NCN 2017–Days 7 & 8

I’m still trying to get my mind around it: how much God loves us. That’s easier to see some days than others. Sometimes, you just have to move forward in faith. Coming on the heels of a time of national mourning, I wasn’t quite prepared for–or, rather, I wasn’t really expecting–the blessing of yesterday.

God loves to surprise us…and, if you’re paying attention, He’s often very humorous and very personal. Yesterday was such a day.

I have the privilege of leading a Tuesday Morning Ladies Bible Study at our church. Because I know you have to know what’s in the Bible to follow it, I’ve tried to make sure that we actually get in and move around in the Word each time, in addition to any other teaching material we use. To that end, I invariably come with multiple sticky notes extended from my Bible to guide me from my study and I put small–as in it started out to be a regular sized sticky note, but I usually cut them up to make them last longer–very small sticky notes on each table listing the verses I want them to have ready to read as we go through my teaching time.

I never thought anything about it. It’s just what I do. I’m a sticky note fanatic…and I try to be frugal.

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Apparently, my ladies have noticed, because at the end of our session yesterday–the last session for the Semester–they presented me with this: (see the photo!)

You can have no idea how much this tickled me! What a delightful way to bless–it’s even better than flowers!–and I still laugh every time I look at my table or even think about it!

I share it here because it’s important to look beyond the normal ways of blessing those around you and find creative ways to share the joy of life with one another. Choosing not to complain about those miniscule scraps of sticky notes they have to decipher was a choice. Blessing me with what they think might be “5 years worth” of sticky notes (HA!) went beyond that and expressed their love and care for me in a very personal way. My Tuesday Ladies ROCK! They represent Christ well and they are loads of fun!

As we end our first week of NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER and begin our second, I want to challenge you to HAVE FUN with this! This 30-day challenge isn’t meant to add another burden or give you another RULE to follow. It’s meant to be a blessing. Look for creative ways to share the blessing and enjoy the process! It can change your life. I know this, because it has changed mine.

And now, I’m off to try and organize the abundance of sticky note blessing from yesterday…and have fun doing it!

Grace & Peace!

“A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.” Proverbs 17:22 (NKJV)

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The power of connection

God seems intent on teaching me about the power of connection. Recent Bible study materials, texts, comments, and personal experiences are all aligning in such a way that it’s been difficult to ignore.

I love it when God does that.

He knows I can be obtuse…or…or…hyper-focused on other things. (Yeah, yeah, I like the way that second one sounds better than the first one…although that first one might actually be more accurate. Hmph…sigh…)

Either way, God seems to be intent on making me aware of something. Once again, it isn’t something monumental, and yet, it is: the power of a simple, heartfelt hug.

I grew up in a family that hugged, but didn’t really extend that outside of family lines. I remember our car being surrounded every time we arrived at my Grandmother’s house by people who joyously grabbed us for big hugs and exclamations over how glad they were to see us again.

I also remember my first meal at MUW (or Mississippi University for Women, for those who aren’t familiar). As I found a seat and began to eat I was suddenly struck by the number of people who were jumping up to hug and exclaim over one another just like my family did, but these people weren’t related…by blood. I remember thinking–and saying–“That’s not going to happen to me. I do not know these people and I can’t imagine being that excited by people who aren’t family.”

That lasted less than half a semester. People can become your family whether or not God gave you a common bloodline. Those women did. They still are. Even those I haven’t seen or hugged in years.

Lately, I’ve been noticing that some people seem surprised when I hug them, and then they seem inordinately pleased–some, even enough to write to me or comment on it later. Maybe I haven’t been doing it enough. Maybe no one else has, either. Perhaps, if we were all hugging enough, some of the truly horrible things that sometimes happen in our world wouldn’t, or maybe, they’d just be easier to deal with when they happen.

What I do know is this: God has been nudging me to make an effort to hug more lately, to express my appreciation more freely, to pray on the spot for people more, offer deliberate attention, to connect more, and to be intentional about doing so in His Name. In short, He’s calling me to do more of the things He’s always told us to do: to be Jesus with skin on to those we meet whether we’re related by blood, by relationship, by experiences, by time and place, or simply by our mutual humanity.

As an introvert, this stretches me sometimes. As a Christ-follower, it challenges me and it changes me. Always. It’s a little monumental thing and it’s worth a try on your end, too.

(side note: As always, I looked up a Scripture to go with my post. What I found was Romans 16:16. Most translations say, “Greet one another with a holy kiss…” Hmmm…I’m honestly not sure I’m ready to be that connected. (ha!) I think I’ll choose the NLT version that says, “Greet one another in Christian love…” for now and we’ll see if God needs me to go any further. LOL! Y’all have fun with this!–and start with a HUG, people!)

