Storm Warning

Becky’s Immutable Law of Lines is universally accepted to state that no matter which line I choose at the check-out area, said line will immediately grind to a halt and I will be stuck there for all of eternity. Selah. (That’s a Biblical word that basically means, “Sit there and think on that for awhile”–because you will have time to do so in that line.) While ETERNITY may have been a bit of a stretch, I think you get my point. It does no good to change lines as said Law of Lines will follow me there…as it is Immutable, after all. This, along with several other such Immutable Laws have been conceived after much time spent in many such lines. After all, I’ve been there for a long time and have to do something to entertain my brain after the people-watching begins to pall…or frustrate.

Such a thing happened the other day when I went on my regularly scheduled grocery run to find that all parking lots in the locally known universe were filled by anxious Southerners participating in the elusive milk, eggs, bread, and battery stampedes that inevitably follow any announcement of a possibly impending precipitation forecast with temperatures less than 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

I didn’t have a lot to buy at this particular store, but I had more items than could “legally” allow me to stand in their fast lanes. After searching out the entire line situation,  I thought that God had gifted me with as short a line as possible to complete my business. When I arrived I was number 4 in line behind others who also had the same legal buying issues that I did. No one had over 25 items, I’m sure of it. AND YET! We were in that line for a-WHILE, y’all; long enough, in fact, for my popsicles to lose their formerly frozen-solid state and the boxes no longer have any degree of coldness to them whatsoever! (I am being serious when I say that–it is not an exaggeration and I did not buy them and I stopped at another store closer to home and picked up another box of them because, well, those are MY winter-storm preparedness items. You can see that I take these things seriously.)

Did I mention that the store was overrun with panicked Southerners–who are prone to moseying at it’s finest? Did I fail to say that ALL of the scheduled cashiers were on the lines and that the management had been pressed into service there, as well, in addition to having to periodically leave to go help an over-pressed cashier? OR did I mention that while Southerners can be the most polite people evah (yes, that was deliberate), during any weather panic, they can become hostile at a slightly higher rate of decay in public manners and under such circumstances some real ugliness can fall right out there in front of everybody? ( I know. I may not be helping us in the public image department, but I’m trying to set the scene here, ok? I strongly suspect we are not the only part of our country where this kind of thing occurs.)

ANY way! I was in such a line and was feeling really bad for the sweet elderly woman ahead of me who had been on her feet too long and still needed all her medical items so she was stuck. I was also similarly frustrated, but determined to wait it out, when I heard a hard exhalation of breath behind me. I looked around and, very casually with a grin said, “You might have picked the wrong line today, too.” I was referring to the time I had already spent there and nothing else. The heavy breather, however, had  eyes on something else…and took my comment as a sign that I had observed and commented–and therefore must have agreed with their particular area of frustration. What followed was a louder public commentary about the person then currently checking out and their method of payment. No actual ugly words were uttered, but the sentiment of racially motivated judgement and the contempt and the ugliness of it were there just the same.

It broke my heart. Really. I honestly wasn’t sure whether to  laugh at the stupidity of the attitude, cry at the intended hurtfulness, or slap some mouth-washing soap into a hand and go to work. I wanted to do ALL of that and more. I wanted to introduce them to Jesus and I wanted to erase that time so it didn’t happen and I wanted to go hug the person checking out just in case they heard it and thought they were alone or thought that everyone else around them agreed with those words. I didn’t do any of that, however. I simply dropped my head for a moment, took a deep breath, looked right at them and said, “My comment was strictly regarding the TIME. I have no problem with anything else today.” Then I turned my back and just stood there while the person grumbled a bit and then moved on to another topic.

Y’all. It was sad. I felt dirty just being next to those words. I’m still not sure what else I could or should have done. I don’t think for a moment that the lecture I wanted so desperately to give would have found a fertile home and changed a thing. It bothered me so much…and it still does. It rang in my ears again this morning when my husband told me of the recent Facebook streaming of a crime against a mentally challenged young man. I had been unaware of that due to my recent limitations of public media, but I scrambled eggs with tears in my eyes while my heart broke all over again at the ugliness in this world.

