Sunday, December 30, 2012

If you’re wondering if God really does make all things new

I use a devotional book based on the liturgical year, and the theme for the week after Christmas is “All Things New.”

I’ve been looking at those words for several days now, and if I’m honest, I have to admit there are situations in my life and in the lives of those around me that make me wonder if God really does make all things new. Because sometimes, the transformation is so incremental and  the process seems to take so long--it feels like an eternity.

In addition, those times when I'm sure I hear God whisper to me that he wants to make all things new, I can be clinging to all things old. I mean nails dug in, squeezing tight unwilling to release whatever it is in my clutches.

Here’s a practical application of that point. The Bible I’ve read for several years is so worn that from Genesis to Psalm 128, the pages are loose from the backing. If I’m not careful, the Pentateuch, the historical writings, and part of the poetic works can scatter when I lay the Bible down. The other problem is the pages are so worn on the corners, they rip when I turn them. Even if I glue the pages back in, the spine is broken, and the pages are too brittle.

I don’t want to give this Bible up, just as I didn’t want to give up the one that preceded it. But, Jerry wanted to give me a new Bible for Christmas, and I think God wanted to as well.

I’m clutching. There’s the verse marked in Isaiah 40 for a family member, and the date in Philippians 3 when my mother died, and the verses God highlighted for me in Joshua when I had cancer, and on and on. It feels comfortable and familiar—a balm when days seem strange. But, those highlighted areas can sometimes alter my ability to see the new thing God is saying.

And I have to check myself on this—do I carry this old Bible as evidence of my knowledge of the scripture to others instead of the scripture’s evidence in my life. Do I? Am I letting nasty spiritual pride slip in?

I sure hope not.

In any event, I’m turning over a new leaf—literally. It’s time.

I also hope that in other areas, in which I’m still holding on, that I can release them to the Lord. I can veneer, and spray paint, and sand on a situation making it appear a bit better on the outside, but God is the only one who can make things new from the inside out. I pray God increases my faith to believe him for this even when circumstances scream something else.

Join me in carrying these words in your heart from Revelation 21: 5 into the New Year—“He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!”

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Every Shining Christmas

Just before the tragic circumstances of September 11, 2011 unfolded, my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. As our family navigated what turned out to be the last days of her life, our grief seemed to get mixed and compounded with that felt by all Americans.

In addition to the unfathomable grieving going on in Connecticut due to the school slayings, I’ve been so aware of how it’s affected others who’ve suffered personal losses this time of year.

That year my mother died, when it came Christmas time, I wasn’t sure I could celebrate. However, the Lord began to speak to me, and I wrote the lyrics of a song, “Every Shining Christmas.”

For all those who find Christmas bittersweet, I pray you’ll find a bit of comfort in these words.

Every Shining Christmas
Some years every dream’s fulfilled, there’s joy in every place.
Some years there are disappointments, in our hearts an empty space.
Some years hopes are high with babies to be born.
Some years there are shadows falling someone to be mourned,
But still,
Every blessed Christmas,
Yes, every shining Christmas
I’ll take my place with those who sing your praise.
And through tears of joy or tears of sorrow
The bright star to Bethlehem I’ll follow
And worship you with all my heart once more.
Some years our legs are strong, we’re running hard the race.
Some years with a body weak, we stumble to the pace.
Some years in abundance, some years with less
At Christmas as always your name we confess.
Every blessed Christmas,
Yes, every shining Christmas
I’ll take my place with those who sing your praise.
And through tears of joy or tears of sorrow
The bright star to Bethlehem I’ll follow
And worship you with all my heart once more.
Beverly Chitwood Varnado c2001
Merry Christmas from all the Varnados!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Is there no balm in Gilead or in Newtown?

On learning the news coming out of Connecticut yesterday, I called my sister, a former first grade teacher for thirty-one years.

All I did was say her name and the tears began.

“The news,” she said.

“The news,” I repeated back to her.

“We used to practice the intruder drills with our classes, and I’d always tell them that in all my years of teaching I’d never had it happen,” she said.

Sad how small children have to prepare for the horrific.

