Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Goal setting and real bounty


A few days after Christmas, I’m a bit weary and hoping for fairies to come and help me pack up all this Christmas stuff. I’m amazed at someone I know who packs it up on Christmas morning. Without fairies. I’m serious.




 

My fairies can hold off a few days, though, because as I’ve written in Christmas seasons before, I’m still holding on for old Christmas on January 6. I’ll gradually slide things away but keep the nativity sets out until then.

I’d love to tell you that this house was an oasis of calm before Christmas, but there was much to do and many people in and out. Even so, it was wonderful. I may not have sat down much then, but these few days between Christmas and New Year’s are always a time of reflection for me.

 I like to SIT and reflect.

It’s also usually a time to set goals for the year ahead.

My goals are fluid, subject to change, and I try not to let them hang over me. Even so, with God’s help, goal setting is how I’ve written almost a million words in the past eight years.

This year, I’m at a crossroads. I strive to be as transparent as possible when writing this blog, but sometimes struggle with how much to share. I’ll just say that changing circumstances may affect how much time I have available for writing. Translation—day job. This has been a possibility for some time. Lots of writers have day jobs, so I know it's doable. I’ll continue to write, but will have to scale back in some way. Because of this, I’m sort of stuck with my goal setting.

I’m reading Psalm 65 a few days ago. “You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it. You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance.”

Here at the end of 2014, I’ve been meditating on how God crowns the year with His abundance—how he might continue to do that here. An element of that word “crown” in the original language means to surround. I’m thinking of God surrounding us with his provision.

 I’m also reviewing the supernatural ways God has provided in the past—way beyond our ability to imagine. As Priscilla Shirer says, “Beyond and beyond.”

But really, his bounty goes far beyond material provision. As me and my fairies are removing the visible elements of Christmas and move toward 2015, despite so much uncertainty, I will have a couple of goals, and that is to stay close to Jesus and discern his mind. And in the same way I thought of Him surrounding us with His provision, how much better to think of Him surrounding us with Himself.

If you find yourself in a similar quagmire of circumstances, wondering about the year ahead, I’m with you. But let’s allow God to surround us with the real bounty, the gift of Christmas who is Jesus.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas and the undoing


Deep in an anthology of Christmas readings, a few lines of poetry entitled, “Christmas Bells” caught my attention— maybe because the title included the word bells.

Penned by John Keble, a nineteenth century chair of poetry at Oxford University, it seemed to capture the very essence of what Christmas means.

“Wake me tonight, my mother dear,
That I may hear
The Christmas Bells, so soft and clear,
To high and low glad tidings tell,
How God the Father loved us well;
How God the Eternal Son
Came to undo what we had done.”
It’s that last line that I keep going back to—Jesus “came to undo what we had done.”

Christmas is something to really celebrate.

For he has indeed, “loved us well.”
 
 Merry Christmas to you, dear friend.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

When it's "very much of a much"


“The costumes are gone,” someone cried.

As co-director of the children’s play at our church, my heart went pittypat. Here we were just a short time before the dress rehearsal and only four days before the performance.

I moved to the closet where I distinctly remember seeing them hung after the play the year before. An empty space yawned before me.

I turned to search the faces of the people behind me including the women who had sewn them, and the co-director. “It’s the worst thing that could happen,” someone said.

In Madeleine L’Engle’s Christmas story, “A FullHouse: An Austin Family Story,” the narrator begins, “To anybody who lives in a city or even a sizable town, it may not sound like much to be the director of a volunteer choir in a postcard church in a postcard village, but I was the choir director and largely responsible for the Christmas Eve service, so it was very much of a much for me.”

Well, this Christmas play of ours was in a postcard church in a postcard village, and it may not have seemed to be very much to many, but it was indeed, “very much of a much for me.”

And the costumes were not chenille bathrobes tied with cord, sheets with raw edges, or fast food restaurant crowns, but lovely hand tailored garments.
 
 

 


I wanted to cry. But I haven’t found that to be helpful in the past. So, we did what people of faith do when faced with impossible situations—we prayed.

Then, a small army was dispersed throughout the building to search every box, in every attic, in every closet, in every cabinet, in every outbuilding.

Meanwhile, we went on with the dress rehearsal —sans the dress.

When we finished our rehearsal, we discovered that no discovery had been made.

