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).

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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.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Behind the facade


Sometime ago, I had the idea to make this new kind of blog banner.


 
I cleaned up my desktop and artfully arranged a few things. All that was left was to take a few photos, and then add lettering. Simple right?

But getting the shot of the desktop proved challenging.

Notice the furry tail at the bottom.
 
That would be Isabelle. I can crop her out, I thought. I took a few more pictures.

Then, have-to-be-in-the-middle-of-absolutely-everything-Wilbur approaches. I can crop him out, too.
 
However, I still didn’t have the photo I wanted. I kept trying.

And then―the wrecking ball.


 
He just can’t help himself.

I had to restage the desktop and start over.

Sigh.

But hey, just looking at the banner at the top, you wouldn’t guess the drama, would you?

Sometimes behind the artfully arranged façade, challenges abound.

I struggle with how much some of us are living our lives on the internet these days―how much I am doing that.  I sure don’t want to live my life just to take a picture of it.

I wrestle with what to share, yet I want to be real, to be honest, and not just put the shiny moments out there.

I love beauty. It heals me. It helps me. So, in my pictures, I try to share beauty, because I think it is healing. But much of my life is anything but a photo op.

When my daughter was little and she played with Barbie dolls, I told her that nobody’s body looked like a Barbie's body. Real people had scars, sags and so very many imperfections.

Nobody’s life looks like an Instagram or Facebook page, either. Yet, some may think their life should be like that. Let me put this in all caps. YOUR LIFE WILL NEVER BE PICTURE PERFECT.

In everyone’s life there’s going to be a wrecking ball that will turn over all the carefully arranged plans.

However, what we can do is ask God to show us what he would do through our toppled trophies. The picture may not wind up on a Facebook page, but then, maybe it will. As I shared in this post a couple of weeks ago, if we let them, those seeming interruptions can set the course for a completely new kind of life.

So, the banner is up, the desktop is back to being a little cluttered, and Wilbur, well, he’s still a wrecking ball. If he ever had an Instagram page, we’d call it Wilbur the Cat: Calamity, Chaos, and Catastrophe. No façade of perfection with him.

"People look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart" (I Samuel16:7).

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Avalanche Mode and Looking for Lovely


I sent an email to my writer’s group a while ago, which began like this, “At our house, we have passed overcommitted mode and are now in avalanche mode, trying to dig out from so many obligations.” I needed to tweak our meeting dates to accommodate my dilemma.


This avalanche mode has also forced me to compartmentalize a bit. I just look at my calendar and try to show up where I'm supposed to be. That’s why when I attended the yearly fundraising dinner for the Wesley Foundation at the University of Georgia, a student ministry where I’ve been a board member, somehow I didn’t know who was speaking until the director announced that the author Annie Downs was in the house. I had seen her name recently as a speaker in the program at the Catalyst conference where I volunteer as well as several other places. And hadn’t I seen her guest post on Ann Voskamp’s blog?


I grabbed my program and saw that she was indeed speaking, and not only that, but she was an alumna of the ministry.


How had I missed this? Had this information gotten lost in my hard drive somewhere?


And the years she was there, they were the same years we had student interns from the ministry live with us. So, chances are our paths might have intersected. As she spoke, she mentioned another church (not ours) she attended where she taught Sunday school. So, I thought, well maybe not. Maybe I didn’t know her, but just to make sure I approached her after the program.


Her back was to me, and when she turned around, her eyes brightened, “Varnado,” she said. She knew me without me having to tell her who I was. Young memories. So great.


As we talked, I found we definitely had connections all those years ago, and it was good to renew them.
 
 


Annie has written for teen girls, but her last two books have been for adults so I bought her just released, Looking for Lovely.


The back cover copy says Annie “shares personal stories, biblical truth, and examples of how others have courageously walked the path God paved for their lives by remembering all God had done, loving what was right in front of them, and seeing God in the everyday―whether that be nature, friends, or the face they see in the mirror.”


Even though I am probably old enough to be her mother, I love her transparent, conversational delivery as she talks about what she calls her “broken crazy” and how God has brought healing to her life so often through seeking out beauty. I had my own version of “broken crazy” to deal with in the form of posttraumatic stress, so I appreciate her not holding back so the rest of us can relate. And I, too, found wonder and beauty helped bring healing in my own journey.
 
