Desert places, grief and growing things

I’ve never been to a desert before, but… I’ve been in more than a few desert places.

They’re not all alike.

Some desert places are about as close as you can come to being “taken to the woodshed” in spiritual terms. Many times we read about them in the Bible as a response to some kind of disobedience by someone who “should have known–and done!–better.” It becomes much harder to point fingers, however, when we remember that we’ve been disobedient, as well. Unfortunately, the disobedient ones are not the only ones who get taken along for the ride. What you and I do matters to and affects more than just ourselves. God takes our obedience very seriously.

Some desert places are caused by grief; loss of life and health and strength, loss of love and loved ones, even loss of control. Sometimes I think we mourn that last one most of all, though we rarely make it public. It gets all tied up in all of the other things connected with loss and we grow angry about all we long for and are unable to fix or grasp. We look for ways around it and end up finding we must simply work through it.

That IS possible. God has made a way. In fact, HE is the way. Knowing that doesn’t make it easier, but it does…all at the same time. God takes our grief seriously, too.

Yesterday I attended a memorial service where family members were attired in overalls. In their desert place of loss, they chose to celebrate the life and faith of their loved one with a tribute that he would have loved. It was beautiful.

I thought about close friends who have recently lost stability as they find themselves in changes of circumstances and far from what feels familiar. Across the sanctuary, I noticed others who have also lost loved ones recently. Seated not too far away were those who are in the process of doing so. Their care and comfort for one another is all bound up in their faith as they walk through the desert places where God has, for now, placed them.

That’s hard to write. It’s hard to even think about. Harder still, to endure.

We’d love to say that faith in God makes life an easy thing, but that isn’t always the case. WHY? Because in His infinite wisdom, God sees and knows things we can’t. He places us in these hard places ON PURPOSE. He does so, at times, for reasons I can’t even begin to fathom and yet, I know this to be true: He loves us. He is good. He is perfect in all His ways and He is always with us.

These things seem contrary, don’t they? I think that’s another one of my favorite things about God. He’s not afraid to be contrary to MY way of thinking. Instead, He uses each desert place to show me a new facet of His love, His care, His provision, and His mercy,–and what may be all of those things for someone else, may just put me in a desert place for awhile.

In this year’s focus on margin, I am continually drawn back to this invitation:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29 (ESV)

Grief–no matter the cause– is hard work. If we’re to find our way through it, we will NEED a place of rest for our souls. God, in His goodness, tells us He has already provided it. He becomes our Provision, our oasis in the desert…a place of nourishment, renewal, and, yes, even growth.

J.O. Sanders perhaps said it best, “God does not waste suffering; if He ploughs [sic] it is because He purposes a crop.”

No matter on which side of the desert–or oasis!–you find yourself today, I pray rest for weary souls, for respite from the harshness of the load and the landscape, and for companions who comfort and point you to Christ. I pray that you have God as your life companion and I pray for growth…even in the desert.

Be an oasis–a blessing in the desert–for someone today. It may help YOU more than you think possible.

Grace and Peace!

 

 

 

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My own New Year

I had another birthday recently and, as usual, began the process of evaluation for what I want to get accomplished the year to come. I’ve always ignored the traditional New Year’s resolutions in favor of starting my own New Year on my birthday. I’m weird like that. (grin)

What I found this year was a bit surprising: I don’t have as many new goals as I used to. I’m not saying that I’ve finally lived up to that “Most Likely to Succeed” superlative from high school, but I would say that I’m making progress–and most of it is in the direction that brings me joy. Hopefully, my progress is also making God smile a bit more than He used to, as well.

Sometimes we get all caught up in what other people expect from us or, perhaps more accurately, what we think they expect from us. I know I used to, anyway, but the older I get the more excited I am about my life. I’ve been blessed with a good one–despite the challenges, which we all face in one form or another. I’ve found that the best way to face them is to remember that those challenges are temporary and I am eternal, not because of anything that I have done, but by virtue of the very One who made me in His own image. By the way, the same can be said of you since the same God made us all.

