Tuesday, October 17, 2017

People doing impossible things . . . and maybe you’re one of them


I stared at the television trying to process what an announcer had said about the contestant on a television talent showtwo things that didn’t compute.

Mandy Harvey was going to sing, and she was deaf.

She stood on stage with bare feet and delivered her song in perfect pitch. She sang barefooted so she could feel the drumbeat.

It seemed impossible but there it was. She went all the way to fourth place in the competition.

Wayne Connell, the founder of Invisible Disabilities, said in an NPR interview, “We’ve created an idea of how people are supposed to look when they’re broken, and so when you don’t fit that imaginary mold, then it’s a trick, or you’re a liaror you’re not really broken, so you shouldn’t be doing certain things.”

Mandy Harvey ignored conventional wisdom and went for it.

Then there’s Victoria Arlen who came back from a four-year vegetative state to become a Paralympics athlete, sports commentator, and celebrity dancer on “Dancing with the Stars” this fall.

She can’t feel her legs.

I’m not sure she even knows how she’s doing what she does. In an E! News interview she said, “I’m feeling good. It’s definitely a shocker to the body, but I can’t feel my legs. I can say that they’re sore, but I don’t really know if they’re sore.”

Again, hard to process.

In Discerning the Voice of God, Priscilla Shirer writes, “. . . God’s plans are frequently different from our own. His plans do not placate our low standards or personal expectations. His agenda far exceeds our tiny, myopic, narrow perspectives, requiring things of us that His Spirit must strengthen us to accomplish. Carrying the cross He gives us requires a grit and tenacity we may not have intended to exercise.”

This means that the usual excuses, which we have tried to appease ourselves with in the past are not going to flytoo afraid, not enough money, not enough talent, don’t have the time, too hard, takes too long.

Enough already. If one young woman can sing without hearing and another one dance without feeling her legs, with God’s spirit empowering us, we can do whatever He asks us to do. I’m sounding all-bold right now, but the truth is, that first excuse about being afraid is the one that haunts me. I feel as if I live constantly challenged with my own version of impossible with the blank page or blank canvas almost seeming mocking at times. In fact, before I started oil painting, I had a blank canvas that actually became mildewed before I ever attempted to put anything on it. What may seem easy to others is actually so very hard to me and something I can only do with God’s empowerment. I remind myself, “For  with God nothing will be impossible” (Luke1:37).

After I finished writing today’s post, I came across this quote from Richard and Henry Blackaby in our Discerning the Voice of God study, “Human reasoning instructs you to know your limitations and live within them. God says he will do the impossible through you.”

And there you have it.

So, if you need inspiration to face your version of impossible, watch the videos below.

You’re going to need tissues.

Mandy Harvey (click on blog title to go to site if video will not load).

 

And HERE you see the reason behind her overcoming life as she sings "It Is Well."

Victoria Arlen HERE in Dancing with the Stars debut.

And HERE is an interview with Victoria on James Robison. She, too, is a woman of faith.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Out of a mildewy mess, looking for a new thing


I moved a table in my office while prepping to paint the walls and pulled out a portfolio behind it. In it, I stored watercolor paintings and drawings, some large, which I had done since college. When I opened the flap, the scent of mildew wafted out. 

My heart sank. We had leaks in our roof, and I thought the damage was only in the ceiling—until now.

The portfolio was waterproof. Well, I thought it was waterproof, but unfortunately not waterproof enough.

I found dozens of paintings and drawings watermarked and mildewed, some ruined beyond repair.


 

 
 

I don’t even know how to explain my feelings, maybe shock. I showed Jerry and managed to tell my sister a few days later, but that was it for days. I didn’t want to talk about it.

I had given away many paintings over the years and sold a few, so the ones that remained had a personal connection.

A beaver dam in Colorado where Jerry and I once spent a week.
 
 

A birdhouse at my mother’s (she died in 2001).
 
 

The church where my father attended and my ancestors are buried back to a generation of the revolutionary war. The church burned down not long after I did this painting.
 
 

The bridge where Jerry surrendered his life fully to the Lord.
 
 

The painting I identify with my surrender to the Lord, done just days after the event and especially hard hit.

