Tuesday, July 28, 2020

When you hit a wall, 4 things to do

I’ve heard the same thing from several people, some in leadership roles. Last week was a tough time for many. It’s as if collectively so many of us hit a wall, because the seemingly worsening pandemic isn’t the sum total of the issues we’re dealing with. Day to day problems continue to roll and last week it felt as if the challenges just piled on.

Some of the problems we can address, but some we feel helpless in the face of, because we’re unable to effect any change.

So how do we live day to day?

Some of this I’ve said before, but I’m going to say it again. Here are a few suggestions:

1.      Savor the small things. I spotted an unusual coneflower in a neighbor’s yard and found a plant at a local nursery. It was more than I wanted to pay, but how it changed colors as the bloom matured really brought joy to my heart. When I put it on the patio, I realized it was a big attraction to pollinators. So the caveat is if you’re allergic to bees, you might want to skip this one but on the plus side, a pipevine swallowtail has decided it is home plate. More joy.

2.       Do something creative. For many of you cooking is a creative outlet. It usually isn’t for me, but I discovered this woman from a link Ann Voskamp sent out. Brenda Gantt made a little video of how to make biscuits for friends and family and posted it on social media. It hit a million views. So now, she’s down there in South Alabama cooking up a storm and showing the cooking dummies like me how to do it. She reminds me so much of my Aunt Nell. I've never done it before, but I may just get up the courage to cook collards this week. Find somethingpainting, sewing, crafting, gardening, jewelry making, or writing, whatever to take you out of that side of the brain where you’re trying to figure it all out.

3.       Slow down. This is one of my greatest challenges. You might ask why I’m in a hurry when there are not too many places to go. Here it is. The hurry doesn’t come from out there. It comes from in me. I get up in the morning with a list two people would have trouble accomplishing. I’m hurrying through my list all day and in the evening still feeling I haven’t accomplished my goals. I go through periods when I’m consciously aware of keeping the list short but then over time, I start adding more and more and the rush escalates. Someone I respect recently recommended the book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. It has my name written all over it and is on my ereader right now to be read next. I sense I’m not the only one with this issue since it’s sitting in the top ten in its category. In the mean time, I’m going to renew my effort to remove items from my to do list.

4.       Stay connected to God. Above all, make sure you’re taking the time every day to spend with the One who loves you most. In your efforts to streamline your to do list, be intentional about blocking out time with the Lord for Bible reading and prayer. That time is a well we draw from throughout the day. As is said in pastoral circles, we want to minister from the overflow not the undertow. After we come out of this pandemic, we want to come out more in touch with God, not less. The words from Isaiah come to mind that God is able to give us “a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:3).

You probably have a few tips you’d like to share about what has helped you during this time. I’d love to hear about them.

Keep up your hope, friends.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Where the glory comes out

I tell you there’s nothing like a global pandemic to make you want to as Jerry says, “Sit near the spout where the glory comes out.” Just in the past week, we’ve had three prayer requests related to the virus from the circle of friends and family in our small church. A woman who passed from it, a twenty-something in critical condition, and another man also in intensive care.

Oh, yes, the heaviness, and the heartache of this present time make our hearts cry out for His presence. Yet his glory shows up in many ways if our eyes are open to it.

For those who name the name of Jesus and who have given their lives to Him, that glory can show up in the mirror. It was the apostle Paul who wrote, “Christ in you, the hope of glory."  Max Lucado says “The mystery of Christianity is summarized in Colossians 1:27, ‘Christ in you.’”

We are glory carriers to the world around us. Sometimes we forget when our own hearts sag and our hope dwindles that within us is glory. Christ dwells in us. And that spout where the glory comes out, well, let’s allow it to be us.

During these last months, I feel as if I’ve been holding back, not allowing God to shine forth as He might. I just want to be more of an open vessel for Him. Maybe you do, too. In all the negative, bickering, politicizing talk, let’s allow God to make us glory splashers wherever we go, whatever we do, and for sure, whatever we say.

Praying a glory filled week for all of you, friends.


Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Letting it fly and the unforced rhythms of grace

Last week, my sister and I were talking about how this pandemic is really beginning to weigh heavily. I'm sure that's true not only for us, but for many. It has to be a heavy load for health care workers and other essential services personnel who have been staring it down for months. I thought of this post from the archives and wondered if it might help us all refocus. Peace and grace, friends.

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

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? 

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

A Seashell and You

This week a post from the archives written almost ten years ago when our family faced my husband's cancer diagnosis as well as several other serious challenges. It felt like a tsunami of trouble. It kind of feels as if we're facing that in the world today, doesn't it? I thought of  this post this week and needed to read it again. Maybe you, too? Be blessed, friends, despite all the ups and downs of life. You are His.

I have a fascination with seashells.

I think it started when I learned many years ago while teaching a class on baptism that the shell is a symbol of baptism--perhaps taken from pictures of John the Baptist pouring water over Jesus from a scallop shell. The evening I taught the class, I placed in each attendees hand a thin ridged still sandy crater to carry home as reminder that in baptism, we are claimed by God.

But there is this other thing that draws me to shells: It’s that each is like a snowflake, one of a kind. As I scoop them up from an encroaching tide, I study their various colors, and markings. None are alike. Even shells from the same kind of mollusks are singular in appearance.Though some might be tempted to throw back the ones with obvious flaws, I like them better. One with broken edges, another with weather worn creases, and still another with mottled color all scream imperfection, but they are still beautiful. For all their blemishes, they have endured to wash up on this shore.

I spot only a fragment of a much larger shell, broken and etched by thousands of high tides, and I think I like it best. Thousands of ups and downs, ins and outs, suns and moons, and yet it has persisted to takes its place in my sack of treasures.

Shells remind me that God sees our imperfection, our flaws, our brokenness, our holes clean through, and yet He has claimed us in baptism. We are his. Shells teach me of the great beauty in persisting, and enduring through many changing seasons. Shells speak of our unique place in God’s purposes. “If you don’t do you, God’s plan is incomplete, because you’re the only one who can do you,” McNair Wilson says.

If I could, I’d send each of you a cockle shell from my bounty. You could place it on your nightstand, and every morning when you awoke, you could remember that in all the fragmentation of your life, you are claimed by God. He has created you uniquely. He knows. He sees. He loves. You are His beautiful child.

“But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel. ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you…For I am the lord, your God, the holy One of Israel, your Savior…” (Isaiah 43:1-3).

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

A question we all can ask this Fourth of July

A sweet memory of my kids in front of the U.S. Capitol one summer.
 I sat in a third grade classroom at Medlock Elementary probably stumped by some arithmetic problem, which was usually the case. The intercom box blared on with static, and for a moment, I was glad for a distraction from the drudgery. But the static subsided and we realized we were listening to a radio broadcast. The announcer said in an urgent way, “President Kennedy has been shot. The president has been shot.” The shock of it caused the young students to respond in various ways.  I only remember growing very quiet.
From a child’s perspective, the Kennedy presidency did indeed seem like Camelot. I had a tea set made just like Jackie’s and my mother wore pillbox hats like hers. And so as his death and funeral unfolded over the next few days, the sadness seemed profound.
Though as an adult my historical perspective helps me see some of the illusions of that time,  John F. Kennedy said a few now familiar words that I memorized as a child which will always be  important to me, and I know to many, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
Since our country’s birth, more than a million have answered the call to service and giving, as Lincoln said, “the last full measure of devotion.” Nearly three million have been wounded.
Today, many are still putting themselves in harm’s way to defend our country. But though we may not serve in a branch of the military, we too, need to ask what we can do for our country. Its people are hurting, polarized, angry, and sad. Even in our families, we find ourselves at odds with others opinions. Friendships are dissolving because of conflicting political views. One comment can quickly escalate into a shouting match in person or on social media. I have found myself at odds with people very close to me, and remember often my grandmother’s advice to “bite my tongue.” I’ve said here before if I had known how important that piece of wisdom was going to be, I would have had it tattooed on my forehead.
I have a lifelong friend, with whom I have found myself on opposite sides of an important issue. When I was around her, I sensed she was almost scared I would reject her because of it. But God has called us to love unconditionally. He didn’t say only love the people that agree with you. I went to her and said, “Listen, we may be in different places on this thing, but you and I are going on. Let’s not allow this to split us apart.” And it hasn’t. In fact, we may be closer today than we were before.
When someone disagrees with us, we could have a dialogue, instead of flaring and sounding off. We might learn something. We might aim to live loving but perhaps not agreeing on all things.  
I’m trying my best to listen and love every day. Failing often, but getting up and trying again. As we celebrate our nation’s birthday this year, I invite you to join me in this endeavor and let's remember the words President Kennedy spoke at his first inaugural address. Yes, asking what we can do for our country rather than what our country can do for us may take us to a new place entirely.  And let's all continue to pray because really it's the most important thing we can do.

