Sharing Sunshine

I’m writing this at 2:25 AM, but I’m going to wait until a more respectable hour to post it so the pinging of your phone doesn’t interfere with your ability to rest just because I am up and typing this early. My arm hurts where the lady shot me. We got our 2nd vaccines yesterday and we are grateful, but…nope. I’m going to stop right there. We are grateful. We are choosing to be so. Someone (a whole lot of them, actually!) who was a whole lot smarter than I am, found a way to create vaccine options for this awful virus and then made it available. We get to choose what we do with that. I, for one, am choosing to be eternally grateful…and temporarily sore.

As I tried to find a comfortable position that also keeps an icepack in place, I’ve been running through a list of other things that have sparked gratitude recently, as well. It’s a good way to pass the time when you can’t sleep. So far, my list consists of a few stories from Sunday morning right up until the very nice lady with the great big smile shot us.

We’ve been careful during all of the pandemic stuff. REALLY careful. We have a whole list of physically vulnerable friends and family and we’ve actually lost quite a few, so to be honest, we donned masks, became experts at social distancing, and stayed home a WHOLE lot more (perhaps not as difficult for us as for some, since we’re both introverts). Additionally, we kept on doing the same things my husband’s oncologist told us to during THAT adventure over 20+ years ago. It seems to have been working for us for at least 20 + years, so…we’ve been here before. We know how this feels.

Like a lot of people, however, we get tired of it sometimes and we need to get out of the house for a drive in the countryside. We did that Sunday morning after my husband saw a message from a wonderful lady-friend who runs a show we used to do. She said that another, smaller show (NOT hers) had been held the day before in the rain and the storm made quite a mess of things. It was a small show in an even smaller town. We’ve worked that show before and we know that even on the pretty days, it may not get a lot of traffic. We’ve been there before. We know how it feels. Having wind blow tents over while trying to sell rain ruined product or messed up labels just makes it extra hard for these small business owners, so the organizers were giving them a “free day”/do-over day. Artists and crafters have taken a beating during the pandemic. Our friend was trying to drum up extra customers for these people she didn’t know in a show that wasn’t her own. Kindness; paying it forward. We are big fans of this concept!

We set off to see if we could help bring a few dollars in for someone. The message came in early and the show was only about 45 minutes away, so we arrived while the town was still pretty quiet. There were just a few people on the sidewalks and absolutely no one sitting outside in the shady boardwalk of another small business/restaurant combo as we looked for a parking spot. It was cold. There was still quite a bit of chilly wind, but at least the sun was out. It seemed a good number of people might have parked on main street and walked to church so they could have a handy parking spot later. We decided to stop for a quick bite before moving on to the show. Restaurants have also taken a beating during this pandemic and we have family who make their living that way, so we’ve been there and we know how that feels.

An old man sitting in a rocking chair spoke a welcome to us as we walked down the sidewalk. The staff at the restaurant side was cheerful and helpful in helping us pick what we should order. They even brought something to weigh down the napkins on the table when they brought our food. Did I mention it was still cold? The sunshine had fooled me into leaving my jacket in the truck, so I made my way back to get it.

As I headed back to the table, I passed two women sitting where the older gentleman had been on my first trip. These ladies had found their sweet spot—literally. They were chowing down on a heaping paper plate full of fried dough with a mound of confectioner’s sugar on top. My husband used to love those things, so I paused momentarily to ask if it was a good one. Both of the ladies IMMEDIATELY confirmed it by happy vocal sounds, licking fingers and rapid head shakes as they lifted the plate toward me…and asked if I’d like a bite! Yes, they did! They offered a complete stranger part of their funnel cake right in the middle of main street and during a pandemic. I was more touched by their kindness than I could say, but since I am NOT a funnel cake fan and I had lunch and my husband waiting, I politely declined and moved on, absolutely gratified beyond words by their generous spirits.

I mentioned that we were early and I mentioned the wind. Did I mention that it was cold? I’m certain it was that last detail that kept the patrons off the boardwalk where we pulled up chairs to the only table where there was a tiny sliver of sunlight to blunt the cold as we ate our lunches and talked about how God was speaking to us individually and as a team of two. We enjoyed the delicious food and the caring visits of the ones who prepared and served it as they braved the wind tunnel to make sure we were doing ok…in a tiny town with friendly people everywhere.

We were. They shared their smile along with their delicious food and we were grateful for both.