I could see the value in her writing for so many young (and older) women today who struggle with loving themselves as they are rather than some future perfect version of themselves. I love the hope she leaves us in Looking for Lovely.
 
Seeing Annie Downs again was one of the best surprises I’ve had lately.


And her message of looking for the lovely was something I especially needed to hear even and especially while in avalanche mode.
 

God’s glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon. Madame Day holds classes every morning, Professor Night lectures each evening.Their words aren’t heard, their voices aren’t recorded, But their silence fills the earth: unspoken truth is spoken everywhere (Psalm 19:1-3).

 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

God's heart in the mess

Someone returning to the storm-ravaged coast sent me a picture of debris cut from the road.

“Did you see it?” she asked.

I did. In the middle of all that stormy mess, a heart shape in the tree trunk.
 

In a new Bible study by Priscilla Shirer we’re doing on Jonah, we’re talking about messes, too.

Like what can happen when God gives us instruction as He did when he told Jonah, the prophet to Israel, to prophesy to Nineveh, and instead, we like Jonah, immediately head in the opposite direction.

Ticket for one to Tarshish, please.

We can think we have our lives all mapped out as Jonah did, and then an unexpected interruption comes and like him, we start fighting against it.

It’s right about then, that God might invite us to wonder if what seems like an interruption might really be divine intervention.

“Are you ready to get swallowed by a fish called Grace?” Priscilla asks.

The answer to that might sometimes be, “No, I’m not. I want my regular life back, the life I had planned.”

We can put our plans ahead of God’s will. But even then―God’s heart is in what seems like a mess.

"Not until he (Jonah) received a divine interruption did he develop a life story that made a stamp on history,” Priscilla observes.

Way beyond what we have planned, God has plans for 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 The Message).

God’s heart is in the mess, our mess to bring about more than our ability to imagine.

Priscilla again. “Most biblical people who made a lasting mark in Christianity had a point in their lives where they stood at a crossroad. They had to decide to yield to divine intervention at the cost of their own plans or continue on their own path instead.”

So, wherever we are in our journey, whatever mess we may be in, we can always adjust to follow God, because as you may have heard, his heart is in the mess.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

If you've been in the eye of the storm

I left the Catalyst conference last Thursday evening where I was volunteering for a few days and found because of Hurricane Matthew, many evacuees from the coast were making their way into Atlanta where the conference was held to stay with family and friends until the storm passed by. Evidently, because of this, every Atlanta thoroughfare was jammed to the max.

So many that evening were waiting, watching, and hoping despite dire predictions of wind speeds and storm surge that they’d have a home after the storm passed. People I knew personally were as we heard repeatedly “hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.”

I’d just left a woman I worked with whose mother was in an intensive care unit in Florida where the storm was about to hit. All the doctors and nurses there were under 72-hour lock down. Repeatedly, my friend’s flights to Florida had been cancelled, but she still hoped to get a flight out the next morning to be with her mother.

I work at the Catalyst registration desk, and a pastor and his wife approached the desk. Concern and compassion spilled out. ”Could we transfer our tickets to next year? The storm is veering toward the area where we pastor a church and we feel we need to return.” I felt for them driving so far having just arrived the day before.

Another family I know evacuated to the north, but their home sits on a coastal marsh. Any amount of storm surge could destroy everything they owned. This family had already suffered the loss of their only son a few years back.

My heart broke as I prayed for these folks.

I inched along in the traffic. It was clear I was going to have an extraordinarily long trip home. I turned on the radio and “In the Eye of the Storm” played.

 I couldn’t imagine a more appropriate song for those who had left everything and were now stuck on the interstate wondering what the outcome might be. It’s as if the words were written just for them. Now I cried as I prayed.

I wondered about the person who wrote “In the Eye of the Storm.” How could he write such words if he hadn’t experienced loss? When I returned home, I did a little research.

The author, Ryan Stevenson, was a paramedic for eight years, lost his mom early in life, and he and his wife suffered the miscarriage of twin daughters. He said this in a New Release Today interview, “One of the things I've seen as a paramedic is that we all have true, real struggles, ugly parts of our lives that we are dealing with and failures and defeats. In the middle of that, when we feel our sails are ripped out in the battles and wars we are going through, we can feel like we float out to sea where the Lord isn't paying attention to us and He's overlooked us. I want this song to say no to that. His promise to us is that He is the anchor of our being, and He is our only hope.”