We knew that the room in which they had been stored had undergone renovations and everything in the room had been relocated, but no one remembered what happened to the costumes. We reviewed possibilities—we could throw some things together, but in four days with everyone so busy? Someone did find a box of sad looking old costumes, not even enough to cover a third of the children. We exhaled a collective sigh.

What would we do?

And then . . .

And then . . .

Just at the point of despair, someone remembered the costumes being taken to a home for safekeeping during the renovation, to the home of someone that might not have remembered them because they’d been through such difficult circumstances this year. There may have been some doubt about whether this was a real memory or just wishful thinking. But a search was made, and sure enough, there they were.

 I believe that through our prayers, God spoke into the heart of a believer to help remember where those costumes were.

Because, what is “very much of a much” to us, is “very much of a much” to God.

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you?” (Matthew 6:30 The Message).

Even against the world stage of events, God cares that little children have costumes that were meant for them so they can once more tell the story of His coming on a tiny stage in a small church.

That matters to God.

So take every detail, every heartache, every care and lay it at His feet this Christmas, just as our little Kings put their crowns at the base of the manger where our baby Jesus doll lay.

Because, you see, it is ALL, “very much of a much” to him.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Raw Edges and Emmanuel


I stood in line to check in at the urgent care Saturday morning. A few hundred yards away, Christmas floats lined up for the annual parade through the center of town, but the people in my line were miles away from Christmas cheer by the misery I saw on faces.

I took a seat in a room packed full of folks barely hanging on. Across the aisle, a woman, maybe in her seventies slipped down and put her head in her husband’s lap. A college-aged young man stifled coughs. A baby wailed as his weary mother tried to comfort him.

After a month of dealing with a respiratory illness, and trying to manage its symptoms, the pain I had when coughing reached a new plateau the evening before, and I knew I had to do something. So here I was. All of us strangers together on this float of suffering.

“It’s going to be awhile,” the receptionist said when I turned in my paperwork.

When I sat back down, I looked at the time on my phone. The parade would start in few moments.

I clicked over to a daily devotional site and tried to focus, tried not to cough. Then I moved to a blog where I often find strength. As I read, I sensed God moving near. There in the middle of fevers, moans, and sniffles, God took a seat.

In the sanctuary of suffering, he came. He stayed.
 
 

For the next couple of waiting hours, I sensed His presence so strongly right in the middle of human frailty, of all going wrong. Though I would miss the Christmas parade passing so close, I would perhaps, leave the clinic that day with a greater measure of what Christmas means than if I had attended.

Emmanuel means God with us. And God is with us not just in our Christmas parades and parties and plays and musicals and worship services, God is with us in ugly, hard places—like back alleys, mental hospitals, bankruptcy courts, prisons, and sick clinics. He is on the backside of nowhere and he proved it by being born in no more than a barn.

I left with a diagnosis of acute bronchitis, infection, and some seriously strained ligaments in my chest, but I also left with a peace that surpassed anything I’d had in awhile. Often God uses our brokenness to help us draw near to him, and He draws near to us in our brokenness.

Yesterday, I had lunch with someone who related the story of a thirteen-year-old girl whose mother had recently sold her into human trafficking in a nearby city. The mother did it to get three hundred dollars for an electric bill. The girl went through untold atrocities in just two weeks before a Christian group rescued her from the clutches of the man that had bought her. With such a fractured soul, how would this girl ever find healing?

But then I thought of Emmanuel—God with us. And if in this world there is a way for a thirteen-year-old to find the pieces of her life, it would be through the God who is with us in all of the sorry, low-down places a child can be—the One who lived on the raw edges of this world himself. And I had hope that He would help this girl, this baby, find a whole life. A real, whole, life.

“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

He is present with his peace, his comfort, and his restoring power in any raveling margin of life you may find yourself. No matter how desolate, no matter how seemingly hopeless.

God with us. Emmanuel. In all of our raw edges.


If you're puzzling over what to give for Christmas, might you consider Home to Currahee or Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees?
 
Both available for purchase HERE

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Advent and your own version of impossible


I’d had another post planned for today, but yesterday, I received a distressing report about a friend’s dire health situation.

As I pondered the news, verses from earlier morning readings drifted into my mind.

The verses for this day in my guide for the first week of Advent came from Luke 1.

