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!)

 

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!

My Real Life God

I looked through one of those magazines today. You know the ones that are so full of pretty pictures and creative options that it makes you feel like a bit of a slug for not coming up with something like that…or that…or…well, anything that could just add to the pretty of the world and inspire someone to go out and paint a picture or write prose with deep thoughts that will change the world.

It was full of quotes from people who, apparently, live lives full of poetry and have plenty of time to cut little tiny bits of paper and reassemble them into works of art and it had lots of pictures of things like feathers in vintage vases and lace used in unexpected ways to create backdrops for family photo collages. The photos looked, well, the words “whispery” and “ethereal” kept running through my mind…along with very mundane thoughts like, “Mercy, that’s pretty, but even if I could do that, it wouldn’t last long at my house…the cats would kill that mood in a heartbeat. It looks great, but it’s just not an option in my real life.”

I walked out of the store without the magazine, but I carried the pictures in my head along with the desire to write things that were Jane Austin-y or William Wordsworth-y. The truth is that I know most of the same words they knew (or at least a good number of them, anyway!), but somehow mine come out without the flights of fancy most of the time.

I thought about how different we all are and what a good thing that is and that started me thinking about God. I know from Scripture that God is a Spirit and, because of that, a lot of people associate Him with things that are secret and wispy and whispery and gossamer and hushed reverential tones…kind of like some of those magazine pictures I saw today: perfectly staged and too pretty to touch with real life on your hands. I guess I just see Him a little differently.

I see God in the great big things like sunsets and even in the chaos on the evening news. I see Him in the practicality of finding a new use for an old thing that got sold at a yard sale and I see Him in the delicacy of the tiny purple muscari blooms that are scattered around our yard near the hot tub. (Yes, we are the Clampetts and we have a big old hot tub out in the yard–grin—and yes, I even see God in the humor of having that big old hot tub in the yard.)

I see God in delicate things like the moss at the base of the oak trees out back and in the silent flight of the owl that lives up in the top of those same trees. I hear Him in the wind that sweepsSONY DSC
through the Georgia pines out front and in the sweet scent of those same trees as I head to get my mail…it stops me in my tracks every single day. I hear Him in my nephews’ laughter and feel Him in my husband’s hugs. I see Him written out on the delicate pages of my Bible and also in the tough-as-nails, precious people I love who live with daily pain or those who are fighting cancer…still…or even, again. I saw Him today in the face of the perky little lady who came and sat by me at the deli counter and the way she reminded me of a loved one who now lives with God full time.

All of that makes me think that my words might be more whispery when I talk about God if He just wasn’t so loud to me every day. God is available for more than just those reverential, high-church holiday times like Christmas and Easter! He’s a REAL LIFE God for every single second of your life! I hope you hear Him, too—and it doesn’t matter to me if He whispers to you or shouts out loud with joy like He seems to with me most days! Just so you hear Him and know that He’s not too delicate to touch with real life on your hands…no matter what that real life looks like today.

“…I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10

Grace & Peace!

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Spending the day

What are you doing today?

Is it work or play?  Is it easy or difficult?  Dull or exciting?  Laughter or tears…or both?  Or like most of us, “All of the above?”

I’ve been thinking about this idea a lot lately.  My “theme” for the year has been Jim Elliot’s quote:  “Wherever you are, be all there.” and that’s a lot harder sometimes than you’d think.

I’m a multi-tasker of the very first order and making a conscious choice to focus fully on whatever is right in front of me this year still feels foreign…even after more than 7 months of trying.

I’m getting better at it.  Little by little.  Day by day of practice…and yet sometimes I have to remind myself right moment by moment.

I’ve had a  house full of company around here lately and even in the midst of it all, I had to remind myself to “be all there” (and not run to the computer and blog about it right then!) so I wouldn’t waste a single second of it:  croquet on the side yard, card games on the back porch, amazing amounts of really great food, phone calls from those who couldn’t make it, the laughter ringing in the rafters and escaping to the yard, the quiet conversations late into the night or while waiting on others to wake up, the tears of shared heartbreak and the prayers of and for loved ones.  All that preciousness that we store up until we can all be together again–I didn’t want to miss even a moment of it.  God uses all of that to sustain us during the times it is more difficult to obtain and I wanted to revel in it and soak it all up like a sponge–wasting nothing, no matter how small.  Friendship.  Family.  Family of the heart.  Days of spirit-filling sustenance from God.  All from Him.

