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?

 

Advertisements

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.

796aec037c435cd512e9b67547a76b1e

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!

Passing

I got a text the other day from a friend requesting prayer. That’s not unusual. She and another friend were going to be doing prison ministry that evening and she was requesting prayer that they would be able to share God with those inside…and not be offensive in the process. I know. THAT part was unusual. I also know that several eyebrows just rose—and for different reasons.

Some of them rose because in this day and age who worries about offending people who are already in prison? Some of them rose because they already know that sharing the Gospel…the Good News…the information that we’ve all been born into sin and are in desperate need of a Savior is offensive to many. Some of them rose because the very idea of trying not to offend seems to be a new one.

We’ve all watched for a while now as our society has gotten more and more “truthful” and less and less loving. I put those quotation marks around the word truthful because what passes for truth these days is often a lot more personal opinion and political outrage than actual truth. Unfortunately, that outrage is happening on all sides of almost every argument. Democrat, Republican, Tea Party, or Independent. Religious right, left, or repulsed (of any faith). World view, political leaning, religious affiliation all seem to have at least one thing in common right now: the determination to scream the loudest and use the most offensive way possible of grabbing the attention…because that’s really what they’re after: the attention.

Father God, help us! We’ve made an art form of being offended and raise in triumph our abilities to offend.

Word to the wise: offended people rarely listen. Even more rarely do they look for ANY good in those who are offending them. Rarer still are those who are converted and then espouse any expressed belief which has covered itself in words and deeds that offensively take them far from their comfort zone or that shout them down without listening or caring about anything but being heard.

There are such people. We know this because of Scripture. The New Testament is largely comprised of the writings of one such man, Paul. Seen any of those people lately? Probably not. Pauls are the exception, not the rule.

The Apostle Paul went from being a rising star in the religious elite, full of his education and even more full of indignation—full of himself! —to being one of the most powerfully erudite servants of God–and others!–ever to be on record. What caused this drastic change? The only thing that can change anyone: a personal encounter with the living God. Yes, Pauls in our day and age are rare…but they don’t have to be!

No matter what ideology you espouse today, know this:  what passes for “right” in our world today bears little resemblance to actual righteousness. That only comes from God. He is the true standard for both righteousness and for love. Without His help, our world is doomed to the cacophony of the loudest offended spirit and the anger that inevitably follows which leads us into violence and creates a circle of offense that gets passed along in the name of all things holy. Riots, looting, and leaving a trail of trash for others to pick up once you’ve marched to express yourself won’t draw others to your cause or help them think your sense of entitlement worthy of their efforts on your behalf. Neither will using Scripture as a battering ram instead of a loving invitation to relationship with the only One who actually can make a difference. Think about that before you raise your voice, write that Facebook post, share that joke or use words designed to hurt others in the name of teaching them your truth, or call them names and cast aspersions at those who may have beat you to the punch…all in the name of doing good. If it didn’t work ON you, then why would it work FOR you?! It all reminds me of this verse Paul wrote to Timothy:  “…having a form of godliness but denying its power.”  2 Timothy 3:5 (NKJV) It isn’t really good at all…it’s just passing itself off as good.

No, what passes for truth and righteousness these days in the public arena is just that. Passing. It isn’t the real thing and it isn’t going to last. Only God’s word will last and it is absolutely full of admonitions to do life differently than what we’re seeing today. Like it or not, we are temporary. He is eternal and so it only makes sense to follow the path of the One whose ways will outlast us all.

 

cropped-heart
”Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling,
And to present you faultless
Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,
To God our Savior,
Who alone is wise,
Be glory and majesty,
Dominion and power,
Both now and forever.
Amen.”

Jude 24-25

 

Grace and Peace!

Early Spring

Our nation has seemed to descend into a vitriolic winter of the soul over the past few months that has far surpassed any depth I had previously thought possible. The loss of civility even between friends over differences in politics, the outright refusal to acknowledge that it is the right to have our differences that make this nation a place of desired residence for so many, and the apparent lack of willingness to remember that even those who hold polar opposite views can STILL both have  our country’s best interest at heart…well, these things are disturbing to me on many levels. Part of me has wondered if God wasn’t witholding a natural winter from us because we were already treating each other so coldly.

Even in the absence of a “proper” winter I am inordinately cheered by the signs of this early spring. I pray the signs of nature’s new growth will also stimulate a resurgence of kindness, a putting away of offended and offensive spirits, breathe into us a new determination to move forward despite the obstacles, and spur a willingness to find common ground and work from there in an effort to heal the vast breaches we’ve worked so hard to create.

img_20170224_102311867As I wander through my yard viewing the signs of an early spring, I pray for my nation. I pray for her leaders in both parties and ask God to grant them wisdom. I pray for healing and I pray for an abundance of obstinate seeds of hope and reconciliation to survive in all of us. We could all use an early Spring.

Storm Warning

Becky’s Immutable Law of Lines is universally accepted to state that no matter which line I choose at the check-out area, said line will immediately grind to a halt and I will be stuck there for all of eternity. Selah. (That’s a Biblical word that basically means, “Sit there and think on that for awhile”–because you will have time to do so in that line.) While ETERNITY may have been a bit of a stretch, I think you get my point. It does no good to change lines as said Law of Lines will follow me there…as it is Immutable, after all. This, along with several other such Immutable Laws have been conceived after much time spent in many such lines. After all, I’ve been there for a long time and have to do something to entertain my brain after the people-watching begins to pall…or frustrate.