Friends, have a happy Fourth! May God bless America.
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).




Tuesday, June 23, 2020

When your wings are broken, what then?

I sat outside near dusk on my mother’s old green glider praying and pondering. A vexing problem had left me bewildered. You know the kind―it dogs your heels and though you pray for a solution, there doesn’t seem to be one. You don't know what to do next and if we're not watchful, the enemy can bring on crushing discouragement.

A fluttering over at a butterfly bush distracted me. I got up to investigate and was amazed to find an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail with shredded wings and part of one tail almost entirely gone. He was still flying.

The butterfly mirrored the tattered and torn way I felt in the present circumstance.

The insect had almost fallen victim to some predator, but somehow escapedits scars a tribute to its fierce fight for life. The damage was mostly to the anterior wings, which aren’t as necessary as the forewings, but still it was significant. I snapped a few blurry pictures and had to wonder if perhaps God wanted to say something to me through the butterfly’s appearance at that particular moment.

Most of us know butterflies are pollinators carrying pollen from plant to plant to help them produce seeds. This is important work because if plants don’t produce seeds, we’re in big trouble. A butterfly just goes about his business, broken wings or no broken wings. Despite our sense of being fractured, God has a purpose for us. It could be bigger than anything we might imagine. One type of butterfly is even considered a keystone species, which means the loss of it will cause an entire ecosystem to disappear. We cannot forget each of our lives bears inestimable value.

A butterfly’s life span is only two to four weeks, so one only has a few weeks to deal with compromised wings. I can’t help but think of the Apostle Paul’s words, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (I Corinthians 4:17). We need to view whatever troubles we’re dealing with here through an eternal lens. These troubles are temporary and something great is in store for us.

I  stood for a while studying the butterfly and then it flapped its wings, took to the sky, and soared out of sight.

Maybe, just maybe, the insect’s encouraging appearance in my garden was not only for me, but so I could also write about it here and say to someone who feels their wings torn, “Hey, keep flying, friend, despite your brokenness. God has a special purpose for you. And it won’t be long before we see His face.”

I’m praying the visitor to my back yard leaves you with the same thing it gave mehope.  



Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Three Things I Learned from my Dad, the Builder

My dad built things.

Not for a living, mind you. His career was in banking. My dad built for joy.
He constructed the house he and his wife lived in for many years. Sure, he contracted out a few elements, but he built a surprising percentage of the structure with his own two hands. It was not a tiny house concept but probably approached 3,000 square feet.

He crafted this French Cupboard for me. Simply because I asked.

He erected this playhouse for my daughter, which later became her studio.

My brother in law, a lifelong executive with the Boy Scouts of America, requested one summer if my dad could build birdhouse kits for summer campers. And he did. All 400 of them. Each house had at least six parts.
I’ve been reflecting on my dad, and what he taught me through his building that I use in my life today.

1.       The way you do hard things is tackle them in small increments. The summer he built the birdhouses, he worked on them for many, many days but he took breaks and didn’t become overwhelmed with the task. In building books with words, I don’t look at sixty, seventy, or eighty thousand words. I just think about the ones I’m writing today.