Today, this day that some of us will take for granted, will be someone’s wedding day, someone’s best day, someone’s worst day…and someone’s last day.  Wherever you find yourself, make the choice to be all there today.  There’s a reason you’re having the day you are–and (surprise, surprise!) it may not be all about you.  Someone else may need to see how you handle it.  They may need to see God at work in you today in the easy stuff and, more likely, in the hard stuff, too.

“Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”  Psalm 90:12

This is what I need today:  the ability to be aware of how precious each day really is and a heart of wisdom to “spend” it well…and I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one.

Prayer:  Father God, please be with those who have lost today and feel that loss so keenly, with those who are uncertain of their next move and those who charge blindly–or deliberately!–into danger, with those who will choose to laugh in spite of their difficulties today and those who need to learn how to do so.  Be with those who celebrate the wondrous thing and those who will deal with the ponderous ones.  Show us YOU in each situation and help those around us to see You at work in us.  In short, give us You today and help us share You with the world.

Still savoring the day

 “No distance of place or lapse of time can less the friendship of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other’s worth.” ~Robert Southey

I’m generally on the move for most of the day and the majority of my conversations are—since I typically work here alone at the house— usually just with God and the cats. While both God and the cats are really great listeners, the audible/verbal back and forth is typically a little different and not always readily understandable by other human ears. Yesterday was another story.

I spent most of yesterday sitting down and having a conversation…with a real, live person! (grin) We had a wonderful lunch at a local bistro and then retired to my keeping room where we talked and talked and talked for hours.   It was amazing to be able to look over and see this beloved face and hear her laugh without having to imagine the way her eyes crinkle and her smile lights up when she talks about her family or the way her eyes become serious when she talks about what God is asking her to do next.

I’ve learned not to take those things for granted, you see, because this was just the latest installment of a conversation that we started back in 1989. It was also the first time we’ve seen each other in almost 14 years. Yes, 14 years…of really regular contact through notes and phone calls and emails and texts, but no face-to-face time in all that time.

It didn’t slow us down a bit.

We hugged and laughed and ate and cooked and shared and prayed and it was absolutely wonderful. She stayed for supper and it was as normal as if she was always there…except that we actually ate at the table this time.

I loved every moment of our time together, but I think my favorite part was when we prayed together and she thanked God that this time we were able to actually hold hands while we did so. We’ve held hearts and secrets and prayer requests for so long now, that we are a part of each other whether we are near or far. We are bonded by our long-term friendship, our history and our faith in God and I am so grateful for the gift of yesterday. I am still savoring the time together even now.

Who do you need to touch base with again today? Pick up a phone, send a text or a card and let someone know that you value them. At the very least, say a prayer for them. Better yet? Pray with them, if you can!  It may be just what they need to make it through the rest of the week.

“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now…” Philippians 1:3-5

New days…

It has been quiet around here…not surprising for a blog entitled, “quiet ambitions”, perhaps, but after total silence for such a long while, I’ve found it difficult to start up the conversation again.  At first, it was because of scheduling and unpacking, the finding of old things and finding new locations for them. Later, it became something totally different.  It was at first a challenge that morphed into a cocoon. I got comfortable with the silence and found myself reveling in the quiet. Every now and then someone would ask when I planned to start blogging again and I would just smile and shake my head and say, “Whenever it feels right.  Whenever God says start again.”  It felt flattering to be asked…right up until I found I still had nothing to say…and so I waited…and waited…and waited…

I blogged in my head and there is a small red notebook with many snippets of notes inside–all hastily scribbled in the dead of night without so much as a light to keep me within the lined paper borders.  There’s a really poorly penned dream-note on one of the magnetic notepads on the side of the fridge.  I stare at it sometimes when I’m making out the grocery lists and it challenges me.  I can only remember a small portion of what would have been (I am certain!) of one of my most profound blog posts…ever.  (If at any point in the future God should allow me to complete the thought, I promise to share it…but I probably won’t mention that it is THAT post…just in case it turns out not as brilliant as I think it was supposed to be orginally.  grin)

I’ve missed being here.  I’ve missed you…and me…and all the quiet just took over and one day I realized that I wasn’t certain how to start over again here.  I asked God about it and He sent me this quote last week:

“People are always asking about the good old days, I say, why don’t you talk about the good new days?”  ~Robert M. Young

Well, God is never wrong and since He went to all the trouble of sending me  a quote and allowing a few extra thoughts to pass through the brain matter recently, here I am.