34136This past year, I’ve already seen progress in some specific areas that I’ve been focused on for the last several years. I’ve exercised my “no” a little more and created some necessary margin in my life. I’ve cleared out a bunch of “stuff,” opened up my home a lot more, and made some more room for the people in my life to kick back and relax here with me. As a bonus result, I’ve been able to breathe a little better, as well. I’ve chosen to be more deliberately creative–and yes, you can do that! I’ve dug deeper into my study of what God wants for me and loved it as He has continued to turn some of that innate stubbornness into a more tenacious faith-life. I’ve prayed more with and for others and celebrated more of the small things in the everyday schedules I make for myself. I’ve laughed more this past year and enjoyed my husband and our marriage more. I’ve made deliberate choices to look past the faults of others without unsolicited commenting, but more importantly, I’ve managed to give some more of that grace to myself. To be honest, I’m having a lot more fun being me than I used to…and I’ve always liked being me. (HA!)

As I look back at that last paragraph, I see that this past year could most accurately be labeled as “a year of more.” I want to keep going in that direction in the year to come. I like what God is showing me about what He can do when I’m more focused on enjoying Him and the life He’s provided than when I’m just trying to “do the right thing,” check all the right boxes, and being too concerned about pleasing others.

As in years past, because I’m an optimist serving an Almighty God, I expect this new one to be a good one, but I am determined that it will be a more-God one. I look forward to what my new year will bring. I’m fiercely resolved to be a better steward of the life God has given to me. The following verse just feels like what I’m hoping for out of this new year:

“Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12 (CSB)

Perhaps I should have just started–and stopped–with that. Oh, well. I didn’t say anything about this year being less “wordy.” Looks like I’m off to a great start there, too. (grin)

Grace and Peace!

The really spectacular day…

IMG_20170527_180617889It doesn’t take much to make us happy. Well, some days it does, but it’s usually stuff like spending time together and having both of us healthy at the same time and holding hands and having our cat, Smokey, oversee our every move. (As you can see from the photo, he thinks this is HIS blog today.) We have had just such a day.

We had planned a whole long weekend at home trying to kick the yuck of the previous weeks out of our lives and I had all the food choices figured out and ready for the grill, a slew of old movies and maybe a board game or two lined up along with the knowledge that we had a whole extra day to add to the mix on Monday. I woke up first and quietly made my way into the living room to break my way gently into the day. It wasn’t long before my husband joined me with a mischievous grin on his face. I could tell he felt better just by the way he was grinning. (MAJOR praise!)

“You know what I want to do today?” he asked.

“You want to go out for breakfast.”

He shook his head from side to side and began to spill out his plan for the day. Just the idea that he felt up to it made me want to join in the fun, so we made quick work of our morning chores and off we went. It took us off our beaten path and it was worth every single second.

When we arrived at our destination we giggled like school children. We held hands as we crossed the parking lot and shared one last (really big) grin as opened up the heavy doors and stepped inside…and then we parted ways. You would have thought it was Disney, but we had just entered the hallowed space that is the Barnes and Noble.

Let me pause here and let you exhale that great big breath you’ve been holding, ok? I know. That probably wasn’t even close to what you were expecting, but believe you me–it was a big deal to us. Even better? We made a pact to split up and go whichever direction we wanted and stay as LONG as we wanted…just because we could! Outside of a public library or a botanical garden, there’s just about no other place I’d rather spend some time than a room full of words all put in different orders and ready to share something new and pertinent with you if you just pick up the ones written in the right order to appeal to you.

