Back to Basics: The Great and Overwhelming Dread

I made the mistake of waiting until the proverbial last minute to prepare last year’s taxes…and, in all of the frenzied hours of preparation to get them completed, I promised myself that I would never allow that to happen again.

It did.

Not because I planned it that way, of course, but because life happened. I started out the year on course and determined to keep up with the computer entries and the receipts and all the other details required when you run a small business. I made pretty good progress—for over half the year…and then…well, you know what happened, right?

God decided to move us, so we as we searched for His will about the where and when, we prepared to move. It meant multiple trips for interviews, scouting areas and looking for a home. It meant returning home to DO the actual business, but not staying there long enough to do the resulting paperwork. It meant choosing to take care of the immediate needs instead of the not-so-pressing-at-the-time-ones. In truth, there wasn’t any other option during the last few months of the year.

The first months of the new year were about making the move a reality and trying to ignore the looming spectre of the need to prep for taxes amidst the chaos…without knowing exactly what all would be required due to all of our “special circumstances” of the previous year. Now, I’m not normally a panicky person. I don’t generally stress about things—I just go do them. That didn’t happen with this.

Once again, it was down to the wire, the panicked inputting of data and the creating of charts and spreadsheets and the intense prayers to find all I needed somewhere in the chaos of the temporary folding table set up in my office space with stacks that seemed to grow overnight (nightly!) and waking up in the night with the fevered feeling of forgetting something really important. It wasn’t good. I wasn’t good. Oh, I was diligent, but I wasn’t the least bit good– mainly because I am just a touch OCD about being detailed and I show up and make my accountant laugh every year about the level of detail it takes to make me comfortable before I even get to her office! (Yes! I do this to myself!)

Finally, it was as done as I could make it and I packed my bags with a change of clothes and more paperwork than I hoped I would ever need (because you really can’t just run home to Georgia if you forget things in Mississippi!) and I headed west to see my accountant. I arrived knowing I had done all I could and that it still wasn’t to the level of detail that I normally prepared. I just prayed and hoped for the best.

And you know what? It was fine. In fact, it was better than fine. I had a great time with my accountant (I love her!) and the taxes got filed and all of the “special circumstances” and the “unknowns” I had built up in my head were just that: all in my head. God had it in control all the time. Ha! Imagine that.

Now what does all this have to do with you? Perhaps, not a thing…but maybe, just maybe, there’s something in your life that brings that same “great and overwhelming dread” into your life, too. Maybe it is about something you can actually do something about. Maybe it isn’t. Whatever it is, regardless of whether it is tax prep or relationship issues, finances or medical matters, I’m here to tell you that God has your situation all under control, too.

Yes, you should do your best to prepare. Yes, you should be diligent in doing all within your power to take care of it, but once you’ve done that…you need to rest in Him. Regardless of the subject matter or the outcome, He is in charge…and He has a plan…and once again, it is for your good—even if it comes packaged in a way that you don’t really like. Apparently, that was a lesson I needed to have repeated for me.

How about you? Are you placing unreasonable expectations on yourself as you try to meet some self-imposed or imagined standard? Are you taking time to take care of the things that really need to be taken care of or are you consumed by the tyranny of urgent requests from others? What can you do—today!—to give yourself a break and focus on the beautiful life around you right now?

My husband’s life verse comes to mind and I hope you’ll find in it the same comfort that we do:

“For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

(I just wish I had put that sound mind part into practice a bit earlier!)

Are you a God-kept wonder?

When each earthly prop gives under,

And life seems a restless sea,

Are you then a God-kept wonder,

Satisfied and calm and free?       ~from Streams in the Desert

 

I’ve been taking my own determination to make this a year—or a life!—of returning to the basics very seriously. I’ve been making conscious decisions to stay in the moment and savor the small things. Jim Elliot’s quote, “Wherever you are, be all there!” resonates with me constantly and has become my own daily personal goal as I settle into this new life here in Georgia.

I’ve been more intentional about pursuing the heart of God and being cognizant of His Presence in all the moments that make up the life-time. Returning to the consistent reading of Psalms and Proverbs has sharpened my appetite for praise and my desire to be wiser in using the time God chooses to give to me. Additionally, I’ve also been re-reading Streams in the Desert by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman—the very first devotional book I used when I first moved to Georgia after grad school over 24 years ago.