 
Under the heading, “A childless couple conceives,” they detailed how God spoke to the elderly Zachariah through an angel about his wife, Elizabeth, also advanced in years, and how she’d bear a son who’d be called John.

The next section tells how a virgin, Mary, conceives. The angel who spoke to Mary said, “And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God” (Luke1:36-38 The Message).

The obvious connection between these passages and the next reading from Psalm 138 is a strong thread of thanksgiving, first in Elizabeth’s response to her pregnancy in Luke 1, next in Mary’s magnificat, and finally  in Psalm 138 where the Psalmist declares “Thank you! Everything in me says ‘Thank you!’”

However, when I received the disturbing report, I remembered that Psalm 138 ends, “When I walk into the thick of trouble, keep me alive in the angry turmoil. With one hand, strike my foes, with your other hand save me. Finish what you started in me, God. Your love is eternal—don’t quit on me now” (Psalm 138: 7-8 The Message).

When we face an impossible situation, the “thick of trouble,” it’s so easy to throw up our hands at a bad report, and just go with it. Oh well, at least we prayed, or these things happen. Yet, we ought to stand tall and say with the Psalmist, “Strike my foes and with your other hand save me,” and remember the words the angel spoke to Mary, “Nothing . . . is impossible with God.” True to what He had spoken, the elderly Elizabeth conceived, and Mary gave birth to Jesus.

Both of these women faced their own version of impossible, yet they trusted God. Advent is a season of preparation to celebrate the most exquisite, impossible thing God ever did in being birthed by a virgin, becoming flesh and dwelling among us, then dying on a cross for us so that we could live.

I do not know what God’s plans for my friend are, but I know they’re good ones. And she will be healed, hopefully in this life, but definitely in the next one. But, as long as she has breath, I will stand with her in prayer and trust that God can do the impossible. When I had cancer, I didn’t want folks discussing my “sad” situation behind my back. No, I wanted people who would speak blessing over me and trust God for my healing.

If you have your own version of impossible, rehearse the things God has already done. Have hope, because He’s still doing them.

That’s what I intend to do for my friend, because for God, impossible is nothing.

If you're puzzling over what to give for Christmas, might you consider Home to Currahee or Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees?
 
Both available for purchase HERE



Tuesday, November 25, 2014

If your Thanksgiving and Christmas are getting wrapped up together


Since before my college-aged children were born, an ever growing collection of angels come out each year to be suspended from one of the Christmas trees in our home. The angels on my angel tree have come to me from far-flung places around the globe, given to me by missionaries, parishioners, and friends. Many are handmade.

As I crack open the case that holds them, I lift a crocheted angel made for me by a one of the first women I met when I moved to this community, again before children, even before I met my husband Jerry.
 
This woman, Eleanor, served as activities coordinator in a nursing home where I volunteered by providing piano music. I can still see her pushing the residents into the piano room, often stopping to catch her breath as she suffered from severe asthma. It didn’t seem to hold Eleanor back much. She was perfect in her role, as she seemed to bring cheer to all that lived there.

She asked if I’d found a church. At that point, I’d only visited a church a couple of times. “Oh,” she said, “My son and his family attend there. Have you met them?” That son turned out to be one of my husband’s Jerry’s best friends (Again, I hadn’t even met Jerry yet).  Eleanor made the angels for me many years after I met her, just before she went to be with the Lord. When I see her angels, I can trace the hand of God in my life as I remember her and her role in making me feel that this city was indeed, where God wanted me. My heart is filled with gratitude for her, and her family, which have meant so much to us over the years.

Another angel, a fragile one, hangs high on the tree protected from cat paws and wagging tails.


 
It was given to me one Christmas just days after I miscarried a baby. When I opened it, I couldn’t believe this angel holding a bundle in its arms. The friend that gave it to me said, “I bought it weeks ago, and it was already wrapped before you ever had the miscarriage.” No one even knew I was pregnant. At the time, it was added assurance God had my baby in his arms, and now, it’s a precious reminder of that little one I look forward to seeing in heaven. The friend who gave it to me is now fighting a serious disease and is in desperate need of an organ transplant. I give thanks for all she’s meant to me, and pray again as I have daily that God would open the door for her to receive the transplant.

