Thursday, February 24, 2011

Inspiration from Lincoln

On Tuesday night, I had the privilege of hearing once more the University of Georgia Wind Symphony in concert. Just a day after President’s day, one of the pieces they performed was Aaron Copland’s classic, “A Lincoln Portrait.” Narrated that evening by Metropolitan Opera baritone, Frederick Burchinal, it moved me deeply.

I was particularly struck by these words in Copland’s description of Lincoln, “Abe Lincoln was a quiet and a melancholy man.”

Yes, he “was a quiet and a melancholy man.” History records that Lincoln struggled with depression his entire adult life. The loss of  loved ones and his many career disappointments only added to the level of difficulty he experienced. A lesser man might have given up, but instead Lincoln allowed all this pain to galvanize his will and prepare him for one of the most difficult tasks any human has ever faced: occupying the office of the President of the United States during the Civil War.

Though often characterized as a “religious skeptic,” I have a little book I found at an estate sale years ago entitled Lincoln’s Devotional. It is a reprint of an 1852 edition of The Believer’s Daily Treasure with an introduction by Carl Sandburg. Sandburg reports of Lincoln’s lifelong Bible reading habit and raises the possibility that he was often seen reading this small book of scriptures arranged for daily reading.

Anyone who has ever dealt with depression knows the feeling of walking around in a world where it seems the lights have all been dimmed. The struggle often seems endless. There was a time in my life many years ago when I was all too familiar with these symptoms. I’m so thankful for the amazing healing God has brought.

I’m especially thankful that no matter what dark place we find ourselves in, that God can do what seems to be impossible, and use our struggles and calamities for greater good than we can imagine.

If you’re struggling with depression today, remember how God mightily used Lincoln. Get the help you need, keep up your hope, and think on these words of the Psalmist, “…weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)

Here's a portion of "Lincoln's Portrait" performed by the United States Marine Band and narrated by Allen Guelzo.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lilies to You

My husband, Jerry, did well for Valentine’s Day.

He selected these rubrum lilies for me, and they’re still looking fabulous. Later, I have designs to plant the bulbs in a Lucy-proof location (definitely the front yard). My South-Georgia bred husband would say about the lilies, “They smell like gals goin’ to meetin’.”

I’m not sure what “gals” he’s referring to or what their meeting destination could be. I guess I’ve thought it refers to women dressed to go to church or meeting with God. In any event, I’ve learned over the years that when he uses this phrase, it means someone is wearing a noticeable perfume. The lilies are that way. Their fragrance is compelling.

The lilies make me think of 2 Corinthians 2:15, “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.” Strong’s Concordance defines the Greek word used here for aroma as “sweet savour (smell)” as opposed to a similar word, which simply means odor.

As I live my life, I don’t want to leave any old smell behind, but I want to exude the sweet scent of Christ for those who are desperate for his redemptive message. My prayer is that fragrance would also be compelling, that just one whiff of Jesus in me would draw others to the life with Christ.

It’s a high ambition. How, you might ask, does anyone do that? I think of a quote by author James Scott Bell. He says, “Seek to stand hour by hour in the conscious presence of God.”

If we’re seeking to stand in God’s presence, others will know. They’ll be able to smell it.

So, in any “meetin’” this gal is going to, I want folks to know by my scent, I’m going there with God.

Dear readers, may his fragrance permeate each of your lives today.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

True Colors

Recently, we were having lunch with a family member I hadn’t seen in a couple of weeks. When she arrived, I had to do a double take. It was her usual body and face, but somebody had taken her blond tresses and replaced them with brown ones.

“Where’s your hair?” I asked.

“This is my hair.”

“No, your blond hair. What did you do with it?”

“I covered it up. It was getting too expensive to have highlights.”

She’d had yellow hair since she was a little girl. Somehow, it didn’t seem right.

I tried not to stare.

A couple of weeks later, I was missing a Kyra Sedgwick look-alike church member at a Wednesday night function, so I asked the person next to me about her.

She pointed across the room. “She’s right there.”


“Right there,” she said waving her finger with emphasis.

Sure enough, my tv star double friend stood right in my line of vision, and I didn’t even recognize her. I later learned she'd also left her golden mane in a porcelain sink at some salon, because it was just becoming too costly to maintain.