2.       Don’t say no to a big job just because it seems impossible. Dad could have said no to all the big jobs he tackled, but he didn't. From the beginning, being a writer has seemed implausible to me. However, I have a heritage that says that’s not a reason to say no.

3.       You can make something from nothing. Just as my dad did in wood, by the grace of God, it feels as if that’s what I do in words every day.
The things my dad built transcended wood and nails. Because of his influence, there are principles built into the center of who I am. I hope to pass these on to my children. I am grateful for his example because when I come up against a seeming mountain, I can think, well, my dad did it, and I have his DNA, so I can, too.

We can never measure legacy in dollars and cents. The most important legacies are the ones that endure in the hearts and minds of family members for generations.  Proverbs 13:22 reads, "A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children . . . " I am blessed to have had a dad who left behind such a legacy.

I’m grateful The Upper Room Magazine is publishing one of my devotions about Dad on Father’s Day, this Sunday, June 23. If you don’t have access to a print copy, you may access it on line at upperroom.org. It thrills my heart that people will read of his life and legacy in over thirty-six languages around the world. To God be the glory.



Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Note to Self: Seven Things to Do

This will be a short blog post, because sometimes many words are not what we need. You might put this under the category of a note to self, and I’m inviting you to look over my shoulder as I try to think of a few simple things I can do right now to make a difference in these challenging times.
Here goes:

1. Listen more. Listen more. Listen more.

2. Stop interrupting as if I understand. I don’t.

3. Realize only God truly knows my heart, the depths of which are often unknown to me.

4. Eliminate the word but, because every time I make that word choice, it invalidates what I said before it.

5. Don’t tolerate injustice. Even in small ways.

6. Be willing to accept change and not sentimentalize hurtful vestiges of the past.

7. Pray as the Psalmist did, “Will you not revive us again . . .” (Psalm 85:6).

That’s where I’m beginning. This plan is not complete or perfect in its scope, but what I’ve learned from my writing journey is that small steps add up to something big. If I write 1,000 words a day five days a week, I could have a rough draft of a novel in three or four months. What it takes is persistence and a bit of discipline. I think that principle may apply here too. Change will take focus and determination.

I’ll end by using a boomer song reference that seems applicable here, “Let it begin with me . . .”


Tuesday, June 2, 2020

In this together

Because Jerry is a University of Georgia football letterman, a couple of years ago we were invited to attend the naming event for the Payne Indoor Practice Facility at UGA honoring letterman and former Olympics Committee CEO, Billy Payne and his father, Porter. Billy Payne and Jerry were teammates.

We wrote about that night on One Old Dawg. But because we met someone that evening whose wisdom and advice is essential for the times we live in today, I want to highlight a bit of it here.

Jerry and I had the very great privilege of meeting Andrew Young, who has been a U.S. Ambassador, U.S. Congressman, and Atlanta Mayor. As he spoke that night, he covered the challenges in bringing the Olympics to Atlanta. He and Billy Payne traveled to over 100 countries, a black man, and a white man with such love for each other, it gave the world a new picture of the American South.

When the two men began pitching the idea of bringing the Olympics to Atlanta, many thought it an impossible task. But their close relationship and perseverance yielded an extraordinary result.

Young praised Payne and credited the hand of God for their successes. I had not realized that Andrew Young started his career as a pastor, but his faith in God was obvious as he spoke.

Young was a close ally of Dr. Martin Luther King and participated in civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham, St. Augustine, Selma, and Atlanta.

He related a story in an interview this week of the protest in St. Augustine where he and other marchers came face to face with a white supremacist group. Instead of violence, they chose peace and responded by singing. He said that choice led to action in congress, the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Another extraordinary result.
In a powerful op-ed piece in the AJC this past Sunday, Andrew Young wrote of the terrible injustices in our country, as well as the protests, but he also pointed to the viral plague that is wreaking havoc on our global economy. He pointed to partnerships and said, “We must find a way to live together and work as brothers and sisters . . .”

We’ve read it and said it many times during this pandemic, “We are all in this together.” But that applies to other challenges as well. Though it may seem we are much divided in many ways in our country, the truth remains, we are in this together.

In Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, he says that by faith, “we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”

It seems at every turn we are facing as Dr. King said, “a mountain of despair” right now. But as he also says, it is by faith we will be able to make of it a “stone of hope.”

So, let’s pray and look to the only One who can heal our broken lives, our splintered hearts, and our fractured souls. Let’s ask him to root out racial bias in all of us. We must reach out and love despite our differences. Who knows what God might do with any of us if we fully surrender and allow him to use us as vessels to heal this fragmented world? Who knows what unexpected beautiful thing might result?

Because as you might have heard, we are in this together.
"Finally, all of you, be likeminded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble" (I Peter 3:8).

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Write Your Story. . . Now

One of the most unpleasant tasks I’ve had in mentoring other writers is to tell them there’s hardly any market for a memoir unless a writer has a huge social media following. Non-fiction publishing is almost entirely platform driven. I’ve long considered it a miracle I received a contract for my book, Faith in the Fashion District, because it is a memoir and I didn’t even have an Instagram or Twitter account when I received the contract. Just goes to show anything is possible with God.

But, just because a memoir will not make it in traditional publishing is no reason not to write it. In fact, I had a recent experience that well proves that point.

I was discussing an element of our family history with one of our children (who will remain nameless because they don’t like to be discussed on the internetI get that). That child gave me a blank expression, “I didn’t know that.”

I thought it was sarcasm which meant, “I’ve heard that a million times, so don’t tell me again.” But it wasn’t. That child had never heard or didn’t remember that segment of our family story. And it was important. I would say pivotal in terms of what God has done in our lives.  

We want our children to remember our histories, because those accounts lay the foundation for who they may become. Those stories give them hope and help in the future. Life is so hectic when they’re young and we discuss so many things. We think they will remember what’s important. Then they go off to school and we lose that daily time with them. We still think they carry the significant details of our history.

Let me tell you from my recent experience, they don’t. And even if they do, details can be lost or the stories may morph over time. That’s why it’s important to capture those stories in a tangible way for the futureto write them long hand in composition books, type them on your computer, or record oral histories.  

Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, and other details, just get those stories down. You can always go back and edit. But if you don’t get out a first draft, you won’t have anything to edit.

A friend of mine has been working on her autobiography for her children. She’s written about sixty pages. She told me, “I have a new respect for you as an author while I’ve been writing these stories.” It takes a certain discipline to stay at the writing. I can find all kinds of reasons not to begin even use laundry as a procrastination tool. You need to set a goal. Even a small one. Long time Atlanta Journal Constitution Writer, Celestine Sibley, had so many writing assignments she had to do for the papers; she didn’t think she had time to write a book. A writer friend suggested she write just fifteen minutes a day toward one. She said it was the best writing advice she ever received and wrote many books that way.

Maybe you’ve already had a nudging to do this, but a voice in your head says you’re not a good writer.  Ignore that voice. Do it anyway. Do it even if the decibel level of that voice grows exponentially. A lot of us write with the negatives blaring in our head. Think of this writing as part of your legacy. You are leaving something behind that will perhaps inspire generations of your family.

It may very well be one of the most important things you do in life.

Start right now during this Corona Pandemic, while the distractions in our lives are less. Just begin. You will always be glad you did.

“Write down for the coming generation what the Lord has done, so that people not yet born will praise Him” (Psalm 102:18 GNT).



Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Pandemic, Hard Places, and New Beginnings


“This day 2000, I found I have breast cancer,” read the words inked in the margin on May 18 of my Streams in the Desert volume.

I celebrated 20 years as a cancer survivor yesterday. Even in a pandemic, we have to mark these days of significance that altered our lives and perhaps set our course on a new path. I am so grateful to be here.

It’s interesting what the devotion says on that day.

“The pressure of hard places makes us value life. Every time our life is given back to us from such a trial, it is like a new beginning, and we learn better how much it is worth, and make more of it for God and man. The pressure helps us to understand the trials of others, and fits us to help and sympathize with them.”

