Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Your January Survival Guide

It looks like the weather here is stretching out cold for several more weeks, so I dug around in the archives and pulled out my January Survival guide from a couple of years ago. I needed to read it and maybe you do, too, to make the most of the cold January (and February) days. The verse I used here was also the verse I used last week in my toxic air post. It's one of my favorites. Stay warm.

January is always a challenging time, because I am not a cold weather gal. In fact, I’m thankful my son and a couple of friends decided to have their birthdays in January to give the month a little happy. When January 1 rolls around, I have to get proactive to fight the cold, dark, often rainy days. You could book a flight to a tropical island and spend a month basking in the sunshine if your resources allow. But most of us have to figure another way to navigate nature’s nasty nods at the beginning of the year.





So here are ten suggestions in no way conclusive or in any particular order.

1.       Flowers. If you haven’t already done this, go to a plant nursery and walk around. See what’s blooming and buy it. In my area, that’s probably going to be a camellia, which comes in all kinds of amazing colors. When the ground warms up to the point you don’t need a jack hammer to dig a hole, plant the shrub and look forward to something wonderful blooming in January next year. There’s nothing like having a pink bloom in your yard smiling at you on a gray day. If you live in an apartment or are just not a gardener, go to the grocery store and spend five dollars on a bouquet for your office desk or dining table at home. Best money you’ll spend this month.

2.       Set a creative goal for the month. For me, that often means beginning a new fictional story. I also plan to complete a couple of paintings this month. When February rolls around, it may have been gray outside, but I’ll have something wonderful to show for the time spent indoors.

3.       While we’re talking about goals, this is a good time to set goals for the year. What do you want to accomplish? Get a list going. Put them on your calendar so they stay before you.

4.       Read a happy book. Or reread a happy book―nothing where someone gets a terminal disease. Anything by Jan Karon usually works ( or dare I suggest my recently released book, The Key To Everything). I especially loved Karon's  Come Rain, or Come Shine. Or read gardening books, if that works for you. If I can’t actually plant flowers, I can dream about what I will plant.

5.       Especially focus on what God is saying. That means keeping his word before you. So, make a point of reading your Bible and devos every day. Keep yourself spiritually strong. I often will jot a verse down and put it over the kitchen sink or on my desk. You’d be surprised how quickly that verse gets commited to memory.

6.       Try to keep the exercise going. Usually there’s at least part of a day that works for Lucy and me to make our rounds.

7.       Go to T.J. Maxx and study the new home furnishings (They do not pay me to say that). I don’t usually buy anything, but I get a few new ideas for how to freshen up what I already have. I can’t tell you how many times that involves spray paint. While reading a Martha Stewart Gardening book, I find she’s a big spray paint gal, too. Even made a couple of Styrofoam garden containers look like burnished copper with the stuff. Brightening the space you live in can help you and your family find a refuge against the cold in more ways than one.

8.       Take a class. My daughter is starting a new oil painting class this month. January is the time new art, gardening, Bible Study etc. classes usually begin, so check online to see who’s offering what. Many classes are very affordable or free.

9.        Be intentional about setting up lunch dates. It’s a good month to really connect with friends after the blur of December activity.

10.   Finally, put some thought on this verse, because I think it helps set the tone for the month. “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse . . .  Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies” (Philippians 4:8-9).
Happy January, anyway!

The books:

 
 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

When the air turns toxic


My phone buzzed in my pocket. I pulled it out, saw it was my doctor’s office calling, and clicked it on.


“I have good news and bad news,” the nurse said. 

I held my breath.

“First, you don’t have pneumonia.”

I exhaled. That was good news.

“But you do have two broken ribs.”

Not much of a surprise. The pain caused from the cough induced breaks had grown exponentially worse in the past days. Earlier that morning, I texted a few friends and asked them to pray. Why could I not get well from the respiratory issue that had plagued me for a month? Round after round of antibiotics, three steroid shots, and doubling my inhalers for asthma didn’t seem to budge it.

Then a day later, our furnace went out. At the same time, I smelled natural gas in the house, so we called our gas provider.

