Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Walt and what he taught me about unconditional love

My friend, Walt, is trying to come back from the stroke he had a few days ago.  

I’ve known Walt almost my whole life, and two words come to mind when I think of him and his wife, Marthaunconditional love.
Walt and Martha with my son, Aaron, and me nine months pregnant about to deliver my daughter, Bethany.
They sent this picture to me only two weeks ago.
Walt was my pastor way back in high school. Though I was the church pianist, I was already on my wandering way to making several disastrous decisions that would take me in a very wrong direction.

Walt attempted to counsel me. I can still see him sitting in the chair opposite me, trying to help me see the error in my thinking.

Would I listen?


Headstrong, I refused to take his counsel and ultimately caused a massive train wreck of my life.

After several years, I finally surrendered my life wholly to God, to the only one who could untangle the wreckage and make sense of what remained.

Walt never rejected me. I never heard an “I told you so.” He didn’t stand on the sidelines waiting to criticize or make sure he had the last word.

Instead, as my life came together, he began inviting me to sing and speak at his churches, welcoming me with a loving heart and open arms. When I married Jerry, he invited Jerry to preach at events held at churches where Walt was a pastor.

For a lifetime now, Walt and Martha have epitomized unconditional love for me and given me a picture window into the heart of God. God loves us not for our work, but because we are His. Walt and Martha helped me see authentic love doesn’t make the beloved jump through hoops or meet performance standards. Real love loves, no matter what.

I know someone today, advanced in years, who seems to love based on others' performance, a person whose affection is up and down depending on circumstances and criteria met. I think of all that person has missed of what unconditional love means, and I feel sad for them, sad they couldn’t learn from someone like Walt and Martha.

In books already written and in the acknowledgements of Faith in the Fashion District releasing later this year, you will read Walt and Martha’s names, where I thank them for their spiritual mentoring. Their example laid a foundation for me that has proved sure and steadfast now for many years. They gave me a gift I try to remember and pass on to others. Their love has helped me love better those in my life.

Walt, please know I’m praying for you. I am incredibly blessed to have you in my life. And to quote a man who knew himself what it was like to be loved unconditionally, “I thank my God every time I remember you” (Philippians 1:3).

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

What the pain, the rash, and the dogwood have to do with each other

When the pain started in my leg, I attributed it to a chronic back issue. When the rash developed a week later, I thought it eczema caused by cold, dry weather. But when I woke at three in the morning with chills, well, I thought I had a terminal disease, because isn’t that what we all have at three in the morning?

Turns out it was none of these things.

“Shingles,” the nurse said without hesitation. “But we’ll see what the doctor says.”

“Shingles,” the doctor said. She inspected the reddish-purple patches on my leg. “If you’d come earlier we could have helped you more.”

“But I thought shingles affected your torso.” I had pain around my side which again I thought came from my back, but the rash extended from my hip to my knee.

“Follows the nerve. You can have it anywhere.” She wrote out a prescription for an antiviral and a steroid cream, which helped with the blisters that developed later that day.

I started backtracking over the last couple of months. Folks talk about their plates being full, but in November, my plate began feeling like one of those cheap paper plates used at picnics. As responsibilities piled on, the plate started bending and I feared things would slide off.

I sensed the Holy Spirit’s nudging, reminding me of what He taught me during that year I had cancer. Just because the need is there doesn’t mean I’m the one responsible to meet it. I know this. I do.

Why oh, why did I think this time was an exception?

Somehow, I managed, but my body went into rebellion.

How much the overload has contributed, I don’t know, because I’m also taking a medicine that may have weakened my immune system. In any event, for the past week, I pulled the plug, for more than one reason. As long as I have the blisters, I am contagious for chicken pox to those who haven’t had them or are not immunized.

Going forward, I have to figure out how to minimize the pressure. That’s going to involve hearing from God and a two-letter word that no one wants to hear and is so very hard to sayNO. It means disappointing folks.

I read in an upcoming Sunday school lesson from a writer who shares she hadn't pruned a bunch of shoots from a dogwood tree, which meant, “Some of them were drying up and dying; others of them looked sickly and weak. They didn’t have a single aim; they were too distracted to grow; their strength was divided up. And I knew that for the sake of a strong future, that dogwood tree needed me to trim back its shoots.”
Well, just call me a cornus florida (dogwood) because that’s exactly what’s been happening to me. Too distracted and strength divided. To get strong again, I have to do some pruning.
Jesus says in Matthew 11:28, "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."
When we come to Him with our heavy burdens, we hear what we need to let go of, and then as we do, we experience rest instead of that feeling we have of needing to keep all the balls in the air.

If you’re reading this, and it feels like you have too many shoots on your tree, take note. As Bible teacher Beth Moore says, “It’s always better to learn it in the classroom than on a field trip.”

Join me in getting out the pruning shears.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

What will your color be?

Many choose a word to live by at the beginning of the New Year. For example, my friend Julie chose the word give and I love what she wrote about it.

But, I didn’t know there was a color of the year until I saw Pantone’s pick for 2018. Pantone is the innovator of a system which allows manufacturers and designers to match colors. That way when a company in the USA wants a blouse in Holly Red, the designer in France can look at their Pantone chart and match it. (I don’t know if there is a Holly Red, but you get the idea.)


If I needed to choose a color for the year, what color might I choose? 
Maybe a sea green. I just painted a bathroom a version of that color.

As I was thinking about this, I came across a powerful video.

