Tuesday, September 29, 2020

How Laura's 1919 pandemic thoughts can help us

In my to-be-read pile, I came to a book a few weeks ago, which I bought second hand at the library sale. Oh, the treasures I’ve found there and this was to be another one of them. It’s a collection of articles by Laura Ingalls Wilder before she wrote the Little House books. 

Spanning the 1910’s and 1920’s, she touches on a variety of topics including forest preservation, the benefits of electricity, how hard farm families work, women’s voting rights, integrity, the struggles during WWI, and how to find joy. Laura was a surprisingly progressive woman for her time and though she did not have much formal education, she was an avid reader, and this extensive reading informed her writing. These articles were previously unpublished for modern audiences.

The kids and I on the front porch of Laura's little house on Rocky Ridge Farm in the Ozarks where she wrote the Little House books.

As I read, I realized this woman also lived through a pandemic. The Spanish Flu pandemic overlapped WWI by six months. In one piece, she writes, “The influenza epidemic has been particularly hard on farm folks, coming as it did just at the close of the season’s work when country people were beginning to relax from the strain of raising the year’s crops. It is at this time we usually meet one another and become acquainted again. There has been so much depending on our work, especially for the last two years, that we have attended to our business even more strictly than usual, and we were really lonesome for some good times together. But, being advised by the doctors not to gather in crowds, we have stayed at home as much as possible.”

Sound familiar? Aren’t we at this point all lonesome for some good times together? In another piece, she writes, “We have been working unusually hard for two years and have been under a nervous strain besides. We have each adjusted our burden so that we are more or less able to carry it, but a little addition to it makes it, in some cases, unbearable. It was the last straw in the camels’ load that broke his back, you know.”

What I experience and what I hear from others is that we are all somewhat on edge and “under a nervous strain.” The editor of Laura’s writings footnoted the “Nervous strain” as referencing the War but of course, the editor didn’t know how nerve wrecking a pandemic could also be back when the book was published in the 1990’s. Sometimes just one thing will nudge us in the wrong direction. For myself, I spoke sharper than I normally would have to a friend this week and felt terrible for it. Even though my apology was accepted, I still hated that it happened.

After the war and pandemic had passed, Laura wrote, “As the years pass, I am coming more and more to understand that it is the common, everyday blessings of our common everyday lives for which we should be particularly grateful. They are the things that fill our lives with comfort and our hearts with gladness—just the pure air to breathe and the strength to breath it; just warmth and shelter and home folks; just plain food that gives us strength; the bright sunshine on a cold day; and a cool breeze when the day is warm.”

Laura learned to focus on the simple things. Good advice for us today.

Her Christian faith undergirded her life and carried her through many, many hard times. These included her family almost starving to death one winter when she was a child, the death of her own child, the loss of their home in a fire, severe illness, the loss of a farm claim, and the challenges of a being a farmer’s wife as she worked as hard and long as her husband Almanzo did. 

Her writings and life give me hope for the times we are in. One night when she was a child, she was worrying over a difficult financial circumstance her family faced. A friend writes of her that as she was praying, “gradually she had a feeling of a hovering, encompassing Presence, of a Power comforting and sustaining her.” This reminded me of 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

I know that there are those of you reading who are facing a difficult health diagnosis for yourself or someone you love. Some of you have what seem insurmountable financial issues. Some are grieving. Some have circumstances in your family that are taking your breath away. And all of that is in addition to dealing with the strain of a pandemic that just seems to go on and on. I am praying for you all the supernatural presence of God in these times that like Laura you would sense that “hovering, encompassing Presence, of a Power comforting and sustaining” you in these days.

God bless you all.

The name of the collection I referenced is Little House in the Ozarks, The Rediscovered Writings and appears to still be in print from online sources.

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas here in September for me. The release date for my new Christmas novella, A Season for Everything, has been changed to November 6―a month earlier than originally planned. I am so thrilled for this, but the time to prepare is short. I’m looking for a team of people who will help me promote the book. If  you like writing book reviews, are on social media, and would like an advance free digital copy of the book, please contact me through my website HERE, private message me on my author page HERE, or contact me through Instagram @BeverlyVarnado. Spots are limited, so thank you for responding quickly.

The Cover Reveal of A Season for Everything is coming soon!!!

 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Blessing

Every Sunday afternoon when I was in high school, I attended a Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF) meeting at my church. I spent over 200 hours in those meetings, but the years have eroded much of what I remember about them―who taught, or what we studied. But what is not forgotten are the sweet young faces of those who attended and a particular prayer we always prayed at the end of our meetings.

“The Lord bless you and keep you.

The Lord makes his face to shine upon you,

And be gracious to you.

The Lord lift up his countenance upon you

And give you peace.

Amen.”

This is the Aaronic blessing―what God gave the priest, Aaron, to pray over the Israelites and is found in Numbers 6:22-27. I’ve reflected on the couple of hundred times my friends and I prayed that blessing over each other. I’m sure many times it was prayed in apathy, or distraction, or a “let’s just please be done” kind of attitude. 