The economic downturn was having an unsettling effect on me that I never anticipated: I needed to reorient myself to the new looks of several women I’ve known for years. Change is hard for me.

But the biggest challenge was still ahead.

I’m not a good dental patient. I’m high maintenance, a big baby, and I whine a lot. Mainly, because when I was a child, I was taken to a dentist whose breath smelled of cheap wine and whose office resembled Frankenstein’s house of horrors.

Anyway, the last place I want a surprise is when I’m in “the chair.” But, thankfully, the dentists at the practice I go to are the best in the world.

Really, they are.

After I had my cleaning this week, the dentist I’ll call Dr. Swinn came in. At least I thought she did. But, no, a brown-haired person replaced the previously blond Dr. Swinn. I scanned the woman’s face whose features appeared to be the same of the brilliant, skilled, all American beauty I’d known. As she examined my teeth, I peeped out of the corner of my eye for a close up inspection. I wanted to make sure that Dentist Barbie hadn’t abducted my sweet Dr. Swinn.

But no, it was definitely my own dentist.

After she finished my exam, I said in my calm voice, “I see you’ve changed your hair.”

“Oh, yes. I really didn’t know my hair was this dark, because it’s been blond for so long.”

I didn’t know it was that dark either. This was going to take some getting used to, especially if I have to have a tooth filled.

Oh, well.

I’ve thought about letting my hair go natural, but only for about three seconds. My hair did not grey in an attractive way like the ringlets of some other women. In its natural state, my hair is every color in the spectrum: brown, red, grey, and everything in-between. Not pretty. To save money, I’ve gotten quite proficient at handling do-it-yourself color in between salon appointments.

Don’t look at me to be giving up my dyed locks. Someone will have to pry the root touch-up wand from my little color-stained fingers.

I Samuel 16:7 declares, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Isn’t it good to know that God does not have my idiosyncrasies?

God is not disturbed about the color on our hair or the lack of it. He’s looking at our hearts.

It’s a deep truth in a superficial world.

So, no matter what I do to my hair, I don’t want to cover up my heart.

I want it always to be its true color.

I’m off to Target now; I have a great coupon for a couple of dollars off permanent color. What I really want to know is why permanent color is not permanent.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Low Ebb

In recent days, I received some vexing news about a significant writing endeavor. Since then, I’ve worked on three different blog posts which I’ve abandoned thinking them half baked, and the screenplay I’d started sits idling on my computer. The news seems to have halted all my creative processes and cracked the door for old familiar thoughts--things like, “If you were a real writer, this wouldn’t have happened,” or “You’re just an imposter,” or “Why don’t you just give up, you’re wasting your time.” Then there’s my personal favorite, “You’re just going to embarrass yourself, your friends, and your family.”

So here I am, face down in the sand feeling as if the tide has gone out—never to return.

The Lord has given me a couple of messages which I believe relate to the situation. He’s told me not to fret and has given me a verse from Psalm 23, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures.”

What have I been doing?

Fretting and trying to figure out what I can do to fix the problem.

But, of course, fretting only makes my gastritis worse, and there’s nothing I can do.

Truly, nothing.

I don’t think I can find a green pasture, because they’ve all been bitten back by the cycling arctic blasts we’ve had this winter. But, I do have a green blanket on the sofa in my office. I think I may take my low ebb and plop right down on top of it--an unheard of thing for me to do in the middle of the day.

If you hear the sirens blaring, and the ambulance racing by, you’ll know my family called 911.

Perhaps there’s a wave out there with my name on it, but it’s up to God to bring it to shore. Meanwhile, I’m asking Him to help me rest… even and especially at low ebb.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

All in the Same Bottle

My husband is crazy about the folksy humor of a comedian named Carl Hurley. Hurley tells a story about a friend of his from back home in the hills of Kentucky who was all excited about owning his first thermos bottle. His friend was amazed that somehow it kept hot things hot and cold things cold.

When Hurley asked his friend what he was keeping in his new container, the response was, “Chili and iced tea.”

And that my friends, is the story of my life. Chili and iced tea--all in the same bottle.

We were thrilled to learn this morning that my husband’s test results appeared to show nothing significant in the way of cancer migration. But, after an extensive conversation with the doctor, the situation appears more complex than we first understood and makes a less invasive treatment unlikely.

