Thursday, January 30, 2014

If you're on a detour


Last fall, a sign went up in our neighborhood indicating that soon, workers would be tearing down and rebuilding a portion of road, which links the main entrance with my house and many others. The initial announcement stated the work would only take a couple of months.

The reason for the demolition was along the stream that flowed under the road in the area, many of my neighbor’s houses flooded when it rained,  because the culvert under the road was not able to handle the runoff. None of us wanted that to happen. When the work began months ago, we anticipated a much better situation for everyone.

We’re still waiting.
 

 


 
The timeline for the work now has an indefinite end with the past weeks of frigid temperatures and much of the work on hold. The road’s still blocked.

This means that instead of a few minute’s drive to exit the neighborhood, we’ve had for several months now, a circuitous detour, which involves several turns and is about five times as long.

For the sake of my flooded neighbors, I’ve tried not to complain, and I’ve wondered what God might say to me through this situation.

Here’s what I have so far.

For one reason or another, sometimes, a “Road Closed” sign goes up in our lives. It seems to shut us off from a direct route to what we have believed are God-given dreams. Perhaps, we anticipated it would be only a temporary closure, but the timeline drags on, and we’re sent on a detour, which we do not enjoy and only seems to eat up our time.

What to do? We can’t open the road ourselves. From all appearances, it’s closed.  I’m still making it to my destination; it just takes me longer. At that point, we can choose to look for what God would say through the bypass. What is it in the detour that will make a difference in my life? What if God planned it for my good?

In my real-life diversion, there's a house along the path I would’ve totally missed had it not been for the detour. I first noticed the window treatments on the mid-century modern house. Unlike anything I’d ever seen, they seemed almost like mobiles hanging in front of the windows. Then the people at that house put up Christmas decorations—hot pink wreathes--not something I’d normally expect to see in my traditional neighborhood. When the wreathes came down, a large painting which evoked Georgia O’Keefe went up in the carport. In the carport! Honestly, it’s creatively inspiring just to pass their house. I want to stop, knock on the door, and ask if I can see the inside of this artist’s home. It’s bound to be something fabulous.

Passing their house has challenged me to think more creatively and to express myself in unexpected ways. Passing their house has made me smile.

All because of a detour.

So, if the road is closed, and you’re on a roundabout way, look around. What is it about the new route that might make the journey more meaningful than if it’d been shorter and more direct? What might God have placed along the way that could bring inspiration? How might the detour bring delight?

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” (Psalm 37:23).

 

Monday, January 27, 2014

God's Guest List

This post drifted up from the archives this week, and I thought January  might be a great time for all of us to remind ourselves to watch for the people God is bringing into our lives.
 
 
I just finished reading New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber’s book, God’s Guest List: Welcoming Those Who Influence Our Lives. Macomber spoke at the 2009 American Christian Fiction Writers Conference, but I wasn’t able to attend that year. I later heard about one of the intriguing addresses she gave which I believe aligns with the theme in God’s Guest List.

She writes how years ago she made a list of thirty people she wanted to meet, which at that point seemed highly unlikely. But over time, God sent them her way. But after a disillusioning experience with one of the people on her list who turned out not to be the person she thought he was, God spoke to her about making a list with thirty blanks to allow God to send the people he wanted her to meet. She writes, “God would send people into my life? An open list. A guest list. It was as if He had issued invitations to my life and asked me to watch for the people He would be sending. What a concept!”

From that point on, she saw people with different eyes. She calls this list “God’s Guest List.” What started as thirty blank lines, she now realizes could be an infinite number.

She quotes Matthew 23:34, “Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers…" and goes on to say, "It’s up to us to recognize them. When we start searching, we’ll begin to look deeply into every person we meet to see if we can find God’s fingerprints on that person.”

As I reflect on the last couple of weeks, I can point to at least three people I’m sure God sent into my life.