As we were finishing up our lunches, another intrepid couple headed toward us with the waitress. They were also looking for a place away from the crowds and had noticed the wind. Did I mention it was cold? I saw her shiver as she passed me, so I did the first thing that came to mind. We were through, so I stood up and said, “We’re about to bless you by sharing our sliver of sunshine while you eat. We hope you’ll enjoy your lunch!” It wasn’t as big a deal as offering to share a funnel cake, but they were most appreciative and mentioned that they had just commented on how cold it was. I had noticed. We’ve been there. We know how it feels.

The waitress cleared our table for them and we moved on toward the show. We found a couple of small items for future gifts and tried to encourage a few intrepid vendors who came back to take advantage of a free day to replace the paid one of disaster. Waiting and wondering if people will come and if they will find value in what you’re made and pay you for doing so, can be rough. We’ve been there. We know how it feels.

I’ve thought about that quite a bit since then. Our world has become so contentious and it seems that no matter what position you take, there’s a whole contingent of voices ready to yell you down and tell you how wrong you are. What we need to remember is that we’ve ALL been there and we know how it feels. It’s ok to disagree and walk away without comment. That is actually possible. It’s just fine if everyone isn’t just like me…or you—in fact, it’s often a good thing. God deliberately made us all different. Remember that! We also need to remember how it feels to be kind, to share, to get out of our comfort zones and try to help someone who might be having a more difficult time than we are (yes, that’s still possible, too). Kindness goes a long way toward making the hard things we face more bearable. Even if you don’t have a funnel cake to offer, you can still smile, be kind, extend some grace, offer friendly greetings, and share the sunshine…especially when it’s really cold.

FYI, you can also smile, be kind, and say “THANK YOU!” to people who serve the public in any capacity, including those who wait tables or stand out in the weather to shoot you. We know. We’ve been there.

Grace and Peace!

“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Hebrews 13:16 (NIV)

Curated Creations #1

Well. Choosing the word “curate” for this year comes with some built-in expectations and accountability factors. I know God understood that before I realized it and I think I probably need those. So…(deep breath, here)…I am pushing myself to step WAY out of my comfort zone and start sharing some of the creativity I’ve been given here on the blog in a more regular fashion. Sharing these posts will, I hope, encourage me to make painting/creating art a higher priority in my schedule.

What I share may not always be an actual painting, but my hope is that whatever IS shared here will encourage YOU to find ways to look for beauty and find ways to creatively add it to your schedule, as well.

Sometimes I pray and sing as I paint. This quick little watercolor of the ocean had several inspirations: one friend’s many photos of the ocean (thanks for sharing all of your beautiful photography on FB, Kristi!!), prayers for several other friends and their families as they grieve, and thoughts of how one day we will all be reunited “In the Sweet By and By.” Halfway through the painting and right in the middle of my prayers, I realized I was singing these words in my head, so I added them to the back of the painting as a continuing prayer.

My second offering is another little watercolor of a rose. My husband brought it home to me from his workplace last week. I placed it in a small round, flat-sided, vintage, orangy-red glass vase on my kitchen window ledge so I could enjoy it as I worked and still see it from my chair in the living room, as well. I wish I could have also painted the scent! It was heavenly!

Heaven was apparently a theme for me this week. I pray you were similarly blessed.

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26 (NKJV)

Grace and peace!

(It’s a shame I have to say this, but…

*Unless specifically noted, ALL photos, artwork, words, and additional images on this blog are the property of this author and are not to be used for profit by unauthorized persons or entities. Thank you!😉)

Happy New Year!

I have many delightful people in my life who celebrate their new year in January right along with the rest of the world in accordance with unarguable historical and institutional practice, not to mention the many fine people who produce calendars of every size and subject matter. While I DO love a beautiful calendar printed on heavy paper which unveils the months along the customary lines of a January to December year, and I faithfully record notes and notices ALL OVER both my paper and electronic versions, I still choose to start my year in April. I’m weird like that…and ok about it. (fun fact: this is not even close to the strangest thing about me! HA!) Yes, MY new year starts on the day I celebrate my physical birth. It seems appropriate and far less arbitrary to me than starting in January. It also gives me the advantage of some additional time to think about what I want to focus on in MY new year.

