Tuesday, January 17, 2017

When you don't know what to do next


I am currently immersed in writing a new project which seems to be using every creative cell in my brain. So, today, I'm pulling a post from the archives, which God is using to speak to me. Hope it helps you, as well.
Sometimes the path seems a little fuzzy.





And we long for definite direction a message in a dove's beak or a sign. 


 
A few days ago in Streams in the Desert, I read an excerpt from F.B. Meyer, “Beloved, whenever you are doubtful as to your course, submit your judgment absolutely to the Spirit of God, and ask him to shut against you every door but the right one… In the meanwhile, continue along the path, which you have been already treading. Abide in the calling in which you are called, unless you are clearly told to do something else.”

Oswald Chambers says, “Do the next thing.”

So, we continue even if the road narrows to a barely discernable trail in a dense wood. We take the next step in the light we have.

It’s good to know that even if our way at times feels like a dead end road to nowhere, across it falls the shadow of two cross members.




Early in last century, Jessie Pounds wrote these lyrics:

I must needs go home by the way of the cross,
There’s no other way but this . . .
The way of the cross leads home.

Jesus goes before us, and his way leads home.

Consoling words for confusing times.

“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him… “(Psalm 37:5).

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

What to do when you're snowless


The weatherman pointed to the numbers on what I assumed was a green screen. “Two to three inches of frozen precipitation,” he said confidently with a big smile on his face. He seemed trustworthy.

I just love snow.
 
 

So, like others in our area. We battened down the hatches. We made the trip to the grocery store, actually two grocery stores, because that precooked bacon with no nitrites at Trader Joe’s is yummy(they don't even pay me to say that). We added a trip to a big box because I had to stock up on birdseed and suet, too.

I made sure the Styrofoam covers were on the outside faucets and swept the patio so the snow wouldn’t have leaves sticking up through it. I wanted some great pictures.

We fetched the formerly feral Mama Kitty and brought her inside. She was extremely grumpy about being pinned up for days.

Then we waited.

And waited.

I even got up during the night to check outside.

Four flakes and cold rain.

Seriously.

Then for two days, temperatures that would make a polar bear shiver

Snowless.

If I’m going to be cold, I’d like to have something to show for it.

But nature didn’t see it that way this time.

Mama Kitty glared at me. I went out and knocked the ice out of the birdbaths. Disappointment and big sigh.

Perhaps, in a greater way, here at the beginning of the year, you’re experiencing disappointment because you thought things would be different today. You trusted someone who didn’t come through. You’ve gone to great measures to prepare in anticipation of what you thought would happen. But it didn’t.  

Life can be like that.

However, what you choose next can change everything.

Here at the crossroads of dismay and hope, we have to choose hope no matter what. Because the minute we turn in the other direction, it’s a rough road of constant regret.

Yes, you’re probably going to be let down again at some point. On the other hand, who knows what God will do?

So, even though the temps are going to be in the sixties for the next few days, I’m not putting my snow boots and down vest up yet. The biggest snow of my life fell on April 1, so we have plenty of time.

“God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us” (Ephesians 3:20-21). 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Your One Ringing Bell January Survival Guide

As I mentioned last week, my husband, Jerry, and I have been trying to get over a bug. Well, bronchitis now. It hasn’t made for a great start to the year. And January is always a challenging time, because I am not a cold weather gal. In fact, I’m very thankful my son and a couple of friends decided to have their birthdays in January to give the month a little happy. When January 1 rolls around, I have to get proactive to fight the cold, dark, often rainy days. It’s easy if your resources are unlimited to book a flight to a tropical island and spend a month basking in the sunshine, but most of us have to figure another way to navigate nature’s nasty nods at the beginning of the year.




Ten suggestions in no way conclusive or in any particular order.

1.       Flowers. If you haven’t already done this, go to a plant nursery and walk around. See what’s blooming and buy it. In my area, that’s probably going to be a camellia, which comes in all kinds of amazing colors. When the ground warms up to the point you don’t need a jack hammer to dig a hole, plant the shrub and look forward to something wonderful blooming in January next year. There’s nothing like having a pink bloom in your yard smiling at you on a gray day. If you live in an apartment or are just not a gardener, go to the grocery store and spend five dollars on a bouquet for your office desk or dining table at home. Best money you’ll spend this month.