A large angel stands sentry under the angel tree. Handmade from what appears to be screen wire, it was given to me one Christmas after I went through a former coworker’s serious health crisis with her.
 
That experience bonded us for life. She’s now the caregiver for her mother who’s in a serious health decline. She faces many challenges caring for her mother who now has forgotten who she is and thinks my friend is merely the woman who cooks for her. I offer prayers of thanksgiving for my friend and all the years of our friendship and pray God would give her strength for another difficult road.

I know some have a problem with putting out the Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving. I don’t. For me, these angels remind me of precious ones who have meant so much. They represent an opportunity to give thanks.

How could we celebrate Thanksgiving anyway without that Christmas baby in the manger?

Thanksgiving and Christmas get all wrapped together at this house.

And that’s not a bad thing.

That’s a very good thing.

“For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints,  I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” (Ephesians 1:15-16).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ants and having no fear of bad news


The pest control man stood in my kitchen nodding his head as I complained.


“And they come out of those cracks around the sink and cover the counter. You can’t even leave one crumb or they are all over it. They get in everything.”

Ants. We’d battled them for weeks and finally had to call the professionals. Those little black varmints had just about pushed me over the edge.

The pest control man listened and said with sincerity, “We’ll take care of it, Ma’am.”
"Ant on mosshill". Licensed under GNU Free Documentation License 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ant_on_mosshill.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Ant_on_mosshill.jpg

However, he wouldn’t know until some time later what he was really dealing with. Turns out, these pest control folks had to push past anything they’d ever done before to get rid of our ant colony. In fact, the difficulty of our case caused it to be a presentation at a national pest control conference. The infestation was so far reaching, they even had to put bait in our mailbox.

That was years ago. We’ve been relatively ant free for many years, but if even one crawls out, I call the professionals. I’ve seen what ants can do.

That experience still gives me new insight each time I read this verse, “There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise: The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer . . .” (Proverbs 30:25-26).

Ants may be small, but they have a lot going on.

Motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, even has something he calls his “ant philosophy” which includes four steps. The first is ants never quit. I know that well enough. They are the most persistent little critters I’ve ever seen. At one point, I thought we might just move out of the house and let them have it. Next, ants think about winter all summer. In other words, they’re preparers, laying away for another time. But ants also think about summer all winter. They know that tough times won’t last and on any sunny day in winter, they’re out scurrying around and then back in the hole to wait for spring. Last of all, ants do all they can. You’ve seen them carrying far more than their weight back to the colony.

To sum it up, ants prepare. In the original Hebrew, the word used for prepare in Proverbs 30:25 shows up in another verse translated a different way. But I think the ants give us insight into the meaning of this verse: “They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord” (Psalm 112:7). As you can see the word prepare does not show up here, but if you look at the word steadfast, you find it is indeed the same word as prepare.

As I’ve sometimes cringed when I click on a news summary in my inbox, and dreaded to see the words pandemic, terrorist, or war, I’ve given thought on not having any fear of bad news. Psalm 112:7 says those whose hearts are steadfast have no fear of bad news. Ants prepare by their persistence, as we should persist in our devotion to God by spending time with Him, meditating, and studying His word. If I experience fear, that may say something about my lack of trust in God or my lack of intimacy with God, for the ones who have no fear of bad news are those who are prepared for it, whose minds and hearts are steeped in the word of God and who know him intimately.

Remember that ants know winter doesn’t last forever.

And we know that God always has the last word, no matter what the news report says.

So, the next time you see an ant, be thankful for what they teach us about being fearless in the face of bad news.

I have to tell you, though; I’ve seen enough ants in person to hold me for a while. The picture above is good enough for me.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Those who defend the land of the free and the home of the brave


A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the Currahee Military Museum Weekend in Toccoa, Georgia to sign copies of my book, Home to Currahee.

The number of our World War II veterans is diminishing every year. Though in their late eighties and early nineties, several of the paratroopers who trained at Camp Toccoa made long journeys to be present for the weekend this year. Camp Toccoa is the site on Currahee Mountain where the paratroopers trained who jumped behind enemy lines on D-Day. Steven Ambrose in his book, Band of Brothers, and later the HBO miniseries, told the story of Easy Company, the 506th regiment and part of the 101st Airborne who started their journey at Camp Toccoa.