In lieu of making a string of resolutions which they have no intention of following/remembering past March (just ask those gym membership recruiters! LOL), several of the aforementioned friends and family have adopted the custom of choosing a word or theme on which to focus over the course of their year. I like that. I really do. In recent years past, I’ve focused on Grace, Margin, Family, and Breathing. Yes, breathing. In fact, I think that became my watchword for this past year…when I found myself holding my breath and waiting on the other shoe to fall, in amazement at the resiliency of others who faced tougher times than I did, and with gratitude at just getting through what was in front of me. (additional fact: while breathing is crucial to maintaining life, it is often one of the things we take most for granted, try to control, and regularly manipulate how we present ourselves and our reactions to the world around us…as though that’s what is most important.) (Insert eye roll here.)

I learned a few things this past year about holding my breath and then expanding my lungs to take in the next breath in order to relax. Intentional breathing became about how to shake off some of the stressors of pandemic life and loss. Focusing on the simple rhythmic in and out of the air perpetuating my physical life and cueing in on something so very simple–indeed, something so natural and innate as to be designed by our Creator to continue even when we lose consciousness!!–made some of the hard things we faced seem smaller in importance and reduced their criticality factors exponentially. At the very least, it allowed me that illusion. Just breathe in…now breathe out…repeat…repeat…

All of that breathing helped me focus on some other areas, as well, like looking at the kinds of things that take our breath away–in both good AND bad ways, how something we cannot see can become so very vital to our survival, and how God can use the unseen things to bless us in really important ways…that we often ignore or simply take for granted. This study, in turn, naturally made me want to increase my awareness of those good things and spend less time on the bad ones, which brings me to my word for THIS new year: curate. (yeah, that’s a jump. no subtle transition at all there, Becky.)

At first, several months ago, I thought my word for the year would be something quite different, like Dare or Peace or Focus or Play. (yes, I know. they’re all very different. my mind has been wandering ALLL over the place for awhile now.) What I’ve noticed over the course of my life, however, is that if I ask God what HE wants me to focus on, He is generally pretty clear about it in His responses back to me. So it was again…and that’s why my word for my new year is “Curate” instead of one of those others.

I’ve got a reasonable vocabulary, so I knew what it meant to “curate” something. I didn’t even look it up when God started bringing it to me. It seemed incidental, at first, then the regularity with which it showed up in my news feed, the books, I read, the emails or notices I received, the conversations in groups I belong to, started to penetrate the pandemic fog and I went looking for something more than the surface definition I was familiar with, which was something along the lines of “being in charge (I’m good at that. ha!), of choosing along a theme, or selecting with intention.” It is a word I usually associate with museums or an art exhibit.

I love art, I’ve been wanting to develop my skills in this area. I’m already pretty organized, and I know how to take charge (stop laughing, husband!), so I knew organization would play a role in lining things up, just like in an art exhibit. Ok, check! I had some of that reasonably down. It looks like this will be my year to focus on my art and organization. Great! I can get into that, for sure!

God kept sending me this word, so just to be sure I wasn’t missing anything, I dug a little deeper. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines something that has been “curated” much as I had, with a slight change: “carefully chosen and thoughtfully organized or presented.” It also included a direction I hadn’t yet considered. THAT definition led to others, to root words, and an explosion of what I thought I knew before into a whole lot of options that still apply to art, but also apply to life. After all, life is art, right?

God is like that sometimes. He sends us in directions we aren’t always familiar with and puts us in places where we might not be completely comfortable–and he does so ON PURPOSE. Part of that is to show us new things and help us grow. Some of it is because our first inclinations are usually about US and HE always has a bigger plan. At times, He nudges us in new directions because even when our old ones aren’t necessarily bad for us, they will become so if we just sit still and stay comfortable with where we are spiritually. Mostly, though, I think God desires for us to know HIM. You cannot teach or share what you do not know. God sent His Son, Jesus to reach out and save the world. He left us His Holy Spirit so that we can continue that mission. As our world starts to open back up more and more, we’re going to bump up against a lot of people who have suffered unimaginable losses over the past year. They will need more than just what we think or where we stand politically. They will need WHO we KNOW. Among other aspects, God wants to show us–and them!–why one of His specialties is being The Comforter…and we’ll never need or get to know that part of Him if we stay in our comfort zones.

This past year has been a lot of things. Comforting and comfortable haven’t been on the list, but God continues to be exactly Who He says He is…and that is a good place to start a new year.