We had traveled over an hour just to get to this one. Oh, there’s one about 20 minutes closer, but THIS one has a P.F. Chang nearby…and that cast the deciding vote on the matter. When our adventure–and yes, it qualified because we braved Atlanta traffic and survived all sorts of perilous drivers on the road there and back! In fact, I am actually the only one who made all the right moves on the entire trip there and back, y’all! It is harrowing to know that that many people who can’t drive actually do so!…ANY WAY!… When our adventure was complete, we each had a bag full of books and magazines with hours and hours of fun, entertainment, learning, and mind adventures just waiting to be started. We made another stop on the way home to get some minor fixes made to a recent purchase and then, to top it off we made a stop by the Sonic on the way home and purchased TWO Route-44 Fresh strawberry slushes…and if that doesn’t sound delicious to you, then we’re not sure you’ve really lived. (grin)

We heated the PFC left-overs from lunch while we got in our comfortable clothes. Actually, that last sentence should be more accurately translated into, “We then got into our pajamas at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and settled in for the long duration!” Now that we’ve made sure Smokey has properly settled in for appropriate oversight and the delights of Crispy Honey Chicken with brown rice and the egg rolls have been consumed, it is here that we find ourselves…hoping and praying that one day you’ll manage to have such a splendid outing with someone you love this much and that you won’t let things like being over an hour away and not being on the schedule or feeling silly that if you’re going to go to all that trouble it better be something more spectacular than a bookstore and some really upscale Chinese food. (Fried green beans, y’all. Fried green beans. It would have been worth the trip just for the appetizer!)

The moral of this story is this: don’t wait to have a spectacular day until you can pay big bucks and do something stunningly grand to impress people. The little things actually make the bigger impact when you consistently fill your life with loving people, delicious food, and good words all written out in a way that makes you smile…and maybe even ones that will inspire you to get out and do something that wasn’t on your agenda at the beginning of your day, either.

Grace and Peace, y’all! I’ve got a stack of books to dig into right now! (happy dance, happy dance!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring cleaning

It seems I’m finally getting around to doing some spring cleaning. As God and I have cleaned out my schedule a bit over the past few weeks, there is suddenly time now for activities that I–with my slightly OCD brain–have actually been looking forward to for months. I’ve been sorting and organizing and I actually have a book that I’m reading for pleasure/instruction! I may even pull out the paints or that sewing machine before long and do something creative around here! But first, there is a bit of work to be done. I was taught to work first and play later. It’s been a good rule for the most part, though I have struggled on those occasions where the work never seemed to end and the play seemed more and more unobtainable. In part, I guess that’s what has made me be able to focus so intently and be productive when needed. I’ve also come to realize that what I see as play…others may see as work. (smile) Whatever works, right? Best of both worlds.

Monday I grabbed the weed-eater, the riding lawnmower, and the blower and got busy uncovering my house and yard from the wildness and personal neglect of a mild winter. Believe it or not, there are people who live here and not just some derelicts who have abandoned this place! I’ve never been so happy to see a yard take shape before since…Well…last year about this time! (grin) I am fortunate that we live in a more rural area and our house sits back in the trees a bit so perhaps my yard work shortcomings take a little longer to become more obvious to the neighbors. (Maybe. I hope…) I’ve found that riding on the lawnmower is the perfect opportunity for prayer and reflection. It’s become one of my favorite things (yes, just call me Forrest… ) to do during the season when grass seems to grow whether God sends the rain or not. Yes, I uncovered more things for my “To Do” list and my forearms were a bit sore yesterday from the extra workout, but it was a beautiful day and a wonderful way to blow out the cobwebs of the mind and rejoice in the beauty being unveiled as I worked. Spring cleaning of the yard.

Satisfaction from physical labor and doing a job well are just some of the life lessons my brother and I talked about during an unexpected overnight visit from him last week. I’m grateful for those lessons and for the decision to just rest and enjoy the visit despite the state of the yard while he was here. That’s something that doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m way more Martha than Mary. It was good to switch that up for a day and enjoy the luxury of family in this place. Spring cleaning of the habit.

IMG_20170418_110322614Yesterday was supposed to be quite different, but I found myself with a completely indoor day except for my walk to the mailbox when I deadheaded the iris on my way there and back. (18 blooms already come and gone with more in full beauty and even more on the way! I knew you’d want to know. ha!) As I did laundry, cleaned and sorted, rearranged, and culled out extras I gave thanks for the life I get to lead here. Exchanging the mantel arrangement of fading red nandina leaves for one with vibrant roses and lavender was a reward for the work of the past two days and a reminder of the all the grace that covers this life I’m called to lead. Spring cleaning of the spirit.

