It’s not about the okra…

   “In every encounter we either give life or we drain it; there is no neutral exchange.” ~Brendon Manning

Judy's Okra!

Judy’s Okra!

I’m not sure about the year, but I remember exactly where I was standing when we learned that our friend Judy had a new super-power:  she fries the world’s best okra.  (Seriously, you have no idea how good her okra is!) From that point on, however, we haven’t gathered together without making certain that Judy will be there and that she fries the okra.

This year was a little bit different. They were coming to my house and she couldn’t find okra where she lived, so it was going to be up to me to make sure it was available. I checked with my local veggie source and was assured that he’d have some when they arrived.  Problem solved…except that we got busy that day and didn’t make it by his stand until after he had already closed.

Two stores later and in a bit of a mild panic, we walked into one that was unfamiliar to me and headed toward the produce department. Yes!  They had okra. Well, they had little bits of really expensive okra already packaged out…and we were going to need a lot more than that. (Mainly because, as a group, we stand around the kitchen and eat okra like it is popcorn as soon as Judy pulls it out of the hot oil and we keep on eating it just like that until we all sit down at the table together…and then we eat some more!)

Having worked in a grocery store before, I knew that if you ask nicely, sometimes you can get exactly what you want directly from the produce manager, so we went in search of some “personal assistance” for our mission. We found exactly what we bargained for…and more.

Our new best friend assured us that he had plenty of nice fresh okra and asked us to wait just inside the door. He brought back a brand new box full of okra and we were allowed to personally select each pod! As we sorted through the okra and chatted with him, he suddenly turned toward my friend Judy and said, “Are you married?”

I chuckled inside, but I wasn’t really surprised.  She’s beautiful inside and out—and really cool.  She told him, “no”, and he asked if she had ever been married, to which she replied in the affirmative. His face suddenly changed and he said, “Can I ask you something?” With barely a pause, he began to pour out his story:  former and recovering drug addict married to same—until recently—when she had begun using again. “What do I do?!” His whole being begged Judy to have some answer. “I love her, but I’m not sure I can stay and go through this again.” His voice was ragged and the fact that he was pouring out his heart to two complete strangers without regard to location, ethnicity, or absence of personal relationship indicated just how troubled he was about this situation.

As he reached for a paper towel to dry eyes that were suddenly full, Judy reached over for my hand and said (just where I could hear her), “You know this isn’t about the okra, don’t you?”  I nodded quietly and stood there praying silently as I continued to sort through the okra pods. Judy, on the other hand, looked him straight in the eye and began to share the story of people she loves dearly who had endured similar issues for most of her growing-up-life and how they had just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary because one of the two had chosen to trust God for deliverance and restoration of her family…and how she stayed while she prayed.

She talked about how God had been so faithful that the marriage was now a thing of beauty, the old life gone and the new one such a blessing in the wake of all that former pain. It had taken 49 years before the man had finally allowed God to change his heart, but she believed the wait had been worth it. I saw hope start to enter our new friend’s eyes and tears rolled down his cheeks and hers. I simply asked that God would allow me not to wail like a banshee…because that’s what I really felt like doing.

We asked about his faith life and were assured that he knew Christ as his personal Savior and that he was participating in a vibrant, Bible-believing church with access to support from his pastor. Judy further counseled him that he needed to seek professional help for both of them—and that he should go even if his wife refused to do so.

As we wrapped up our okra and our time together, we formed a small circle and held hands as I prayed for God to show up and provide the answers our new friend needed so desperately. We had a big group hug;  I promised him that we would share his story with our friends and that they would add him to their prayer lists just like we planned to do. I told him that I lived locally and that I’d check back in with him from time to time. He was overwhelmed…and so were we.

As we checked out and rode back to the house, Judy and I laughed about how our friends back at the house would be jealous that they weren’t able to be with us for such a phenomenal time in the Lord.  We’d had church in the produce department!  Who would have thought?!  God. He is not limited to time or space, location or planning on our part. He is always there and He has a plan to use us if we’ll just pay attention and be ready to participate. He knew just what our new friend needed and we were fortunate enough to get to be a part of it.

