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!

 

 

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Have you done your part?

“Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!” Psalm 116:2 (NLT)

In this week of national tragedy, worldwide mayhem, and personally, a growing list of prayer needs, this verse gives me comfort. despite the noise and the questions about “WHY? HOW?–and WHY?!” (yes, we all ask that last one more than once, don’t we?), God is still with us. He is listening. He is grieving. He is comforting. He is answering. He is still WITH US…and yes, THAT needed to be stated more than once, as well.

How do I know these things? He’s already said so in His love letter to us. Hebrews 13:5b tells us this:

“…for He has said, “I will never [under any circumstances] desert you [nor give you up nor leave you without support, nor will I in any degree leave you helpless], nor will I forsake or let you down or relax My hold on you [assuredly not]!”

I chose the Amplified Bible’s version of that verse on purpose for all of the emphatic statement that it contains. I believe it is necessary for some of you to see all of that today.

I think we may actually need to see it every day…until we start believing it and living like it and being bolder for Him because of it! Jesus was very clear while He was here on earth. He’s already told us that this life will not be easy. He was specific about that: “In this world you will have trouble…”

But look at the whole picture:

Look: An hour is coming, and has come, when each of you will be scattered to his own home, and you will leave Me alone. Yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” John 16:32-33 (HCSB)

Looks like we might have done our part in this verse, alright…we’ve left Him alone. We’ve decided that our ways are best. We’ve chosen to be on our own. WE, as individuals and as a human race, have decided that we would rather do this without all of the “constraints” of being in relationship with God, under His authority, …and under His care.

So, maybe that’s the WHY.

But there is still hope for us. There is still time to make that personal decision to be in a close relationship with God, to CHOOSE to be His and walk out this life in the protection and comfort–and yes, the obedience!–required by that decision.

All it takes is for us to choose Him. He’s already chosen us!

He’s ready and willing…and bending down to listen…

Are you praying?

 

Challenging

In her recent Bible study on the Gospel of John entitled Proven, Jenni Allen shares several opportunities for “experiences” to reinforce each week’s lesson. One of my favorites, so far, has been from Week One where she asked us to celebrate the fact that God is a master experience-creator by creating an experience for some of our friends or family members. Her guidelines were simple: it had to be fun, inexpensive, contain something you’ve never tried or done before, and it had to be memorable.

A couple of friends agreed to join in the experience with me and I had so much fun with it that I decided to share it here. (Don’t get freaked out because there are multiple steps! These are SIMPLE!)

Step One: Spend a few minutes telling God God all the things you’re grateful for today! (I know, a few minutes isn’t nearly long enough!)

Step Two: Choose ONE word as your “today, I am most grateful for____” word.

Step Three: Now, you get to go on a nature walk/treasure hunt around the yard or house…for items that you can use to spell out your word! I don’t care what you collect for this project, but you can’t leave your yard and you can’t spend any money.

Step Four: Now go to the Word and find a verse about the word you’ve chosen and photographed.

Step Five: Send me a picture of your “word” and your verse so I can share in your creativity and celebrate with you! (BTW, I’m happy to receive them all personally, but you might want to share them in the comments section so others can share in your fun, as well…just a thought! Either way works for me!)

Step Six: Post your word and your verse on your social media platform and share the blessing with someone else.

Step Seven (because if I’ve gone this far, there HAS to be a 7!): Spend a few more minutes thinking about how you can incorporate more of “your word” into your life this week.

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As you can see, my word was “joy” and, although it doesn’t really match the traditional colors of Autumn, it was gathered right out in my yard on October 1st! Thanks to previous owners, hot pink and purple are actually signs of Fall around here. (grin–we’d hate to be predictable, you know!)

