The Best Four Words Ever: You Belong to Me! by Jo Russell

As Troy pulled the tangled sheets out of the dryer at the laundromat, he cried, “You belong to me! I thought I’d lost you forever!”  But he wasn’t talking with his girlfriend or wife. He said these words when he retrieved the match to his other Nike bike sock.

The right words, the wrong meaning. You belong to me? Maybe what made it fall short of his heart was that as much affection as he had for his bike socks, they couldn’t love him back.

Mark had a different take on those magic four words. As he strolled through the aisle at the pet rescue center, he looked intently at each canine to see which would be his perfect pet and companion.  When he hesitated in front of one cage, the furry animal with soft ears and a wildly beating tail wiggled with pleasure. She barked and licked Mark’s fingers through the fencing.

“I want to hold this one,” he told the volunteer worker. Soon, man and dog were bonded, and he petted the dog and said to her, “I’m calling you Caramel. You belong to me!”

But somehow, those magic four words need to be more. Can they meet the needs of readers who buy more than 72,000 romance novels a year?

“You belong to me?”

It’s not fulfilled in the context of fiction.  People need to be truly loved, to experience the real deal, genuinely valued in a two-way relationship.  It can’t come in socks, pets, or romance novels.

Next to the best three words ever, “I love you” come the best four words ever: “You belong to me!”

Love. On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, number one and two are food, shelter, safety, security, then comes love and close relationships. Everyone needs love.

What if love was available to all without qualifying with looks, money, achievements, and   conditions? It is. God offers us the gift of love—free and clear—along with forgiveness and a caring friendship forever.

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” [1 Peter 9-10]

“You belong to me!” The most important words in our language. As God speaks them and cocoons us with his love, we know that his care is forever in a two-way relationship.

You belong to me! From God, those four words are the real deal.

[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.]

 

Not Alone by Jo Russell

Mattie warned her teenaged driver out for weekend practice, “Let’s not go down this dirt road. It’s too icy and uneven today.”

“Mom,” the confident Trevor explained, “This was four-wheel drive of the year. It should be…”

His voice cracked as he finished with “FINE!”

That’s when the tough truck slid off the roadbed into snow and ice up to the wheel wells. It was crossways on the raised trail.

Mattie scanned the snowy landscape.  Such a familiar place! During the summer, they took this road on camping trips. During the spring run-off, they stayed off it when it was like chocolate pudding.

Today, the scene looked like a winter postcard with a wide expanse of snow outlined with rounded mounds of evergreens in the higher country. There in the middle of it was her four-wheel drive stuck.

The woman and her son got out shovels and tried to dig it out. They rocked it. They nearly rolled it. But they learned the engine worked well, but the truck wasn’t going anywhere. Soon, the wind was slapping their clothes and lifting the powdery snow to sting their faces.

The two tried all other tactics for traction. Nothing worked. Mattie tried her cell phone. It was dead. Hours later, a couple traveling down the paved road pulled over and asked if they could help.

“Just let me call the auto club with your phone. Mine is dead. They’re only ten miles away or so.”

When the tow truck driver arrived ready to wench out the truck, he chuckled.

“I don’t think this is funny, Sir.” Mattie commented. “We’ve been freezing out here for three hours!”

“Sorry. It’s just when you told me where it was stuck, I knew the place and had to laugh.”

“Why?”

“Because last week, I towed out a National Guard Humvee in this very spot. Those four-wheel military models are supposed to get through everything. They cost over $200,000. Yours is about the 15th four-wheel drive stuck here in the last two months. You’re not alone.”

She could only manage an “Oh.”

Alone or not alone? When it comes to our life’s journey and experiences, is it a surprise to find out that we aren’t alone?  Some common areas…

We aren’t alone in trouble, but God still loves us.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? ….For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Romans 8:35; 38-39]

We aren’t alone in following God.

After the prophet Elijah had a decisive victory against a pagan king and pagan priests, he ran into the desert and wanted to die because of Queen Jezebel’s threat to his life.

