Lessons in love

IMG_20181205_071214882Even after years of practice and a whole month of November in intensive training, I still felt like I was failing yesterday. I am out of my element this week and I was out of sorts about it! Once again, while nothing escaped my lips, my mind was absolutely rife with complaint, all while battling situation and provocation…and Scripture. That last one is always a heavy hitter! (grin)

“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:2 (NIV)

I read that verse pretty early in the day as I moved ahead with preparations for an upcoming Bible study. I sailed right past it at first. God knew that.

He brought it back around.

He had me focus on it, and then He proceeded to bring that theme up over and over and over throughout the day from the words I typed, the people I saw in the grocery store, and even in the book of fiction I picked up at the local library.

It shook me. It schooled me. It made me do some self-evaluation…and I wasn’t always pleased with what I found. Scripture does that. It is both a mirror and a standard of perfection side by side. Given my state of mind, I really wasn’t in the mood for either, yet God continued to push me. I know He does so out of love, and I truly felt that, but I was also frustrated by so many things I couldn’t change externally. That helplessness to “make things better” rages against my internal “fixer” motif and frustrates me no end.

By the end of the day, I felt beaten. That’s rare for me. I’m usually the most positive person in the room–and I still was!–but God knew I needed to feel, not just love, but empathy…and that is always harder after a day of battle of multiple fronts.

Today, I woke up to a new verse. Matthew 25:40 says,

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'” Matthew 25:40 (NIV)

and THEN, there was THIS one…

“And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” Colossians 3:17 (NLT)

When you can’t change the situation or fix the people in it, you still need to move forward in love. That instruction never changes. That standard never changes–and neither does the fact that we are still representing Jesus wherever we go. AND (I usually hate when people start  sentences off with AND, but here is one to remember), if the battle makes us weary and our feelings are less than loving or empathetic, we can STILL love on Jesus by doing what we can right where we are. I am responsible for my actions and, yes, even my attitude. He is responsible for the outcome. Today, I needed to be reminded of that. Maybe you did, too.

Let’s go represent Him well today. Happy Wednesday!

Grace and Peace!

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NCN 2018–Day 30…and beyond

IMG_20181130_071351806_HDRDay 30, and the end of this month is finally here. In this month of Thanksgiving and holiday prep, of increased activity and decreased time allotted for it, of focusing on the good and trying to eliminate the negative, THANK YOU for participating in NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER with me again! Your stories and your encouragements have meant a great deal to me. Once again, I am reminded that I am the most blessed person I know…and that you can be, as well.

As we have chosen to direct our thinking and constrict our voicing of the negative this month, I have found that some days were a lot easier than others…and that THOSE were the days when practicing the discipline of not complaining was most critical for me and those around me. Encouragement is always most needed when it is in least evidence. That will be true going forward, as well. It is the CHOOSING to keep moving forward toward the goal that becomes the mainstay of any decision, and so it will be with this.

Tomorrow we will enter the season of Advent, a looking forward season. What are you looking forward to where you are? Will you continue this challenge? Will you set new goals? Will you heave a sigh of relief and work to find rest or will you keep hurtling along at breakneck speed? Every choice has both blessings and consequences, so I find myself praying that as we go through this last day of NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER 2018, our choices will reflect a greater discipline because of what we’ve learned, a greater joy because of how we’ve learned to look for the goodness around us, and that the world will become a better place because we continue to acknowledge the areas that need work and get busy changing them without taking time out to complain about them first.

May all of your choices going forward be the best ones, so that your blessings will be many and your consequences can be love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). In short, I pray that your choices reflect a life filled with the goodness of God and a ready display of His Presence will absolutely permeate every nook and cranny of your life. He is good–despite all of the hard things in this world–and He loves you! May you learn to love Him more than you ever thought possible and may you–and those around you!–see Him at work in and through you as we celebrate His coming. I pray He finds a home in your heart and that you always find yourself most at home in Him.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21 (NIV)

Grace and peace!

(and yes, those roses really are blooming out on my kitchen counter today!)

