Seeking the F.B.I. and God by Jo Russell

Stumpy climbed off the forklift in the warehouse and stormed into his co-workers office, his face puffy and red with anger. He slammed his hat on Billy’s desk for emphasis.

“It’s gone! How could they steal it! Can you imagine anyone stealing from a secure government warehouse like this one!” he stopped for a breath. “I need the number of the F.B.I.!”

“Stumpy, what’s missing? Are you the first to know about this? How serious is this that the Federal Bureau of Investigation needs to know about it?”

“It’s downright low!  Someone stole my lunch! A baloney sandwich, cheese chips, a Coke and a brownie. Now I don’t have anything to eat and no change for the snack machine! Let me have the number for the F.B.I!”

Billy turned to hide his face and his chuckling. Surely, the FBI with case files on international espionage, murder, treason, and terrorism doesn’t need to find Stumpy’s thief.

“Here, Stumpy. Lunch is on me today,” Billy offered as he handed over a bill.  

“But justice must be done! I need some answers!” Stumpy continued to be convinced that in his search for a lunch-stealing criminal, he needed the expert services of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Jesus provides words of wisdom in those seeking God’s answers, his kingdom, his wisdom and his vision for us. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks find; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” [Matthew 7:7-8]

So seekers, don’t be discouraged with what may seem a tortuous path of mystery leading to God and his path. He reveals it a little at a time along the way, sometimes like one clue at a time. The idea is not to give up, but to continue to seek him, in his word, in prayer and communication, in your personal and group studies of the Bible, and listening to hear his directions in time alone with him.

You will find the answers. When it comes to persistence, finding what you seek, and solving mysteries, God does even better than the F.B.I.

[Jo Russell is a Christian speaker, author of scores of articles, a half dozen 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 and her speaking engagements. Jo lives in northeast Arizona and writes a popular humorous weekly blog on her website, http://www.button-to-god.com.]

 

 

 

Getting Passed in the Race

Life is great and I want everyone to know it! Freddy mused as he cruised his new car into the drive-in. He was out to show off his success. Just a year out of high school, he had a great job, a brand-new fast car, and a cool apartment.

The young man pulled in under the lights at the drive-in in his new 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air. He was dusting the fender of the fiesta cream sedan while bragging to the older man sipping on a milkshake in his Oldsmobile Super 88, “You know, this car is so popular that they can’t make them fast enough.”

“That right?”

“Talk about fast! Why, no one will race me because this sweet baby can really roll!”

But the older man smirked as he slurped the shake and asked, “You’ve never had any takers, huh?”

“That’s right! They just know they’re gonna get beat bad!”

“Hmmm.” He extended his hand, “Harry.” The man thought of the power under the hood of his one-year-old 1953 Oldsmobile. V-8, nearly two tons of power, just under 165 horsepower, and a four-barrel carburetor that meant business.

“Know that new strip of highway not opened yet off Pine Tree Way?”

“Yeah,” Freddy answered, “I’ve run my car on that road dozens of times. It sure is fast!”

“I’ll take you on.”

“You’re kidding, Big Daddy. Aren’t you a little old for racing?”

Harry just smiled.

A couple of friends followed them to the course. One used his headlights to mark the end of the race.

The other friend hollered, “The race will start when you hear this firecracker!”

With a bang, the engines roared and the race started. But Freddy pulled the shifter down all the way and the three-speed Bel Air went in reverse with the tires smoking. He adjusted for his mistake, shifted again and shot forward.

The Olds seemed slow, but shortly, Harry kicked it into the Super gear, and the heavy, powerful sedan easily passed the Bel Air. No contest. Lots of pavement between him and Freddy by the time Harry sped past the finish.

Freddy stopped his Chevy after running the stretch full speed. His jaw dropped with astonishment. An older man in an older car had beat him hands down!

The next week, someone posted a sign on the bulletin board at the drive in: “1954 Chevy Bel Air for sale. Low miles. One owner. Slow.”  It was everyone’s guess that the car was Freddy’s.