 

A cradle my daughter played with as a child.

 

On and on. The backs of some of these paintings look even worse. Expensive restoration is out of the question. I've been identifying with what it might be to suffer a flood, all those folks coming through Irma and Harvey who saw everything they owned swept away. It's not that I need anything else to hang on my walls, no problems there, but these were precious because of what they represented.

I didn’t even know how to start processing this, but I’ve continued to take it to the Lord in prayer. A message in Isaiah which is repeated in Revelation keeps coming to mind.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19).

The Message puts it this way, “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out. Don’t you see it?”

In John’s account of the New Heaven and the New Earth in Revelation 21:5, we read, “Behold, I am making everything new.”

In some ways, God has already done a new thing creatively, as I have mostly been painting in oil for the last couple of years.

Sometimes, we can cling too much to even good things, and God wants to revolutionize our lives. I don’t know what that could mean for me, but I’m trying to be alert and present.

A few days ago, I took the paintings, about forty of them, and began doing the previously unthinkable. I started carving away the damaged parts to see if I could still have a composition that made sense. For a few of them this worked, others I’m going to have to live with the damage. Still, others were unsalvageable, so I cut out the small-undamaged parts and will maybe make a collage of them.

The larger application here is a truth I was reminded of at vacation Bible school a few months ago― “When sin messes everything up. God is still in control.”

Nothing else in my office was damaged but these paintings. I don’t understand fully, but I realize I’ve got to let this go and not keep going over it. Though the mildew got a shot in (I'm sure mildew was one of the results of the fall of man), God is still in control.

There are other things in my life that also seem irreparable, but again, God is still in control.

And He is doing something new.

He has my attention
 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

After Las Vegas and what we do now


All too often these days, a blog post I intended to write is scratched because something happens in the world that pushes it to the side. Sadly, it happened again, yesterday.

Much of C.S. Lewis’s book on apologetics, Mere Christianity, was taken from talks he gave on the radio over the BBC during World War II. According to Christianity Today, “Adolf Hitler’s influence on Lewis’s apologetics is an irrefutable fact. The Fuhrer’s evil campaign paved the way for the clear-speaking Lewis to engage listeners of the British Broadcast Service. Even as bombs fell over London, Lewis’s baritone voice boomed on radios across Europe.”
 
After learning of the events in Las Vegas, I turned again to Mere Christianity. Reading that book provided a line of demarcation in my life and moved me to full surrender to the Lord. Lewis says, “Enemy-occupied territory―that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”

The horrible events in Las Vegas make us want to point our fingers at someone or something. It’s guns, or a madman, or terrorism or any number of other things we could mention. But the truth is we live in “enemy-occupied” territory. Above anything else, what we can point our finger at is evil itself, because this old world is broken, but thanks be to God, “the rightful King has landed” in a manger in Bethlehem and his name is Jesus.

At our church, we recently sang the hymn, “Stand up, stand up for Jesus,” a line of which goes, “let courage rise with danger, and strength to strength oppose.” This hymn was written by George Duffield, Jr., an abolitionist, and the son of the second congressional chaplain during the time of the Continental Congress. Both of these men knew what it was like to have courage rising with danger.

My son has been a big country music fan for years ever since the University of Georgia where he was a student hosted  a music concert for the first time in their football stadium. He attended that night, and ironically, Jason Aldean was performing, the same artist who was performing in Las Vegas when the shots rang out.

Who knew that in order for my son to continue pursuing the music he loves, he’d need such a great amount of courage just to attend the venues where the music is performed.

When I first saw the pictures from Las Vegas this morning, I knew it could have easily been my own son at that venue.

In many ways, those killed or injured are all our sons and daughters, our sisters and brothers, our mothers and fathers. According to CNN, among them-- a nurse, a police department employee, a special education teacher, a recently graduated high school cheerleader, a kindergarten teacher, a Mom of three, an office manager with two adult children, a young woman who helped run a family business, an attorney, a school district secretary, a woman championed as the glue that kept the family together, and a Disney employee. That’s twelve. There are forty-seven more.
 