NCN 2018–Day 28

Only THREE more days, y’all, until the end of this year’s NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER!!  (and, yes, I DO know that some of you have it timed down to the minute! LOL!) As we wind it down, I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned/re-learned/remembered this year. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are my biggest practical takeaways from this year’s challenge:

  • Encouragement always helps make life easier. CHOOSE to become an encourager wherever you may be and whatever you may be doing. It will bless those around you and it will actually make your load a lot lighter, as well.
  • “Tired OF or tired BECAUSE?”–our speech choices tend to give us away even when we are trying to cover up the fact that we’re complaining. “I’m tired OF…” usually heralds the sound of a coming complaint. “I’m tired BECAUSE…” tends to mean that you’ve been busy…and it really is ok to be tired when you’ve been busy. If, of course, you’re tired because you’ve spent the day complaining…well, not cool. At all. AND… If you’re tired BECAUSE you’ve spent the day with a complainer…dear one, I beg you to call a good friend and ask them to pray for both of you. That’s a legitimate issue in need of some prayer because being around complaining people WILL wear. you. out.
  • That last statement is a good thing to remember. You don’t want to spend lots of time WITH “that person” any more than you want to BECOME “that person”, so make sure you don’t give up all the ground you’ve managed gain this month. Keep up the good work! You CAN continue this positive pattern of behavior. It may mean that you have to alter your calendar, buy your coffee elsewhere for a bit, or simply say, “No” (in your kindest and most positive voice, of course!) the next time a chronic complainer wants to spend lots of extra time with you–especially if even the invitation is covered in complaints. While I am ALL FOR and created for ministering to people when they are hurting, there comes a time when you also have to extend the kindness of speaking the truth in love to them. I get it. They need Jesus–and so do I on a MOMENT BY MOMENT basis!! It is totally appropriate to continue to introduce them to Him. Beware of putting yourself in HIS place, however, by becoming the one they turn to with every issue, problem, or complaint. You can’t save them and you can’t fix them, but HE can. Be aware of the need and beware of becoming it. Some distance might just be the best and healthiest thing for each of you.
  • Hurting people hurt people. Y’all already know this. Just as you can’t fix or save THEM, you have to know that you are responsible for pursuing your own healing so that you don’t continue to injure the people around you. Some things are a matter of determination and being stubborn can actually help you with those things. (I am living proof of this!)  Other issues require a good, qualified, Godly counselor who will take you to the Source of all wisdom and help you find your healing in the One who made you and has the best plan imaginable for you. Jesus can do more in an instant to move you toward healing that you can struggle toward in a whole lifetime, so if you’re tired of struggling–with more than just this NCN challenge–I’d be happier than you can imagine to introduce you to God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. He adores you. He created you for good things. He desires a personal relationship with you and He’s so set on that goal that He was willing to give the ultimate sacrifice so that you could be with Him forever.

You might not think this last one is really practical unless you already know Jesus. That’s ok. He’s not going to give up on you whether you’ve done NCN poorly, well, or even given it a shot at all. Neither am I. Because He loves you, I do, too. I’m grateful for every single one who reads these words–even those of you who disagree with me on this. (Insert big wide grin here!) I appreciate your willingness to take on the challenge of making the world you live in a more positive place even if we don’t live close to each other, because choosing to be more peaceful in your part of the world automatically affects my part, as well.

Happy Wednesday, Y’all! Only three more days to go…You can do it!!

Grace and Peace!

Romans 12:21!!!

NCN 2018–Day 26

We all have our days and I guess ours might have caught up with us this weekend. Although we’ve been more careful about adding to our schedule and trying to stay rested this year–and especially this show season!–the husband and I were on the verge of a crash Saturday night. We were beyond tired all of a sudden, so we had a mini-conversation and decided we would just stay home on Sunday instead of going to church. We would sleep in, set no alarms, and take the day to rest and recover.

IMG_20180418_104244495_HDRExcept…it was only the second Sunday in a row since September that we had been free and without a show. I’ve missed being in church. It’s too easy to get out of the habit of going and I had actually asked a few prayer partners to pray about that specifically for us: that we wouldn’t be drawn away and lose our desire for the fellowship. As I got ready for bed, I looked at the alarm and still chose not to set it. Instead, I just told God, “If I need to be there, wake me up in time to get ready.”

Boy, did He ever. 4:35 AM. Wide awake. Nope, rolling over wasn’t going to help. I just got on up and started doing little quiet chores in areas away from the sleeping husband and the cat who thinks he must be with me…loudly…as much as possible. I laughed about it to myself as I straightened the guest rooms and cleaned bathrooms: Apparently, I really needed to be in church…and, when my husband walked into the living room about 6 AM, I figured that he needed to be there, as well…but I didn’t say anything.

I finished preparing a few “happies” that needed to be delivered that morning, we fixed breakfast and finished watching the game that almost never ended. (LSU v Texas A&M–SEVEN overtimes?!! I am SO grateful for the DVR that allows me to sleep and watch football when my eyes can stay open!) I got up and started getting ready. It wasn’t long before my husband was preparing to go, as well. Sometimes, the encouragement of seeing someone else do something you know you should do is enough to help you push through and do it, too.

