Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Dazzling Details of One Day

Occasionally, I come to the time I write this blog, and find myself staring at a blank page. It’s been like that this week. We’ve been in a season of loss, but as you may have seen on my social media, we lost a spiritual giant in our lives a few days ago, Rev. Grady Wigley. We feel a little deflated, so I’ve prayed for God’s help to write what he would have me write. I decided to pull out files from the year I first met Grady and review them. 

Grady’s service yesterday was on Pentecost Sunday. I first met him on Pentecost Sunday exactly forty years ago (I don’t feel nearly as old as that sounds). I was at a pivotal point in my life, coming out of a dark place just having fully surrendered my life to the Lord less than a year before.

As you saw on social media, because of a connection to my then pastor and his wife whom Grady had married, after learning I was moving, my pastor recommended I attend Grady’s church and contacted him to let him know I was coming. Only God knows the full extent of how that one suggestion changed my whole life. My first piece of mail at my new apartment was from Grady inviting me to church.

In a bulletin I've saved from that church visit, I see that on that long ago morning, Grady preached on Acts 2:17, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams." That scripture is all about the extraordinary ways God would communicate with his people. We see that played out in the scriptures with God often moving through dreams and visions. For many years now, dreams have been one of the ways God speaks to me, bringing healing, consolation, and guidance.

Also, in the church bulletin, there’s a notice about a Focus on the Family class for parents. I would later write for a Focus on the Family parenting magazine for several years. At that point I only kept journals, being a writer had only ever been a dream.

Also in my files, I found an Upper Room Magazine from that time and flipped through the pages. I read the devotion I would have read on that first Pentecost Sunday in my new home and can’t believe it was written by Dr. Tommy Tyson. Oh, my. Tommy Tyson, an evangelist who would also later become a spiritual mentor as we would have opportunity to get to know him in a personal way. He was also connected to many others who have become mentors both personally and through their writing including Dr. Mark Rutland, Francis MacNutt, and Madeleine L’Engle.

And of course, one of my highest honors is that I would be privileged to have my own devotions appear in the pages of the Upper Room Magazine.

I see in just that initial Sunday in the new chapter of my life, that God was giving me clues to my future. I catalog everything. I guess I’ve always been writing a book. But these details help me understand that if we pay attention, we will often see God’s powerful work. He’s in the dots that seem random at first but connect in an intricate way to form wondrous patterns in our lives.

I've written here before what my beloved neighbor, Dwain Chambers, says, “Remember God is at work in the fine print. God is at work in the parentheses.”

One of the most interesting notes in that first bulletin is the list of ushers that would serve. As I read the list, I am amazed to discover on that Sunday, Jerry Varnado was one of them. 

My first recollection of Jerry is from several months later when he gave his testimony on laity Sunday—this lawyer who had an amazing encounter with God after tragedies in his life. It would be a year before we had our first date and now, we are married more than thirty. It’s possible Jerry welcomed me that first Sunday, shook my hand and told me he was glad I was there, perhaps handing me a bulletin or an offering plate. God smiled knowing what was in store. 

I had so much anxiety about moving to a place where I didn’t really know anyone. I listed questions in my journal on the day before my move, “What if I get fired?” “Where will I go, then?” but my biggest concern was “What if I let God down?” I know now that we can’t really let God down.  We let ourselves down. God’s not on a roller coaster like the people we know. He’s always the same and his love for us never changes. But I go on to respond to these doubts. “Then I remember, today, He gives me strength.  I must abide in Him and die to my wants, knowing that always I’ll be His and He’ll be mine. I love Him, so.”

Forty years later, I still love Jesus so, and give Him thanks for the amazing life He has given me. Yes, we have faced hard times of every variety but for all these years He has been faithful and as I write with tears streaming down my face, I am so incredibly grateful. Where we are today is in large part due to our spiritual father, Grady, who was there at the beginning and  whom God use to lay a foundation at that crucial time in my life and in Jerry’s life. He showed us what the love of the Father looks like.

 None of us knew it was in preparation for a lifetime in ministry. But of course, God did.

First I had no words for today, and then there were way too many in this rambling post like a dam breaking because of my new discoveries and rediscoveries of that first day in what would be my new home. I've gone from a heart deflated to a heart overflowing. Friends, if you’re facing an unknown, know He’s already there, preparing a way, connecting the dots, just as He did for me.

He's all in the dazzling details.


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Wednesday, May 19, 2021

When you want a place of safety

The wren family that recently put my studio clean out on hold for a while finally got the little ones flapping out the door.

I resumed my decluttering this week, and I roped Jerry into repairing a cat access door so the birds wouldn’t be able to come back.

But when the door was down for repair, the wrens had put the word out in the Wrens Gazette that they’d recently come into possession of an excellent condo, free for the taking. Someone else showed up with a leaf in his mouth ready to nestle in.

There I stood in the open doorway with Mr. Wren and I in a showdown.

I won but barely. He left begrudgingly and we hurried to close up the condo.

I get it. Who could blame him for wanting to put his family high in the rafters out of the rain and wind? I hope he didn’t take it too hard.

We’re all looking for a place of safety and they’re awfully hard to come by in this old world. It’s tempting to think if we could just build our nest in a particular location that we’ll be free from sorrows and pain.

The Psalmist wrote, “Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young—a place near your altar” (Psalm 84:3).

Right up near the altar of God is the only place of enduring safety where our hearts can find the consolation and solace that truly lasts no matter what else is happening, because there is no hard times insulation.

And any thing that appears to be so is only a mirage.

We are all going to face difficulties. The difference in how we deal with them has to do with where we’ve made our nest.

I’m embedding myself right at the altar.

There’s plenty of room.

