Bringing the Power Up to Code by Jo Russell

Dave, the electrician, packed up his tools for the umpteenth time, he looked up at the now-working outside light on the aging house of his customer, Jolene.

Though HGTV makeovers lift vintage homes to the height of drama and romance, Jolene felt no such drama as she paid him yet again. His visits were nearly as regular as the utility bills.

“I guess that will do it for today. Until next time.” He smiled.

For in its heyday, the house had no electrical outlet in the bathroom for hair and bare essentials; no outdoor outlets at all, some need for new wiring in the walls, plus adding outlets where there had been none.

“So what else do we need to do to bring it up to code?”

“Bring in a bulldozer?” he suggested.

They both laughed.

Sometimes our bodies feel like the vintage home whose power needs to be brought up to code on a fairly regular basis.

We’ll never been twenty again. Nor will Jolene’s house. But like Jolene’s vintage home, God made us with good bones, beautiful lines, a history worth sharing, and character.

We are always a work in progress, even to our last breath. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” The second part is the condition: “for those who have been called according to his purpose.” [Romans 8:28] Loving God and following him gives us much power, light, and strength. Others learn from the persistence they see in us. Trusting him and looking to him for answers is a great model for others. Praying and studying the Bible is better than a master electrician. His work in us brings our power source up to code.

Keep up the good work!

Best of all, the ultimate repairman, God, gives you a lifetime of upgrades without cost. No power problem is impossible. None needs to be fixed with a bulldozer.

[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

Preparing a Mansion for You, Me, and Boots by Jo Russell

As Bernice and Ben moved into their fix-up home, Bernice heard a terrible racket at the front door.

“What is that? It sounds like a scream!” The sound wound up like a siren, demanding her attention immediately.

When Bernice peered through the locked storm door, her eyes dropped to the source of the sound. It was a furry creature the size of a handbag. A cat. The medium-sized calico wasn’t even pretty.

The feline waved its white-tipped tail like a flashlight. The cat limbed slightly on four weary white feet.

“Shoo! Go on home!”

But the cat wouldn’t go. To Bernice, it sounded like “Meow! Meow! Meow!”

But the calico may have been saying, “My house! My house! My house!”

Finally, Bernice sighed and told the feline, “Just a minute. I’ll get you something to eat.”

When Bernice returned with some chopped chicken, she unlocked the door, but before she opened it wide enough to leave the dish, the cat squeezed in, headed for the sofa, and curled up on a cushion. The feline purred herself to sleep.

In the morning, Ben put the cat outside in the cold. He sprayed and cleaned the part of the coach where she snoozed the night before. “Go on home!” he told her. But the feline just stayed around the yard, hiding in the bushes. She was still there when the couple got home from work.

“Ben, that cat’s still around. Maybe we’d better feed it something until we can find its owner.” So, the two worked together as they fixed a bed in the garage.

“Cat’s got to stay outside. Lots of feral cats have ringworm.”

“Right. No animals inside. We’ve got enough to deal with just with the house.”

But in the next few days, winter temperatures dropped to the teens. Bernice shook Ben awake after midnight when Ben rolled over with the blankets. Bernice realized how chilled she was.   “That cat must be cold in the garage. Can we let her in just for the night? We can close her up in the bathroom.”

No one claimed the stray. Ben had the idea the cat might belong to the previous owner of the house.

When the man answered the phone, he spat, “That cat? The ugly old one? That’s Boots. We took her with us. Darn cat! We live eight miles away from the old house. I guess she walked there. Haven’t seen her for days. We thought the coyotes got her.”

“Do you want to come get her? We weren’t planning on having any pets.”

“If she wants to come home, she’ll have to walk. I’m not coming to get her. Let her go to the wild. She doesn’t want to live here. I don’t want her, either. One less mouth to feed. Got other animals to look after.”

The ho-hum looking calico Boots had found her mansion. She lived with Ben and Bernice the rest of her life while they prepared the place for her–and for them.

