Learning to be like Smokey

My friend Audrey (hey, #9!) once jokingly told me that if there was actually such a thing as reincarnation, she’d like to return…as one of my cats. Yes, she did. I laughed because I knew exactly what she was talking about.SONY DSC

My cats are big boys. They are loved and they know it. They are healthy and well-fed and we have conversations all day long every single day. They are totally relaxed here at home and love nothing in this world better than for me to have a seat so they can jump up and get comfortable while getting a kitty massage. Incidentally, they also follow directions pretty well, but I don’t think that’s the part Audrey was talking about…at all. (ha!)

My cats also seem to take turns following me around. Today is, apparently, Smokey’s turn to be the shadow cat. Shadow cat duties include following as closely at my feet as possible without tripping me up, making sure to be noticed at every turn and generally reminding me that I am loved in return for all the good providing I do for them. You may have noticed that these aren’t the behaviors of a cat that could be described as “aloof.” There’s a really good reason for that. I’ve never had one of those cats. Ever. And I love that…most of the time.

This morning, however, I was sitting in my grandmother’s chair in the living room listening to the start of a sermon on revival when I felt like I needed to cut it off and go get in the Word for myself.  You know, for some personal revival. (Imagine that?! God being personal!) Anyway! I turned it off and reached for my Bible, opened it up and began to pray for God to speak. And then Smokey jumped up on the arm of my chair. I rebuffed his efforts to crawl into the open pages and returned to the Word asking God to reveal something to me. I asked him to show me how I needed to respond to whatever He chose to show me—even if it was scary or something I didn’t really want to hear. There are things I need to know and answers I’d like to have. And Smokey settled down on the arm of the chair and just leaned into me…hard…before trying to become one with my lap again. It was annoying.

I got up and moved myself to my chair in the keeping room, got settled, opened the Bible to the chapter I’d been SONY DSCreading (2 Corinthians 13) and became fascinated with 2 words in Paul’s verse 11: “…Become complete.” Be complete? Be complete. Wha…and then Smokey arrived in full force to attach himself to the arm of this chair, too…and lean in hard…again. Deeeep sigh. Small prayer for focus. Return to the Word. Head butt. Be complete. Head butt. Be complete…

And suddenly I got it. I read that verse one more time, closed my Bible, and put it on the table…whereupon Smokey and all of his 17.6-pound-gained-weight-on-diet-food self totally took over the now vacant lap and purred like nobody’s business the moment I laid my hand on the side of his trusting little face…as he leaned into my hand with everything in him.

God and his funny, funny sense of humor. How like Him to answer my prayer with an illustration to boot! Although I am not yet completely like God, I need be more like Smokey. I needed to be reminded that He is in charge of meeting my daily needs and providing for my welfare. I need to follow closely after God every day and not get in His way. I need to be just that determined to crawl up in His lap and get some one-on-one personal revival. I need to lean into Him and be completely satisfied with Him as He works in me so I can become complete IN Him. (And I’m really, really happy that He won’t get the least bit annoyed when I am determined to be with Him so completely!) I’ll have you know that there was definitely some personal revival in my heart today!

Reincarnation isn’t an option, but object lessons are always appreciated because sometimes I can totally miss what’s going on right in front of me. Here’s hoping we’ll all become a little more like Smokey in this life, so that in the days ahead, we become more like our great and wonderful God!

“Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of peace will be with you.” 2 Corinthians 13:11 (NKJV)

Isn’t that great?! Choose to do these things and the God of peace will be with us!! Now, that’s what I’d call a really personal revival.

Joy in the corner

There’s a very small corner in my dining room. It’s where the opening to the kitchen, the dining room and the living room converge. It’s tiny and, although the three rooms are generally bathed in a gorgeous natural light, this little space is usually much darker. It’s where I put my coat rack and a small table for the usual things that need to be dropped as you come home and start to unwind…the place where you unload all those necessary things from the day that cover you up and weigh you down no matter what season it might be.