2.       Set a creative goal for the month. For me, that often means beginning a new fictional story, which I haven’t done in quite a while. I also plan to complete a couple of paintings this month. When February rolls around, it may have been gray outside, but I’ll have something wonderful to show for the time spent indoors.

3.       While we’re talking about goals, this is a good time to set goals for the year. What do you want to accomplish? Get a list going. Put them on your calendar so they stay before you.

4.       Read a happy book. Or reread a happy book―nothing where someone gets a terminal disease. Anything by Jan Karon usually works. I especially loved her recent Come Rain, or Come Shine. Or read gardening books, if that works for you. If I can’t actually plant flowers, I can dream about what I will plant.

5.       Especially focus on what God is saying. That means keeping his word before you. So, make a point of reading your Bible and devos every day. Keep yourself spiritually strong. I often will jot a verse down and put it over the kitchen sink or on my desk. You’d be surprised how quickly that verse gets commited to memory.

6.       Try to keep the exercise going. Usually there’s at least part of a day that works for Lucy and me to make our rounds.

7.       Go to T.J. Maxx and study the new home furnishings (They do not pay me to say that). I don’t usually buy anything, but I get a few new ideas for how to freshen up what I already have. I can’t tell you how many times that involves spray paint. While reading a Martha Stewart Gardening book, I find she’s a big spray paint gal, too. Even made a couple of Styrofoam garden containers look like burnished copper with the stuff. Brightening the space you live in can help you and your family find a refuge against the cold in more ways than one.

8.       Take a class. My daughter is starting a new oil painting class this month. January is the time new art, gardening, Bible Study etc. classes usually begin, so check online to see who’s offering what. Many classes are very affordable.

9.        Be intentional about setting up lunch dates. It’s a good month to really connect with friends after the blur of December activity.

10.   Finally, put some thought on this particular verse, because I think it helps set the tone for the month. “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse . . .  Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies” (Philippians 4:8-9).
Happy January, anyway!
 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Old Christmas and putting Baby Jesus back in the box

An especially mean viral bug grabbed Jerry and I before Christmas, and we're still trying to get over it. My brain is a bit fuzzy, so I'm pulling from the archives today. Praying a wonderful new year for all of my readers.

Up and down my street, wreathes, and bows are disappearing from doors and mailboxes, and former brightly lit trees are stripped of their twinkles and headed for the recycling center.

Not me. 

Being of strong English-Scotch-Irish descent, I’m hanging on to Christmas. My ancestors used to celebrate Christmas on January 6, the date we observe as Epiphany when the wise men found the baby Jesus in the manger. 

When Christmas day arrives, I’m just beginning to celebrate. I can’t bear to put all the baby Jesus figures back in the box until at least January 6. 




Just the other day, I overheard someone in a store say, “I’m so glad it’s over.” 

It’s not over. 

It’s just beginning. 

This morning I read these words from The Message in Romans 8: “With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah… Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death… In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all.”

That little manger baby is here to put it all straight. What all the king’s horses and all the king’s men could never put back together, an infant comes to restore. 

In my life. And your life. 


Thank you, Jesus.

After Scrooge’s life altering encounters with the three ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, Charles Dickens writes, “It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well..”

May it be said of us that we keep Christmas well, that we allow Jesus to enter the garbage heap of our lives with his beauty and power and restoration. 

And so, old Christmas or new, no matter which day we put the clay baby Jesus back in the box, let's allow the eternal One to reign in our hearts.



Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A One Ringing Bell Home Tour


I have this dream of inviting all the Ringing Bell readers to my house at Christmas, and we’d sit around sipping mocha punch and swapping stories. But practically, that’s not possible, so I thought I’d do a little home tour  of our living areas this week.