“As we sat in the dark, I’d tell the children we have to be really quite, and I’d read a story to them,” she said and then mused, “But if it was a real event, and they were scared, how would you keep a six year old from crying?”

I don’t even know how you’d keep a sixty year old from crying in such a terrifying situation.

But yesterday at a school in a small hamlet named Newtown in Connecticut, teachers had to do exactly that.

In a briefing, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy urged us to remember in prayer the families of the 20 small ones and the brave teachers and administrators who lost their lives.

We shall as we grieve over these precious lives cut short. Only day before yesterday, Newtown was known for famous residents which include James Purdy who helped slaves escape in the 1850’s, Joseph Engleberger, the father of robotics, and Bruce Jenner, 1976 Olympian, but from now on the village will be known internationally for the one who committed the second worst school tragedy in our nation’s history.

Last evening I read again this lament from a long ago prophet, “Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?” (Jeremiah 8: 21-22)

An answer resounded not from those living a life of ease, but from now unknown slave-poets who labored under the shackles of oppression:

“There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
Thereis a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.”
Two thousand years ago, God sent a medicine for our souls to be born in a common stable. In that tiny baby Jesus, hope came for all the world. The balm that Jesus brings is strong enough to heal even those carrying the worst wounds this life can deliver.

I know this first hand, because my husband, Jerry, lost an eight-year-old daughter to a tragic accident many years ago. When he began walking with Jesus two years after her death, he found the Savior to be all He claimed to be. He found Him the balm in Gilead. I am a witness to the healing in Jerry’s life.

Today, I watched an interview with a priest in Newtown who said the live nativity they’d planned would go on tonight even though one of the little girls who was to play an angel had been a victim in the shooting. He said someone would come into the church and tell the parishioners that a star had been spotted overhead, and they’d all go out and see the baby Jesus in the manger.

When I see the baby in the manger this year, I’m going to remember that he is the balm not only in Gilead, but also in Newtown, and your town, and my town.

I’m going to remember there is no wound too deep for him to heal, and no situation too dark for him to redeem.

Tomorrow, the third Sunday in advent, we will light the candle of joy in our church, and we’ll read Philippians 4:4-7. “Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again:  Rejoice.” We will still rejoice and give thanks even as we grieve in the midst of this tragedy as we remember the words an angel spoke to shepherds on a Judean hillside:

 “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

Prayers going up for all whose hearts are breaking tonight.
There is a balm in Gilead.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

If you're playing to an empty balcony

I sing with a symphony chorus. In preparation for our recent Christmas concert, we had our usual dress rehearsal to run through the entire program.

As we sang the moving lyrics of “O, Holy Night,” I looked up into the empty balconies of the concert hall and grew sad there was no one to hear the lovely music. But, in that moment, I sensed the Lord speaking.

In life, God sometimes calls us to minister and pour forth in ways that go unnoticed to others. Some of our finest hours are our most unseen. But it’s not about others’ applause; it’s about pleasing the one who called us to be His hands and feet in this world. Though it may seem that we are playing to the empty balconies, that no one else notices, He notices.

For some, it may be giving ongoing care to a loved one who never expresses gratitude. For another, God may call for a financial sacrifice in order to meet another’s need. Still another may be asked to give time and talents away in a small place to few recipients. God might ask us to overcome an offense by reaching down deep in the wells of His grace and extending that grace in love and forgiveness. The morning paper may not report on any of these events, but as a friend of mine says, God keeps very good books.

Some years ago, Max Lucado wrote a wonderful work about the Beatitudes entitled, The Applause of Heaven. In it he quotes Matthew 5:12, “Great,’ Jesus said, ‘is your reward in heaven.” Lucado continues, “He must have smiled when he said that line. His eyes must have danced, and his hand must have pointed skyward. For he should know. It was his idea. It was his home.…Before you know it, your appointed arrival time will come; you’ll descend the ramp and enter the City. You’ll see faces that are waiting for you. You’ll hear your name spoken by those who love you.”

I’m back to a verse I referenced a few posts ago—I Corinthians 15:58: “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

As you give yourself without reservation to Him and allow Him to make His music through you, know that beyond the empty balconies. He waits to reward you.

Lucado concludes, “And maybe, just maybe—in the back, behind the crowds—the One who would rather die than live without you will remove his pierced hands from his heavenly robe and … applaud.”