Last week, I was given a hug by someone who doesn’t know me very well. At the end of it, she turned to others nearby and said, “You can just feel the joy in her!” That blessed me really big. While I am rarely without joy, sometimes, my serious side shows more than my fun one and I have been challenging myself to work toward being more balanced in this area. I chose this word because I know that happiness is temporary, but JOY can be permanent because of my relationship with God. I grabbed the bungee cord because sometimes joy can stretch you and you need to be flexible to hang on to it when things get a bit hard. I opted for the echinacea flower over the bungee cord because echinacea naturally strengthens the immune system and joy is a healing thing. I picked the clematis bloom because it was the biggest blooming thing on the place (grin) and because clematis is happy to send tendrils up and out into the world grabbing hold and covering whatever you’ll let it. I settled on the twig from one of the camelias in the front because it was pretty, it had fully extended blooms along with buds that signal more beauty to come…and was also easily made into a “Y”–and practicality is also part of Joy for me! (ha!)

Your choices don’t all have to have hidden meanings, that’s where my mind naturally took me on this journey. I would LOVE to see what you come up with and, whether or not you choose to participate in this one, I challenge you to find more joy in your week. Grab hold and celebrate the beauty of the season, the goodness of our God, and the fact that Autumn seems to have finally begun to arrive.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 (NIV)

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11 (ESV)

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24 (ESV)

Grace and Peace!

 

 

Beauty regimen

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14 (NKJV)

I found a graphic on Pinterest awhile back and haven’t been able to shake it. My mama had a saying: “Beauty is as beauty does.”  (I’d guess all the mamas I knew while I was growing up had that saying!) It took me quite awhile to fully appreciate the truth of it, but these days seems more on-target than ever.

In this world where we are more likely to share our lives online with more people than we actually see in person, our lines of right and wrong, our filters for kindness and civility,  and our boundaries of what is real and what is virtual have a taken quite a hit.

Freedom of speech is such a precious gift! What a shame that we’ve used it to cheapen ourselves by sharing our deepest hurts and joys along side photos of what we’re having for supper and attacking others for having the temerity to use that shared freedom of expression to disagree with our political opinions. It makes all of those things seem equally important…and they are most definitely not.

Earlier this month, those of us in the United States celebrated our nation’s independence. The formation of a single nation created specifically to harness the power of each individual’s right to think for themselves and express those thoughts and beliefs without fear of reprisal:  That’s an anomaly in this world…and an important one. Using the very freedom of expression granted to us by the first amendment of our Constitution to denigrate others with opposing viewpoints instead of using that power to educate, encourage, or entice them to see the merits of your own seems to indicate a lack of character–and that is far more damaging to our society than we can afford. Why wound and belittle when you could bridge gaps and find common ground for a common good? Why not become a person of influence for unity rather than one who divides and derides? We don’t have to agree on everything to cooperate on a lot of things!

I don’t mind people disagreeing with me. In fact, there are days I relish it. I’ve even been known to argue the side of the opposition just for the fun of it. The ability to see both sides of an issue helps me make better choices and it helps me to pray more specifically as I seek to do what God wants me to do.

More than ever I find that He asks me to speak words of encouragement. He asks me to look for the positive. Sometimes, He just asks me to be silent and extend grace…and grace is never easy…except when you’ve found that you’ve needed so much of it yourself.

I love the black and white of an issue and I love “being right” (who doesn’t?!) and I love that we have been gifted with both words and the ability to share our thoughts. This is not about being silent when we need to defend. I wonder about this though…and I think I want to be beautiful.

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Sanctuary

IMG_20170718_161203627_HDROur friend the Barred Owl was back and hunting early today. We missed him yesterday, but had a hawk come to visit us twice in his stead. He landed, as he’s come to do, facing the house and peering our way as if looking for us in the windows. I stepped out on the back porch to take this shot and tell him how handsome he looked and how glad we were to see him back. He seemed to know both of those things already as he remained in place and posed.
Earlier this morning, we had a pale orange cat take up temporary residence under a table near the swing out in the back yard for a few hours…just sitting at ease and appearing to rest while being alert and guarding us from invading squirrels.
“Worshipers never leave church…we carry our sanctuary with us wherever we go.” ~Aiden Wilson Tozer
 Grace and Peace!