I see this corner throughout the day as I go about my housekeeping and my chair faces that direction when we are in the living room in the evenings. As I said, it is small and a bit dark and…it always makes me smile. Yes, smile. You see, not everything in the corner is dark. There’s a small glimmer of silver hanging there on the wall almost–but not quite!–out of sight from most of the people who pass through those openings and on full display from the comfort of my oh-so-very-vintage chair that used to belong to my maternal grandmother all those years ago. That chair was her unintended throne during the holidays or any time our very large and very loud family gathered together. That chair was where she sat so she could see everyone and we could all get a good view of her while she opened up our tokens of love and held small children in her lap while she listened and smiled at all the melee around her. That chair makes me happy…even though I cover up that raucous brown and gold printed fabric with a beautiful throw of red and green and cream roses. My grandmother would have really liked that throw.

She would also have approved of that small silver gleam from the corner. joy

It’s actually a Christmas ornament from a long-ago ornament swap party, but ever since I laid a very enthusiastic claim to it, it’s hung on the wall somewhere in my house year-round. It isn’t an expensive bauble and it still hangs by the silver ribbon that it came packaged in that night. Just three little letters hanging from a tinselized ribbon (and yes, I did just make up my very own word there…but it fits) and the letters are: J O Y.

When I moved to this new house, it seemed most appropriate to place it in the darkest corner of this house full of light so it could shine all the more. Real joy is like that too, you know. Sometimes it takes a bit of a dark patch to really let you appreciate the next time you experience joy and give it it’s proper due. It’s also good to keep joy in sight and refer back to it as often as you can…otherwise you can become a serious stick-in-the-mud even in places where there’s plenty of light to be had.

I know some of you have been struggling lately. I guess that’s pretty universal, isn’t it? I wish we could gather in my living room where we could pray together and laugh loud and long while we figured everything out…or at least figured out how best to respond to all of the crazy going on in the world, but that’s not possible today, so I’m just sitting here praying for you and wishing you can find your own joy in the corner where you are…and knowing that God in His wisdom knows just what we all need and how we all feel…and it reminds me of this sentiment from the Apostle John all those years ago:

“I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” 2 John 1:12

Wishing for the visit, waiting on the answers and choosing to look for the joy…

Grace & Peace!

So when did THAT happen?!

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later, right? There comes a time when you realize that you’re now the age that you never thought you’d reach. For me, I guess that one is happening this year…50…and it is happening in just a few weeks. I mean, actually, it’s like a goal–only no one I know really talks about it very much. No one says, “Oh, boy! I can’t wait to turn 50!” and yet, it shouldn’t be a surprise when actually happens to you. Right?

It’s a bit strange, really, I mean it’s not like I didn’t know I was actually headed there (and I’m hoping to go a lot further, thank you very much!), but at the same time, fifty?! Shouldn’t someone about to turn 50 feel older than I do right now? Maybe even a lot older?

I’ve never been a math whiz, but I can manage a checking account and I can make change at art shows and I can even do most sales percentages in my head while I’m shopping, but for some reason I’ve always had to stop and actually do the math when someone asks me how old I am. I usually take some time before I respond to that question…every single time. I guess I could put it off to being stunned at the very rudeness of being asked (ha!), but honestly, it’s not that at all. It’s because I actually have to stop and count. Yes. Every single time.

For years, I was stuck at the age of 18. It was just my “go-to” age when someone asked. Then, it became 23. Some time after that it became 30, then 35, and then…well, I just forgot to think about it anymore until I turned 40. Incidentally, I’ve been 40 for almost 10 years now. (grin) It’s not that I hate birthdays. In fact, they were always a cause for celebration when I was growing up and I still like having them, but I guess I just forgot to think about the fact that I was actually getting older and that number was climbing right along with me.

It crept up on me recently. Someone I know and love–who I always think of being about the same age that I am–casually mentioned that they were going to be 53 years old this year and I very quickly did a head-shaking double-take and became very, very grateful that we were on the phone instead of face-to-face right then. Additionally, there’s been a serious rash of “look at my really gorgeous new grandchild!”-photos (and they are ALL gorgeous, people!) on Facebook recently…from children I remember being behind me in school–you know, those who are WAY younger than I am. Again, not a judgement call, just a wake-up call!