Fast or slow? In the race that God has planned for us, does speed matter? Not at all. Just as professional racers in all fields know, ultimately, one is competing against oneself, not others. But in life’s race to heaven, for Christians, the most important thing is to persevere and finish. That is your and God’s victory.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” Hebrews [12:1-2]

Anyone who has ever raced on foot, by bicycle, or in a car could tell you it’s not easy. But strengthened by those who crossed the finish before us, we can be encouraged. With God’s help, the finish is sure as we focus on Jesus.

God’s pit crew and his divine help guarantee a stronger finish in the race than even the fastest of cars!

[Jo Russell is a Christian speaker, author of scores of articles, a half dozen 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. She lives in northeast Arizona with her husband, Ed. Enjoy chuckles and speeches, tips and excerpts in website options and weekly blog.]

Never a Quarantine Area in Christ’s Kingdom by Jo Russell

A rancher was turning his pick-up and horse trailer around in the middle of the rural highway. There was no other way back to the ranch. The rig became a road block for a time over three lanes. He waved his wide-brimmed hat out the window at the oncoming traffic lined up to go north. Then he pointed to a just-installed sign.

As he traveled south, he paused to pass the news to others with horses. All those with livestock had to turn back.

Among the stopped in the traffic was Jolene with a load three teen backseat drivers. They were bored and vocal.

“Hey! Look at this!” one boy read. “Quarantine Area; Horses and Cattle Restricted.”

“That’s why the rodeo was cancelled!”

“I like it,” Rick repeated, “Quarantine Area: Horses and Cattle Restricted!

Because the only thing the teens had in common with the four-legged, hoofed animals was their appetite, their mother, Jolene, kept creeping along the highway thirty miles to town.

Joe chimed in, “It has rhythm! Like this, Quarantine Area: Horses and Cattle Restricted! And he leaned to the right. Quarantine Area: Horses and Cattle Restricted! He leaned to the left. Quarantine Area: Horses and Cattle Restricted! Another lean to the right.

Robbie loved it, too, and joined in. Quarantine Area: Horses and Cattle Restricted!

Jolene kept driving with the thought. Parents have no reason to complain with kids in the backseat who chant, “When do we get there, when do we get there, when do we get there.” 

Soon it was obvious the aging four-wheel drive needed shocks as the truck dipped side to side. The three in the back seat rocked to the rhythm and their own husky voices in unison, Quarantine Area: Horses and Cattle Restricted! Quarantine Area: Horses and Cattle Restricted! Quarantine Area: Horses and Cattle Restricted!

By the time they got home, Jolene had heard every tone and version of Quarantine Area: Horses and Cattle Restricted!

A sequel followed when the teens walked in the door. “I’m hungry as a horse. When do we eat?”

“Ah,” sighed Jolene. “The joys and responsibilities of motherhood.”

To any horses and cows, Quarantine Area: Horses and Cattle Restricted! implies that those inside the area are an exclusive breed, a closed clique, virus free – maybe even goodie two-hoofed.

It may seem that Christians can be like that, too. Too good to be true. In many past blogs, the author has shown with scripture that Christ, the son of God, offers his gift of forgiveness and a new life to all. One comes when the angels announce his birth to the shepherds with these words: “I bring you good news of great joy 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]

But with the gift of accepting Christ comes the commitment of following him and his teachings. It ain’t easy. He wants us to begin as humble and broken. He asks if we love him to follow his commands. Day by day, each needs to soul-search and evaluate decisions and actions. What would Christ do? He expects us to be as persistent as a junk yard dog – to the end.

Jesus himself says, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  [Matthew 7:13-14]

Walking behind Christ’s divine footsteps may seem impossible. But he gives us the how-to guidelines, the strength, and the ability to go beyond our own skills and experience.

In the end, those persisting on the road to the kingdom of God will never be turned away. Step forward with Christ. Follow, choose, persist. All is possible within power of God and his will.

[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.]

 

 

All I Want for Christmas By Jo Russell

When Leslie went looking to buy a family home–a dream and prayer for over ten years–she noted some sales people showed her some one-of-a-kind features.  Close enough to Christmas that the shiny ornaments were packed in the stores next to the Halloween ghouls, Leslie held fast to the vision of a home for her family with a Christmas tree twinkling with lights in the living room.

 

“What’s this?” she asked when a realtor showed her inside something that could only be loosely categorized as a single-family residence.

 

“The bathroom.”