This is very disappointing to my husband. And to me.

So, we’re right back where we started trying to choose the best of an unappealing range of options. We’d appreciate your prayers for wisdom in that regard.

On the iced tea side, my daughter received a phone call yesterday from the president of an institution of higher learning informing her that she had won their most prestigious scholarship award—four years of full tuition, a stipend for study abroad, and inclusion in an honors program. We were turning cartwheels in the driveway. Okay, we didn’t turn cartwheels in the driveway, but we thought about it.

Chili and iced tea--sorrow and joy--right up against each other.

It’s the story of all who live, but for those of us who walk with God, the secret lies in keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus. The disciples, after witnessing the glorious transfiguration, and hearing the voice of God, fell on their faces. When they looked up, they “…saw no one except Jesus.” (Matthew 17:8) From there they descended as Oswald Chambers says, “…into the demon possessed valley…” God took them from great joy to the harsh reality of life by causing them to focus on the only One who could sustain them through both.

So that’s where we are.

Looking to Jesus…no matter what’s in our thermos.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Bill Curry and Willie Davis

Bill Curry
Last night at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes Banquet, I had the privilege of meeting the legendary Bill Curry. Curry, a former NFL player, has been head football coach at several universities across the south, and just a short time ago, took the job as head coach at Georgia State University to initiate a football program there.

I’ve attended quite a few sports related events through the years due to my husband being a letterman at the University of Georgia, and it always touches my heart when someone of Curry’s stature speaks openly about what God has done in his life.

Particularly poignant was Curry’s confession of being Vince Lombardi’s twentieth and last draft pick for the Green Bay Packers. He spoke about how low he felt, how he didn’t know whether he could make it in the NFL.

Now, this was the mid-sixties during the heart of desegregation and racial tension. Many NFL teams had no African Americans on their rosters, but Vince Lombardi loved people and didn’t care what color skin you had as long as you could play football. A future inductee in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Willie Davis, reached out to Curry, offered words of encouragement, and told him “he’d help get him through.”

Raised in the South, somehow Curry, too, had escaped familiar prejudices and grew to love defensive lineman Davis. Curry said, “Davis gave when it wasn’t fashionable.”

Years ago, Curry flew to California to meet with Davis and tell him how much he’d meant to him.

“Guess who spoke at the first meeting of the new Georgia State Football Team?” Curry asked.

That’s right--years later, Willie Davis flew here all the way from California for his friend, Bill Curry.

Curry said things happen in a football huddle, and some of them last forever.

He concluded by reciting from the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. “Blessed are…”

Blessed were we, Bill Curry, by your wonderful words of wisdom.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Case of the Vanishing Tulip Bulbs

The Crime

Tulip bulbs, full of the promise of spring, were cruelly stripped from this sad flowerpot.

After analyzing crime scene information, and who had access to the flowerpot, a group of four suspects has been apprehended.


The Innocent Looking Cat

The Shifty Eyed Squirrel
(the Shifty Eyed Squirrel was so shifty we couldn't get a mug shot, so a stuffed facsimile is standing in)

The Web Footed Brown Dog Digging Machine

The Love of My Life

The Case

The Love of My Life has been quickly eliminated as a suspect because I’ve never known anyone who hates shovels …and dirt as much as he does. Also, I’m not sure he’d know a tulip bulb from a turnip. Besides, under the circumstances, even if the sweet thing had dug them up, he’d get a quick pardon from me.

The Innocent Looking Cat has shown a predisposition for digging in the past, but only when necessary and very selectively. The call of nature has never taken her into my flowerpots.

The Shifty Eyed Squirrel has a prior conviction for tulip stealing, and he rose quickly to the top of the suspect list. The Shifty Eyed Squirrel tried to make a statement, but it was difficult to understand him, as his jaws were engorged with sunflower seeds. Turns out that’s his alibi. He was hanging from the pear tree by one toe while his hand was in the squirrel proof birdfeeder at the time of the tulip theft. Also, after further examination of the evidence, it has been determined that it’d take the Shifty Eyed Squirrel and about ten of his colleagues to move this much dirt.

That only leaves one suspect: The Web Footed Brown Dog Digging Machine.