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

When Christmas Turns Bittersweet

My sister and I entered a local yogurt shop where I spotted a woman I knew as the mother of a special college girl who worked in an area I supervised in that other life I had as a buyer in the fashion industry.

I could tell that she didn’t recognize me, and I wrestled a moment about whether I should reintroduce myself, but instead my sister and I moved along, bought our yogurt, and took our seats.

For some reason, this woman had to return to the counter, and as she passed by our table, I felt compelled to tell her who I was.

I won’t share our actual conversation, but I’ll tell you this, I felt our exchange was a divine appointment.

You see, fifteen years ago, that beautiful college student had become a young woman with a husband and two small children. Just in her thirties, she died from a serious illness.

Her mother had that day purchased an advent wreath in her daughter’s memory and placed it in their church. All the bittersweet memories flooded back in, and she now felt alone with those thoughts.

But in God’s providence, I had the privilege of remembering with her that bright lovely soul that was her daughter and reminding her that she was not forgotten.

Right there in the yogurt shop, my sister and I saw pictures of her handsome grandsons and we hugged, exchanged lives, and she was no longer alone.

So when I read these verses, I nodded.

“…but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).

This past Sunday, we lit the candle of hope on our Advent wreath, and gave thanks that God’s promises are true. Just as surely as He came as a man two thousand years ago, He’ll come again in final victory as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Until then, we’ll encourage, love, and extend the same comfort with which we, too, have been comforted.

Because when Christmas turns bittersweet, we really need each other. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Aching Backs and Cedar Waxwings

As I posted earlier in the month, after meeting some big writing deadlines, I’ve been doing household chores, which are long overdue for attention.

After I finished the middle attic, I set off to change a few closets around. Everything in this house is like dominoes. If you move one thing, three other items also have to change their geographic location. After emptying a couple of closets, painting them, and taking loads to Goodwill, the Sparrows Nest and the dump, we now have several closets perhaps worthy of “CLOSETS” magazine, the official publication of the Association of Closet and Storage Professionals (Yes, there really is a magazine like this!). Well, maybe not, but the closets are a lot better than they were, and I don’t have to dig in a plastic storage bin to get dressed anymore.

The only thing is, in all that lifting, shoving, and juggling, I hurt my back. After a few days, I felt some better, so then, I get the bright idea to strip the wallpaper in the downstairs bathroom. I’d loved that toile when it was first installed, but that was in the last century. I’ve stripped wallpaper before, so I had no delusions about what I was in for. I also knew there was two layers of wallpaper not one. But it was a small room, so how hard would it be?

It would be very hard, because whoever put the first layer of paper up did not prep the wall, and upon removal, it stuck to the wallboard and decimated it.

And I hurt my back again.

So, I have about three feet of partially removed wallpaper, an aching back, and no idea how I’m going to finish.

“Why didn’t you leave well enough alone?” Jerry asked.

That man sure likes to live dangerously.

So, I’m sitting here at the computer, because I’ve had to suspend my long list of projects, and I happen to look out at the birdbath and see a bunch, and I mean a bunch of Cedar Waxwings, a Bluebird, a Robin, and several Cardinals queuing up to bathe and drink. The Cedar Waxwings are newly arrived from points north, and I don’t ever remember seeing this many in my yard before. The cats and I are glued to the window, because we can’t take our eyes off these incredible creatures, though I think the cats’ motives may be slightly different from mine.

And I’m reminded, even as the aromatic scent of the medicated patch on my back  reaches my nostrils, that if it weren’t for my injury, I probably wouldn’t be still enough to even notice my new guests.

I wonder how often God tries to give us a gift, and we’re too busy to notice. Maybe sometimes, he has to allow circumstances, which slow us down so we can receive the beauty and grace he’s extending.

I’d share a photo with you, but I was so smitten with the Waxwings I didn’t have the presence of mind to grab my camera. And even if I had, I wouldn’t have been able to move fast enough with my creaky back to capture them.

Maybe soon.

“Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live” (IThessalonians 5:18 The Message).


