Monday, September 12, 2016

What Do You Love?

On a recent trip to the beach, I was listening to the sounds I love while reading my devotional book, contemplating these words...What do I love?

This question was asked in the book, "Longing for More, Finding God in the Rhythms of Life," by Timothy Willard, "Do you love the Word of God?"

The wheels of my mind were already spinning with thoughts of people I love, places I feel most at home and connected to, material things that bring comfort and joy, and memories that bring feelings of love and peace.

But I had to ask myself the hard question, "Do I love the Word of God?" Do I think of it throughout my day? Do I study and treasure it for the priceless gift it is to me? Do I regard it as the living, breathing representation of the person of Christ?

For those of you who remember the inaugural days of the television show Survivor, the participants were allowed to take three items with them to the remote location of the filming of the show. They were unaware of their destination.

I watched a season or two in the beginning with my family and silently chose my three items. Two of my three items were books, one being my Bible. I don't remember the reason I chose it, because I know my love for Him is so much deeper and truer now than it was then. I'm going to admit my third item was mascara, if that tells you anything. I don't wear makeup, but never leave home without mascara. My eyes disappear without it.

The question in my devotional book brought it to the forefront again. What do we love? Where do we spend our time, where do we spend our money? How often are you hauling your children to this sports activity or that music lesson? Do you spend your tithe on everything except the church or worthy ministries that benefit someone other than yourself? Larry Burkett said, and I'm paraphrasing, "Let me see your checkbook, and I'll tell you where your treasure lies."

When I ask myself the question about loving the Word of God, it begins with loving God first, then loving others before myself. This is the first and greatest commandment. The me that had a desire to take my Bible on an imaginary trip to a deserted island was a grand gesture, but the me who walks the planet today has a greater desire to live it out in flesh and blood through loving hurting people. I want to live it out through the words I speak and write and the actions of my hands and feet. The word of God is not only living and breathing in the pages of scripture, but it is also living and breathing through His people on earth.

Are you being the word of God where you live? Are you being the living, breathing truth of the gospel that a hurting world can grasp and know they have seen the Word of God lived out before them?

Jesus said, "Go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey whatever I commanded you." And He won't care one iota if you have mascara, or not.

The answer to the question, "What do I love?" lies in the answer itself. What are my actions? Am I making disciples with the the love I've been given, or am I merely hoarding knowledge for the sake of personal gain? Am I giving myself away to those in need or wallowing in my self-pity because of my own neediness? Do I give finances sacrificially or out of abundance? Just a few questions you may need to ask yourself as we seek to live the abundant life. I've already been asking myself the questions and I'm not too pleased with the answers.

But, unlike the show Survivor, I won't be voted off the island. My God is a God of second chances, or as many as my repentant heart needs. He has the ability to see into my soul and discern truth. He also said, "Ask and it will be given..." So, if my desire is to love Him and His word, and I ask, it will be granted. That's all I need to know.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Let All Creation Roar

I had an opportunity to slip away to the beach for a couple of days due to a bridal shower near the beach. I prefer going late summer and early fall, mostly for my budget, but I also like the slower pace and the cooler temps. This worked perfect all around. The humidity was lower and the evenings offered a nice balmy atmosphere as the sun dipped into the western sky.

I was almost giddy my first evening as I sat on the shore with a cup of coffee doing what I love. I never tire of the majesty of creation that points to a Creator. His Presence is everywhere. His handiwork is cast upon the sand as the waves roll in bringing treasures from the deep. All manner of shapes and sizes lay before me. Man, in his finite knowledge doesn't have the ability to craft as many different kinds and colors as can be found in the natural world, though we may try.

Come and see what God has done,
how awesome his works in man's behalf.
Psalm 66:5

Many fortunes have been made throughout the centuries by brilliant artists, and when it all boils down they are merely trying to reproduce what the original artist Himself first created, In the beginning...

Can you blame them? It was a sight to behold as the pink and purple tones of the evening sky were on display for all to see. The clouds were strewn about the horizon as cotton candy, made especially for me, a feast for the eyes. And when the sun completely disappeared, stars replaced the cotton candy, dotting the night sky like Christmas lights, except it's Christmas year round in God's world. The scene is drawn every night upon the canvas, free for anyone, anywhere in the world.

The roar of the sea is a reminder that He is always present, always faithful, never changing. Is there a time the sea does not make noise? When I return to the eastern coastline, it never loses the characteristics that tell me where I am. Manmade markers certainly change the landscape, but the salty air, the ocean breeze, and swell of the tide cannot be mistaken, nor do they ever leave the place they were assigned.

In an ever-changing world where nothing is safe there is One who never changes. I will put my trust in Him and Him alone. If you think anyone in this world is going to fix your problems you are wrong. Fix your eyes on the only one who has the power for now and eternity.

We assign power and prestige to those we think can bring those same qualities to our own lives, when in reality they lead us further away from the one thing we truly need...a relationship with the Creator.