Friends, we are indeed in “enemy occupied territory,” so what we do now is we get going with what Lewis calls “our great campaign of sabotage.” The way we do that, is follow God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and spirits. We don’t cower in the corner or let the fear win, we press into God.

That may seem a strange counterattack, but consider the absurdity of sending a baby to be born in a cattle stall to deal with the sin of the whole world. Strange works.

Remembering today in prayer those that were injured and the families of those who died in the Las Vegas attack.  Our hearts go out to you. We are giving thanks for first responders in law enforcement who put themselves in harms way as well as medical personnel who saved many lives.

“This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon . . . prayer is essential . . . pray hard and long” (Ephesians 6: 13-17 The Message).

                Is there no balm in Gilead or in Newtown

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Listening for the sound of a heavy rain


Regarding my post last week about my new book contract, my friend, Rhonda wrote this (used by permission), “I feel as though I’ve seen this coming, almost like a motor you hear on the next street over approaching nearer. Or like . . . (hearing) the rain falling through the trees before it ever arrives in your yard. . . “

When I read that phrase about the rain falling, I could only think of a story in 1 Kings, which contains verses beside which in my Bible I've written, “Long been praying.”
 
 
 
 
In 1 Kings 16, we read of an evil king, Ahab, who rose up to rule Israel. It is said this king did more to anger the Lord than “all the kings of Israel before him.” Because of this, the prophet, Elijah, declared to Ahab  “. . . there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”

Then the Lord told Elijah to get out of Dodge and hide in the Kerith Ravine (well, not exactly), where ravens would provide food for him. After the brook he had been drinking from dried up, God directed him to Zarephath. A widow there would provide his needs.

Elijah met the widow who was gathering sticks and asked her for bread and water.

She replied, “As surely as the Lord your God lives. . . I don’t have any bread―only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it ―and die” (I Kings 17:12).

Elijah’s response to her is underlined and starred with dates beside it in my Bible. “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. First, make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says; ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land” (1 Kings 17:13-14).

Scarcity can come in many ways―financially, creatively, relationally, even spiritually, we can feel we, too, are living in the Kerith Ravine and the stream has dried to dust.

The stars beside I Kings 17:14 in my Bible mark times when in some way, life seemed a desert, and God challenged me to believe him that in whatever way I felt a lack, as long as I served Him first, He would provide.

It’s hard to believe when metaphorically you fear your lips will be parched and your stomach will be growling, but sometimes God allows us to get in that place.

And sometimes it can last awhile.

For Elijah and the widow, it was three long years of trusting God for their daily provision.

There’s so much more to this story, but in Chapter 18, God made such a serious demonstration of his presence and power, the people of Israel at last cried out, “The Lord―He is God.”

Elijah could then deal with the evil that had been in the land. That’s when he heard it, “. . . there is the sound of a heavy rain.” He repeatedly sent a servant up on Carmel to check for clouds, and on the seventh time, he saw a “. . . cloud as a small as a man’s hand rising from the sea.”

The next part of the story reads like this in The Message, “Things happened fast. The sky grew black with wind-driven clouds, and then a huge cloudburst of rain, with Ahab hightailing it in his chariot for Jezreel. And God strengthened Elijah mightily . . . (Elijah) ran in front of Ahab’s chariot until they reached Jezreel.” (I Kings 18:45-46).

The rain didn’t come in drips and drops, and it didn't come slow. It came fast and in torrents, and even after that time of what seemed meager provision, God strengthened Elijah so much that he outran Ahab’s chariot.

Last week seemed a time of blessed downpour here at our house after a long drought, but the rain is coming and continues to come. That time of waiting and watching has hopefully made us stronger than we were before.

So my friends, if you too, find yourself in a place of seeming drought, remember these verses and like Elijah and my friend Rhonda, listen up for that “sound of heavy rain.” I close with this quote from C.H. Spurgeon, “Knowest thou not that day follows night, that flood comes after ebb, that spring and summer succeed winter? Hope thou then! Hope thou ever! For God fails thee not.”

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Some good news and what a Moose, a Chevy Nova, and Fashion have to do with each other

"Of Moose and Men, available now," the notice read on the Facebook page of my friend, Doug Peterson. I could have never imagined how that one book promo would change my life.