That hard place of cancer helped me commit to home school for eight years, persevere in prison ministry for twelve, and galvanize the next chapter of my life in becoming a writer. I realized that each day is indeed a gift. The gift of these days has helped me see my children and grandchildren grow up and I’ve been able to rejoice in the milestones in their lives.

I have to wonder what the hard place of this pandemic is going to do. What will our new beginning look like? How will we make more of our lives for others because of it? How will it help us with our compassion toward others? Hopefully, the answers to these questions will arise out of a true realization  of whose we are.

God has allowed this pandemic just as he allowed me to have cancer. At the time I had such a strong sense of His presence and guidance, I knew He could have altered the course but He did not. I don’t know all the reasons why, but the experience has opened up many ministry doors of prayer for and encouragement to others, which would have previously been closed to me. By the grace of God, the fact that I am a twenty year survivor is in itself a beacon of hope to those who are just diagnosed.

I believe this is a time for seeking God’s heart in discerning how he would use the hard place of this pandemic in the future.  It is for sure an event which could pivot our lives in unexpected directions or perhaps move us toward a calling we have long resisted.

I’ve used this quote before but it bears repeating. Fred Rogers said, “Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.” Friends, though it may feel as if much of what we called normal in the past has come to an end, we ARE at the beginning of something else. How that something else unfolds depends on how we allow God to guide us in the choices we make moving forward.

So, here’s to new beginnings of hard places.

To God be the Glory.

“. . . By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onwardto Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back” (Philippians 3:13-14 The Message).


Tuesday, May 12, 2020

My Covid-19 Life (and maybe yours, too)

Some have indicated for historical reasons, we need to document our lives in these unprecedented times.

So, if you’re a researcher in 2120, and you need to know about the life of this writer during a viral plague, here goesthe funny, the sad, the frustrating, and the hope that sustained.

I’ve heard others say their lives have not changed much. To a degree, that’s true. Jerry and I have continued to work at home, as we have these past years. At the outset, when the pandemic unfolded at warp speed, my racing mind found it hard to connect threads in a book length project. After a few weeks, I was able to focus enough to get the train back on track and am now finishing a Christmas novella. So, the writing at least has remained somewhat the same. 

But, and I say a big but here, not much else is as it was.

A meme circulating at the outset of the pandemic featured a woman with a video camera. The text read something like, “And just like that, all the preacher’s spouses turned into audio visual experts.” In a small membership church like ours, there’s not a team of experts doing this. It’s just the one here with the preacher, which happens to be me, which is the case for many, many churches.

I am thankful I’ve been able to order root touch up, so I can spray my balding scalp because of the takes, the retakes, the interruptions, and the lighting problems. Praying someone else will soon take this job. Doing it now for Jesus and Jerry. But we are thankful at least for being able to stay in touch with our people this way even though it is far less than ideal.

Buying groceries takes more effort. Because of our underlying conditions, for eight weeks, I did all ordering online and picked up curbside. I found supplies limited and wait times for pick up extending to as much as a week or more. Some items like cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and baking powder were not available at all. Before bringing items in the house, I wiped everything down. We were told initially this was not necessary, but I did it anyway. Now we’re told that maybe it is necessary. That has been one of the frustrations for us all. Advice changes as research progresses, because there’s so much we don’t know. Last week, I ventured to the grocery during an early shopping hour for the first time since the pandemic began. I used to despise grocery shopping, but I was giddy with excitement to be in the store again. My how my perspective has changed.

As to the whole toilet paper thing. A friend of ours observed, “Who knew someone could eat a bat on the other side of the world and cause a toilet paper shortage in the US?” Yeah, who knew? Jerry felt proud of himself at the beginning of lockdown when he found toilet paper online and placed an order. One April day after we returned from a walk, I opened the mailbox to retrieve the mail and found a package.

 “Did you order a pair of shoes?” I asked Jerry to which he shook his head. When I slit the package open, I found twelve rolls of toilet paperall in a package the size of a shoebox for the low, low price of around eighteen dollars. The cardboard tubes were larger than normal with about thirty sheets wrapped around each one. Guess where it was made? That place on the other side of the world where all this started. “Didn’t you read the reviews?” I asked Jerry.