A few caveats first. I’m obviously not a designer, just a gal who for years has made do with what she has. The most resourceful people I know are those in ministry, because we’ve learned to make art from what we already have. I love what Ann Voskamp writes, “We get to make beauty, we get to leave loveliness, we get to make art for all who come in our wake―so they get to wake to wonder.” As a pastor’s wife, most of what I have has been gifted to me, handed down, homemade, repurposed, found at a garage sale or plucked from final clearance at TJMaxx.  I “shop the house” as the Nester says and try to make things feel fresh.

This is not a grand home, just a parson’s house.

For Christmas, I intend to keep Jesus ever before us, so each room has a nativity of some sort.

My house was built in the sixties and with the exception of an enclosed garage and an added sunroom, it has had few changes to the original footprint. So, that means little rooms instead of one big open space.

I surround myself with colors I like rather than what’s trending at the moment, which puts me a little off the center line.

And I deal with critters, lots of critters, so part of the house is off limits to felines. The Lab Lucy goes anywhere she wants. What can I say? She doesn't tear up things.

Almost everything I use has a story, but I’ll try to restrain myself and not diverge too much in what already is a long post, so here we go.

When you enter our home, there’s a tiny foyer, but front and center is a nativity set my husband gave me many years ago when we were dating. Fortunately, the baby Jesus has never been lost, and a parade of cats has not broken any of the pieces . . . yet.
 
I love green and blue together.

 
In my living room, I had a big tree ornamented with my angel collection, but it began losing needles, so it had to go. I brought this smaller tree from another part of the house. I actually wanted a flocked tree, but the budget wouldn’t allow, so I used flocking spray and sprinkled snow on it. Then I hung a few angels and some birds I’d had for years and couldn’t use in the other part of the house, because they have feathers on them (Cats love, love, love feathers of any kind). So now, I call this my wings tree. And of course, another nativity, also a gift from my husband.
 


 

My table is semi-set for this weekend, and since the cats can’t get in here, it stays that way. And I love those little star twinkle lights I found this year. They're on a timer.
 
 
In the kitchen, I’m ready for hot chocolate drinkers with this set up and I love this cracker jar my dad gave me long ago. I put cookie cutters in it.
 

 
 
This Christmas village started when the kids were small and I was given a gift certificate to a Christmas store. It has been added to through similar gestures through the years. It's pointless to add more snow as it has a tendency to drift when the cats nest in it. In fact, if you look closely you can spot a sign my son made for the village when the cat Misty, who we called "the terror of tiny town,” used to frequent it. She’s old now, but Wilbur has taken her place as the new tormentor of all who dwell in the village. A recent addition is the origami tree on the department store made for me by a young friend. I'm noticing now that a few of the trees have been moved by cat visitations.
 
The village sits on a cupboard my dad made for me. It’s one of my favorite things in the whole house.

Lambs nestle in a bowl my mother used to make bread in.
 
In the sunroom, which I use for my office, a handmade tree stands which was fashioned from boards removed from our 100-year-old church when it was resided. A lighted star garland wraps around another nativity and a favorite Tasha Tudor illustrated book.  I'll probably add greenery near Christmas.


This year I changed up the sofa in the den with pillow covers I’d never used and one of my two new purchases this year (the other was the star lights), the gilded print pillow in the middle (on clearance). I added the brass bowl I’d found at a garage sale and filled it with red ornaments. Carl standing guard.


Our tree is decorated with ornaments given to us through the years, collected through our travels, or made by the kids. A man famous for his needlework and a woman who was one of the first people I met in this community when I moved here made crocheted angels and snowflakes on this tree as well as the one in the living room.


Another crèche made by a friend. I love it.
 
 
The woman in our church are card makers extraordinaire, so I made a garland of handmade cards we’ve been given through the years (a little blurry picture, sorry).
 
Even though the kids have flown the coup, I still like to keep a few kids things around. Makes me happy. I always have a basket of children’s books for perusing.
 
These carolers remind me of my years of directing choirs.


 We'll skip the kitchen cabinets which need painting and a worktable in my office covered in Christmas doings.
 
But I will show you one more thing―upstairs in my daughter's room, we hang all these ornaments on her chandelier. Some handmade by a dear neighbor who has passed on, some by an artist we love, and some sea creatures from the days when she had fish (thankfully that phase has passed).  This crazy assortment makes me smile.
 