To Ben and Bernice, Boots became beautiful in their eyes because she was one of a kind. What courage it took for the senior feline to journey to their doorstep! She had chosen them. She had come to them, knowing the home she would find there.

Just as Boots was secure in her true home, we can feel confident of the mansion that Jesus has prepared for us. He is the way, the truth and the life. No one is too ugly or old or sick. All are wanted in heaven to share eternal life with God the Father and Jesus.

This is the promise in Jesus’ own words, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” [John 14: 2-4]

Just as Boots discovered with Ben and Bernice, that way is paved with love.

[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.]

 

 

When the White Flag of Surrender is a Good Thing By Jo Russell

Bruce left work smiling. “Interesting woman!” he decided. He’d asked the trim, attractive brunette for a date in the great outdoors and she said she would go fishing with him the next weekend. From the first, she had been a mystery to him, working two jobs and showing up for work at the convenience store in nicer clothes than fit the job.

He knew Dee had fled across an ocean and a continent. Why? Bruce didn’t know yet. He only recognized that this bouncy, stunning woman had brought sunshine into his life and work–whether day or night shift. Life was good.

But it wasn’t an hour later that he grabbed the phone at home and Dee announced, “I’m really not into the dating thing. This is really structured. I’m more spontaneous. I just can’t go with you Saturday.”

When he was convinced after much debate she wouldn’t be swayed, he closed the conversation. “But I’m not giving up,” he said aloud to no one in particular. Then he thought of an answer.

When ringing jarred her awake at 3:30 the next Saturday morning, Dee fumbled to find the phone.

“Dave and I are going fishing. We’d like you to come along. We can pick you up in 30 minutes,” Bruce announced. He then added, “Is that spontaneous enough?”

Dee scrambled from bed, got ready for the outdoor adventure in 20 minutes flat.

But conceding to a date did not include surrendering her independence. She thought she would never, ever again throw a white flag into the battle between the sexes.

Once they stopped near the stream, she volunteered, “I’ll carry the ice chest.”

I’ll help you,” Bruce’s friend Dave offered.

“No, I’ll do it myself,” Dee insisted.

A few steps into the stream, tottering with the weight of the cooler, she slipped on the wet rocks.  The white foam ice chest shattered. It was like Abraham’s descendants – pieces that were more numerous than the sands. Bits of the chest bobbed downstream, along with a pint of fishing worms, potato salad, and bagged, seasoned steaks.  The cold sodas were intact, however.  Dee heard coughing on the shore. Both Dave and Bruce were doubled over with their faces turned from her – or were they laughing?

So began the zany, zigzag journey of Bruce and Dee’s courtship. It led to the realization that they  needed each other and God. The Bruce and Dee Team have been happily married more than 20 years now.


Feeling independent and competent? Like Dee, I find that feeling doesn’t last for long. I need God.

It’s not a new idea. Around 500 B.C., God asked the prophet Jeremiah to walk into town for a message. He was to go to the potter’s house, watch and learn. [Jeremiah 18: 1-3] As Jeremiah studied the skilled craftsman working, he saw the process of making a useful vessel isn’t always right the first time. Sometimes a pot is marred and needs to be reshaped. Or sometimes, it needs to be redesigned. A potter pushes it down and begins again with a hunk of clay. And what he or she creates then may be beautiful and perfect for its purpose. It is the same with us and God.

Jeremiah understood. None of us may stand cemented on the pedestal of independence and stay there on our own. We are dependent on God, the Master Potter. We are the clay.

Do you find yourself saying or thinking, “No, I’ll do it myself.”

Isn’t it time to let your Creator help? For what better purpose is trading independence to becoming the remarkable vessel that God makes us to be.

[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.]

 

 

You Sure Look Different With Your Clothes On! By Jo Russell

Ron’s shaggy blonde hair was cupped thick around his face when Mari saw him in the grocery store showcased against the European cheeses and deli meat. It was the first time to see him wearing something bigger than a hot mitt! He also looked at Mari with total surprise. She had never seen Ron with a shirt on. But then, he hadn’t seen her with one on either.