Ryan had written the song just as a personal testimony thinking it would never see air play, but God has used it over and over to bring encouragement to those going through hard times. And I’m sure Hurricane Matthew was no exception.

So here on this Tuesday morning, many are now digging out. Some have found trees or wind have destroyed their homes or if they’re still standing, water has flooded them. Our prayers go out to those driven from their homes in North Carolina because of the terrible flooding. Sadly, many lives have been lost during the lashing of this storm. So even after the storm passes, there’s so much grief and heartache still to deal with, but we remember that last thing Ryan said: “His promise to us is that He is the anchor of our being, and He is our only hope.”

That works when dealing with the effects of a storm named Matthew or one by any other name, too.
God is a safe place to hide,
    ready to help when we need him.
We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom,
    courageous in seastorm and earthquake,
Before the rush and roar of oceans,
    the tremors that shift mountains (Psalm 46:1-3 The Message).

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Letting it fly and the unforced rhythms of grace


While looking for a photo on my husband’s phone, I found these pictures and remembered her saying,

“Mimi, come swing with me.”






And so, for a few minutes, I put aside grown up ways, and we pumped and pushed, flying higher and higher―back to the ground, face to the sky.

Bliss.

I wondered how long it had been since I stared straight up into the tree canopy to fall leaves quivering on the limb and me lighter than air, forgetting all about that big bundle I’d been carrying.

When we finally stopped, I recognized those few minutes with my feet off the ground provided a divine interruption to my diligent burden carrying.

Where was that bundle, now, anyway? Perhaps tossed aside as the arcing swing delivered me into God’s grace and rest.

Maybe it wasn’t just that sweet girl asking me to swing with her. Perhaps God himself was saying, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Oh, to live free and light, learning those unforced rhythms of grace.

Every day.

My hands are on the ropes, my rear is in the seat, and I’m poised, just about to push off again, letting it all fly.

Join me, won’t you? 

For climbers headed up the steep cliff

The loss of my Aunt Nell last week brought to mind a couple of things.

First, I love this tattered photo of her holding on to her younger sister, my mother. It's the only picture we have of our mother as a small child.
 
These two are once more walking hand in hand.

And I remembered these words from Streams in the Desert:

“This mountain climbing is serious business, but glorious. It takes strength and steady step to find the summits. The outlook widens with the altitude. If anyone among us has found anything worthwhile, we ought to ‘call back.’”

It seems in the past year, more than at any other time of my life, I’ve been losing those folks who’ve been pillars in my life. I suppose if we live a while on this planet, it is an inevitable course of events, but still unsettling and hard.

A few days ago in the wee hours of the morning, I had a dream in which someone came to me and told me my Aunt Nell had died―that woman who had been such an encourager to me. I awoke crying and wishing I could roll back the clock to those years before the dementia had taken hold of her brain, and I could have one more conversation with her.

Of course, I found out a couple of hours later that she had indeed died. I wrote about her HERE.

After the funeral, the family gave away copies of a little book she’d written about her life. After she received her GED at 81, she learned how to use a computer and began writing.  Anyway, blessedly, no one had edited the book in anyway. When I read it, I felt God had answered my prayer, that I was getting to have a conversation with her. I was surprised to see she had included a piece in the collection that I wrote about my mother, which we gave away at my mother’s memorial. You can read it HERE. Repeatedly, my Aunt Nell “called back” to me words of encouragement in that unique dialect characteristic of those who grew up in the rural foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  

After having a serious heart attack in the late sixties, she was not expected to live much longer. But God had other plans. She writes, “The first time I went to church, Brother Smith said he saw a light over my head. The Lord told him I was going to be healed . . . I went from 1969 to 1992 before I had any more trouble. The Lord kept me alive because He is not through with me. I call people and ask them if they are saved, I pray for them, and I taught Sunday School for twenty seven years . . . I never get tired of serving Jesus . . . “

And so in her eighties, she wrote, “I know I have failed Him so many times, but He loves me still. I don’t know what the future holds for me here on this earth, but I know who holds my hands. He is my Master. He is my King. He is my Savior, my all and all.” Then she invites all who read her words to consider giving their lives to the Lord, too.

