Listening

As an audiologist, I often had to speak with patients about the difference in being “hard of hearing” and being “hard of listening.” Many of us don’t know the difference, but they are not the same thing.

Being “hard of hearing” means that there is a defect in the mechanical system of the body. Being “hard of listening” means there is a defect in the attention span. It is possible to be afflicted with both maladies. Neither issue is always easy to remedy and there are many who aren’t that interested in doing so, regardless of which affliction they possess…because it requires change.

Change often scares people–even the ones who claim to love it.

I’ve noticed that loving the one who speaks often makes a difference in the amount of attention we pay to them. I’ve also noticed that you can love the one who’s speaking…and still be preoccupied with other things to the point that we have difficulty processing anything outside our own whirling minds. I am the poster child for that second thing. It’s one of the many reasons that I’m glad God is patient.

As we approach a new year, many people make resolutions about things they want to do differently in the coming days. I can’t remember the last time I made a list of resolutions, but I do like to pick a theme. This year, for the third year running, my theme will be missionary-martyr Jim Elliot’s quote, “Wherever you are, be all there.” 

It’s the third year in a row because…I’m still not always good at doing it…

…and I want to be.

I’m choosing to work on this theme again because God in His infinite patience has been teaching me something through my efforts and in spite of them. He’s teaching me about settling my mind enough to be in the place where my feet are so that I can hear Him better.

As I thought about getting this down in writing, the following verses came to mind:

“Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3:8b-10 (NIV)

Several things spring to mind as I read these words:

  • Sometimes we can HEAR God calling and not be sure to whom that voice belongs–even when we’re already serving Him and His people. (This is a call to know Him better.)
  • Sometimes we will need guidance to help us identify the important things in life. (This is a call to surround ourselves with those mentors who know God’s voice even though they–and WE!–will often be far from perfect in serving Him well.)
  • Sometimes it’s important to lie down and be still in order to hear from God. (This is a call to build in some space for rest.)
  • As important as it is to lie down and be still, one more element is still required: you need to know where your place is. (This is a call to focus on doing what God has called YOU to do and a reminder that you can’t do it all. Hint: That’s why God made more than one person.)
  • God WILL come calling. He always does and He never quits after just one attempt. (This is a reminder that He is patient and insistent, but never rude. His calling is a privilege, not a dictator’s mandate.)
  • We have to CHOOSE to listen.

There’s more; SO much more, but I’m closing for today. I have a full day of being where I am and it’s time to get focused on that. I hope you’ll have a wonderful day and that you’ll join me in exploring what God has for each of us in 2018. As for me…

“Speak, Lord, I’m listening.”

Grace and Peace!

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Manger Musings

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“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Galatians 4:4-5 ESV

“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7 NKJV

Our Sunday School class received a rare treat this morning! We had a young woman who came to share her gift with us. Using ASL, she signed the song “Mary Did You Know” for us as a wonderful complement to our lesson about how Mary readily accepted her assignment from God without fuss or complaint. That’s an amazing thought all by itself, isn’t it?!

As our teacher set the stage for the lesson, she reminded us that the stable wasn’t like what we see in most depictions of drama or on our mantels each year. Instead of a separate wooden structure much like what we’re used to seeing, it was most likely a nearby cave. She further reminded us that instead of a “traditional” manger of wood and hay, what the animals most likely ate from would have been a simple, rough, hollowed-out crevice in a nearby piece of cave rock. “Who,” she asked, “would want to place their newborn baby in that?!”

The rest of her lesson was beautifully presented as she continued, but I confess that my mind was still whirling over that manger-thing. I grabbed a post-it note from my purse (because thanks to my Tuesday Ladies I have a bunch of those now! grin) and I scribbled the following: “The Light has come and the hollowed out place was filled.”

Think about that for a moment with me. Hundreds of years ago, Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician, inventor, and theologian wrote the following:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?

This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”  ~Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662 

His gorgeous quote is often reduced to the simple (?!) idea of a God-shaped hole…and that thought brought me down another trail. Imagine with me the Creator God as He formed the earth and as He got to this particular piece of ground how He might have paused and thought, “This is it. THIS is where I’m going to send My Son one day.” Imagine that. Think of the intention of God in creating that hollowed-out place of a dark cave and the intention He has to create that kind of place for Himself…in us!

What kind of care do we take when we prepare things for our loved ones–especially at this time of year? How easy do we try to make it for them, how beautiful, how convenient, how comforting and comforting? Yet, God seemingly did none of those things for His only begotten Son–so that WE could one day be saved through the death, burial and resurrection of this Jesus into a relationship with Him and be filled with God the Holy Spirit, our Comforter. Stunning.

As I continued to think about the intentionality of that crevice in the rock serving as a place for the animals to feed, I wondered if God created that manger by His very own thought or if He had the condensation of cave water drip there so long that it created that little hollowed out place or if He had someone else come along and chisel it out later. Without God’s intervention, the fact is that holes in rock are rarely created quickly or by ease. Either some work was involved or, at the very least, some many years and years of dripping and dripping and dripping of water upon stone in a seemingly unimportant task. How many times would be needed for the drops to drip or the chisel and hammer strike to create the place where the Holy One would lie wrapped in swaddling clothes (death clothes to foreshadow what was to come!)?

