Unintended Benefits

My friend Jody (hey, 3!) inadvertently sent me on a mission as she shared about participating in an online Bible study through her church. I’ve been out of the “official” Bible study loop over the past several months as we’ve worked to settle our loved one into her placement and routines. In the process of that, my own routines have quite gone out their own window and, as anyone who is part of a care-giving team for a loved one can tell you, concentration abilities can sometimes take quite the hit.

Mine did, anyway. I understood the why, but I haven’t liked the process of trying to regain ground that had always felt so ingrained as to be considered permanent. Stepping away from leading and then from even doing my own in-depth study was quite an adjustment. (So was regaining ground on some of my neglected chore list!) I reveled in the Psalms after my daily walks and God allowed David’s writings of his own struggles to help sooth my own. Over and over I read them. They are familiar ground to me, so I chose to read them in a “different” translation (ESV–English Standard Version) so I wouldn’t gloss over the meanings on my way through them. That helped. I saw things I’ve never noticed before and these new-old words were a balm and a blessing, so when Jody shared her new challenge, I jumped on board immediately.

Her online group is using a book by Susan Goodwin, Jennifer Peterson, and Molly Sawyer (all new to me), entitled EVERY WORD A Reader’s 90-day Guide to the Bible. It’s short and just exactly what the title implies:  a guide to reading the Bible through in 90 days. I’ve read through the Scriptures many times, but never really put a defined timeline on it. Even so, the 90-day thing sounded just like what I needed:  an opportunity to dive into the Word with some concentration and discipline. This isn’t intended to be a “deep” dive. It’s supposed to be more of an overview reading and the authors have included some general questions/commentary/points of interest for the reader to consider along the way. Ninety days through the Bible translates into about 10-15 chapters a day, so far, and although I generally read pretty quickly, I am finding that I’m deliberately pacing myself to match their targets instead of just racing through as I had previously thought about doing.

(Annnnnnddddd…Falling behind makes for a tough catch-up process. Ask me how I know and insert an eye-roll here!)

This journey through the Bible follows a chronological reading schedule instead of the more traditional route, so that change has been intriguing to me, as well. I already knew that Job and Abraham were likely contemporaries, but reading Job right after Genesis made me truly connect some of their cultural dots in a new way. Perhaps that is also due to my decision to read through these 90-days in the Christian Standard Bible (CSB)-translation instead of my trusty NKJV with decades of notes in the margins, dates out beside SO many of the verses, and sticky notes protruding from many pages to mark topics and notes along the way.

I’m a “word nerd” and that means I’ve always loved the lyrical nature of the King James English. I typically use the New King James because that translation retains the lyrical poetry without the formal Thees and Thous for readability. I’ve used my burgundy leather-bound copy of that translation for years, so I wasn’t quite sure I would really enjoy a more contemporary language styling for these ancient Words. I wanted a fresh start for this project, however, so I picked up my purple-bound (I love purple!) CSB translation which I have used for additional clarification during previous studies. The CSB remains faithful to original text and translates in a word-for word and thought-for-thought manner to give us a wonderful readability of the truth within the covers. Win-win! (Did I mention that this one is purple?! Love it!!)

I expected to use this challenge as a way to marshall my now-all-too-often-scrambled thought processes and help me regain some stability of study habits. I hoped to be alert to learning along the way, of course, but the 90-day pace doesn’t allow for in-depth study right now, and that seemed to be all I could handle. That’s really different for me, but the logical side of my brain says I have to start somewhere to regain the ground, so this was my shot. What I hadn’t prepared myself for was something I should have thought of from the beginning: the Word of God is powerful and healing and interesting and entertaining and instructive…and just reading through it in this measured pace has sparked my interest in finding out more/digging deeper to the point that I’ve had to actually force myself not to stop and dig deeper along the way…every few minutes or so! (grin) The “new” language for these ancient truths has made me fall in love with the Words all over again and I’ve found myself caught up in the drama and the history of it all. (Even reading through Leviticus wasn’t a chore this time!)

Along the way, I’ve also been highly entertained by the way the more contemporary phrasing has caught my attention and made me laugh and see imagery I know that I’ve missed in previous readings. I’ve started a small sticky-note reminder of some of my favorites. I’ll close with the two that made me start the list:

“If only you would shut up and let that be your wisdom.”  Job 13:5 (CSB)

and

“…All fat belongs to the Lord.”  Leviticus 3:16b (CSB)

I’ve got to tell you, those two gems–and the wisdom and the hilarity that ensued in my mind as I read those words–are worth the entire project! I needed that truth and humor combination. Maybe you did, too.

Spend some time in the Word today to deliberately draw closer to the One Who made you and loves you most. I think you’ll learn more than you intend…and God has way of giving us gifts that we didn’t even know we needed as we choose to be obedient.

Grace and Peace…and laughter with God!

 

NCN 2019–Day 7

If you’re going to hit a goal, you better set a mark for it. Sounds simple enough, right? But…how do you know if you’ve set your mark where you need to? That’s something to consider.