It reminds me of this wild love that God has for us and expressed by sending his Son Jesus. With that in mind, may your Christmas be especially blessed!

"There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, 'Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.'

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:'Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him'" (Luke 2: 8-14). 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Lots of bell ringing


The community Bible study my husband, Jerry, leads at the YMCA commits to tending the Salvation Army kettle during a portion of the Christmas season. Jerry signed up for a noon to two slot on Saturday, and then texted me, “Don’t have a partner, would you be interested?”

Well, of course, I would.
 

I love those bell ringers.

As we rang the bell at the Kroger on Saturday, we were touched by so many who stopped to feed the kettle. Often, it would be someone we least expected who would pause, dig deep into tattered pockets, and empty all the change they had into the kettle. “Merry Christmas,” we’d say.

“Merry Christmas,” we’d hear as a smile creased a weathered face or eyes that had seen decades of Christmases twinkled a bit in response.

Children love to donate and when asked if they want to ring the bell, their faces lit up as if we’d offered them a new Smartphone. Such a simple thing caused such joy.

One little girl with cute braids took the bell, stepped up to the kettle, and began ringing in such a way, I thought she might take away our jobs. In fact, I’m pretty sure she would have won the hearts . . .  and cash of all who passed.

I started thinking about why the kettle, and why the ringing? So, I checked the Salvation Army site.

One hundred and twenty-five years ago in San Francisco, Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee was burdened over how to feed the poor a Christmas dinner. He put out a pot for donations similar to one he’d seen at the docks in Liverpool England and collected enough to feed 1000 of the city’s poorest, thus beginning one of our most enduring Christmas traditions―one that has spread around the world.

Someone has said, “Bell ringing helps people remember that there are people in their neighborhoods who won't have a Christmas without their help."

Today in the United States, the Salvation Army reportedly helps around four and a half million people during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons.

So I love, love, love the bell ringing.

Last night, Jerry and I watched It’s a Wonderful Life for the umpteenth time. I noticed something I’d forgotten. In the scene where the stock market crashes, George Bailey is in his office at the Savings and Loan and steps to the portrait of his father, Peter, who ran the savings and loan before him and was a man who lived to help others. Under his portrait a plaque read, “All you can take with you is that which you have given away.” I searched the internet to find the original source, but everything I saw attributes It’s a Wonderful Life as the source.

This time of year and all year long, it’s good to remember what really lasts are the acts of kindness and mercy―not the stuff.

So, turn your pockets inside out, too, and watch how your joy increases.

If you have opportunity to ring the bell, do it. And if you have opportunity to give, do that, too.
 
"Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity" (Luke 6:38 The Message).


New in my Etsy store, One Ringing Bell at Christmas, a collection of Christmas posts from One Ringing Bell. Great gift for Christmas. Click here to order from Beverly Varnado Art.   

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

When the circle becomes complete

According to the Upper Room Magazine website, since 1935, the publication has “sparked a global ministry that now reaches millions around the world in 100 countries in 35 languages.”

I have a personal story about its effect.
 
One September evening while in my mid-twenties, I had reached the end of my wandering in a far country. My rebellion against God centered around the idea that I didn’t want God to take away my happiness. But I had come to the realization that I didn’t have any happiness for God to take away. In fact, I was beyond miserable.

C.S. Lewis, whose writing would be foundational for me, says, “God stoops to conquer.”

He certainly did that evening for me.

I bowed my head and surrendered the broken pieces of my life to God. I had so little understanding of God’s ways, I didn’t even know if He could or would forgive me, but I asked and declared if there was anything left of my life He could use, it was His.

The next morning, I happened to find an Upper Room Magazine in my apartment, and I began to read it. It seemed God spoke directly into my situation.

That was more than thirty-five years ago. Today I am a pastor’s wife, a writer, a speaker, and all of this is because that September night, God did forgive me, and gave me a ministry beyond anything I might have imagined. The Upper Room Magazine has continued to be a daily component of my time with God.

I have written for other publications, and have books in print, but nothing I write means more to me than the devotions I have written for the Upper Room Magazine because of its significance to me. I love that around the world God can perhaps use the words I have surrendered to him in the same way He used the magazine in my life.

