FYI: Pity Parties and Praises Don’t Go Together

FYI:  Pity Parties and Praises Don’t Go Together

There are times (for everyone!) when you’re just tired of the way things are going in your life. Those are the times when, whatever the tipping point or reason, you are just ready to throw in the towel and walk away for a break. It doesn’t have to be a long one and it certainly doesn’t mean that you’re ready to walk away permanently, but you just NEED A BREAK from the problem, circumstance, people or attitudes (maybe even YOUR own attitudes!) in your life. You may not even know WHY you need the break…you just know that you do. So what then?

Well, I’m not an expert on your life, but I’m gradually gaining some experience with my own (ha!), so I’ve found that if I can just change the environment a little, it will help. I know this because I had it happen just this morning.

I love my life. I love the people in it and I’m very aware of how blessed I am to have the life I have…and yet…this morning, I was ready for some major venting. I was pitiful and it wasn’t really pretty. Fortunately, I managed to keep it all between me and God (well, until now, of course!) and I got myself ready to go to church this morning because I knew I needed to be there.

Oh, I wanted to be there, too, of course! Due to circumstances beyond my control, it’s been several weeks since we were able to be there for Sunday School and Worship time and I’ve missed it something fierce. I’m well aware that God is always with me and that His Word is never far from my fingertips or my ability to see it on a screen, but there is something life-altering about being involved in corporate worship with others who need it just as badly as you do.

My problem (well, one of them, anyway!) was that I wanted to do corporate worship all by myself. Yes, I know. It isn’t possible. That didn’t matter to me at all. I still wanted what I wanted. I wanted the life and vitality of corporate worship while I sat in a bubble and soaked it in and participated without having to consider what anyone else thought or wondered or wanted or needed for a little while or be intruded upon or…or…or…(you’re seeing the trend here, too, right?) It was all about me…and worship isn’t that at all.

ANYWAY! I took me and my pitiful attitude to church this morning and then God showed up and reminded me that it wasn’t about me at all by having my pastor preach on…the poor. Yes. Score one for God and Pastor Chris. If ever there was a sermon I needed to hear this morning, it was this one. I needed the reminder to look outside myself. I needed that reminder that there are people who live with a whole lot less than I have on my worst day. I needed that reminder that when it comes to serving Christ, I bring nothing to the table that will save me and the only thing I truly have worth sharing is HIM. I needed that. I needed that jubilant worship that filled our sanctuary and the knowledge that we gather in comfort while so many in the world don’t even have the luxuries of intact structures and indoor plumbing and freedom from the fear of where the next mouthful of food will come. I needed that reminder to LOOK OUTSIDE MYSELF. (And yes, I do know that I wrote that sentence twice in one paragraph—I really needed to be reminded of that…and maybe you do, too.)

I also needed the reminder that being poor in spirit does NOT apply to being pitiful and that my ever-gracious God who knows it all and still loves me anyway will still love me even when I lose my mind and forget how very blessed I am…even if for just a short time.

All praises to God for reminding us that we are not as pitiful as we feel some days and that we are, instead, most abundantly and amazingly blessed to be who we are, where we are, when we are, how we are and for giving us those with whom we share our lives every day. From pity party to praises…HE can do that for you, too.

Banging the drum you’ve been given…

I am determined to be more “present” (no pun intended!) during this year’s Christmas season. For some reason, it just seems more personal and important this year.  To do that, we’re making deliberate decisions to celebrate the season. As part of that, we’ve been to a wonderful Christmas program by the Griffin Choral Arts group here in our area, I’ve driven by the city’s Christmas light display (multiple times), we’ve celebrated each nearby small town’s lights as they’ve gone up on the poles, smiled as the neighbors have begun to light up their homes and yards, discussed the pros and cons of a real “live tree” to our mix this year (we’re a “yes!” on that), and cleared the regular house music selections to play only Christmas carols.