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Mr. McGregor, a fine garden, a rascally rabbit and being thankful

In Beatrix Potter’s classic story, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Peter ventured where he was told specifically not to go—Mr. McGregor’s garden. After gorging himself on delicious vegetables, he ran into Mr. McGregor who chased him about with a rake. Scared out of his furry skin, Peter forgot the way back to the gate and then became entangled in a gooseberry net.

As he lay there crying, Potter writes, “Peter gave himself up for lost and shed big tears, but his sobs were overheard by some friendly sparrows, who flew to him in great excitement and implored him to exert himself.”

Peter escaped leaving his new blue jacket behind just as Mr. McGregor approached. Later Mr. McGregor used the jacket as a scarecrow to frighten birds.

That’s not all to the story, so if you haven’t read it in a while, here’s an online version of the original text.

We had the opportunity to see a fine recreation of Mr. McGregor’s garden yesterday when we visited our sweet granddaughter at her school for grandparent’s day.

For some years, I’ve had on my desk, the quote above about the sparrows encouraging Peter not to give up. When I feel like I’m trapped in some sort of web myself and all seems lost, it makes me smile to think on Potter’s story about a rabbit in a brass buttoned coat and a gooseberry net.

This Thanksgiving, some of you may not feel like giving thanks. It may be that the enemy has spun a cocoon of despair and hopelessness about you, and you see no way out.

But open your eyes and see that God has already sent someone or something like the friendly sparrows saying, “Don’t’ give up.”

Give thanks for the tiniest of things and it opens the door for God. Find the joy in the small wonders and the grace-filled moments--in purple cabbage, roses still in bloom at Thanksgiving, in children’s bright faces, and a sweet story about a rascally rabbit.

As I sit at my desk, I look up and see the golden leaves of the pair tree floating one by one into the back yard. Our cat Misty sleeps to my left on the sofa, and the tuxedo, Wilbur, is in the window grooming himself for what promises to be a wild afternoon of greeting some of his favorite humans returning from school.

We’re thankful for God’s abundant provision, for His faithfulness, for each other and for the hope that He continues to give us as we navigate through the challenges of this life.

Friends, may your Thanksgiving be blessed with His joy.

“Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18 The Message).

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

If you're holding back

My son, Aaron, now a junior in college has played soccer since he was three. At one time, he even played for three teams simultaneously.

I’ve been a soccer mom for a very long time.

I remember one spring season when he was just entering adolescence; it seemed to me he was holding back a bit when he played. “What do you think is going on?” I asked a friend sitting beside me on the sidelines. She’d played soccer for a number of years and knew far more about the game than I did.

“When I played, it took me awhile to learn that you don’t save up energy for later, you leave everything on the field. He’ll have to learn the same lesson.”

It’s the first time I became familiar with the phrase, “leave it all on the field.” Her wisdom struck a chord, and in fact, he did have to learn that lesson.

So, I read I Corinthians 15:58 again a few days ago:

“Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

The Message reads, “And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.”

I had to ask myself a few questions.

Am I giving myself fully? Am I holding back? Do I believe that nothing I do for God, regardless of visible results, is wasted?

I want to answer yes, and no, and yes.

But honestly, some days, the answer is no, and yes, and no.

However, I’ve found an answer for those times when I feel myself settling into the place of comfort and ease where good is the enemy of God’s best.

You’re probably not going to like the solution.

I don’t like it much either, but I believe it's God's cure.

Fasting and prayer seem to shake me out of this zone. Self-denial shatters the glass walls of our cages of comfort and helps connect us in a deeper way to the one who knows firsthand the ultimate self-denial—the blameless Son of God who took the punishment for our sin.

The discipline of fasting and prayer helps restore my passion.

“Take your everyday, ordinary life—sleeping, eating, going-to–work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out” (Romans 12:1-2 The Message).

Heard this song recently and it stirred my heart. Hope it stirs yours as well and helps you become that “living sacrifice.”