A couple of weeks ago now, I posted an anniversary message to my husband of 22 years and out of the many voices giving us congratulations came two lovely ladies from my childhood who started talking about how they remembered when I was just a little thing and how they couldn’t believe that I could possibly have been married for that long and I was like, “Seriously! Right?! How could all this life I’ve lived been happening while I wasn’t actually aging?!”

The government has recently decided to help me remember that I’m having a milestone birthday this year, however, by sending me their latest estimate of my Social Security benefit estimations (Personally, I think they’ve over-estimated that it will still be around when I’m actually old enough to get them, but whatever!) and two days ago, I got the requisite AARP card information with a list of discounts that I will soon be eligible for…and, once again, there’s the gray hair thing.

When I decided to stop covering up all the gray that’s actually been with me and multiplying since grad school, I forgot about what that might do to those who never actually knew that about me before. I like it. My husband likes it and I’ve gotten several compliments from those around me here who only know me like this. My mother-in-law says she likes it, but actually, she just stares at me intensely like she’s trying to figure out if that’s really me every time she sees me now before she says something sweet about how she just loves my hair now.  (big grin!–actually, that makes me laugh every time it happens!) I was getting it cut again today and sharing that with my hairdresser when I suddenly remembered that my own parents have never seen me with gray hair and no attempt to color it. Since I’m heading back to see them in the next few weeks I decided that I should at least give them a bit of time to prepare for it, so today I told my mother that I have gray hair. Talk about a milestone!

Her response: “Really?!

“Yes,I just thought I’d better let you know before I headed home again…and, by the way, I’ve got WAY more than Daddy does, ok? It started in grad school and I just decided that I was tired of covering it up.”

“Well, that’s ok,” she said. “Mine started when I had you.” (I guess that should have told her a lot, right?)

We laughed about it and I decided right then that I’m not really that old, after all. I’m still my mother’s baby, it’s only 50, and I plan to live forever. I’ll start thinking about getting old when I get to be my mother’s age…and I’ll still probably have to stop and do the math even then.

 

cropped-heart Grace & Peace!

Offended much?

Last night was the third time in less than a week that God put this word in front of me, so I guess He’s trying to make a point. Who knows? Maybe He’s trying to make that point to YOU and I’m just the scribe here, but…no, it’s probably to me, too, so I guess we’d both better pay attention, right?

It came up during my Ladies Bible study discussion time. We’ve been studying Kelly Minter’s What Love Is (a study of 1, 2, and 3 John). Subject matter is pretty title-evident here, so I won’t go into that right now. Anyway! We had a discussion starter that asked, “How has the Holy Spirit rescued you by refusing to let you continue in a specific sin?” Well, it was supposed to be a discussion starter. In reality, it resulted in a lot of dropped heads and a palpable please-don’t-let-her-call-on-me vibe. It’s a tough question. Fortunately (or perhaps un-fortunately) I actually had an answer for that one myself. I shared the much-abbreviated version of the following situation with them and now, again, with you:

Many years ago, someone in my life decided it would be ok to make disparaging remarks about someone I love dearly…TO me. It didn’t go well. In fact, it pretty much ended the relationship’s previously sweet fellowship, but being the proper God-following Christian that I am, I decided that I would just forgive and forget…except that I didn’t. I couldn’t. Every time I thought of that person, I replayed the scene and then I’d tell myself that I’d forgiven and I just needed to move onward. One day I was sitting at a traffic light on my way to work when God spoke loudly within my spirit that I needed to call and apologize to them.

“Seriously, God?!”

“Yes. You’ve had a bad attitude toward them and you need to apologize to them for it.”

“But, I didn’t start this! I did nothing wrong! This is on them!”

“I know. Call and apologize. Now.”

I called. I apologized. They said, “Yes, I know. I was right.”

(And yes, it actually happened and, yes, I really did think my head might explode…just before God reminded me that this call wasn’t about THEM. It was about ME being obedient. I finished the call and was actually able to move on from the experience just carrying the love and the knowledge without carrying the grudge or the offended spirit toward them. If you don’t think that’s a God-thing, then we need to chat. Soon.)