Elijah told God, “The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left and now they are trying to kill me, too.” [1 Kings 19:10]

God’s reply, “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.” [1 Kings 19:18]

We’re aren’t alone in losing our courage at times.

God said to Joshua, Moses’ successor, as he led the Israelites into territory occupied by hostiles,  “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” [Joshua 1:9]

These assurances from God are time-tested and timeless. You’re not alone. We’re not alone. God is with us always—from everyday challenges to four-wheel drive adventures.

[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.]

 

 

Diffusing the Dieter’s Dilemma by Jo Russell

January 3. It’s an official day of winding down from a frenzy of frosted treats.

A day of fasting for dieters like me, like Paul. Carol couldn’t handle the pressure.

Even before her husband left for the office, she was toasting cinnamon bagels dripping with honey. “What?” Paul cried, “Toast for you and not for me?”

“Not today. Remember our New Year’s resolution.” Carol usually waited until he headed out on his commute. “We’re going back to our diets. No pudding! No cheesecake! Forget the cookies! I’m hiding your stocking stuffers! We seniors are supposed to eat less and sugar is a big no-no!”

“But can I have part of your bagel?”

“Nope. This is my last farewell to sugary food. It’s still within our 1200 calorie limit.”

“What about mine?”

“You’ve got sweet pickles with your lunch plus cinnamon-flavored toothpicks. See! You still get to enjoy sweets!”

After Paul left, Carol sighed as she checked the freezer. “Hello down there!”

It echoed with emptiness. Gone was spiral-cut ham with raisin and orange sauce, tender turkey with gravy and stuffing. The only thing left were lean and healthy adult meals in boxes the size of city phone books.

This can’t be so bad, Jolene thought. We shouldn’t have withdrawal over this. The cover photo shows meat dripping with gravy. The veggies are shiny with butter.

But it wasn’t so. Close to dinnertime when Jolene actually unboxed the meal, she gasped. Inside was a grid of plastic spacers. In the very center was frozen meat wrapped with a teaspoon of icy gravy the size of a sticky note. The veggies spilled over the meal like frozen confetti. No butter.

Paul smiled at the dinner table. “How nice! Appetizers!”

“No, it’s dinner.” Though Carol served their tiny dinner on small plates decked with a sprig of parsley as big as the meat, they weren’t prepared sizing down this much.

“Look at the bright side, Paul! I didn’t have to cook and there are only two plates to wash!”

But soon after, Paul asked, “What is there to snack on around here?”

She offered, “Carrots? Celery?”

After Paul went to bed, Carol lay awake counting Christmas cookies and marshmallows roasted over an open fire. [The grocers didn’t have chestnuts.]  She tiptoed into the kitchen and searched for easing herself into 1200 calories a day.

There it was: a recipe for double chocolate biscotti! She could indulge in one and a half cookies!

New Year’s resolutions have a way of billowing up guilt because they aren’t in small enough steps to be realistic for a year – sometimes not even for a day, as Carol discovered.

Yet God knows our slip-ups. He loves us anyway.

“You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.” [Psalm 139 2-4]

This is from the beautiful passage of Psalm 139, which focuses on the wonder of God’s creating us and the intricate details of his thoughts and love, such as “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.”

God loves and guides us as his child – and that love isn’t dependent on New Year’s resolutions or 1200 calories a day.

[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.]

 

Love for All God’s Critters and You! By Jo Russell

When Grandma came for her half-year stay with her son and family, Fletcher, the Bassett hound groaned. All the family dog wanted was love, compassion, appreciation, treats, and a comfortable place to sleep. “Even Baby Jesus had a crib for a bed,” the dog reasoned.

The floppy-eared Bassett grieved, “No more sofa-sitting until summer. How could such a thing happen to such an important family member?”

“Why, I put in an 18-hour day keeping everyone on schedule! They get up on time without an alarm clock! I make sure the kitchen floor is cleaned up when someone drops something! I even tell the family when the mailman comes!”

Grandma voiced her disapproval to the family around the dinner table, “Dogs shouldn’t be sleeping on the furniture, either,” she announced, “Or begging for food while we’re eating.” She looked accusingly at Fletcher. He stopped his whining as suddenly as if his throat had been cut.