Things I learned in the quiet:

  • It is possible to be completely at home in a place you’ve never been before when you know with absolute assurance that God put you there on purpose…before He’s even made that purpose evident.
  • The mower that you had serviced at the end of the last growing season just before you moved will only break down when the grass in your new yard threatens to block the view from your front windows.
  • Sometimes, a broken mower becomes a blessing.  It keeps you from missing out on the shasta daisies that you didn’t know were going to come up over there and keeps you from decimating the tiny buds on the muscari that bloomed late and in a place you would never have thought they would grow. God has a purpose in everything.
  • I still need a Savior. Every. Single. Day.  (Even–or perhaps, especially, when I am all by myself.)
  • When you think you’re all alone, God will still be there…and the Jehovah’s Witnesses will find you…even in the woods.
  • It is really cool to take your trash out for pick up and get a hug from a neighbor in the middle of the road just because they’re happy to see you…and they don’t even know you well yet.
  • It is ok to take a break when everything still isn’t finished and the to-do list is huge and you have no idea what is for supper and…and…I never understood that before.  I’ve always been a work-past-the-point-of-sanity person, so this is new for me. If it is old news for you, then God bless you, why in the name of all that is holy didn’t you share it with me before? (Yes, I know.  I was busy and I wouldn’t listen, but perhaps someone else will, so share it with someone else near you soon.)
  • We only get one life and sometimes you need to celebrate the silly things.  Don’t wait on a big occasion to put on your party hat and giggle!
  • I’ve looked and tasted and, quite frankly, there doesn’t seem to be a really great Chinese restaurant near me now.  Naturally, I’ve been craving Chinese food for weeks!  Is it because I know I can’t have it or because I’m also missing the ones we used to go eat Chinese food with and worship with and pray with and laugh with, etc?  How wonderful to know that real friendships aren’t just food-related or proximity-dependent!
  • You have to make friends deliberately. I called the library the other day and a lady named Rosemary answered. Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs and has long been assigned to represent “Remembrance/Friendship”…she doesn’t know me yet, but I hope to make this lady at the library a really good friend.  (Who knows?! Perhaps she knows where they keep the good Chinese food!!)
  • I was born and raised in Mississippi.  We’re known as “The Hospitality State”…for really good reasons.  What I never expected, however, was to live in a place where hospitality is extended in such a publicly rehabilitative way…as evidenced by the photo of what is now my favorite new sign in my new location:

That sign made me smile, then chuckle and then full-out belly laugh when I saw it!  And isn’t that always the way it is? Almost anything can be solved with friendship, a good meal, a desire to help others and a really good laugh!

Sounds like the perfect way to break the silence to me…

Grace & Peace!!

 

Paint fumes and memories

My house smells like paint right now.  That’s because I’ve been painting.  Isn’t it amazing?  We tolerate all these tiny imperfections in our homes–tiny paint nicks and too many nail holes from moving art around with the seasons, blinds that need cleaning and dust hiding in places we never even think about looking at…until it is time to sell.

Suddenly, we’re consumed with making the house perfect for strangers as if they are somehow more worthy of the effort that we are.  It is wrong.  Wrong, I tell you!  (yes, the paint fumes are taking over!)

What I’ve found particularly amusing today is the way that different paints smell.  That’s NOT the fumes talking, now, I promise!  I opened up a can of deep red wine-colored paint and was immediately transported to the first time I ever used that color on a wall.  I still love it.  I’d forgotten the smell of it–deep and rich–almost as if the color came directly from a real wine.  The heady memories in this can…in this room…under these lights:  the laughter of friends and family, the smell of really good food and the joy of knowing such love to surround us.  I love the warmth of this color and I’ve loved the warmth we’ve lived out in this house.  Nephews playing chase and hide-n-seek, chalk drawing contests out on the driveway along with countless games of Monopoly at the table and croquet in the yard…there are lots of great memories here.  I’ll pack them with me when I go and they will all be colored in this amazing shade of love.

Standing on a small chair once used in the elementary school where my father attended, I painted out the tiny imperfections over the arch and I noticed that a small drop of the paint had descended from on high to land on the chair.  The deep fabulous color streak stands in stark contrast to the weathered wood.  I plan to leave it there.  When the chair and I leave this place we’ll take a memory with us of good times and continued usefulness…and I, for one, will be grateful for it.

I’ll get this place about where I want it…just in time to turn it over to the next owners.  They will no doubt make lots of changes and wonder why I bothered to color in the nicks…if they even notice it at all before they open their own can of paint and begin to create their own memories.

As for me, well, I’m already looking forward to feathering the next nest…after all, there’s no place like home.