He stared, then blurted. “You sure look different with your clothes on!”
Mari thought the same of him. Were they lovers, only meeting in a motel when their needs were greatest or is Ron a male model? Is he hopelessly stuck on himself and determined to show off his compact well-muscled, hairy body?

Well, no.

Mari never before saw him before without wet hair, and water dripping off his body. Both swam laps in parallel lanes at the local pool for several summer seasons.
The world may cry for more skin and less clothes. Ron and Mari already had that at the Aquatic Center!

“You sure look different with your clothes on!” could have been the catch phrase of the flower-power generation like mine or now: “If it feels good, do it.”

God doesn’t just know you inside and out, but he knows what talents he has given you. He knows how he wants you to use them. He knows every joyful event in your life as well as the disappointments, losses, awards, victories, and challenges ahead. God knows the length of your life and what he wants you to do with it.

No matter where you are with God right now, he has not given up on you. Your age doesn’t matter, nor cellulite, moles, bitten fingernails, or the things you do better or worse than anyone else.

God knows you. He should because he made you. “You perceive my thoughts from afar…You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely, O Lord.” [Psalm 139 3-4] NIV. What says love more than knowing someone completely and delighting in who they are?

You may not see the plan now, but God is smiling with his hidden agenda for your life. Will you let him guide and lead you? Wherever you are in your journey, God can take you there.

[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.]   

 

Grand Theft Ice Cream by Jo Russell

Ice cream! Steak! Pizza! Every month when the large food truck delivered orders to families in the rural ranching area, it was like Christmas! What a relief! To the busy cattle-ranching crews, they appreciated the prepared frozen food as a gift of time as well.

Nearly dark when the truck roared into the circular drive of the Peterson’s ranch house, the driver wasn’t surprised to see the neighbors, the Monroes, rush over.

Soon all were poring over the colorful catalogs that guaranteed great gourmet meals with a minimum of effort, plus ice cream in bulk that would hold them over for the next month.

While the two ranch families were busy with their choices for the next delivery day, the food truck driver heard a racket outside in the drive. He glanced up to see a shadowy someone helping himself to cases of food and ice cream from the truck.

“Stop!” he yelled, running toward the truck. “Call 9-1-1!”

When the families ran outside, the thief spewed gravel as he sped out of the driveway in his dusty sedan. Identification was easy. They gave the sheriff his license number.

Not long after, a sheriff’s deputy pulled the driver over on a dusty country road. “I bought all this stuff! I didn’t do anything!” the driver claimed. But he had no receipt. His timing and license number incriminated him. Besides, the evidence was melting all over the back seat – chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, English toffee bars, and butter-soft frozen pizza. Worst of all, he was already on probation. Busted!

We all know that wrong doing is not restricted to Grand Theft Ice Cream. Are we ever guilty? Aren’t we pretty good people who do pretty good things most of the time?

Ever done anything that reaped red-faced embarrassment like gossip or envied something someone else has? Ever break a promise? Take something that didn’t belong to you? Fail to help someone who genuinely needed it when you could have?

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” is stated in Romans 3:23. Wow! Even though we are “pretty good people.” Busted!

A local pastor commented that when any of us do the wrong thing, we may find it hard to accept that we can be forgiven. “They don’t know where to begin,” Pastor Dave added, then explained that it has to start with the old-fashioned word and action involved in “repentance.” The action is two-fold: to feel regret and to return to God.

So begin with baby steps, recognizing that you didn’t make the right choice. Are you sorry enough to turn away from doing that again? Can you ask God to accept your apology? Of course! He reaches out with love and forgiveness.

What does God do with our wrongs? He forgives them and they are gone. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12 [NIV].

A fresh start! A new beginning! It’s a gift that’s better than Christmas and as sweet as ice cream!

[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.]

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.]