I’ve been thinking about it as I’ve been reading and studying James lately. I thought it might be just the thing to help motivate me during NCN this year. OUR goal for this NCN-project is relatively simple in the setting–and a lot more difficult in the doing. We are attempting to go without complaining for an entire month.

Right off the bat, James made me wonder if my bar was set too low.

“…count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4

Count it all joy,” he says.

Well. Don’t just NOT complain about it, but look for the joy in it when things don’t go your way, he says. Get ready to get better and then go beyond better to “perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” 

This quick note of “encouragement”/lesson in setting goals is brought to you by GOD and the Apostle James for those of us who still haven’t made it through every day of this first week of NCN without complaining yet. (grin) NOW, this doesn’t seem quite as much of a workout, right? Just kidding. Like anything worth doing, NCN requires plenty of effort. (for me, at least!) We all need to start somewhere. If we’re going to hit our mark and reach the goal of NCN, let’s aim for the stars while we’re not complaining! Who knows? Maybe we’ll find our way toward joy in the process.

I’m praying that’s the case for each of us! Focus on smiling and finding joy today as you work without complaining.

Reminder: You can do this! For now, think:  PROGRESS, NOT PERFECTION!

Grace and Peace!

Kicking off the heels…

I used to love wearing high heels. I can close my eyes and still smell the brand new leather as I opened the box…oh my…wow…yes, moment of silence for that. And, since we have LONG since established my little bit of OCD-ness, I can admit that opening closet doors to see all the boxes lined up with their labels facing outward…

(Ok, I got a little lost there for a moment. Suffice it to say that I loved that image.)

Image. That says something to me about the heels, as well. As a teenager, they said I was growing up. As a college student, they said it was time to dance. As a young professional, they said I was making it on my own. Quite the talkative things, my shoes…and they always came with a lot of attitude–some of it good and some of it not so much.

After I got married, my husband was surprised to learn that he had to move a whole refrigerator box full of shoes to our new home. Work, church, and in between, I had at least several pair to choose from and I couldn’t imagine life any other way. I had other styles, too, of course, but the heels always made me feel special…almost like social armor, which really isn’t often necessary when you’re almost 6′ tall and know who you are. (grin) Well, maybe I just thought I knew some things back then.

I pared down over time. Styles changed. Life changed. I bought more flats, wedges, tennis shoes, and fewer heels, though I always kept a few in the back of my closet. In fact, I’ve had three pair that have survived the multiple purges over the past several years as I’ve gone from acquisition mode to the search for space and the peace of “less.” At first, I stopped wearing heels after I took a tumble down some stairs and needed some recovery time. After that, I just never went back to them. I found other options that suited me…and weren’t as perilous.

That’s not all that’s changed over the years. You know, Saul’s armor didn’t fit David…and not because it was too large, but because they had different battle styles. That’s true of me, as well, now. I’m still me, of course, but my life is different and my current battles aren’t the same ones I used to fight. That means some wardrobe changes are in order. I’ve decided I no longer need to hold on to things that don’t fit the life I’m living now, so I’m finally letting go of those last three pair of heels…and a whole lot of other things like attitudes and life strategies that haven’t always served me well. I’m a lot less rigid these days, a lot less judgmental, and I’m a lot more at peace. I find I laugh more–mostly at myself!–and I like me a whole lot better, too–and that is really saying something. (Ha!) I’m free to be ME: the one GOD knows and loves, and I can rest in that a lot more than I used to. I find I’m less concerned about any images that might be held in other places when I focus on HIS image of who I am. I’m more grateful for little things and I’m more aware of my gifts and limitations without being hampered by either thought. God is good and I am His. It is enough.

Oh, by the way, I tried those 3 pair of shoes on and I loved the way they looked. I almost put them right back in the closet! They felt ok on my feet and I found I could still walk in them just fine…for a little while. Then I tried on a few other styles–and my back gave an almost audible sigh of relief and my feet did, too. There are better things out there for me than the things I once held onto “just in case”, you know…so I’m making room for the now and finding that memories take up less room in the closet. So, out go the heels–gorgeous as they are –along with a pair of Keds and 2 pair of flats! Today, you’re more likely to find me in tennis shoes and they suit me just fine…in fact, it’s a lot easier to kick up my heels than ever before.

Question of the day:  What are YOU holding onto that you need to let go? Make room for the life GOD wants for you now. You just might be amazed at how great it can be!

 

 

God didn’t make a mistake…

Mom. God did something wrong. He messed up on me because he made me brown, he did not make me white. He needs to go back and fix it so I can be white.

A friend recently posted the quote above on her Facebook page…and my heart just broke right open. She went on to tell about how she responded and how she sought help from someone else within their circle to reinforce her words and help instill pride and understanding into her precious child.

I wanted to write about it then, but it just seemed a bit out of touch for a middle-aged white woman to address such a thing in her blog. I’ve continued to think about it though, and with all that has happened in the last week or so, I know for certain that I was wrong. It needs to be addressed by ALL of us. Not addressing such a thing has led us to where we are right now…and it is beyond unacceptable for us to be where we are. But, honestly, where to start? Where to start?!