When the gas company man emerged from the crawl space, he told us a switch had gone out on the furnace. He smelled gas, too, and discovered the exhaust pipe from the furnace had rusted through dumping carbon monoxide into our crawl space and our home. Only God knows for how long. We had a detector, which went bad a while back, and we intended to replace it, but . . .  

We were probably dealing with a low level of carbon monoxide but people with asthma like me, are particularly sensitive and the fact I was already sick made it worse. Even our dog Lucy had seemed lethargic. Jerry had been traveling some and does not suffer from asthma, so he was less obviously affected. Yet, who knows what the insidious gas may have been doing to him, as well.

We threw open doors and windows and aired out the house.

This whole episode made me think of another way we breathe toxic air--when criticisms and judgments are hurled our way.

Sure, we need to evaluate to see if there’s something to be learned from the comments but most of the time, we need to let them go. It’s hard not to take them to our heart. No denying the hurt is real. Creativesartists, writers, photographers, musicians are particularly susceptible because we’re putting things out for others to see. If you scan Amazon reviews, almost every author has a few bad reviews. The challenge is not to let those bad reviews , those hurtful comments take hold in our heart.

According to this source, hemoglobin in our blood adheres to carbon monoxide about “230 times stronger than it does to oxygen, which is a problem since carbon monoxide does not provide any benefit to the body. It doesn’t take much carbon monoxide in the air you breathe to get carbon monoxide poisoning and it takes a lot of oxygen to get rid of it. . “

In the same way, something in many of us wants to focus on the negative comment in a string of good ones. We latch on and won’t let go. We make a choice to hold on to the negative. Like carbon monoxide, those remarks don’t do one good thing for us and it’s going to take a whole lot of oxygen to get rid of them in our heads.
 
For the believer, oxygen is the truth of God.
 
 
“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, graciousthe best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse” (Philippians 4:8-9 The Message).

We have to make a choice to focus on the truth and not let comments, sometimes from people we don’t even know, get to us.

Dr. Brené Brown in her book Daring Greatly offers a great tip to handling this, “Take a 1-inch x 1-inch square of paper and make a list of people whose opinions matter to you-those people who love you, not in spite of, but because of your vulnerabilities and imperfections. If you need more paper, you need to edit.”

I have God first on my one by one scrap and then family and friends who are in this life with me for the long haul, who love me unconditionally, and don't require performance for love. Then when someone launches(often trying to make themselves feel more important), I can pull out that scrap and check to see if their name is on the list. If it’s not . . . well, then, I’m moving on. Not breathing the toxic air.

I’m breathing easier now, in so many ways. Friends, I hope you are, too,  but on the practical side, make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector!
 


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

What's real right now


A friend is going through a difficult time. In fact, I have rarely known anyone who has faced circumstances that are more challenging. However, she is choosing to reframe those circumstances in the context of what good God might bring from themand how her thoughts might fall short of what God would want to do.

The situation makes me think of this verse, “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 2:8-10).

I don’t think those verses just apply to heaven out there, but also heaven breaking through here.
 


Legendary writer, Elizabeth Sherrill wrote a book entitled, All the Way to Heaven.  (recently rereleased as Surprised by Grace). About the book, she writes it is “the story of how heaven, which I used to think of as an imaginary realm-in-the-sky, has become more real to me than the ground beneath my feet. Real in the past, real for the future, and best of all, real right now.”

Real right now―even in the middle of pain and feeling the earth is shaking beneath our feet.

In her book, Elizabeth quotes Henri Nouwen, who ministered to those suffering intellectual and developmental disabilities, “The cup of sorrow, inconceivable as it seems, is also the cup of joy. In the midst of the sorrows is consolation, in the midst of the darkness is light, in the midst of the despair is hope.”

Even our bleakest moments are not entirely without light. The glories of heaven pierce the shroud around us and reveal the goodness of God.

Some of you are going through those bleak times.  We look at the year stretching ahead and wonder how we’ll make it. But friends, no matter what happens, God is good. Heaven is not just pie-in-the-sky but is meeting us here in all of our hurting places. God offers his consolation, light and hope to us. It is real right now.

The last words of John Wesley were, “The best of all, God is with us.” Our heavenly Father never abandons us. He promises, “. . . surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

So here’s to a new year, and the things God has prepared for those who love him.