Father God, WHAT have your creations come to and how long can your forbearance last in the face of all we have  convoluted and polluted about Your desire that we “love one another even as Christ loves the church” when we see these things happening and remain silent? We JUST celebrated Christmas, y’all; the time when Love left heaven and came down to a dwell with us at OUR level instead of requiring US to somehow come up to meet HIS level without a hope of doing that on our own! It is unfathomable to me that as advanced as we have become in society we still have this foolishness in our midst. It is actually more than that though, isn’t it? It is evil, so I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised to find it fighting for a place, but I am still appalled.

I am also praying. I am praying for the Love that came down to fill me up in such a way that I will not tolerate such behavior in my presence or allow it to take root in any place within me even–or especially–when I am under pressure, because in those situations, what is in the heart often comes out of the mouth and I want to be so full of God that HE is what comes out no matter where I am or what I’m doing. This isn’t political. This is personal. God made us as individuals and He made us ALL in His image no matter what we look like or where we live. If you can’t get your head wrapped around the fact that GOD chose every single detail of your creation to bless you and bring Him glory including your skin color and your geographical and socioeconomic placement before He ever put you on the planet with the brainpower and opportunity to improve the world where you can and worship Him while and WITH the doing of that, then you’re going to be pretty surprised when you finally meet up with Him. Nothing about you and your creation was a mistake. NOT A THING.

There are many things up for debate in our world, but this shouldn’t be one of them and the sooner we can get on board with HIS plan for how we treat each other makes it that much sooner that we can get busy bringing some of this other foolishness in the world to a halt.

How we choose to use those choices that God has already made for us says more about us than we realize. Not a single one of His choices for us was intended as either a slight OR as an indication of His higher favor. They were made with love and care because  He has a plan that is for our good and part of that good is about making us more like Him! As our Creator, He alone would know exactly what was needed to make that happen. Every detail about each of us has been deliberately and lovingly chosen in order to help us reach as many people as possible and illustrate His greatness to the world.

What will you choose to do with His choices for you? Those choices are yours.

Grace and Peace!

Oh, Yes! We are in such dire need of GRACE and PEACE…and HIM.

Still celebrating

img_20170106_065800221My nativity set is still on the mantle. The stockings are still hung (on the back door, this year!) and my tree is glowing and adorned even as I type. I don’t always celebrate according to the actual calendar dates.

I know people who start decorating exactly “X-# of days/hours” before a particular holiday and then remove all traces of the decorations precisely “X-# of days/hours” afterward. I also know of at least one person who shall remain nameless, but who leaves a tree up year-round and decorates it differently for each subsequent holiday.

I have general days in mind about such things, but no hard-and-fast rules. This year, even those dates have come and gone…and I’m just fine with that.

I have the added–and much unexpected–bonus of a “winter storm warning” for this weekend with the possibility of snow here in middle Georgia, home of prolonged heat waves and yellow pine pollen so thick you can write your name in it! It’s a big deal to hear we might have snow down here. The local grocery stores had a run on milk and eggs, and bread yesterday and I heard that at least two different stores actually ran out of such staples early in the day…while it was still shirt-sleeve weather! Don’t laugh! It’s serious stuff down here! Why, we might get trapped inside for a whole 2-3 days with nothing to do but eat, because you KNOW we don’t have a clue how to drive in snow with icy patches on the road–and we might actually get up to 4 inches of that white stuff! (OK, you can grin a little.)

In light of this unusual possibility, I asked my husband if he would be OK with me leaving the Christmas decorations up for just a few days longer. After all, there’s nothing that says Christmas like snow–at least in most of the traditional carols, which are still playing on the CD in my truck and throughout the house, as well, incidentally. Yeah, I’m extending this holiday as long as I can this year!

I’m practicing grace with myself and enjoying this extra time with my simple decorations and soothing songs of seasonal cheer. I was needed elsewhere on the days I would have normally put things away and fulfilling those duties took precedence. Being needed is a good thing. Practicing grace is another. In the past, I’ve been better at extending grace toward others than I have toward myself. I’d guess that’s true of most of us.

This year, in what I’m calling “the year God loaded my plate,” I’m building in some protections for myself…including celebrating whenever possible for as long as possible. I’m hoping to carry this idea into the rest of my life. Order is important (especially to me), but rigidity limits flexibility and I need to be flexible right now in order to make most of this time. I don’t want to miss a thing my God is up to!

