How Will You Enter the Door?

Day 3. 5 at St. Davids Christian Writers Conference

I was walking to breakfast this morning, and I began to notice I was walking differently. I felt alive. The air was invigorating. I felt an unusual spring in my step. I must have grown at least an inch taller. And then I heard my mother’s voice, “Stand up straight. Put your shoulders back. Walk with confidence.” The memory made me chuckle.

Why was it always so important to walk confidently, to walk like I was getting ready to enter into an important meeting?

As I reached for the door to enter into our gathering spaces, with this memory and question fresh in my mind, a new awareness came to mind: Mom was encouraging me to always be ready. I couldn’t know who I would meet. I wouldn’t know what important contact would be waiting ahead. The what or who didn’t matter as much as the how.

Our keynote speaker, Eva Marie Everson, drew her morning message from Exodus 3 and 4, The Calling of Moses. There were so many good points, but the one that struck me was the reference to Moses’ response to God in 3:4, “Here I am.”

Moses wasn’t giving a childlike response to a school teacher’s role call. Moses’ answer was clearly, “I’m ready.”

As much as my mother would deny her admonition was God’s message for me, I heard it that way this morning. God used that memory, that feeling as I walked to breakfast to remind me how each time I enter a door I need to be ready. This reminds me of the wise counsel of an elder pastor speaking to a group of us newbies, once upon a time, how we should always have a sermon, a prayer, and a song ready each time we enter a church.

At the very first writers’ conference I attended one of the people I heard speak was Torry Martin. Torry is an actor, writer, comedian, and very wise speaker. He introduced me to the phrase, “divine appointments and holy introductions.”

What would happen if we would walk through every door, enter every interaction with an “I’m ready God for whatever divine appointment or holy introduction you bring my way” attitude? Imagine for a moment that God has people who need your readiness, your message, your encouragement waiting for you to arrive. Truth is: they are there, and they need what you bring.

B Kind 2 U

It’s just too gorgeous a day to sit inside. I worked outside this morning:

The bush at the end of the driveway was becoming a hazard, not to mention an unwieldy monster. There was a maple tree growing amongst the hostas along with other odd weeds. I cleaned out the front flower beds, too. It felt good. Warm, but good.

After lunch I was about to fall asleep…a nap might be nice…when several thoughts clamored for attention, and suddenly I was wide awake. Not wishing to waste any of them, I grabbed a few books, my flowers, Ipad, bottle of tea, and headed to the porch.

I needed to write about my flowers.

Yesterday, I went with my hub to get groceries. He loves to invite me, but then always rues the experience, because we always spend massively more money than what he’s allotted with his list…I never go with a list.

The first item off-list was my $5 bouquet of colorful daisies.

To be clear, I had absolutely no need for a bouquet of flowers. There was no holiday or celebration meriting a bouquet. The only reason my husband even suggested the purchase came from 43+ years of shared life with a woman who adores daisies. The more colorful, the better. And he knew they would bring me smiles for several days.

Knowing that I don’t NEED flowers, ever, has helped me develop the ability to deny myself this indulgence. I can talk myself out of a purchase quicker than anyone I know. The only reason I didn’t balk this time came from my awareness that “letting” my husband buy me flowers that would make me happy would make him happy and that was more important than even having the flowers. (Go ahead and read that again. It seems a bit convoluted at first, but I was going to let him be happy thinking I was happy.)

However, that’s not why I needed to write about my flowers. (But I love how we “take care” of each other like that.)

I love to buy people flowers. I’m thrilled to find places like Walmart, Kroger, and even Aldi have impulse bouquets at their checkouts—mostly because I can afford them. I’ve purchased flowers for single friends who have no one buying them bouquets. Beyond that, I have fun surprising people—for no apparent reason.

One time when I visited Mom, while her second husband was still alive, I was there over Mother’s Day weekend. I splurged a bit and bought a large spray of mixed flowers. She was surprised and pleased. We found a vase and set them in a central spot where she could enjoy them. Her smiles and child-like appreciation made my heart soar.

At one point, her husband came by the vase with its color and fragrance, and he scowled. He looked at me and grumbled, “Why’d you do that?” I was surprised by his saltiness. It took me a moment to gather my words, “Because it’s Mothers’ Day and I love my mom.” As if I needed a reason. With a hrumph, he headed to the door.