Something to look forward to

My husband and I have been noticing a common denominator in the majority of our friends and family lately:  they’ve been going on trips and taking significant time off to enjoy themselves. We’ve been pleased to see photos of people loving life as they traipse across Europe, screaming with joy while rafting down white-watered rivers, and enjoying their time at concerts, beaches, and theme parks. Good for them! It’s summertime in the South and lots of people wait all year for those kinds of things.

We are not those kind of people.

SONY DSCWe are much more inclined to head to the top of a mountain or go wandering through the country-side in search of beautiful scenery and enjoying each other’s company. We tend to do these things in the middle of a week if he can get a half-day off early or whenever we can be pretty sure that most other people will be doing something else. We enjoy the solitude and the quiet of the uninhabited. We get excited about things like actually having blueberries in our own yard this year! (Finally!) We talked about it the other night, though, and decided that we’re ready to start planning our next big trip. We’re trying to decide if it will be one of our typical adventures with an eye toward the restful or if we’re ready to head back to New York City, Washington, Boston, or some other place we’ve loved and have an actual “doing” vacation–or even an actual vacation instead of just a long weekend. It’s been a long time since we did one of those. As my husband said, we’re ready to have something to look forward to.

We’re really big fans of that. Planning ahead for something special gives us the joy of anticipation that pays off way before the actual trip. It helps keep us focused financially and actually eliminates quite a bit of wasteful spending because we have a goal in mind…a target, if you will. Speaking of targets, my husband just walked into the house with a new toy. He’s been talking about it for a little bit and, after much deliberation, decided that today was the day and this was the prize. He asked me if it made me happy. (He’s sweet like that; always wanting to make sure I’m happy.) My response was that what really made me happy was seeing him be happy.

Despite the appearance of so many smiles in those vacation photos we’ve been seeing, the whole world isn’t really filled with a lot of happiness right now…or at least that’s what you’re probably thinking if you watch the news every day (which is why I do not!). What I do watch for everyday is to see where God is going to show up next. I look for Him to show up in the beauty of nature and in the faces of friends. I see Him at work in the jobs (both paid and unpaid!) that we’re doing right now and in the provision of beautiful/fun things that might otherwise go unnoticed…like that barred owl that has taken to hunting in our back yard every night for the past few weeks, or that stray black-eyed Susan plant coming up between the bricks in the back walkway and that blueberry that is actually PINK!–or the way our friends and neighbors rushed to our rescue in a time of crisis a few weeks ago. I even see Him in the multiple prayer requests that have been coming my way lately because each one is an opportunity to talk with Him and, in turn, encourage others around me.

This morning, my own encouragement came in the form of an email from my Sunday School teacher, Althea. She’s a powerhouse packed in miniature and she is absolutely fabulous. She’s got more energy than I may have had in my entire life. She wears me out with her serving and her loving of everyone around her…but I’m ever so glad I’m one of the ones around her. Today she sent us this on the heels of another difficult request for prayer:

“When they are diminished and brought low through oppression, evil, and sorrow, he pours contempt on princes and makes them wander in trackless wastes; but he raises up the needy out of affliction and makes their families like flocks. The upright see it and are glad, and all the wickedness shuts its mouth.”  Psalm 107:39-42 (ESV)

It’s easy to look at that and think it reads like the news right now: depressing and hard to get through, but look at that last part! “…and all the wickedness shuts its mouth.”

Wow.

Wouldn’t we all love to see that? Just imagine how quiet it would get! Imagine how much room there would be to hear all of the good things that are happening then! Imagine how much room there would be for people to see what God is doing and hear from those He is blessing!

So what’s stopping us from sharing that now?! Shouldn’t we–the upright ones, the blessed ones, the loved ones, the saved ones, get busy sharing all of that makes us those things despite the noise created by all of the wickedness in the world?! Shouldn’t we battle that cacophony of evil with the truth about God’s grace and His mercy and the difference it makes in and for each of us?

I’d like to see us do that. I’d love to see us overcome the din of negativity with praise and adoration of the One who can raise the needy out of affliction and make their families like flocks (unified, cared for, multiplying and at peace) and, as a bonus, shut the mouth of wickedness.