This morning, I woke up early and watched the last part of a sweetly sappy Hallmark Christmas movie, got the laundry going and then turned on the carols as my fabulous husband worked noisily away in the kitchen to prepare us breakfast…and I was grateful. That word actually sounds so very small for all that flooded my heart and rolled liquid down my face.  Grateful.  It’s a lot bigger deal than it sounds.  You have to choose it sometimes and I think that makes it even more of a big deal.

As I savored my hot breakfast in a bowl and listened to the carols (Kenny G, this morning), I was once again struck by the song entitled, “The Little Drummer Boy”, composed by Katherine K. Davis, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone. I have to admit that it’s never made my top 10 (or even, perhaps, my top 20!) favorite carols list, but this year has been different. God just keeps putting this one in my ear and every time He does that, I find myself worshiping in a brand new wave of appreciation.

I think the part that’s sticking with me the most this year is the idea that, while we may not feel that have a lot to contribute at times, we can make the decision to give the best that we do have to those we love…and to God. It reminds me a lot of my friend Judy, who is lovingly gifting me with some of her handmade kitchen washcloths this year.

I didn’t actually intend for her to do that. I’ve had two of her washcloths for some time now and there’s something wonderfully substantial about the feel of them in my hand that just makes me like the process of cleaning the kitchen a little bit more…and seriously, if you can do that, you’re golden, right?! Anyway, I’ve absolutely loved them and so I decided that I would get rid of the “cheapies” in the drawer and give myself the gift of a whole stack of these wonderful little things. I called her the other day to see if I could place an order…and she wouldn’t let me. She insisted that she wanted to make them a gift—and wouldn’t even hear of me paying the postage! (Yes, I know! I DO have really cool friends!!)

Judy’s reasoning was that she wanted to “contribute something to people I love so much and no one ever lets me do that.” I didn’t want to argue with her, but the truth of the matter is that Judy gives to every single person who knows her. She’s been an incredible example of loving mother, devoted wife and caretaker, cheerful friend and contributor to the Kingdom of God her whole life. She has donated countless hours of time, effort, talent, energy and cheerfulness to every church she’s ever been a part of and she’s shared the bounty of her blueberry bushes, tomatoes and the happiness of her home with me on multiple occasions. She prays for people and she lives a life that is the very essence of the grace of Christ and His faithfulness. She inspires me more than she has any idea about—and I’m not alone in thinking that. (Right now, when she’s reading this, she’s probably bawling and saying something about how I shouldn’t have done this and how she hasn’t really done very much at all.) I know her, so I know this will probably make her cringe just a bit, but she is actually pretty amazing– she doesn’t always give herself credit for that.

And now, before I embarrass her so much she never gets over it, I’ll move on to the point of this blog post:  God isn’t asking for monumental sacrifices every day. He just wants all of you…and all of me. He wants us to go about our regular schedules and live lives that resonate Him into the hearts of those around us by the way we live. He wants us to bang the drums He’s given to us and let Him orchestrate the rhythms that come out of it. For some of us, that means serving as missionaries in foreign countries, loving on babies in a preschool or creating beautiful art to inspire those who wish they could draw/paint/sing/dance/sculpt/garden/decorate/cook like that. Some will feed and clothe the hungry in the neighborhood or around the world and others will make a grocery run for a shut-in or cut the grass for a neighbor whose schedule is too tightly packed these days.  (Thank you for that blessing, dear neighbor!) For others of us, it means helping the vertically-challenged  people at the grocery store reach the items on the top shelves, doing our work cheerfully and being respectful of the lives God has placed around us. Some of us will administrate large financial legacies and others will show up to do the too-often-thankless and under-paid tasks of educating children and protecting the public. Some will do surgery or change soiled bedding and some will crochet amazing dishcloths and send them to friends. Some will pay for the coffee or the meal of the person behind them in line and others will take center stage and sing beautifully for all the community to hear as we celebrate this season dedicated to the birth of our Savior…

and the truth of the matter is that no matter what drum we’re banging today, we need to make sure we take time out to do it deliberately for HIM.

 

“The Little Drummer Boy”

Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

So to honour Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
When we come.

Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give a king, pa rum pum pum
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,
On my drum?

Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.

What will you do to make Him smile today?

Common ground

I am blessed to have a long list of friends from around the world. They come in every size and shape and color and creed. Here are just a few of the things we might have in common: size, shape, height, color, creed, educational experience, professional backgrounds, shared friendships, shared interests, political opinions, family histories,cultural expectations, location affiliations, school affiliations, cheering for the same teams, hobbies, talents, Scriptural understandings, sense of humor, loyalties, stubbornness, favorite colors, favorite seasons, aversions to higher mathematics, family pets, appreciation for the arts, love of reading and words, similar life choices, similar life struggles, our humanity, lack of perfection, the determination to correct that previous one, civic responsibilities, citizenship, goals, food preferences, entertainment choices, allergies, life choices…

IMG_20130810_075558_396In sharp contrast, here are a few things we might also NOT have in common:  size, shape, height, color, creed, educational experience, professional backgrounds, shared friendships, shared interests, political opinions, family histories, cultural expectations, location affiliations, school affiliations, cheering for the same teams, hobbies, talents, Scriptural understandings, sense of humor, loyalties, stubbornness, favorite colors, favorite seasons, aversions to higher mathematics, family pets, appreciation for the arts, love of reading and words, similar life choices, similar life struggles, our humanity, lack of perfection, the determination to correct that previous one, civic responsibilities, citizenship, goals, food preferences, entertainment choices, allergies, life choices…

Isn’t that amazing? Sometimes the very things that unite us are also some of the very things that divide us. These differences are never what we focus on when my friends and I are together. Our focus is always on those things we have in common. In fact, if I waited until I found only those people who look, think, live, choose and believe exactly like I do to make friends, then my friend list would be decidedly blank–and so would yours. So what if we decided to choose to do that with others around us this year? We just might expand our friendship base, our knowledge, our experiences of new and exciting opportunities or–oh my goodness!--our influence.

That doesn’t mean that we give up our belief systems or what is important to us. Just the opposite! It means that we choose to find the common ground so we can build relationships. It means the start of some hard conversations and, perhaps, difficult examinations of our beliefs. In short, it means work. It means we model CHRIST!

Uh-oh. Now I’ve gone to meddling, right?

Here’s the deal:  If we’re really serious about living HIM in the coming year, it means we’re going to have to choose to step up our game! It means we need to know WHAT we believe and WHY…and here’s the kicker:  if it doesn’t line up with what GOD says in His Word about what we’re supposed to believe or do, then it simply has to go. When we know those things, we can choose to find the common ground and we’ll be ready to share Christ with those around us in ways that will resonate with them.

If my number one goal is to be like Christ and your number one goal is to be like Christ, we may still have things that we have to agree to disagree about, but when our main goals are the same, we can leave it up to God to sort out the differences and lead us all into the deeper truths we can find in Him.

Nothing resonates with people like loving them the way God loves them. Now, what do we need to do to show them HIM today?

The holiday that never ends…

harvest-angelIt is the holiday that never really ends for us as Christians…Thanksgiving. Here in the United States, it is a legal holiday and people celebrate with family and friends, by eating way more than is good for us, by watching parades and football games and old movies, and with holiday buying that has very little to do with telling God how very thankful we are for all of the blessings He’s given to us over the past year…and yet…He keeps on giving. While we have often lost the true spirit of the holiday—every day!—He still gives and gives and gives.

God’s like that, you know. He’s not burdened with a complex about being snubbed or freaked out by our lack of gratitude. He’s much, much bigger than that. What we do as we celebrate this holiday says much more about who WE are than it does about who HE is.

So Who is He to you this year? What did you learn about Him over the last 12 months? What did you share about Him? How did you represent Him in your last 52 weeks to those around you? While that’s important, please know that He will always be more than we can learn, share, or represent. He cannot be limited by our limitations and He cannot be changed by our distractions and our continual focus on self.

