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!

Worship Break

I was driving down the road at the end of the week, listening to great music and telling God what a great job He had been doing in taking care of us. As I listed some of my blessings–and I’ve got a LONG list!–I thought, “How can you NOT tell people how good God is every time you get an opportunity?!” I mean, that seemed like a no-brainer! (It still does, by the way.)

Not many hours later, I received a call from a friend who had a friend who was in charge of an upcoming women’s conference and one of her speakers was suddenly unavailable…and it was a whole week away! Would I consider stepping in to help out? Oh, and by the way, they’ve got a LOT of women coming!

Well. Really? What other answer could there possibly be except, “Yes, of course, I would be delighted to do that!” Seriously. Delighted! I think I may have actually laughed out loud and said, “Really, God? This soon? You’re calling me on it THIS soon?!” I mean, He already knew that I was scheduled to do the devotional portion of our Ladies’ Bible Study for most of the Tuesdays in September.

Yes, indeed, He knew that…and yes, indeed, He was calling me to do this new big thing, too. The theme for the conference is to be “Broken Into Beautiful,” after all, and Mike and I commented that if ever there was a theme for our lives, that one would have to be close to the top because we are always broken…and He is always beautiful.

So, I gulped really big and started thinking about how I should prepare this week. The phone rang. I answered.

“Becky, my co-teacher and I are both going to be out of town this coming Sunday and after we heard you speak on Tuesday, we just looked at each other and said, ‘She’s our person for the job. Would you be able to teach our Sunday School class this coming Sunday?'”

I have to tell you that, at that point, Mike and I both broke out into full-scale laughter! It took a little bit for me to answer because we were both laughing so hard! I am absolutely certain that the sweet lady on the other end may have decided that she had called the the wrong person after all. And what could I possibly say, except: “Yes, of course, I would be delighted to do that!”

And just like that, I had four preps in one 7-day period of time. Fortunately for me, God has been gracious and provided such overlap in study topics that it has been much simpler than I could have ever planned. I don’t have to address the whole conference at once, just do a couple of hour-long break-out sessions–and, truly, I guess it’s good they’re giving me a time limit because I could do an hour of how God has worked beautifully in my broken life while standing on my head! The Sunday School lesson is on a chapter that we’ve just been studying in Bible Study and the next devotional time…well, God’s already got some ideas for that and, while I know some of them…I’m still waiting on the rest. I guess it’s a good thing that it is 4 days away from now. (grin…there’s still time!)

It’s been a week of prep time, now, and I’ve got to tell you that I’m tired. I’m ready for a break from words and yet, here I sit, typing away. My grass looks like its been taking steroids and there are all kinds of house chores that have been put on hold this week, but I’m getting ready to go worship tonight with what we hope will be a big group of ladies who are meeting at our church tonight for a coffee-dessert-and-worship experience that they’ve entitled, “Thirsty.”

SONY DSCI love that. Thirsty. Even after a week of recounting blessings and being in the Word and talking to God, I can’t wait for this. In fact, I almost feel like it is my reward for the week. It seems like an answer to prayer to go and just rest before the Father and hear praise set to music and worship while we munch away.

Even in the telling of our blessings, we need to take time to just rest, you know. Tonight, that will be my role. Someone else will take the mic and lead…and I will just worship.

Oh, I wish you were here to go with me!

Grace & Peace! (oh, yeah, and WORSHIP!)

 

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.