“Cats need to stay in the barn and kill the mice,” the elderly farm woman proclaimed. The cat yawned, stretched, and sashayed past the family at dinner. Princess’ idea of hunting was navigating trips to the food bowl 36 times a day.

“Grandma,” granddaughter Mandy countered, “We don’t have a barn and we don’t have mice. We live in a city. The exterminator takes care of them.”

Fletcher knew things would only get worse after dinner. Grandma would begin, “Dog! Get down!” and she ordered the dog off the sofa with a flyswatter in her hand.

Fletcher knew his sentence was to be called “Dog” for the next six months and curl up on the cold floor. No sofa for a bed. No treats from the kitchen floor. No conversations with family. His life was miserable with oppression. He was in trouble with Grandma most of the time.

Even from another room, when Fletcher tried to sneak on the sofa without the springs squeaking, Grandma seemed to have x-ray vision and sprinted to his side with a flyswatter.

When Grandma’s visit was finally up, Fletcher gingerly eased himself on the sofa, looking around for the tall, gaunt woman with the flyswatter. When he realized she was gone for some months ahead, he let out a long sigh and breathed, “At long last! Freedom!”

Some imagine God’s management of their lives would include Grandma’s iron-fisted techniques. God’s home in us and in heaven is not the same as a loveless existence with unbearable rules.

Just as Fletcher is loved and important enough for his family and God to remember his name, so are you.

“But now, this is what the LORD says– he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.” Isaiah 43:1-2]

God helps you when you ask. Fletcher couldn’t swim. Heavy-bodied and short-legged Fletcher would make his legs go through all the motions in the water, but he sank like sandstone. Just as his owners cupped him around the chest and got him to shore, God lifts and rescues us.

God cares about your problems.  “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” [1 Peter 5:7].

When God comes to visit in your life, don’t groan and expect a flyswatter. Invite him in and let his love and care shine on you – 24-7.

[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 Valentine’s Day Hype By Jo Russell

When Valentine’s Day comes, Roberta often feels a pang of longing to be kissed by someone, to feel a warm body curled around her legs, and to be showered with dark chocolates from Brussels.

But she once said, “Who doesn’t when you’re over twenty-nine and still good looking?”

It did happen, but not in the form she was expecting. Her poodle, Lady Star, puckered up and showered her with kisses and enthusiasm. One cat curled her luxurious fur coat around Roberta’s feet. The chocolates? Roberta would say this is a do-it-yourself project with cream, butter, cocoa, sugar, and time.

One time, Roberta remembered feeling relieved when a truck pulling in the driveway wasn’t an electrician, plumber, or carpenter. It was a florist’s delivery van.  “Must be in the wrong driveway,” she thought and waved him away. But he didn’t go. Instead, he came to the door carrying a vase of flowers exploding in her favorite color: purple. The one-time gift surprised the single lady. Roberta’s grown children had ordered them for her for this special day of love.

Paul mentioned that single people are valuable in the ministry when he wrote “An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs:  Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in body and spirit.”  [1 Corinthians 7:34]

Singles can often be the odd one out during events geared for couples.

At Roberta’s Sunday class, someone popped their head in to ask the widows, divorcees, and singles, “Anyone want to go to the Valentine’s Banquet put on by the men this year?” With a vengeance that would go with a question like, “Does anyone want to go sky-diving?” three responded, “NO!” But after the door closed, Vera had an idea. It only took a few minutes for the Faithful Friends Class to plan a Valentine’s activity that included everyone, and which allowed someone who needed a visit to have the party brought to her. It was a win-win situation!

What can you do to remember a single woman on Happy Hearts Day?

[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 Chair That Wanted a Home By Jo Russell

“Wow! A record!” Lucinda thought as she glanced at her light-colored dress and jacket that were still clean after a ladies’ luncheon. She marveled she was spot-free around all that food without wearing the tablecloth or a full body cover. “White–and I stayed clean for more than fifteen seconds flat!