I love this little book with its collection of thoughts and daily challenges written in words that sound more than a bit archaic in tone and structure and attitude when compared to our more modern way of talking and our cultural mandates of situational ethics and personal advancement whatever the cost. The small poetry snippet above is the antithesis of such “modern” thinking and reminds me that regardless of what I face throughout the day—or year—or life!—I AM a God-kept wonder when I resist the urges to ‘have it all my way’ or just have it all now and focus on resting in Him regardless of situation, instead.

Practically, I’ve been keeping busy with tax-prep made more challenging this year by having to locate items in new places and search through paperwork “organized” in bags that make me wonder where my brain was when I put them there. We’ve been blessed with an abundance of guests who have honored our home and brought joy to our spirits with their familiar faces in this new place. There has been much to do and I’ve been pleased as punch to do it because I am so aware that this is where God has placed us…on purpose…for HIS purpose.

While I wait for some of that purpose to become more evident, I’m enjoying the conversations of the hoot owls as I sit on my back porch in the early (really early!) mornings and I’ve been savoring the fresh tomatoes that the produce man at the local farmer’s market located somewhere that already have the flavor of late summer here in the early spring.  I’m growing accustomed to living on Eastern Time instead of Central Standard and I’ve been waging a battle to keep my porch bird-nest free. (That is one determined little bird!)  I’ve been raking pine straw and picking up sticks and being amazed all over again at the amount of pollen in a Southern spring—all the while reveling in the bloom of forsythia, daffodils, tulip trees and dogwood right here in my own little yard.  I’ve been changing sheets and readying guest rooms for the family that was here last week and those who will arrive this weekend—including the cousin who (just one year ago!) fell 3 stories on a job site and wasn’t supposed to survive, but has become one of those God-kept wonders and is planning a trip to Disney shortly!

I haven’t written much lately because I’ve been too busy learning…and you have to learn before you can share. I hope and pray that you are busy learning, too; that your lessons are easy ones and, if not, that you will find yourself being a God-kept wonder where you are.  In the meantime, I hope you’re loving God with all your heart and savoring the glories of the day.

Grace & Peace!

Getting to know you…

Many years ago, the extremely talented duo of Rogers and Hammerstein wrote a piece of music that keeps running through my head this morning.  It’s one of the songs from the musical The King and I called “Getting to Know You” and near the end, the lyrics say this:

Getting to know you
Getting to feel free and easy
When I am with you
Getting to know what to say

Haven’t you noticed
Suddenly I’m bright and breezy?
Because of all the beautiful and new
Things I’m learning about you
Day by day

I’ve been seriously entertained this morning because these words have been running through my brain…while I’ve been thinking about God.

As part of my getting back to basics around here, I’ve gone back to reading a chapter in Proverbs and a chapter in Psalms each morning as part of my devotional time.  Several days ago, I noticed something that I don’t remember noticing before. (Pardon me if this is old news to you!  grin)

One of my favorite scriptures from this section of Scripture—circled, starred and even underlined in purple!— says:

Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding. Proverbs 4:7

Every time I come to that verse, I’m completely stopped in my tracks and reminded that knowledge is great, but wisdom is even better—and it’s even more to the point that I should be pursuing wisdom instead of things.

Several chapters over, there is another Bible verse that is also underlined in purple which says:

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”  Proverbs 9:10

Now, in my Bible, the first phrase of that verse is the last thing on one page and the second phrase is at the top of the next one after you turn the page.  Perhaps that’s why I’ve never had it hit me like this before.  Maybe I just took a breath and turned the page and started reading again instead of just putting those two things together.  Whatever the reason, as I read it again this past Sunday morning, my brain finally connected these two phrases and these two verses—pages apart!–in a brand new way for me!

I’ve always known that was true (after all, it is in God’s Word and He can’t lie!), but I think I’ve heard more sermons on the first part of that last verse than the second.  In fact, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard pastors and teachers just focus on that first phrase as they explained that the word “fear” here, in fact, means to reverence or to give proper respect to God.  Yes, He is all powerful and yes, that can be scary to think about…right up until you get to know Him and find out who He is and how He plans to use that power.