The graphic on the book cover made me smile. It was Torry Martin nose to nose with a moose. I first met Torry at a screenwriting conference. He’s one of the funniest people ever. A Christian comedian, he has also written for Adventures in Odyssey and penned several screenplays.

Of Moose and Men is a book Torry wrote with Doug Peterson about Torry’s Alaska adventures. 

Got to be funny, I thought. And wow, did I need some funny.  I bought the book.

This was about a year after my dad died. I had grieved so hard and together with other things that were happening, my writing had suffered. I’d edited a novel in the previous year and kept up with my blog, but I was not working on a new book for the first time in ten years. I wondered if I ever would again.

Then, I read Of Moose and Men. Torry cracks me up, and in the midst of the laughter, my creativity began coming back. I thought, hey, I might have a female version of this story about my adventures on Seventh Avenue when I was a buyer and merchandise manager for a department store.

I began to tinker around with a few ideas, and before I knew it, I had several stories written. Maybe this could be a book. But then again, maybe not. Soon after, I hit a wall. I had to navigate through ten years of journals to write the stories, and I dealt with a lot of emotional baggage during those years, things that were not pertinent to the story. It was hard to read about it again in addition to the grief I was still trying to get through. So, I stopped writing the book.

But I remembered a dream I had a few weeks before where a red Chevy Nova was chasing me around in my backyard, similar to those animations in the movie Cars. Chevy Novas are muscle cars, and even though it was kind of a funny dream, I knew God wanted to give me power over the pain of my past, but I was running from it. I stopped running, took up the writing again, and let God deal with the pain.

I finished this past spring in time to take the book to a conference. The book, Faith in the Fashion District, is the story of how one woman’s life on Seventh Avenue launched a lifetime in ministry. It received very positive reaction from several agents and editors. I also had the opportunity to tell Torry Martin about what his book had done for me. He loved the story. We both cried. The image left is from the information sheet I did on the book (not the book cover).

After several weeks of waiting to hear from various publishers who were reviewing the manuscript, I received an email offering me a contract from Crosslink Publishers. I signed the contract this past Friday.

To say I was thrilled would be an understatement.

Last Thursday, I also signed contracts for pieces in two separate book anthologies. Short and Sweet II, and Christmas Moments releasing soon (Authors receive no royalties for Christmas Moments as all proceeds are donated to Samaritan’s Purse. I love that).

I was so overwhelmed. This didn’t even feel like my life.

It was a big week at the Varnado household. You’ll be hearing more about all of this in the weeks and months to come with Faith in the Fashion District to be released in 2018, but I just wanted to tell you folks who take the time to read my blog every week, thank you. You see, I feel called to write for the Lord, but there have been times, I have been so discouraged. Often, it was your comments here on the blog and on Facebook that kept me going. Legendary writer, Elizabeth Sherill, says we write for one person, and so I have taken that to heart. If one person is touched by what I write, then my time has been well spent. So, thank you, dear friends.

If God has called you to something and it has been long and hard. Persist. Don’t give up. His timing is not ours. Oh, how much I have clung to that over the years. The important thing is that we’re good stewards of the gifts and talents God has entrusted to us.

This is a long post today, so I’ll close now, but there are still other parts of this story, which I hope to write about in the weeks ahead. Stay tuned.

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).

“I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me” (Psalm 13:6 KJV).

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

When you're looking for someone equal to all emergencies


As I write, my area in the south is under an unprecedented tropical storm warning and what’s left of Irma is making the pine trees in my front yard increasingly frazzled. Here’s praying they are still standing tomorrow.

The hotels in our town are full of cars with Florida license plates and folks who don’t know what they’re going back to in the next few days.

A lot of uncertainty.

In these times, we hold on to what we know is certain.
 

 
“God is our refuge and strength an ever present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

This commentary on Psalm 46:1 says, God is “a help accommodated to every case . . . whatever it is, He is a very present help; we cannot desire a better help, nor shall ever find the like in any creature.”
 
Matthew Henry writes this: “God is our refuge just now, in the immediate present, as truly as when David penned the word. God alone is our all in all. All other refuges are refuges of lies, all other strength is weakness, for power belongeth unto God: but as God is all sufficient, our defense and might are equal to all emergencies.”