In the video Remi Onayemi says, “When we understand what Christ has done through his life, death, burial, and resurrection, it begins to color everything that we do. We realize we are here on this earth for a special purpose, and that purpose is to know God through His word and to make Him known or to make disciples. This means I think missionally about everything I do.”

Then I knew. I want my color for this year and every year to be Jesus. I long for Him to color every relationship I have and everything I do, say, and write. I want my life to be saturated with Him.

Jesus said it this way in The Message translation of Matthew 5:14, “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept.”

So, let’s go for it in 2018.

Let’s allow God to use our lives as His paintbrush coloring the world for His glory.


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

On being a champion

When you’re married to Jerry Varnado who spent a big chunk of his life on the football field and played on a Southeastern Championship team,  you’d better learn to love college football, and especially guys dressed in red and black.

And so I have.

During the close match-up during the Rose Bowl, I almost had to undecorate the Christmas Tree to deal with my tension level. Double overtime and all. I heard the anxiety level rose so high with one University of Georgia fan, she actually jumped into her Christmas tree. I understand.

As I began to write this post, the match up for the national championship loomed. Our guys haven’t won  a national championship since 1980 so tension has been high, and my Christmas decorations were already in the closet. I didn’t know what I would do if it became a replay of the Rose Bowl. I guess I’d resort to my usual pacing.

Well, now we know, our guys didn’t win. Lost by a measly three points last night in overtime.

Though the match up was called the championship game, it seems to me that being a champion encompasses far more than getting the highest score and taking the trophy home.
Olympian speed skater Apolo Ohno who at one time topped the list of most medals won at a winter Olympics said this, “Do I feel any pressure as the most decorated Winter Olympian in American history? None at all. The only pressures that I know I face are those of how to pay it forward: How can I continually make a positive impact in people’s lives, help others achieve their dreams, create their own Olympic mindset, creating champions within themselves?”

Jesus said it this way, “Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities!” (Luke 12:48 The Message).

I believe our guys are champions no matter what the score was. The word champion itself came from the middle English, campio, which means fighter. Our guys are definitely that.  Few would have guessed last fall that they would have come this far. Several players delayed professional careers to try for a championship.
These fellows are fighters on the football field, but they are also fighters in other ways. Part of being a champion is being an advocate and defender of others.

One example of this is how tight end Jeb Blazevich has conducted himself. According to this source, for his work with Extra Special People (kids with disabilities) and other organizations like it, Blazevich was “one of 12 athletes named to the AFCA Allstate Goodworks team” and a “finalist for the Wuerffel trophy” given to a college football player for their work in the community.

I read somewhere that the success of the football team has spurred on athletes in other collegiate sports. As our guys take up the challenge of giving away what they know and what they’ve achieved, inspiring others to dream big dreams and never give up,  kids out there are looking to these players and seeing what they’ve done and deciding that they, too, can be champions.

So, let’s all take one giant step back and look at the big picture and not just one game.

Meanwhile, we’re still sporting our red and black here cause my hubby says, “I’m not going to whine about being number two in the nation.”

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Calenders, New . . . and Old

I have an affinity for calendars, new . . . and old.

My new one looks exactly like last year’s. They’re both red with hardback covers, but of course, my new one is pristine and doesn’t have old church bulletins stuck in it, post-its lining its cover, or highlighter markings leaping off every page. Years ago, I became fixed on one kind of calendar for a number of reasons. I like a monthly calendar because I can see at a glance the big picture of how life is going to go. This one is thin, easy to store and offers a number of blank pages in the back, which I use for keeping up with my daily writing word count, goal setting, and many other things. I often refer back to calendars of previous years to check notes.

I know what you’re thinking. Why don’t I keep my calendar on line and sync it with all my devices?

 I’ve been on a ninety-degree learning curve for as long as I can remember. Please let me keep my paper calendar. At least I don’t still use a typewriter.

 I also like calendars old.

I found this perpetual calendar at an estate sale. The days may be changed to accommodate any month or year.

It appears to be have been an advertising calendar because it has a shipping supply company from Kansas City stamped on its base. As you can see, the first year that appears on it is 1940.

In 1940, WWII was raging around the globe as both Brussels and Paris fell to German forces. Food rationing began in England as they prepared for German attack. Thankfully, Winston Churchill became prime minister of Britain in May.

Here in America, the first McDonald’s opened in California, and Walt Disney released his second animated film, Pinocchio. Even though the U.S. had maintained an isolationist stance, the rumblings of war cause President Roosevelt to create the first peacetime draft in U.S. history.

As I scan the calendar that begins years before I was born, I remember the hand of God in our corporate as well as personal histories. Winston Churchill would be instrumental in helping the Allies win the war, and the draft Roosevelt enacted would be crucial when Pearl Harbor was bombed the next year.

As I hold my new calendar in my hand looking forward to what God might do in the year ahead, and setting personal goals, I also look at my old calendar and give thanks that “hither by Thy help I’m come.”

I don’t imagine the first owner of the perpetual calendar ever dreamed I would have it on my desk and still be using it in 2018.

But I am, and perhaps yet another generation will also find it useful. Like the new one, this  old calendar also offers me a picture of how life is going to go . . . that no matter what happens, God will be with me in the future as He has been in the past.

So, friends, as you enter a new year, enjoy your new calendars, but also remember though calendars are for planning, they’re also for remembering and giving thanks.

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us” (I Samuel 7:12).

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