Away with friends…

Right now I’m away with friends. This is the “mumble-something-th” year” we’ve done this since our college graduation from our beloved Mississippi University for Women.

There are just seven of us on the retreat this time due to jobs/moving and family health concerns. We miss those who aren’t here, but we are valiantly “retreating” just the same. (…and hoping they can come to one in the fall…if we can manage another quick one…in the fall? We’ll talk…)

The food is abundant. The laughter near constant. The joy of being together deeper than we’ll ever be able to vocalize or write. All these years together mean there are few silences and even fewer topics off limits (are there limits?) in our fellowship. We’re here to see, to shower with love, to lift up and empower.  We’re here to be reminded of who we REALLY are in a world where we each wear many hats…and, though we’re grateful for each hat, when we’re together, the hats come off and years fade…and we are just US.

Us-ness in a world seemingly committed to uniformed individuality. Celebrating our uniqueness and also our chosen togetherness is a marvelous gift we give to each other. No pressure to conform, but encouraged to be who we were created to be by the One Who loves us best…the One who has a way with friends who are away with friends.

Grace and Peace!

self-limiting

 

cropped-heartThis post isn’t so much a rant as an observation.

We had a wonderful service at church yesterday. The kids were in charge. Well, actually, there were adults who were in charge, but the kids were the main ones on the stage. They sang and acted and led us in worship. It was amazing…for some of us.

I loved it! The kids were happy and energetic. They sang beautifully and the motions they had learned at Worship Arts Camp the week before will help them remember these songs forever. Several times during their program I had to wipe away tears because the message in the songs was so powerful and the image of the kids as they sang with gusto was just too precious for words. I noticed that my husband was similarly affected–and we don’t even  have children! We talked about it on the way home…about how God uses music to touch us in places we might not go to as often as we should, about how song lyrics can allow us to express things publicly that we might never bring up on our own, and about how wonderful it was that these young children were being taught such deep truths in a way that could really stay with them. We had worshiped and it was a blessing.

Not everyone seemed to have the same experience. I know that because there were people around me holding up cameras and phones, looking through tiny screens, hitting their rewind buttons and changing their lens focus…and getting frustrated when it didn’t work like they thought it should. I know, I know. I can’t begin to judge what was in their hearts and how their spirits were affected. I get that, but at times their frustration was palpable enough to be visible and that made me sad for them.

I also get that this is something that our culture is more and more prone to do: we make records of what’s going on around us instead of actually entering into the experience of it. I think that we’re missing out when we do that. Certainly, take a photo–or several!–but don’t miss out on actually participating in life by limiting yourself to what can fit on a tiny screen that you probably won’t watch that many times after it is recorded.

Take time to actually SEE the JOY around you and add some of your own to the mix! Head down, staring at a palm-sized view of the world is not the way to live. Kick back and actually WATCH the fireworks–or shoot them off yourself, if you’re so inclined! Play a game that doesn’t require a remote controller. Read a book together! Have conversations about IDEAS and CONCEPTS–or even politics, if you’re desperate!–and not about people you will never meet who just hired really good publicists. Build relationships, not miniature video libraries! Enjoy the NOW. It’s the only thing we really truly have for sure. Don’t waste this incredibly valuable God-given NOW by self-limiting behaviors and then find yourself unable to share your heart with those people on the tiny screens because you were too busy recording the moment to actually have the moment with them. Shared experiences will beat a shared video any day…and maybe twice on Sunday.

Observation over…for now. There are flowers to be picked and conversations to be had!

Challenge for the week: See if you can put away your phone or computer after your work hours are over and play a board game, work a puzzle, or go get an ice cream cone with someone you love…and have a conversation. It doesn’t have to be long or deep, but you just might be surprised at the benefits!

Grace & Peace!

Learning New Old Things

As odd as this sounds, I think I may have grown up a little bit this past week. A few of my friends are snorting hysterically right now because they think  I may or may not have been “born old” and, maybe (again, Ha!), I’ve acted like that ever since.

I was (AM!) the first-born. A daughter.  A responsible one. The oldest female of the second set of grandchildren on both sides of the family—after a few years break—so I got plenty of attention for just by showing up in the world. That attention came with a lot of expectation, as well, because they seemed to think I could do anything and everything well and, with that much focused attention and instruction everywhere I turned, I learned a lot and I learned it fast or I kept at it until I was satisfied. Sometimes that took awhile, but I’m also stubborn, so that time element never really got in my way other than making me impatient with myself, because—truth be told?—my own expectations for me were even higher than theirs for me.

Knowing how to do things made me more independent and made them excited to see their instruction pay off, so it was a win-win situation for all of us. I just automatically assumed it was my job to keep on meeting  those expectations as I got older, and so I did so…on the surface, at least. I’m grateful for those expectations. Personally, I think they were good for me. I KNOW that the people who expressed them love me and are good for me and that was enough to make me just go DO whatever goal was set… sometimes without even thinking about whether or not it was I really wanted to do or something they had suggested for me.