Max Lucado in reflecting on 9/11(the anniversary of which is today as I write), “This world can be tough on a soul. Yours needs an anchor: a double pointed cast iron hooking point that is sturdier than the storm. Storms still rage . . . God never promised a life with no storms. But He did promise to meet us in the midst of them.”

So friends, wherever you are and whatever you are facing, you “cannot desire a better help” for God is “equal to all emergencies.” In any storm or its aftermath God has promised, “to meet us in the midst of them.”

Praying for all those recovering from Irma.

Please consider a donation to Samaritan's Purse to help with hurricane relief HERE.

 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

What can happen after a flood

I awoke in the middle of the night to see lights flashing across my bedroom walls and voices sounding nearby. I went outside where a law enforcement official stood in the street reversing the flow of traffic in front of my apartment building.

I pulled my bathrobe tighter around me. “What’s happened?” I asked.

“A dam broke at Toccoa Falls.”

“Anyone hurt?” I asked.

“They’re fine,” he said. "Go back to bed.”

I had the distinct impressions he was lying to me.
 
But I wonder if he was even aware of the scope of what had gone on just a few hundred yards beyond us.

 

The details emerged the next day. After days of rain, and without warning, an earthen dam broke above Toccoa Falls Bible College sending twenty seven million cubic feet of water plunging over a 186-foot waterfall creating a wall of water that killed thirty-nine people. It destroyed nine houses, eighteen house trailers and two college buildings with whole families swept away―almost half of those who died under sixteen years old. Students, professors, other college staff, and their families were gone. There had been no time to escape.

The grief in our community was palpable.

My dad, a banker, also volunteered with the Civil Air Patrol and was out in the next days as part of the search and recovery effort. I still remember his face when he told me his team had recovered one of the victims.

The flood occurred between our town and the water supply, so when one of the main lines was damaged from the force of the flood, we were without water for weeks. The Coca Cola Company trucked in big pallets of water in Coke syrup cartons. I still remember how glad I was for those cartons. On the far side of town, folks were less affected and I showered at various family members’ homes. But all of that trouble was nothing compared to the heartache of those who were burying their entire families.

How would the little college go on? The tragedy was so overwhelming and it seemed to me at the time this might put them under.

But it didn’t.

Out of the heartache, the mud, and the devastation, the college rose up and today, many years later, continues to educate and prepare pastors, teachers, missionaries, and others who serve in secular jobs. According to their website, “Graduates serve in places of Christian leadership throughout the United States and most nations of the world.”  Among them, a singer songwriter whose songs you may have known for years―Dove award winner, Aaron Shust.

Shust’s song Cornerstone seems appropriate now, because when the floodwaters rise and everything else has given way, whether literally or figuratively, it is good to know one Cornerstone remains steady.
 
 (If video fails to download in email, HERE please.)

Houston makes me remember this flood of long ago, for though I wasn’t in it, I inhaled the air that surrounded it. Even as I wrote this, I felt a bit shaky. But in remembering the flood, I also remember the mighty things that happened afterward. So for you folks in Houston who are standing in line for water, carrying debris out of your homes, and sloshing through the mud, our prayers and I pray, our support is with you. For those who have lost loved ones, oh, how our hearts grieve, too. We pray His comfort for you.

After the flood, we ask that God will rise up in the midst of your suffering to do something He alone can do and that Jesus would truly be your Cornerstone.

“. . . you are . . . fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19-20).

Again, Samaritan’s Purse is asking for volunteers and donations. Contact them HERE.

And for those of you who may not have seen my Facebook post or my update on last weeks post, our friend T in Asia made it through customs in her words "unseen and unquestioned." Truly a miracle. Thank you for praying. She is now back with her 16 kids.

 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

What waiting has to do with strength

(Edited on August 30, our friend T made it through customs early this morning our time and is now back with her sixteen children. We are so thankful to God for this miracle.)

Waiting to see―a phrase I’ve found myself using a lot lately.

We’re prayerfully waiting to see Wednesday morning if after a mandatory exit for visa renewal our friend T. is allowed back in the Asian country where she has lived for almost twenty years. We hope she may finish raising the sixteen children she mothers.