Brendon Manning was right:  there are no neutral exchanges, so make sure you’re ready for them, no matter how mundane you think they will be. God has a plan for everything and everyone…even you…even when you think that you’re just out to buy okra.

“But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess.” 1 Peter 3:15 (NET)

 

Addendum: I’ve checked back with our new friend several times since then. His eyes have been bright and his faith strong, but his situation remains largely unchanged at present. I’m certain he wouldn’t mind if you added him to your prayer list, as well.SONY DSC

Weekend challenge…

This one is a little bit late because I wasn’t home yesterday to write it!  I was out and about…experiencing it!!  I was ever so privileged to be asked to serve as a hostess for a luncheon at our new church.  This week has been ALL about missions at our church and this luncheon was for our Senior Blessings (my title for them) and the missionaries who were visiting from near and far.

I arrived as instructed and joined in the job of counting out forks, knives and spoons for the 174 place settings.  As I counted along with another lady, we realized that she was the one God sent to me in the grocery store all those months ago to invite me to this church and we laughed at how God loves to answer prayers just because He can.

Once all was in place and the people began to arrive, we kept watch over the pitchers of water and tea for each of the 29 tables until it was time for us to sit and eat, as well.  I hadn’t been eating long when our worship leader encouraged our Seniors to stand and sing with him.  The hall was suddenly filled with the voices of almost 200 individuals singing, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” at the top of their lungs.  It was wonderful.

I sat there with my eyes closed so my heart could hear it even better.  These were the voices of the faithful.  They were the voices of experience…and they know the faithfulness of their God over their lifetimes, so they sang with gusto!  My mind tried to do the math:  I’ve been actively seeking to know God for more than 25 years, so if each one of them also had done the same for the last 25 years (yes, I know many of them have been serving God at least twice that long or more!), then we had over 4350 cumulative years of experiencing the faithfulness of God in that one room!  What a lovely and inspiring thought!

They moved from singing about God’s faithfulness to extolling His greatness in “How Great Thou Art” and, by then, I was free to join them.  What a gift!  To serve these precious people and then to sing praises to God with them!  I was blessed right down to my toes!

So, here’s your challenge for the weekend:  find someone whose life has been one of faithful service and let them know that you’ve noticed.  Send a note, make a call, bring them cookies (if they’re ok to have them!) or a plant SONY DSC(if you’re not sure the cookies are a good idea)–bring them a pumpkin!SONY DSC–or just walk up and tell them in person how much their service and their example have inspired you.  Let them know that they have been a person of influence in your life!  I don’t think either one of you will walk away from this without a smile. I know that we don’t serve God for the recognition of doing so, but I also know that He always approves when we encourage others as we walk out our faith together!

Grace & Peace…and lots and lots of faithfulness!

 

Walking it off…

When we were growing up and got hurt playing ball or fell out of a tree or some other hare-brained scheme, someone invariably made sure we weren’t bleeding (too badly) and then said, “Now, walk it off.”  It means get over it (the situation) and get over yourself (you’re not bleeding–too badly–and you’re going to live…so, seriously, how bad could it be?)

I’ve had to give myself that much-needed advice again recently and…and…since I am the universal constant in each of those situations I have to at least consider…well, there is just the merest of outside chances that I just might possibly have been contributed in some small way to some of the fault (surely not!!) or gone in with an “attitude” (I mean, really! Could you possibly see that happening?!)

All logic to the contrary, sometimes, there’s just nothing you can do to make people behave the way they should…or the way you wish they would…and some days, that makes you mad or it hurts your feelings (or both) and it takes some time to get them (both the people AND the feelings!!) back in line.

And sometimes…well, you just need to walk it off.

Since today was the first official day of autumn, it is now the perfect time of year for walking off whatever’s on your mind, too.

Join me?

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Well…walk completed.  Temper restored.  Situations assessed…and I was right the first time.  It’s all their fault.  (grin)

Fortunately, God continues to love us all.

Here’s hoping your walk was equally productive!

Praying Grace & Peace…for all of us!

