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!

 

 

This day…

Father God,

Thank you for THIS day:

  • the one with the problems I don’t have solutions for,
  • the one with the questions with no answers,
  • the one with the wearied spirit I don’t always talk about,
  • the one with the people-shaped problems,
  • the one with the needs I can’t meet and the issues that are WAY over my head,
  • the one with the hurts that haven’t healed and the frustrations that didn’t even make this list.

Thank You for THIS day–

  • the one with all the beauty I might have seen, but not commented on because I was in a rush,
  • the one with all the people I love, but haven’t told today,
  • the one with all of the blessings I overlooked because I was too focused on the blessings I’m still asking for, and
  • the one with the difficulties I might have allowed to loom larger than even You.

Help me to reset and refocus my vision on You, the Giver of all life and the Source of all strength. Help me to seek You first and walk in the way You have prepared for me and choose You and Your way even when it might seem strange or at odds with conventional wisdom and, perhaps, even against the advice of my most trusted ones. Give me the eyes  to see You even when I might feel overwhelmed by the doubt and darkness in the world around me. Help me to bless and not curse my own life by choosing to be less than You have called me to be. Give me courage to choose the God-thing over the good thing and give me the opportunity to speak Your name in praise as I do so. Soften my heart and sharpen my desire for Your Word. Grant me deeper understanding so I can share more of You as I move through Your world and help me to use the resources You’ve provided just as You have intended. Grant me peace, Father, and help me to rest in You and give You praise for all my questions because You are all my answers.

Thank you for this day, Father God. Thank you for Your grace in THIS day.

Passing

I got a text the other day from a friend requesting prayer. That’s not unusual. She and another friend were going to be doing prison ministry that evening and she was requesting prayer that they would be able to share God with those inside…and not be offensive in the process. I know. THAT part was unusual. I also know that several eyebrows just rose—and for different reasons.

Some of them rose because in this day and age who worries about offending people who are already in prison? Some of them rose because they already know that sharing the Gospel…the Good News…the information that we’ve all been born into sin and are in desperate need of a Savior is offensive to many. Some of them rose because the very idea of trying not to offend seems to be a new one.

We’ve all watched for a while now as our society has gotten more and more “truthful” and less and less loving. I put those quotation marks around the word truthful because what passes for truth these days is often a lot more personal opinion and political outrage than actual truth. Unfortunately, that outrage is happening on all sides of almost every argument. Democrat, Republican, Tea Party, or Independent. Religious right, left, or repulsed (of any faith). World view, political leaning, religious affiliation all seem to have at least one thing in common right now: the determination to scream the loudest and use the most offensive way possible of grabbing the attention…because that’s really what they’re after: the attention.

Father God, help us! We’ve made an art form of being offended and raise in triumph our abilities to offend.

Word to the wise: offended people rarely listen. Even more rarely do they look for ANY good in those who are offending them. Rarer still are those who are converted and then espouse any expressed belief which has covered itself in words and deeds that offensively take them far from their comfort zone or that shout them down without listening or caring about anything but being heard.

There are such people. We know this because of Scripture. The New Testament is largely comprised of the writings of one such man, Paul. Seen any of those people lately? Probably not. Pauls are the exception, not the rule.

The Apostle Paul went from being a rising star in the religious elite, full of his education and even more full of indignation—full of himself! —to being one of the most powerfully erudite servants of God–and others!–ever to be on record. What caused this drastic change? The only thing that can change anyone: a personal encounter with the living God. Yes, Pauls in our day and age are rare…but they don’t have to be!

No matter what ideology you espouse today, know this:  what passes for “right” in our world today bears little resemblance to actual righteousness. That only comes from God. He is the true standard for both righteousness and for love. Without His help, our world is doomed to the cacophony of the loudest offended spirit and the anger that inevitably follows which leads us into violence and creates a circle of offense that gets passed along in the name of all things holy. Riots, looting, and leaving a trail of trash for others to pick up once you’ve marched to express yourself won’t draw others to your cause or help them think your sense of entitlement worthy of their efforts on your behalf. Neither will using Scripture as a battering ram instead of a loving invitation to relationship with the only One who actually can make a difference. Think about that before you raise your voice, write that Facebook post, share that joke or use words designed to hurt others in the name of teaching them your truth, or call them names and cast aspersions at those who may have beat you to the punch…all in the name of doing good. If it didn’t work ON you, then why would it work FOR you?! It all reminds me of this verse Paul wrote to Timothy:  “…having a form of godliness but denying its power.”  2 Timothy 3:5 (NKJV) It isn’t really good at all…it’s just passing itself off as good.

