We Give

When I was growing up, my mother did most of her grocery shopping at a BIG STAR grocery store. At the end of her purchase, she usually received  some change (cash, you know!) and a run of sticky-backed green paper stamps. That didn’t seem odd at all to me since people regularly looked for stores that extended paper stamps to their customers as a bonus for shopping with them. The stamps were a way for the customer to purchase additional “premium” items not found in the store that extended the stamps. In that way, it was a bit like our modern-day fuel points at Kroger, except that the  stamp-purchased items could be anything from a crystal candy dish to an appliance and were most likely ordered from a catalog or redeemed from a small separate Stamp Store where people went with excited eyes and their carefully collected books of stamps to see what they could choose as their reward for spending hard-earned cash on the staples of life.

S&H GREEN stamps and the small books they had to be carefully pasted into are a vivid memory from my childhood. It was a big deal to finally be trusted to wet the sticky back of the stamps and place them into neatly covered rows–and that was IF my mother didn’t claim that privilege for herself. (grin–We had such simple privileges back then!)  I remember going with my mother to redeem her books of Green stamps and it always reminded me of Christmas just for her. She looked forward to finally having enough to purchase an item or pick out a new one to begin saving toward. I wasn’t a fan of going grocery shopping, but going to the stamp store? Well, that was a bit like getting to shop inside the Sears Christmas Catalog! (For those of you too young to remember, the Sears Christmas Catalog was our paper-bound version of Amazon in life long before the internet…as long as you didn’t mind waiting and waiting for things to arrive after you ordered them. And, yes, I am way older than I feel! LOL!) It was a sad, sad day when the S&H store finally closed its doors in our home town.

ANYWAY! Over the door leading from my dining room area to the screened back porch there hangs a metal sign with big black and white outlined letters on a background of gold.  It is a vintage sign, not a reproduction, that once was part of a grouping of multiple metal signs hung on the side of stores that gave Gold Bond Stamps instead of the Green Stamps of my childhood. I don’t know where it originally came from, but I spotted it several years ago hanging on the side of an antique store/picker barn in rural Georgia. When I asked if it was for sale, then owner looked a bit surprised and began to explain that it wasn’t a “complete” sign since he didn’t have the rest of the signs that originally hung together.

It didn’t matter to me. I just wanted that sign. With the bonus of being painted in the colors of my high school alma mater, the bold message it proclaimed was more than enough.

It simply says, “WE GIVE” and, from the moment I first laid eyes on it, I took it as more than a written tenet of my faith; it became a mandate, a reminder, and a challenge.

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After detaching it from the weathered side of the barn, I loaded it up and brought it home to hang over the door we and our guests most often use to enter and leave the house. I don’t know that it really “goes” with anything else in that room–because it was certainly never intended to end up in a dining room!–but it still speaks to me every time I look at it. It matters to me that the sign is original, because our giving should be original and it doesn’t matter to me that it sometimes tilts just a little bit off center because of all the coming and going through the doors because our giving should be active–and it sometimes gets a little off center, as well. (grin)

Over the years I’ve stared up at that sign and thought of all the different ways I could finish that sentence. WE GIVE…

  • love
  • joy
  • praise
  • forgiveness
  • grace
  • hugs
  • presents
  • food
  • friendship
  • acceptance
  • appreciation
  • worship
  • shelter
  • more than we “have to”
  • less than we ought to
  • because we GET to
  • because we’ve been given so very much
  • because we serve the Giver of life and all good things…and because we get to be HIS.

It is that last one that struck me first and strikes me most often still. So many times we think only in terms of money when we consider giving. To be certain, it is often more convenient and far less “risky” than to be involved, to care, to show up, to reach out, or to simply be available for others, but isn’t giving supposed to be personal? I struggle with this as I want to stay hidden and content to do my own work and create my own circle and yet, God continues to prod me into discomfort, at times, so that He can GIVE me the experience of giving HIM to those around me. Money can create distances that isolate and insulate us–and, don’t get me wrong! I’m a fan of both the money and the insulation! In fact, I am perhaps too fond of them, particularly the latter–BUT God didn’t just call us to isolation. We are an important way He shares Himself with the world every single day. IF we refuse to give Him to those around us as we live life together, we become hoarders of the Blessing…and that’s no way to live.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. As we start this brand new week, what will you choose to give to those around you? Could it be a smile, an encouraging word, the gift of a chore done so they won’t have to, an unexpected treat or adventure, a meal, a shared time of prayer, a time of listening, a hug, a paid bill, or a sticky note left where they can see it and be reminded of your appreciation? The opportunities are limitless…and so is the effect…for all of us.