Grace and Peace!

 

 

Words in the window

IMG_20170518_065834453This is my view today as I chop veggies to go in the freezer. There’s a scent of gardenia wafting over the freshness of the zucchini, squash, and onions simmering on the stove and the house is quiet. I’m cleaning out the fridge and preparing for a delicious casserole one of these days when I’m pressed for time and still in need of sustenance.

My cat watches my every move from his pod on top of the washer in the laundry room. It’s peaceful here today.

I had to take my glasses off as I transferred the steaming concoction to a strainer, but it didn’t stop me from reading the words on the ornament left on the window sill since Christmas, “Be cheerful and pass it on!”

I’m as struck by these words as I was the first time I saw them. Such a simple message. I originally bought the ornament for someone who has trouble being cheerful. (Subtle as a hammer, I know. grin) When I got it home, however, I noticed the ornament had a crack running through it. That’s not exactly what you look for in a gift, is it? A broken reminder to do something that’s often difficult? It just didn’t seem like a good idea to pass it along…or to throw it away. The “obvious” alternative was to place it atop a small silver cup on the window sill as a reminder to myself.

I’m convinced that’s what God wanted all along. The makers of this ornament meant for it to be perfect and to hang on a tree for a few days or so once a year. In the midst of all the other decorations of the Christmas season, this message might have gone unnoticed. But placed as it is on my window sill? Each day I see these words reminding me to spread the cheer that comes as a result of His coming among us to bring us hope and salvation. Each day I am reminded that things don’t have to be perfect for me to be cheerful and that I can change the world in simple ways just by being willing to be used in whatever way and in whatever place He chooses to put me.

Sounds like the words in the window were meant for me…and maybe, you, too. What will you do today to be a person of influence right where you are?

BE CHEERFUL and pass it on.

Grace and Peace!

 

 

Lenten Light

It’simg_20170301_092915249_hdr one of the first things I do every morning. I walk into the kitchen and I turn on a little lamp that’s been with me since I was a small girl.  As I flip the toggle switch, I tell God, “Thank you!” just like I do when I turn it off again at the end of the day. This lamp, and it’s twin which resides over on the butcher block that used to be a big part of my PawPaw’s store, was a long-ago gift from one of my mother’s college friends.

Her first name was Martha, but we just called her “Harris”–her last name and the one she had been known by in college at Mississippi State College for Women (now Mississippi University for Women) in my hometown of Columbus, Mississippi. Harris was an orphan who attended school on a scholarship and she never married. Throughout her life she educated and loved on other people’s children, and although she had a few closer to her home in Louisiana, I believe my Mama’s children were some of her favorites. It’s been years since she passed, but I still think of her when I turn on these little lamps and I miss knowing she’s in the world with us.

Harris was always full of fun and laughter. She loved wearing bright colored scarves and my Mama always got excited when she received a call or letter that said Harris was on her way and would be with us for a few days. She had lots of stories about “her children” and her church family. When she got tickled at her own stories, she would giggle and say, “Oh, Jes-us! precious Jesus!”, but not in a sacrilegious way–she was just including Him in on her fun the same way she included Him in every other part of her life.

I didn’t know it then, but I was being taught some incredible lessons about love and friendship and building a vibrant faith life. Today, on this first day of Lent, I’m remembering how God chose to shine His light on us in a way we humans could touch and feel and know in a personal way. I’m also reminded that He’s still in the blessing business and there’s still plenty to say “Thank you, God!” for today…including sweet memories of those people who have shown us how to make God come home to us in ways that make us want more of that–and more of Him!–in our lives.

It may not be a lamp on your kitchen counter, but what can you use this Lenten season to remind you of Him and cause you to express your gratitude for all the blessings He’s given to you throughout your life?

Grace and Peace!

(And for those of you who are wondering, that fabulous teapot was custom made for my husband by our friends Craig and Tracy Wilson, from Poplar Ridge Pottery in Mississippi! It gets used almost every day and we just leave it out because it’s too great to hide in a cabinet!)

 

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!

Day 15–NCN2016

Confession time. Over the weekend–and with my own challenge taken fully to heart about trying to love on the people around me as a way to counteract all the negative activities that have been going on!–I had a really hard time. I had the strongest urge I can tell you to share ALL about NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER with someone…JUST so I could also share about how much it was SAVING THEM from me at that moment.

Sigh…when I shared this with a couple of friends, they…laughedreally hard. Apparently, this urge is “such as is common to man”…and woman. (very tiny wry grin…or perhaps more accurately, grimace) Even now, I’m not entirely certain I’m “over it” enough to be completely rational in my sharing of the tale–and doing so would COMPLETELY obliterate my NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER goal for today, so I will continue to remain quiet about the details and celebrate that the one who engendered this response is alive and well and happy and has absolutely NO idea how close they came to annihilation by verbiage. I’m counting that as a victory and moving forward.