Once more this month, I have a devotion in the periodical. It will appear on December 12 (You might try a sneek peek here). I’ll also be writing for their blog that day and I understand  I have pictures appearing in their ezine, as well. I’ll post the links here as they become available.

I don’t believe finding the magazine in my apartment all those years ago was an accident. God saw my future, and knew He’d bring me full circle.

For that, I am so grateful.
 
"Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets . . . " (Habakkuk 2:2).

You might also like:

New in my Etsy store, One Ringing Bell at Christmas, a collection of Christmas posts from One Ringing Bell. Great gift for Christmas. Click here to order from Beverly Varnado Art.   

 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The answer to worry


It’s the day after Thanksgiving, and I sit by the water’s edge at sunrise as bottlenose dolphins arc and dive just a few hundred feet in front of me.


 
So very much to be thankful for, and yet here I am wrestling with a disturbing situation that caught me so much by surprise, it seemed like a solar eclipse, now threatening  to block the  effect of sun rays this morning spilling across ebbing waters.

The dolphins circle back, and my eyes follow them.

That’s when I remember what she once said about how worship is the answer to worry―how when we make a practice of getting out of our own heads and focus on the One who really is the King of the World, anxiety begins to dissolve.

That’s where I’ve been today. In my own head. Anxious. Worrying. Even with all this beauty. 

So, I make a choice―a choice to worship.

A choice to live the current moment of rising sun in praise to the one who created all of this wonder, and I start to actually feel the warmth on my face, the hope of what only God can do. And I see, really see those gleaming sea creatures now cruising so close to where I am. Anxiety begins to fade.

In a couple of days, we light the candle of hope. As the flame flickers, I remember again worship is the answer to worry. If we are to have hope, we must worship.

Later, I would once more read the words of George MacDonald, the one who made such a difference in the life of C.S. Lewis,  “And the wind that blew from the sunrise made me hope in the God who had first breathed into my nostrils the breath of life; that He would at length so fill me with His breath, His mind, His Spirit, that I should think only His thoughts, and live His life, finding there in my own life, only glorified infinitely.”

Those words seemed to describe a life not vexed by solar eclipses.

A life . . .  lived in worship.

"Thank you! Everything in me says 'Thank you!' Angels listen as I sing my thanks. I kneel in worship facing your holy temple and say it again: 'Thank you!' Thank you for your love, thank you for your faithfulness; Most holy is your name, most holy is your Word. The moment I called out, you stepped in; you made my life large with strength " (Psalm 138:1-3 The Message).


New in my Etsy store, One Ringing Bell at Christmas, a collection of Christmas posts from One Ringing Bell. Great gift for Christmas. Click here to order from Beverly Varnado Art.  

 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Dear Reader


Dear Reader,
When I count my blessings this week, I will especially count you.


 
Some of you have been with me since I started One Ringing Bell in 2010. I hope the reason you continue to read is you find some sort of spiritual encouragement despite my literary misses and miscues. Thank you for your Facebook comments, comments on the blog, and your ongoing encouragement.  We have laughed and we have cried together. I treasure each of you.

The things that happen here continually surprise me―for example―a woman I’d never met, who came to me in the past year through one of my Upper Room Devotions, decided she would read all of my six hundred plus posts.  Still can’t believe it. When I last heard, she had made it through hundreds. (I’m looking at you Mary). Humbling.  In addition, I can never forget the day an actor from NCIS, a show my husband loves, commented on a blog I’d written about him. And the closest I ever got to viral was when I wrote about a  comment from a local university football coach. I have no explanation for that.

When I look at my blog stats, I know that in the context of the World Wide Web, they are miniscule, but God has allowed me the opportunity to touch many, many lives through this corner of the blogosphere that I otherwise would not have been able to reach. And I am truly thankful.

To those of you who have read and recommended my books, Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees and Home to Currahee, you are such a blessing. Because of you, I’ve been featured in magazines and newspapers, invited to speak at numerous gatherings, and I get to do something I really love. One of my favorite stories is about a man in his sixties, again, that I’ve never met  because if these stories are about my relatives and close friends, well, not so much impact (Oh, but I love you folks, too and thank you, thank you, thank you for not disowning me through the years for my embarrassing faux pas). Anyway, this man sent me a Facebook message that he read his first novel, and it was Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees―a story about a fourteen-year-old girl. Go figure. “Thank you for a great story,” he said.