I didn’t think much of it at the time, but looking back, that was incident #1:  my reminder of lessons learned…and still in need of practice. (One day I’ll be smarter and pick up on things sooner, right, God?)

Incident #2—I was getting ready for church Sunday morning and somehow my mind drifted into thinking about someone who seems to just have the gift for offending me. I mean, almost every time they speak. It’s been consistent enough that I’ve now started to dread even seeing them. Just avoid them, you say? Not possible. They’re part of my life…and I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that God did that on purpose. Anyway. I was wondering to myself how I should deal with the situation. Should I write a letter? Make another phone call—I mean I do remember how that turned out on the last one. (grin.) Should I go talk to them in person? Take a witness or go alone? What to say so that I could address the matter and not be offensive on my end of it all? I mean, it isn’t about spiritual matters that we differ, it isn’t about political issues, it’s just life issues/people skills. (yes, it was a fine way to prepare for worship, wasn’t it?!)

God let me put it aside throughout Sunday School and the phenomenal worship and praise time. Then he had my pastor start talking. He’s been teaching us about generosity throughout the month of February. It’s been great…and then, he seemed to veer off into a slight tangent about attitudes toward others and offended spirits… Oh, yes, he did. Actually, it is probably more accurate to say HE did. God used my pastor and the Word to step all over my toes and remind me that I’m called to be generous in many ways…including the way I deal with people who don’t believe, think, or do just like I do. Instead, I’m called to love even my offenders. (and ouch…again.)

Incident #3—I was on that amazing highway of intellectual exchange—Facebook—last night and saw that someone had posted the following: “Being offended doesn’t make you right.”

Never one to let ambiguity stand in my way, I simply commented back, “Neither does not being so.” At least that was my intention. Epic fail on my part: I left out the “not” portion of that statement. HA! Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself and how God will allow you to take your own self down a notch or two.

While my addition to the conversation makes no sense in its published form, my intended response does. Being offended doesn’t make you right any more than not being offended makes you right.

Don’t misunderstand me. There ARE things that should offend us (I can make you a list, if you really can’t make your own.), BUT being offended by something doesn’t mean we’re allowed to behave in ways or have attitudes—that one was for me (Oh. You, too. And you…yes, I see all those hands going up.)—that still do not honor Christ. (Yes, that was a period, but perhaps it needs to be cohesively restated.) Being offended by something or someone doesn’t mean we’re allowed to behave in ways or have attitudes that do not honor CHRIST! (Bold face, italics, underlining and an exclamation point on purpose, people.)

Think about it:  We’re never going to be offended into believing the other person might be right…and that also means that we’re rarely likely to offend someone into a vibrant relationship with Christ. We’re called to be offended AND THEN LOVE THEM ANYWAY. No, I’m not kidding…and I get that straight from Scripture where we are instructed to become like Jesus. We are called to know Truth, LIVE the truth and speak it in love! We’re called to live HIM and that means that our standards must be inviolable (because they are HIS standards!) about those about things that are offensive AND about loving our offenders.

I need that to sink in deeeep, because one day that offender might be you…and one day it might be me. We’re all going to need this because Scripture doesn’t say this: “They’ll know you’re with Me by how easily you become offended and seek retribution and hold grudges and lock people out of your life because they don’t think/act/believe like you do.” Instead, it says this:

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

SONY DSC Grace & Peace!

For those in the night watches…

I know what it’s like to count breaths. To stagger my own as thought it would somehow give that ability to the loved one who is struggling. To pray for release and yet still hope for more. To be grateful when the next one arrives and then realize it was the last.

One of my favorite things to have happen is to wake up in the night and find myself singing praise songs. Just as precious, however, are those times when I move to wakefulness and find myself already in prayer. That’s the way I’ve greeted the past two days: praying for those I love.

In the early morning hours I changed positions and in that brief movement caught just that breath of prayer for friends who have lost, for those who are still in the process of losing…and for the families of 21 Coptic brothers in Christ whose lives I didn’t even know existed until just a few days ago. As I moved into conscious prayer, I asked for comfort and strength for those under the heavy weight of loss and those who still struggle for their next breath even now. I reminded God of what He already knows:  Night watches are the hardest and those who must endure them require an extra portion of grace to do so.