James Shepherd receiving Honorary Doctorate
As I attended my nephew’s graduation from the University of Georgia, I had the honor of hearing the keynote address given by James Shepherd of the Shepherd Spinal Center.
Shepherd shared how his own spinal injury from a surfing accident in the seventies inspired him and his family to begin the Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta, which is now one of the top ten spinal care hospitals in the nation, and often treats patients regardless of their ability to pay.

He said speaking from his wheelchair, “It’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do with what happens to you.”

Later that week, I was eating at a Chick-Fil-A with my family, and noticed someone shooting a film nearby. During a break, the man being filmed turned to us and begin to share a little of his story. Michael Davenport lost both his arms as an adolescent when he accidently lassoed an electrical wire with a length of copper wire with which he was playing. He now works as an artist, painting with a brush in his mouth.

A couple of days before Christmas, I heard a knock at the door, and heard my husband welcoming Dr. Bob Bowen into our home. He attends a community Bible study my husband leads at the YMCA.


Dr. Bowen, now retired, was a former Physical Education instructor at the University of Georgia. As we talked, I also learned that from 1945 until a week before the end of the World War II, he piloted B-17s on missions deep into enemy territory. He helped the Allies by destabilizing Nazi synthetic oil production, and industrial centers. 
 
As he sat on my sofa, I realized that here was a man who made a difference in history when he was only twenty-two years old.

What a privilege to spend time with him.

At the end of each of Macomber's chapters in God’s Guest List, she adds a section called “Gifts from our Guests” on what she learned from the guest she’d just written about.

What did I learn from my three guests? From James Shepherd, I was reminded that God can turn adversity into a mighty power for lasting good. In Michael Davenport, I saw the reality of God’s words in Isaiah, “Beauty for ashes.” Everyday Michael Davenport puts beauty into the world despite his disability and scars from burns, which cover much of his body. And in Dr. Bowen, I saw again how the bravery and courage of just one person plays a significant part in the unfolding of a much larger plan.


When I was a very small child, I remember standing in my front yard, watching the planes glide overhead, and wondering whether I’d ever fly myself. Years later I’d be cruising in a plane similar to the ones I saw as a child when a former American President would emerge from first class and shake my hand as he graciously greeted each person on the aircraft.


That little small town girl could've never imagined the amazing people on God’s guest list for her. And that’s why Macomber talks about the anticipation of it all.

“Each guest that God brings into our lives leaves us with a unique gift.”


Who might be the guests on God's list for you?



Friday, January 24, 2014

If you're swimming against the current


At times, God calls us to embark on ventures, which make us feel as if we’re swimming upstream, and everyone else is going the other way.
photo used by permission of my soon-to-be wildlife biologist son

Without someone coming alongside, it’s hard to continue.

Thomas Edison did this for Henry Ford. Young Ford had grown discouraged with his idea of the automobile when he met Thomas Edison. On learning of Ford’s invention, Edison said, “Young man,” he said, “that’s the thing! You have it! Your car is self contained and carries its own power plant.”

This encouragement gave Ford the momentum he needed to move forward, and as they say, the rest is history.

Paul had his Barnabas (Acts 9:26-27), Moses had his Aaron and Hur (Exodus 17:10-13), and we too, need a friend or friends who will encourage and stand with us when the current is strong against us.

The really good news is there’s someone who’s always with us. “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). Jesus is that one who is closer than any earthly relation can ever be. Oh, how grateful I am for all my wonderful friends, but I’m filled with awe over that one, Jesus.

So, if we know someone who’s swimming against the current, let’s be a Barnabas, today. Who knows what may unfold because of it.

Sometime this weekend, check out wonderful pictures and a touching account of the friendship between Ford and Edison here.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What I learned on a few field trips

 
 
 


My dad is fond of saying he’s “chronologically gifted.” I don’t know where he came across that turn of phrase, but the more “chronologically gifted” I become, the more aware I am of how much I don’t know compared to the naivetĂ© of my know-it-all youth.