This morning I opened the Book to the writings of John and read this:

“I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.” 1 John 2:12

Those words broke me in a way totally unexpected as I teared up and gave thanks over and over at the love of God the Father in sending His Son and the sacrifice it took to cover my sins. The incredible deliberateness of God’s choice to make possible a relationship with one who has so often gone her own way and chosen poorly…It breaks me and I am glad of that today. I don’t ever want to lose the wonder of that! It ought to break me…And you, too, because He didn’t just come for one of us. He came to clean all of us. Spring cleaning of the heart.

Today I am tackling the back porch with all of things we’ve dropped there on our way in over the past few weeks along with that thick layer of yellow pine pollen. I’ll probably have the music turned up and have the company of a very satisfied cat who is happy to have me consider work as play…as long as it means I remain within sight and remember where I keep the treats.

Who knew spring cleaning could be such fun?

Grace and Peace!

Day 4–NCC2016

IMG_20140705_141046_350Continuity. It’s an important concept. I’ve yet to meet anyone–even one who likes a lot of change–that doesn’t need continuity in at least one part of their lives in order to deal with all the change that happens around us on a daily basis.

Beginning a new habit can a hard thing. It breaks up the continuity, but choosing to break up the continuity of complaining HAS to be a better choice than keeping it in place. Just taking that statement on face value has merit. I mean, choosing to be NEUTRAL over NEGATIVE is a step in the right direction, I think, but what if we added to it? What if we pushed ourselves to go even further?

What if we, as we’re focusing on eliminating the negative, also added in a positive to fill that “void” in our thought pattern? What if we…deliberately looked for the GOOD? What if we PRAYED for that person? What if we prayed for OURSELVES in that situation? What if we–brace yourself!–chose to SPEAK WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT in to those situations we used to complain about? To build UP instead of tear down?  Or even just redirect the conversation?! What if we became  beacons of blessing instead of contributors to the darkness? What if we created a continuity of deliberate actions that led us to becoming a person of influence for good…and for good, as in “permanently”.

That may be a lot to take in for those of us who are still working up to the idea of eliminating the complaints, but I want us to think about it this weekend. Keep posting reminders that help keep you on track. Continuity is key! My friend Audrey looks for cardinals, leaves, and bells…and frogs, apparently. (really, 9?! ~grin~) Ron says he’s using prayer as a reminder. Our friend Betty says she intends to send out a distress call when she feels the urge to complain, so if we get a “Mayday! Mayday!” text, we’ll “know to pray hard!!” (I love that! Getting the people around you in on this will make it SO much easier!)

I’m using my bracelets (pictured above) as my reminder that I am too blessed to complain and that I need to keep asking God to “create in me a clean heart in me” (Psalm 51:10) because Matthew 12:34 tells me, “…out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”–all the while, I’m giving thanks for Patty and Jody who gave me really great physical reminders to help me and for those of you who have joined in this challenge with me! Your involvement is encouraging! See! You’re already making a difference in the world!

For today, just keep doing whatever YOU’ve been doing so far to remind yourself not to complain, to catch yourself before you let your mind go “there”, think before you speak, or simply choose silence over condemnation. After all, it’s Friday! The weekend is almost here and there’s a lot of living to be done! No extra homework from here, just more opportunities to change the world where you really live…with the people you love.

Grace & Peace! (and NO COMPLAINTS!)

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14

Waiting Game

According to WordPress, I started this blog entry 10 months ago. As you can see, the title is most appropriate. The next full paragraph is as far as I got with it before, so I’m starting again. There’s lots to say. We’ll see where it goes…

“I’ve been waiting to write this one for a lot of reasons. I wanted some distance from our beyond-my-wildest-dreams participation in observing our first ever No Complain November. I wanted to get through the holidays and I wanted to see what God was going to do. I’ve managed to do the first two things just fine. I’m still waiting on God…”

Just yesterday, my husband and I were talking in the kitchen about how time has just flown by this year. (I know. It is the conversation of all of us who are past the age of college…and then some. grin) As I looked at the calendar, I said, “Can you believe it’s been almost a year since your last day with ___ (former employer)___? It’s almost time for NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER again, and that means in 3 days it will be the anniversary of when you lost your job! That just doesn’t seem right, does it?!”