Give some kindness this week. Give something of yourself and the One who created and blessed you so well.

WE GIVE…because we CAN.  WE GIVE…because we GET to do so!

Grace and peace!

“Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the splendor and the majesty, for everything in the heavens and on earth belongs to you. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom, and you are exalted as head over all. Riches and honor come from you, and you are the ruler of everything. Power and might are in your hand, and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all. Now therefore, our God, we give you thanks and praise your glorious name. But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? For everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your own hand.”   1 Chronicles 29:11-14 (CSB)

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Changes in atmosphere

40469This week has been one of change. On Monday, I was pulling grass out of the back garden flower bed when tiny drips and drops of liquid sunshine began to fall all around me. There was no need to stop doing what I had started because the drops were gentle and sporadic. My work continued.

Within thirty minutes the drops had increased in both frequency and intensity, while the sky remained full of light. Still, I moved toward tasks that could be done indoors.

As I dug into the recurring efforts of maintaining order and folding clean clothes inside (yes, I know: definitely first world issues!), the sky opened up outside and dropped an upturned bucket-load of rain all around us. I watched puddles form in the driveway and then watched them connect with others out in the yard to create a mini-moat around the front of the house.

My neighbor called a little bit later to tell me that his rain gauge indicated we had received a little over 2 inches of rain in less than 30 minutes…much faster than our ground could absorb in that amount of time. He also called to ask if I was interested in having fresh pears. The answer was an enthusiastic “yes!”–even before he sweetened the offer by saying that HE would have them picked and delivered to me early the next afternoon.

Now, seriously, who could say “no” to that?! (And, yes, I DO have the best neighbors!!)

As I pondered this latest gift from God–because my husband had just been talking about wanting some pears this past weekend!—I also thought about some of the other changes going on in my life right now. I’m a bit over half-way into this year of adding more Margin to my life and I’m beginning to see some significant benefits emerge. I’m also beginning to see that this may not just be limited to a one year search for me. Already, the changes have been quite profound.

  • I’ve noticed that while I still haven’t lost all of my impatience with area traffic conditions, I’ve also made room for being nicer while I’m being affected by them. I can now foresee the possibility of having a ‘church sticker’ on my truck, which I have previously avoided because I tend to be impatient and there was just NO reason to tick people off about church because they got ticked about my impatience behind the wheel. (yes, really.)
  • I’ve become more aware of the times I’m tempted to walk in and take over, and I’ve begun to step back and allow other people to “figure it out” for themselves…and I’ve TRIED to offer advice only when asked…or when I see a fatal flaw…ok, maybe this one still needs some work. (personal eye roll)
  • I’m learning to include some time for me in my week that doesn’t involve “just getting it done” all the time. It turns out that this actually makes me happier to go along with other people’s schedules when needed…who knew?!
  • I’m spending even more time talking with God and I’m finding a deeper love of His Word. That’s something I’ve been asking Him to help me with for quite awhile. It turns out that I am enjoying the challenges of the Word more now that I’m not taking on ALL the challenges thrown my way by the world!
  • I’m finding that while the work doesn’t go away, sometimes I need to. Choosing to find a stopping place and walk away may seem like a no-brainer to most of you, but that’s a hard one for me. I’m not in any danger of becoming a slacker (grin), but I am choosing to heed what my body, mind, and spirit are in need of instead of just being hyper-focused on accomplishing the task no mater what the cost. This may just be the biggest change of all for me so far!

Like the rain on Monday, these things started out slowly and have built in momentum over the past 8 months, but they’re picking up speed and forming new connections with  thoughts and goals that have been put on the back-burner for longer that I can remember.