Join me as we leave it all on the field.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

When things don't turn out the way you hoped they would


According to Mr. Webster, to disappoint means “to fail to satisfy the hope, desire, or expectation of.”
We speak of times of disappointment in sentences which begin with should have or could have.
I’ve found disappointment to be one of the most finely honed weapons in the enemy’s arsenal, because if we’re not watchful, disappointment can lead to a root of bitterness which can quickly establish itself in our lives. And bitterness is like a cancer, eating away all that’s good.
When disappointment leaves me protesting, “I didn’t know it was going to turn out like this,” I have to make a choice not to embrace toxic thoughts and choose to replace those thoughts with the truth of God's word.
I keep coming back to this quote, “Can it be that, that which seems to oppose the will of God actually is used of Him to accomplish the will of God? That which seems evil only seems so because of perspective, the way the eyes see the shadows. Above the clouds, light never stops shining.” —Ann Voskamp

Faith only begins to flex its muscles in times when the darkness settles in around us. In Peterson’s words, faith is “our handle on what we can’t see” (Hebrews 11:5).

Even in times of great disappointment, through faith, we can fix our eyes on Jesus and trust He will use whatever situation which left our hopes, desires, and expectations wanting, will be used by Him for our good and His glory.

“…those who hope in me will not be disappointed” (Isaiah 49:23).

“We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!” (Romans 5:3-5 The Message).

“And hope does not disappoint us…” (Romans 5:5).


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Platform and what's really important

Since I started attending writer’s conferences in 2005, I don’t think I’ve been to a single one that didn’t include a class on the necessity for writers to build a platform.

What is a platform?

Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers and the speaker at this Year’s American Christian Fiction Writers Conference writes, “…platforms are built of: Contacts, Customers, Prospects, Followers, and Fans. In other words, a platform is your tribe. People who share your passion and want to hear from like-minded people.”

Hyatt, an expert on platform, has written an entire book aptly named, Platform, to help writers and speakers facilitate successful careers.

He also says in this article, “You can’t succeed without a platform.”

Many writers, myself included, feel called by God to do what we do, however, from the publisher’s end, this is still a business. There are stockholders to report to, and one by one, we’ve seen publishing houses fold or bought out by larger corporations due to the difficult economy. Platform is not only important for business but also vital for getting whatever message we have out there so others may hear it.

But honestly, I grow weary of the marketing end of this business. It’s the hardest thing for me. It’s not that I don’t work hard. I do. I just get tired of what someone has called, “shameless, self-promotion.” My introverted personality does not lend itself to it, and when I see other writers with hundreds or thousands of blog followers and huge fan bases, sometimes, I just want to sit down. It seems so impossible.

There are deeper questions this struggle begs: Why did I begin this writing career? Why would anyone want to read what I write? These questions resonate in my core and cause me to lie awake sometimes at night.

I began this writing journey, because one night about fourteen years ago, I sensed God asking me to move beyond the journals I’d kept since a child and produce work that others could read.

My hope is that others will read, because they find God speaks to them through these words, and they find help and hope for their own life.

I started this blog due to a specific direction God gave me to “ring out his word.” That’s why in every post I refer directly or indirectly to a passage of scripture. Two years and 339 posts later, I’ve tried to be faithful to that calling.

I’d been pondering these things to myself when my husband whom I’d not spoken to about this, says in a sermon, “It’s not the size of your platform that matters, but the importance of every single life.”

I’ve mentored many college students over the years, and heard a few say when considering their future ministries, “I just want to be where I can minister to the most people.” Oops.

What if God calls you to a little village in Africa, or a small town in South Georgia, and then he asks you stay there for ten years ministering to a flock you can number on your fingers and toe? What if?

As my husband pointed out, does that mean your life or ministry is less important than the pastor preaching to thousands?

Every life is important.  

When I post these musings, I think about the people who read them. I’ve said that if what I write is significant to just one, it’s worth my time. I may sense an urgency about the words I post, but then I don’t receive much feedback and doubt surges into my heart. I question if they did matter to even one.

But then something happens that makes me know God is at work.

I recently wrote this post about cleaning out the dark attic and how I uncovered treasured childhood messages from my children up there. I was reminded me of the dark time when I had cancer, and the Lord spoke so sweetly one night when fear threatened to engulf me—a treasure in the dark.

I received a message from a reader who’d recently had a biopsy, and he told me how encouraging my post was to him. I later learned he received the news he had cancer only an hour after reading my post.