Contorting herself into strange positions to get inside her husband’s pick-up without getting smudges on her clothes, she muttered, “Ridiculous! I can hardly wait to get home to my jeans!”

But on the way, she spotted a boutique and remembered a friend’s vintage tea cup collection and upcoming birthday.

No tea cups. But instead, Lucinda’s gaze rested on a striking sturdy wood and upholstered chair that would grace the lobby of any southwestern resort–and/or the family room. What a find!

Two of the store staff loaded the heavy chair upright in the pick-up bed while Lucinda stayed spotless.

As Lucinda had just turned down the wide-open highway marveling she was still clean, she checked the rear-view mirror and gasped with the realization, “No chair!”

Lucinda steered the truck to the shoulders and looked back to see the regal throne upright in the middle of the northbound lane.

Without further thoughts of her white clothing, she sprinted for the chair to save it from being a hit-and-run fatality.  As she pulled it to safety, another furniture-loving motorist helped her load the chair and tie it securely on its back into the pickup bed.

Now smudged and soiled, Lucinda had ruined the clothes. But the chair, slightly damaged, was worth it. Truly, it had wanted to follow her home.

Even more of a desire to follow us home is God’s desire for a relationship with us. Even from His walks in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, God reached out in love.

At the last supper with his disciples, Jesus prayed to God for them and his future followers with these words, “I have made you known to them and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” [John 17:26 NIV].

What a promise of both love and having Jesus in us!

God’s love spans all smudges, generations, ages, social and economic levels. He forgives and opens his arms and heart to everyone – even those who lose things out of the back of their pickups.

Even more than the chair who wanted a place in Lucinda’s home, He is the God who wants a home in your heart.

 

[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.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Come Anytime, Come As You Are, But Come! By Jo Russell

“Where are you going dressed like that?” the school principal quizzed his newest teacher, Roberta, as she crossed the school ground from the teacherage to the school gate.

The last few months, the single teacher thought the whole settlement seemed like one that time left behind. With ten buildings and a handful of mobile homes, the tiny community housed and served the entire population as well as travelers along the highway who stopped out of desperation for repairs or cold drinks.

“The country store, of course” the teacher told her boss. She thought to herself, “Where else is there to go around here without driving fifty miles?”

“You can’t leave the school grounds dressed like that!”

“What?! But I’m off duty.”

“Not around here. You’re a teacher. People here expect that teachers are a cut above the rest. You’ll have to wear something else.”

She looked down at the orange and black tropical design that was perfect for a patio party. In this remote area where casual was the buzz word, Roberta saw many who showed up for church in worn Levis or cut-off jeans. Still, the halter-topped casual attire had passed muster by everyone else – but they lived in town a hundred miles away.

“What about yoga pants?” she offered. Remembering the continent-wide enthusiasm for the snug, comfortable pants, Roberta noted yoga pants became the just-right attire for any event just short of black tie.

The principal shook his head.

“A long dress, bonnet, and a hoop skirt?” she ventured with a grin.

“Not necessary,” was his terse reply.

Roberta’s last choice for the trek across the schoolyard was a new tee shirt and slacks, ironed nicely. This time, she was able to pass the principal’s office without his sending her back home to change.

Clothes: Do they make a man or a woman?  For until Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the forbidden Tree of Life, they didn’t have to worry about clothes, closets, hangers, chests of drawers, boots, fashion trends, or color draping. Life was simple au naturale.

But when it comes to a relationship with God, one doesn’t have to wear clothes that are just right. Those in the tiny settlement who came to church in cut-off jeans – the best that they had – knew that. It’s attitude that counts – one of humility and acceptance of the most high God, Creator, Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Jesus himself said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” [Matthew. 11:28.] Can you imagine the hug that is infused in those words of love and comfort?

Have you ever thought it was too late for you to know God or Jesus? Recall the picture of the three crosses on the hill where Christ was crucified. One of two convicted criminals said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” [Luke23:42-43]

And Jesus’ reply was, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Even though the convicted man’s life showed him as a hardened criminal, Jesus knew the man’s honesty and humility at that moment. At last, Jesus was to him the Savior who had been promised.