“There weren’t any,” he said. But when we looked, they’d started pouring in. “Doll house toilet paper,” said one. “Joke,” said another. “Terrible rip off,” another comment read. It has since been taken off the market. We at least got a laugh out of it.

In Jerry’s calling as a pastor, funerals have always been part of our lives, but they were balanced with weddings, baptisms, and other joyful events. But during this time, it’s been all funerals. And they are more painful than before. I often ride with Jerry to show respect to the family, but up to this point cannot attend because attendees are limited to family. I sit in the car as the family gathers at the graveside. They maintain their six feet distance unable to comfort each other in the usual way. Just before the service, I step outside the car with a large red heart I’ve made to express my love. Jerry walks up and delivers the message maintaining his distance. Then he leaves. No reception afterwards. The families go home to grieve alone.  

He’s made no hospital visits in months. Families for the most part cannot be with their hospitalized loved ones. So incredibly challenging and frustrating as a pastor family.
Then there is the mask shortage. A nurse practitioner friend who works for a large metropolitan hospital is allotted one N95 mask per week. I set out to make cloth masks for her to extend the life of the N95 as well as surgical caps which are also in short supply. Then I added other nurses to the list. I made a few masks for our daughter's PT practice. The county government wanted one of our winter homeless shelters to reopen during the pandemic, so I made around 20 masks for the homeless so they could open.  The list goes on, but to date I’ve made over 130 masks. Don’t be the least impressed. A woman in a mask making social media group I’m in has made over 600. I’m sure she’s not the only one. I keep sewing because I don’t see an end to this until we have a vaccine.

We have celebrated Easter alone, Mother’s Day alone, with no family or for that matter anyone in our house in eight weeks. I’m pretty sure none of that is changing anytime soon.

When I feel sorry for myself, I pray for my friend who has a daughter in Northern Italy and has no idea when she will see her again, friends who've lost a sister, a spouse, and a child during this time. I remember medical professionals who are isolating from their families or living with the anxiety of spreading the virus to someone they love. My heart is burdened for the third world who is struggling with devastating problems related to the virus.
Some things haven’t changed, but much of my life is different and I imagine will be for some time. When it feels as if this pandemic is a nightmare I can’t wake from, I remember these words, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). I put my hope and trust in the One who is unchanged by this Pandemicthe One whose love for us endures through any hard timethe One who is a companion in our loneliness and a comfort in our grief.

If you’re a hundred years in the future and researching our lives during this time, or you’re in 2020 and  looking for a way to make it through these days, turn to Jesus. He will help you with your COVID-19 life or your life in any other time, as well.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Healing is Hers. Joy is Mine.

Guest posting today is my dear friend, Andrea Flanagan Edmunds. She recently said a final goodbye to her special needs daughter, Presley. I have known Andrea for many years and she exemplifies joy in the midst of great challenges. Today she writes about that joy and God's purposes in her daughter's life. You will be blessed by the words she shares. Welcome to One Ringing Bell, Andrea. 

My precious, seventeen year old, special needs daughter passed away two weeks ago. She has been ultimately healed and is in heaven with a new body, walking for the first time. I miss her so much my heart literally aches, yet I do have joy. Joy knowing she lived this life and fulfilled the purpose God set out for her. Joy, because this verse rings true: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy…” (Psalm 16:11).

Some told me after her passing that she was probably “better off.” I shake off those words meant with good intentions, because they do not reflect what I know to be true. Yes, heaven is a far better place than this world. But, to be “better off” implies her life was miserable and pointless.  

I, however, know the truth.    

Presley’s life verse from the first days and one we fervently declared over her life was Jeremiah 29:11. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future.’” At the time of her birth, I didn’t know what God had in mind, but I trusted Him and in His promises.  

When Presley was twelve, I was able to see one of many examples of God’s plan and purpose for her life.