He is the Perfect, the Unchanging, the Ever-lasting Love that each of us desperately seeks—often in all the wrong places.

He is the Beginning of everything and the End of where we can find all we need.

He is filled with grace and forgiveness and He longs to show you just how much you were created to be…not to accomplish and not to be celebrated for, but to BE. Your very worth is bound up in Him whether you understand that yet or not.

You have a choice, you know. He already knows every single thing about you. What will you get to know about Him? His Word is filled to the brim with loving lessons and gifts of the knowledge of Him and it is available to everyone who will open it up and read it with an honest intent to know Him more. What truths will you choose to learn about Him in the coming year? How will you choose to celebrate the life He’s given to you and how will you share the blessings He provides so that others can gain a better understanding of Him? What attitudes will you need to change…or discard? What will be your part in sharing Him with others? How will you represent Him to the world, whether it is to the world-at-large or simply to the world where you currently live?

May I offer us all a challenge for the next 52 weeks?  Let’s live HIM this year. Let’s walk and talk and learn HIM this year. I don’t know about you, but that’s my plan. I would really love to have your company and I can’t wait to share in your thankfulness as we live Him out together. Let’s get started.

What are you thankful for today?

The Talk

Author’s note: Last evening I was given the privilege of being one of four speakers at the Ladies’ Night Out Advent dinner at our new church. (Well, we’ve been here for several months now, so maybe it isn’t really new anymore.) Anyway! We each had a topic assigned to us that fit in with the Advent theme. I was given the topic of Hope. Because the majority of my friends and family live elsewhere and were unable to attend, I was asked to share here what I shared last night. Those who have walked this journey with us and prayed so diligently for us will recognize that this is very much the pared-down, bare-bones version of our story…but seriously, I only had about 10 minutes, so I tried to fit in as much of it as I could. God is SO good, so very faithful, and regardless of whether or not those of you who will hear/read this for the first time understand this, I am STILL the most blessed person I know–mainly because I’ve been blessed to know my God in such personal ways. I don’t wish our story on anyone else, but I certainly would wish what we’ve learned about our God and His faithfulness for each of you. I hope that this will encourage you to seek to know Him more intimately and that it will spark an Advent-attitude that will stay with you throughout the coming of the season and celebration of the Coming of the Christ.

SONY DSCHOPE

My topic is Hope. I’m telling you that up front because some of what I will share later doesn’t sound very hopeful at times.

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord and He was high and lifted up and the train of His robe filled the temple…” That’s the start of the 6th chapter of Isaiah. While those first 7 words sound pretty mild when you just read through them, Isaiah’s words had a far different story to tell.  It was a time of loss, shock, and grief; a time of unknown outcomes, a time of chaos and changed plans. Things had been going so well for God’s people…and then disaster struck.

It is safe to assume that almost everyone in this room has had at least one such experience. For us—my husband Mike and I—it started in October of 1997. It had already been a big year for us. I had changed jobs, we had moved and he had required surgery. We got that out of the way and proceeded with our plans.

You see, I’m a planner. I’m generally well-organized and I tend to think ahead. Up to that point in my life, things had pretty much gone according to the schedule I’d set for myself when I was just about 12 or 13. My plan was “simple”:  High school, college, grad school, leave MS and find a job in Atlanta, find the man I would love forever, get married, settle down and make sure the careers were established so that by the time we’d be married for 5 years, we would have a stable home and be ready to have children. Easy, right?! So far, so good.  Everything was on schedule…until we were about 5 months away from our 5th anniversary.

Too many details to go into led up to a quick and slightly panicked Thursday night trip to our local ER with the possibility of heart symptoms where they declared Mike’s heart to be “functioning just fine…but there’s something near it on the x-rays that we need you to get checked out.” Four days later, he was told that it was almost 90% certain that he had cancer…and our normal suddenly vanished.

They weren’t wrong. It was cancer, wrapped around his heart and extremely aggressive.  According to x-rays , it had more than doubled within the past 5 months…and it had been missed on the x-rays prior to his earlier surgery. Because of the location of the tumor, he was told that with treatment, his chances for survival were less than 30%; without treatment—less than 15%.