I get it. Not everyone is moved by flowers like I am. But truth was, nothing moved him to kindness, or sweetness, or selflessness. I’m sure he had it in his mind how the money could have been spent in a wiser fashion, more practical, less wasteful.

I know how to be frugal. I know how to live on less. But I’ve come to believe that a little whimsy and serendipity in life is necessary. So if it’s not flowers, what will make you smile? Have you left room for whimsy? Are you open for serendipity to work it’s magic in your otherwise monotonous life?

You don’t have to break the bank, or totally shred the schedule. You don’t need a reason or a season to break out of your routine. Take the long way home. Walk barefoot in the grass. Listen to the birds. Soak in the sun. Let the breeze blow through your hair…that last one may end up needing its own post for you to understand how freeing that can be…

Whatever you do today, make sure you don’t miss the opportunities to B Kind 2 U.

Home Part 3…Unpacking

Confession: I hate unpacking. I’m not a fan of moving either.

Growing up, one of my mother’s favorite Momisms was: a place for everything and everything in it’s place. Trouble for me was I had too many things and never enough places.

Not much has changed.

But I don’t just haul boxes from state to state, town to town, and house to house. There’s this emotional baggage I cart from place to place. And those boxes can be big, and extremely heavy. I’ve been carrying some of those boxes since childhood. And my kind husband has been kind and mostly quiet about the weight and the amount.

I’ve come to understand some of this baggage in new ways over the past two years, and more recently, thanks to Noom.

One of the things in my life that has been skewed and generally out of control has been my response to food and my propensity for overeating and eating unhealthily. It’s not that I haven’t known better (and taught others to do better), but I have lacked both the understanding of why and the willpower to stay committed to eating for health. The lessons provided with my Noom program fee, helped me to see what distortions and unhealthy rules I had adopted and lived by.

And while this isn’t a post about eating rules that sabotage health, the very thought that I continue to live by rules (aka unhealthy baggage) leaves me discouraged and waffling in my hope for things to get better. Unless I decide unpack the boxes, and get rid of the stuff, the thinking, the believing, holding me back from healing and happiness.

But what does it take to unpack the boxes I carried for a lifetime?

Grace. And by this I mean absence of judging and shaming. I’m referring to a gentleness that understands how beliefs are formed, and how they often necessary for survival.

Courage. I don’t see courage as the absence of fear, but as the commitment to move ahead in spite of it. The realization that the goal is important, but so is the process of achieving it.

Support. We were created for relationship. Not a one of us needs to go this alone. I love the biblical image of how during the battle the Israelites were winning when Moses lifted up the staff. When his strength wavered, his friends and family came alongside him and held up his arms. We need to find those who will offer strength and support when feel weak and vulnerable. And we need to find those we can lend support to.

Hope. We have to have that spark that encourages us to keep trying. We have to believe things can be better. One of my favorite movie lines comes from the movie “As Good As It Gets.” The main character wants to see his therapist, but without an appointment. When the therapist holds the line, the character walks out into the waiting room and looks at the other patients and asks, “What if this is as good as it gets?”

Because of the devastation of COVID-19 pandemic, many people are asking when things will get back to normal? When will things get easy and familiar again? When will things stop being so difficult? Why do things have to be so difficult?

Just as there is little sense in carrying around belief baggage that no longer serves, there is very little logic in trying to back in time. Life and time are always moving forward. We can choose to not go along with that, to carry unnecessary baggage with us…but why?

And therein lies my hope. Life is ever moving forward. I was made for life. I was made to move forward. That my friends is what is normal. Not reaching back. Not trying to fix today with outdated strategies from yesterday.

Here’s a terrific piece of good news! The roadmap I choose to follow, the Bible, teaches that God is making things new…every day. And for each day there is a promise: because of God’s great faithfulness, each new day is met with new mercies (Lamentations 3:23-24, author’s paraphrase).

So while I hate unpacking, I’m ready for a lighter load. And looking forward to what tomorrow will bring.

Cooking and Writing

(I wrote this several years ago, but find the truth still applies…at least for me.)