It’s never too late. Come to Jesus. Come as you are, but come.

You won’t even need to change your clothes.

[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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God’s Advocate Evens Up the Odds By Jo Russell

Though he was smiling when Kevin realized his Sunday teacher was absent and he would be joining the older church class, the second grader’s grin disappeared when he opened the door and realized his guy friends were absent, too.  As Kevin’s eyes scanned the room entirely full of females, all who were taller than he was, he thought, “No fair!” Outnumbered, outwitted, and out-voted! From a seven-year-old boy’s perspective, there was no chance for him.

“I need someone else on my side,” he protested when the teacher paired him up with a girl for the bean-bag team game. His idea of an ally wasn’t someone who was wearing jeweled sandals, toenail polish, and pierced earrings. Kevin felt all alone. The girls knew all the answers.  He didn’t. Kevin felt like crawling under the table. Instead he leaned back in his chair so far, it fell over with him in it.  

Things got worse as the group shared a table making bookmarks and cards for the church project for Father’s Day.

“You can’t use that kind of paint on the bookmarks!” scolded one girl.

“I like it,” countered Kevin.

Teacher Jenny Brown added, “So do I! It’s creative!”   

Then Kevin’s paint pencil ran out of ink and there wasn’t another good color to choose from.

When it was cookie time, Kevin was sniffing a homemade cookie and accidentally dropped one of his on the floor and it broke into pieces.  None of the girls lost their cookies. The second-grader’s cloud of doom grew like a summer thunderstorm.

Finally after the girls left, Kevin’s tears mixed with his wailing to the teacher, “I just don’t like it when the class is all girls!”

Teacher Jenny Brown pulled him close and ruffled his hair. “God loves boys. I raised a couple of them myself, and I love them too.”

Kevin needed not to feel alone, nor should we when the odds seem impossible. For in the New Testament, God adds a fuller job description to the powerful promise that he is with us in the Holy Spirit. He sends a comforter as well as a counselor to his support us. The counselor’s job is not only advice, but as a Paraclete, a representative in a court of law. Just as Jesus promised a comforter in the Holy Spirit, knowing his disciples faced a hostile world, the Holy Spirit is also referenced as an advocate speaking for and to us.

Kevin and we need to remember John 14:16 when Jesus says, “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever.”  [NIV]. More than a title, it’s a forever promise that even when the odds are against you, you have a friend who will always be there ~.even when it looks like you’re completely outnumbered.

[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.com, her speaking engagements and  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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The Guilt-Free Guide to New Beginnings By Jo Russell

In a close competition for the top ten guilt trips in the last 366 days, several popular accounts came in from all over the country:

  •  Sally was dog-sitting in a rural community where most security systems consisted of four dogs under the front porch or a plastic sign in the yard featuring a business phone number that wasn’t connected to anything. But thirty seconds after she swung open the door at Roger’s house, Sally found the dogs cowering and a loud alarm vibrating the walls. Shortly after, two police officers pushed open the door and held their guns on her. Police officer Roger had been the only homeowner in the county wired to the police department. She never considered that her reputation as a dog-sitter would be forever changed to a hardened criminal!

 

  •  Barbara, a young mother of two, was man-handling produce between the vitamin-infested colors when she heard a code Adam describing a missing child looking for his mom who sounded just like her own offspring. Then she noticed she was still holding one son’s hand, but the other hand only held woody broccoli stems.

 

  •  When Sandra decided to organize the shed, she didn’t know the lock clicking behind her began an adventure. Attracting more audience participation, cheering, and entertainment than the latest film release was her 9-1-1 rescue involving the Jaws of Life opening her shed like a can of tuna. The neighbors enjoyed it so much they wanted to schedule it as an annual event in the community calendar.

 

  •  Marilyn discovered her dimpled thighs couldn’t be compressed into stretch jeans thanks to the season of sweets spanning Halloween through New Year’s Eve. “Cottage cheese belongs in the dairy case, in some recipes for lasagna and quiche, but not on my thighs. I made a promise this would never happen!” She had to find another solution: more Lycra, less denim!