Yet, my heart overflows in gratitude in how I believe God has honored those words in my life. God has kept me even through early years of rebellion. He has made His face to shine upon me not because of my works but because of what Jesus did on Calvary and because I am His. His grace toward me has been beyond imagining in restoring my life and giving me purpose. I love how Eugene Peterson translated that last sentence, “God look you full in the face and make you prosper.” God has given me a lasting peace, which transcends any earthly understanding.

As far as those lessons I don’t remember―when people tell Jerry they don’t remember what they read in the Bible, he tells them they don’t remember what they ate for breakfast on Tuesday a month ago either, but it still nurtured their bodies. The same is true with the lessons and scripture we hear and study. It still nurtures our souls whether or not we can always recall it. So a big thanks to those who took the time to lead and teach a bunch of teenagers back in the day. Your time was well spent and you blessed us all.

A few months ago while driving, a song playing on the radio brought tears. It was by Elevation Worship and titled simply, “The Blessing.” It was the prayer we prayed at MYF.

Also included in the song are other blessings from the Mosaic Covenant (Deuteronomy 28:6 and Exodus 33:14 for example).

When the lyrics of the song sound from my car speakers now, I began praying those words over my children, my grandchildren, as well as other family members and friends. I’m calling out their names as I’m wheeling down the bypass. Praying blessing over those we love is a powerful thing.

Maybe you, too, prayed the Aaronic blessing many times back in the day. It might be for you, as it has been for me a time of giving thanks for how God has honored that prayer. And if that wasn’t your experience, pray it from now on. The blessing goes beyond us from generation to generation.

Today, I offer these words in prayer over you dear ones who are reading.

“The Lord bless you and keep you.

The Lord makes his face to shine upon you,

And be gracious to you.

The Lord lift up his countenance upon you

And give you peace.

Amen.”

I often sign my email "Blessings." Today, from the bottom of my heart I say, “Blessings friends, with love from Bev.”

“The Blessing” from Elevation Worship.


Books HERE


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

What a kalaidoscope has to do with hope and power

I keep a kaleidoscope on my desk. I suppose it’s an odd thing for a person to have around that gets so much mail from AARP. I bought mine in the gift shop at the state botanical garden. I think it was meant for children. Sorry kids, grandma has your kaleidoscope.

When I become stuck on a story I’m writing or I'm trying to come up with a topic for a new article, I sometimes grab the kaleidoscope and view my surroundings in a new way. This tube with mirrors at the other end provides one of a kind images as fast as I can turn the scope. The mirrors multiply the image in amazing ways. Those pictures cheer me and help bump my brain out of a stall pattern.





So instead of one lantana bush, it’s a hundred. Instead of one marigold plant, it’s fifty. Fifty spools of thread turn into a thousand. For 500 post-its, I get 5000. And instead of one Wilbur, fifty of them are lying around. All in the most amazing designs. By the way, I’d have to move out if there were fifty Wilbur’s. It would be a blessing turned into a curse.

Call me a kid. I don’t care. Right now, more than ever, we need to tap into the kid in us. We need to delight in small things and find joy in our ordinary circumstances. Of course, ordinary may be in the rear view mirror. Let me call it our new normal. For a while, anyway.  

What we need, though, so much more than a toy kaleidoscope is a spiritual one. In Ephesians 1: 18-20, Paul is praying for the folks at Ephesus. It reads, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raise him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms . . .”

To face these times, we need our heart’s eyes to see the hope Paul is writing about―hope to which God has called us―hope, which paves the way for extraordinary power. Hope that already is. We just have to see it. 

In the Message, the phrase “incomparably great” referring to God’s power is rendered “utter extravagance.”

Extravagance way beyond a hundred lantanas or a thousand spools of thread is that power God gives us. In fact, what God is saying is as believers, we have the same power in us that brought Jesus out of that tomb―enough to break us out of any seeming grave we may feel we’re in. If that doesn’t rock our worlds, I don’t know what would.

The multiplication on the other end of my toy scope is not real. But the extravagance through God's lens is real. If we would just see.

So, maybe you want to buy a kaleidoscope and have fun with it. By the way, those pictures came of holding a smart phone camera lens to the kaleidoscope and snapping. But so much more than this, let’s pray God would open our heart’s eyes to see the immeasurable hope and power He has for us in these hard days.

 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

What you might not know about those backyard hummers

I sat outside watching the hummingbirds this week and remembered this post. It seems during this pandemic we are all doing really hard things. This tiny bird that accomplishes such a mammoth feat inspires me to keep going and reminds me we can "do all things through Christ" who strengthens us.

I stalked the hummingbirds for days trying to get a picture.

Me with my point and click trying to get one good photo of those lightning fast wings before they head off for points south.
 
 
 
 
  

I wondered, where do they go in the winter?

Far away, I found out―southern Mexico and Panama.

When they get ready to migrate back in the spring they’ll stop off at the northern Yucatan coast to gas up on insects and spiders. They’ll need that extra layer of fat when they leave at dawn to begin a nearly 500 mile nonstop flight, which takes around twenty hours to complete. According to this source, they may weigh six grams when they start and only 2.5 when they land on the Gulf Coast.