Here’s to heaven breaking through.

Let’s watch for it.   



Tuesday, January 1, 2019

If you lost a key, too!


“I can’t find my keys,” I called to Jerry as I searched through the sofa cushions.

“Did you look in the sofa,” he called back.

“That’s what I’m doing.” Yet, no keys.

Not in the sofa,  under the sofa, on the kitchen counter, in my office, under the car seats, or any number of other places including the trash bags I retrieved from the outside cans and plundered through. Mercy. Losing the keys should have been a clue my life was running a bit out of control.

 

I went to church that night where my little buddy McCoy offered to pray. “Oh Holy God, please help Miss Beverly find her keys. Amen.”

Later as I left church, my young friend Landry said, “Maybe you’re just not supposed to go anywhere right now.” We laughed but something about what he said grabbed me, like there was a thread of truth in the hyperbolic statement.

McCoy’s prayer worked and I did find my keys a few days later. In retracing my steps, I remembered I'd stopped at a grocery store. I called and sure enough I'd left them there. Don't even know how.

The morning of the dress rehearsal for the symphony chorus I sing with, I woke with something. I couldn’t even describe it. I didn’t have a fever, so I pushed through the weekend, but whatever that something was went into the next week. On the Wednesday I was to drive to Atlanta for a high school football state playoff to join Jerry who is the chaplain for the team, I knew I was weak and my breathing a little labored. I could have watched the game on TV, but no, I went. On the two-hour drive, I started wheezing, and by the time I reached Atlanta, it was so bad I knew I would not be able to walk from the parking garage to the stadium. I turned around and drove straight home to my doctor’s office.

It took another two weeks, an urgent care visit, an asthma specialist, and a whole lot of medicine to get things under control with my asthma worse than it had ever been. Frankly a little scary. Then two days after I began breathing easier, I developed vertigo, an unrelated issue. Then there’s the matter of the rib that’s moving because I coughed so much.

“Maybe you’re not supposed to go anywhere,” Landry said. Well, I haven’t been anywhere much for quite a while.

I’ve just been here thinking about the post I wrote a few weeks back about being a quart low, and wondering  how I did this againwore myself out that I became vulnerable to all kinds of stuff. Instead of a quart low, I think my oil pan has been leaking. The word hypocrite has dogged my heels because I guess I have done exactly the thing I said I would not do.

The words of someone else who struggled with this come to mind, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15-16). Amen, brother Paul. I want to slow it all down and enjoy the moment more, instead I ramp it up, taking on more than any human can do. Because of that, I not only missed that state playoff game to which I had so looked forward, I missed the play I help write and direct at church, I missed my writer’s group party and I missed just being with a lot of folks.  

I am contemplating what drastic changes I’m going to have to make so this doesn’t happen again. I can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. This has been years in the making. Years of adding just one more thing to my list--good things. Wonderful things. That's why I need the wisdom of God. I’m wondering if you’re reading this and seeing yourself in these lines. I’m thinking yes, because of the response I got after the quart low post. We love doing all the stuff and making Christmas special for others, but there has to be a way to celebrate Christmas without getting sick.


“. . . slow down and breathe tonight. Let the goodness and mercy that follows you every. single. day. of. your. life.—no. matter. what.—why not slow down and see how the goodness catches up to you? ‘I don’t have to work for the coming of the Lord--I don’t have to work for Christmas. The miracle is always that God is gracious. I always get my Christmas miracle. I get God with me. That’s really all I have to get for Christmas, and He doesn’t keep any truly good thing from me. Because the greatest things aren’t things! Jesus is all good, and He is all mine, and this is always my miracle—my greatest Gift!”

So, here’s to the New Year. It’s going to take more than a plan for a different result. It’s going to take a revolution of slowing down and seeking His presence most of all. And this doesn’t just have to do with Christmas. I can throw the hurry switch on a moment’s notice. I’ve never been a good slow person, but I’m going to learn. Somehow. Someway.

Of all the keys I’ve lost, maybe this key of slowing down is the one I most need to find, so thanks McCoy for that prayer. It meant more than you knew.

Slow down with me, friends. Blessed New Year!

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