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.

Monday, October 22, 2012

When life seems upside down or backwards.

Ever had one of those weeks when what's down is up and what's left is right?

It was like that at our house this week. Even the dogs, Lucy and Charlie, seemed be having the problem.

So what goes down the drain should stay down. Right?

Had some plumbing problems, and we thought they were resolved.

I went upstairs to straighten a closet, and in the few minutes I was gone,  when I returned downstairs, I found the washing machine had emptied twice all over the hardwood floors we installed only a couple of years ago. 

I waded to the laundry room, grabbed several beach towels, fell on my hands and knees, and started mopping gallons and gallons of soapy water toward the back door.

I didn’t even stop to call Jerry, only kept praying, “Oh, Lord, don’t let this water ruin the floors.”

A neighbor friend called. I answered robotically, “Can’t go for a walk--can’t talk--have to keep mopping.”

She arrived a few minutes later with a mound of towels in her hand and mopped, too.

When I finally had a moment to call Jerry, he came straight home and went to work unstopping the blockage that had evidently resulted because of our prior problem.

Exhausted, with the water finally pushed out, and windows and doors open to let air circulate, my neighbor and I had a few moments to sit just as Jerry turned on the water to a pulsing bulb mechanism he’d slipped into the plumbing.The pipes bellowed wild moaning sounds.

 Soaked to the skin from the knees down after becoming human sponges, my friend and I melted into laughter.

 The Apostle Paul wrote, “Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever (2 Corinthians 4:17 The Message).

A rainbow of assorted beach towels took two days to dry on the patio grill—the aftermath of our unfortunate plumbing fiasco. And though the hardwood floors threatened to buckle at some of the seams, after a few hours with a fan blowing on them and a little time to dry, they seem to be calming down a bit.

Someone will probably buy this house one day, rip out the floors we worked so hard to save and install the latest thing they’ve seen on HGTV. As Paul said, “…here today, gone tomorrow…”

In the future, I’m most likely not going to remember how important it was to rescue the floors, but I’ll remember the crazy vibrato of the plumbing, and the laughter my friend and I shared.

I’m latching onto His unfolding grace and keeping what’s eternal in my sites even and especially in this upside down, backwards week. Because Paul’s right, this stuff doesn’t matter compared to what God’s bringing in our future.
There is one problem, though.
I don’t have any idea  what we’re going to do about the dog bed situation.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tragedy Averted

Tonight coming home from a church meeting, along a dark stretch of road in an outlying area, my headlights appeared on the backs of two silhouettes walking in the middle of my lane.

 I’m a speed limit or under driver, but they were so close, I nearly had to stand on the brakes to get my SUV stopped. I blew the horn, and the figures didn’t budge. I bore down on the horn, and these people finally inched to the side of the road. Shaken to my core by the time I managed to stop the car, I pulled alongside them and rolled down the window.

In front of me stood two young men, hard to judge the age in the dark--maybe teens or twenties. Definitely the "I'm indestructible" age.

“Do you realize you were nearly hit?” I said trying to control my trembling voice.


“Do you understand you could have been killed walking in the middle of the lane like that?”

More silence. I’m still shaking.

“If I were your mother, I’d put you on restriction for a year. I’m not leaving here until you promise not to get in the road again.”

I don’t think very well on my feet. They thought that restriction thing was funny.

“I’m telling you, I’m not leaving until you say you won’t get in the road again.”

They exchanged glances with each other. “We promise. We promise.”

They probably said it just to get rid of me.

I don’t care. At least they’ll remember this episode if they try it again.

I later called the sheriff’s office in that county and reported their behavior.

“There must have been angels protecting us all,” I told the deputy.

“I believe it ma’am. They’ve protected me many a time,” he responded.

Made me think of “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them” (Psalm 34:7).

Hours later when I went to bed, I still felt like a leaf in the wind thinking of how close those young men and I came to tragedy.

 I tossed and turned during the night as questions presented, which I might have asked if I’d only had the presence of mind. Again, I don't think well on my feet.

Why are you so blasé about your own life that you’d take such a risk?