Grace and Peace!

“Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

This year, God gave me winter

“Rubber band fatigue is REAL! I believe that God has used several sources to reveal that some of my own depression/fatigue is decades old of moving to “what’s next” without proper rest, restoration, and healthcare for me. I honestly cannot see what I would/could do differently even if that were possible. I believe God led me to and through those things as ministry for Him, just as He is trying to lead to toward personal health right now. When taking time to nourish your own body and soul begin to feel like burdens, something is definitely off in the balance. He is making me take the advice I have been dispensing to others for so long…and let me just say that even though I know it is sound logically and spiritually, eating my own words and choosing rest is often still difficult for me. I am resting in Him these days in a MUCH more personal way, however, so I am seeing that as a blessing from the obedience.”

I sent this text to a friend earlier today as I prayed for her to “do better than me” in her life. I am often astonished at how God reveals things to us as we pray for and minister to others. Intercession seems simple on the surface and, yet, it is often a lot more complicated than we take notice of…especially when we forget to intercede for ourselves, as well.

I have the blessing of genetic strength and fortitude. I was raised to see and seek the positive side of things. I have the added blessing of an often twisted sense of humor that has both entertained me and actually allowed me to sustain continued action in the face of difficulty. My stubbornness is probably both my greatest strength and, quite possibly, my greatest weakness. I “believe I can”, so I go and do–always expecting God to give me the energy and the knowledge for what is required. I’ve experienced His strength through me in difficult situations so often that I, somehow, just expected it to continue unabated.

Surprise. God had other thoughts.

I’ve always detested the winter season. It’s been something to endure even here in the South where it is most often manifested in damp or rainy cooler temperatures and rarely involves ice or snow. Winter has always felt like the price I paid for the other three seasons: the million+ shades of green and flowers in the spring, the energy and sunshine of the hot summer, and the cooler, gloriously colored days of autumn. And then…winter. Yuck.

This year, however, God has given me winter in a different way. More than the melancholy of “pandemic restriction” and the frustrations that have accompanied all of that, I have found my altered mindset quite disconcerting. The limitations of my regular comings and going, the reduced opportunities for People-time, and, yes, even the isolations sounded like a gift to introverted me. I welcomed the enforced rest and I looked forward to days of being creative and catching up on chores long put out of sight and mind as I maintained my pre-pandemic schedule.

Something “they” don’t always tell you: full-force stops aren’t always pretty, graceful, smooth, or peaceful. As my husband says, “It’s hard to stop on a dime and give nine cents change.” That’s even less successful when you are already skidding toward that stop. Wild flailing is rarely attractive. (ask me how I know this…and insert a very self-aware eye roll here!)

I honestly thought I had slowed down. I had deliberately and, through lots of prayer, reduced my duties outside our family care even before the Corona virus was a thing. I had been feeling the pull toward retreat (yes, I know that sounds backward) and rest for at least 2-3 years. Circumstances didn’t allow a continued rest, but I was trying, God was empowering, and things were being accomplished. I assumed, perhaps naively, that I was being called to minister in prayer more than in person–and that was something I could fully embrace.

While that was true–because my prayer list suddenly exploded exponentially–it wasn’t the whole picture. God was about to give me Winter in a way I have never before experienced it. I’m still in it. I don’t like it. In fact, to be perfectly frank, I despise and loathe it. What I cannot do, however, is deny the power of it.

Winter is caused as the earth spins on its axis and turns away from the sun. Spiritual winter feels even colder. Oswald Chambers talks about when God trusts you with silence. Frankly, that sounds great when it’s Oswald and less so when it’s you. While my head knows all I have studied and taught about God and His Omnipresence, spiritual winter doesn’t FEEL good. It feels far worse than physical cold. I was grateful for all of that head knowledge, however, because God has used it to remind me that “we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7) He’s further encouraged me with Proverbs 4:23, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”

While feelings are very real, they aren’t to be completely trusted as a way to navigate life. I know some will disagree–and I know that God gifts us with wisdom and intuition for use by the Holy Spirit. I’ve “known what I could not know” many times as a result of those gifts, but running from emotion to emotion is no way to sustainably make wise choices since we are rarely in possession of the full knowledge of what is to come. Because of that, we must depend on what we KNOW to be true even when it may not FEEL true.