We arrived without incident and I set out to deliver my happies. Before I could leave the sanctuary, however, I spotted a friend who has been battling cancer for quite awhile. She was there despite the pain etched in her face. I stopped to hold her hand and pray. She is amazing. Leaving the sanctuary, I saw her husband, who is equally amazing. He had stopped to take a break, having gone as far as he could in that moment. I went over to tell him that we loved him and that we were continuing to pray for him, as well. He never looked up; he just said, “Dear Lord, don’t ever let’em stop.” I moved on before I burst into tears on the spot, praying for them as I went.

I also had to pray–for myself–and ask forgiveness for my attitude. Though no words of complaint had left my lips, my attitude was not a positive one…because I was tired. Here were my friends, battling pain, significant health concerns, and weary beyond belief from their long battles, making their way in to worship. I was humbled. I was chastened. I was encouraged. I had already received my first sermon and the services hadn’t even begun. I was reminded, for the second time that day, that sometimes, the encouragement of seeing someone else do something you know you should do is enough to help you push through and do it, too.

I’m sharing this today, at the beginning of this week–this MONDAY after a long holiday weekend when going back to our schedules feels harder than we remembered–as a reminder to all of us:  complaint isn’t always verbal. Choosing to do what we know we should and doing it with a good attitude helps more than just us. Be a good example to those around you. Honestly, when I first typed that, it came out as “be a GOD example”–and that’s not bad advice, either, since that is what those of us who love God and are called to bear His name are supposed to do anyway, right?! Because, sometimes, the encouragement of seeing someone else do something you know you should do is enough to help you push through and do it, too.

Help those around you today by choosing a good attitude along with your choice not to complain. You never know who needs the encouragement to keep doing the same.

Grace and Peace!

Romans 12:21!!!

(Side note: no, that’s not a picture of my church, but one of my favorite small chapels in the world. This one is at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, GA. If you’ve never gone down to see the Gardens, you need to do yourself a favor and plan yourself a trip. If you happen to be there on a Sunday afternoon, you can sit in the chapel–or outside and enjoy the beauty there!–and hear hymns played on their organ as the music swells out into nature and it feels like the flowers are joining in the worship. Really. You should go sometime!–and save me a seat.)

 

 

Greedy

I woke up singing this morning. I love it when that happens. Today it was EVEN IF (by Mercy Me) and I woke singing it as a prayer about a lot of things going in right now.

My prayer lust is full right now. Yes, that third word was supposed to be “list” but I guess even autoINcorrect gets a score every now and then. (eye roll!) The list isn’t a physical thing so much as a running conversation with God about all kinds of things: the health issues of friends and family, the state of our world, upcoming speaking and teaching opportunities, the women who will attend these events, questions about the future, and SO many other requests that are full of details that are “too personal to share” but have been anyway because the hurt was too deep for someone to carry any further.

The trust of these requests always gets to me. That someone would open up that way and be so vulnerable to one who can’t fix anything, but knows the One who can fix everything…it can be a weighty honor at times. And then I remember: I can’t fix it, but my job is to simply take it to Jesus with them. It is the ultimate privilege to walk out Galatians 6:2 and help shoulder a burden that has become too heavy to bear alone.

Today, this weight was both reinforced and lifted as I read Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:3-10, and found myself and my prayer list all over again in each of these verses.

Blessed? Blessed when we’re down, when we mourn, when we hunger and thirst for righteousness, when there’s a need for the merciful and the peacemakers in the midst of such a lack of the same? Yes. Blessed. Blessed because when we bring these needs and these hurts to Jesus we don’t have to leave as we came.

We are changed even if our circumstances aren’t immediately altered. We leave strengthened for the work, armed for the battle, and confident in the knowledge that we are neither alone, nor following a directionless leader, but One whose plan is for our ultimate good and whose love for us is without end.

I am greedy for that knowledge today! I am greedy for you to know it, too. I am greedy for the answers to be swift and easy even as I know that it will not always be that way. I am greedy for the things we learn IN and BECAUSE of the trials that will make us more like Jesus and help us pray for others when they are hurting, as well. I am greedy for the celebrations over answered prayers and I am greedy for the witness that will come as a result.

In short (even though this has been long!–grin), I am greedy for God to show up and show out in us today no matter where we find ourselves and I am greedy for it to truly be well with our souls.

Grace and peace—and many, many prayers!