Do you know your life is valuable, that God has plans for you?

Do you know Him?

If not for the grace of God, we three strangers brought together in the night could be in completely different circumstances this morning.

But we’re not.

My call to the sheriff’s department precipitated a bulletin to deputies patrolling the area to watch for these young men. I hope that someone will see them and reinforce what I said.

I’m a firm believer that God doesn’t waste any experience in our lives. I don’t believe this was just random. So, I’m trying to hear what God might be saying to me through this.

I know that God wants me to pray for the two young men. I have, and I will.

God wants to save their physical lives for a reason.

Perhaps they’re at a crossroad. Perhaps their next decision will be one that changes everything--one that will put them at as much or more risk as walking in the middle of the road.

I’m praying for a bigger rescue than a sheriff’s deputy can possibly devise. I’m praying for God to rescue their souls.

When I close my eyes at night, I pray I don’t see my headlights on the backs of these fellows, and I’m thanking God for the angels that delivered us last evening.

And if I ever see these nocturnal travelers again, I have a few more things I want to discuss. 


Friday, October 12, 2012

A Message in the Last Flowers of Fall

"The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God endures forever" (Isaiah 40:8).

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Missing Julie: In Memory of Julie Cannon

I never met writer, Julie Cannon, and yet her death last evening feels like someone hit my heart with a hammer. Oh, I knew people she knew, went places she went, and lived only a few miles from her town.

My husband even preached a homecoming service recently in her church, but I didn’t have the opportunity to meet her that day.
I ran into one of her former editors at the recent American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in Dallas. I'd planned on attending one of Julie's upcoming events.

"Tell her hello for me," the editor said.
I never had the opportunity.
I only know Julie through her writing. As a volunteer in the Athens Academy library when my children attended school there, I found her book True Love and Homegrown Tomatoes while shelving books one day. I checked it out, and fell in love with her characterizations and storytelling. Just beginning my own fiction-writing journey, I returned to the library and found her Mater Biscuit. I became a Julie Cannon fan. I recently read I’ll Be Home for Christmas and again found compelling characterizations.

I’ve yet to read her newest book released a few weeks back, Twang. However, you 'd better believe I’ll have it soon.

I don’t know how to explain this, other than to say her death feels very personal to me.

When an artist of any kind dies, though there work continues to be enjoyed, sometimes for generations, the living breathing person and creative genius who gave birth to a story, or a piece of music, or a visual masterpiece  is no longer there. We lose the ability to hear  in real time from the ones who’ve spun the words, or notes, or paint and caused us to stop our lives to see what they’ve done and through whose work our own lives have been enriched and changed. There's a real sense of loss.

Julie’s last blog post, “Jesus is just all right with me,” tells of her transition from writing in the general market to writing in the inspirational market. She informs us that Jesus will show up in Twang, but also warns that Twang grapples with the gritty side of life.

Jesus is just all right with me, too, Julie. And based on your testimony I read in another one of your blog posts, you’re having a fine time with Jesus right now.

We’re grieving those books you didn’t have an opportunity to write. We’re going to miss your as yet to be conceived one of a kind characters and stories,  but most of all we’ll miss you. Thank you for helping me and many others in our own careers by teaching us much about fiction writing.

And folks, if you haven’t read her books, get them today. You don’t want to miss her amazing work.

Our sympathy and many prayers go out to the family of this beloved woman, Julie Cannon.

"Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die..." (John 11:25).

Monday, October 8, 2012

Before the alabaster jar

This morning, I read once more the story of the woman in the seventh chapter of Luke.

She’s always been one of my favorite characters in the Bible, her with the tear-stained face laying her shame and sin literally at the feet of Jesus—her pouring out the perfume and kissing his feet. And the Pharisees standing around whispering, rolling their eyes, “If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him” (Luke 7:39 The Message).

Oh, Jesus knew all right. He knew her before she ever picked up that jar of perfume. He knew her history, her sin—the nature of her relationships.

I recently heard about a Christian’s instructions to one who was reaching out to a woman who’d lost her way, “Don’t enable her.” This was not an addiction situation; we’re talking about someone who’d become confused and taken a wandering road. To extend love to those who’ve yet to pick up the alabaster jar is not enabling them. It’s loving like Jesus did.