So, did you see it?  Put together, those two verses say this (Becky translation):  Wisdom is the main thing, so go get you some of that…and while you’re getting that, get you some understanding because putting God in His proper place in your life is just the start of wisdom and getting to know who God is personally and having a real relationship with Him, now that is understanding—and that’s the most important thing.

Having a relationship with God is far more than just being aware of Him or being afraid of what He’ll decide to do next.  In fact, once you get to know Him really well, that fear-thing isn’t even a factor anymore because you’ll discover that He loves you more than you could ever imagine and He’s got some really great things to show you about how to use this one wonderful life that you’ve been given. So,

Getting to know you
Getting to feel free and easy
When I am with you
Getting to know what to say

Haven’t you noticed
Suddenly I’m bright and breezy?
Because of all the beautiful and new
Things I’m learning about you
Day by day

Yes, that’s the truth about getting to know God better.  Hmm…I wonder if Rogers and Hammerstein ever read Proverbs?

(and yes, I did get the irony that this song is from The KING and I!  smile! God has a great sense of humor!  Make sure you find that out for yourself.)

Back to new basics

“A rut is a grave with both ends kicked out.”  –Mama

I’ve heard her say that all my life…and she’s probably not far from the truth.  After all, getting in a rut means you’ve done the same thing over and over and over for so long that you probably don’t even have to think anymore about what to do next.  While there’s something to be said for consistency, I’m not a great fan of mindless task-doing.  Over the past 6 months or so, however, I’ve had the opportunity to begin longing, not for a rut, but a schedule.  I love the order that comes of doing things in rhythm and creating a pattern of behavior that helps me feel settled and at ease.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the behavior has to be mindless, but it does mean that once the mundane items are marked off the to-do list, there will be more brainpower available to be directed toward more creative endeavors…and I have really missed being able to do that.

I’m looking forward to creating new rhythms for this place.  I’m looking forward to creating new friendships and creating new opportunities, new plantings and new views, new words, new art and new thoughts.  I’ve missed having the time to write and the number of blog posts that have been written mentally in the dark and gone unpublished are more than I’d like to think about.

I’ve actually had a schedule of sorts over the last few months:  travel, unpack, pack, travel, unpack (repeat, repeat, repeat…) and I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m ready to change the tasks on the schedule.

Most of the things in the house have been unpacked to find new homes and those that haven’t are in boxes for donation or awaiting the arrival of new pieces before they can be placed in order.  It’s good to have an idea about where most of your stuff is and while the house is coming together nicely, the shop tells a different tale at present.  Oh, we’re making progress there, too, but it seems slow in coming, perhaps because it is finally spring—the season of new birth, new plants, new blooms, rebirth, resurrection and renewal—and I’m longing to get outside and revel in the absolute wonder of it all.  Oh, how I have longed for this season this year!

As I’ve been unpacking all of our accumulated stuff, I’m unpacking new thought processes, as well.  I’m slowly establishing patterns of behavior for this new place and finding that my heart is feeling right at home here as I do so.  I’ve created a “nest” for my morning time with God and have really enjoyed getting back into His Word in a deeper way.  I’ve acquired a new library card and located two libraries and a couple of garden nurseries nearby along with more than a few antique stores.  I’m settling in, but I’m not inclined to settle.  There’s something about this place that calls out for new things and that excites me.

Yes, I’m establishing new patterns and looking forward to new things…and I think I’ll plant some new bulbs in that old rut I had before.  Who knows?  Perhaps there’s still time to see them bloom this spring.

Mendy’s question

“This is what I am pondering tonight. Can you be so busy obeying that you miss out on a real relationship with God, that would make obeying the rules become more natural?”

I read this post from a sweet friend last night on Facebook and then I went back and read it again…and then again. I love it when people post things that show they’re actually thinking!  Posts that show people are pursuing God and want to be who they were designed to be instead of sharing the latest gossip or what they’re having for supper…well, those are the kinds of posts that keep me on Facebook in spite of the other kind.

Back to the actual question, though.  I loved it because I know the heart behind it and because it cries for something deeper that a quick pat on the head or an off-the-cuff religious answer.  It’s a great question and one that I wanted to take some time thinking about before I just fired off my initial response.