He shook his head and then said with a small grin, “Ummm…maybe we need to skip NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER this year…?”

“Absolutely NOT!”, I replied.

“Well, ok then, but…get ready!”  And then we chuckled…with the full awareness of all that really meant for us this past year.

Yes, you read that right. My husband suddenly lost his job on Day 2 of our first NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER last year. It was completely unexpected, totally blindsided us, and was one of those life events that just take your breath away for awhile. It just didn’t make sense…at first. But God. Oh, how I love those two words!

BUT GOD…

  • was still entirely in control.
  • had a plan that was not only for our good, but also for many others, as well.
  • descended with His unexplainable, but oh-so-needed peace and rest.
  • gave provision–on every front!–throughout the whole process.
  • gave us time to catch our collective breath and then relax in Him…for the next SEVEN months.
  • gave us a marvelously unplanned, but welcomed and much-enjoyed time together to laugh and reconnect in ways that just aren’t possible when your schedules are so tight that you rarely see each other or are too tired to do much when you do.
  • gave my husband time to recover spiritually, emotionally, and physically from the incredible stress he had been under before starting the next challenge.
  • surrounded us with encouragement from our friends and family every step of the way.
  • gave us a new appreciation for our time together and allowed us to be reminded of just how much we actually LIKE each other in addition to the great love between us.
  • gave us a heart for those whose lives have been like that for much longer than ours.
  • at the appointed time, provided a new opportunity for him that allows him to function within his area of expertise, meets his need to learn new things, and allows him to function within his spiritual gift of teaching–and all with people who are ready to learn, ready to work together, and supportive for the whole team.
  • used this as an opportunity to both grow and show our faith to those who were watching.
  • gave us an opportunity to extend NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER into the rest of our year!

What looked like a disaster on that second day, has turned into one of our greatest blessings! Only God can do something like that! The waiting was absolutely worth it!–and so was the choice for us not to complain about it!

Throughout this past year we, along with our friends and families have faced many challenges–job loss, death, large-scale moves across country, health concerns, surgeries and hospital stays for loved ones. These things and many other life-events (large and small!)  have provided us the choice about whether or not to complain…or simply  plough forward and praise God anyway. I’m thankful to say that, most of the time, we’ve chosen the latter response…and so have our loved ones. In fact, this may have just been the most God-honoring year that I’ve ever lived through and I owe a lot of that to the deliberate choice to focus on the many reasons I have to be grateful instead of complaining about the circumstances I wish were different.

And so it is, with the knowledge that we have made it through this year with all of the hurdles we’ve cleared and those we know are yet to come, that I invite you to join us once again as we deliberately choose to celebrate–yes, CELEBRATE!–NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER 2016.

Feel free to comment below if you want to “join in officially” or simply remain silent, but please know that you and your stories of how God uses this in your life are always welcomed here.

Tomorrow is our official kick-off day for NCC 2016, so…get it all out of your system today…or, better yet, start practicing for the the rest of the challenge! (big grin, REALLY big grin!)

Grace & Peace! (and no complaints!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

On those days when nothing goes right…

On the days when nothing goes right…

You still get to choose your response, be it physical, verbal or silent.
You still get to choose your words.
You still get to decide which voices to listen to.
You still get to choose how your voice will be used.
You still get to decide IF your voice should be used.
You still get to vent to trusted friends and loved ones–and you can choose to accept their comfort.
You still get to choose, to act responsibly, to take time out to be healthy and make good choices for yourself, SONY DSCand most importantly, to praise God ANYWAY!

See! You have more control than you thought. You just have to choose. I was reminded of that today, so I thought I ought to share.

Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink,
he will still be with you to teach you.
You will see your teacher with your own eyes. Your own ears will hear him.
Right behind you a voice will say,
“This is the way you should go,”
whether to the right or to the left.”
Isaiah 30: 20-21