Recently, a friend of mine warned me not to sit on my gift.  Just prior to that, she had asked me if I had written anything lately.  I hadn’t.  I haven’t felt inspired to write.  It was like I had nothing to say.

Last week I was going through emails and I came across one that was advertising next year’s Writers’ Market.  I remembered back to January of this year.  I had begged Nelson for an updated copy.  I told him that if he would buy it for me I would send out at least ten pieces to publishers.  He did and I didn’t.

In the past few months, I have begun to enjoy cooking.  Not long ago, Nelson posited that I was cooking to avoid writing.  Seemed ridiculous to me.  He had cooked most of our married life—mostly because he was very good at it, but also because I worked non-stop.  Now, Nelson is working long days and it just makes sense for me to pick up that responsibility.  I dove into the task by hunting for potential recipes and then began experimenting with combinations that I knew we liked.  I went quickly from having three recipes that my family enjoyed to a couple dozen.  It felt good.

This morning as I was washing the pot that I had made a really good soup in yesterday, I had an epiphany.  It was about cooking and writing. When Nelson and I got married I was afraid to cook.  I was such a novice that my mother-in-law bought me an illustrated cookbook.  My repertoire included macaroni made in a hot pot and peanut butter sandwiches.  To avoid embarrassment, I acquiesced to Nelson’s expertise and over the years discovered three recipes that I did well and stuck with those.  I was afraid to do any more than that because if I couldn’t do it perfectly I wouldn’t do it all.

What I realized as I stood at my sink scrubbing dishes was that Nelson was right in part.  I needed to cook so that I could write.  I hadn’t contacted any publishers with my writing because, though I knew I could write, I didn’t consider myself a writer.  Throwing myself into my cooking showed me that.  For years I had avoided cooking because I didn’t see myself as a cook and therefore I couldn’t.  It wasn’t enough to say that I could cook, I had to be the best cook.  I knew I was far from that so I didn’t, and wouldn’t cook.  This was reinforced by the ridicule I took when I tried to cook.  I was the brunt of many a family joke.  Why should I continue to prove them right and give them something new to laugh at?

My recent successes at cooking have forced me to rethink this.  I may not be a “James Beard Chef”, but I can cook.  Nelson has really enjoyed my newly found and developing love for being creative in the kitchen.  He raves about the meals and shows them off at work.  I’m not going to be Top Chef anywhere, not even in my kitchen.  That honor will always be Nelson’s.  But it’s not going to keep me from cooking and experimenting.

I still have a few months left in this year.  I will probably never win an award for my writing, but why should that keep me from developing my craft and sharing my thoughts?  The obvious answer is that it shouldn’t—and based on what I learned from cooking recently: it won’t!

Oh, and while I’m at it, I realized something else about my writing that makes it more imperative that I push past my reluctance to face rejection.  Recently while I was preparing for a retreat I led on spirituality and personality, I read that most devotionals are written by “N” types (think MBTI).  I mulled that over for a while and realized that is one of the reasons I feel so compelled to create a devotional series, one that is more appealing and appropriate for “S” types.  Not everyone relates to the intuitive style and needs to engage their senses more completely to engage them spiritually.  Maybe I’ve found my niche!

In Rembrance…In Unity

Today is Worldwide Communion Sunday. I love this Sunday. I loved it when I was a pastor. I observed it in all the denominations I worked with. The thought and feeling of partaking of the Lord’s Supper along with believers all over the world moves me, encourages me, humbles me. Today was no exception.

Today I worshipped outdoors with a group of people I have only met with twice before. The weather was perfect. The message clear and inspiring. Two of the pastor’s points stuck out to me.

First, he described a study that was done in which people were asked what their favorite phrase in the English language were. The number one response was, “I love you.” Understandable. Don’t we all love to hear that? Also high on the list, and pertinent to the message, “Dinner’s ready!”

Time to eat. Come and get it. Come and dine. Come to the table. Do you remember how you were called to dinner as a child? I don’t have particularly fond memories of dinnertime as a child–but oh how precious those shared meals became when shared them with friends in college, and later with community in the church.

The pastor’s text was Jesus invitation to the crowd as recorded in John 6. Everybody was invited. Everyone was included. Y’all come.