I’m becoming more creative and discovering the idea of “play” again–and just the idea of that makes me a little emotional. God certainly intends for us to work and do good while we’re here on the earth, but He is no hard and crushingly demanding taskmaster…despite my own previous behavior toward myself. Choosing to take  time to enjoy the opportunities God has placed in front of me has a new dimension now. While I have long enjoyed God, now I find I am approaching the tasks I’m assigned with a much more relaxed attitude and finding ways to make them even more fun instead of just getting them done and checking them off like so many items on a chore list. Like that rain, this idea is both refreshing to my soul and producing growth in other areas of my life.

Thank you, God, for the idea of Margin, for including room for play in your plan, for being patient with me while I stubbornly clung to the idea of accomplishing much with great effort instead of doing so with great joy, for choosing to bless me in spite of my mistakes and frustrations, and for loving me enough to send me pears before I even prayed for them. You are good…and I am grateful.

Grace and Peace!

 

Anniversary

The nation is officially 242 years old today! July 2, 1776 marks the day when the members of the Second Continental Congress actually VOTED their approval of declaring themselves (and, therefore US, the U.S.) as being a separate and free–Independent!– nation.

It was a long time coming, this vote, and two days later, they would finally sign a physical document making their vote something that England’s King George III could read for himself. While the 4th of July is what we celebrate now, back then, John Adams expected us to be celebrating every year on July 2nd…because THAT was when the commitment was made.

July 2nd holds a special place in my heart, as well, and not just because of what you’ve read above, but because a mere 26 years ago, I also made a commitment. My sweet husband asked me to marry him on a beach–when neither of us are beach people!–and with Roman candles that wouldn’t fire–right up until he took out a ring and put it on my hand. THAT was when the rockets finally went off and I made a commitment to be his bride for the rest of my life.

Maybe it should have been an omen, maybe even a warning–for both of us!–but the truth of the matter is that our commitment to each other wasn’t (and still isn’t!) dependent on fireworks or favorite location which, incidentally, is next to each other and not really place-dependent at all. We made a decision to love, honor, and keep each other for the rest of our days…and that’s still going on today.

Today…when he went to work late because he took me to see a doctor and made sure I was taken care of physically before he drove off to make sure we were taken care of financially. Today…when we remembered again that the commitment we made to each other wasn’t dependent on health or wealth or personal happiness, but understood that it brings all of those things to each of us, and so much more.

Some will say this is pointed and, perhaps even a little judgmental, to write these things out loud where the world can see them and publish it when marriage has become a temporary thing to so many, but that’s not the case, at all. Far from it.

THIS is a celebration of the two of us: of deciding the course that God had chosen was best for both of us and OUR decision to follow it through no matter what. THIS is a celebration of stubborn faith and a willingness to hold hands and face whatever God has sent our way together. THIS is a celebration of love that has brought far more TO me than it has ever taken FROM me. THIS is both a benediction to the One who brought us together in the first place and a blessing to the one who shares his life with me so well.

THIS is all about gratitude.

THIS is an anniversary of being committed and staying the course no matter what even before the vows were made official.

With more love and greater grace than I could ever have deserved, God gave me you, my dear husband! For the rings we no longer wear and the vows that we have always kept, I am grateful. For the daily choosing to be the best we can be together–and the knowledge that some days will always go better than others…and for being determined that we keep on trying to make the next one even greater–I am grateful! For all the things we know and have survived–and all that is to come, I choose to be grateful. For laughing with me–and AT me, on occasion, and allowing me that same privilege in return, I am grateful. Thanks for asking the question and for living out the answer every day of the last 26 years! Here’s to many, many more. ILYM&B!!

Grace and Peace!

Timely reminders

I woke up Saturday morning and groaned. That knotted muscle that I thought was finally eased had tightened up again overnight. Neither knotted muscles nor groaning is my normal thing. (Thank you, God!) In fact, I usually wake up and talk to God first thing, but with our travels and getting back into the swing of routine at home, I suddenly realized that I hadn’t started up that way for several days, so after I stopped the groaning, I apologized to God and hobbled for the heating pad. I had a two hour meeting at the church later in the morning to help us share Jesus with others, tax prep paperwork all over the dining room table with a looming appointment, more upcoming travel, and I still needed to work on my Bible study before I could lead on Tuesday. I was WAY behind with more stuff headed my way, and I have to say this: I was not in the mood to share ANYthing with ANYone right then, much less Jesus. Oh, how I wish I could say I was more spiritual than that, but I just flat-out told God all of that as I asked Him to PLEASE change my attitude before that meeting.