On the inside, I wondered sometimes what it might feel like to not have those expectations, but then, I’d usually pick up another book and lose myself in the words and find new worlds to conquer and new things to learn and more expectations from myself that came with having all that information up in my brain. You can see where this is going, can’t you?  I come from a long line of seriously capable people and I suspect this pretty much describes their path, as well.

Stubborn, firstborn, introverted-yet-over-achieving female with a large built-in encouraging support system…yes, I was born old…and that’s not a complaint for me, just a comment…and more of a blessing than I’ve given it credit for being until just recently.

I’m not the smartest person I know—not by a long shot!—but I can hang in there with them for awhile and finding out what I don’t know has been as valuable to me as gold over the years. That information helped me focus on what I wanted to learn next, do next, be next.

In fact, I’ve often been so focused on that “next” part that I ignored the “now” part of life. That has been a mistake. I don’t often admit to making those (Mike, quit grinning!), but that’s one of my biggies. All of that go and learn and do has gained me skills, but often left me wondering what I planned to do with all of that…and feeling more than a little frustrated when I couldn’t fill in the blanks for those questions. I still don’t have all those answers.

This past seven months, however, of having the most definitely unplanned luxury of being with my husband and choosing to slow down and enjoy our unexpected time together has taught me a lesson I hope I never forget:  how to just BE in the moment.  I realized just this week that I’ve finally learned that those skills and that knowledge don’t have to be put to work every single second. There are times when you just need to breathe, times when you can fill a whole day (or weeks or months!) with counting the blessings God has poured into your life, times when gratitude for every single thing—good AND bad–about your life needs to consume you and put you on your face before God.

I don’t want to lose that knowledge going forward! I don’t want to go backward and be so determined to know and go and do that I forget to just BE God’s grateful child. I’ve always said that being stubborn was both my worst characteristic and my best—especially as it pertained to my faith!—but now, I want to apply it to this filling gratefulness; this drenching awareness of the goodness and grace of my God. I want to be stubborn about holding on to and living THAT out for the rest of my days.

I almost wrote that I wish I’d learned this lesson earlier, but on second thought, I realize that God’s timing is always perfect. All the steps that led up to now and made me who I am today give me an amazing list of things to be grateful for right now. I may have been a little bit slow (it’s only taken me over 50 years!), but as for tomorrow, well, I plan to know more then, so I expect to be more grateful then…and I plan to be stubborn about that in the future, as well.

“Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;

Praise him, all creatures here below;

Praise him above, ye heavenly host;

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.”

                                                                         ~Thomas Ken, 1674

(1674! And still worth singing.)

Go, GOD!

NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER: Day 24

I’ve seen something similar before, but the message is still a great one and worthy of sharing here with you just as my precious #6 (Thanks, Lisa!) shared with all of us earlier this week. It is especially appropriate for those who are busy in the preparations of the days leading up to the “great day” of Thanksgiving…just TWO MORE DAYS, y’all!!

“Grateful for…

  1. Early wakeups = children to love
  2. House to clean = safe place to live
  3. Laundry = clothes to wear
  4. Dishes to wash = food to eat
  5. Crumbs under the table = family meals
  6. Grocery shopping = $ to provide for us
  7. Toilets to clean = indoor plumbing
  8. Lots of noise = people in my life
  9. Endless questions about homework = kids’ brains growing
  10. Sore & tired in bed = I’m still alive!

Amen

pumpkin1I’ve been thinking about that since Lisa sent it out to us Sunday morning. All of the things we so often turn into complaints have, at their heart, a reason to give thanks. Let’s not forget that this week…or next…or ever. So many people can NOT include those 10 things in their prayers.

That was brought home to me especially by a Facebook post last night from my friend, Linda:

“I heard on the news tonight that 14% of the U.S. population experiences food insecurity and for Mississippi, it’s 22%. Food insecurity in the land of plenty is mystifying. How blessed, and how truly unaware of that blessing, are those of us who don’t wonder how, when, or where our next meal will be.”

That’s pretty sobering, isn’t it? In this month of NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER, and especially in this week of Thanksgiving celebrations, let’s remember those who are less fortunate …and then, let’s do something to change it.

Our mission won’t end at the end of this month. We can choose to be grateful. We can choose not to complain. We can choose to make positive differences in the world and in the lives of those who need our compassion and our assistance…even when they aren’t asking us for a thing. Start thinking now! True ThanksGIVING can start right in the neighborhood where you live. Will it? Will you?

Grace & Peace!

(*Beautiful mini-quilt made by hand and given to me as a blessing by my wonderful #3, Jody! That word “Blessed” sums up my life in ways I can never truly write about well enough to convey the depth of it. My friends and family  know that and generously continue to add to my metaphorical pile of blessings by loving on me every day!)

NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER: Day 23

The weather is beautiful, the temperature is deliciously autumn, and God is still in control. Could there be any possible reason to complain? (grin)

Well, I’m sure we could find one if we really wanted to, but…seriously!…we’ve made it this far without all the negativity! Let’s not blow that today!

Go for a stroll around the yard. While you’re out there, pick up a few natural beauties to add to your Thanksgiving centerpiece later this week. Just think about it! All this beauty just right outside your door…waiting on you to come share in the blessing!

And, if you can’t get outside today, take a moment to buzz around the internet for a few appropriate blessings or prayers for today…and the day to come. Thanks to whoever shared this one with us on the internet! I love it–and I hope “Marie B Designs” won’t mind that I shared it with you! It’s too pretty to keep to myself!

<b>Thanksgiving Blessing</b>

NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER: Day 21

I woke up cold and early this morning and couldn’t figure out why. I got up and pulled on a robe and house shoes, turned up the heat, and settled into my favorite chair in the living room. The chair used to belong to my Grandmother and it is old and covered in what is now (and was then, too!–grin) a hideously brown and orange flowered print from the 1970s…and it reminds me of her and how she loved me and it warms me up in ways that have nothing at all to do with temperature.

About an hour later, my husband emerged from the bedroom and I wondered why the heat was still running and I moved through the house looking for another way to warm. Entering back into our room, I noticed that the curtains at the window were gently moving…with the breeze of an open window…left open all night long.

I did that. I did that yesterday to air out the room and I’m the one who forgot to come back and close it up, make it tight against the chilly night air. I did that.

It doesn’t sound like much, but God doesn’t always need big things to teach us. Lessons of the day:

Sometimes, the things that make us uncomfortable are our own fault. It may not have seemed like a big deal at the time, but the effects of our actions–or our inactions–still make themselves known. There’s no point in complaining about things that are in the past or that we can fix today. Fix what you can and move on. (And I pray those things are as simple as shutting my window.) Be careful about where you are and what you do today.

Sometimes, the things that make us the most comfortable aren’t really things, but the emotions brought on by people who have poured love into us in days long ago. It’s a pretty good reminder that to become people of influence, we need to be pouring love into the people around us now…and be more vocal at expressing our appreciation when the ones around us pour back into us. Again, fix what you can and move on. Be careful about WHO you are today and what you choose to pour into those around you now.

Wishing you a warm, dry, cozy day surrounded by love and great memories…with no complaints…

Grace & Peace!

NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER: Day 18

The last few weeks have been “hectic” for us…and for most of the world. When that happens, it’s always good to take some time out to spend with friends and it’s even better when you can do it while using the experience to deepen your relationship with God.

LNO tablesLast night was such a night.

Over 300 women from our church and community gathered together for a delicious meal and some time of praise mixed in with a few stories about what God has been busy doing to make Himself known in the ladies among our community.

LNO 2015The room was filled with tables surrounded by women. All were beautifully decorated–both the tables AND the women. We weren’t there to show off our finery. We were there to use it much like the gifts the Wise Men brought to the newborn King so long ago: we were there to celebrate His coming and honor His place among us.

As I listened to the chatter in the room beforehand, I was filled–as always– with an amazing sense of being blessed. Women in accord. That’s a powerful thing. The program was wonderful. Four women from among us rose to share on themes of Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy. There were tears. There always are. You can’t get this close to the Christ without it moving your emotions. There was also laughter…because you can’t get this close to Him without that, either. We celebrated His original coming so long ago and we also celebrated that He continues to come and meet us right where we are even today.

Despite the trials that each woman in the room has certainly experienced or might be currently dealing with, no complaints were heard. God was there, and there was no room for anything else but Him. It was a much needed respite for me and the word “grateful” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

I came home and joined my husband in viewing a recorded program from the night before. There was nothing sacred about this competition to see who will become the next VOICE and rise to fame and success…right up until one of the contestants, Jordan Smith, took the stage and began to sing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” in an incredibly worshipful way. I love that song! We even had it played at our wedding as our parents came down the aisle. It has such a message of hope and peace for me…that melodic reminder that my God has been and will always be trusted to be faithful no matter what I face in this life. At the end of his song, two of the coaches simply expressed their thanks for bringing a sense of hope into what had also been a difficult week for them, as well.

That’s what God does. He shows up and He’s faithful and He brings us HOPE in a world where there are angry words and unkind actions over everything from red cups to refugees fleeing for their lives. We’ve managed to lump those things into one big pile for public debate…as if they’re equal…or ever could be.

My challenge today is to take some time out to meditate on the faithfulness of God in my life. I’ll do it away from the news and the noise of this day. I’ll make time to tell God how glad I am that He is mine and that I am His…and I hope you’re able to do the same.

Grace & Peace!