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!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Words in the window

IMG_20170518_065834453This is my view today as I chop veggies to go in the freezer. There’s a scent of gardenia wafting over the freshness of the zucchini, squash, and onions simmering on the stove and the house is quiet. I’m cleaning out the fridge and preparing for a delicious casserole one of these days when I’m pressed for time and still in need of sustenance.

My cat watches my every move from his pod on top of the washer in the laundry room. It’s peaceful here today.

I had to take my glasses off as I transferred the steaming concoction to a strainer, but it didn’t stop me from reading the words on the ornament left on the window sill since Christmas, “Be cheerful and pass it on!”

I’m as struck by these words as I was the first time I saw them. Such a simple message. I originally bought the ornament for someone who has trouble being cheerful. (Subtle as a hammer, I know. grin) When I got it home, however, I noticed the ornament had a crack running through it. That’s not exactly what you look for in a gift, is it? A broken reminder to do something that’s often difficult? It just didn’t seem like a good idea to pass it along…or to throw it away. The “obvious” alternative was to place it atop a small silver cup on the window sill as a reminder to myself.

I’m convinced that’s what God wanted all along. The makers of this ornament meant for it to be perfect and to hang on a tree for a few days or so once a year. In the midst of all the other decorations of the Christmas season, this message might have gone unnoticed. But placed as it is on my window sill? Each day I see these words reminding me to spread the cheer that comes as a result of His coming among us to bring us hope and salvation. Each day I am reminded that things don’t have to be perfect for me to be cheerful and that I can change the world in simple ways just by being willing to be used in whatever way and in whatever place He chooses to put me.

Sounds like the words in the window were meant for me…and maybe, you, too. What will you do today to be a person of influence right where you are?

BE CHEERFUL and pass it on.

Grace and Peace!

 

 

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!

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!

New normal?

Welcome to the new year! The fasting and the feasting are both past, and it’s time to return to the “normal”…but what will that look like now? Throughout the month of December I chose to follow a technology fast by deliberately limiting my time online and trying to focus on the people I was actually with instead of my phone and all the places it could take me without ever leaving the house. Following our NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER month, my friend Jaybrena christened it “#ditchthedeviceDecember” and the results really surprised me.

While I missed being in the know about certain news stories and people who live far away, after a few days (yes, it took a bit of time to get used to!) I also found it quite serene to realize that I had reached the end of my allotted 2 hours/day of “computer time” and could then shut it down and walk away. That restful freedom has always been there, of course, but I’ve rarely chosen it–and certainly not so consistently as I did this past month.

I gave myself permission to use the phone for actual phone calls without limitations, so I always had the option of hearing the voices instead of sending/reading texts and emails once I had reached my online limit. Quickly realizing that it made little sense to actually call someone with the latest 2-second thing that entertained me meant that I ended up with more quiet time than I was used to. (And I liked it!) I also found that my own personal fast quickly reduced the number of times I needed to respond electronically, as others managed to survive and perhaps even thrive without my instant/constant insertions into their days. (grin… Unintended lessons in humility are always appreciated, of course.)

I also found that:

  • While 2 hours still felt like  a generous plenty when I set that guideline, it went by much faster than I had anticipated.
  • I learned to pick up my phone only at certain times during the day and keep a few minutes in reserve for the end of the day check on business communications.
  • People won’t die if they have to wait a few minutes for an answer from me.
  • I won’t die if I have to wait awhile for an answer from them, either.
  • I still appreciate a response by the end of the day.
  • It takes me longer than I thought to compose blog posts. Stream of consciousness writing still needs to be edited…at least over here.
  • It also takes longer than I had thought to post to my Etsy store.
  • Maybe it doesn’t really take “longer”, but having that 2 hour limitation made it a tight squeeze to get it all in, so I learned to make a plan for the day instead of going wherever it led me. (Imagine that?! I needed to be reminded about planning!!)
  • Not being online gave me time to be more productive in other areas of my life.
  • It really is possible to put the phone down and walk away for hours at a time.
  • I’m more generous when I’m not on the computer…perhaps because I can see the need in front of me instead of just my screen.
  • My prayer life improved.
  • I was surprised that I didn’t read more.
  • I truly enjoyed the deliberateness of rest.
  • I enjoyed cooking more.
  • I enjoyed lot of things more.
  • I made more memories and took fewer photos.
  • Being fully present is a gift that always fits.

It was both harder and easier than I had expected all at the same time. It helped me to feel more connected with the world around me. I’m a Luddite compared to many, but I hadn’t realized how “virtual reality” I had been feeling. This fast gave me a deeper appreciation for the tangible feel of life and, while the parameters of the fast will change, that’s something I want to be intentional about keeping.

This experience was a good one and had a greater impact on me than I expected. It gave me some much needed focus as the holidays came and the new year approached. It reminded me of the Jim Elliott quote that I’ve chosen as my theme for 2017,

“Wherever you are, be all there.”

I learned to order my days differently –and more deliberately!–and that reminded me of one of my favorite verses:

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12 (NIV) 

and THAT, I hope, is what becomes my new normal.

Grace & Peace!

On the cusp

This has been a pretty odd holiday season for us. We kept finishing up tasks to go to the next in order to make the next sprint to go to the…Well, you get the picture. ( I know I probably shouldn’t admit this, but we managed to get through the entire Christmas Day without reading the Christmas story!–And we NEVER miss doing that!!) In fact, your schedule may have mirrored ours. If so, may I offer my condolences and encourage you to plan for a different outcome in the year ahead?

That sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? If you aren’t pleased with an outcome, make plans to change the next one! That will put you in some pretty good company right now as people around the world prepare for 2017 by making resolutions about changes in habits and behavior.