“A” Is For a Work in Progress by Jo Russell

As I scanned the desktop searching for a stapler and paper clips under a tidal wave of school papers and assignments, second-grade student Adam came around with a clipboard. He had finished his work already, plus a learning center activity and a fifth-grade level library book.

“So, Adam, what are you up to?”

“I’m the desk inspector this week.”

That had been his assigned classroom job. “You’re doing great!,” I remarked, remembering how he had worked side by side by a student whose desk always looked like rubble after a bombing. Now the student had papers grouped neatly and a pencil box visible. When I asked the students to get out a pencil, crayon, tissue, or math book, Cindy could actually find hers.

In addition to helping the students clean their desks, Adam handed at slips that gave them a grade. Most of them got “A”s or excellent.

“I’m inspecting your desk, too, Mrs. Russell.”

I groaned. If organization is a genetic gift, Adam had it. I do not.
But I keep hearing that organization is a learned skill. I’m willing to learn.

“But I have to say after seeing all the teachers’ desks,” he decided, “That yours is the best of the grown ups!” He handed me a paper with an “A” on it.

The rest of the day, I soared, even though I still hadn’t found my stapler.
I realized that we are all a work in progress, and Adam was expecting the best and helping everyone to do it.

That is the same with God. He has plans and tasks for us, expects the best, helps us with the challenges, and applauds our improvements along the way.

Paul writes in Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Think on God’s confidence in you and your future. It’s not, “Needs improvement!” but instead, “A celebrated work in progress!”

[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 blog every week on Button-to-God.com.]

How Healthy is Your Portfolio of Compassion? By Jo Russell

The caller began, “Hi, I’m Sherry from Blah-Blah Bank. You stopped in here last week and asked about financial investing, and we have our consultant coming up from the Valley in a week. As she ended the call with, “We’ll see you Friday, Carol, ” I reminded her, “I’m not Carol, but Jo.” She gave me directions and finished, “Okay, well, I look forward to meeting you, Carol.”
When I located the bank by her directions, I saw the only thing it had in common with my bank was the first letter of the name. “Oh, well. It’s free financial advice!” I reasoned.
I checked in with Sherry. She wore a completely blank look. Then I met with the “dressed for success” financial consultant who waved her multi-colored manicured nails in Sherry’s direction and asked for my portfolio.    There was none, of course, as I explained that I did not have an account at that bank, but had some questions.
In less than twenty minutes, I felt as flat as a whoopee cushion, and left with the consultant saying, “Thanks, Carol, for coming in!”

In a world that evaluated people only in terms of bank balances and investments, income, assets, and property, the consultant could summarize my portfolio on two Post-its. When Carol and her portfolio showed up, I expect it would be the size of a Phoenix phone book.
Raising twins from diapers to adulthood as a single mom had ravaged my finances. However, the investment left me with two grown sons of whom I am proud for their choices as well as kindness, faithfulness, and patience – all fruits of the Spirit.

As the holiday season explodes with lights, color, and groceries, I challenge you to bulk up your portfolio of compassion and charity. In the Bible and the Greek, the word “charity” is another for agape love–the kind that Jesus modeled. Your financial portfolio is not important. Giving of self is what matters by showing concern for others.

At this time of year when food boxes are more common than green and red M & M’s, think of the things you like to eat. Imagine a family of four, and add those items to a food box. With an unemployment rate at more than nine percent nationally, some need temporary help. They will appreciate meals that have taste or provide special items for a feast. Consider yams, raisins, nuts, chocolate chips, cookie or brownie mixes, fresh potatoes, garlic, onions, fruit, juices, hot cocoa mix, and canned meats. Perhaps even flavorings such as cinnamon red hots, cinnamon, vanilla, or pumpkin pie spice can bring out the flavor of desserts.

Remember that Jesus himself said, “Then the King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:40 [NIV]. Compassion and charity: It’s  everybody’s job.

Maybe Carol is better off than some of us in the financial world, but who evaluates the truly valuable portfolio? God is the final judge of that.

[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 Button-to-God.com.]