Respirations grow longer and often more labored. Connections with the day and its activity-laden bustle are further from our minds and so the focus can only shift to the counting of breaths and the struggle for both parties to be there for the next one. The need for rest is real, but often ignored because we place a higher value on being present to hold the vigil, the hand, the heart…and count the breaths.

Whether or not your night watch right now is real or symbolic, physical or spiritual, please know this: you are not alone. the same God who breathed life into Adam is with you now. He who created the day also created the night…and the day that will eventually follow. He knows all about pain and loss and He can show you how to breathe through it. Yes, these times will change us.

No, they will not change Him.

All the things we are most grateful for in the day are still true in the night, so grab the deepest breath you can and lean hard into Him. Be assured that the One who set limits on the brightest day also set limits on the darkest night. It may not be tomorrow, but joy does come in the morning.

Praying for strength, comfort, peace and those in the night watches of life…as we wait for morning together.

SONY DSC

 

 

Choosing the right lane…

I am most definitely an introvert, but I’m not sure I really drive like one. I am more…shall we say…pro-active on the road…than a lot of people. My husband and I have switched up driving chores since day one of our marriage. He has no problem putting me behind the wheel. It means he can take a nap. It also means that when he wakes up, he’s often been surprised to find out how far we’ve traveled during his beauty sleep.

I think I’m a pretty good driver. I’m generally polite and I follow most of the rules…most of the time. See? Even here I have to qualify my statements. Justification. That’s never a good sign, right? To be fair, I’ve only ever received one ticket for speeding. It was in 1989. A friend and I were headed back to GA after a wedding and we were having an absolutely marvelous time laughing and carrying on about our weekend and just generally catching up on each other when we passed a policeman headed in the opposite direction. It was a divided highway entering a small Alabama town with a well-known speed trap. Blue lights flashed as he headed to find a place to turn around. I just pulled over. My friend Betty looked totally puzzled and asked me how I knew that was for us…after all, there were several other cars in the area when it happened. My answer was simple: “Betty, we’ve passed every single thing we’ve seen since we left this morning. It couldn’t help being for me.”

Moments later, the largest biceps I had ever seen before—or since!–appeared in my window. They were attached to an extremely nice policeman who looked at the two of us, took in my MS drivers license and my AL tag and the fact that I now had a Georgia address–and that I was going a little over 80 mph as I entered his 55 mph speed area (I hadn’t even made it to the slow-down area!)—and simply shook his head and gave me a lecture about how he was concerned that we would become a holiday statistic if I continued along at my current pace. He said his name was Sam Washington. I won’t ever forget him. He wrote me a citation with a pretty reasonable fine all things considered and extended grace as he sent us on our way instead of putting me under the jail…where I probably wouldn’t have learned a thing given my hardheadedness at the time.

That grace, though, made a difference. I recognized right off that he didn’t have to do things the way he did and I paid that ticket without a single thought about complaining about it…ev-er! It was the very least of what I deserved. I think about that man and I smile and slow down every single time I drive through his town… and I have done so for over 25 years now.

Some years back I made another friend who came from that town and I asked her if she knew a Mr. Sam Washington. She laughed and said yes, she was extremely familiar with him. He’d given her many tickets as she raced toward the church where she had helped serve the youth. Each time he gave her a ticket he also gave her a lecture similar to the one he gave me. She wasn’t mad about it, either. She understood grace, too.

I’ve thought about that a lot. To do a thankless job in a small town and do it with grace and kindness, to genuinely care about the people you’re rightfully reprimanding and still extend grace in the process, to do your job well and consistently…I don’t know for certain, but I’d guess that Sam Washington knows a thing or two about God. Whether or not that is true, Sam Washington taught me more than he could have ever imagined about God and grace and using your position of influence for good…and that was worth every single penny of that ticket.

Oh, that we would all walk and talk and work out the grace of God in our lives as we go about our business! Think about that for a little bit. What would it look like for you to live HIM as you go about your work this week? Who and how long will you influence for the better as you seek to serve God where you live and work right now?