Eight years ago, when I wrote the first draft for Home to Currahee,  I interviewed Reed Pelfrey, a pathfinder, who was one of the first to make the jump to set the drop targets for those who would follow. Sadly, Reed is no longer with us, but the museum features a display from his life.

It was a high honor to speak with these heroes who made such an impact on our world, among them Al Mampre and Ira Morehart and Ed Pepping.

 
 


Also, I had the joy of meeting a homeschooling family of six children from San Antonio, Texas who arrived in 1940’s attire and delighted everyone who attended that day. I was signing a book for someone when I heard this operatic quality voicing singing, “There’ll be Blue Birds over the White Cliffs of Dover. “ I turned to see fourteen-year-old Faith Philips serenading several of the veterans.

Every eye in the room was on them and most were filled with tears. Here is her website, please don’t miss it.

Here on Veteran’s Day, find a veteran and thank them for their service. You might even do a little serenading of your own. And let’s especially  remember to pray for those serving now and possibly still in harm’s way.

If you’re not a football fan, you may have missed Chris Botti’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner this past Monday Night.  He had big football players in tears. Here it is.

To the home of the free and the land of the brave and all those who defend it.

God bless you.

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

When you forget what you have


Election Day.

For many years, I watched election returns from a New York City hotel room as I was always traveling as a buyer on the first Tuesday in November due to market dates. I voted absentee for over ten years.

So, when my husband asked me if I wanted to vote early this year, I said no. Since my traveling days, I want to go to the polls on Election Day and cast my ballot in person. I know I can cast it in person if I vote early, but voting on the actual day is something I can do now, as opposed to so many years when I couldn’t.

We have a dear friend who is a Bishop in Africa.



Joseph was with us one year on a presidential election day. When the returns started rolling in, the country was split down the middle, and the election was decided by a narrow margin.

My husband, Jerry, and I were seriously disappointed by the results. Our candidate lost.

However, our African friend marveled at the whole thing.

“In my country,” Joseph said, “people die on election day. In a situation like this, civil war would break out.”

We forget what we have here. That we could even have a transfer of power without riots and war is indeed a marvel. It happens rarely on this spinning orb.

Once when we picked up our Bishop friend at the airport, he looked around him bright eyed, as we were rolling down the interstate and said, “This is God’s country.”

Educated in America, he could have stayed here. Since he has a doctorate, he’d probably be in a large church now with an impressive salary. But he chose to return to his home, where he believes God has called him. Over the years, he’s often gone without pay . . . and food. For one six-month period he and his wife rarely ate, but remained true to the calling God has on their lives. They live amidst dangerous circumstances as their country is in increasingly perilous times. I think of our friends often and pray for them.

As we head out to the polls today, let's give thanks for the amazing privilege we have in casting our ballots. Remember what our dear friend, Joseph, says, “This is God’s country,” and pray God would bring revival to America.

“Blessed is the country with God for God” (Psalm 33:12 The Message).

Friday, October 31, 2014

A 31-Day Conclusion


I made it. Thirty-one days. My hat is off to 365-days-a-year bloggers, because writing daily for just one month has been challenging.

Whenever I finish a book, a screenplay, Nanowrimo, or a project like this, I get a fresh insight into perseverance and what it takes to see something through to the end.

Writing daily for me is more than putting a post out there every day. It’s about what God teaches me through the writing, and it’s about keeping a promise. The world would not stop spinning if I didn’t post every day in October as I said I would, and if I skipped days, we’d all get over it. But it was important to me to continue, so I have prayed for God’s grace to persevere.

I’m sure that God has taught me far more this month than anyone reading these posts.

In my continuing effort to memorize the book of James before I go see Jesus, I’m remembering this verse: “Let perseverance finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything” (James 1:4) Perseverance in this writing project helps me with perseverance in life. Set the goal, take each moment as it comes, look for creative ways to deal with the problems, don’t panic, pray, listen, watch for what God is doing.

And as for fresh strength—God is renewing my focus. Often, the underlying cause of our spiritual lethargy lies in the fact that we’ve allowed ourselves to be distracted. This month, I’ve spoken several times, participated in a weekly Bible study, experienced a concentrated time of prayer and fasting with my church, as well as posting daily here. It’s helped me spiritually to refocus. But what I do next is key. Because when this intense time of spiritual renewal in October segues into November, I can once more allow myself to be dragged down a path of loud distractions.

