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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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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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!

Waiting

Waiting rooms aren’t much fun. I know. I’m in one right now. There are few seats left in this one and yet more and more arrivals.

I hear the sounds of lots of cheerful conversation going on around me as I type.

A quick scanning of the faces tells me that not everyone is cheerful. Some of these faces are worried. Some are thoughtful or introspective in appearance. There are a lot of cell phones out for updates and games, emails, work…but mainly, they’re out for distraction.

No one likes to wait. Even when you’re used to it. No one.

My own odd entertainment comes as I type this and receive a text from a friend in another state–and another hospital!–to me know that they are prepped…and waiting. (Insert a very small wry grin here!) God is funny that way sometimes​.

We’re all waiting for something. Whether you’re in a hospital or not doesn’t make much of a difference in that. Answers to emails, phone calls, or prayers; waiting for the weekend, the vacation, or just for the coffee to make or the microwave ding, waiting happens to all of us.

So, what do we do with that? What can we learn and share? What can we accomplish while we wait? The answers are as varied as the individual.

I choose to pray and be reminded of this:

“But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31 (NKJV)

Grace and Peace while you wait today!

Handled

It is easy to get busy and forget what we know to be true. Maybe we don’t really forget, but sometimes we lose sight of those things which form our basics or perhaps we build lives so high that our foundations can seem far away. (I’ve got to be honest: this started off better in my head! –grin)

This coming Sunday we will celebrate Easter. Even people who don’t practice regular religious observances will stop and acknowledge the day whether or not they acknowledge the reason for it.

We do that, too, those of us who will celebrate the Reason for the season. We will alter our normal Sunday observances and, for a time, we will focus on this powerful event which changes all of our destinies…and our destinations…and we will sing and pray and celebrate with new dresses and crosses draped in white, and lilies that bloom, chickens and bunnies, eggs filled with candy and baskets made of straw…

and on Monday we will forget…again. We will return to our regularly scheduled program of programs and we will simply observe our religious practices once more. Or…

We could choose to do it differently this time.

We could remember that God didn’t send His Son just for Christmas and Easter celebrations. We could remember that Jesus is more than a reason for a present or a cross around our necks or a pet given in the mood of the holiday to be inevitably set aside as we return to our other commitments or feel the need to change our appearances so that we can blend in again among those who may be powerful in this world and have no interest in the next one. (ouch)

Oh, the Son of God is so much more than that! He’s rough and tough and kind and gentle. He’s durable! That seems like such an unlikely word, but it is accurate nonetheless. He’s not something to be taken out and gently passed around on public holidays and then placed back on the shelf until it is convenient for us.

One of His closest friends put it this way:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.”  1 John 1:1-4 (NKJV)

Did you catch that? Jesus the Christ is eternal. He was really here on earth in bodily form and He wasn’t some distant, untouchable icon. He was handled! I love that! He’s still like that. This eternal Being came down so we could touch Him–and be touched by Him! He isn’t just some fragile esoteric idea. He is REAL and He came for all of us!

Let’s make THAT the focus of our Easter…and beyond! He came to be handled. He came to be touched and grabbed onto, to be held closely and embraced fully. He came to be intimate with us and have fellowship with us on our good days and our hard ones. He is no fair-weather friend. Jesus the Eternal Son of God came to make sure that we could have the opportunity–not a predetermined enforced coercion!–but the opportunity to alter our eternity and spend it with Him. He came out of love so that we could be certain not to miss the Message that God wants to be part of our mundane as much as He wants to be part of our extraordinary. He came so that our mundane could BE extraordinary.

Let’s not lose sight of that on Monday…or today, either, for that matter.

Grace and Peace–and Happy Easter!

He is Risen! He is Risen, indeed!

More God, anyone?

“Mark 9:23-24 has been a prevailing favorite of mine for the last year or so. I’ve always had such a strong and unwavering faith that God COULD do whatever He chose. My question over the past year was WOULD He choose to do what I was asking. I’ve found that as I ask for Him to show up in me and make my prayers be in agreement with His will and always for His glory that my faith has become even stronger. As I pray this, “Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief!”-prayer I am asking God to come into those places where there may be a gap of faith that I’m not really cognizant of right then. This prayer strengthens me and it forces me to reconcile my human imperfections with His perfect expectations and abilities. I’m praying it for the two of you this week and I can’t wait to see how He shows up and strengthens you, as well. You are SO loved!”

I just texted this to friends in the midst of trials this week. As I hit the Send-button I immediately thought of several others for whom this prayer also feels appropriate right now…Including me.

We all have these days when we’re asking God to show up and show out FOR us–and we REALLY do need that!–but what we also need, perhaps even more, is for Him to show up and show out IN us!

If that feels like where you are today, know that God is not only able and willing, but He is just waiting for the invitation to show up and make you more like His Son. This prayer for increased belief is ALL about that. It is ALL about increasing our dependence and seeing His perfection. It is about so much more than just getting what we want…It is about getting more of WHO we need into those places we might not even see in ourselves right now. It is about strength for the journey we’re on and giving God the opportunity to shine through all of those cracks we have so that the world will see and wonder…And ask…

…so that we can tell them about a God who wants them to know Him personally.

… about a God Who lives and loves us unconditionally…Even when we doubt.

When you get right down to it, this is a prayer for an increased Presence and an increased witness. It’s an invitation for a front row seat to a blessing that He’s been waiting to share all along:  More God.

And who doesn’t need more God?!

“Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”  Mark 9:23-24 (NKJV)

Grace and Peace!