If ten thousand people had read my blog that day, it wouldn’t have meant more to me than the knowledge that this one man facing perhaps the most difficult time in his life found comfort in a few words the Lord helped me string together. You see, every life is important.

I’m still going to have to market and work on that platform thing, because it’s what’s expected if I’m going to have this career to which I believe the Lord is calling me. But I’ll constantly remind myself that every life is important, and if God calls me to write for just one, I’ll be as faithful as I can be.

Perhaps you’ve viewed your ministry as small and insignificant, please take heart and hope that it matters to God. Stand on the platform God has given you, small or large, and with everything that's in you, pour yourself out for Him.

And let me repeat once more. Every. Life. Is. Important.

“But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him , to tell others of the night-and–day difference he made for you--from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted” (I Peter 2:9-10 The Message).

Friday, November 2, 2012

Operation Christmas Child Boxes--How many will you Pack?

We're wrapping up our Operation Christmas Child boxes for Samaritan’s Purse. If you've not packed a box, there's still time.

This year, Samaritan’s Purse anticipates reaching an amazing goal--more than 100 million shoeboxes distributed since 1993 to children in 100 countries. 

Our family has prepared boxes since our kids were little. Every year, each of them would pack one for a child their age and gender. Now, that the last two are both in college, my grandchildren sometimes help me.

I spoke with Brittany  at Samaritan’s Purse and asked about the three most important items they’d like to see in a shoebox. She said hygiene materials are number one. Toothbrush, toothpaste, washcloth, soap and a comb or brush are essential elements in every box. Following these would be school supplies: notebooks, pencils, erasers, etc. Third on her list was a toy: a stuffed animal, a yo-yo, etc.

Last year, I changed the way I approached packing the shoe boxes. I started assembling items all year long.

My friend, Dolly, inspired me to shop for bargains, so that I could increase my number of boxes. Dolly has a guest post here on how she packs her boxes.

After holidays (Christmas, Valentine’s Day, etc.) retailers mark down their seasonal merchandise to clear it. I look for items at 75% off—socks, coloring books, toys. Many go for as little as a quarter. When school supplies are reduced, I pick up crayons, markers, notebooks, and pencils.

One thing I don’t scrimp on, and that’s toothpaste and a toothbrush that won’t make gums bleed. Children in the third world may not have brushed regularly, so it’s important to buy a soft toothbrush. Also, if it’s in your budget, a light up toy or flashlight is great. Always include extra batteries. If a child lives without electricity, these things are a wonder. Also, give thought to the toy you include. Easily broken plastic is not a good idea. Look for things with more longevity—a slinky, a toy car. Remember what Brittany said about stuffed animals. I remember hearing a story which emerged from a war-torn country about a fourteen-year-old boy drafted into the army. He took his Operation Christmas Child stuffed animal with him to war.

If you start now, you can increase your number of boxes, too. You may download “How to Pack a Shoebox” and labels for the boxes HERE. Pay special attention to the items that shouldn’t be included. A toll-free number for drop off locations is provided or you can mail your shoeboxes to Operation Christmas Child headquarters in North Carolina.

Here’s what especially motivated me. I heard a testimony last year from a missionary in Eastern Europe who spoke about how important the shoebox ministry was in bringing children to his church. He had opportunity to share the Good News with so many who’d never heard it before because of Operation Christmas Child.

That’s all I needed to hear. Last year I packed twelve boxes instead of two. This year, I'm going to have sixteen.

This Year's Boxes in process

Last Year's Boxes
I'm almost through with my boxes and am already wondering how many more I might possibly put together for next year.

Check online at Samaritan's Purse for a collection center near you, pack a box or two,and take it before November 19, the last collection day.

"Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities! "(Luke 12:48 The Message)

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Storm and a Storm

8:00 a.m.

I’m sitting here in the waiting room of a cardiology group watching television coverage of the approaching storm in the northeast, Sandy, the one called “perfect.” The calls going out now as they have several days to those who live in the hurricane's path to stock up on food, water, batteries and to take evacuation warnings seriously.

On the other side of the door to my left, my husband is being interjected with radioactive material in preparation for a nuclear stress test. The chest pain he had a few days ago while exercising mandates this medical procedure.