 

“You’re kidding. It looks like an RV toilet in a closet.”

 

“Whatever.”

 

“And what’s that smell?” she wanted to know.

 

“The slaughterhouse.  But today is windy. Most days, you won’t smell it.”

 

“No, thanks. It’s not what I had in mind.”

 

Sales people and mortgage bankers had sized up her skinny portfolio as a single mom with two school-aged children and said the same thing, “This is all you can afford. You don’t have enough income or a big enough down payment.”  So instead of what she asked and prayed for, most showed her shacks.

 

Not Mary. The new sales professional welcomed Leslie with enthusiasm and really listened.

 

“It has to be a three-bedroom house in a decent and safe neighborhood.”

 

“Righty-O! I can do that!” the realtor promised cheerfully.

 

“Here’s one!” she pointed at the computer screen. “But it’s financed under a government program. Let’s see if you qualify. Yes!  As a ‘moderate income’ family!”

 

As the realtor, Leslie and her sons walked through newly refurbished house, her eyes opened with surprise. The living room even had a fireplace where the stockings would hang.

 

But government programs have different criteria, the realtor explained. “All the names on the contracts go into a hat, and then they draw a name.”

 

Hers was not the first name. But a few weeks later, Mary called again to say the first contract was turned down and Leslie was the next one as they checked her credit.

 

While talking about Christmas wishes with her sons, one asked,

“What about you, Mom?”

 

Leslie sighed. “It’s been a long time wishing, but if it’s God’s will, may we have that house of our own.”

 

The day after Christmas, Mary called her to say, “The house is yours if you want it!” Leslie cried.

 

Not long after, the small family walked the length and breadth of the land that showcased their family home.  To others, the yard looked like dirt. To them, it looked like possibilities. And miracles. And proof of the persistence of prayer.

 

Jesus himself promises, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 77-8.

 

Leslie had prayed about a family home. The one God chose for her was even more than she expected.

 

But it was as Jesus promised. “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake. If you…who know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! [Matthew 9-11 NIV].

 

Ask, seek, and knock. God delights to give you your heart’s desire, but it will be in his time. Keep thanking him, praying and believing! His answer will be extraordinary – and like Leslie’s, it will be the best answer – and nowhere near the slaughterhouse.

 

[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.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Path to Candyland and Christ By Jo Russell

As the school-aged boys pulled open the country store screen door decorated with a rusty Coca Cola Sign, the wooden relic creaked. Clutching hard-earned allowance in their fists, the boys skipped inside ahead of their mother to the store–one of only ten buildings in the tiny community. They had already decided on what they would buy. Something they didn’t get at home–candy. Black streaks, dents, scrapes and bullet holes punctured the walls. Such were the remains of the interior décor untouched from decades before.

Inside, two desert pioneers rocked back on the legs of oak chairs. They squinted through white, stubby whiskers at the blonde twins walking in. “What yer doin’ here, Son?” one asked as the first boy reached for a Tootsie Roll Pop and put a quarter on the counter.

“I’m getting some candy,” the youngster smiled broadly.

“Yer shouldn’t do that,” replied the second desert rat. “I licked a lollipop and lookee here!” The old timer reached in his mouth and pulled out a bridge supporting two teeth.

The boys, Josh and Jimmy, stared–first at the senior, then at each other. They scanned the face of the store owner. No one was smiling.

The other grizzly man realized he had their full attention for a moment. “That there’s nothing,’” he added. “Once I ate a whole candy bar and look what happened to me!” With the skill of a gunfighter twirling his pistols, the man pulled out a full top place of teeth, spun it around and held it out for the boys to inspect on his dry, wrinkled hand.

The twins were shocked for a moment. But they were determined to stick to their quest for candy. Nothing would sway them from their path, not even geriatric sharpshooters of tall tales.

Just as the twins stuck to their plan, we are to stay on the path that God charts for us. God can see the entire path of your life and mine. We see only a part. Stepping forward is an act of faith. Remember God’s words, “I am the Lord your God, the one who wants to teach you for your own good and direct you in the way you should go.” [Isaiah 48:17 Good News Bible].