I shared all that to say this: WE’RE ON DAY 15!!!!! We’re at the half-way mark of this challenge and NO, I am not the Pollyanna that some would claim and YES, this is harder than it looks some days. Maybe it shouldn’t be–and my goal is that one day it WON’T BE!–but until that day comes, I’m choosing to move forward and keep trying. I also hope that it encourages you–whether your record is absolutely perfect so far this month or whether you’ve started over multiple times every single day!–to keep at it! We CAN do this!

We can change the world right where we live. And that is a goal worth pursuing.

“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NASB)

Grace & Peace! (and NO COMPLAINTS!)

Learning New Old Things

As odd as this sounds, I think I may have grown up a little bit this past week. A few of my friends are snorting hysterically right now because they think  I may or may not have been “born old” and, maybe (again, Ha!), I’ve acted like that ever since.

I was (AM!) the first-born. A daughter.  A responsible one. The oldest female of the second set of grandchildren on both sides of the family—after a few years break—so I got plenty of attention for just by showing up in the world. That attention came with a lot of expectation, as well, because they seemed to think I could do anything and everything well and, with that much focused attention and instruction everywhere I turned, I learned a lot and I learned it fast or I kept at it until I was satisfied. Sometimes that took awhile, but I’m also stubborn, so that time element never really got in my way other than making me impatient with myself, because—truth be told?—my own expectations for me were even higher than theirs for me.

Knowing how to do things made me more independent and made them excited to see their instruction pay off, so it was a win-win situation for all of us. I just automatically assumed it was my job to keep on meeting  those expectations as I got older, and so I did so…on the surface, at least. I’m grateful for those expectations. Personally, I think they were good for me. I KNOW that the people who expressed them love me and are good for me and that was enough to make me just go DO whatever goal was set… sometimes without even thinking about whether or not it was I really wanted to do or something they had suggested for me.

On the inside, I wondered sometimes what it might feel like to not have those expectations, but then, I’d usually pick up another book and lose myself in the words and find new worlds to conquer and new things to learn and more expectations from myself that came with having all that information up in my brain. You can see where this is going, can’t you?  I come from a long line of seriously capable people and I suspect this pretty much describes their path, as well.

Stubborn, firstborn, introverted-yet-over-achieving female with a large built-in encouraging support system…yes, I was born old…and that’s not a complaint for me, just a comment…and more of a blessing than I’ve given it credit for being until just recently.

I’m not the smartest person I know—not by a long shot!—but I can hang in there with them for awhile and finding out what I don’t know has been as valuable to me as gold over the years. That information helped me focus on what I wanted to learn next, do next, be next.

In fact, I’ve often been so focused on that “next” part that I ignored the “now” part of life. That has been a mistake. I don’t often admit to making those (Mike, quit grinning!), but that’s one of my biggies. All of that go and learn and do has gained me skills, but often left me wondering what I planned to do with all of that…and feeling more than a little frustrated when I couldn’t fill in the blanks for those questions. I still don’t have all those answers.

This past seven months, however, of having the most definitely unplanned luxury of being with my husband and choosing to slow down and enjoy our unexpected time together has taught me a lesson I hope I never forget:  how to just BE in the moment.  I realized just this week that I’ve finally learned that those skills and that knowledge don’t have to be put to work every single second. There are times when you just need to breathe, times when you can fill a whole day (or weeks or months!) with counting the blessings God has poured into your life, times when gratitude for every single thing—good AND bad–about your life needs to consume you and put you on your face before God.

I don’t want to lose that knowledge going forward! I don’t want to go backward and be so determined to know and go and do that I forget to just BE God’s grateful child. I’ve always said that being stubborn was both my worst characteristic and my best—especially as it pertained to my faith!—but now, I want to apply it to this filling gratefulness; this drenching awareness of the goodness and grace of my God. I want to be stubborn about holding on to and living THAT out for the rest of my days.

I almost wrote that I wish I’d learned this lesson earlier, but on second thought, I realize that God’s timing is always perfect. All the steps that led up to now and made me who I am today give me an amazing list of things to be grateful for right now. I may have been a little bit slow (it’s only taken me over 50 years!), but as for tomorrow, well, I plan to know more then, so I expect to be more grateful then…and I plan to be stubborn about that in the future, as well.

“Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;

Praise him, all creatures here below;

Praise him above, ye heavenly host;

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.”

                                                                         ~Thomas Ken, 1674

(1674! And still worth singing.)

Go, GOD!