In November, I’m pursuing a new fictional story, so posting less frequently here will open up the time for that pursuit. That’s a good thing, but I’ll miss meeting with you here every day. I pray that somehow, you’ve found a bit of renewal as you’ve made this thirty-one day journey with me.

I’m looking forward to what God will do next.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Another table


This past week, I hosted a party for my dad’s eighty-sixth birthday.

The only thing was, he didn't come.


His place remained empty.

We knew this day was approaching, that his health issues would curtail travel. We just hoped we could squeeze out one more trip. All things were go even on Saturday night, but on Sunday, the phone rang early.

“Up all night. Don’t feel well. Don’t know what this is.”

“We’ll come there, Dad.”

“No, we’ll do it another time.”

So, today’s another time. We’re heading north with party favors and a frozen cake from Sunday, which I hope thaws by noon. The grandkids won’t be there, because they’re all working or in school, but we carry their warm wishes, and a few of us will gather and give thanks for this patriarch.

We’ll relish the precious moments together, remember the  birthday last year when we were all around the table, and pray for more time. Even when you’ve had them so many years, you still pray for more time.


All of our days are diminishing. The thing that helps is the knowledge that there’s another table. In another place. And that one by one we’ll gather around it, and there will be all the time in this world or any other to celebrate and rejoice.

So, through the bittersweet tears, we’re holding on to today, and by faith, thanking God for a beautiful tomorrow.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him . . .” (I Corinthians 2:9 ESV)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Getting Pink


I couldn’t let October pass without getting a little pink for Breast Cancer Awareness. I don’t know how much this fits in with my Thirty-One Days to Fresh Strength, but perhaps someone is flagging under the burden of a diagnosis and needs a bit of hope for the days ahead.

This year, I’m celebrating fourteen years of being cancer free, so thankful to God for the life He has given me to share.

Here’s a photo of our family taken only the day before my big surgery in 2000.


I have more wrinkles, now, and most of my hair color comes out of a bottle, but I'm still going. And those little children are now young adults.

“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life . . . The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever . . .” (Psalm 138:7, 8).

Like the Psalmist, I know what it’s like to walk in the midst of trouble. As I stood with those small children, my biggest prayer was to live to see them grow up. I didn’t know what the pathology report would say in the days ahead or whether the cancer had migrated to other parts of the body. What I could do was trust God with the next moment. And the next, and the next. Here I am, fourteen years later, trying as best I can to daily surrender so that God can fulfill his purpose for me.

So, yes, I’m getting a little pink. Get pink with me and make sure you or the woman you love gets that mammogram. And if you’re dealing with a cancer diagnosis right now, declare with me the words of the Psalmist, “Your love, O Lord, endures forever.” Know that God can be trusted.
 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Meet my personal trainer



Yep, it’s Lucy.

Every afternoon about the same time, this dog who rarely speaks, sits in front of me, and barks until I get the leash and put on my tennis shoes. Then we go out, and she drags me around the neighborhood  I take her for a walk.

Our route varies, and I often let her select the path we take. It’s almost always longer than I’d want it to be and uphill no matter which direction we go. Both ways.

But, if you’re looking for fresh strength, you have to get moving.

My friend, Frieda, one of the fittest people I know, says that exercise doesn’t “take energy, it gives energy.”

I’ve noticed, since Lucy became my trainer, that the exercise helps keep stress down, helps me feel calmer, and at the same time helps me feel more energetic.

Walking the neighborhood, is a far cry better than being on a treadmill, too. At least for me.

Lucy gets to sniff out all the good smells, and gets a little muscle tone, too, good for chasing those pesky squirrels.

So, if you’re feeling a little draggy, get yourself a good trainer, or dog as the case may be, and get moving.

“Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever. You can count on this. Take it to heart” (I Timothy 4:7 The Message).

Monday, October 27, 2014

When you find it hard to laugh at the days ahead

I'm reaching way back into the archives for the post today. After a very busy few days, I'm needing to share something I've already written. I love this story, because what God did during this time has continued to fill my heart with praise. I thought in these days of scary news stories, when you're looking for fresh strength, it helps to remember what God has done. "And when they had come and had gathered the church together, they recounted all that God had done with them . . ." (Acts 14:27).