Who doesn’t want to hear that? We may need a bigger table.

The second thing that hooked my heart was the concept of remembrance. Living with Mom I’m daily dealing with issues of memory: odd rememberances, distorted memories, lost memories. Hers and mine!

As I sat in the gathering on Sunday morning, one question percolated to the top: What do you want me to remember today God? It seemed like a simple question, but it brought on a whole slew of recollections. They came in waves: communion services from across the years; faces of clergy mentors and friends; different places; and different times.

Sitting alone, in a gathering where I knew no one, I drew comfort in the sense not only of God being present, but with me–speaking my name. Just as the bubbling memories spoke to the how there had been people all along in this journey of faith, the Spirit gave clear assurance that even now when I felt so incredibly alone…I was not, and would never be.

Remembering this, hearing this, feeling this prods me to wonder if you, dear reader might be feeling alone. Jesus calls you to the table. There is clearly not just space, but a space for you. As you take your seat, please remember the times and places where God has brought you into the company of others as a means of assuring you of your place in the family, and God’s great grace and provision for us all.

yes magazine.org

Y’all, come.

Purpose

(I wrote this during Lent in 2009. Even more true today)

For a while I thought I was depressed.  Life changed drastically for me when I lost my job.  In part, I think the trauma was due to the to the fact that I found my identity in what I did.  The challenges of the work gave me purpose.  I felt vital and alive.  Losing my job meant I lost my sense of purpose.

I used to teach groups of people how to write their mission statements.  We didn’t start with that.  We would back up and talk about finding their passion in life and for life.  When it came to putting that passion into a working purpose or mission statement, I would teach to the difference between a goal (short term) and a mission statement (life- long driving force).  A mission or purpose statement is something you can see devoting your whole life to.  It is true now and will be true in twenty, thirty, even fifty years.

Reflecting on this, I wasn’t really depressed.  I was just adrift and going nowhere because I had taken my eyes off the map.  I thought that without the job I wouldn’t be able to follow my purpose and mission.  I forgot that the job wasn’t the only vehicle to get me where I needed to be.  I forgot that the whether I’m teaching or cleaning toilets, it is the purpose or mission God has for my life that matters and he will provide me with the opportunities I need.  I forgot that it is God who gifts me and directs me to use those gifts.  

I was reading about John the Baptist in Mark’s gospel.  I don’t think there are many who would sign up for John’s job—especially if they knew how it was going to end for him.  Yet, even in the briefest of ministries, John paved the way by preparing the people for the emergence of Jesus’ life-changing ministry.

It reminds me of relief pitchers in baseball.  They will never pitch a whole game.  That’s not their job.  It’s not why they were hired.  Some of those guys will only throw a few pitches and the next thing we see is the coach headed to the mound.  Those couple of precisely placed pitches are what the reliever gets paid the big bucks for.  It’s their purpose.  

Now, dust off your imagination and try to picture this: your favorite baseball team has made the playoffs!  They did this not just on their bats, but because of their pitching.  But now that they’ve made it to the biggest games, the team’s relievers and closers have decided they want more playing time and have threatened to not play at all if they don’t get the opportunity to pitch a whole game.  How crazy is that?  How dare they hold the game hostage for their whims?

The apostle Paul, in his discussion of gifts, makes this statement: But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it (1 Corinthians 12:18, NLT).  Right there with the assurance that we all have a part, we’re told that we are placed right where He wants us. 

That’s why we really need to bloom right where we’re planted!

Prayerfully ponder: How’s the soil where you are? Are you focused on how you want to use your perceived talents? Are you more concerned with what you want than what God needs from you? Are you discouraged because you feel like you’re riding the pine and you can’t understand why God is wasting your abilities? Are you aware of what God’s doing around you so that when the time is right (God’s specialty) you’ll be ready to pitch your inning?

Unlikeliest Hero

It is a rare thing that the moment I start to write, my eyes fill with tears and the truth of what I’m thinking overwhelms my heart and mind.

But it just happened.

This morning during breakfast, Mom made some comment about heroes. I can’t even recall what it was because it immediately sent me into my head where I began formulated this post. I was so into it, I excused myself from the table and hurried to jot down some notes I could come back to after I was done cleaning up from breakfast.

