Thursday, February 21, 2013

When you're trying to see small beginnings

I came home the other night from a meeting and declared to my husband that I was about tired of winter. Now mind you, our winter has been exceptionally mild. We haven’t seen one snowflake here, and had relatively few days of cold weather—cold for here in this part of the south, anyway.

But what we have had is a lot of grey. Like right now as I’m writing. Cloudy, overcast, with more like it predicted over the next few days. I salute you folks who live in northern climates for your tenacity and strength to endure a storm like the one in the Northeast a few weeks back.

I, however, was born on an early June day with flip-flops on my feet, a Popsicle in one hand, and a glass of cold sweet tea in the other. And I guess that warm summer day is how I expected it to stay, but of course, it didn’t.

With all these sunless days lately, I feel like my hands and feet have never gotten warm. I wash my hands more often just to feel the warmth of the water running over them.

All this to say how excited I was to see this yellow crocus springing up in my neighbor’s yard a couple of weeks ago.

Crocuses say, “It’s not long now. Hang on.”

 “After that, the word of God came to me: ‘Zerubbabel started rebuilding this Temple and he will complete it. That will be your confirmation that God-of-the-Angel-Armies sent me to you. Does anyone dare despise this day of small beginnings?’” (Zechariah 4:9-10 the Message).

Sometimes, in the midst of an ongoing struggle, our own personal winter, God gives as the Psalmist prayed in 86:18 a sign of his goodness.

And if you’re like me, sometimes we miss it, because we’re so fixed on the big answer, we miss the flower of His love,--the “God-of-the-Angel-Armies” present with us.

I’m clinging to a few crocuses now, both literally and figuratively because I don’t want to be the one despising the day of small beginnings. No, it’s still grey here, and I have ongoing struggles and problems that are not resolved, but God’s given me enough to keep up my hope, to keep me pressing forward into the spring.

So, for that reason, I keep alert for more of these small beginnings, these precious harbingers of God’s glorious future.

Christ Tomlin’s “Whom Shall I Fear”

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday and Pepperidge Farm Cookies

Someone close to me recently confided their concern about an acquaintance whose frayed life had led to overindulgence in alcohol. For several days, my heart weighed heavy over the situation. How could it happen? How could she give herself over to substance abuse?

I read in Romans 2:2, “…you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself…”

It occurred to me that this woman who’d reached for a bottle to deal with her frayed life was not alone in her weakness. In dealing with a few of my own raw edges in recent months, I’d turned to something that left an eight-pound reminder around my midsection.
And as Beth Moore said  in one of the videos for Mercy Triumphs, "Some people ( or some situations) just make you want to eat something."
Even as I laughed, I knew it was no excuse.

So as Lent approached, I knew what I’d have to do.

Giving up sugary confections for forty days doesn’t even approach the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf, but it points us in the right direction. When I see the shelf in the pantry where the Pepperidge Farm Lexington cookies used to be, I’ll remember that Jesus bore my sins on the cross and give thanks. When I pass a Chick-fil-a without going through to get a small Ice Dream cone, I'll think about Jesus. When I see the jar in the den where the little Snicker squares used to be replaced by a wooden cross one of my children made years ago, I’ll realize once more the power his sacrifice.

Today, on Ash Wednesday, as I stare into the jaws of a dessert-less Lent, I’m reminded of something the Lord spoke to me a few weeks back.

I wandered my house for several days trying to find a place to do my daily Bible study . I needed a flat surface large enough to spread out and write in my workbook. My office wouldn’t do with all flat surfaces covered in books or my computer. I finally landed on the dining room table. And as I sat down, I heard a whisper in my spirit, “Taste and see that the Lord is good….” (Psalm 34:8).

Jesus is good and does not need to be sugarcoated.  

What I’ve found in the past when fasting, is that when we abstain from food, we find that even water has a delightful taste that we never notice when our diet was so full of other stuff. When we clear our lives in self-denial, we find the renewed sweetness of the Living Water.

Today on Ash Wednesday, God calls us, calls me to repent of reaching for something other than Him.

“But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed” (Isaiah 53:3-5 The Message).

When I kneel tonight, and the ashes of last year’s palm Sunday fronds are imposed on my forehead, I’ll rise to face the weeks of self-denial ahead bearing the mark of the cross--the cross which reminds me that He came for all our frayed places and raw edges.


A Memorial for Ash Wednesday

A song for Lent- By His Wounds

Friday, February 8, 2013

A back hoe, a big dig, and getting to the bottom of things

So, a few weeks ago, the ancient Orangeburg sewer pipes installed during the construction of this house in the late sixties breathed their last. The wood pulp and pitch lines were no match for the water seeking roots of the pine trees in the front yard. When the plumbers ran their light into the lines, they found a web of roots had breached the rotting pipes and obstructed the outgoing flow from the house. Nothing else to do but replace them with PVC.

No big surprise. We knew their final time drew near when the intermittent washing machine and toilet overflows had become a weekly occurrence. I actually prayed every time I flushed. Not a good situation.