We did everything right that was within our power. We had great Drs. We had the elders of our church anoint him with oil and pray. He was on prayer lists literally around the world and so we began the adventure God had chosen for us instead of the plans we had made. There were many extremely difficult days. It was during this time that I managed to have the absolute worst day of my entire life.

At the end of what had been an ugly-long and beyond-challenging day, I stood in my living room and I felt that on that day, I had not managed to do a single thing to make a positive difference on any front. I was so tired I hurt. I wasn’t a good wife. I wasn’t a good employee. I couldn’t fix my husband and I couldn’t make anyone (including me!) do what they were supposed to do with the great attitude that I just knew that God expected us to have. Looking back on it now, I realize that I was exhausted because I had taken on God’s job to “fix things”. I was trying to make things as perfect as I could for everyone else in my life so that they wouldn’t be inconvenienced by what was happening to my plans…and quite frankly, for perhaps the first time in my life, my best just wasn’t going to be good enough.

As I stood there with tears rolling down my face in utter defeat, I remembered a verse I’d read long ago. I was so tired that I couldn’t begin to think about where the verse could be found, but deep within my soul, I heard it out loud…just a thread (maybe from the Psalms?) that reminded me that God inhabits the praises of His people. I needed Him more than I ever had before, but I couldn’t begin to think where to start on a praise list, so I just stood there and sang. I started with a song we’d learned at our previous church home: “We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord!”

In the beginning, my version wasn’t very loud and it wasn’t joyous and it wasn’t even very pretty, but all of a sudden I understood that song in a brand new way. Sometimes praising God IS a sacrifice. Sometimes praising Him doesn’t feel natural. Sometimes it isn’t even fun, but when you do what God says even when it doesn’t make any sense, He still honors the obedience. Standing there, I made the deliberate choice to praise Him even though…no matter what…because I needed Him and I needed Him to show up. And you know what?  He did. He showed up and gave me comfort.  He gave me strength. He reminded me that I was His and that I was not alone. He reminded me that HE was in charge and that He had a plan…and it was for my good whether it looked or felt like it right then or not. In short, He gave me hope.

Over the next year, we became the poster children for hope to people we didn’t even know. God used our Drs to send us to places we had never seen…ostensibly for treatments, but in fact, because God knew there were people there who were hurting and they needed some hope. Sometimes, they called or came looking for us—even at work! Sometimes God’s Name was never even spoken, but we were both given opportunities to share our story and our peace and help fellow patients, spouses and family members find better or more practical ways to handle their own similar news.

This past August, we celebrated Mike’s 15th year of being completely cancer-free! He is living proof that God is able to do whatever He chooses. So, why am I sharing something that happened all those years ago with you tonight? I do so because our battles didn’t end there. In fact, they had just begun. Within 6 months of his being declared cancer free, Mike was part of an economic downsizing at his company and we lost his job. God—in evidence of His never-ending humor sent us back to MS–to my very own home town I’d been so determined to leave, and where there were no jobs in my field! He kept us in place there for almost 15 years. Again, not part of my plan at all, but definitely part of His.

While the treatments were successful, they also meant the end of our ability to have children naturally and because of Mike’s medical history, we were not considered as viable candidates for adoption.  Additionally, within the past year and a half, he has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure which we are told is the much-delayed, but direct result of the very treatments that God used to keep him here. We will go this coming Friday for another surgical procedure to help him manage some of the possible side effects of our current challenge.

Through it all, God has remained faithful and allowed us to use our faith and our experiences to help others and point them to Him. While it is often tempting to ask “WHY ME?” in times of difficulty, we’ve chosen to ask a different question: “Why NOT us? Who better to show the world that God is real, in control and that He is still on the throne–that Joy and HOPE are more than possibilities, they are a REALITIES!–than two of His children going through whatever He chooses to send their way?

