Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Avalanche Mode and Looking for Lovely

I sent an email to my writer’s group a while ago, which began like this, “At our house, we have passed overcommitted mode and are now in avalanche mode, trying to dig out from so many obligations.” I needed to tweak our meeting dates to accommodate my dilemma.

This avalanche mode has also forced me to compartmentalize a bit. I just look at my calendar and try to show up where I'm supposed to be. That’s why when I attended the yearly fundraising dinner for the Wesley Foundation at the University of Georgia, a student ministry where I’ve been a board member, somehow I didn’t know who was speaking until the director announced that the author Annie Downs was in the house. I had seen her name recently as a speaker in the program at the Catalyst conference where I volunteer as well as several other places. And hadn’t I seen her guest post on Ann Voskamp’s blog?

I grabbed my program and saw that she was indeed speaking, and not only that, but she was an alumna of the ministry.

How had I missed this? Had this information gotten lost in my hard drive somewhere?

And the years she was there, they were the same years we had student interns from the ministry live with us. So, chances are our paths might have intersected. As she spoke, she mentioned another church (not ours) she attended where she taught Sunday school. So, I thought, well maybe not. Maybe I didn’t know her, but just to make sure I approached her after the program.

Her back was to me, and when she turned around, her eyes brightened, “Varnado,” she said. She knew me without me having to tell her who I was. Young memories. So great.

As we talked, I found we definitely had connections all those years ago, and it was good to renew them.

Annie has written for teen girls, but her last two books have been for adults so I bought her just released, Looking for Lovely.

The back cover copy says Annie “shares personal stories, biblical truth, and examples of how others have courageously walked the path God paved for their lives by remembering all God had done, loving what was right in front of them, and seeing God in the everyday―whether that be nature, friends, or the face they see in the mirror.”

Even though I am probably old enough to be her mother, I love her transparent, conversational delivery as she talks about what she calls her “broken crazy” and how God has brought healing to her life so often through seeking out beauty. I had my own version of “broken crazy” to deal with in the form of posttraumatic stress, so I appreciate her not holding back so the rest of us can relate. And I, too, found wonder and beauty helped bring healing in my own journey.
I could see the value in her writing for so many young (and older) women today who struggle with loving themselves as they are rather than some future perfect version of themselves. I love the hope she leaves us in Looking for Lovely.
Seeing Annie Downs again was one of the best surprises I’ve had lately.

And her message of looking for the lovely was something I especially needed to hear even and especially while in avalanche mode.

God’s glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon. Madame Day holds classes every morning, Professor Night lectures each evening.Their words aren’t heard, their voices aren’t recorded, But their silence fills the earth: unspoken truth is spoken everywhere (Psalm 19:1-3).


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

God's heart in the mess

Someone returning to the storm-ravaged coast sent me a picture of debris cut from the road.

“Did you see it?” she asked.

I did. In the middle of all that stormy mess, a heart shape in the tree trunk.

In a new Bible study by Priscilla Shirer we’re doing on Jonah, we’re talking about messes, too.

Like what can happen when God gives us instruction as He did when he told Jonah, the prophet to Israel, to prophesy to Nineveh, and instead, we like Jonah, immediately head in the opposite direction.

Ticket for one to Tarshish, please.

We can think we have our lives all mapped out as Jonah did, and then an unexpected interruption comes and like him, we start fighting against it.

It’s right about then, that God might invite us to wonder if what seems like an interruption might really be divine intervention.

“Are you ready to get swallowed by a fish called Grace?” Priscilla asks.

The answer to that might sometimes be, “No, I’m not. I want my regular life back, the life I had planned.”

We can put our plans ahead of God’s will. But even then―God’s heart is in what seems like a mess.

"Not until he (Jonah) received a divine interruption did he develop a life story that made a stamp on history,” Priscilla observes.

Way beyond what we have planned, God has plans for us.

“God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us” (Ephesians 3:20-21 The Message).

God’s heart is in the mess, our mess to bring about more than our ability to imagine.

Priscilla again. “Most biblical people who made a lasting mark in Christianity had a point in their lives where they stood at a crossroad. They had to decide to yield to divine intervention at the cost of their own plans or continue on their own path instead.”

So, wherever we are in our journey, whatever mess we may be in, we can always adjust to follow God, because as you may have heard, his heart is in the mess.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

If you've been in the eye of the storm

I left the Catalyst conference last Thursday evening where I was volunteering for a few days and found because of Hurricane Matthew, many evacuees from the coast were making their way into Atlanta where the conference was held to stay with family and friends until the storm passed by. Evidently, because of this, every Atlanta thoroughfare was jammed to the max.

So many that evening were waiting, watching, and hoping despite dire predictions of wind speeds and storm surge that they’d have a home after the storm passed. People I knew personally were as we heard repeatedly “hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.”

I’d just left a woman I worked with whose mother was in an intensive care unit in Florida where the storm was about to hit. All the doctors and nurses there were under 72-hour lock down. Repeatedly, my friend’s flights to Florida had been cancelled, but she still hoped to get a flight out the next morning to be with her mother.

I work at the Catalyst registration desk, and a pastor and his wife approached the desk. Concern and compassion spilled out. ”Could we transfer our tickets to next year? The storm is veering toward the area where we pastor a church and we feel we need to return.” I felt for them driving so far having just arrived the day before.

Another family I know evacuated to the north, but their home sits on a coastal marsh. Any amount of storm surge could destroy everything they owned. This family had already suffered the loss of their only son a few years back.

My heart broke as I prayed for these folks.

I inched along in the traffic. It was clear I was going to have an extraordinarily long trip home. I turned on the radio and “In the Eye of the Storm” played. Click HERE to listen.
I couldn’t imagine a more appropriate song for those who had left everything and were now stuck on the interstate wondering what the outcome might be. It’s as if the words were written just for them. Now I cried as I prayed.

I wondered about the person who wrote “In the Eye of the Storm.” How could he write such words if he hadn’t experienced loss? When I returned home, I did a little research.

The author, Ryan Stevenson, was a paramedic for eight years, lost his mom early in life, and he and his wife suffered the miscarriage of twin daughters. He said this in a New Release Today interview, “One of the things I've seen as a paramedic is that we all have true, real struggles, ugly parts of our lives that we are dealing with and failures and defeats. In the middle of that, when we feel our sails are ripped out in the battles and wars we are going through, we can feel like we float out to sea where the Lord isn't paying attention to us and He's overlooked us. I want this song to say no to that. His promise to us is that He is the anchor of our being, and He is our only hope.”

Ryan had written the song just as a personal testimony thinking it would never see air play, but God has used it over and over to bring encouragement to those going through hard times. And I’m sure Hurricane Matthew was no exception.

So here on this Tuesday morning, many are now digging out. Some have found trees or wind have destroyed their homes or if they’re still standing, water has flooded them. Our prayers go out to those driven from their homes in North Carolina because of the terrible flooding. Sadly, many lives have been lost during the lashing of this storm. So even after the storm passes, there’s so much grief and heartache still to deal with, but we remember that last thing Ryan said: “His promise to us is that He is the anchor of our being, and He is our only hope.”

That works when dealing with the effects of a storm named Matthew or one by any other name, too.
God is a safe place to hide,
    ready to help when we need him.
We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom,
    courageous in seastorm and earthquake,
Before the rush and roar of oceans,
    the tremors that shift mountains (Psalm 46:1-3 The Message).
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