I’ve been working on a new Bible study, praying, and making all kinds of preparation for the tasks I know are ahead of me in the upcoming year. I already know some of what God is loading my plate with in the months ahead. That’s both exciting and also carries a significant amount of pressure.

I’ve been using the past few days to do as much prep work as I possibly can. I’ve always been a fan of being prepared…But I’ve also been pretty much committed  to  the “doing my best work under pressure” theory most of the time in reality. (Grin…There are several former teachers/professors who would be nodding in agreement right now.)

This year, at age 51, I’m trying something new.

I’m also trying something old. I’m revisiting a theme from a few years ago that served me well while we were living with a lot of chaos. I won’t be making any resolutions, but I will be posting a favorite quote by missionary Jim Elliott in several key places where I can see it often. Here’s the quote:

“Wherever you are, be all there.”

That’s it. It’s really that simple. I’ve got a lot of great opportunities coming up this year and I plan to make the most of every single one. God is entrusting me with these opportunities to serve. I want to be fully prepared and fully present to do what He’s called me to do.

When I embraced this quote before, I found that I was more relaxed and yet more focused. I got away from that in 2016, and to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t my best year. At times I felt a little like I was wandering in the proverbial wilderness. I’m OK with the wandering. I’m just not particularly fond of the wilderness…especially when it’s of my own making.

I started the day after Christmas. I began with some one-on-one time with God. I haven’t asked for things, but for wisdom, for attitudes that reflect Him instead of me, for the ability to discern best over good…and the ability to know when good enough actually IS His best right then.

I can’t wait! I feel like I’m on the cusp of a significant move forward in my personal relationship with God. I’m excited about serving Him and His people in a brand new way. I’m not under any illusions that it will all go perfectly or that I’ll make it through the year without falling on my face. It’s my hope, however, that all this time on my face in preparation will make those landings easier when they happen and that the rebounds will be quicker and involve fewer people in any resulting pile-ups.

Optimistic realism. That seems to be my theme for life. It’s served me well. This year, I’m asking for it to help me serve God well, too.

What changes are you making? What resolutions are you hoping to successfully implement? Is there a theme or a goal that you’re pursuing in 2017? I want to hear all about it! I can’t wait, actually, because we’re ALL on the cusp of the new year. What do you plan to do with yours?

Grace and Peace–And Happy New Year!!

 

 

 

Meeting expectations

I just received a book I ordered on Amazon. I love books. This one had been on my radar for several years–ever since another blogger I love had shared a couple of quotes from it. Since it wasn’t a necessity or pertinent to any particular project I have pursued since then, the book title has simply languished on my personal wish list. I have periodically searched for an affordable copy to own. Oh, I checked with the library first, but they didn’t own a copy–not even a single one in the entire Georgia Pines system that could be transferred in so I could read it! I searched for it in bookstores locally and nationally as I traveled, but Books-a-Million and Barnes & Noble haven’t stocked it, either.

At long last, I found a used copy online that was within my means. It had the added bonus, I thought, of having an inscription by the book photographer. It was described as being “clean with no other markings.”

It arrived today. I was all excited and couldn’t wait to liberate it from all of the packaging.

It wasn’t what I expected.

Yes, there was an inscription by the photographer, but there were also multiple pages (8, to be precise) that had markings where a previous reader had chosen to mark passages that appealed to them…but not necessarily to me. I was crushed. After waiting all this time, it just didn’t live up to my expectations.

That’s a word I’ve been reading a lot about here lately. Expectations. Set them too high and disappointment is sure to follow. Set them too low and no one will express any interest.

I’ve had a little more time to read and think lately. Deciding to limit my time online has been a real treat during this busy holiday season. I’ve had more time for prayer (which I’ve needed) and I’ve accomplished more than I thought possible on my chore list each day. I am loving it! In fact, I may just adjust a few of my parameters and keep this personal challenge going for a little while.

The story about my new book and the report on my latest challenge may not seem to mesh at first glance. What they do, however, is remind me that I need to make sure I take the time to think about what I set others up to expect from me–by the things I say and the things I do–and the things I expect of them in return.

Additionally, if I’m supposed to represent Christ well every day (and I am), then I need to make certain I live up to the expectation He sets for me in the Bible, not just those others set for me or the ones I might set for myself. Quite honestly, His expectations are often both more difficult and much simpler than those I’ve set for myself in the past. His is a law of liberty and I’ve managed to complicate that liberty more than once by allowing myself “a pass” on some elements and adding my own brand of adherence to others. Thinking back on some of my past behavior, I’m often amazed that God was been allowed to show up at all some days. (my goodness, aren’t you glad you don’t do things like that?!)

As I’ve had more time to think lately, I’ve also had more time to talk to God about what I’m thinking (and doing) and how that lines up with His expectations of me. I’ve been reminded that He is full of grace and forgiveness, so I must choose to be the same.

It’s already made a significant difference in the way I’m choosing to celebrate this Christmas. I’m choosing to let go of some expectations in the way the season ought to be celebrated. Some of those expectations are mine. Some aren’t. The main thing I’m doing is choosing to expect God to show up just like He did so long ago to save a world that was in such need of Him…and that looks like me this year…so I’m actively looking for Him in my days. I’m choosing to believe that He is enough. I’m choosing peace over pursuit. I’m choosing rest over activity. I’m choosing relationships over technology, and I’m choosing to look to for Him in the quietness of the room and in the depth of my heart.

He is here and He enough. Expectation met…and exceeded.

 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 (NIV)

 

(Btw, I contacted my bookseller. They were gracious enough to apologize for the misrepresentation and then they went even further: they refunded my money and told me to keep the book! Seems like they might know something about meeting expectations, as well.)