Winter: Seasonal. Temporary. Necessary. I still don’t like it…but I am choosing to have faith about it. In my response to this spiritual winter, I have “retreated” to rest in this season of darkness and trust that my Creator knows what is needed for growth,

to renewed and deeper prayer and the (still very frustrating!!) knowledge that it is my job to intercede even when I cannot intervene,

to searching out a deepening relationship with the Word (Jesus) by reading the written Word for joy and the chasing of rabbit-trails instead of for schedules and checking off the to-do list of “good girl’ behaviors,

to deliberately choosing physically healthy behaviors regarding diet and activity (including some delicious dark chocolate, on purpose!),

to pursuing mentally healthy behaviors (including allowing others to reap what they sow instead of trying to shield them from the lessons God is trying to teach them), and

searching out for sharing and assistance instead of keeping it all inside.

Along the way, I am learning/RE-learning that while vulnerability is rarely comfortable, it still necessary in order to connect us is ways that will eventually allow us a greater experience and, hopefully, a greater field of ministry. It is a sign of hope in the middle of winter, that idea that the darkness can be used to bring a greater awareness and appreciation of light in the days to come.

Grace and Peace.

R.S.V.P.

The assignment still hasn’t posted and I’m well over a week late, but time and deadlines aren’t always an issue when you’re dealing with the Eternal God.

I signed up for an online artists’ class awhile back and I was looking forward to the start. I’ve been struggling a bit with carving out time and finding that motivation and inspiration don’t always appear on cue when you’re ready to paint…or write. I hoped that participating in Matt Tommey’s online offering would somehow jumpstart or, at the very least, give me a tiny foot-nudge in the right direction. It was new to me (fresh!) and it was free (always a plus in this budget-conscious mind!). The social media response from participants was populated by God-loving artists of all experience levels from around the globe whose main goal, it seemed, wasn’t just to expand their skills, but to exercise their spiritual gift of encouragement. It was like water to a thirsty garden. I couldn’t wait.

I also couldn’t have imagined that Day 1 of the class would find me creating my own personal version of a socially distanced “isolated nest” in an art-filled hospital waiting room praying for it to be over so I could take my loved one home. Yes, even in these Covid-infested and highly regulated times, I was allowed into a hospital to nest and wait. That’s partly because it was a significant procedure, but mostly, I believe, because I have a great big God who isn’t the least bit limited in placing His resources right where He wants them.

We had arrived thinking we were there simply for a procedure. What we found was that we were both also sent to listen, to encourage, to express gratitude, to share sustenance and prayer with others who also waited or served…and get difficult news of far-away loved ones whose medical challenges far exceeded our own. We managed our way through the long hours and were released to go home completely spent.

Though it was late and TOTALLY not in line with our eating plan, we stopped at a fast-food place when we finally arrived in our home town. Our last meal had long since disappeared. It was almost to their closing hour, but as we rounded the drive-through curve we noticed a homeless man sitting on the ground. He wasn’t even holding up his sign anymore. He looked as sore and hungry and tired as we felt, but we knew it wasn’t the same. We couldn’t solve all of his problems or even most of our own, but we could make sure that all of us were fed for the night, so we fixed what we could and made for home and recovery.

It would be a whole week before I could view that first online session and, even then, my viewing time would cross over into a new day. At the end of the first session came a challenge: using any chosen method, create an artistic response to God’s invitation to create with Him. I immediately had a visceral and visual response. I headed for some rest with it buzzing in my head, planning a small painting or, at the very least, a quick sketch of an invitation with a large scrolled “R.S.V.P.” across the top and my “YES!” across the bottom.

Three hours later, I was back in my chair typing out words that poured from my mind. My assignment would be met, not with the beginning and the end, but the “in-between words” of God’s invitation for me to join Him in creating and they came as a written statement and not as the artwork I had anticipated. There goes my God–mixing it up and defying my expectations…again and again.

With each new word appearing on the screen came the repeated reminder that LIFE is ART when we live on mission with God. We are not constrained by time, medium, method, style, or color. We are ALL called to be creative with our Creator. It shows up in the ways we care for those around us and how we respond when faced with a challenge. It means our problems don’t always look like yours, but some of our solutions might just look the same.

God has made all of us in His image, but our differences are a continuing testimony to His vast and unending creativity. How is God calling YOU to be creative while on mission with Him today? What does YOUR life-art assignment look like and who needs to hear you tell your story? How will you respond to God’s invitation today? Think about it–and then get busy fulfilling your assignment.