Can’t do it? Yes, you can by taking one step forward at a time. For God also promises, “He gives me new strength. He guides me in the right paths, as he promised.” [Psalm 23:3] Unconditional guarantee: with God you can stand up to anything – including any aged sharpshooters of tall tales!

[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.]

Punishment or Physical Therapy? By Jo Russell

Anyone sentenced to physical therapy following surgery or an injury has a great example that God isn’t finished with us yet! Like physical therapy, God gives us exercises that stretch our muscles, skills and abilities. The final objectives from God and physical therapists are the same: mobility and new possibilities.

Recent surgery reacquainted me with P.T. This has given me hours of going nowhere and feeling guilty for neither doing anything nor burning a significant number of calories. The machines mimic skiing, bicycling, mountain climbing and marathon running. But all of them and I stay in one place.

So last time, I multitasked by memorizing some of the Laws of Physical Therapy posted on the wall:

“Never say, “I just want to go home – because you’ll just stay longer.”

Never say it’s easy – because we’ll make it harder.”

“Never lose count – because you start at one again.”

“Never complain – because we never listen.”

“Never scream or cry – because it just encourages us.”

“Never look like you are enjoying yourself – because we’ll put a stop to it.”

“Never hold your breath because if you pass out, we’ll have to do the paperwork.”

As if physical therapy and surgery wasn’t enough to qualify me as a glutton for punishment, in the fall, I took over teaching a Sunday group of tweens. After that, I was gone for a month because of saws-all surgery. When I returned, some of the experiences with the students illustrated the P.T. laws so well that I laughed aloud.

P.T. Law: “Never argue – because you don’t win.” One student always seemed to think he deserved another turn because his was “no fair.” He didn’t get another chance. He learned to do his best the first time.

P.T. Law: “Never say you can’t – because you’ll do it anyway.” Working in teams, each student learned to find passages in the Old and New Testaments in spite of the fact that the Bible is as thick as two of their school textbooks.

P.T. Law: “Never lie or cheat because we know the truth and you’ll live to regret it.”
When I returned, the students claimed they hadn’t gotten their fair share from the prize box. I learned the truth from the sub.

While having lunch with some of my friends, one asked if my new class lived up to the reputation of middle school behavior. That’s the kind that keeps the pharmaceutical business thriving and gives parents nightmares. My friends were expecting horror stories.

I smiled sweetly, remembering the famous passage: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him who have been called according to his purpose.” [Romans 8:28 NIV]. I thought of the children’s progress, participation, and enthusiasm. The passage fits and encourages. I also remembered in P.T. when the therapist high-fived me and said, “Great going!” I know how good that felt.

And then I answered with the most encouraging words of truth about God’s relationship with everyone, “Like us, they are all works in progress.”

God has great plans in who you are becoming. Give yourself a high five! God isn’t finished with you, yet!

[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.]

Show and Tell Surprise! By Jo Russell

Pete felt desperate about Show and Tell in his first grade class. It was the next day and he still didn’t have anything spectacular to bring to school. It would be hard to top Carol bringing a baby rattlesnake in a Coke bottle hidden under her coat. Everybody on the bus got a good look. But after she got in the classroom, the teacher turned white and the principal took it away.

Over the past two weeks, Pete had pleaded with God for something that would wow his classmates. The only thing he could think of was totally off limits: his older brother’s remote-control Jeep. Andy wasn’t prone to sharing his toys–especially a recent birthday gift.

Pete asked again and again. Still Andy had always said “No!”

With Show and Tell the next day, and Pete’s hope and faith waned. Why hadn’t God answered?

Pete asked Andy once again to borrow the jeep with all kinds of promises that would be hard for him to keep. The youngster reached for Andy’s toy at the same time he was asking for the umpteenth time.

Andy slapped his brother’s hand away.

The next day, Pete showed up for school with his Show and Tell clutched in his fist. He realized that God had indeed answered his prayer for something spectacular and unique to share.

Pete opened his hand to show the class. The kids “Oooed” and “Aaahed!” For in Pete’s hand was teeth that both he and his brother lost during the fight the night before!

This is a fun and original story. But there is a message in it. God always answers our prayers. However, it will be in His time and His way. Keep on praying and believing!

 

[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, Intermedia Publishing, 2011. For more chuckles, keep checking her weekly blog on www.button-to-god.com.]

