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)
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