After I graduated college in 1998, I traveled to Brazil to teach
English as a second language where I became fluent in Portuguese. Fast forward sixteen years and I am a mother living in Georgia with three kids (Presley and her two little brothers) with a full-time job and absolutely no reason to speak anything but English. In 2014, I was invited to go on a mission trip to Rio de Janeiro, and after  only a few days into our trip, my Portuguese miraculously started flowing again. 

On the bus heading to the  last church on our visit, I was told to be ready to share my testimony.  Much to my relief, we finished the first service without anyone calling on me. Afterward, while drinking coffee with a new friend, Adelia, I met Norma. She was preparing our lunch in the kitchen and happened to join in our conversation. As Norma stood by, Adelia asked about my life, so in Portuguese I told a bit about myself. Suddenly, I sensed God say, “Tell them about Presley.” 

I ignored that impression and continued talking about my job as a teacher. Again, I heard, “Tell them about Presley.”  

“OK, Lord.” Still with reservations, I told Adelia and Norma about Presley. “My oldest child, Presley, is twelve. She wasn’t breathing when she was born, so she can’t walk or talk. She is precious, though! She laughs and smiles. We love her so much!”  

Adelia smiled and nodded, but Norma said, “I had a little girl like yours.”  

The hair on the back of my neck stood as I listened to Norma telling us about her daughter’s disabilities and her early death.  

“What did I do wrong?” she asked. “Women in my neighborhood who were drug addicts, prostitutes - they had beautiful, healthy babies. I am a Christian, I love God, and yet I had a sick little girl that died. What did I do wrong?”  

My heart pounded, and blood rushed to my ears. The purpose for God nudging me to share my testimony became apparent. “Nothing,” I cried. “You did nothing wrong!” I shared the verse in John 9 when the disciples asked why a man was born blind and if it was the sins of the man or the sins of his parents that caused it. “Norma, listen! ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ Jesus said, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in his life.’” As I spoke with her, she began to cry and rejoice as the bondage of pain and guilt she carried for almost twenty years was broken!  

This was one small part of God’s plan for Presley’s life, just as it was, with her disabilities and all!  

Before and since Presley’s passing, people have said my faith in God during these times has been an inspiration to them, drawing them closer to God. That is simply the grace of God. To me, her birth caused a ripple effect that lasted all seventeen and a half years of her life, affecting those closest to her and spreading out to people we have never even met.   

Maybe you're struggling to understand God’s purpose in a difficult time. Maybe you have lost a job, have an illness, or perhaps, you too have lost a child or someone close to you. Hear me when I tell you God has a plan for every single one of us! Here are three things that will help:  

1. Study His Word. God wants us to know Him intimately by reading and studying the Bible and praying. His word is our guide and encouragement!

2. Trust Him. Our trust in the Lord can grow with each day. Trust Him fully, knowing that victory is His and He will carry us through all the storms we will face.

3. Be willing for God to use you.  In spite of all of your imperfections, God can work through your life as a testimony for His works.  

Before Presley was born, I had a close relationship with Jesus and afterward, it became closer still. Because of God’s extraordinary grace, for the most part, I could trust Him each day, because I felt that she was His and I was blessed to care for her. But through the difficulties, like weeks of only four hours of sleep at night because of her illnesses, waking morning after morning not knowing if she was alive, or scheduling everything around feeding and meds,  I had to speak aloud to myself, “God knows what’s going on! He’s not surprised, and He has a plan!” 

In the first years of her life, God gave me this verse: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” – Isaiah 6:8

It was my hearts desire that others see Christ in me, so I said, “Here I am, Lord. I’m a scoundrel and a cracked pot, yet please, God, use me anyway.” And, I believe He did!  

At the end of Presley’s life, it is my hope that God’s plan for Presley was fulfilled. I know it was to demonstrate the love of Christ and to draw us all closer to Him.

My dear friends, healing is hers.  

Joy is mine.  

 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope" (Romans 15:13).

 Andrea Flanagan Edmunds is a mother of three and teaches fourth grade. She enjoys reading with a pup by her side and going for treks in the woods. 

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