No, what passes for truth and righteousness these days in the public arena is just that. Passing. It isn’t the real thing and it isn’t going to last. Only God’s word will last and it is absolutely full of admonitions to do life differently than what we’re seeing today. Like it or not, we are temporary. He is eternal and so it only makes sense to follow the path of the One whose ways will outlast us all.

 

cropped-heart
”Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling,
And to present you faultless
Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,
To God our Savior,
Who alone is wise,
Be glory and majesty,
Dominion and power,
Both now and forever.
Amen.”

Jude 24-25

 

Grace and Peace!

Lenten Light

It’simg_20170301_092915249_hdr one of the first things I do every morning. I walk into the kitchen and I turn on a little lamp that’s been with me since I was a small girl.  As I flip the toggle switch, I tell God, “Thank you!” just like I do when I turn it off again at the end of the day. This lamp, and it’s twin which resides over on the butcher block that used to be a big part of my PawPaw’s store, was a long-ago gift from one of my mother’s college friends.

Her first name was Martha, but we just called her “Harris”–her last name and the one she had been known by in college at Mississippi State College for Women (now Mississippi University for Women) in my hometown of Columbus, Mississippi. Harris was an orphan who attended school on a scholarship and she never married. Throughout her life she educated and loved on other people’s children, and although she had a few closer to her home in Louisiana, I believe my Mama’s children were some of her favorites. It’s been years since she passed, but I still think of her when I turn on these little lamps and I miss knowing she’s in the world with us.

Harris was always full of fun and laughter. She loved wearing bright colored scarves and my Mama always got excited when she received a call or letter that said Harris was on her way and would be with us for a few days. She had lots of stories about “her children” and her church family. When she got tickled at her own stories, she would giggle and say, “Oh, Jes-us! precious Jesus!”, but not in a sacrilegious way–she was just including Him in on her fun the same way she included Him in every other part of her life.

I didn’t know it then, but I was being taught some incredible lessons about love and friendship and building a vibrant faith life. Today, on this first day of Lent, I’m remembering how God chose to shine His light on us in a way we humans could touch and feel and know in a personal way. I’m also reminded that He’s still in the blessing business and there’s still plenty to say “Thank you, God!” for today…including sweet memories of those people who have shown us how to make God come home to us in ways that make us want more of that–and more of Him!–in our lives.

It may not be a lamp on your kitchen counter, but what can you use this Lenten season to remind you of Him and cause you to express your gratitude for all the blessings He’s given to you throughout your life?

Grace and Peace!

(And for those of you who are wondering, that fabulous teapot was custom made for my husband by our friends Craig and Tracy Wilson, from Poplar Ridge Pottery in Mississippi! It gets used almost every day and we just leave it out because it’s too great to hide in a cabinet!)

 

Early Spring

Our nation has seemed to descend into a vitriolic winter of the soul over the past few months that has far surpassed any depth I had previously thought possible. The loss of civility even between friends over differences in politics, the outright refusal to acknowledge that it is the right to have our differences that make this nation a place of desired residence for so many, and the apparent lack of willingness to remember that even those who hold polar opposite views can STILL both have  our country’s best interest at heart…well, these things are disturbing to me on many levels. Part of me has wondered if God wasn’t witholding a natural winter from us because we were already treating each other so coldly.

Even in the absence of a “proper” winter I am inordinately cheered by the signs of this early spring. I pray the signs of nature’s new growth will also stimulate a resurgence of kindness, a putting away of offended and offensive spirits, breathe into us a new determination to move forward despite the obstacles, and spur a willingness to find common ground and work from there in an effort to heal the vast breaches we’ve worked so hard to create.

img_20170224_102311867As I wander through my yard viewing the signs of an early spring, I pray for my nation. I pray for her leaders in both parties and ask God to grant them wisdom. I pray for healing and I pray for an abundance of obstinate seeds of hope and reconciliation to survive in all of us. We could all use an early Spring.

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!