ones we just bought.

God had indeed done the impossible with me, and with a sense of humor at that. He healed me of my sloppiness, just as I asked Him!

[Jo Russell is a Christian teacher, speaker, author of many articles, contributor to several anthologies, and Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women, available from her website, www.button-to-god.com. For more chuckles and to hear a speech, enjoy excerpts of her book and tips, check her entire website options and weekly blog.]

 

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In His Time By Jo Russell

      In His Time

By Jo Russell 9/19/12

As a plan-ahead person, Jana was ready for her three-hour trek down the mountain to the airport.  When the alarm rang in the dark, she planned to drive under clear starry spring skies. She remembered she had an hour. No matter that ahead was a pass high enough for a Black Diamond ski run. It hadn’t snowed for weeks. The road would be clear.  

 

“Plenty of time,” she thought, until she looked out the window at her own street. “Rats! Snow and ice!” For hours until mid-morning, the mountain road would dangerous with black ice. Now she would have to rush, leave sooner, and take the safer detour.

 

As Jan drove the longer way, she wondered if her watch stopped. So far left to go. Could she risk adding to her paper trail as a speeder?  What law-enforcement officer would believe that Flight 264 was an emergency–any more than her last speeding ticket for rushing to the store for a sale on skinless chicken breasts!

 

Once parked, she sprinted for the shuttle bus, no small feat in snow boots. She slid to a stop like a skater in front of the airline counter. Jana dropped her bag on the scale with a triumphant shout, “Made it!”

 

The clerk, decked out in a snappy short-sleeved uniform perfect for the balmy desert weather, didn’t share Jana’s enthusiasm. Before she checked the traveler’s ticket, the clerk felt her armpits getting moist just looking at Jana’s puffy padded boots. Seeing her long-sleeved shirt and the down jacket made the clerk feel as if it were July, when Arizona temperatures waver between chili-roasting and a brush fire.    

 

With a quick glance at the large clock on the wall, the clerk stated, “If you’d been here three minutes earlier, you could have boarded this flight!”

 

“But what’s three little minutes?  I had to travel through ice and snow to get here!” Jana grasped the counter with white knuckles begging, “Please! Please! The plane won’t leave for twenty-seven minutes! My family is meeting me.”

 

The clerk couldn’t be swayed. “Ice and snow? Aren’t you headed for a lot of it in north country where you’re headed?”

 

“Couldn’t you make room for me?”

 

“You weren’t on time.”

Never encouraging are the world’s reminders that we all fall short of time agendas. Like these words:

  • You’re late.
  • You’re not on time.
  • You’re tardy.
  •  It’s about time. 

 

That’s the world’s way of reminding us that we fall short of a time agenda: it’s never encouraging.

 

But God’s time is just right.  It’s perfect for all the things that happen in your life and Jana’s.

 

Evangelist/motivational speaker, Nick Vujicic, shared that his first speech before a large audience left him stuttering and nervous. He wasn’t ready. It wasn’t time. Now confident before audiences around the world numbering tens of thousands, Nick said when his experience, confidence, and the time was right, everything worked. A man born without limbs, he has a positive testimony and hope no matter what challenges a person faces. Search YouTube to see him speak.

 

For God told Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” (Is. 55:8 NIV).  Many times Nick had asked God why he was born without limbs and asked for a healing. He had thought about suicide. But with a great burning desire to be a motivational speaker and much family support, Nick now inspires many and frees them from the slavery of the mind and the bonds of “I can’t.” That is God’s way of using Nick.  

 

God has his ways of using and guiding you. It will happen in just the right time. 

 

So you didn’t get the promotion you expected? You couldn’t start a family yet? So the house deal fell through? The check wasn’t in the mail?”

 

Frustrated, you might shake your fist at God and ask, “Can you think of something better?”

 

God will just smile and respond, “You bet. You can count on it!”

[Jo Russell is a Christian teacher, speaker, author of many articles, contributor to several anthologies, and Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women, available at this website and Jo’s speaking engagements. For more chuckles and to hear a speech, enjoy excerpts of her book and tips, check her entire website options and weekly blog on www.button-to-god.com.]