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).

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