Those teeny tiny little creatures that zip around my feeder are right now getting ready to launch on a big excursion. Interestingly, in the fall, more cruise the Gulf Coast back to their winter grounds than in the spring, but some still make the big trip.

And if they live an estimated nine years, they may make a dozen and a half of these trips. Alone. Hummers don’t fly in groups although they may join other flocks of migrating birds.

I sat for a long time wondering how God doesn’t worry over these little fellas doing such seemingly impossible things. I have to confess if I were a mama hummingbird, I’d be fretting my head off over an offspring facing such a challenge. “Did you eat enough spiders?” I’d ask. “Let me feel your middle to see if it’s fat enough.” “See if you can find an oil rig to land on for awhile. You know you need your rest.” Better yet. “Forget flying the Gulf, just cruise the coast. Lots of places to stop off for a fly snack.”

But God doesn’t fret. That’s because he knows how he created them. He knows they can do it.

When we face the impossible, He doesn’t worry. He knows how he made us, too, and that we are by his power totally equipped to face the seeming five hundred mile treks before us.

“Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am” (Philippians 4:13 The Message).


 

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

I thought there was no hope. I was wrong.

Every time I hear Lauren Daigle’s song, “Still Rolling Stones,” it takes me back.

Way backforty years.

That’s because she has a line in it that indicates she thought there was no hope for her because of all the things she’d done. I’ve been there.
Photo of the Garden Tomb, Jerry Varnado

Forty years ago this week I fully surrendered my life to the Lord. When I wrote Faith in the Fashion District, I said it this way, “I had surrendered my life to God after a few years of wandering in a far country of rebellion. The altar had been the side of my bathtub. I knelt, bowed my head, and let the water from the overhead shower wash over me while God also washed away the sin that had so firmly gripped me.”

In that book, I don’t tell it all because it doesn’t fit the tone of the story, but at that point I had lost hope believing that I had done too much, too fast, and too far out to be redeemed. I don’t mention two years of nightmares, one of standing on the side of a vast ravine unable to get to the light on the other side. I don’t talk about the drinking alone and the not being able to figure out how I was ever going to get out of the bombed out mess I’d made.

I committed to the Lord years before as a teen but that commitment devolved into a “show-your-face-on-Sunday-read-a-devo-every-now-and-then-slide-into-heaven’s-home-plate” kind of life. Can you say “hypocrite?”

I hadn’t sold out to God. I was afraid He would take away my happiness. I laugh to think of it now.

Finally, I was so miserable, so down, so hopeless, there was no happiness to take away. I felt old, worn out, and uselessat twenty-five, younger than my children are now. And I didn’t know if God could or would forgive me. I didn't understand the word “grace.” Don’t think I’m overly dramatizing the situation. When I say I was at the bottom, I was. That night I slumped in the bathtub, broken and distraught, it seems a world away in one respect, but in another, it seems as if only yesterday. I prayed, “Lord, I’ve made a disaster of my life. I don’t feel as if there’s anything left. If you can use it, you can have it.” I would later read in C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain, “He (God) is not proud. He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him because there is ‘nothing better’ now to be had.”

That was where I’d beenpreferring everything else to God. That evening in the bathtub, there was no flash of light, the heavens did not part, and an angel did not descend. The next morning I rose, took a stab at reading the Bible and a devotion in the Upper Room Magazine I happened to havea habit that has continued these forty years. In those days, I read on my knees with tears streaming down my face, because the words were so convicting. However, they were also hopeful. Because the Upper Room was important to me early on, it has been one of my greatest joys to have my own devotions appear in its pages.

There were pastors and their spouses, who came alongside to help heal my brokenness, Warren and Jane, Gary and Diane, Grady and Doris, Walt and Martha. Thank you all for loving me when I was so unlovable and so broken. In every book I write, I hope to honor you by mentioning you as the ones who helped bring me back from disaster and despair. In fact, a Christmas novella releasing in December, A Season for Everything, is dedicated to Grady and Doris.

In addition, this is the thing that is so very hard to explain. In the days, months, and years, ahead, my life opened to wonder in a way it never had before. It’s not that all my problems went away. It’s not that my circumstances weren’t still hard, but the way I experienced life changed. And joydid I mention joy? Did I say that my heart felt as if it had been made new?

I could have never imagined that in little more than a year I would hear an attorney give his testimony who also had a life changing experience almost exactly the day I did. He would ask me for a date a few months later. Happy “giving our lives to the Lord” anniversary, Jerry. Can you believe forty years?

So, when I hear this millennial, Lauren Daigle, sing the song, this boomer feels as if it could be her song. God is “Still Rolling Stones.” He is still bringing dead people out of tombs of their own making. He is still giving hope to the hopeless. If you’re in a place where there seems to be no way out, look up. Confess your sin. Give your life to God. He can open a window to heaven and deliver you into unimaginable joy.

I know. I am living proof. With a heart overflowing with gratitude, I say thank you, Jesus. Thank you for doing what only you could have done. Thank you for this amazing life I never imagined I’d have because I thought there was no hope.

I’m so grateful I was wrong. To God be the glory.


 

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