But being on the planet awhile has bestowed on me at least a few morsels of wisdom—almost all of them hard learned on what Beth Moore would call a “field trip” in life. Like her, I wish I had learned more in the classroom. You probably already know these things, but maybe one of them might save someone else a “field trip.”

So here goes.

Life doesn’t come out even. The round pegs don’t always fit in round holes; the square pegs don’t always fit in square holes this side of Heaven. Sometimes there are pieces of the puzzle left over or missing pieces.

There’s not going to be a time when you finally get this or that worked out and everything in your life is settled. There will always be the next situation to help build our character,to make our lives feel a little or a lot undone.

Don’t give up. Instead, drop to your knees before the Lord and surrender to Him. At the point where the enemy of our souls has almost convinced us to quit, often the greatest joys of our lives are around the corner.

Face your fears. Take necessary steps to deal with them. Spend time with God, have others pray for you, read, or go for counseling.

It is important to finish well.

You can’t solve all the world’s problems, but Jesus can. We were not made to carry around the weight of global problems, or even the burdens of our own life alone. We will be crushed. Jesus comes alongside to shoulder the weight. His burden is light.

Yes, God will give you another chance. Even if it is the gazillionth time. Yes, he will forgive you if you truly repent. I don’t need to know what you’ve done. This doesn’t mean that the consequences of your sin will not continue or that you will escape the penalty in this life.

It’s a blessing that the Lord chastens those whom He loves. How awful to be headed away from Him and not even know it. His chastening does not feel like judgment but a reminder of the boundaries he has established.

It’s going to be all right. Maybe not in the way we'd want here and now, but eventually, it’s going to be all right if we know Jesus.

Do you know him?
 "What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith" (Philippians 3:8-9).
 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

If you want to hear a testimony of God's amazing provision


Eight years ago, I wrote the first draft of a novel entitled, Currahee. It gained some favorable comments from editors when my agent first sent it out, but alas, no one offered me a contract. I continued to revise it, but a few years ago, though I loved the story, I didn’t know where else to turn, so the story became one more file forgotten on my hard drive.
 
Meanwhile, I went on and wrote other stories, one of which became Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees, which of course is now in print. A year ago, I’d just finished yet another manuscript, which was making the rounds of publishers when my sister said, “I think you should go back to Currahee.” She loved the story and insisted that I take another look at it. So, I did.

I reread it and decided to change it from third person to first, which meant removing two other points of view. Additionally, I removed more than 15,000 words and added back around 20,000. It was a big job as almost all rewrites are.

This manuscript has a strong World War II thread, and I knew that I needed to get it out soon, because we’re losing WWII vets every day.

Again, my agent sent it out, just as two other fiction houses closed their doors throwing 40 contracted novels back to agents. The publishing world is changing at lightning speed with epublishers rising and independent publishers offering more options making it hard for many traditional houses to stay in business. I began to wonder whether I should take the independent route myself and prayed about it. It seemed that God repeatedly confirmed that path in many ways including something Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book, David and Goliath, but that's a post for another day.  This venture involved a financial investment that would not and could not come from the already stretched family budget.

Still, I moved ahead and negotiated a contract at a great rate with a reputable company. The rate would hold through December 31 of 2013. On the New Year, the rate would increase substantially. We prayed about the dollars I would need for a down payment to secure the contract. December 30th came and went, and I continued to pray, “God if this is your will, then would you please send the money, and if it isn’t, please help me to accept it.”

On the afternoon of December 31, I went to the mailbox, and pulled out a few letters, most of which appeared to be bills. With a heavy heart, I went inside and opened them. I was right. Most of them were bills. But hidden among them, was an unexpected dividend from an investment. Then, one of the supposed bills turned out to be a refund check from a medical provider for an overpayment. In combination with another unexpected gift that day, the amount came to what I needed to secure the book deal, praise be to God!

A few days into the New Year, I had a revelation because of something I heard on television. This year is the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Currahee begins with a scene, which occurs on June 6, 1944. I’d felt an urgency to get the book out, but did not realize the D-Day anniversary until I’d already signed the contract.

