Wednesday, November 23, 2016

30 Days of Thankfuls

The older I get, the more I treasure the days I have left. Does that sound corny? That's my stage of life. I'm a retrospective person, and yet I ponder the future and how to make the most of the days ahead. Not wanting to waste a single moment, I need to celebrate the here and now. My soul needs a break from worrying about the unknown, and a reminder of the blessings of my life or I will implode.

My tender heart gets broken way too often, and though I know the Word says, "cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you...," I try to carry my own load. Maybe you fall into the same trap as me.

I'm choosing to be thankful in this season we focus on the blessings of our God. It goes without saying I'm thankful for my salvation, my family, my church, and friends. These are the extra gifts from the hand of my Provider. He knows my needs better than I do, and surprises me when I'm at my weakest. As you read my list, have a go at writing your own list of thankfuls. It does wonders for your soul, and it may bless someone else as you share.

These are in no particular order of importance...just random thoughts gathered over a steaming cup of tea on a cool, November morning.

1. Crisp, fall days.
2. Winesap apples.
3. Bringing out my worn jeans. We're like old friends.
4. Long walks where I don't drip sweat.
5. Two-for-one lattes at Starbucks.
6. Dark-thirty = Permission to read.
7. Sweatshirts and sweaters, need I say more?
8. November elections are over.
9. Friends who stick closer than family.
10. Pictures of West Virginia family on Facebook. I miss them so much.
11. Opportunities to love the needy.
12. Making new friends where age isn't a factor.
13. Answered prayer.
14. Doing the hard thing.
15. Celebrating God's goodness and faithfulness.
16. Ladies I serve with in missions.
17. Ladies I study the Bible with on Friday mornings.
18. Pets who bring comfort and companionship.
19. Sunday walks with a treasured friend.
20. Contrast of orange and yellow leaves against a Carolina blue sky...breathtaking.
21. Pansies and pumpkins.
22. The long inhale and exhale of rest.
23. The anticipation of upcoming celebrations.
24. Coffee dates.
25. Tea parties.
26. Music that speaks to my soul.
27. Sitting around a fire pit with friends.
28. Second chances.
29. Writing the words my lips cannot utter.
30. Gift of family.

What are the gifts you've been given? We all have them, even if we've been blinded by loss, pain, illness, financial ruin, or our own poor choices. Thanksgiving is the perfect time for do overs. It's the time of year to stop, and realign priorities, to think of someone other than yourself. It's a time for giving thanks for all you've been given, and then giving to others out of your bounty.

This is my favorite time of year. I love an excuse to slow the rhythm of life. My natural inclination lends itself to pondering the goodness of my Creator. Long walks with leaves crunching beneath my feet while a steaming cup of coffee or tea awaits is my happy place. I'm a simple person and it doesn't take much to keep me content. Take time to enjoy the next few days before the hustle of Christmas sucks the joy out of your days of thankfulness. Look into the faces of those sitting around your table. Have meaningful conversation without the distraction of technology. Love one another, for they are your greatest gifts.

Happy Thanksgiving Friends!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Reflections on Hartford...A New Awakening

I returned last week from a mission trip to Hartford, Connecticut. The last time I was in the northeast was with middle schoolers during their spring break on a mission trip to Brewster, New York in March of 2012. It was bitter cold if my brain is functioning properly. I must say my return visit was picturesque and filled with warm fuzzy memories.

I'll not soon forget the faces I met in the grocery store, the hotel and especially the street. We are proud of our hospitality in the south, but I was pleasantly surprised at being treated with kindness and respect everywhere I went. People were generous with smiles and warmth.

The day spent frying chicken for fifty people with Elaine and Paulette is a day I will treasure. We had a makeshift kitchen behind the hotel on a picnic table, as well as hotplates and slow cookers in a meeting room. As we worked in our outdoor kitchen, it began to sprinkle rain. The radar showed the entire region covered in green and Paulette began praying. The rain stopped. The green on the map never lifted. We fried 107 pieces of chicken and the rain never amounted to anything more than a few sprinkles, even though radar painted a different picture. We were exhausted by the end of our lonnng day but I wouldn't trade a minute of it. We were meant to walk in relationship with people through this life and this day was special in more ways than frying chicken.

I'll not forget praying for people on the street in downtown Hartford, on one of the busiest corners, in one of the worst neighborhoods. People are hungry for people who care. This was my own personal highlight, as well as the relationships I made with those on the trip.

I'll not forget Anderson University students praying for, giving out water to, and connecting with the citizens of Hartford and the surrounding area. They have a heart for ministry, students, the unloved, the broken. They gave their time during their fall break from classes to love on people 1000 miles from home who don't have a relationship with the God of the universe. There is a generation of young adults coming along that excites me. God is moving people. He is not finished if we are willing. He will work in and among those who will say "yes."