We’re waiting to see when our neighbors on the Gulf Coast may actually start recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey and when relief agencies might get in. Dear Lord, let these flood waters recede.

We’re waiting to see if another friend who has finished radiation will need chemo―the result still another week away.

I’m waiting to see what a respiratory specialist says about the breathing problems I’ve been having. If it turns out to be a pet allergy, we’ll have to corner the market on antihistamines because it’s going to take a truckload of medicine for me to deal with the critters here.

Waiting. To. See.

I am not a good waiter. I wish I could say otherwise, but I want to do something.

 Now.

 I want to fix these problems, but I can’t. So, here we are. Waiting to see what God will do.

One of the first verses I think of in regard to waiting is Isaiah 40:31.
 
 
“But those who wait upon God get fresh strength” (The Message).
 
I wondered if I might find deeper meaning for “wait” in the original language.

Though I’m no Hebrew scholar, after checking several sources, it seems that the root of the word has to do with, “a collection of fibers that are twisted together to make a strong and firm cord. This same word is also used for the abstract idea of ‘hope.’”

If you examine a rope, it is composed of tightly twisted strands, therein is its strength. Any of those strands alone might break, but together, they endure. So, in these times when we feel unraveled and worn down by distressing headlines and circumstances,  we wrap ourselves tightly with the Lord, and find hope and power to persist in our waiting. Really, shouldn’t we always be tightly wrapped with Him?

It seems paradoxical to me that we should find strength in waiting. In the natural, it is always the opposite. But God’s economy is not ours. Thankfully.

So, we may have been spinning around one way, fraying thread by thread, but now we reverse our course, as He gathers the threads together in one enduring cord of hope with Him.

If you'd like to make a donation to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey, HERE for Samaritan's purse. They are also urgently pleading for volunteers to help.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

No east or west and our kin


If you were here early this morning, you may have seen a post, which has now been reverted to draft. Only up for a few minutes, there was nothing wrong with it, because you’ll probably see it again next week. But I didn’t want to miss a timely opportunity to respond to the events in Charlottesville this weekend.

In the church, I am not one to hold on to things just because we have always done them that way, but I regret that in many circumstances we have abandoned the great hymns of the church, for it is one of those hymns that has circled through my brain in the last couple of days.
 
 

“In Christ there is no east or west, in him no south or north; but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.”

Written from Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”


Another verse reads, “In Christ is neither Jew nor Greek, and neither slave nor free; both male and female heirs are made, all are kin to me.”

“All are kin to me.”

Priscilla Shirer calls her ministry Going Beyond. I remember her telling a story in one of her Bible Studies about how God goes beyond and beyond on our behalf.

Well folks, these days, I believe God is calling us to go beyond and beyond to heal the hurt in our land and in our hearts.

It’s a time to make an extra effort, and sometimes it begins with the little things like a smile, holding a door, extending a hand as we would with our own family because all are kin to me.
 
Sometimes it means speaking up for our kin.

We don’t need a geography book to understand we all have the same beating heart. Because in Christ, there is no east or west, and he is the pulsing life that makes us one.

So, today, I am humming under my breath and praying for my kin.

Join me, will you?

When it seems you're building sandcastles


I watched the video of the man who builds elaborate sandcastles on Long Island. He bent over his work, sculpting and refining only to have the tide wash it away in a few hours.

Something about that story resonated with me.

A few vintage Varnado pics

All of us want to leave a legacy, a mark that says, “Hey, I was here.” Those of us who are believers want that mark to give glory to God above everything else.

But if you’re like me, much of what you do doesn’t feel enduring. Maybe it feels a lot like building sandcastles.

We work and labor and the first thing we know, it’s all melting in water up to our knees.

Before I start a new writing project, I struggle with this. Am I just building a sandcastle? It’s very likely not to be some piece of great literature or change the course of history. Will anyone actually read it or will it become only another file on my hard drive? The litany in my mind goes on.

However, that man who builds the sandcastles, he’s not motivated to make them because they’ll wind up in Architectural Digest or because he’ll make a million dollars. He builds because he loves to create and use the gifts he has.