I'm aiming toward getting the book out by late April or early May, and though the book is finished, I’ll still be doing revisions, working some 12 or 14-hour days in the weeks ahead.

Would you pray with me about Currahee, that it would be all God wants it to be?

Thank you dear readers for your encouragement and support. I look forward to sharing Currahee with you.
"May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
    establish the work of our hands for us—
    yes, establish the work of our hands" (Psalm 90:17).
 

Monday, January 13, 2014

When you can't get it in gear


While searching through a few old posts, I came across this one from the summer of 2012. I currently have a huge writing project in front of me, and I'm beginning to make never ending lists. Feeling a bit anxious, I really needed to be reminded of what God spoke a couple of years ago through this experience of needing roadside assistance.

Was I not sitting here in this chair less than a month ago writing about having to call emergency roadside assistance?

Today, after doing a little Father’s Day shopping, I returned to my car, cranked it, and found the gearshift would not work. Not in park, neutral, or drive.


I turned the motor off and tried again. The gearshift flew back and forth on the steering column like a waving flag.

~sigh~

So, I called the folks who’ve come to my rescue now twice in less than thirty days. They assured me they’d be on site in less than forty-five minutes with a tow truck.

When we talk about not being able to “get it in gear,” we usually mean we can’t seem to get going, we need to try harder, or something’s holding us back. We admonish ourselves to keep striving and push a little more.

But maybe, God has something better.

Today when I couldn’t “get it in gear,” I found a place to wait for the wrecker on a little bench just inside the store I’d left. As I waited, I prayed the repair wouldn’t be costly, and tried to imagine what God might bring out of me being stuck.

As time passed, I observed the coming and going of a busy shopping day and folks who definitely had it “in gear.”

Sitting to the side, hardly anyone noticed me as they whizzed past in a blur of shopping zeal. I seemed to blend into the background like furniture for all of them—except a few—the tiny ones. They’d meander by, give me a smile, and wave. Every moment a moment of wonder.

I had to ask myself which one I’d been earlier when I entered the store. Probably one of the whizzers. But I’m aiming to be more like the child wonderers.

I can lead the parade for those who have too much on their lists, but I’m making an honest effort to stop and just take in God’s amazing handiwork---to live in the precious now. When people ask me how I am, I no longer say, “We’re busy, busy.” Because being busy is not a badge of merit. In fact, quite the opposite. It’s just, well, busy. God has more for us than stacking our days to the max and running from one thing to another.

God has himself. And I want my awareness of his presence and work in my life to be ever increasing. I want the wonder. The only way that can happen is if I choose to not be ruled by my “to do’s,” but be at rest in Him.

Roadside assistance arrived in the form of a seasoned mechanic named Doc. He immediately spotted the problem, which would be no more than a little rubber gasket replacement, but the car still had to be towed. Jerry came to pick me up, and we left the car in Doc’s capable hands.

What at first felt like being stuck, now kind of feels like being unstuck. God once more calling me to himself.

And the next time I feel I “can’t get it in gear,” I’m going to remember those little ones who reminded me today that living a life of wonder is better than being busy.

“Generation after generation stands in awe of your work; each one tells stories of your mighty acts. Your beauty and splendor have everyone talking; I compose songs on your wonders (Psalm 145:4-5).

Thursday, January 9, 2014

If you're looking for a signpost


I spent time this week reviewing verses that have served to guide and encourage me through many storms. God stirred my heart as I meditated on them. Today, I share from the Old Testament. This is by no means an inclusive list—just a few verses of many. And really, I don’t even cover the entire Old Testament. I stop at the Psalms, because those verses would be a post unto themselves. I pray one of the verses here will leap out at you and serve as a signpost in your life today.

It's interesting to note, that at one point I sensed God telling me through scripture to rest, that the battle was his, and at another season, he used a different scripture instructing me to engage more fully in a battle. So important to allow the Holy Spirit to instruct us.