God has given me some pretty amazing opportunities for this year and I want to enjoy every bit of it. He’s in the process of stretching me and my comfort zone, which we all know isn’t all that comfortable some days. The least I can do is get ready to be stretched and practice some grace-giving in advance for those days when the practice will become the requirement.

So, Merry Christmas in January, happy extended holidays, and joyful winter storm warning…I sure hope y’all are stocked up on milk, and eggs, and bread!

Grace and Peace!

New normal?

Welcome to the new year! The fasting and the feasting are both past, and it’s time to return to the “normal”…but what will that look like now? Throughout the month of December I chose to follow a technology fast by deliberately limiting my time online and trying to focus on the people I was actually with instead of my phone and all the places it could take me without ever leaving the house. Following our NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER month, my friend Jaybrena christened it “#ditchthedeviceDecember” and the results really surprised me.

While I missed being in the know about certain news stories and people who live far away, after a few days (yes, it took a bit of time to get used to!) I also found it quite serene to realize that I had reached the end of my allotted 2 hours/day of “computer time” and could then shut it down and walk away. That restful freedom has always been there, of course, but I’ve rarely chosen it–and certainly not so consistently as I did this past month.

I gave myself permission to use the phone for actual phone calls without limitations, so I always had the option of hearing the voices instead of sending/reading texts and emails once I had reached my online limit. Quickly realizing that it made little sense to actually call someone with the latest 2-second thing that entertained me meant that I ended up with more quiet time than I was used to. (And I liked it!) I also found that my own personal fast quickly reduced the number of times I needed to respond electronically, as others managed to survive and perhaps even thrive without my instant/constant insertions into their days. (grin… Unintended lessons in humility are always appreciated, of course.)

I also found that:

  • While 2 hours still felt like  a generous plenty when I set that guideline, it went by much faster than I had anticipated.
  • I learned to pick up my phone only at certain times during the day and keep a few minutes in reserve for the end of the day check on business communications.
  • People won’t die if they have to wait a few minutes for an answer from me.
  • I won’t die if I have to wait awhile for an answer from them, either.
  • I still appreciate a response by the end of the day.
  • It takes me longer than I thought to compose blog posts. Stream of consciousness writing still needs to be edited…at least over here.
  • It also takes longer than I had thought to post to my Etsy store.
  • Maybe it doesn’t really take “longer”, but having that 2 hour limitation made it a tight squeeze to get it all in, so I learned to make a plan for the day instead of going wherever it led me. (Imagine that?! I needed to be reminded about planning!!)
  • Not being online gave me time to be more productive in other areas of my life.
  • It really is possible to put the phone down and walk away for hours at a time.
  • I’m more generous when I’m not on the computer…perhaps because I can see the need in front of me instead of just my screen.
  • My prayer life improved.
  • I was surprised that I didn’t read more.
  • I truly enjoyed the deliberateness of rest.
  • I enjoyed cooking more.
  • I enjoyed lot of things more.
  • I made more memories and took fewer photos.
  • Being fully present is a gift that always fits.

It was both harder and easier than I had expected all at the same time. It helped me to feel more connected with the world around me. I’m a Luddite compared to many, but I hadn’t realized how “virtual reality” I had been feeling. This fast gave me a deeper appreciation for the tangible feel of life and, while the parameters of the fast will change, that’s something I want to be intentional about keeping.

This experience was a good one and had a greater impact on me than I expected. It gave me some much needed focus as the holidays came and the new year approached. It reminded me of the Jim Elliott quote that I’ve chosen as my theme for 2017,

“Wherever you are, be all there.”

I learned to order my days differently –and more deliberately!–and that reminded me of one of my favorite verses:

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12 (NIV) 

and THAT, I hope, is what becomes my new normal.

Grace & Peace!

On the cusp

This has been a pretty odd holiday season for us. We kept finishing up tasks to go to the next in order to make the next sprint to go to the…Well, you get the picture. ( I know I probably shouldn’t admit this, but we managed to get through the entire Christmas Day without reading the Christmas story!–And we NEVER miss doing that!!) In fact, your schedule may have mirrored ours. If so, may I offer my condolences and encourage you to plan for a different outcome in the year ahead?

That sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? If you aren’t pleased with an outcome, make plans to change the next one! That will put you in some pretty good company right now as people around the world prepare for 2017 by making resolutions about changes in habits and behavior.

I’ve been working on a new Bible study, praying, and making all kinds of preparation for the tasks I know are ahead of me in the upcoming year. I already know some of what God is loading my plate with in the months ahead. That’s both exciting and also carries a significant amount of pressure.

I’ve been using the past few days to do as much prep work as I possibly can. I’ve always been a fan of being prepared…But I’ve also been pretty much committed  to  the “doing my best work under pressure” theory most of the time in reality. (Grin…There are several former teachers/professors who would be nodding in agreement right now.)

This year, at age 51, I’m trying something new.

I’m also trying something old. I’m revisiting a theme from a few years ago that served me well while we were living with a lot of chaos. I won’t be making any resolutions, but I will be posting a favorite quote by missionary Jim Elliott in several key places where I can see it often. Here’s the quote:

“Wherever you are, be all there.”

That’s it. It’s really that simple. I’ve got a lot of great opportunities coming up this year and I plan to make the most of every single one. God is entrusting me with these opportunities to serve. I want to be fully prepared and fully present to do what He’s called me to do.

When I embraced this quote before, I found that I was more relaxed and yet more focused. I got away from that in 2016, and to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t my best year. At times I felt a little like I was wandering in the proverbial wilderness. I’m OK with the wandering. I’m just not particularly fond of the wilderness…especially when it’s of my own making.

I started the day after Christmas. I began with some one-on-one time with God. I haven’t asked for things, but for wisdom, for attitudes that reflect Him instead of me, for the ability to discern best over good…and the ability to know when good enough actually IS His best right then.

I can’t wait! I feel like I’m on the cusp of a significant move forward in my personal relationship with God. I’m excited about serving Him and His people in a brand new way. I’m not under any illusions that it will all go perfectly or that I’ll make it through the year without falling on my face. It’s my hope, however, that all this time on my face in preparation will make those landings easier when they happen and that the rebounds will be quicker and involve fewer people in any resulting pile-ups.

Optimistic realism. That seems to be my theme for life. It’s served me well. This year, I’m asking for it to help me serve God well, too.

What changes are you making? What resolutions are you hoping to successfully implement? Is there a theme or a goal that you’re pursuing in 2017? I want to hear all about it! I can’t wait, actually, because we’re ALL on the cusp of the new year. What do you plan to do with yours?

Grace and Peace–And Happy New Year!!

 

 

 

Meeting expectations

I just received a book I ordered on Amazon. I love books. This one had been on my radar for several years–ever since another blogger I love had shared a couple of quotes from it. Since it wasn’t a necessity or pertinent to any particular project I have pursued since then, the book title has simply languished on my personal wish list. I have periodically searched for an affordable copy to own. Oh, I checked with the library first, but they didn’t own a copy–not even a single one in the entire Georgia Pines system that could be transferred in so I could read it! I searched for it in bookstores locally and nationally as I traveled, but Books-a-Million and Barnes & Noble haven’t stocked it, either.

At long last, I found a used copy online that was within my means. It had the added bonus, I thought, of having an inscription by the book photographer. It was described as being “clean with no other markings.”

It arrived today. I was all excited and couldn’t wait to liberate it from all of the packaging.

It wasn’t what I expected.

Yes, there was an inscription by the photographer, but there were also multiple pages (8, to be precise) that had markings where a previous reader had chosen to mark passages that appealed to them…but not necessarily to me. I was crushed. After waiting all this time, it just didn’t live up to my expectations.

That’s a word I’ve been reading a lot about here lately. Expectations. Set them too high and disappointment is sure to follow. Set them too low and no one will express any interest.

I’ve had a little more time to read and think lately. Deciding to limit my time online has been a real treat during this busy holiday season. I’ve had more time for prayer (which I’ve needed) and I’ve accomplished more than I thought possible on my chore list each day. I am loving it! In fact, I may just adjust a few of my parameters and keep this personal challenge going for a little while.

The story about my new book and the report on my latest challenge may not seem to mesh at first glance. What they do, however, is remind me that I need to make sure I take the time to think about what I set others up to expect from me–by the things I say and the things I do–and the things I expect of them in return.