Imagine what could happen if we all chose to travel the right path (or lane, as the case may be) to get where HE wants to be…in His time.

“We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why.” ~Stephen King (and yes, I’m as surprised as you are that I quoted Stephen King for this one!)

 

“Live lovingly, just as the Messiah also loved us and gave himself for us as an offering and sacrifice, a fragrant aroma to God.” Ephesians 5:2 (ISV)

I may or may not be getting old…

I used to be “10 feet tall and bullet-proof.” These days I’m finding myself more realistically like “just under 6 feet tall and more what you might describe as bullet-resistant.” Oh, I definitely feel the bullet, but I still bounce back pretty quickly! That happens as we get older and, hopefully, we get wiser along the way, as well.

Reality checks are actually a good thing. They’re great for assessing where you are now and helping to point you in the direction you really want to go next. I’m closing in on my 50th birthday in a few months, so I’m doing some personal assessments about, well, a lot of things including how I feel about growing older…someday.

SONY DSCSeveral years ago I had a conversation with my sister-in-law in which she warned me that my 4th decade would be somewhat less than I had anticipated. “You start getting old in your 40’s,” she told me. “Things start to break down on you and that isn’t fun at all.” My mother, on the other hand, kind of snorted at that comment when I shared it with her and then added her own prediction: “No, you tell her that doesn’t happen when you turn 40. It really starts to happen when you turn 70!” It still wasn’t the encouragement I was looking for about the aging process, but at least I felt like I had a few more good years left in me! I just wondered if it would happen gradually or all at once.

Well, I think it may have started happening…and here are just a few of my more recent clues:

  • My Aunt Beverly used to say watching me was like watching popcorn because I popped up and down out of my chair every time I got a new thought or had an idea for an new project and I just couldn’t wait to get them started. Lately, I’ve noticed that I’m really enjoying the comfort of my chair more and I like to wait until I’ve got several things to string together before I make the move to the vertical. I’d love to say that’s because I’m planning better and conserving energy, but conserving it for what?!
  • We attended a concert at our church Friday night and I must say that the former audiologist in me was ecstatic to find that we both had earplugs to help get us through the louder portions since we were close to the front and, therefore, closer to the speakers. Oh, we loved it! The music was great and had a good bit of the guitar work that my husband really loves to hear. We worshiped and we enjoyed ourselves immensely, but we also protected what hearing we have left–and I noticed that we did a good bit of it sitting down instead of standing this time. (very wry grin)
  • Earlier that day I’d gotten a haircut and my precious hairdresser and I talked about how everyone was reacting to all this “new” gray hair. For the record, she loves the way it is lighter on top and still darker underneath—kind of like an ombre effect–and she’s glad that my husband and a sweet friend had commented favorably on it recently. Actually, the gray isn’t new at all. It started showing up in grad school, but I kind of kept it under wraps because I wasn’t ready for it then. I am now. I’d love to say that it was because I’m being “fashion forward” and joining all of these trendy people who are actually DYEING their hair gray, but that isn’t it at all. The truth is that I’ve earned every single strand of it and I just can’t be bothered to cover it up anymore, so it’s a good thing the people around me most don’t seem to mind. (smile) Personally, I’m enjoying one less expense for the budget and claiming it’s Biblical. After all, God has something to say about that, too:

“The glory of the young is their strength; the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old.” Proverbs 20:29 (NLT) There’s that “old” thing again…even from my Maker.

I much prefer this one:  “A gray head is a crown of glory; It is found in the way of righteousness.” Proverbs 16:31 (NASB)

 

Although I haven’t totally managed all of the righteousness part of it yet (and I know it’s hopeless for me on my own!), I live in hope, depending on God to help me while I’m working on it and I am loving that turning 50 this year isn’t cause for a mid-life crisis. After all, so far, my favorite age is right now…and I’m one of those people who has embraced the eternal life promise, so I’m actually going to live forever.

“in the hope of eternal life that God, who cannot lie, promised before time began.” Titus 1:2 (HCSB) {BTW, that’s actually one of my favorite verses because it shares my very favorite thing about God!}