Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Old Christmas and putting Baby Jesus back in the box

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

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

Not me. 

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

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




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

It’s not over. 

It’s just beginning. 

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

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

In my life. And your life. 


Thank you, Jesus.

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

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

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



Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A One Ringing Bell Home Tour


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Lots of bell ringing


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

Well, of course, I would.
 

I love those bell ringers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I love, love, love the bell ringing.

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

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

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

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


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

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

When the circle becomes complete

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

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

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

He certainly did that evening for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You might also like:

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

 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The answer to worry


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


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

The dolphins circle back, and my eyes follow them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A life . . .  lived in worship.

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


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

 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Dear Reader


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are all, indeed, a blessing to me.

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

 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Five Ways to Build a Bridge


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

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


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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Behind the facade


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


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

But getting the shot of the desktop proved challenging.

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

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

And then―the wrecking ball.


 
He just can’t help himself.

I had to restage the desktop and start over.

Sigh.

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

Sometimes behind the artfully arranged façade, challenges abound.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Avalanche Mode and Looking for Lovely


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

God's heart in the mess

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

“Did you see it?” she asked.

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

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

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

Ticket for one to Tarshish, please.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Way beyond what we have planned, God has plans for us.

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

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

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

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

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