Additionally, if I’m supposed to represent Christ well every day (and I am), then I need to make certain I live up to the expectation He sets for me in the Bible, not just those others set for me or the ones I might set for myself. Quite honestly, His expectations are often both more difficult and much simpler than those I’ve set for myself in the past. His is a law of liberty and I’ve managed to complicate that liberty more than once by allowing myself “a pass” on some elements and adding my own brand of adherence to others. Thinking back on some of my past behavior, I’m often amazed that God was been allowed to show up at all some days. (my goodness, aren’t you glad you don’t do things like that?!)

As I’ve had more time to think lately, I’ve also had more time to talk to God about what I’m thinking (and doing) and how that lines up with His expectations of me. I’ve been reminded that He is full of grace and forgiveness, so I must choose to be the same.

It’s already made a significant difference in the way I’m choosing to celebrate this Christmas. I’m choosing to let go of some expectations in the way the season ought to be celebrated. Some of those expectations are mine. Some aren’t. The main thing I’m doing is choosing to expect God to show up just like He did so long ago to save a world that was in such need of Him…and that looks like me this year…so I’m actively looking for Him in my days. I’m choosing to believe that He is enough. I’m choosing peace over pursuit. I’m choosing rest over activity. I’m choosing relationships over technology, and I’m choosing to look to for Him in the quietness of the room and in the depth of my heart.

He is here and He enough. Expectation met…and exceeded.

 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 (NIV)

 

(Btw, I contacted my bookseller. They were gracious enough to apologize for the misrepresentation and then they went even further: they refunded my money and told me to keep the book! Seems like they might know something about meeting expectations, as well.)

ON to the next…?

I started writing an imaginary blog post in my head last night listing all of the complaints I chose not to give voice to in November. Or at least I tried to do that…but I couldn’t remember what any of them were! How funny is that?! It was a great reminder to me that watching what I say and how I express myself has more benefits than those just in the moment. If the things I’m prepared to speak badly about aren’t worth remembering a month–or even a few days!!–later, then why bother doing that in the first place?!

I soon moved on to other thoughts…like what I plan to challenge myself with in December. Actually, I’ve been thinking about this for several days. I’ve had several options that appeal to me regarding being more intentional about getting my exercise and finding a project that I could donate to as my own little Christmas gift this year. (I drink a LOT of water, so I’m exploring some options that help bring water to people and places where they don’t currently have a regular supply of water right now. More on that later, I guess.)

I’ve seen food challenges about giving up certain items for the holidays, but I’m still trying to be diligent about eliminating processed sugar–I that started in my 2015 Lenten observance and it made such a difference that I’ve tried to keep it going–and adding (or rather, subtracting!) something else food-related right now just isn’t all that appealing.

I’ve enjoyed writing regular blog posts during November, though I had gotten a bit out of practice and some days it was really a stretch for me to do it in a timely manner. Maybe I should be more disciplined about my writing?

I’ve pared down my holiday decorations over the years so that, other than the tree and the nativity set, they fit into 2 regular sized totes now. I’ve also been on a purging kick for YEARS, so I don’t really hold on to material things as much any longer.

I haven’t pulled out the paints and worked with those in awhile…and I DO love that…maybe I need to regularly schedule some creative time? (yeah! because that had always worked for me in past! NOT!)…but still, maybe…?

I wish I read more…books, instead of just internet things…

Oh, boy. Think about that for a minute. How much time do I spend on the internet each day? Well, maybe YOU don’t need to think about that, but I think I might. Yes, that might be just the thing. Ooohhhh, that’s a bit scary. Think before you commit, Becky…you love Pinterest. You love keeping up with your people on Facebook. You do a lot of research online. You love all of the different subjects you can check out. You’re pretty grateful to Al Gore for even thinking about creating the internet (giggle)…and yet…

It has become one of my pet peeves of late. I’m not talking about the internet so much as I am the societal addiction to technology…instead of actually being present and having interaction with people who are actually…you know…THERE. Yes. That might just be the thing for December.