It was a unique joy to be part of the first service of The River Church of Glastonbury, Connecticut. Several of our group worked tirelessly preparing the sanctuary and grounds for the service while others spread throughout the town prayer walking and sharing information about the church. Pastor George Lim and his wife, Janelle are passionate believers in Jesus Christ and desire to minister to people in this community.

We traveled to Enfield, Connecticut where there's a rock laid and dedicated to the memory of Jonathan Edwards and the revival that sparked the Great Awakening. We gathered in a circle and sang "There is a Fountain," and then prayed for revival in our country, churches and personal lives. As we finished singing and unlocked hands, several people had stopped to sing with us.

And then we return to the real world of home, family and politics. I fall into the black hole of Facebook with everyone else and give way too much time and attention to the junk found in its trap. It's bad, very bad, and yes, I want Jesus to come back, but that would be a quick fix. And then a lot of people would die without Him; people I just prayed with on the street in Hartford, Connecticut. Who am I to say, "Come Lord Jesus?"

Yes, I'm tired of living in a fallen world; I'm tired of living in my fallen world with my pain and brokenness. But, thanks be to God He has the answer. It's not time. There are people who need Him and we must tell them.

No political candidate will ever dig us out of the mess we're in. E V E R. It takes individual people. You and me. One on one relationships, taking someone by the hand and telling them there is a God who will not vote for Trump or Clinton, but for them. He has a plan tailored just for you, and me.

"I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord..."
Jeremiah 29:13

It was timely for me to go to the northeast just before a major election. At one time, I saw them as enemies because they were traditionally liberal. Now, I see them as friends and in need of my Jesus. Won't you join me in praying for them? We are ONE nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Living Loud Inside My Head

Have you met the kind of person who exuded confidence and a bubbly personality? This same person could charm the neighbor's kid, the neighbor's dog, and the fence you had a chat over? I grew up surrounded by those kind of people.

I'm not one of them.

I'm quiet and reserved, until I discover something we have in common. My outward demeanor may come across as calm but most of the time the voices in my head are noisy. For many years I became accustomed to listening to the clanging sounds telling me I would never measure up to the person sitting next to me, but I've become better at remembering my worth in Christ.

I'm an observer of people by nature. Unless I know you well I won't approach you for fear of rejection, or because it's too awkward.

If you had a front row seat in the audience of my sub-conscience you'd hear creative projects brewing, conversations with friends over coffee, advice given and received, writing ideas bouncing around, decorating ideas, Bible study thoughts, and the conversation that never ends...the direction of my book, what to include, how much do people really want to know, and will they really care.

While sitting in Starbucks, the people huddled in groups of two or three catch my attention. I ponder what issues they find themselves. My eyes drift to the barista. Even with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, her simple beauty is unmistakable. Is she working her way through school? Maybe she's a single mother struggling to make ends meet, working during the day while writing her first novel late into the night. Did her husband leave, or did he die at a young age? Is there a little one to raise alone with no money, and no education, but she has a dream of becoming a writer?

And then there's the fifty something man who is there every time I stop by to write. Did he make millions and now he's retired and simply wasting time? Or did he lose his job and he's using the free wi-fi as I did awhile back?

If you haven't guessed by now, I'm an introvert, a writer, and I live on the fringes. I live loudly in my head, but very quietly in public. It's difficult for me to be assertive, but in my head, I have conversations going constantly. You won't find me on the dance floor at weddings, though I love to dance. In my head, I'm line dancing right along with you.

I love one on one time time with friends, and especially entertaining in my home. I get lost at parties and usually find one person to connect with. Writing conferences are filled with introverts who understand one another. Sessions are structured to your particular need and therefore, not intimidating.

Because introverts are quiet, we get looked over, pushed aside, ignored, and taken advantage of. The movie, Dirty Dancing, which caused quite a stir in the 80's, made this line famous, "Nobody puts Baby in a corner." Baby was the picture of an introvert coming of age in the hit movie set in the Catskill Mountains in the 1960's.

I've had to learn to speak up for myself, and while I'm not sneaking out learning dance moves like Baby, I can resonate with her character. I've only begun to understand introversion in my fifties. When I was a teenager, I thought there was something wrong with me. Now I understand, I was the one holding back, it wasn't anyone's fault that I felt left out. I've learned to use my creativity to transfer the voices in my head to the written word. But first, I had to find my voice, and learn how to say what I think. It's made all the difference.

If you see me staring out the window while sitting in Starbucks, please come talk to me. There's a story going on loud in my head. I'd love to share it with you.

Coming soon: Reflections on Connecticut Mission Trip

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.