Grace and Peace!

Craving home

My husband and I were talking about home the other day. We talked about this past year and how the number of people we “have on the other side” up in heaven is growing at a far more rapid pace than we had a liking for right now. That thought is gratifying because we’ve been blessed with amazing people who have loved and lived-out God right up until their last breath. It’s also uncomfortable because we miss them hard as we keep on rhythmically drawing in our own.

Both of us remember growing up and hearing the older people in our lives voice some of the very same things that we’re now saying…and we laughed between us that we’re more comfortable thinking about the hereafter than we often are thinking about the here-and-now. That makes our life outlook quite a bit simpler most of the time. If we lose focus, it also makes navigating what passes for life in the news a bit more daunting.

As a way to combat the chaos, we’ve been electing to deliberately make the simple life choices like lighting a cheery candle, carefully crafting our food with passed-down recipes, and finding new ones to create together. Keeping up with family news and staying away from some of our stressors in favor of focusing on our blessings proves to be worthy endeavors. We’ve been more in the Word instead of in the world and chosen sudoku over sitcoms. We listen to blues music followed by classical and praise while we cook meals together and eat fresh, home-smoked bacon as a treat. We pray for and check-in with our people close by and across the world, read books, watch PBS and choose old movies that we’ve seen so often we can quote the scripts.

Mostly, I think we’ve focused on finding ways to sharpen our focus and review past choices in the light of new challenges. Some revisions have been needed. Other choices have been reinforced. We’re redefining what qualifies as “necessary” and “luxury” for us and deciding to laugh more instead of moan about what we cannot change.

We pray and give thanks. We pray some more and ask for more. I guess some things never change. Mostly, we’re just craving home…this one and the one to come. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Grace and Peace!

“…and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (NIV)

Lacking nothing

I was reading a devotional about knowing who we are in Christ. The writer, Ruth Chou Simons, quite eloquently strung words together about how important it is to know what the Word has to say about us. At the end, she included a beautiful calligraphy piece which listed several scriptures and some of the truth they contain.

I quickly scanned through the list and abruptly stopped as I read the last one: “lacking nothing” (Philippians 4:19).

Lacking nothing. Lacking no thing. If I don’t have it, then, according to this, I must not need it. Hmmm… I turned these words over and over in my mind.

I know them to be true. It’s not new information and yet I felt some odd disconnect with this quote and the listed reference. I ran it through my mind and then went to the Word for confirmation.

“And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:13 (CSB)

Aaaannnnnd there it was. I was just being literal…again…and it still doesn’t change the truth of what was before me. When God supplies “all your needs,” you will lack nothing that you NEED in order to fulfill His purpose for you (go check out 1 Peter 2:9, and Isaiah 43:7, in case you’ve lost sight of your purpose in all of the confusion out in our world). That distinction is critical in both the mining of truth and the application of it.

I can relate to this right now. I’d guess you can, too. There’s plenty we might desire (yes, I have a long list, too!), but a very quick rundown of my circumstances reveals that God IS providing for my immediate needs. He is NOT, however, giving me some of the things or the answers that I want…yet.

Since Scripture is absolutely clear that God cannot lie and that the Bible is His written Word for us, I am left with no other explanation than that I don’t NEED those things, those answers, those resolutions to the difficulties…yet. When the time is right, He will provide what I need to glorify Him and declare His praises AS I need it–even when it isn’t easy.

Making that knowledge personal and hiding it deep inside our hearts and minds means we can take it with us wherever we go and through whatever we face. Whether or not we always appreciate God’s timing (and we so often DON’T, because we want what we want and we want it now!), we can be assured that He is paying attention to each of us. There’s simply no other way for Him to supply what we need when we actually need it. That also has to mean He is with us.

Oh, the comfort of that statement! Even as I type these words, I am waiting for answers, wondering about outcomes, and asking for miracles to happen. Being reminded that God is listening, and planning, and preparing the things I need brings a blessed calming to the fervancy of my prayers. The requests are no less intense or important to me, but the reminder that whatever we face, we will be lacking nothing helps me draw the easier breaths and lie down in peace. It also reminds me to get busy fulfilling my purpose even as I wait.

Apparently, that is what is needed right now.

Grace and Peace–and GO, GOD!