I'm reading through the Psalms and after writing this post, the next Psalm in my reading said this:

He rules forever by His power,
His eyes watch the nations,
let not the rebellious rise up against Him.
Psalm 66:7

I don't have cable television, but I can glean from what I hear and read about our political climate and our choices, America is on a slippery slope, with a very short slide. He may just be growing weary of her rebelliousness.

The Bible also says creation has no problem understanding her connection and responsibility to the Creator. It says in Luke 19:40, even the rocks will cry out in praise of creation. And we, the crown of all His glorious creation have dishonored Him and spit in His face with our self-righteous, haughty attitudes. How can we even ask for mercy. As a pastor in my church said recently in Sunday School, He's already been more than merciful.

Oh that we as a people would see Him for who He is through the world He has given us. Look around as summer fades and autumn bursts forth with colors that man can only dream of reproducing. The sky above turns a shade of blue the entire state of North Carolina will stop in their tracks and salute. It's a shade of blue that sets the heart aflutter, puts a bounce in your step and gives hope that today is going to be a good day. Have you ever noticed the day after a horrendous storm is usually one of these kind of blue skies? It's a gentle reminder from God that He is in control and better days are ahead.

And the orange and gold that shows out in my part of the country is so much more beautiful than the Clemson orange or the Georgia Tech yellow, though Death Valley lays only twenty minutes from my home, and Atlanta is two hours south.

He is watching and He is in control. I trust the truth in those ancient words, and I trust Him. This is His world whether you believe that, or you don't. History and the future will prove it. Don't let creation and the rocks be louder than the praise that comes from your mouth as you witness beauty wherever life takes you.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Giving Hope in the Shadows

Accolades and recognition. Isn't this what human nature craves? We claim humility, and then announce to all social media outlets the deeds of our humility. At this point, it ceases to be humility.

I'm including myself in this observation.

We want everyone to know our lives count for something. We want to be seen as caring, responsible, active, and serving while also trying to keep all the balls of family and responsibility juggled. And we want to look as good as possible while juggling.

What's the point of service, of ministry?

The point is there is a world around us in despair. Our neighbors and community are a people with masks that hide the pain and dysfunction of life.

It's our responsibility to love them, to listen, to meet a need if possible. Listening is key. Walking with someone through tragedy, carrying their burden as your own.

The unsung heroes of my world are those who quietly serve. They take a meal to a family in need, where no eyes are watching. They stand in a hot kitchen and dish out food for the homeless. They rescue a young mother by giving her an afternoon of rest and freedom. They shovel mud out of flooded houses and deliver clean water, as well as hugs. They lay their heads on a hard gym floor at the end of a long day, or crawl into an air mattress that goes flat during the night. The unsung heroes pray weekly at a local coffee shop, no fanfare, no applause. The utterance of their lips speak of the needs of others. The heroes I know are not strangers to hospitals and nursing homes. There is no difference in span of life.

You may never see their names posted or their deeds applauded, but that doesn't deter their work of love.

When I was a teenager, growing up in the hills of West Virginia, my unsung heroes came in the form of my mom's best friend and her husband. After losing my mom at 15 years of age, she fixed lunch for me every day until I graduated from high school. She prepared a feast for me, day after day, year after year. Grilled cheese, ham and cheese on hoagie bread, burgers and fries, and dessert awaited me, and hugs were dished out before I rolled back to school with a full tummy. She even peeled my oranges and separated the slices; and a couple of times she slipped money in my pocket, given by her neighbors. I don't know of anyone on the planet whose heart is bigger. Very few people knew she did this for me. But God did and her acts are recorded in His memory. One year her husband made me a goodie box with all my favorite things. This is an example of caring "for the least of these."

Who we are as a people outside the church walls is much more important than who we are on the inside of those walls. We were not commanded to minister to the like minded. We are commanded to go to the uttermost places of the earth. The uttermost may be in your community, your state, or your own four walls.

Choose service without the hope of announcement. After all, the One who see all and knows all is the final judge. He will remember the deeds unseen, the intercession uttered, and the lives forever changed. The acts of love done in the secret place are many times, the most needed, and the most lasting.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

What I'm Reading Lately

Ok friends, it's time for a beginning of summer book and podcast update.

Have I mentioned how much I love to read? I know I have, and I love it more as I age. My reading taste is not as diverse as I'd like, so I've been branching out a bit. If you're a writer, one of the best pieces of writing wisdom is to read books in your genre, but also read lots of fiction. I've not made a secret of my love of memoir; people fascinate me. Most of my writing is non-fiction, and I tend to lean in this direction in my reading as well. However,  I've been reading more fiction, but none I'm willing to recommend. I take seriously the responsibility of recommending a book.