Now, THAT is something to look forward to!

How will you help make it a reality where you live today? What praises will you sing? What prayers will you pray? What hand will you hold for comfort or reach out to give an upward boost? That’s something to look forward to, as well–and it’s something we can actually do right now wherever we are.

Grace & Peace!

The really spectacular day…

IMG_20170527_180617889It doesn’t take much to make us happy. Well, some days it does, but it’s usually stuff like spending time together and having both of us healthy at the same time and holding hands and having our cat, Smokey, oversee our every move. (As you can see from the photo, he thinks this is HIS blog today.) We have had just such a day.

We had planned a whole long weekend at home trying to kick the yuck of the previous weeks out of our lives and I had all the food choices figured out and ready for the grill, a slew of old movies and maybe a board game or two lined up along with the knowledge that we had a whole extra day to add to the mix on Monday. I woke up first and quietly made my way into the living room to break my way gently into the day. It wasn’t long before my husband joined me with a mischievous grin on his face. I could tell he felt better just by the way he was grinning. (MAJOR praise!)

“You know what I want to do today?” he asked.

“You want to go out for breakfast.”

He shook his head from side to side and began to spill out his plan for the day. Just the idea that he felt up to it made me want to join in the fun, so we made quick work of our morning chores and off we went. It took us off our beaten path and it was worth every single second.

When we arrived at our destination we giggled like school children. We held hands as we crossed the parking lot and shared one last (really big) grin as opened up the heavy doors and stepped inside…and then we parted ways. You would have thought it was Disney, but we had just entered the hallowed space that is the Barnes and Noble.

Let me pause here and let you exhale that great big breath you’ve been holding, ok? I know. That probably wasn’t even close to what you were expecting, but believe you me–it was a big deal to us. Even better? We made a pact to split up and go whichever direction we wanted and stay as LONG as we wanted…just because we could! Outside of a public library or a botanical garden, there’s just about no other place I’d rather spend some time than a room full of words all put in different orders and ready to share something new and pertinent with you if you just pick up the ones written in the right order to appeal to you.

We had traveled over an hour just to get to this one. Oh, there’s one about 20 minutes closer, but THIS one has a P.F. Chang nearby…and that cast the deciding vote on the matter. When our adventure–and yes, it qualified because we braved Atlanta traffic and survived all sorts of perilous drivers on the road there and back! In fact, I am actually the only one who made all the right moves on the entire trip there and back, y’all! It is harrowing to know that that many people who can’t drive actually do so!…ANY WAY!… When our adventure was complete, we each had a bag full of books and magazines with hours and hours of fun, entertainment, learning, and mind adventures just waiting to be started. We made another stop on the way home to get some minor fixes made to a recent purchase and then, to top it off we made a stop by the Sonic on the way home and purchased TWO Route-44 Fresh strawberry slushes…and if that doesn’t sound delicious to you, then we’re not sure you’ve really lived. (grin)

We heated the PFC left-overs from lunch while we got in our comfortable clothes. Actually, that last sentence should be more accurately translated into, “We then got into our pajamas at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and settled in for the long duration!” Now that we’ve made sure Smokey has properly settled in for appropriate oversight and the delights of Crispy Honey Chicken with brown rice and the egg rolls have been consumed, it is here that we find ourselves…hoping and praying that one day you’ll manage to have such a splendid outing with someone you love this much and that you won’t let things like being over an hour away and not being on the schedule or feeling silly that if you’re going to go to all that trouble it better be something more spectacular than a bookstore and some really upscale Chinese food. (Fried green beans, y’all. Fried green beans. It would have been worth the trip just for the appetizer!)

The moral of this story is this: don’t wait to have a spectacular day until you can pay big bucks and do something stunningly grand to impress people. The little things actually make the bigger impact when you consistently fill your life with loving people, delicious food, and good words all written out in a way that makes you smile…and maybe even ones that will inspire you to get out and do something that wasn’t on your agenda at the beginning of your day, either.

Grace and Peace, y’all! I’ve got a stack of books to dig into right now! (happy dance, happy dance!)