To require others to “measure up” before we offer them love is living like a Pharisee. Somehow, we’re afraid it’s going to take something away from us if we love those who need love the most--if we associate with those we deem of lesser stature—sinners.

Like we don’t know anything about that.

It’ll cost all right.  It cost Jesus his life.

And it’s going to cost us--mostly our pride.

C.S. Lewis calls pride the great sin in Mere Christianity and comments, “Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good—above all, that we are better than someone else—I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil.”

To love those lost in sin is not putting our stamp of approval on their actions. Extending grace and mercy to them is being light in their darkness.

Oswald Chambers writes, “If I see the mote in your eye, it means I have a beam in my own. Every wrong thing that I see in you, God locates in me… Stop having a measuring rod for other people. There is always one fact more in every man’s case about which we know nothing.”

Chambers concludes, “I have never met the man I could despair of after discerning what lies in me apart from the grace of God.”

And that’s it—understanding we are no different from any other sinner.

For all those who’ve yet to run to the feet of Jesus with their alabaster jars, let’s love them unconditionally and watch for what God will do.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

If you're really, really good at worrying

I read this week in Best-Ever Backyard Birding Tips that we have the perfect yard to attract birds. Evidently, one of the reasons birds and in particular song birds have been in decline is the affinity folks have for lawns composed of only one type of grass. Mixed lawns full of ajuga, clover and violets as well as diverse grasses will attract a variety of insects, which in turn attracts birds.

Music to my husband’s ears. If he had his way, he’d asphalt the front yard, he hates yard work so much. This mixed lawn idea means he can let go any ambition he ever had about getting rid of the weeds in the lawn.

Birds must like it here, because they flock to our feeders. They’re probably the great-grand birds of ones I started feeding years ago.

In January of 1999, I began putting birdseed in a feeder given me some years before. Before, I’d mostly used it as a decorative object to hang in a tree in my back yard. I suppose I felt I never had time to feed the birds or learn their names. Oh, I recognized doves, blue jays, and cardinals, but that’s pretty much it. I had no idea who else lived in my yard until our first year of home schooling when we started what we called “The First Bird Contest.”

In order to make learning the names of birds more interesting for my first grade son, we devised a game in which whoever saw and named the first bird to the feeder in the morning wrote it in a little journal we kept. At the end of the month, we’d name one bird the winner.

I couldn’t believe how many birds we came to know—Mr. and Mrs. House Finch, the Tufted Titmice, the Black Capped Chickadees, a Downy Woodpecker, Sparrows, and several little Wrens. The Cardinals eventually won the contest followed closely by a Tufted Titmouse. Even a couple of squirrels who’d temporarily forgotten where their acorns were, learned to outfox the dogs in the backyard to get at the black-oiled sunflower seeds.


At the time, I still struggled to overcome post-traumatic stress which began when a friend took her own life. While I watched the birds, I forgot about the pain of the past and the fears of the future.

When Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air…” He meant more than a simple passing glance.

The King James says, “Behold.” The Greek word here means to “observe fixedly, or to discern clearly.” As I gazed into the backyard, God often reminded me that he knew when even one of these feathery dinner guests fell to the ground. They don’t sow their food. They only reap the consequences of someone else’s sowing.

When I hear Jesus say “…yet your heavenly Father feeds them,” I know that Grace is woven in the created order.

These verses come under a heading in my Bible called, “Do not worry.”

It’s very hard to give up something at which I’ve become so skilled. It seems I’ve even improved as I’ve gotten older.

At times, I’ve let the cares of this world claim entirely too much of a share of my thought life.

God will allow us for a season to walk down the wrong path, but His grace and love continually call us back.

Just after I started feeding the birds, someone gave me a little birdhouse with a note attached, which said, “…as you journey down life’s road may you be blessed with many quiet moments and simple joys. You are loved.”

Yes, quiet moments to look, behold, observe, and discern the truth that God is in control of the lives of birds and of the life of me.

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