I took another look at it today and found myself agreeing with others who had responded.  They all said, “yes!” and while I believe that they are correct, the writer and the God-lover inside of me won’t allow me to be so minimalistic in my answer.  So, here’s my response:

For me, the answer is a “yes” and I think that’s the basic difference between a religion and a relationship.  When all you have is religion, rules are the order of the day and making sure that you’re following all of those rules leaves precious little time to consider whether or not the rules you’re following actually came from God or if they were the result of man’s attempt to ‘clean up the mess’ around him.

Yes, I know, it is shocking, but that actually happened…and it still does, from time to time.  It’s one of the reasons we have all manner of denominations and such widely varied practices all in the name of being religious.  People with really good intentions (and on occasion, the desire to make people behave more like they want them to!) have created more rules than God Himself and when we haven’t actually read what GOD has to say is most important, it becomes easier to just fall in line and conform to what those around us are doing without asking that all-important WHY question.

And, yes, God does have rules.  That’s a really inconvenient truth for some people who would rather pursue a religion designed to accommodate their lifestyle choices and allow them to hang out with similarly like-minded people under the guise of pursuing God–as they have chosen to re-create Him. (As if the ultimate Creator could ever be re-created!)

Scripture is clear, however, that God’s rules always have a purpose.  They are designed to protect us and to direct our lives as we become more like His Son—lives that are holy and set apart on purpose so that others will see the difference and want to ask that WHY question for themselves.

I know that there are those who read only a particular portion of Scripture and say how barbaric God must be and how He couldn’t possibly be kind and loving or even fun when they’ve read only that section of the Bible, but honestly, it boils down to things that are a lot simpler than all of our sophistication tries to make it.  Example:  It isn’t that God was unkind and wanted to deprive His people from the delicious taste of great barbeque when He gave them such specific food restrictions.  It was His way of protecting them because it’s really hard to tailgate with all those people on a 40-year hike through the desert without any means of refrigeration!  (grin)

While that’s a really light-hearted example and will not address the sincere frustrations many people have with God’s rules, there’s still a lot of truth in it.  His primary purpose is our protection so that we can live lives that are healthy and allow us to focus on actually having a relationship with Him.  Relationships aren’t always easy or simple.  They involve more than one voice and while God will have the final say, He’s not threatened when we question Him and His will or express our anger or our hurt at the way things are turning out for us down here.  He’s way bigger than that!  In fact, if we never question, how will we ever learn?  That basic educational truth applies here, as well.

In fact, I think it is required that we question God–and I think He likes it!  I think it shows that we’re interested in what He thinks and proves that we’re actually using that wonderful brain that He took the time to create!  Yes, there are respectful ways to talk with Him and ask those questions, but I promise you that He isn’t waiting until you get your questions grammatically correct and voiced in the proper deferential tone of voice before He’ll deign to speak with you.

So, all that basically boils down to a decided “Yes, Mendy, it is possible to be so busy following the rules that we miss God entirely.  We can live really morally acceptable lives that impress all kinds of people without ever becoming acceptable to God Himself…and in the process, we will rob ourselves of that most precious gift: a real-life relationship with the One who loves us most.  Thanks for not doing that!”

Forgiveness, Grace and Tough Love

I lost count of the conversations I had last week about forgiveness and grace.  They ranged from how glad we are to have them personally to how difficult they are to share…with some people.  You know the ones I’m talking about—they’re the ones who are (right now!) hopping up and down on your last nerve.  They’re the ones who’re making poor decisions and expecting you to be happy for them.  They’re the ones who are living dangerously and being defiant or the ones refusing to live and being too dependent.  They’re the ones…who need forgiveness and grace the most.

I’m one of them.

So are you.

That’s us.  I just described all of us…because at least at some point in our lives, we’ve all been there.

Looking at the whole plan for humanity and knowing all that He knew was to come (because He really does know everything!), God still chose to create us.  He chose to love us and even send His Son to die for us so that we could spend eternity with Him.  Why?  Because He’s crazy about us.  Because He’s just like that.  He’s not lame, not naïve, and not needy, but LOVE.