You see, we already have the Hope of Christ inside of us! We get to CHOOSE to access it, CHOOSE to display it, and CHOOSE to share it! No matter what else we face, no one can take that away from us! We get to have HOPE no matter what we face because HE is our hope.

Isaiah said, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord and He was high and lifted up and the train of His robe filled the temple…”

I say, “In the times of shock and pain and trauma and through the death of many dreams—in the changing of all my plans—on the good days and on the bad ones and on the in-between days, too—EVERY SINGLE DAY–I SEE the Lord and He is high and lifted up and the train of His robe fills the temple…and He gives me hope.”

It used to be

It used to be…

  • fast-paced
  • energetic
  • often frenetic
  • louder
  • sure
  • driven
  • more selfish
  • harder
  • less expensive
  • entertaining
  • scarier
  • known and yet, unknown
  • more determined
  • challenging
  • fill in your own _____ here

And now it is

  • simpler
  • quieter
  • more intriguing
  • lighter
  • more creative
  • slower
  • more generous
  • bolder
  • more fun
  • deeper
  • known and yet, still unknown
  • more confident
  • still challenging
  • better

than it used to be. How is it where you are?

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

Eclesiastes 3: 1-8

One object, two lessons…

Leaves

My husband and I traded trucks yesterday. His heater wasn’t working and he left early enough to need heat.

The temperature had risen quite a bit before it was time for me to leave the house. The sun was shining and as I walked toward his truck, I noticed that it was completely covered in beautiful golden maple leaves. They looked so pretty against the navy blue paint with the sun shining down on them that I took a moment to marvel at the beauty of what God does just for the fun of it sometimes.

I drove carefully down my drive and began to pick up speed once I entered the highway. That’s when I noticed something else: I was leaving a trail of gold behind me. There were plenty of leaves to shed and share, and as I sped along the Georgia highway on my way to Bible study (because I was just a few minutes late!–all that admiring of God’s handiwork, you know!–NOT! I was running late before I stopped to do that! Honesty is always the best policy!), I was reminded of these verses from Isaiah:


“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.” Isaiah 58:8

and

 “…and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim…and they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;the whole earth is full of his glory. ” Isaiah 6:1b-3

Right there in the everyday task of riding down the road, God showed up and was just as beautiful as you’d ever expect Him to be.

Lesson 1—Look for God everywhere. He’s already there, but sometimes He likes for us to seek Him out on purpose…especially in the little things…and, by the way, it doesn’t hurt to leave a trail of beauty behind you as you go through life. It’s a choice. Make the right one.

 

After Bible study and lunch at the house, I took the truck in to have the repairman fix the heater. It wasn’t very long before he stuck his head back in the waiting room door to inform me that at least part of the problem was that “there’s about a 55 gallon drum full of leaves clogging your filter, ma’am!”

Leaves, again. This time quite a bit less glorious and quite a bit more problematic and costly.

Oh, God was still there and He was just as beautiful as He’s ever been, but the problem was due to neglect on our part. We’d bought the truck used and it had been garaged the whole time we’ve owned it up until about a year ago, so I know that all of that didn’t really happen on our watch, but the result was still the same.

It got me to thinking about all the other beautiful gifts that God shares with us and how we can get so busy that we fail to take proper care of them or use them for the benefit of others. Marriages, friendships, families…relationships are meant to bring us joy and comfort, but when we take them for granted and neglect to build or maintain them properly, they become problematic and costly, as well.

The same can be said of finances, house maintenance and septic systems. (grin)

Lesson 2—Stewardship is critical. Keep a watch on the blessings in your life. Even beautiful things can decline into decay and cause stress when they aren’t properly maintained. God is still there, even then, but the work of maintenance is meant to be just as much a blessing as the object or relationship. Be intentional in noticing, appreciating, and maintaining your blessings!

(I don’t have a Scripture reference that just pops into mind to back that one up, it’s just something I know to be true…and I’m sharing it for free, so I guess you’re free to do with it what you will! Ha.)

Grace & Peace!