Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Letting it fly and the unforced rhythms of grace


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

“Mimi, come swing with me.”






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

Bliss.

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

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

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

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

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

Every day.

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

Join me, won’t you? 

For climbers headed up the steep cliff

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

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

And I remembered these words from Streams in the Desert:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A tribute to my amazing Aunt Nell






















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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I sure hope my mother was right.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Hunted


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

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

Not happening.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Looking for signs

Excavation in a friend’s yard for a renovation prior to the time her family purchased the house left a Native American arrowhead near the surface, which her family  later found. They love history and antiquities of every kind, so the relic was a real treasure for them.

She called last week excited about another discovery. “I was just thinking about the other arrowhead while gardening, and there right in front of me was another one.”

It reminded me of a day this summer while on vacation when I went out biking along a coastal marsh.

It was beside that road I first saw the marsh hen (clapper rail) referenced in Sidney Lanier’s poem, “The Marshes of Glynn,” which appears in my book, Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees. I had never seen the bird again, although I’d looked on several occasions. But this day, in my peripheral vision, I saw movement. I stopped my bike, and not just one marsh hen, but two emerged from the marsh grass.
 

 
 
 

 
For a long while, I stood very still, and watched them preen and strut around in the marsh. I captured great reference shots for paintings and could have stayed there all day, but I knew my family might start to miss me.

I left feeling I had been in a Holy moment with God―as if He asked me, “How do you like my workmanship?”

“It’s good God. Very good. Thank you so much for sharing it with me.”

These small gifts like arrowheads and marsh hens are what the Psalmist David called signs of His goodness.  (Psalm 86:17). They’re all around us, these little gifts of His love and grace, but we have to put ourselves in a place where we’re able to see.

Sometimes, we’re so focused on the problem, the heartache, the underbelly, that we miss them.

I was once in a hospital room with a family going through a hard time, and I looked out the window. Just outside was a lovely garden with trees and grass, and I felt consolation from the beauty. Just then, someone else said, “What a terrible view. Look at that old gas station over there.” I lifted my eyes and sure enough, there was a rundown gas station on the horizon, but somehow God had helped me miss it, only focusing on the beauty.

So today, no matter your circumstances, look for the signs of His goodness all around you. Who knows what form they will take, but be sure, they are there.

“Give me a sign of your goodness, that my enemies may see it and be put to shame, for you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me” (Psalm 86:17).

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Getting to finally meet him and her sacrifice


Crestfallen.

That’s what I was when I dropped off my books at the Decatur Book Festival and asked about that evening’s event at the Emory Schwartz Center.

A woman behind the check-in table peered over her glasses at me.  “The tickets for that event have been gone for weeks.”

 I didn’t even know there were tickets. Evidently, area bookstores had given out the free tickets and being from out of town, I didn’t know.

While trudging back to the car, an idea came to me.

I told my friend Marni who had invited me to the festival, “Let’s just go over to Emory tonight and see if anyone has turned tickets in. Who knows?”

So, we had a plan.  I felt better.

Except when we left her house that evening, we smelled gas which we at first tried to ignore, but then knew we had to call the gas company. We waited an hour.  It turned out all right, but we were greatly delayed.

When we arrived at the venue close to the event hour, a crowd of folks surged in front of us all waving the requisite tickets. Will Call had no tickets, so our only option was talking to those who took the tickets at the door. Nothing.

“But wait here,” the woman in the festival tee shirt said. “Maybe we’ll get a couple.”

So we did as the minutes ticked by.

Then one ticket came in.

And finally at almost 8:00,  another.

I could have skipped down the aisle. We took our seats for the program, which was a tribute to Pat Conroy.

Several notable authors  made presentations including Pat Conroy’s wife and his daughter Cassandra and Melissa, James Dickey’s daughter, Bronwen, as well as Ron Rash.
 
But the person I  had most wanted to see and hear for a very long time was Pulitzer Prize winning author Rick Bragg.

And finally, after many years I did.
I’d thought a lot about what I might say to him and decided on this, “Rick Bragg, I love you and I love your writing, but I love your Mama more. She’s my hero.”

I reflected a bit about her extraordinary sacrificial love in this POST.

At first he seemed a little taken aback, and then laughed and said, “You and several other people feel that way.”

He told me they were writing a cookbook together and that she had not been very happy about the process. She never used a recipe, so I can’t wait to read it.
 
I said,“Make sure you tell your mama what a woman from Georgia said.”

He laughed and agreed.

When I cracked open my book back at home to see what he’d written, I read, “To Beverly . . . who gets it. Rick Bragg.”

Now, he may sign every other book that way, I don’t know. But the truth is, I do get it.

If it hadn’t been for a woman who didn’t buy a new dress for eighteen years so she could support her family, I don’t believe he’d been signing any books that evening, and we’d never had opportunity to hear what his brilliant mind produced.

If there’s a Mama’s Hall of Fame, no doubt that woman who loves Jesus is in it.

Now, the next person I want to meet is Mama Bragg. She might get so famous after the cookbook comes out, though, I’ll never have opportunity.

But I’m not too worried.

On some distant day in another place, I believe we’ll run into each other.
 
"No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this, Never so much as imagined anything quite like it— What God has arranged for those who love him" (I Corinthians 2:9 The Message).

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...