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9

Beyond Epiphany

Yesterday was January 6th. Like the days that proceeded it, for many, it was a simple date on the calendar. For others, it was a secular celebration of 3 Kings Day and an opportunity to eat king cake with it’s colorful sweetness and a hidden baby. For many in the Orthodox church, January 6th is known as the Epiphany and it highlights two major events in the life of Jesus: the visit of the wise men bearing gifts and his baptism by John the Baptist.

While almost everyone enjoys receiving gifts, those listed in Scripture had a special significance. The gold representing Jesus’ majesty and eternal kingship would, of course, still be a welcome gift today. I’m certain it was useful then, as well, since the new family would soon be making a trip to Egypt. Frankincense is a fragrant tree resin used in religious ceremonies, for making perfumes, and for embalming. Still used today for its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial purposes, it represents the priestly role Jesus takes on to cleanse, soothe, and heal us spiritually. Myrrh also has medicinal/healing properties and was known to help slow bleeding and aid in wound care–not a bad gift for a new mama and a growing little boy. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the general connotation for most people because it was known primarily for its usage in embalming. I’d guess that receiving the gift that symbolized death probably caused a bit of a flutter in the heart of a new mother…even one who had already been visited by an angel.

Gifts from the Magi aside, January 6th is typically when I–a devoted follower of Jesus–typically take down all of my Christmas decorations and store them for use the following year. There’s a process to it; a method and a schedule to be followed and, while not a member of an Orthodox Christian practice, I am someone who loves a good schedule. (grin) There’s an order to be maintained and, as I restore my home to its pre-holiday décor, I do so in a certain order. Packing things away, checking for what can be used again and what needs to be replaced, I also use the time to remember the years past and those whose gifts contributed to the decorations.

Compared to most people I know, I’d be considered a Christmas minimalist. That doesn’t stop me from having several smaller trees each season. I have one that is metal and sculptural with bright green ornaments topped with a piece that adorned a long-ago gift. I have a “Jesus tree” that has 25 ornaments which give a Biblical prophecy or name for Jesus and the accompanying verse where it was fulfilled on the other side. The ornaments were a gift from my mother many years ago. We also decorate a tree with ornaments collected over the course of our marriage. Our engagement party for immediate family and the wedding party was hosted in December by my sister-in-law and her gift suggestion was that each person bring us an ornament for our first tree. I still take special delight in each one all these years later. We usually have fresh greenery in various forms throughout the house and, sometimes, a live Christmas tree, as well. Even with all of this, I can usually pack most of it up into 3 larger tubs with bags for the trees to keep them dust-free and protected.

First in and last out, each year, is my larger nativity set. While there are smaller ones placed throughout the house, this one usually occupies the mantel and becomes the focal point for the holidays. Bought early on in our marriage with money that seemed a lot at the time, it remains one of my favorite purchases ever. Even in this, there is an order which I follow for set up and take down. Last to arrive and depart each year is the baby Jesus. As I carefully wrapped the figures for storage this year, I was suddenly struck with an epiphany…on Epiphany.

Epiphany actually means “manifestation or showing forth.” I love that Webster’s Dictionary also mentions that it is “a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something; an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking; an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.”

While my thoughts during packing yesterday won’t shake the earth and disturb the powers that be like the birth of Jesus, I took time to pray as I wrapped each figure just so. Our nation is shaking, our world is worrying, and our lives had been altered this past year by things we can’t even see. What hasn’t changed, however, is that God is still in charge. This same God who came in the form of a baby so that we can live in ways that draw others to Him didn’t stay in that manger. He, too, experienced violence and persecution, was thought less of because of where He was born and where He grew up, remained unappreciated for who He valued and how He served. He came to stay, but didn’t stay the same. Though He is the One Who Never Changes, He is also the One Who Makes All Things New.

As I packed the manger, I began to pray and give thanks for all of the majesty that came down in the form a tiny baby so that we can live lives that are larger than most of us ever dare. I gave praise for both the changes and the sameness of my Savior and my life. I am so grateful that He didn’t come for a one-and-done appearance on this earth and that even though He can be hard to see in the world around us, He is always with us and becomes plainly visible when we diligently search for Him.