How many times do we question the importance of what we’re being asked to do? How often do we experience deaths (both real and figurative) in our relationships–the seemingly thoughtless remarks that eat away at us, or the harsh cutting away of some part of our lives leaving behind a raw and gaping hole and we wonder the eternal angry question of “WHY?!” What if, instead, we looked at these hard and hurtful things as opportunities God can use to fill us with Himself?

THAT is the real message of Christmas, you know. God sent His only Son to fill in our hollow places. The Rock of Ages was laid in a hollowed out cave rock so that we could become whole again and spend eternity with Him. The Light of the World came into our darkness so we could fully see the beauty of God and His great love for us.

May everything that is good and holy and intentional about God’s original gift to us be present in our celebration of the birth of Christ today. If that concept is foreign to you or you find this holiday season to be a difficult one, I hope you’ll be open to a new experience this year. He came for us so that we could come to Him.

Don’t wait. Come to Him today and be made whole.

Grace and Peace!–and Merry Christmas!!

God-nudges

God has been nudging me about my schedule for awhile now. I’ve largely ignored most of it and continued blithely or, actually, rather ignorantly onward…to my own peril. I knew that a great majority of what I was involved in was actually God’s doing, so I kept up the pace and chose to believe that my service was all worship and all at His behest.

I was right. I was also very wrong.

Oh, don’t mistake my meaning! I WAS doing what he called me to do…and some of what some others thought I should…or, maybe, what I thought they thought I should be doing, and what I thought would be the proper Christian thing, and what made it more convenient for some people, and many things I’m TOTALLY equipped to do, and…and…and…He continued to equip me for the work. Good things happened as a result. A lot of things got accomplished…some of them, I was even supposed to do. (insert VERY wry grin here!)

None of it was bad. Most of it wasn’t even that difficult. That’s what made it so easy to say “yes” in the first place! There was just a lot of it. AND, did you notice all the “I” words in that paragraph above. Yes. Me, too. It is possible to do good things selfishly even when that isn’t your intent. Saying “yes” can make you look good or get you praise and gratitude. Even when those things aren’t your primary motivation, they can still become powerfully addictive incentives.

Anyway, I recently ran out of steam. Physically, I just crashed and I believe God allowed that on purpose. The enforced break in routine helped me stop long enough to start seeing His fingerprints, and remembering His nudges, and commit myself to be still and listen. He’s been doing a lot of talking to me about this topic as I’ve been recovering and I’m absolutely certain He’s not through teaching me. That means you’ll be hearing more about this as I keep listening and learning and applying.

Please hear me when I say that God was gracious and kind in His nudging. Even the physical crash and resulting time of illness wasn’t as nearly as bad as it could have been. God is GOOD. Every single day. He is also extremely patient because He allowed me to keep going at a pace not His own for several years before I finally began to see how He was keeping and empowering and blessing me even in the midst of my ignorant insistence about doing it all for Him. I took those first five words of Philippians 4:13 as a personal mandate. Go ahead. Go look it up again. I’m not posting it here because I want you to go read it out loud to yourself–or, at the very least, quote it back to yourself if you have it memorized.

Grace is REAL, y’all! Seriously real.

It turns out that God, in HIS goodness has a plan for our good–and sometimes, it doesn’t look like what we expect. I think I might have written about that here before. (The eye roll here is a given.) Even writing this post now makes me chuckle with God about how He has continued to gently nudge and the number of times I continued to misinterpret so many of those messages as being for “someone else.”

His plan for us as individuals may look quite a bit different, but then, again, WE look different. We ARE different. I share my lessons–and mistakes!–here so you can learn from it and I’d love to hear what God is teaching you, as well. This is how we each become people of influence.

It is my prayer that whether it be your own schedule or any other topic God is dealing with YOU about, that you’ll choose to pay closer attention and be obedient faster than I.

This has been your free and friendly nudge from me…or, maybe, from Him. (grin)

What’s He saying to YOU today?

Grace and Peace!

‘Tis the Season

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I love getting mail! ALL kinds are welcome: snail mail, email, personally delivered, parcel post or freighted! It reminds me of that line from Richard Rogers’ immortal song “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music: “…brown paper packages tied up with strings…” (and now, I must apologize for the earworm, but I’m singing along with Julie Andrews, so you might as well do the same!)

Yesterday was a very lovely “package day” at my house! Although I’m not really into the acquisition of “things” for myself, I had mail of every kind imaginable delivered and it was FABULOUS! I opened several Christmas cards, some simple household products, two gifts I’d ordered for others, and two marvelous Christmas happies for ME from dear friends who live in different towns in Mississippi!

I also received a nice long phone call and a great text message. Actually, I had several of each, but these two were special. Why even mention them? Because almost everyone I know uses those tools every single day and somehow we don’t stop to think of them as “gifts” because they’re not generally tangible.