She had gained the summit and she wanted those coming behind her to find the heights as well.

When I read her words, she helped me realize the value of my own writing―not because I am the greatest writer in the world, but because it is MY writing, MY testimony. If those who follow me want to have a conversation with me, I am calling back to them through my writing. I have written my thoughts on hundreds of subjects. It is part of my legacy for those who follow.  If they wonder how they will make it when the pillars in their life have been removed, here I am saying, by the grace of God, you can, because God is giving me that grace right now to keep moving ahead. To keep making plans.

I want to be like my Aunt Nell who never, ever gave up on her dreams and kept mentoring others in the faith until she could no longer string the words together. Then she inspired simply through her being.

Like her, I want my work to be eternal. I want my life to matter. Sometimes the climb is so steep, and the learning curve so serious, I feel I might fall backwards off the cliff, but I hear her and others calling, “Hang on, it’s all worth it.”

There are pictures to paint, and music to play, and books to write and others to teach, and as long as I can, just like my aunt, I will “call back.”

So for all you folks just like me who are headed up the steep cliff of life, hey, we’re going to make it.

We are and as we do, we will “call back” to those coming after us that they can make it too.

“Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in” (Hebrews 12:1-3).

 

 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A tribute to my amazing Aunt Nell






















I just found out my dear Aunt Nell died, so I searched the archives for this post, which I wrote several years ago.  She was one of my greatest inspirations and I will always, always miss her.

I recently attended my Aunt Nell’s fabulous ninetieth birthday party (pictured here also with my sister). Nell is of that generation called “Great.” Like others in her demographic she’s lived through the Depression, the Second World War, the Korean conflict, Vietnam, and now the first and second wars in Iraq. In addition to the troubles those world events brought about, my aunt has also suffered many personal difficulties. She began having heart attacks in her forties, and has had multiple open-heart surgeries as well as other health problems. She’s survived the deaths of two grandchildren and her husband. Some might have felt sorry for themselves and given up along the way, but not my Aunt Nell.

At eighty-one, she acquired her high school equivalency degree, and learned how to use a computer. She discovered a love for writing during her studies and chronicled her family history. All her life she’d wanted to sing, but family obligations kept her from her dream, so in her eighties she began singing in a trio traveling to other churches and singing in her church’s denominational gathering. Up until very recently, she’s mentored young women, sharing how she won her husband to the Lord through prayer.

In one of the most memorable conversations I ever had with her, I asked how she kept up her hope through so many difficulties. She said, “Honey, we can sit around and think about all the bad things. That’s just depressing. I don’t study on the bad things; I study on what’s good.”

I looked up the word “study.” Webster defines it as, “Give careful attention to something.” In my perfectionist way I’ve often been guilty of giving my careful attention to the one bad thing rather than the host of beautiful things. Philippians 4:8 says, “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.” Sometimes we can’t seem to stop thinking about the bad stuff, but what we can do is make a deliberate effort to substitute those thoughts with ones of what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. Sometimes I even make a list to help me refocus.

Aunt Nell’s eves have now grown dim with almost complete vision loss, but I watched in amazement at her party as she recognized many she hadn’t seen in years simply by the sound of their voice. As much as everyone who came wanted to give her joy on her birthday, I think we were blessed even more.

I hope I’m getting better in studying on the good things due to my Aunt Nell’s influence. She and I share similar traits, lots of energy, and we can always think of a thousand things to be doing. For that reason my mother used to say I was just like her.

I sure hope my mother was right.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Hunted


I saw the following story in a list of links one of my favorite bloggers provided this past weekend.

I’d love to have one of these, but the big guy here has reached his critter threshold.

Not happening.

But after I saw it, I thought of these words from Psalm 23, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life . . . “

Somewhere along the way, I learned that the word translated follow in this verse, which we might understand as tag along after, actually means something else entirely in the original Hebrew.

Strong’s Concordance provides the insight. The connotations of follow are more clearly defined as run after, chase, hunt, aim to secure, pursue ―even pursue ardently.

Like the goose, Kyle, and her human, God’s love and mercy hunt us down and aim to secure us for his glory. They’re not just ambling along after us. Also like Kyle, God doesn’t just pursue us a little while and quit; He’s in it for the long term.

So, like the man said, it’s a love story.

We have a lot of geese around here. I’ll probably never look at one the same way again.

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