 

The Little Old Pretzel Bender: A Story of Persistence

Guest blog by the late Jeane Gottsponer
[Jo’s Russell’s mother, Lance’s grandmother]

The little old pretzel bender wasn’t really very little. He was pretty tall for his age. He wasn’t really very old, either–just fourteen. Nor was this young fellow German, like most of his profession. His name was English and Scottish, but Lance was as Swiss as a yodel. And he was an avid bender of pretzels.

His very first try was the hardest and messiest knot he ever tried, a Gordian knot. Everyone knows untangling the Gordian knot was one of the labors of Hercules. Hercules managed to do it. Lance tried and tried. He couldn’t. The Gordian knot didn’t look anything like a pretzel and was hard as a dog biscuit.

There had to be a better way to bend a pretzel than a Gordian knot. Lance got out his old Boy Scout handbook and followed the directions for knot-tying. The overhand knot was easy. It looked a lot like the pretzels at Ed’s IGA. Next, he tried a knot called a figure of eight. Almost dislocated his shoulders working on that one, but it was a respectable-looking pretzel.

Then with varying degrees of success, Lance tried a slip knot, loop knot, a bowline, a square knot, a granny, a half-hitch and a prolong knot. The knots that turned out best, he sprinkled with salt. They were delicious!
He dipped the pretzels that ended up unrecognizable as knots into melted chocolate, which helped conceal slight imperfections. Since he had done a great job on the pretzel dough, all his pretzels were delicious, even if unrecognizable. Most non-Boy Scouts don’t know nuts about knots anyway.
Having tied several batches of pretzel dough into knots, Lance was ready to go one giant step further. He would make a birthday pretzel for his good friend and boss at the bicycle shop.

With a fresh batch of dough and a great deal of determination, he worked on the creation of a truly remarkable pretzel. He held his breath as the work of art tanned to perfection in the oven. At last it was ready for the world to see. The magnificent birthday pretzel.

Persistence paid off: the pretzel that filled an entire cookie sheet now spelled out his favorite brand at the two-wheel shop: SCHWINN.
[JCG 1994]

*********************************

Persistence is a great quality in goals, requests, and prayer life. More than the usual three or four attempts, Lance kept pretzel-bending until he finished the special creation that wasn’t too hard or soft and tasted great!

To keep asking in prayer brings answers. Jesus used the illustration of a man coming to his neighbor’s door after everyone’s bedtime asking for bread because company showed up. The street market had been closed for hours. In those days, answering the door at midnight was more than just inconvenient and irritating. Everyone slept in the same room, so the man had to climb over his children and the rest of his family to talk to his neighbor. Jesus pointed that because of the neighbor’s persistence and boldness, the man would give him all that he asked for and needed.

Jesus himself said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” [Luke 11:9-10 NIV]

Pray, expect, ask again. Persistence pays off.

[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, Intermedia Publishing, 2011. For more chuckles buy her book from this site, Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com or order from any bookseller. Keep checking her weekly blog on Button-to-God.com.]

The “God Loves You” House by Jo Russell

Someone soaped our front windows and it wasn’t even close to Halloween!
Spurred to action, I cleaned the scribbles off first, then took a thick orange bar and wrote “God Loves You!” across the front picture windows.

I asked my teen sons to clean the windows later in the month, but by that time, window washing would have been smearing ice over the glass because of the winter temperatures. Also the word “windows” was not in their vocabulary nor their agenda. They simply don’t do suds and glass.

The prominent message turned out to be useful. “Turn left on Center, then find the ‘God Loves You’ house on the corner!” Or, “Our house has bright accent colors and a ‘God Loves You’ message on the front windows.”

As weeks went by and winter turned to spring, my sons walked by the message daily, failing to notice. Wholesome outdoor activities continued in the front yard with friends while I was still at work. Soon I found a film clip starring my teens. One son had been jumping a bicycle over four other young men lying in the front yard like sardines. The “God Loves You” message was bright in the background. Soon after, I heard from angry, wet neighbors who had been squirted with a hose through their car window. I lectured about the “God loves you” mission statement at our house.

One of my sons brought up the topic of the windows.

“When are you going to clean them off?”