As I reached for the bag with my study materials, I tugged on the handles (trapped under a heavy bowl without my knowledge) and out spilled fruit and snacks…all over the floor. Oranges rolled in every direction. This would require bending and that would be painful.

I just cried.

I  was hurting. I was mad.  I was behind and totally unspiritual. It was all my fault…and margin was nowhere to be found.

Thankfully, my husband was nearby and came to my rescue. He picked up all the oranges, got me settled on the heating pad, brought me juice, offered breakfast, and then left me to recover.

As I settled into his big chair, I had to start somewhere, so I prayed again. This time for a friend who was leading a women’s ministry retreat at her church using the same study our ladies had just finished: BREATHE, by Priscilla Shirer. As I texted my friend, I prayed for ALL of us to breathe God in so deeply that we have no choice but to breathe Him back out to those around us. I knew for certain that I needed that for myself!

I physically concentrated on breathing in and breathing out as I prayed. And then…the margin came…mainly because God showed up in the middle of my mess and my messy prayers and began again the work of peace for my soul.

I opened my study materials and the first thing I was asked to do was read Psalm 107 out loud. I turned to it and read.

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from trouble.”  Psalm 107:1-2 

More margin. More peace. More reminders about the goodness of my God and how he has redeemed me.

That word “redeemed” is something special. It means “bought back; recovered with a price.” We had studied it in depth last year and the lessons learned then flooded over me again.

My God loves me! He loves you! He loves us so much that He chose to pay the highest price so that we could all spend eternity with Him! The joy of that made everything else unimportant right then. I had to share it or explode…so I wrote this blog post to share it with You! (Because no one else was there at the time and I was sticking with that hot pad!) I knew this wouldn’t be published for a day or so and that you might not get to it for a bit, but I am still confident that the timing will be right when you finally read it. Maybe it will come when you’re in the middle of a meeting or a muddle. Perhaps it will come in on a day when all is going well, but you’ll still need to be reminded or know someone who needs to be reminded: God is good. He loves us–right in the middle of whatever we’re dealing with! He is with us. If we breathe Him in and breathe Him out, the margins begin to suddenly get larger automatically because He can’t be constrained by our circumstances.

God sent my reminder on time. I’m counting on Him to do the same for you.

Grace and peace!

 

25

I’ve heard it said that people only put their best lives out on social media. While there may be some truth to that, I’d prefer to think that most of us are just celebrating the good parts. What many people forget, however, is that we need to celebrate the ordinary parts, as well. My husband and I recognize a lot of those, so I guess that makes us “extra” ordinary. I’ve always loved seeing those two words next to each other because they remind me that when we choose to celebrate our all of our extra ordinaries, we realize that our lives have actually become extraordinary.

IMG_20180219_120533263A few of days ago, we packed up the big red truck and drove off the mountain on our way home. We took the scenic route: farm land, forests, majestic views, patches of daffodils at places we imagined long-ago homesteads, cows, and towns small enough to pass through in under a minute. No interstates crowded with commuter or big box stores and restaurant chains for most of the way.

Like our getaway, the trip home was a reflection of who we are:  generally peaceful, decidedly ordinary…and plenty ok with it. We’ve been celebrating 25 years of marriage this week. Actually, we’ve been celebrating all along the way for the whole 25 years. We learned to do that early on in this thing when with just a few months before our 5th anniversary, we heard the dreaded word, cancer. Since then, we’ve heard other dreaded words like infertility, job loss, heart failure, death of loved ones, and so much more. That doesn’t make us that different from you, does it? It makes us ordinary or maybe, even extra ordinary/extraordinary…just like you. We decided long ago to take each day as it comes, so our lives have been a reflection of just what Scripture tells us in Proverbs 27:1, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” 

