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.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Decluttering for the Home, Heart and Soul

Spring is a time of renewal, the time of year when life springs forth, the old is gone from the journey through winters' chill.

Spring is also a traditional time for renewing our homes.

When I was a little girl, spring was the signal for curtains and bedspreads to be stripped and washed. Walls and floors were scrubbed clean, drawers were emptied and rid of clutter. Once the room was sparkling clean linens were returned to beds and windows. And all was well in our world. This process was repeated In. Every. Room.

When I grew into an adult with my own home this was the only way I knew how to operate. I'd been taught the value of a clean, tidy home. To this day, I love the smell and satisfaction of washing curtains and bedspreads. My childhood is reborn through the practice of homemaking.

I've tried to continue this through the years, but as the years have increased, so has the size of my house. It's been impossible for me to clean every room, every year, and have a life apart from Windex and Lysol.

I've been in the process of decluttering due to reading a book called, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Condo. The fact that my house is for sale is another motivating factor.

I call myself an organized hoarder. My children's artwork was too precious to part with more than two decades ago. The boxes are now in the garage, four of them. Toys from long ago, Lego projects, dishes, dolls, and trucks of all sizes and variety were neatly packed away. But, the time has come to face the future without the baggage of the past.

The task seemed overwhelming when I began removing my life from the storage room. Everything was divided into three piles: Keep, Yard Sale, and Giveaway. I had to fight the urge to send everything to the Keep pile.

As I was sorting and reminiscing my thoughts ventured into contemplative mode. What if we could sort our experiences of life into three piles: Memories to Keep, Memories to Share, and Memories for the Trash? The life changing magic of decluttering the soul, mind, and spirit.

As one who's carried burdens way too long, the practice of decluttering my soul would put a skip in my step.

The Bible says in Lamentations 3:22-23, "His mercy is new every morning." Each day the sun rises in the eastern sky is an opportunity to begin again, to ask for mercy in the hard places, to share with someone the love I've experienced, and give thanks for my blessings.

Every day brings a new challenge all its own. If I drag the worries of yesterday, or last month, or decades past, I'm throwing the mercy of my Savior back in His face. I'm saying the mercy He offered wasn't enough.

I don't want to refuse a gift like that. I want to clean every nook and cranny of my heart until it sparkles clean. I want to experience the joy and satisfaction of living to the fullest, not berating myself for the failures of life. On my own, I'm not capable, but with Christ all things are possible, and through Him I can do all things.

In His strength, I can sort and throw away the clutter of my soul. He will be faithful to put the sparkle on the rooms of my heart.

Are there places in your life in need of decluttering? Join me in your heart and home and clean out anything that doesn't belong or bring joy to your life. We can all stand to lighten our load in every area of our lives,

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Birthday to Remember, But No Tears This Year

She would've been 80 years old today; my mother, the woman who gave birth to me, nurtured and molded me, and then died when I was fifteen years of age, and she, 38. She lives forever young in my mind.

Her eyes never aged to wear glasses and her hair, when she had it, had only a few gray streaks. It didn't glisten white like that of her beautiful sisters; though I can imagine what she would've looked like because of them. She was never mother-of-the-bride, and therefore, never held a grand baby. She never celebrated a silver wedding anniversary or felt the emptiness of her children leaving the nest.

But, her days were fulfilled as God planned them. Her life was complete in His eyes.

Memories are an interesting thing. They occupy a considerable part of the brain. They hold court in your mind anytime they see fit. Memories can be a source of joy, as well as pain, depending on your state of mind and life experiences.

Mom and me circa 1963
The memories I have of my mom have grayed with time. The same ones make their appearance as predictable as the changing of the seasons. Different stages of my life renew the fervor to retain the pictures in my mind, the voice, the body language, and unfortunately, the pain.

When I was a little girl in first grade, one of the most vivid memories I have was about a dress; and me not wanting to wear the dress. I left the house to walk a short distance to the bus stop. About half way down the street I stopped, eyes full of tears spilling down my cheeks, and turned to look back at my house. She was standing in the doorway. I can see her clearly in plaid bermuda shorts and matching blouse. I was close enough to hear her yell, "Cindy Jean, you get on down to the bus stop or I'm gonna spank you."

The rest of the story is a blur, but I don't remember a spanking so I must have obeyed. My dislike with some clothing was real or maybe it was a control issue. I was, and am, particular with the way clothes fit and feel. It can be a curse when looking for a specific item.

I've since learned I'm a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). Yes, for real. Much has been written on this kind of person and I qualify, without a doubt. It reaches into sounds, surroundings, and emotions, as well as physical. I don't think Mom cared much about my sensitivities that morning. I'm sure she didn't want me to miss the bus.

She had breast cancer so a lot of my memories involve hospitals and doctor offices, meds and recuperation. But in the midst of all she went through, I remember her smile and her belief that God was in control and she would be fine. I was naive and had no idea of the seriousness of her illness. I was five years old at the time of her diagnosis and they didn't give any details. All I knew was that we spent a lot of time in Charleston at the hospital, expecting her to come to the waiting room to see us.

Times were different in the late sixties and seventies. Facebook didn't exist so there was no sharing of her illness, no requests for prayer or support for family put out to 500 of my closest friends. Families were much more private and mine was almost to the point of a lock down. The only time I heard about it was on Wednesday night at church when her name was called aloud during prayer time.

She was brave and strong and it never occurred to me her days were finite. Her strength came from the God she loved. She put Him first in all she did.

Vacation in Washington D.C circa 1971
I never want to forget the sound of her voice, the laughter beyond the pain, or the way she loved her family. I want to remember her love of Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, and the way she would sing along to all their albums. She knew Every. Single. Word. And because I listened so much, so did I, and still do. I visited Loretta's home place in Butcher Holler while on a mission trip in Kentucky, and cried all the way through.

At times, I'd like to forget the arguments we had, the struggle she faced every day to walk, the pain and sorrow in her eyes, and the sight of my dad after she died. But those memories tell the complete story of who she was. I don't ever want to forget the joy she brought to others, and the stability she gave to our home.

I spent many years of my life weighed down with unresolved grief. Children who suffered from the loss of a parent were often overlooked in that era. Hospice didn't exist and the needs of children were not met with intention as they are today. Almost on a daily basis a memory would interrupt my thoughts to remind me of all I'd lost. Other life experiences compounded my inability to grieve.

I'm thankful to share after forty years since her death, my demons have been laid to rest. My dreams are no longer the stage where she returned for a curtain call night after night. The tears upon hearing her name have dried to a trickle. For these things, I thank God. In His faithfulness, He brought me to a place of grief and acceptance. He held me closely as I relived the memories and put them in the proper place. Grieving allowed me permission to finally lay her to rest.

This year, I'll quietly celebrate her life, her influence and her legacy...through my memories.

If you've lost someone you love, keep your memories alive. Talk about your loss, share your stories, and don't forget to grieve. Don't waste precious time in the pit of loneliness and unresolved grief. Allow Jesus to mend your heart and restore your joy.

Jehovah Rapha, the Lord who Heals, promises to bring healing; even if it's forty years in the process.