“Remember, I asked you to do it. Actually, I thought it was a great message in the neighborhood. Did you notice no one has tried to soap the windows since?”

“Yeah, but no one has washed them, either.”

“I wasn’t planning to wash them until summer. I am growing to like it very much!”

“Geez, Mom! You’re embarrassing us!” The two teens disappeared inside and came out with rags and the window cleaner. They worked until the picture windows shined like crystal.

Soon after, I was headed out the door to the dusty truck with an orange bar of soap. One of my sons stopped me to demand, “Where are you going with that?”

“I thought many in the community could benefit from a ‘God loves you’ message on the back window of the truck! Don’t you?”

I didn’t get a chance to soap my message on the vehicle. My young men washed the truck and shined all the windows, too. God surely does work in mysterious ways!

Motherhood is a job that deserves, but never gets a nomination for the Presidential Motherhood Medal of Honor. Moms are in the line of fire in enemy territory. Women learn that to stay steadfast in raising children is like trying to keep a car steady as when you just had a tire blow out. In Proverbs 20:11, Solomon penned these words: “Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right.”

Moms, stick to your agenda and your standards. The troops will come around.

[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, Intermedia Publishing, 2011. For more chuckles, check her weekly blog on Button-to-God.com.]

Rena’s Resolution By Jo Russell New Year’s Day, 2012

Rena lined up her four boys and lovable family dog in order of size: Brent, age 16; Rick, 13, Rodney, 8 and Shawn, 6. Last in line in front of the garage was Floppy Joe, a shaggy brown mutt with ears that hung down like pancakes.

A successful businesswoman who ran a pre-school, Rena knew how to handle children. She wore a look that would stop traffic. She waited for silence from her sons. It came quickly. Even the flies stopped buzzing.

“This is the new family car,” Rena announced. “Your dad and I haven’t had a new car since Rick was born. So these are the new rules: No trash in the van! No eating! No milkshakes! Forget riding in wet swim suits! No cleats on the carpet, and no throwing up! When we park, no one will bang the doors into cars parked next to us. We will keep this car clean and polished. That will take teamwork from all of us. Any questions?”

“What about Floppy Joe?” Shawn patted the dog as the animal swatted at his own ears. An irreverent puff of dust within soiling distance of the polished new van shot out of Floppy’s fur. “Can he still ride with us?

“As long as you put a towel on the seat for him to sit on.”

Despite her best intentions and the boys’ efforts, life happened and the van took the rap for it. On day twenty, a shopping cart careened into the van, denting the rear quarter panel. Soon after, young Shawn grew woozy coming down a twisted mountain road. Rena warned him, “Whatever you do, don’t throw up in the van!” She tossed her large purse in the back seat. “Do it on my purse!” But he couldn’t stop himself and decorated the carpet instead.

Weeks later, Floppy Joe (on a scrunched-up towel) dropped to the floor to lick up grease from a juicy hamburger. “Who was eating in the van? Where did all this sauce and goo come from?” Rena never got an answer. Nobody was talking.

Car washing and detailing improved the van, but the family no longer cleaned it on a regular basis. Rena’s resolution that was supposed to last a decade or so went by the wayside in weeks, as they often do.

That’s life.

Paul advises, “Be joyful always; pray continually, give thanks for all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 [NIV]

My resolution was to improve my relationship with God by doing better at my prayer time. My spiritual life deepened two-fold when I took ten minutes at the table to pray with my sons and share a short Bible study. My faith leaped with growth when I prayed and studied every day, even when a rotating work schedule forced me to do prayer/study time anytime from 3:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. As a person who would probably test as Attention Deficit Disorder today, I recently learned to keep more focused by praying out loud. Too often, I had found myself in “La La Land,” skimming the written petitions and praises each day. If I’m not paying attention, is God? Hearing the words gives more weight, attention, and importance to prayers when I read them aloud.

Like Rena, I am not always consistent in my resolutions. However, I can make a new start if I fail. Overall, God guides me to stay on the path. I move forward.

So don’t give up if you fall. Begin again with a promise to yourself. Decide and do it, day by day. God will be helping along the way.

[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, Intermedia Publishing, 2011. For more chuckles, check her weekly blog on Button-to-God.com.]