Weekend Challenge…

We live in a wonderous land here in the United States of America! I know that may not be your first thought if you don’t live here–or perhaps even if you do! ha!–but it is still the truth.  Why? Because we can still worship publicly as well as privately here.  Case in point?  Last Saturday, I headed out to our small town’s main thoroughfare to take some photos of (wait for it!)…a “Praise Parade”.  Yes, a Praise Parade which included both civic and military color guards, dignitaries, clowns, church buses, a peppy band of young musicians, “exotic” cars, motorcycles and parents walking/carrying/pushing strollers with smiling children who were having the time of their young little lives throwing candy to those of us on the sides of the street. (My first offering was a piece of grape Double Bubble–my first in many years!) There were representatives from several churches, a few local businesses, and a float in the shape of a giant roller skate!

SONY DSCSONY DSC SONY DSCSONY DSC SONY DSC  SONY DSC SONY DSCSONY DSC SONY DSCSONY DSC SONY DSCSONY DSC SONY DSCAll of this wound it’s way through our little town to a small city park where there were booths for churches, food, face painting, music, an exhibition from the local martial arts group, jumpers for the kids and a great number of smiling people who were more concerned about having fun and focusing on their common ground of faith than they were about the dark clouds rolling in or the fact that there were people of multiple cultures who might not completely agree with them on every little  issue–theological or otherwise.  It was, in short, an opportunity for grace and laughter, shared joy and though it wasn’t a very big parade, it had a big heart because everyone there seemed ready to celebrate the heart of God and all He has done for each of us.

SONY DSC  SONY DSC SONY DSCSONY DSC  SONY DSC SONY DSC No, I’m not challenging you to organize a Praise Parade in your home town.  I am challenging you to remember how very blessed you are–no matter where you live!–and to take (or MAKE!) the opportunities this weekend to be public with your praise of the One Who Loves You Best.

So many people around the world do NOT have this privilege!  In many cases, they’re even dying for it!  We can’t take this freedom for granted any longer.  Other people are watching and they’re waiting to hear more about what He’s doing in your life.  Make sure you praise Him this weekend…the parade is optional.

Grace & Peace!

*all photos by Becky Childs

Delayed communications?

What happens when you find a sealed envelope addressed to a friend written YEARS ago–and you KNOW this because SONY DSCyou haven’t had that same stationary in YEARS!?  You mail it.  Or at least I plan to do that later today. I’ve got not a single clue what it says inside, but I’m already waiting to see what my friend has to say when she gets it. Ha! Anticipation! Let’s all hope it is something good!

What happens when you find yourself remembering how someone blessed you years ago?  Maybe it was a special something you’d always wanted, perhaps it was a gift of time or maybe the gift of grace in a tough situation? Whatever it happened to be–tell them thanks.  Again.  There shouldn’t be a time limit to expressing gratitude!  Take some time today to send an email, a text, make a phone call or go by and see them in person.  Guarantee: they won’t turn you away and you’ll make today a better day for both of you.

And what if it’s no longer an option to reach out to them? Share the story with someone you know now. Share the legacy of grace, of kindnesses given, of blessings shared with those you can reach today. Share the gift of a great memory and, perhaps, inspire someone else to do the same!

Share yourself! (You’re a much better gift than you realize.)

Take full advantage of gratitude today!

And one more thing…don’t delay!

Weekend Challenge…

It’s Friday, again? Already? How can that be? It’s been a strange week here. I’ve been under the weather and mostly confined to the house. On my very few forays out into the world, my attention was always captured by the small things that indicate that there are changes in season on the way.

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The last of the purple petunias with their amazing perfume.

The mushroom in my front yard that looks like a Danish pastry.SONY DSC

SONY DSCThe changing colors in the leaves. SONY DSCAnother round of fragrant blooms on the rose bush by the back door.

SONY DSCThe red berries of the dogwood peeping out from leaves that are still (mostly) green, but also showing signs of fatigue from the lack of rain during the hot, dry Georgia summer.

(All of these I have noticed while trying to ignore the fact that my grass needs mowing again since we finally got rain and there are other garden chores that need doing around here in the worst way.)

With each tiny foray out into the world, I’ve tried to bring some small thing back into the house with me just so I could still feel I was a part of it all.

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Waking up yesterday to find I was finally on the mend and feeling much improved made me so happy that I took a shower just so I could push the trash bin out to the road!  (Yes, I laugh at myself quite a bit, too.)