So…if we’ve all been there (and we have!), why is it so hard to share those same gifts with others?

Our reasons may be many and varied.  Some of them may even be true, but it really doesn’t make any difference if they are or not.  We’re still called to share the gifts of forgiveness and grace.  Yes, I know.  Scripture does talk about the difference between those who ask for forgiveness and those who don’t…and it really does make a difference in the eternal outcome with God, as well, but it doesn’t stop Him from loving them anyway, regardless of the choice they make.

Tough love.  It’s more than just the disciplinary actions taken to help guide a wayward person back into the straight and narrow.  It has to be.  Tough love is about being love personified and being committed to love even the unlovable…especially the unlovable.  It has to be about hanging tough and loving them forever…no matter who, how long or why.  Tough love is the God-type love.  It’s the everlasting kind that doesn’t always approve and can’t always condone, but always loves anyway.  Flat out, 100% love.

It isn’t easy.  That kind of commitment never is.  It is, however, the kind of love every single person who has asked Christ to be their Lord and chosen to follow the path He laid out for us in His word has experienced personally and it is the kind that we are now required to share with those around us. (And, yes, there are still people out there who think being a Christian is just an easy escape from reality?! HA!)  We are called to be forgivers and grace-extenders.  We’re called to love those who don’t even love themselves enough to make choices in their own best interests.  We’re called to be “Jesus with skin on” for all of those who haven’t met Him yet…and might never do so if we aren’t serious about this love and grace and forgiveness stuff.

Easy it is not, but required it is.  Sounds a bit like Yoda-speak, but it is still true! (grin)

So, who is it?  You know…that person whose name popped into your head before you were even through reading the first paragraph?  And, what are you going to do about it this week?  (and just in case it was my name…I love you, too.)

The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying:
“Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.  (Jeremiah 31:3 NKJV)

So far…

It’s been a pretty busy year so far…

  • I’ve emptied what feels like a thousand boxes and there are still more to go and
  • I managed to survive without internet here at the house…until Valentine’s Day night…when the UPS man delivered a package really late in the night containing our new modem and my husband sprang into action to get me hooked up because he knows how hard it has been for me to be here and not tell you every little thing about it. (grin)

And today…

  • I’ve played Billy Joel music and missed my sister who loves listening to him sing and
  • I sat in the chair that my grandmother used to sit in at Christmas and open presents surrounded by family from all over while I talked with the neighbor who crossed the road to tell me “thanks!” for the thank-you note I sent after she dropped off cake. (Yes, God has truly dropped me off in one of the last bastions of true Southern hospitality and gentility. Grin.)
  • I accepted her compliment about my massive bouquet of pine branches in the old crock on the front porch and laughed as I told her that God sent them to me in the snow storm so it seemed a shame to waste them.  (That’s what you do, you know…you make the best of things in the carnage after the storm passes so others can see that you’re aware that God sends you blessings even in the storm.  Don’t forget to look for them!)
  • After she left, I checked the mail which contained cards of congratulations for us as we celebrate 21 years of marriage tomorrow and thought about all of the storms we’ve weathered during these fast-flying years that still seem like they were just yesterday and
  • I dragged even more large limbs back to my burn-pile-in-process (I’m creating a huge pile and ringing it with old stones and broken pieces of concrete left from the carnage created by people in the past (yes, that lesson above still holds true even for things left in a jumble by people you don’t even know) and
  • I came back inside and patched holes in walls and painted over them so you can’t tell they were there while I thanked God for these walls and this place and
  • I made a batch of my mother’s recipe for homemade pimento and cheese using Duke’s mayonnaise (just like my grandmother did before my mother did) and
  • I listened to Moonlight Sonata as I stirred it all together and prayed for the new little family member who arrived yesterday and
  • I thanked God for continuations…of life and blessings and traditions and family and work and the deliciousness of accomplishing things for yourself and
  • as I bagged the trash and took it to the road for pick up and removal never to be seen by me again tomorrow, I thanked Him for taking all the trash of our sins and putting them so far, far away that He won’t even remember them.

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”  Psalm 1-3:12 (NKJV) 

So far, so far…

It has been a pretty full day, so far…and there is more to do, so—in the meantime—take a moment to reflect and see how far God has brought you, as well.