No, thank you, friend, for a great story.

That anyone would take the time to read my scribbling is something that I do not take lightly. It is an investment of your precious time, and I always want to mindful of that. These peals of words that I write are intended to glorify God and bring hope to those who read. Otherwise, I don’t know why I keep at it.

So, this Thanksgiving, I’m especially offering gratitude for you folks who keep showing up here every week, who read and who can believe it, reread my books. I love you and pray that your Thanksgiving is blessed with a special sense of His presence this year.

You are all, indeed, a blessing to me.

“Thank God because He’s good. His love never quits” (Psalm 118:1 The Message).
 
New in my Etsy store, One Ringing Bell at Christmas, a collection of Christmas posts from One Ringing Bell. Great gift for Christmas. Click here to order from Beverly Varnado Art.  

 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Five Ways to Build a Bridge


We face a country deeply divided. Our unity starts with our neighbor next door or a family member.  Somehow, someway, we need to build bridges to span the chasm that lies between us―a challenging and sometimes daunting task.

None of us has all the answers, but here might be a few ways to navigate the process. These things not only work in matters political, but just about any kind of relationship.

Focus on commonalities. It takes effort to build a bridge, but if you pray, God will show you ways that you share the same challenges and joys. Twenty-four hours after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was scheduled to speak in a women’s prison. In those twenty-four hours, I had to change everything I had planned to say, because God showed me much that we had in common. The women I was speaking to could not make plans. Neither could I, because at that point I had no idea how far reaching my illness might be, or what it might take to deal with it. My greatest concern during that time was for my children, only six and eight. My experience praying with women in prison told me that often, their greatest concern was for their children. So, even though I wasn’t physically behind bars like the women in prison, God took my challenge of breast cancer and built a bridge with it in ways I had never expected.

 Remember, an unsolicited comment is almost always taken as a criticism. I’ve said here before that if I had known how important it was when my grandmother told me that I sometimes needed to “bite my tongue,” I might have had those words engraved on my forehead. Editorializing when I’ve not been asked has caused me untold trouble. We always think we know the better way, but waiting for the time to share those so-called nuggets of wisdom can often be challenging. Plunging ahead often leads to disaster―a bridge collapse. So, take it from one who has had to learn and relearn this truth, we don’t have to weigh in on every situation.

Love covers.  Some years ago,I wrote a whole post on this HERE, so I won’t belabor it now, but love goes a long way in reaching across the divide that separates us. Let’s remember about that love thing, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs . . . does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth, it always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13:4-8).  In my own life, I have an ongoing situation that tests me to the end of my being. I find myself not wanting to be kind, getting angry, and struggling not to keep a record of wrongs, because the hurt goes wide and deep. But I remind myself of this passage, and though I may not always feel the emotions, God helps me to persevere in action.

Avoid judgments based on stereotypes. One of the aspects of the word stereotype is an “oversimplified image or idea.” The thinking goes like this: If someone has this ethnicity, he or she is this way. If someone is with this political party, they are that way. If someone comes from this socio-economic background, it is because of this. Or maybe, we judge based on faith tradition.  It’s all oversimplified thinking. We were created as unique and complex individuals. We need to take the time to get to know people and along the way, avoid these crushing judgments, which separate and divide. My husband worked for several years to bring area churches together in a common effort toward revival. One pastor he approached said he didn’t know whether he would want to meet with others who he believed didn’t see things as he did. Seriously? Because we may have theological differences, what the Bible calls “disputable matters,” we won’t corporately seek God for revival. Yikes. The quickest way to destroy a bridge is through judgments based on stereotypes.