The content of these two communications was special to me, however, because God used them to confirm something I’ve been thinking about for awhile. They contained encouragement about exercising a gift He has given to me that I haven’t been using to full advantage. Though the messages were vastly different and neither was harsh or loud, they spoke powerfully to me about what God would have me do in the days to come. Without chiding or deriding, God chose to use the voices of friends and give me the gift of their time…and His.

I’m grateful for that. In a loving voice and the forwarding of a daily devotional , GOD showed up and spoke to me in a very personal way. The words these friends shared inspired me and reminded me that we too often forget the power of communicating with each other. We forget to give of ourselves in simple, personal ways…or we discount the idea that what we have to share might truly make a profound difference.

This is the season for gathering and gifts–whether or not you believe, as I do, that the real reason for all of the hoopla was the quiet birth of the One who came to save the world. This is just your friendly reminder that your words and your actions can be gifts of even more significance than anything you might order, wrap, or have delivered this year.

Use them wisely. Share them generously. Choose them as carefully as you would the finest present and use them to bless and not just add to the cacophony of seasonal noise. Share the thoughts, feelings, ideas, and writings that encourage and inspire YOU with others. You may never know how it can be used to influence them or be passed along to others.

Grace and Peace…and packages of God-delight for you and yours this season!

A rose is a rose is a…

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IMG_20171129_104111525_HDRI transplanted a couple of roses earlier this fall. Actually, I pulled up two that bloomed only once a year with little-to-no scent and replaced them with two that have a much longer blooming season, amazing scent, and a special place in my heart. The new roses have acclimated beautifully and even began to throw some blooms my way late in the season. I’ve been sharing pictures of one of the later blooms with a nearby friend. It’s been too beautiful to keep to myself. She saw it in person at about the third-photo stage.

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I told her that it would change colors as it matured, but even though I’ve seen it over and over again, I’m absolutely certain that I didn’t communicate exactly how much the change would be or how much it always delights me to see it happen.

Some things have to be seen to be believed.

This rose (“Rio Samba” by Weeks Roses) changes size, shape, color, and the scent–which they mistakenly call “light”–seems to get a little “louder” the more time it spends on the bush. (kind of like me! Ha!) The late blooming season isn’t unusual for this rose. One year, my mother and I decorated the wedding cake for my Cousin Reyna and covered it up with blooms grown at the corner of my house in Mississippi…on Thanksgiving DAY! (We had to thaw out the water they were held in overnight with a hairdryer, but the blooms–and the cake!–were magnificent!)

Just for your reference, these photos are of the same rose! The first photo was taken on November 15th of this year right after my friend Linda headed back to Mississippi. The final photo was taken on December 3, 2017, once I returned home from my last show of the season. I missed the one where it was covered with snow…because the snow melted almost as quickly as I noticed it and Georgia snow isn’t much for hanging around waiting on me to take my photo op! (grin) Finally, just today, I pulled the spent petals from the bush and flung them into the air where they landed in a perky array of color all around the mulch underneath the rose bush.

I always do that. It’s kind of like making a wish or sending a prayer for more. Flinging the spent, but still colorful petals is pointless to accomplish “the more”, but it always makes me smile…and that’s enough.

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As the petals arced upward today, I thought about my recent visit back to Mississippi to see family for an early Christmas. We missed having my husband and my brother with us, but my parents are doing as well as can be expected. It’s only been a few months since I’ve seen them, but the nephews are smarter, taller, and stronger. My sister and brother-in-law remain busy and productive. In short, things are going pretty much as they should be. We’re all getting older and, hopefully, wiser. We’re all changing…and we’re all the same. We still have things to accomplish and though we’re not as young as we used to be, we’re still busy “becoming” what we’re all called to be.

There’s something to be said for that.

Change doesn’t have to be scary. The same God who was in control at Creation is still busy creating. He’s still giving us opportunities for growth and watching over us as we deepen, unfurl our petals, and find our voices. I see the physical changes most in my parents and the nephews, but I know it’s happening in all of us.

Lest you know them and become alarmed, rest easy. The parents are still lively and hysterically funny. They work together to accomplish what needs to be done and continue to bless and encourage others along the way. It’s just easier to see the changes when we’re all seated at the same table these days. Each of us still has work to do and we’re going about it the best we can. The start of a life, the middle, and the winding up of it are all a part of the Plan and the Planner.

No matter what stage you find yourself in today, I hope you’ll join me in praying the verse that’s been posted around our home for over a year. It’s over the sink and on the lamp, by the desk, and in my heart:

“And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, And establish the work of our hands for us; Yes, establish the work of our hands.” Psalm 90:17

The sticky notes and the one in my head are from the NKJV translation, but I also want to share the AMPC version with you, as well.

 

“And let the beauty and delightfulness and favor of the Lord our God be upon us; confirm and establish the work of our hands—yes, the work of our hands, confirm and establish it.” Psalm 90:17 (AMPC)

I hope you view these photos of the changing rose and see some of the same parallels I do with whatever season of life you’re in right now. It’s ALL beautiful! May the beauty, the delightfulness, and the favor of God be rich within you and evident in your own life as He directs the work of your hands today.

“The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah 40:8

Grace and Peace!