Years ago, I had a dream in which a young woman, whom I’m sure represented some aspect of me, was trying on a lovely sky blue formal gown. The gown had a tag inside marked with the initials R.H. Completely convinced the gown would not fit this woman, I made negative remarks about her ability to zip the back of the dress.

But to my surprise, the zipper closed, and I danced and shouted with joy, “It does fit, it does fit.”

The initials R.H. are those of a young woman I knew who brimmed with vitality and joy. I loved being around her. The color blue is the hue of majesty and healing in the Bible. I doubted in the dream that the garment of youth, joy, and healing would fit me. But the fact is the garment did fit.

I thought of it this lovely dream often, and weeks later, I had a chance encounter with R.H. As we caught up for a few minutes, I felt I should tell her about my dream. As I began to speak, her eyes widened. When I finished she sat…stunned. She said, “I had a dream, too.”

In her dream, she struggled over accepting a clothing item, which belonged to me. She knew it represented the family she longed to have, but for many reasons was not sure she deserved. But God showed her in the dream to take the garment. Both of us wrestled with receiving the grace gifts God had for us. Battling posttraumatic stress at the time, doubts about the future threatened to keep me from believing God would heal and restore me. But God confirmed the truth to each of us through not only our own dreams but also each other’s.

R.H. is an artist. One day after church, she left a hand painted card on my car window of a woman in a blue dress with the caption, “It does fit, it does fit.”

Beside the picture was the scripture from Proverbs 31:25, “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.”

For me, the months ahead continued to contain many difficulties including breast cancer.

All these years later, I still have R.H.’s thoughtful card in my office. She now has a precious family with several children. And sure enough, God healed me of the PTS and even enabled me to laugh at the dark visitor of cancer.

How do we face an uncertain future?

Where does strength and dignity come from?

The same Hebrew word for strength is used in Isaiah 12:2, “…the Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.”

The Hebrew word for dignity in Proverbs 31:25 is used in Psalm 8:5 as it refers to God’s creation of man. It’s translated as the word honor in the NIV, “You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.”

The garments of strength and dignity with which we clothe ourselves come from God. And it’s only as we receive and wear this mercy woven clothing, that we may laugh at the days ahead.

 I’ve really enjoyed wearing my blue dress all these years. I have every reason to believe it will never wear out.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

A time to every purpose


Saturday, October 25, 2014

To dream a new dream


"Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits . . . who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s" (Psalm 103:1,5).

Friday, October 24, 2014

Giving Crisis to a Creative God

 My friend, author Dolly Dickinson, wrote this wonderful article on dealing with crisis. When you're looking for fresh strength, it helps to hear the testimony of others who are living in victory. You may find more information about Dolly here.


My older daughter, Sheila, had just gotten married, and I knew it was time to look for a smaller, cheaper apartment for me and my teenage daughter (Rhonda) who lived with me half time after my divorce.

Then on April 28 came the phone call from my sister, Rita. That momentous conversation set in motion seven months of intense change, which I look back on as a mind-boggling milestone in my Christian experience. I learned just how creatively God could answer prayers.

On the phone, I listened as my sister poured out her woes about various stresses in her life. Then she added, “I always feel better when I talk to you. You’re such a good listener. I sure wish you were here to talk to for extended periods, not just phone calls from 3000 miles away. Why don’t you come and spend the summer with me?”

“Let me think about it, pray about it.”

I hung up. “Yeah, right. It would never work.” And yet, I felt drawn to consider her outrageous offer.

So I prayed, “God, this is crazy. I have a job and very little money, you know.” (Does God smile when my silly prayers are always informing Him of the obvious?)

That night I couldn’t sleep as I went over the impossibility of such a trip. I got up in the night and wandered around my apartment, noticing all the stuff I would have to figure out what to do with for three months. How did I accumulate so much?!? And there was Rhonda. How could I pull her away from the familiar? Not that she was so very happy at her awkward age.

The Spirit, however, can be quite a nag and kept pressuring me the next day, the 29th. As I got ready for work, I noticed some things I could do without, sell, or give away. I realized I was not overly attached to my Goodwill d├ęcor and needed to downsize anyway to fit in a smaller place.