No matter what you’re going through right now, you have a choice about how you’ll spend your thought energy. The things you choose to place around you can help you cope better, be more productive, feel more connected and remind you of all the wonderful gifts we receive each day. So? Where’s the challenge?  Here you go: Each time you leave the house this weekend, take some time to focus on the tiny gifts of color around you in nature.  If possible (and without breaking any laws–yes, there’s a hidden story there) bring a small touch of nature back with you and place it where you can be reminded that God loves us so much that He’s placed reminders for joy all around us.  We just have to take the time to stop and see them…and then, give thanks.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes  e.e. cummings

Weekend Challenge…

The other day I was sitting in a very hot vehicle waiting for my nice cold slush to be delivered. I was on a “schedule” (self-imposed) and I was already behind, but the sweltering Georgia heat was too much to bear, thus making a Sonic run become an absolute life necessity. (FYI: Sonic was actually created just to make lemon-berry slushes. Truly. It may or may not be the only reason they exist.) I tapped the little red button and I waited. Then I waited some more…and a little bit more…and finally a voice came on to take my order.  One slush.  It wasn’t even the really big one.  And then I waited. And then I waited. (yes, I meant to say that twice) And then, just as my fingers headed toward the little red button one more time–to cancel my order (I was on a schedule–self-imposed, you know!!)–a small little figure emerged from the building and headed toward me.

You could actually see the dread on her face as she hurriedly approached. She handed me the slush and began to apologize profusely for my wait and then she took a small step back, kind of braced herself, and just stood there. She was waiting on it:  the big fuss. It made me wonder how many times that day that she’d been the one to take the brunt of whatever caused the delays.  All of the sudden, those words behind my teeth–those absolutely true and deserved words about the service/wait-time–decided to just stay with me.  I handed her the money–with a nice tip included–and I smiled and nodded at her.  I didn’t say a single word.  You should have seen her smile!  Her face totally changed and her shoulders relaxed and she just looked so grateful…because I didn’t say anything…even though I had a “right” to do so?

That experience changed me a bit this week.  I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.  This girl’s day was suddenly brighter because I kept my mouth shut.  Revelation.  What if I could make other people around me have a better day by choosing not to exercise my “right” to speak up, speak out or “educate by way of criticism”?  What if I extended grace?  What if I made the choice to pass on some of the grace God has extended to me…by being quiet?

Some days that is a lot harder than others, isn’t it?!  Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself in several other situations where I literally felt as if the words were pushing at the back of my teeth trying trying desperately to escape. Honestly, in every single instance, the words weren’t really my best ones, either. It was up to me in each situation:  I could choose to release the words clamoring for escape, I could change them, or I could choose to keep them to myself.

I know it’s happened to you, as well.  Can’t remember any right offhand?  See if the  following sound like anything that’s happened in your life lately:

  • If you have to pick up one more pair of socks or step on one more out-of-place toy or find one more half-empty glass left in the living room…
  • Seriously?  The line to check out was forever long and the clerk waited until the person just before you started to unload their cart before announcing that her line was closing because it was time for her break…
  • You made the call and then sent the text and then…nothing.  No response.  You need a response.  You need it now and…nothing…
  • They promised.  You heard it and they know it, but they didn’t come through…and it might have even made you look bad in front of someone you want to impress…

Yep. I know. It happened at your house, too, didn’t it?  (grin)

cropped-heartSo here’s OUR challenge for the weekend:  Forget about your right to be right and just be quiet.  Extend grace.  It doesn’t mean you have to be falsely complimentary, just quiet…for the next three whole days. If you find you’re up to it, you just might want to extend the challenge and take it in to work with you next week…

Bonus:  For those of you who really enjoy God’s sense of timing/perspective, here are a few illustrations of what He might think about this challenge. If you think of any others that also fit the bill, please feel free to share them with me!  Some days I need all the help I can get! (grin)

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…”  James 1:19

“Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.”  Proverbs 11:12

“Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah”  Psalm 4:4

“A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.”  Proverbs 29:11

“Teach me, and I will be silent; make me understand how I have gone astray.”  Job 6:24

and, of course, my own personal favorite…

“…aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”  1 Thessalonians 4:11-12