 

EVEN IF (sung by Mercy Me)
They say sometimes you win some
Sometimes you lose some
And right now, right now I’m losing bad
I’ve stood on this stage night after night
Reminding the broken it’ll be alright
But right now, oh right now I just can’t
It’s easy to sing
When there’s nothing to bring me down
But what will I say
When I’m held to the flame
Like I am right now
I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
They say it only takes a little faith
To move a mountain
Well good thing
A little faith is all I have, right now
But God, when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Oh give me the strength to be able to sing
It is well with my soul
I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt
Would all go away if You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
You’ve been faithful, You’ve been good
All of my days
Jesus, I will cling to You
Come what may
‘Cause I know You’re able
I know You can
I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
I know the sorrow, I know the hurt
Would all go away if You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
It is well with my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul
Songwriters: Bart Marshall Millard / Benjamin Glover / Crystal Lewis / David Arthur Garcia / Tim Timmons
Even If lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Essential Music Publishing, Capitol Christian Music Group

Staying on Margin-mission

I’ve written quite a bit about Margin this year. I’ve thought about it even more than I’ve written about it, but I have to say that one of the things I neglected to really think about was the WHY of it…at least until the last couple of weeks, anyway.

Like many of you, I was tired and rundown by the end of last year and, since I knew that God had given me the majority of those assignments (but…let’s be real here, I added plenty of things to my own plate, as well!), I blithely assumed that this call for more Margin was another of His many gifts to me. I still don’t think I’m wrong on that.

I was just so grateful for the call to Margin that I forgot to ask many more questions. Actually, I may have been too tired to ask more questions at that point, but since we’re already into the month of JULY, that means I’ve had some time to give it some thought and…and…but…but…

what if I don’t always like where it might lead? What if it makes me uncomfortable or steps on my toes sometimes?

A few weeks ago I was with a group of friends and as the conversation progressed I noticed that one of them had wandered dangerously into my territory. (wow. that sounds melodramatic, doesn’t it?! HA!) Anyway! She began talking about all the things she wanted to do and she had plenty of fresh ideas and tons of energy and…all of the sudden I started getting a little bit antsy. Didn’t she know I already knew how to do that? Why didn’t she ask me to help? I could make things SO much simpler for her if she’d only ask!

Y’all! It took God about midway through that last sentence-thought in my head to snap me into attention as He LOUDLY in my spirit/headspace reminded me that HE was in charge of things and that MY job was to be obedient to what He was calling me to…and that was NOT what He was calling HER to right then! As clear as day, God said to me, “I am calling you to Margin, but I am loading her plate.”

Let me just stop and mention here that Scripture (in 1 Kings 19:12) tells us that Elijah looked for God in the earthquake and the fire, but found Him in “a still, small voice.” Well. The voice in my headspace was neither still, nor small. It was quick and powerful and full of conviction as God reminded me of my mission and quickly gave instruction about how I was to proceed. MY job, you see, isn’t to be one of DOING in this instance, but to be one of SUPPORTING! MY job is to cheer her on, build her up, pray for her and speak words of encouragement both to her and on her behalf.

And just like that, I settled down. As I did so, it is amazing how much easier it was to listen without all those voices in my head! HA!!

Being on mission with God doesn’t always look the same from the outside and this was the perfect example of that to me. I was instantly made aware (AGAIN!) that

  • it isn’t my job to do Every Thing,
  • it IS my job to do what God tells ME to do and support others as they do the same, AND
  • there will come a time when God chooses to fills my plate again.

That last one is important because it reminded me of ONE of the reasons I need this time of margin: I need to be ‘rested up’ and ready for the next time of heavy assignment.

No matter what mission God has assigned you today–either for margin or the filled plate or somewhere in between–I pray that you are filled with peace and able to hear His voice without your own getting in the way like mine did for a bit. I also pray that if your voice does get in the way, that His will override it with the same quickness and authority that He did with me and that you’ll be just as happy as a bird with a french fry at whatever He has to say.

“Walk in obedience to all that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.” Deuteronomy 5:33

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17 

Sunday blessings on you today, dear friends.

Grace and peace!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heart song

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 (ESV)

It started in 1989. A couple of months after I finished grad school, I moved to Atlanta and found a ground floor apartment with big rooms…that scared almost everyone I met…except me. I KNOW it scared them because–without exception–I was encouraged to move as soon as anyone came to see me for the first time. This was especially true of the people who had lived in the area for awhile. (I actually had dates that refused to come back because of where I lived!–but those were “faint of heart” and apparently, it was God’s way of weeding them out! HA!)

What “THEY” knew: drug deals were going down at the front of the complex. All. The. Time.