But how could such an enormous change ever work? I still had a job, and I didn’t dare walk away from that. Two years earlier God had nudged me to leave my freelance writing and sign up to be a counselor in a residential facility for juvenile delinquents. Now that was a major change, but it was an amazing occupation—getting paid to minister to the hurting.

I went to work tired the next morning and sat dazed in our weekly staff meeting. My mind was awhirl with Rita’s request, so I had trouble paying attention. When we got to the topic of scheduling for the week, there was a break in the conversation. I said casually, “You’ll never believe it. My sister wants me to come to Maine for the summer.”

One of the part-time workers smiled. “Hey, that would be great for me. I’ll be done with classes by then and could take your full-time job. You could have it back in September when return to grad school.”

I looked at my boss who shrugged, “Sure, I don’t see why not.”

I gulped. “I’ll get back to you. There are a hundred other details to work out. I don’t know if I can pull this off.”

I left the meeting stunned. “God, what is this about? Could this really happen? I can’t imagine how, but I guess if that’s what You have in mind, I’ll just proceed step-by-step until I hit a roadblock.”

I asked my ex-husband, “How would you feel if I took Rhonda to Maine for the summer and then you had her with you until after Thanksgiving?”

“I guess that would work.”

Then, like Gideon and his blasted fleece, I was emboldened. “And pay half her plane ticket?”

“OK.”

Just like that, God leveled two insurmountables. Then came April 30 when I would have to give notice. I looked around my full apartment and felt overwhelmed at the thought of downsizing and packing in only 30 days. Was this of God or was I a little crazy? It seemed to be both.

During the chaotic month of May, I learned the truth of Philippians 4:6-7—“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Anxiety was a daily, even hourly, threat. Every time it swept over me, I reminded myself of those verses. I told God I needed help and then I looked around for all the things I could be thankful for. Then it was the strangest thing. I did experience the promised peace, beyond my understanding. Thus, I discovered Philippians 4:6-7 to be a most useful formula. The month of May was one of the most stressful of my life—and one of the most peaceful!

I also discovered the liberation that comes with letting go of stuff. I had set out quite a pile of it, ready for last-minute pickup by the Salvation Army truck. Then on the final Friday in May, the Spirit nudged me to have a yard sale.

“No, you know I hate the hassle of a yard sale. And without advertising? NO!”

Reluctantly I made signs to put up on a nearby busy street. To my surprise, my signs joined those of people who had advertised in the paper and I made more money than I ever expected.

In June, I felt an additional down-the-road anxiety. I prayed, “You know, God, in September I’ll be homeless. Have you got that covered too?”

Well, yes. I ran into Kay, an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while. It turned out her husband had been diagnosed with a terminal brain illness and could only get worse. She would love to have me stay with them for three months, “for moral support if nothing else.”

Mid-June Rhonda and I flew to Maine where I found my sister in worse shape than I had imagined. There was so much I didn’t know since we had only become close friends in our thirties. She is six years older and many of her wounds happened before I was born or after I had moved away. I was clearly in over my head, but I knew how to listen.

Once again, I needed prayer to get me through. I leaned heavily on the Spirit and was grateful for all my on-the-job training in counseling. My sister grew spiritually and emotionally, and in the end, we had an intervention with someone who had hurt her deeply.

A side benefit no one could have imagined was how much Rhonda grew in confidence. At the church youth group she was assumed to be someone special since she was from exotic California, and in time she began to grow into seeing herself as just as special. She was a new gal when we flew back home.

September brought more listening as Kay and I watched her husband deteriorate physically and mentally. I was again grateful for my training, this time being able to remain calm in the face of the occasional violence brought on by his disease. While I couldn’t solve anything, I could offer encouragement and perspective in an impossible situation. So for three months we prayed often and laughed when we could.

In the middle of this, I again felt blips of anxiety about housing. Yet again, I prayed the obvious, “God, I hope you realize I’m going to need a place by December so I can resume the parenting arrangement.”

I’d barely begun to look at the rental section of the paper when my daughter Sheila called, “Hey, the people in the apartment across the hall are moving out November 30, and. . . .”

Thus ended an intense seven months of praying my way through constant change. While it was often unsettling and uncertain, it was also amazing to see God work wonders in my circumstances while also using me in the service of others.

Now whenever I face new challenges and changes, I look back on that time and know from experience that God can sort out anything with surprising creativity.

 



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