Join me, won't you?

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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

A Great Cloud

We’ve recently lost several important and remarkable people in our lives.

Debra became part of our congregation early in Jerry’s ministry. She came to us from the Peace Corp where she served in Ecuador. While with us she earned her Master and Doctorate Degrees and went on to a lifelong career in education at the high school and collegiate levels.

She had many talents, only one of which was needlework. When Jerry and I were married, she crafted an exquisite and intricate cross stitch sampler with our names and wedding date. It has hung on our bedroom wall our entire married life.

While with us, Debra participated in the choir, Bible studies, and served in several church positions no matter what else was going on in her life. She never looked for recognition. When I think of her, I’m reminded of her selfless faithfulness to God.

I had never met a cowboy before, but that’s what Tim was when he walked into our church when Jerry was a student pastor. He, his wife Alice and daughter, Rebecca were the first people Jerry ever received into church membership.

Tim was humble and quiet and yet his presence in any gathering carried weight. In time, he and his family bought a property which they turned into an incredibly special organic farm where he also developed a process to grind corn using his mule, Luke. The result was Red Mule Grits which he shipped all over the country. His products were served in some of the finest upscale restaurants in the world.

Whenever we had a church meeting, many professional people from all walks of life gathered and spoke on various issues, but when Tim stood to speak, a hush fell on the room. We all realized, we needed to listen. Because Tim had something exceedingly rare in this old world—wisdom.

I will remember him Tim for his sage and poignant words that often saved us from error, and I pray God is raising up someone else with those same qualities.

Our friend Evelyn was also a person who did not announce herself, yet her gift of encouragement helped sustain many. Though we only knew her for a short time in the latter years of her life, her influence was profound and will last well beyond the span of her years. She’s someone I would have hoped to spend more time with, but circumstances did not allow. I will count on catching up with her in heaven.

Gwen, the wife of my husband’s former law partner gave us many gifts. We will especially never forget her gracious hospitality that made it possible for Jerry to have a specialized cancer treatment while staying at her out of state vacation property.

Also possessing a master’s degree, her list of accomplishments is long in civic leadership and church service.

Whenever we received a note from her, its eloquence made it seem as if it were destined for the pages of a literary novel. That’s the kind of person she was. If you had opportunity to even brush up against her, you would know she was extraordinary. And yet, she too, carried herself in a quiet way. One of my favorite facts about her is she competed in the Miss America pageant in 1948 as Miss Georgia. She was a real beauty all her days—inside and out.

It has been such a great privilege to have known these exceptional people. When I reflect on these lives, they are as different as you could possibly imagine, and yet they all have commonalities. They were people of great faith and substance, yet they did not shout about their own importance.

We knew it without being told.

In these days of endless selfies, social media drama, and living loud, Debra, Tim, Evelyn, and Gwen had nothing to do with any of that. But the impressions they made are deep and long lasting. More than what they gave us that hangs on our walls, it’s what they gave us that hangs in our hearts that has made the real difference. Each of them in their own way has profoundly changed our lives and the world and taken their place in the great cloud of witnesses.

Oh, how I wish we could take a page from their book. Or better yet, take a page from THE book that each of these dear people embraced.

As Eugene Peterson translated Hebrews 12:1 “Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed . . . “

Let’s not forget where we’re headed either and keep our eyes on Jesus. Let’s allow Jesus to give us the perseverance and power to help change our world as well.

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Tuesday, May 4, 2021

"Y'all Have Fun"

“Y’all Have Fun”

For the first twenty-one years of my life, I often heard the phrase, “Y’all have fun.” They were words spoken by my grandmother whenever we were parting. I’m confident they were the last words I ever heard her say.

I’ve pondered over the years the why of that instruction.

I’ll never know for sure because she died when I was in college, and I didn’t think to ask her while she was still with us. But I have a theory.

It’s an understatement to say my grandparents did not have easy lives. They raised nine children and took on one more during the heart of the Great Depression. They made their living as sharecroppers and then later as mill workers starting work before dawn keeping at it until dark. When I stayed with them as a child, my grandfather in his late seventies and eighties still rose at 4:30 to tend a garden. My grandmother would can vegetables and dry apples. They raised flowers to sell. Her own mother died when my grandmother was fourteen and she then became the woman of the house raising her siblings. Another reason her life was difficult.

My grandparents in their garden

I believe she wanted for her children and grandchildren a life that would not be so arduous—a life that would include more fun. For me, when I think of the time spent at her house, that in itself was fun. On hot summer days, we would rock on the front porch and drink RC Colas or Grape Nehis as we watched cars pass. We’d wind through the garden paths and gawk at the brilliant dinner plate dahlias that loomed over us, stick our noses in country rose blooms and inhale their fragrance maybe pick a few. As the day faded into the evening, we’d go back to the porch to watch fireflies sparkle in the dark. Those activities would probably seem to kids today the most banal thing they could think of, but they were wonders to me and my sister.

Our grandmother was a woman of whom it could be said she never raised her voice—an oasis of calm. I've written here before of her admonition, "You have to bite your tongue" and how I wish I had tattooed it on my forehead. Her stories like making a dress out of the curtains a la Scarlet O’Hara make me smile. She gave us so many wonderful memories which still bring us joy.

Fun often falls to the bottom of the list around here and as I was speaking with friends recently, I was reminded of what my grandmother used to say. We need to be intentional about having fun to stay balanced in our lives, to keep our joy.  After a year like we’ve all had, it’s even more necessary. Solomon reminds us, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under Heaven . . . a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4).

So, here’s your instruction for this week. Have a wonderful Mother’s Day, and please remember the words of my grandmother.

 “Y’all have fun.”

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