Risk. Sometimes, we need to reach out to those who are not only different or hold different values, but to those who have gone far afield. Now there are limits to this: we’re not going to send our children over to the crack den to hang out, but Jesus spent a good bit of time with folks that had gone off the rails. That’s because he was building a bridge, and He was willing to go where they were to do it. He didn’t worry about what others would think when he found himself in the socially taboo situation of being alone at a well with a woman of ill repute. To the disgust of many, He told Zacchaeus the tax collector that He was coming to His house. At a Pharisee’s home, he allowed what the Bible calls a “sinful woman” to anoint his feet with oil. We can get so concerned about our own reputations that we lapse into a fortress mentality and wind up excluding the very folks God would have us reach.
 

One of the most difficult situations we may face is when the person or persons to whom we’re trying to build a bridge, do not express any interest in reciprocating or worse, they try to tear down what we’ve built. In that case, we do the best we can, knowing that God is the best bridge builder ever. In fact, He built one across the great chasm that separated humanity from Him, and used a cross on which His Son died to do it. Ultimately, our hope is in Him and not in any man or woman.

As a very good bridge builder once said, “Let us not grow weary in well doing, “ because in words taken from “America the Beautiful,” we long for this country that God would “crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.”

New in my Etsy store, One Ringing Bell t Christmas, a collection of Christmas posts from One Ringing Bell. Great gift for Christmas.  Click here to order from Beverly Varnado Art.  

 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

What you have to do today because it's "little short of a miracle"


I am not a political blogger, so I try to stay in my lane when I’m writing this blog. However, today is Election Day in a year when the campaign process has been loud, long, and bitter.

I am not going to tell you who to vote for, but I am going to tell you to vote.

After reading David McCullough's John Adams a few months ago, I was so moved that I pressed on and read his book, 1776.



 
Above pictures from Colonial Williamsburg and Faneuil Hall in Boston taken during our 7,000 mile cross country adventure, Dream Summer. Read more HERE.

In the book, he quotes Loyalist Benjamin Thompson as saying that George Washington’s army was “the most wretchedly clothed, and as dirty a set of mortals as ever disgraced the name of a soldier.” McCullough wrote that Thompson’s description was “largely the truth.” British commanders called them “peasantry” and “rabble in arms.”

There were no uniforms unless left over from the French and Indian war, and many of their clothes were in tatters from wear. McCullough says, yes, they were dirty and  “when not drilling, spent their days digging trenches, hauling rock, and throwing up great mounds of earth for defense” with “little chance . . . or the means ever to bathe . . .”

As I read, I wondered again how that ragged bunch ever won the revolution. It seemed impossible.

That summer of 1776, when the British armada finally arrived off Staten Island, it numbered “nearly four hundred ships large and small, seventy three warships including eight ships of the line, each mounting 50 guns or more . . . the largest expeditionary force . . . ever sent forth from Britain or any nation.” Three of the “five warships alone far exceeded all the American guns . . . on shore.” In fact, the troops on board those ships numbered around 32,000, greater than the “population of New York or even Philadelphia . . . with a population of about 30,000 . . . the largest city in America.”

Yet, when the delegates in Philadelphia had voted to “dissolve the connection” with Great Britain on July 2, there was nowhere to go but forward. They had committed treason.

John Adams wrote, “We are in the very midst of a revolution, the most complete unexpected and remarkable of any in the history of nations.”

Indeed.

In his last chapter, McCullough writes, “The year 1776 . . . was for those who carried the fight for independence forward a year of all too few victories, of sustained suffering, disease,  hunger, desertion, cowardice, disillusionment, defeat, terrible discouragement, and fear, as they would never forget, but also of phenomenal courage and bedrock devotion to country, and that, too, they would never forget.”

Perhaps, that bedrock devotion is why when I look at my family genealogy, a number of my ancestors from that time were named after Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Parents wanted everyone to know whose side they were on, lest anyone question their loyalty to country.

McCullough concludes, “. . . for those who had been with Washington and who knew what a close call it was at the beginning―the outcome seemed little short of a miracle.”

Yes, our existence as a country is truly a miracle. So today in the year 2016, despite whatever struggle we’ve had in this election process, we cannot dismiss the freedom we have to vote. Many of our ancestors fought and died so that we might have this privilege.

And as a wayside pulpit near me declared, despite who is elected president, God is still on the throne.

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord . . . “ Psalm 13:12.

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