I wonder if a perfect storm might be brewing in his arteries. Has the 40% blockage discovered during the stenting of another artery after a heart attack seven years ago now morphed into a nearly total occlusion? (Why did he have to eat that fried chicken?) How does one prepare for this kind of storm?

A trip to the grocery or home improvement store just won’t do it. But really, those kinds of preparations aren’t all that is needed for a meteorological storm either.

The artery in question behind the heart can’t be stented—only bypassed—a solution no one looks forward to which involves an incision right down the middle of the chest. Open heart surgery.

What provisions can one hide away for these moments of wondering and waiting?

“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).

Lest fear become a runaway train, I return to the words which strengthen and sustain me—the promises of God, because “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3).

Promises like, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

It is in moments like this I find in a real way that “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, through the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, through its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging” (Psalm 46:1).

As I watch the newscast, one reporter stands in the middle of what appears to be a snowstorm, but in fact is sea foam churned from the raging waters behind him.

When the anxiety churns out of my own rising waters, and I wonder if the door will open, and a nurse step out to inform me there’s been a problem during the test, I remind myself to take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ, to take my refuge in Him. When I do, I rest.

3:30 p.m.

We’ve just returned from the meeting with the Doctor. Jerry's tests revealed no blockage greater than 70%, which for now means no surgery, and no more procedures. For that, we give thanks.

And we know these results are God’s mercy, not because we deserve a good report, but simply a matter of grace.

Every day we have is a gift.

A thousand miles away from the center of the storm, the wind blows at thirty miles an hour outside my window.

It reminds me of those still in the path of Sandy, the tempest described as nothing like we’ve seen in our lifetime.

 “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns” (Philippians 4:6 The Message).

My prayers continually go up for those facing the wind right now that they also “…may receive mercy and find grace to help …” in this very real time of need (Hebrews 5:16).




Friday, October 26, 2012

Treasures and Dark Attics

Finishing another edit of a screenplay, so I’m turning my attention to some other projects, which have languished long on my to-do list.

I’ve been crawling around in one of the attics this week. We have three. Thankfully, one of them is empty.

For those of you who have spotless attics swept clean with boxes carefully labeled, you’ll want to skip this post. It’s not for you.

But if open cardboard boxes, overflowing TJMaxx bags, and loose debris tumble overhead in your home, you’ll understand.

How’d so much stuff get up there?

Try home schooling for eight years. So far, I’ve counted five bins of schoolbooks. There’s probably more, because I’m only a third of the way through this attic. Add to that the kid’s art projects I couldn’t let go. It’s just always been easier to poke stuff I didn’t know what to do with in the attic and deal with it later. Later has arrived. Can you say procrastinate?

Through the years, it was a no brainer to carry odds and ends to Goodwill--clothing and linens to a ministry for the homeless, but what about that box of costumes my kids wore a thousand days, so tattered no one else would want them? I can still see my son in the cowboy chaps and my daughter in the yellow tutu.

I know, I know. Our memories are not tied up in our things. But, right now, this Mama with the starkly just empty nest can’t take some of this to the dump.

Still, after many hours yesterday, I almost filled up the recycle bin, added to our load for the landfill, and crated several boxes to carry off to various places.

I have much work ahead squinting and poking around in the darkness, while trying to avoid roofing nails overhead (sad to report no overhead insulation in this old house).

Some of the blasts from the past brought me to tears.

A message from a long ago Valentines Day--

A project from Sunday School—

“I will give you the treasures of darkness
And hidden wealth of secret places,
So that you may know that it is I,
The Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name”(Isaiah 45:3 NASB).

Way up there in the darkness, in the midst of a hard project, God called me out through these treasured messages of grace and love from little kids long grown into young adulthood.

Makes me think of another dark time just after I’d had breast cancer surgery when I battled fear one night until the early hours of morning. The thought, “You’re going to die,” hounded and hounded. Then, just before dawn, God’s love and peace overwhelmed me—a treasure in the darkness.

“I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us” (Romans 8:38-39 The Message).

And from my own experience, I know that cancer and dark attics can’t get between God’s love and us either.

Praying His treasures for you in your own dark times, friends.

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