One sunny morning, in rolled the Athens Plumbing truck, and the backhoe.

You see every inch of the dilapidated pipe from the house to the street had to be replaced. We already knew it’d be a big dig, because the connection to the city sewer at the road was more than ten feet deep. But, we really couldn’t believe how big it actually turned out to be.

The plumbers worked hard for most of a day, digging and laying pipe.

A few days ago, I read in James 4:3, “You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

In Mercy Triumphs, Beth Moore writes: “Nothing has the capacity to keep us out of trouble like the certainty of God’s gaze piercing through all our pretense to the heart of our desires. Only He can sort out the blur of our motives. Let’s have the guts to ask Him what’s in our hearts and, when He reveals it, die to the self-gratification and live for the greater glory.”

I kept seeing the big dig and wanting God to do that in my heart—go down deep and unearth what might undergird any wrong motives.

Because after all, who are we kidding? God sees it all—x-ray vision right to our core.

Moore suggests that we might ask God for successful children “so we can live our lives vicariously through them.” Or maybe we want folks to say, “What wonderful children—they must have wonderful parents.”

She even suggests we might use “calling” as a guise for self-ambition. Yikes!

“God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand. I’m an open book to you even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking” (Psalm 139:1 The Message).

From the outside, no one would have guessed our plumbing woes. All seemed right, unless they ventured inside and caught me mopping up the washing machine rinse cycle overflow with beach towels from the kitchen floor.
Our lives can seem okay on the outside, but only God knows our wrong motives, which keep our lives from flourishing as He desires.
There's a lot more milage we could get out of the symbolism of those old pipes--like how we let our lives become clogged with all kinds of stuff from the world, but we'll save that for another day.

For now we ask, God, bring in the back-hoe. Dig down.

And help us die to all that does not honor you.

Friday, February 1, 2013

If you're feeling ordinary...

 Back in the day, Danniebelle Hall wrote a song,"Just Ordinary People," about how God uses average folks to do His work. 

Yet, in so many ways, we often try to distance ourselves from that word—ordinary.

A few days ago, I opened an email from my agent. My eyes skimmed the words--turned out to be one of those wonderful rejection letters from a publisher. As I read the editors comments, the only thing I seemed to notice was the word—ordinary. Now the editor didn’t use the word to describe my writing, but used it in reference to one of the characters and the plot development.


I know, just one person’s opinion. But , still.

Licking my wounds, and looking for some kind of encouragement, I clicked over to Jan Karon’s website. I’ve written about her influence in my life before, so I won’t cover it again, but you may read it here, if you missed it.

I found a radio interview in which she speaks of writing about ordinary people. No mayhem, no catastrophic events, just mundane folks going about their business.

Eventually twenty-four million readers claimed the Mitford series for their own.

Seems many folks may have had enough calamity in their own reality and wanted a little ordinary.

At least, that’s what kept me reading. When a friend gave me the first in the Mitford series, I was suffering from post- traumatic stress and found the books a respite from a tragedy that replayed in my mind. Just a few short years later, the cherished friend who gave me the book died suddenly in her sleep the day after Christmas while just in her forties. That, my dear readers, is just one more reason I love Jan Karon’s writing. I need it. I’ve had way too much heartache in my life and long for a bit of Mitford.

So, due to Karon’s inspiration, I guess I’ll just keep writing about those ordinary folks, and pray an editor more like me gets hold of my work.

Back to God using ordinary people--early in my walk with the Lord, God etched a few verses from I Corinthians 1:26-28 in my heart. Here from the Message, “Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these ‘nobodies’ to expose the hollow pretensions of the ‘somebodies’?”

From these verses and others in I Corinthians, I penned a song:

It’s You I Lean Upon
With weakness and with trembling,
I stand before you now
And ask why I should be the one to go,           
Because surely there are others who are stronger than I
And surely, there are those who never ever ask you why.
And I hear you say:
I haven’t chosen many noble ones;
I haven’t chosen many wise.
I haven’t chosen many ones the world called strong,
But I’ve chosen weak and foolish ones even some that are despised
To show the world that their ideas are wrong.
 Your strength comes from me alone;
All glory to me give,
Because through my son your victory is won.
Now I praise you, yes I praise you Lord,
Because in my weakness, you are made strong.
And in my trembling,  it’s you I lean upon.
Beverly Chitwood Varnado ©1984
Yes, when you look at that copyright date, remember, I did say early in my walk. But the song and the verses from which they came have become a theme for me.

I am ordinary, but God looked on me with my brokenness, failures, and lackluster life and chose me anyway.

Perhaps, that’s why I, too, write about ordinary people. I think about the character to which the editor referred—she’s a college freshman in 1951 named Amelia Mae Dewland. And to me, she’s one of the most extraordinary ordinary characters God has ever given me…just like a lot of real people I know.

So, here’s to ordinary people with praise to our mighty God who delights in using them.

 Below, listen to a recording of Danniebelle Hall singing "Just Ordinary People."
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