What “I” knew: it fit my budget, was close to my closest office, and I was finally on my own. It was heaven–even without any furniture and no TV. Starting out, I had a bed (mattress on the floor), a new job, a radio, my books, a place to cook meals, and freedom to make my own decisions. I set about making a home and a life on my own…or so I believed.

What God knew: there was a plan to bless me really big. It would just take a bit to unfold.

Because I was raised to live with a healthy respect for cleanliness, because it was an old apartment that had housed people I did not know, AND because I worked for doctors, I scoured every single inch of that apartment. Cleaning supplies were my number one priority and biggest budget item that first month. I didn’t have much, but it was going to be clean, so there was absolutely NO surface that escaped my obsession. (That’s important to know because of what happened later.)

I had been there almost two years and had settled in nicely. I found a church home right next door to the complex, friends who ‘braved’ (Read that as PRAYED HEARTILY–and most likely, OUT LOUD!–AS THEY DROVE QUICKLY THROUGH!) the front part and came to visit, work that was both interesting and challenging, and a host of children who greeted me every day when I came home. They came running at top speed as soon as they spied my truck turning in and I often had to ask them to wait a moment while I put my stuff down. THEN, they turned in their “reports.” I knew if anyone had come by, stopped at my door, whether or not they went on to another door (and if so, which ones), what they looked like, what they drove, how long they stayed, and if they had been there before. A state of the art security force…all for the price of a big bowl of candy and a round of hugs and questions about their day, as well. The back part of the complex where I lived, you see, was made up of families and they had adopted me as one of their own.

I had a large and loving personal family, a great church family, a wonderful work family, and now, an apartment complex family. God was showing out in the love department, but He hadn’t sent me anyone to do life with yet. I was content to wait, but I was praying about it. I even went so far as to write down exactly what I wanted Him to send me…in detail, because, you know…some things you just need to spell out…even before God. (grin)

As the wait became longer, I wondered if He was really listening and, one evening, after some pretty intensive prayer–about a lot of things, not just that–I walked into my bathroom and reached for something in the medicine cabinet. As I pulled it forward, my hand caught something else, as well.IMG_20180618_075914480_LL

Something I had never seen before.

Something small and shiny.

Something gold, but kind of sticky…like it might have been back there a LONG time…and then…There. was. another. one.

It was a pair of VERY small gold heart earrings. Covered in dust.

I had had no recent visitors. I checked with those who had been there to see if they were missing a set. I had never owned a pair like them, had never even SEEN a pair like them, and I had absolutely NO idea where they could have come from…because I had SCOURED that place from day 1 and kept it clean from then onward.

It made absolutely no sense, but somehow, I knew that GOD had sent me those earrings just to let me know that He actually was listening. Instead of feeling like it was a bit creepy, I felt absolutely loved and cared for. I cleaned them up and wore them for years. Every time I did so, someone would comment on them–even as small as they were–and I would get to share my story. Actually, I was sharing God’s story.

You know the one? The one where He loves each of us SO MUCH that there’s nothing He won’t do to get our attention and nothing He saved back when He sent His Son to die for us. That’s the one. If you’re not familiar with it, go back and read this paragraph again. He loves you…really, really big…so much so that He sent His Son to save you in whatever high and mighty or backwards backwater place you find yourself today. He came to save you from your sin so that He could spend eternity with YOU and you could spend it–and today!–with Him.

IMG_20180614_163032883_LL

Those heart earrings were just the start of it for me. To this day, God still sends me hearts on a pretty regular basis. Sometimes they’re shaped like rocks as I walk to the mailbox (like the one I found last week–see the picture!–or the ones I found ON MY PORCH at my Mississippi house!) or near a mountain stream. In fact, I have an old white platter where I have started piling those heart rocks as a reminder that HE is personal and very, very present in my life.

IMG_20180613_193832840_HDR

Sometimes, the hearts show up as flowers like this one that’s blooming right this minute along my back walkway…kind of like He had me bloom at the back of a really old apartment complex all those years ago.

No matter what form they take, each time I see one, I smile really big and tell God “THANK YOU!” for listening, for being near, for having a plan, and for just being God. Of course, I am looking for the hearts. Don’t miss that! I’m looking for the hearts He sends because I’m also looking for HIM to show up every day and yet I sometimes wonder just how many hearts I’ve missed because I forgot to pay attention over the years.

Writing all of this has reminded me of the verse I started out with today:

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 (ESV)

This wasn’t just written for us, you know. It also characterizes our God. WE are His treasure and where WE are, there HIS HEART will be also!

If that doesn’t help you look for Him today, I’m not sure what will, so I hope you’re looking…and I hope your heart has a home with Him.

Grace and Peace!