Such a thing happened the other day when I went on my regularly scheduled grocery run to find that all parking lots in the locally known universe were filled by anxious Southerners participating in the elusive milk, eggs, bread, and battery stampedes that inevitably follow any announcement of a possibly impending precipitation forecast with temperatures less than 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

I didn’t have a lot to buy at this particular store, but I had more items than could “legally” allow me to stand in their fast lanes. After searching out the entire line situation,  I thought that God had gifted me with as short a line as possible to complete my business. When I arrived I was number 4 in line behind others who also had the same legal buying issues that I did. No one had over 25 items, I’m sure of it. AND YET! We were in that line for a-WHILE, y’all; long enough, in fact, for my popsicles to lose their formerly frozen-solid state and the boxes no longer have any degree of coldness to them whatsoever! (I am being serious when I say that–it is not an exaggeration and I did not buy them and I stopped at another store closer to home and picked up another box of them because, well, those are MY winter-storm preparedness items. You can see that I take these things seriously.)

Did I mention that the store was overrun with panicked Southerners–who are prone to moseying at it’s finest? Did I fail to say that ALL of the scheduled cashiers were on the lines and that the management had been pressed into service there, as well, in addition to having to periodically leave to go help an over-pressed cashier? OR did I mention that while Southerners can be the most polite people evah (yes, that was deliberate), during any weather panic, they can become hostile at a slightly higher rate of decay in public manners and under such circumstances some real ugliness can fall right out there in front of everybody? ( I know. I may not be helping us in the public image department, but I’m trying to set the scene here, ok? I strongly suspect we are not the only part of our country where this kind of thing occurs.)

ANY way! I was in such a line and was feeling really bad for the sweet elderly woman ahead of me who had been on her feet too long and still needed all her medical items so she was stuck. I was also similarly frustrated, but determined to wait it out, when I heard a hard exhalation of breath behind me. I looked around and, very casually with a grin said, “You might have picked the wrong line today, too.” I was referring to the time I had already spent there and nothing else. The heavy breather, however, had  eyes on something else…and took my comment as a sign that I had observed and commented–and therefore must have agreed with their particular area of frustration. What followed was a louder public commentary about the person then currently checking out and their method of payment. No actual ugly words were uttered, but the sentiment of racially motivated judgement and the contempt and the ugliness of it were there just the same.

It broke my heart. Really. I honestly wasn’t sure whether to  laugh at the stupidity of the attitude, cry at the intended hurtfulness, or slap some mouth-washing soap into a hand and go to work. I wanted to do ALL of that and more. I wanted to introduce them to Jesus and I wanted to erase that time so it didn’t happen and I wanted to go hug the person checking out just in case they heard it and thought they were alone or thought that everyone else around them agreed with those words. I didn’t do any of that, however. I simply dropped my head for a moment, took a deep breath, looked right at them and said, “My comment was strictly regarding the TIME. I have no problem with anything else today.” Then I turned my back and just stood there while the person grumbled a bit and then moved on to another topic.

Y’all. It was sad. I felt dirty just being next to those words. I’m still not sure what else I could or should have done. I don’t think for a moment that the lecture I wanted so desperately to give would have found a fertile home and changed a thing. It bothered me so much…and it still does. It rang in my ears again this morning when my husband told me of the recent Facebook streaming of a crime against a mentally challenged young man. I had been unaware of that due to my recent limitations of public media, but I scrambled eggs with tears in my eyes while my heart broke all over again at the ugliness in this world.

Father God, WHAT have your creations come to and how long can your forbearance last in the face of all we have  convoluted and polluted about Your desire that we “love one another even as Christ loves the church” when we see these things happening and remain silent? We JUST celebrated Christmas, y’all; the time when Love left heaven and came down to a dwell with us at OUR level instead of requiring US to somehow come up to meet HIS level without a hope of doing that on our own! It is unfathomable to me that as advanced as we have become in society we still have this foolishness in our midst. It is actually more than that though, isn’t it? It is evil, so I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised to find it fighting for a place, but I am still appalled.

I am also praying. I am praying for the Love that came down to fill me up in such a way that I will not tolerate such behavior in my presence or allow it to take root in any place within me even–or especially–when I am under pressure, because in those situations, what is in the heart often comes out of the mouth and I want to be so full of God that HE is what comes out no matter where I am or what I’m doing. This isn’t political. This is personal. God made us as individuals and He made us ALL in His image no matter what we look like or where we live. If you can’t get your head wrapped around the fact that GOD chose every single detail of your creation to bless you and bring Him glory including your skin color and your geographical and socioeconomic placement before He ever put you on the planet with the brainpower and opportunity to improve the world where you can and worship Him while and WITH the doing of that, then you’re going to be pretty surprised when you finally meet up with Him. Nothing about you and your creation was a mistake. NOT A THING.

There are many things up for debate in our world, but this shouldn’t be one of them and the sooner we can get on board with HIS plan for how we treat each other makes it that much sooner that we can get busy bringing some of this other foolishness in the world to a halt.

How we choose to use those choices that God has already made for us says more about us than we realize. Not a single one of His choices for us was intended as either a slight OR as an indication of His higher favor. They were made with love and care because  He has a plan that is for our good and part of that good is about making us more like Him! As our Creator, He alone would know exactly what was needed to make that happen. Every detail about each of us has been deliberately and lovingly chosen in order to help us reach as many people as possible and illustrate His greatness to the world.

What will you choose to do with His choices for you? Those choices are yours.

Grace and Peace!

Oh, Yes! We are in such dire need of GRACE and PEACE…and HIM.

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!