My First Love...Memoir

by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle has been on many book lists, as well as writing conference "must reads" if you're going to write your own memoir. It's been on my TBR list for awhile. I tucked it in my luggage on a recent trip to New York City, but didn't get very far because of the busyness of the trip. As soon as I got home, I devoured it. Yes, it was that good. Author, Jeanette Walls, reveals her childhood story of life in a dysfunctional family that redefined the word dysfunctional for me. Her memories are vivid and well written, but it's her story of survival in the midst of heartbreaking circumstances that kept me reading. Some of her most difficult years were spent in a small town in West Virginia, only 75 miles from where I grew up. She's within a few months of being my age and I could identify with the time and place as well as the unfairness life. At the tender age of 17, she leaves home for the bright lights of the city where she makes a name for herself in the world of newspapers and  television. The book is in the process of filming for the big screen.

by Adam S. McHugh

Are you a good listener? The Listening Life by Adam S. McHugh has transformed my understanding of communication. Relationships are the foundation of life and this book has not only helped me understand and learn how to be the right kind of listener, it's given me insight to ways I've coped because of my childhood. A true listening life is more powerful than words if we learn to hear and understand those in pain. I will reread the book again and again. This book should be read by anyone who is in the business of counseling or comforting others. I can't remember when a book made as profound impact on me as this one, except maybe Simply Tuesday, by Emily P. Freeman.

by Madeleine L'Engle

This book took several chapters to decide if I liked it, but it was worth the read. The second half of the book was much easier for me than the first. Her writing is intellectual, yet comforting; part memoir, spiritual journey, with writing practices sprinkled throughout. I'm glad I pressed on through the beginning pages. It was worth the effort for the nuggets I discovered. 

More Podcasts...

For Writers


10-Minute Writer's Workshop

Pop Culture and Media

The Popcast with Knox and Jamie

Enjoy your summer, and happy reading!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

New York City, of All Places

You may have thought, because of the post title, I was going to write about my recent trip to the Big Apple. Yes, it was an amazing four days. NYC is definitely a destination for your bucket list.

I could tell you about going to my first Broadway play, Beautiful, the story of the life of Carol King. Her music had me in tears for most of the production. I'm a child of the sixties and seventies and the music touched me deeply.

Me and Janet
I could tell you of the lights and energy of Times Square at 11:00 p.m., and the feeling of safety in the midst of thousands of people.

I could tell you of museums and parks and famous sightings. Or, the underground subway ride with the chest of drawers on its way to a new home.

I could rave about the food...oh, the food was so good. It really was. And the ladies I broke bread with are the best travel companions. Anna, daughter of Janet, my longtime friend, planned our excursions with the finesse of a travel agent. We followed her everywhere she wanted to take us, walking 33.5 miles in four days. Did I mention the delicious food we ate? It's a good thing we walked 33.5 miles.

There are occasions in life when you're confronted with a person, event, or conversation and you must plunge into the encounter based on prior knowledge, your own gut feeling, or fear. Taxi ride, need I say more? The only time we hailed a cab, apart from the shuttle to and from the airport, was a 30 minute ride from the Upper West Side back to the center of Manhattan. It was a moment in my life, planned before I drew breath. Our days are not random or by chance.

Skyline view from Central Park
I am a committed believer in Jesus Christ. I write in this space and tell of my beliefs, my struggles, and my joys. This is a safe place to express my heart. During the ride in the cab, our driver, a twenty-something college student, began a conversation about politics and social issues. He assumed, from our accent, we were southerners. I have no idea how he knew. Anyway, he also assumed we were conservative homophobes.

For the record, I must tell you, in the past my husband would've taken the lead in friendly banter and I would've sat quietly in the backseat people watching and daydreaming. However, this time, I found myself explaining my political views, my social issue opinions, and defending my faith.

The young man boasted of being an atheist. Before leaving the cab, and this enlightening exchange of world views, I was able to tell him of God's love for him and Jesus' death on the cross for him. It was a natural progression of conversation. I didn't beat him over the head with it, and he promised he would think about all we'd said. He asked that I do the same, and I have.

It was a short conversation in the scope of the entire trip, yet it was one I will not soon forget. A seed was planted right in the middle of NYC on a beautiful Friday afternoon. We each made an impression with someone who is blind and deaf about the most important part of life, with our words, our demeanor, and our smiles. This is what we are called to do as believers, "Be ready in season..."

9-11 Memorial and Museum
Did I say all the right things? Only God knows. Will He use our words in this man's life? Only God knows, but the Bible says His word will not return void.

I want to be ready to share my faith with whomever is put in my path. I must not be afraid to share the truth of all I've learned and experienced in this life. We must be sensitive to the beliefs of others, yet firm in our own belief. Then, and only then, will we be taken seriously in this post Christian world we live in.

True freedom cannot be found in the temporal, but the eternal. That should be our message. It's not up to us to change the world, but we need to be faithful and obedient to whatever opportunities we have. He will do the rest. It's a promise.

With the summer months upon us, many will be out of their normal routine. Where, and with whom will you find yourself in a cab or hotel, on a boat or restaurant? People are looking for answers to life's deepest questions and meaning. If you're a believer, you have the answer. Be gentle and kind and let Love talk. Amazing adventures await you.