Convicting evidence was found when forensic tests determined that material taken from between the teeth of the Web Footed Brown Dog Digging Machine was indeed tulip bulb. Also, traces of flowerpot dirt were found around her toes. An open and shut case.

The Sentence

Oh, yeah, the sentence. Well, right now, she’s lying in the den on a big comfy fleece blanket. But we only gave her one toy to play with, and she’s definitely not going to get more than two bowls of food tonight. And we might make her sit in the back seat when she rides in the car. And…

I think the picture is clear. This is the first spring with the Web Footed Brown Dog Digging Machine, and it looks like it’s going to be tulip-less in the back yard. Probably going to peony-less, iris-less, daffodil-less, and pretty much anything that blooms-less.

Puppies or flowers? Puppies or flowers? Somehow, puppies always win out.

The next case on the docket is "The Mystery of the Wet Toilet Seat."I dread collecting all the evidence on this one, but things are not looking good for the Extra Thirsty Web Footed Brown Dog Digging Machine.

Proverbs 17:22 A merry heart doeth good like a medicine...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Randall Wallace, Secretariat, and Cancer

Here at our house, we’re in an all too familiar holding pattern waiting for test results. My husband Jerry, recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, had a bone scan last week and a cat scan yesterday. We won’t know until next week whether the tests will tell us what we want to hear--that the cancer is confined to the prostate making him eligible for a wider range of treatment options.

Meanwhile we’re trying to keep our minds on “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable…excellent or praiseworthy…” (Philippians 4:8)

To that end, we rented Secretariat this past weekend. Sadly, life has been in such an upheaval here, we missed it when it was in the theatres. We watched the movie not once, but twice, and we may watch it a third time. In addition to the pure enjoyment factor, as a screenwriter, I can justify watching so much by calling it research.

I, along with most of the other film people I know, hold Secretariat's director, Randall Wallace, in high esteem. Among his other credits are The Man in the Iron Mask, We Were Soldiers, Pearl Harbor, and the Academy Award winning Braveheart, for which he also wrote the screenplays. Wallace shares openly about his Christian faith and the way it influences his work.

In an interview in Duke Divinity School’s, Divinity Online (He was a former seminary student there), he talked about a statement made by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr which was life changing for Wallace. “Niebuhr said that the genius of Jesus of Nazareth is that he found the holy not among the monastic, but among the profane. It reminds me that life is to be lived, to be plunged into, rather than withdrawn from.”

While at Duke, a professor, the late Thomas Langford, helped him find his way. Wallace says, “Dr. Langford said to me, ‘The greatest calling is not necessarily to the ministry; the greatest calling is your calling. One is not nobler or truer than the others’”

“That was such tremendous advice,” said Wallace, “The idea that I was not betraying my God or my parents…by wanting to be a writer, that I was fulfilling my calling, and that he would root for me just as much, and care about me just as much, if I was not in school.”

In a CBN article, Wallace says about his faith, “My faith isn't built on my own understanding of things. My faith is built on the idea that, or on the experience that, life is greater than I can imagine it to be.”

This is reflected in the line he wrote for Penny in Secretariat, “This isn't about going back. It's about life being ahead of you, and you never know how far you can go unless you run at it."

Wallace says he’d like the audience to take away “not just to live, but to live passionately; to live with joy and exuberance.”

In the same article, Wallace is asked about his statement, “a championship heart is a normal heart until it hears and responds to the call of a miracle.”

Wallace responds, “Yes. Well, that's what I think, that all of us are made in a miraculous way, that to live at all is a miracle. To love is an even greater one. It is love that makes the normal extraordinary. ”

Randall Wallace has much to teach those of us who feel called to write.

And the messages he espouses are pretty good for a man facing cancer, too.

So, Jerry, are you listening?

You, Jerry, have the heart of a champion. You proved it on the University of Georgia football field as a one hundred and sixty five pound player on Vince Dooley’s first three teams. You worked hard and wound up playing first-string defensive end for a SEC championship team. You proved it when you left a successful law practice and the life style which accompanied it to follow God, obtain a seminary degree, and become a pastor.

Jerry, listen to your heart. As Wallace says, “run at it.”

And here in this profane thing called cancer, together we will allow God to help us find something holy.

Thank you, Randall Wallace, for following God's call on your life.
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