That my friends, inspires me.

Dr. Brene’ Brown writes in the Gifts of Imperfection, “If we want to make meaning, we need to make art. Cook, write, draw, doodle, paint, scrapbook, take pictures, collage, knit, rebuild an engine, sculpt, dance decorate, act, sing―it doesn’t matter. As long as we’re creating, we’re cultivating meaning.”

Building sandcastles is cultivating meaning. In spiritual terms, it means being a good steward of the gifts God has given us, not with an eye on the outcome but with an eye on pleasing Him.

I recently started writing a new novel. I’m using the gifts I have, and I already love the story, however it very well may be another sandcastle. I have a good many of those. We never know when we’re doing something what the results will be. That’s up to God. Our part is to build to His glory.

So, get out your sand buckets and shovels. Let’s get to work.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

See the elaborate sandcastles HERE.

As an update on our friend T. in Asia that I wrote about HERE--She will be leaving her country in Asia on August 26th for a mandatory visa renewal and then trying to reenter the country on the 30th. Please pray she will not be turned back, but will be able to continue her life in Asia with her 16 children. I'll keep you posted. Again, if you know T. please do not mention her name in comments here or in Facebook replies.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

4 a.m. and really free

When the phone rings at 4 a.m., we usually know at the preacher’s house, it’s not good news. When Jerry is chaplain of the week at a local hospital, we’re certain of it.

He groggily picked up the phone and I heard him say, “I’ll be there in a few minutes”

Four hours later, he called me to meet him for breakfast. On the way, I thought about how maybe he needed to give up these rotations at the hospital―especially challenging at his age (don’t tell him I said that). He needed to speak to a high school football team later in the day and I knew it would be hard to prepare and deliver a message in his sleep-deprived state.

When I arrived at the restaurant, Jerry had tears in his eyes, but oddly seemed almost elated.

I sat down, and he began to tell the story.

When he arrived at the hospital, he entered the room of a deceased woman. Her daughter sat beside her praying. As Jerry took a seat, she shared their story. They had lived in a war torn African nation and because of her mother’s determination and perseverance had come to this country. The daughter now had a doctorate and performed medical research. A son was a medical doctor. The mother’s faith and encouragement had been a driving force in their achievement.

The day before her sudden death, the mother had at last finished her final interviews to become a United States citizen. Taking the oath of citizenship only remained.

“Why do you want to be a US citizen?” the daughter had asked.

“Because I want to be free,” the mother replied.

“But mother, you are free,” the daughter answered.

“But I want to be really free,” her mother declared.

How convicting her appreciation of what we often take for granted. What an amazing person she must have been. Jerry agreed, so moved by the story of her life.

“I wish I could have met her,” I said.

Jerry then told me the church she attended

I put down my coffee cup and stared at him.

“Really?”

The server came to offer us refills. “I’m having an epiphany,” I told her.

“That’s all right,” she said, “but do you want coffee?”

As she refilled my cup, I told Jerry, “Don’t you remember last Sunday after church at the restaurant?” A woman had been coming down the aisle toward me, and she wore the most beautiful African dress with petal-like pieces on the sleeves. "I love your dress," I told her.

 She beamed, "Thank you." Then she joined a group of women from the church Jerry had just mentioned.

 “I know that was her,” I said. “I did get to meet her if only for a moment.” I had wanted to speak with the woman further but her group awaited. She had such joy on her face.

“I thought she looked familiar,” Jerry said as we both sat there and marveled at this odd sequence of events and how this woman we didn’t know had touched our lives.

I had to wonder how broad her legacy was, and how many like us were touched by her life of faith even if they had only known her for a moment or two.

So, I’m taking back all that business about Jerry giving up these rotations. He made it just fine and his message to the team that afternoon went great. I'm also realizing that sometimes the news isn't all bad in the middle of the night.

I’m thinking these days on what it means to be “really free.” I have been inspired to do so by the life of a woman I knew for only a few seconds, but whose influence on me I will never forget.

Saint Paul said in Romans 6, “Offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits” (The Message).  Though this woman longed to be really free in this life because of this country she came to love, she now experiences in that heavenly land a freedom, which is truly without end.

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