We’ve also learned a little about the flip side of that verse from Matthew 6:34 (ESV) which says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” 

img_20180219_120424062.jpgWe’re a lot better about not worrying than we used to be. We’ve seen God show up and show out for us so many times that even those dreaded words don’t seem to feel as dreadful as they used to. We’ve learned the joy of being together and knowing that we both belong to God. Whatever else happens, we’ve decided that those things are our non-negotiables. We’ve gotten stubborn about them and that’s ok, too. It’s good to get stubborn about the things that are most important to you. By the way, being stubborn about knowing you’re completely loved and accepted by an all-powerful and all-knowing God has led to some pretty stubborn faith, as well, and that stubborn faith has stood us in pretty good stead.

IMG_20180219_121246248_HDRSome of what was important to us at the beginning has changed over the past 25 years. We’re more apt to focus on people rather than things now. We’re still learning to be good stewards of our resources and we’re choosing to focus on more of the little ordinaries and celebrate them rather than waiting for the big extraordinaries to come our way. Those are still happening, by the way, we’ve just learned that an impromptu date in the middle of the week with friends, an unplanned side trip, daffodils blooming in February, or taking the time to just sit and look at the mountains from a peaceful place in the woods might ought to be counted as one of them.

Other things are still the same…or at least so slightly changed that they appear that way. We still crack each other up, finish each other’s movie references, and love getting off the beaten path and “eating local” when we’re out on the road. We’re aware that showing love is even more important than just saying it…and that still saying it, is critical. We still have times when we agree to disagree and when that happens, we both walk away KNOWING we’re the one who has it right and being ok with being married to the one who got it wrong. (grin) Home is still our favorite place to be…and home is generally wherever the other one is. We still value the family and friendships God has blessed us with and we’re still newlywed enough to hold hands most of the places we go together.

In short, we’ve been blessed with a most ordinary life filled with the most extraordinary gifts from an even more extraordinary God. May we all be so blessed. Here’s to the next 25!

Grace and Peace!

 

 

NCN 2017–Day 27

When I was a child, my cousins and I would always go for a walk after our Thanksgiving feast. We’d kick through crunchy leaves on the ground and chatter about everything from what was going on at our schools to what we wanted to be when we got older. Those were happy times and my walk after this year’s feasting with friends reminded me of that, so I thought I’d share a few of the sights with you to start your week. Remember, God could have made everything in black and white…and I’m so glad He didn’t! Only a few more days left in this year’s NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER! You can do it!!!

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“The smell of burning firewood and the molding of organic, earthy substances reminded her of jumping wildly into the enormous leaf piles of autumns past and she suddenly wished that it was appropriate for someone her age to do such a thing.”
― Abby SlovinLetters In Cardboard Boxes

 

OH, don’t let something silly like age stop you! Go have some fun today! Grace and Peace!

*all photos by Becky Childs

 

 

NCN 2017–Day 23

grandmother hodum thanksgiving poem

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!  I couldn’t let the day pass without wishing you well and sharing my Grandmother Hodum’s Thanksgiving poem again this year. For those of you who are new, she used to recite this “piece” every year when I was growing up and it is one of the great joys for me that my Cousin Suzanne had the foresight to have her write it down so that we still have it in her own scratchy handwriting! I can still hear her voice…Grace & Peace, everyone!

Grace and Peace!

“Thanksgiving Dinner”

I don’t believe in eating much

of turkey, pumpkin pie and such.

It make me dream bad dreams at night

and then, besides, it’s not polite.

So I’m not going to stuff and stuff

and act like I can’t get enough.

For me a turkey leg will do

with just a slice of breast or two,

then some liver, gizzard, and a wing,

Lots of dressing, that’s the thing!

Mashed potatoes to make me grow

Squash and cabbages, they’re fine, you know,

And I must have some cranberries, too,

And layer cake–two pieces will do.

Then of pumpkin pie so yellow–

One piece, because I’m a little fellow.

With nuts and apples I shall quit

and not ask for another bit.

For it isn’t good the doctors say

To eat too much on Thanksgiving Day!