Ok. Deep breath. Here we go. For the month of December, I hereby challenge myself (and invite you along for the ride, if you want to join me!) in putting down my phone/technology when there are people around. I spend a great deal of time by myself, so I’m going to take it even a bit further: I’m going to set a limit on how much time I spend online…for things outside research and writing and …oh, wait. I’m already waffling on this…

Nope! I’m going to stop that waffling. I’m just going to take a deep breath and do this! Phone down when there are people in the room and I’m setting a limit of 2 hours per day to be online. Given the time it takes to actually write and publish the blog, do research in prep for Bible study, etc., I’m going to have to really discipline myself to keep to that limit, but I think that is my challenge for December.

Join me? Pick your own? Either way, share what YOUR next challenge will be! I just might need another challenge…in January…

…and now, I’m out of here! I’ve got a time limit and I need to do some serious planning about what to do with all of this extra time…

Grace and Peace!

 

 

Day 30!!–NCN2016

34777“NCN has been so much better this year. Can’t say I haven’t whined at times but the Holy Spirit has used the exercise to at the very least make me aware. Can’t believe tomorrow is the last day I’ll actually pen the words, no acronym I needed to write it out to live it out!!, on my daily to-do list. Thank you for starting and continuing NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER! Looking forward to next year. I love you.”

These were the words that came to me yesterday from my lovely cousin Leigh. I wasn’t surprised by them. She’s always encouraging and I loved that she shared this spontaneously. It DID, however, cause me to prompt some responses from a few others that I knew had made the NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER journey with us by sending the following:  what’s your evaluation of NCN and how you observed it/what did you learn? 

Here is a sampling of what I received in response:

“I honestly think some people are complainers by nature. And I might be one of them!  This has been a great tool for bringing that awareness to me! Seriously…my husband…doesn’t complain. In fact, he rarely says much. LOL. I find this personality-flaw cruel and unfair.

And during the first 5 minutes of breakfast I might have been “explaining” my use of said husband’s Fitbit charger cord and all the reasons mine was unavailable to me…when he sweetly asked, ‘Is it still November?’

Wow.”

 

“…I have to admit I wasn’t as diligent as I should have been toward the middle to end of month. So much going on I fall back into bad habits. I will say, however, that my priest’s homily Sunday evening revved me up again. He spoke about the beginning of the advent season and how we should all make an effort to honor the season and prepare for Christs birth. He talked about how small efforts every day add up and put us on the right track. Made my mind up then to make more of an effort to be positive and take NCN into December. Kind of my way of making up for all of the Days timeI messed up in November!”

 

“First answer: I refuse to answer the question on the grounds that it might incriminate me.

Second answer: while I wasn’t very successful, NCN and your blogs brought me back to the right head space, at least for a few moments.

Third answer: I’ll catch up with you in December.”

I love it! See! I have something to anticipate! (grin)

I chose these responses deliberately because they all have a theme. In fact, it might as well have been the theme for the entire challenge: NO ONE is going to do NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER perfectly! That’s not a complaint. It’s a fact…and I’m more than ok about that. I knew going in that this would be a challenge and the whole point of a challenge is to IMPROVE a performance.

I agree with Leigh. It WAS easier for me this year, but I’ve spent the past 11 months trying to keep it going from the last NCN, so that was to be expected. In some ways, it was also more difficult because of all that was going on politically, but I thought that just made it better in some ways, as well.

One of my friends who responded above also sent me an article the other day about a woman who had blogged about trying not to complain for a whole day. I chuckled. Apparently, we are over-achievers, and yet I still applaud the effort to reduce anyone’s “complaint footprint” on this earth! It is a worthy goal.

As we come to the end of our challenge–don’t give up! We still have this one last official day of NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER to conquer! I hope that we will ALL be conscious going forward about reducing our own complaint footprint in our respective environments. Thank you for sharing this challenge with me, for sending me your texts and emails about your successes and your “almost made its” along with your complete melt-down failures. In every single case, you challenged me and encouraged me to do better and know that I was not alone in my attempts to get it right–along with giving me good company in which to repent and try again when I got it wrong.

You have blessed me and I am grateful. I have NO COMPLAINTS about my companions in this challenge for you are a valiant lot and I’m proud to know you–even those I’ve not yet met.

I can’t wait to see how you make this world a better place!

Grace and Peace! (and NO COMPLAINTS!!)