I’m so grateful he talked to his mom and didn’t just keep this to himself. This precious child who is strong and smart and handsome knows he can trust his mom with what he thinks. That’s the mark of great parenting and I’m incredibly proud of his mom and the way she walks her walk in the difficult task of raising her boys.

Because she was open enough to share it, I’ve had to think about it. It hasn’t all been comfortable. I’ve had to deliberately think through what I was taught and what I “caught” as I grew up in Mississippi in the 1960s. For the record, that doesn’t always mean what people think it does. Some of the most educated, lovingly inclusive people I’ve ever known come from the same place I do. A person can never be truly known simply by the history, actions and attitudes present in the land of their birth. The same can be said of wherever you come from, too, I suspect, and that’s part of the point of this post. We can’t change the past, but we can certainly do something about today!

Children can often get things wrong simply because they aren’t old enough to understand or don’t hear/know the whole narrative. This child got it wrong because WE as adults haven’t understood the whole narrative, so what has been passed down over the generations has led us to this toxic reality that we share today . With that in mind, I’ll start like this:

  • Oh, sweet child (and adults and everyone in between!), God is never wrong. He is perfect.  “As for God, his way is perfect…” Psalm 18:30 (NIV) 
  • Because He is perfect, we can assume that we are not mistakes. He made us on purpose and He made us ALL different. There is no wrong color and no right color because God apparently likes them all or He would have already stopped making people of all different shades –and height and weight and every other physical characteristic you can name.
  • God made each of us on purpose. Psalm 139 is clear about that. He carefully created us and planned out our lives in order to bless us. That’s really great because it tells us that the things we can’t change about ourselves (our parents, the place we were born, and our genetics–including our skin color!) are things that God chose individually just for us. HE thinks that’s the best way for us to be. Yes, He could have created you differently, but God decided that YOU would best glorify Him by being just the way He made you–and He is never wrong.
  • The things we can change about ourselves (our thoughts, decisions, actions, and attitudes) are the things over which He gives us free will. These are OUR choices so it is up to us to make the most of them so that we can glorify Him and honor those around us as fellow creations of a loving and almighty God.
  • When God’s Word tell us something and the world around us acts like something else, you can take it to the bank:  it is the WORLD that is wrong. People are the problem, not God. That’s always the case whenever there is hate, discrimination, and bigotry–and a whole lot of other ugly words I wish you would never have to learn about first hand.
  • The decision to elevate one skin color (or any other physical trait!) over another is a sin. It isn’t a cultural issue. It isn’t a pride issue. It isn’t “the natural order of things” or any other phrase that’s used by those who practice it. It is sin.
  • The only cure for sin is Jesus. That’s why every single person on the planet needs Him.
  • The only way we can change our society is by accepting Christ and then acting like Him. We need to be “Jesus with skin on”–no matter what color our skin is!!– for everyone we meet. We will still mess up and we will occasionally be wrong in really big ways because we are human, but if we are consistently trying to be like God tells us to be in His Word, then we’ll be way ahead of where we are right now…and our world NEEDS us to be like He tells us to be. It is the only way some of them will ever hear about Him.

Hear me well, please. Wherever you are, whoever you are, or whatever you look like, God loves you! Be proud of who you are! He designed you on purpose for great things–the best of which is to be like His Son. You can only do that if you choose to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior and walk out the rest of your days according to His teachings in Scripture. It isn’t always easy, but it is definitely worth it.

Now. How will you choose to walk out and talk out today? Your choices matter…to all of us.

Grace & 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 16

It’s Monday again and, as much as I would like to do otherwise, I’d have to say that this one is living up to the traditional reputation of Mondays. That’s not a complaint, so much as an observation. (grin)

News continues to trickle in from Paris and other parts of the globe–and not much of it is uplifting. I have friends who’ve buried husbands and sisters within the past few days and, though the news here in our house hasn’t been heavy on the joy side of things, I have talked to God and I’m aware that I am blessed. Most blessed. So are you.

IMG_20140705_141046_350We are what we choose to be.

What will you choose?

And yes, it is that simple and yes, it is that complicated. It is a process–I’m talking about a long-term strategy!…and those aren’t always easy. We have to choose. Then, we have to choose again and again until the choice to be grateful and to recognize the blessings becomes our first response instead of our last resort.

Imagine if that was the first response around the world? What if we recognized that our “light and momentary afflictions”–regardless of how heavy they seem in the moment!–are not the end of our blessings? What if we recognized that bad day, the bad news, or the bad attitude was simply an interruption–an aberration!–in the midst of our blessedness and not the end of it? What if we could see to the other side of the battle and have an awareness that there’s some glory on the way?

No matter what you’re facing today:  Consider yourself so informed. Consider yourself so challenged. Consider yourself SO blessed.

 “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,”  2 Corinthians 4:17

Grace & Peace!