 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between the earth and me. Genesis 9:13


Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say. Exodus 4:12

 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. Exodus 14:4

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:6-9


The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. Deuteronomy 33:27

 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled. Joshua 21:45

 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” I Samuel 7:12

 For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: “The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.” I Kings 17:14

Day after day men came to help David, until he had a great army, like the army of God. . . men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do  . . . . I Chronicles 12:22,32

If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us. 2 Chronicles 20: 9

 
 
Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you. 2 Chronicles 20:12

He said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.2 Chronicles 20:15

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. 2 Chronicles 32:7

After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” Nehemiah 4:14

Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10

Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high.  My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as one pleads for a friend. Job 16:19-21

I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. Job19:25

But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. Job 23:10

 

Monday, January 6, 2014

If you've been on a long journey


My son arrived at a cabin in the Smokey Mountains long after the sun had set. A mountain pass on their original route had been closed due to snow and ice, so he and his friends were forced to make a frustrating detour extending their journey by more than three hours.

They unpacked and later helped other friends who arrived even later to find their way in the snow.

On waking in the morning, my son said he really had no idea where they were because the latter part of the journey had been well after dark, so he stepped out onto the front porch to get his bearings.

This is what he found.
 

He’d had no idea how high they were or that their vantage point would be so spectacular. They’d just plodded along for hours in snow and ice to their destination, then voilĂ , a surprise of profound beauty.

In the Message, we find these words in Ephesians 3:20, “God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!”

Maybe it seems you’ve been metaphorically on a long journey, fighting against the elements, and have no idea where you are. Maybe you’ve had to make a long detour and wondered if you’d ever arrive at your destination. It has often seemed to me, that just at the point when I was most frustrated, most discouraged, most confused and disoriented, the biggest joy was often just ahead. Just as my son had no idea the panorama in store for him, likewise we often have no idea the scale of what God has in store for us.

How does God do his amazing work? The second part of Ephesians 3:20 says this, “He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.”

The Holy Spirit does not shove, but tenderly accomplishes His purpose in our hearts. So let us, in this New Year, allow the Spirit of God greater access to our lives. There’s nothing we go through here that compares with the joy ahead. The apostle Paul wrote, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

Here’s to joy. And wonderful surprises.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A winter storm and if you're thinking what if


Today my son leaves for a few days to points north. He travels a couple of hundred miles to a picturesque valley nestled in the Great Smokey Mountains.


 
 But in order to get there, he has to traverse a few imposing mountains. A winter storm is imminent—and cell phone service is sketchy.

Though he hopes to arrive a couple of hours before the storm blows in and temperatures descend into the teens, this mom is battling fear over his travel plans.

I don’t even know if he has a pair of gloves.

I ransacked the house for cold weather and roadside emergency gear and assembled them in a bag.

Yeah, I know. He’s a grown man. He’s an Eagle Scout for crying out loud. Trained to be prepared. But it’s so hard to turn off the Mom button.

And the “what if” thoughts assault.

When I was recovering from Posttraumatic stress, one of the many challenges was to allow God to change my thoughts.

Imagination can be a wonderful thing. But there’s a dark side to having a huge imagination. The enemy can run rampant in it. Thomas Jefferson said, “How much pain they have cost us, the evils which have never happened.” Mark Twain echoed the thought, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”

The apostle Paul declares, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

I had to learn any sentence that began with the words, “what if,” could produce anxiety. In time, I learned to replace those thoughts with the truth of God.

“What if we suffer a financial reversal?”

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

“What if I run out of ideas for my writing?”

“But we have the mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2:16).

And in this instance, “What if something (and I could come up with a hundred something’s) happens on my son’s trip?”

From Psalm 34:7, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.”

It simply comes down to whether I’m going to trust God with everything, or whether I still feel it’s up to me to control my little corner of the universe.

And I know for sure, that we’re in big trouble if it’s up to me.

So, I give my son to God, once more.

If you’re like me and tempted to fret over something beyond your control, anyway, here’s to thanking God for turning our fretting into the freedom of trust.

 

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