“Thank you, God, for sending Your Son, for saving us in ways we didn’t know we needed, and for making sure we have opportunities to share Your goodness with others. Help us to take full advantage of that. Thank you, Jesus, for coming in a common manger and all that it represents so that we can obtain access to the uncommon beauty of this life and that we will one day enjoy surpassing beauty with You. Thanks for the manger, God–and thanks for not staying there. For all of its intended function and all the times it was ignored because it was so commonplace, it held the glory of the heavens and the Creator of all things. Help us not to ignore that we have the opportunity to be a similar vessel. Help us not to keep You to ourselves this year. Our world is in chaos today and yet I know it was that way when You arrived here as a baby, too. Thank you for being our Peace, our Comfort, and our Joy even in all of the fear and anger that rages right now. Help us to represent You well. Our world still needs You…and You are sending us.”

Grace and peace.

Saying the Blessing

As a little child I was taught to pray before each meal. We call it “saying the blessing” at our house. Others, I know, call it “giving thanks” or “saying grace.” Regardless of how you label it, the results are the same: pausing to be aware of the provision–and the Provider–before the partaking begins is an important step. Mealtime isn’t the only time we say the blessing, however. That’s something that ought to happen moment by moment.

I started thinking about this yesterday as I opened up a large box shipped from the Mississippi Gulf coast. My Secret Santa gift had arrived! Inside, a beautiful driftwood angel, a box of homemade cookies (eggnog snicker doodles! De-licious!), along with a beautiful pillow with what’s actually become one of our life-adjectives around here embroidered boldly across the linen expanse.

I set about finding places for my new treasures while munching on a cookie. No problem there…at all. I think it took about 20 seconds. (grin) It wasn’t until I was turning out the lights last night, however, that I really took time to consider how appropriate my gifts were. Given by a friend who, God bless her, has decades of history with me and has actually drawn my name 3 out of the last four years (ha! I told you, bless her!!), the gifts are a pretty accurate reflection of both of us. We have an appreciation for good food, homemade goodies, deep love for our friends and our families, growing and active faith lives, a determination to support the women around us, and an awareness of how very blessed we are.

We say the grace. We give the thanks. We acknowledge the blessing…and do our best to share it with others. In ways both big and small, we are aware of the Presence of God and we do our best to acknowledge the gift of Him without regard to season or circumstance. We share and say the blessing over others because we are blessed.

How are you saying and sharing the Blessing where you are this season?

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26

The Personal Touch

Well. I believe the bar has been set–and set high. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say it plainly: the husband and I may have already received our absolute favorite Christmas gift of the year! It arrived earlier in the week, was completely unexpected… and showed up in pieces.

I make it a practice to ignore all kinds of media and messages that come from unknown sources. The latest “new-and-improved” product sales and political ads often attempt to slip through my safeguards, but I keep a pretty tight rein on what is allowed to arrive and am even more careful about what is actually opened.

That said, it’s no surprise that an audio file from an unrecognized number into my texts didn’t warrant an immediate listen. I remember commenting on it and then it actually seemed to have disappeared. I figured it got caught by a spam filter or was recalled from the sender and I didn’t give it another thought…until yesterday when my husband was finishing up a business call and was asked if either of us had recently received an audio message.

That question jogged my memory and I went on a search. Before long, I found it–the unidentified number message, which now included a personal greeting attached along with the information that it was coming from a personal cell number instead of the more familiar business one. Well, well! What have we here?! My husband joked that he hoped it wasn’t this guy singing to us and they ended the call.

Y’all. It WAS!!

We didn’t know that at first, of course, and it took us a bit of listening before it became clear that the voice pouring out the notes and words of “O Holy Night”–one of our absolute FAVORITE Christmas carols!–was someone we know and love! As we began to match the recorded voice with our friend’s usual speech, we were amazed.

Then we were awed.

And then, humbled.

What a precious, precious gift! Our friend shared himself with us by sending what had been recorded as he served as a Cantor in his house of worship. It was such a blessing to hear him use this talent we didn’t even know he possessed to serve the God we love and the people who came to worship Him during this Holy Season!

Such a marvelous gift! It was unexpected, original, personal, managed to be both free and priceless at the same time, and gave glory to the One Who is most important to us. It will be hard to top that–this year or any other!

Feel free to use our friend’s criterion as you seek to bless those around you, as well. Sharing the gift of ourselves in new and unexpected ways may be just turn out to be the perfect way to celebrate since so many personal touches have been denied to us throughout the year. May all of our efforts to share and worship Jesus this season be as wildly successful as his were.

Grace and Peace!