 

  •  Shirley was great at take-out, phone in, and eating out. Her husband claimed the kitchen was nearly as unexplored as the surface of Mars, except by him. But that changed. When Shirley got together pots, pans, seasonings and a cook book to begin learning how to cook a simple roast, she felt her husband’s hot breath on her shoulder. It wouldn’t be long before he would clear his throat and offer suggestions.“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned…” Shirley whispered as she swung the virgin sauté pan over one shoulder, knocking her husband out cold. The roast was delicious. Over time, her cooking improved without any further suggestions from the peanut gallery. And Shirley was still great at take-out, too.

Shortcomings are part of life. Much later, they can even be humorous. But setbacks or failures don’t dictate the final outcome of our lives.

Consider this worn-out piece of advice, “Keep your nose to the grindstone.” Persistence does have some value. But something truly held to a grindstone over time reshapes it or reduces it to useless rubble.

That’s not God’s way. His gentle honing is more like rubbing compound used on cars. It is a slightly grainy polish that buffs out scratches and restores the shine. God buffs us without buffeting us. He leaves room for our particular unique skills and purposes to grow and glow.

With His help, we become new. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” Paul writes in Romans 5:8. We weren’t perfect then. We aren’t perfect now. He forgives us for our shortcomings and mistakes. New beginnings? We are offered them every day because of the Savior’s love and plan for us.

So as our new imperfect year marches forward, we can smile with anticipation of God’s patience with us, love for us, and great sense of humor!

[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.]

Ban the Guilt Gene Forever By Jo Russell

Any day now, I’m expecting scientists to announce the discovery of a gene specific to women—the guilt gene!

Sue rushed through the after-dinner clean-up, filling the dishwasher and slapping the control panel with an elbow–only to hear a strange thumping noise. She stopped the machine! Staggering out of the maze of plates and silverware was a wet and soapy pet–the family ferret, Ferdinand. She might have thought, “Oh, good, he needed a bath!” But instead, as the children wailed, “Mom, how could you do such a thing!” she felt the ill-effects of the guilt gene. She would never live this down.

Jill whipped up a batch of pesto to take to a potluck when she looked down and noticed that one new acrylic nail was missing. She hastily ran the pesto for the group through a sieve. “Don’t eat the pesto in the fridge!” she called out as she dashed through the door. “I lost a fingernail! I’ll find it when I get back.” Her husband and son, intent on the sports channel, may not have heard her while eating chips and dip. Her guilt gene kicked in for the next three hours. She worried about them choking on the plastic piece the size of an almond.

A tour guide, Lacy, rattled off a regional housekeeping fact, launching a dozen women in the crowd into a guilt gene-driven tizzy. “Even though the average rainfall here is thirty-one inches and it rains nearly every day, the women here wash and polish their windows three times a week.” There were gasps. One woman mouthed, “Three times a week?” How long since she had washed her windows? Like me, maybe she couldn’t remember.

When I took a clean bathrobe with me as a prop for a humorous speech at a crowded restaurant, I donned the robe to make a point. Floating to the floor was a pair of my lacy underwear. It was a one-of-a-kind experience for the standing-room only lunch crowd. I could have thought “Wow! I’ve been wondering where those were. I’ve been looking for them forever.” Or, let the guilt gene kick in, “You should have used a dryer sheet and it wouldn’t have stuck.”

“Does the guilt gene ever fade away?” I wondered as I called a friend to ask, “Do you ever feel guilty for the things you don’t get done now that you’re retired?” She cupped her hand around the phone so her husband would not hear her answer, “Oh, yes! Absolutely.”

However, God immobilizes the guilt gene with a needed remedy: praise and encouragement. In Proverbs 31–a record of major multi-tasking, the Bible refers to the assets of women, “She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.” [NIV] Sweet words for the guilt-plagued.

Though scientists may discover sound evidence of a guilt gene, God recognizes women as an important component of the family and the world. “Give her the reward she
has earned, and let her bring her praise at the city gates.” Amen to that. How have you praised a hard-working woman today?

[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.]