Heroes. We all want them…need them. And if we would get honest, want to be one.

This past year while we’ve done battle with a raging pandemic, we’ve lauded the efforts of first responders, medical professionals, and those researching for a vaccine. Politically, we’ve sought for a restoration to civility and accountability. Emotionally we’ve longed for answers, peace, and a return to normal or comfort or familiar.

Many years ago, my husband and I watched a television program called the Equalizer. Then there were two movies with the same premise starring Denzel Washington. Now Queen Latifa has reprised the role and hooked me once again.

I stopped typing and called my husband (keeping in mind the 3 hour time difference). I told him what I was doing and then asked him why the original show hooked him? What was it that appealed. He put words to what my heart was feeling: it was like a modern Robin Hood of sorts. Robert and Robyn McCall as the equalizers brought/brings help for the oppressed; help for those who can’t help themselves.

Thinking about his statement sent me down another path—a spiritual one. Imagine that.

This past Sunday was Palm Sunday. I made a reference to the Christmas song, “How Many Kings.” As we move through Holy Week toward the resurrection, a phrase from that song keeps going through my mind. Referring to the baby Jesus, the words describe him as the “unlikeliest hero” for he was wrapped in his mother’s shawl.

This week, Jesus is wrongfully accused, murdered, and laid to rest in a borrowed tomb. Talk about an unlikely hero.

Our heroes don’t die. Or do they?

Shouldn’t our heroes be the ones who give up their lives. Jesus tried to explain this to the disciples: There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13, NLT).

Paul described this to the Philippians this way: You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8, NLT).

Jesus gave up the fullness of his super powers and maybe that’s what made him an unlikely hero. But the way lived, died, and rose again demonstrated God’s power to the max! Those powers may be overlooked by the world that is mesmerized by flash and boom. But Jesus, like the Equalizer, was and is more concerned about helping those who can’t help themselves…about bringing relief to the oppressed .

That’s the kind of hero I want to be. The kind of hero this needs more of. We may seem to be unlikely heroes…but we can change the world by following Jesus’ example, by having his mind.

He gave his all…all for me…all for you…just like the song says.

Wednesday’s Word—A Day Late…Again

All right. I did it again. I feel a little like the Reese’s Cup guy: Sorry…not sorry.

There was no way I was going to get the weekly word posted yesterday. I thought maybe. I thought several times: I need to get to it. But I was glued to my TV all day. I needed to be.

I needed the return to decorum. I needed to feel the healing that comes from change. I needed ritual. I needed the ceremony. I needed to feel connected to something bigger than me…and something positive.

I went to bed thankful. And I woke up literally formulating this post. My first thoughts at 4:12AM were this post.

My prayer is that you can see and feel hopeful.

One of the highlights of the day was the reading by the Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman. Her words bring me to tears…in the best kind of way.

Hope will make us brave enough to be it.

Wednesday’s Word: Miracles

Today’s word comes to you courtesy of my dear friend, Mary Hofacker.

When I think of miracles, I am reminded of a song Nelson and I heard at a Steve and Annie Chapman concert way back in the 1980’s. Living far from family with two toddlers and very little income, we felt desperate and prayed for God to miraculously reveal his power and grace. The song was a constant ear worm: things are looking right for a miracle.

When I went to WordSwag to create the pic for today’s post, I used a font I rarely use, but it fit perfectly. Miracles quite often come in very plain and obvious ways: a miracle healing, the perfect job, etc. But sometimes the miracle we need comes disguised as something else and we appreciate the gift or improvement to life, but we don’t see God’s intervention coming in a way we couldn’t have imagined or even begun to ask for. We missed the backstory completely, claimed the gift, and moved on.

I think that’s why I appreciate Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians (see Eph. 3:20): Now to the One who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly, above and beyond anything and everything we could ever ask or even imagine…

And that God knows me best and loves me most. You, too.

Things are looking right for a miracle.

Wednesday’s Encouraging Word

Today’s word was suggested by my friend, Deborah Helm Liffick.

I want to apologize for not getting this out on Wednesday (1/6/21). I don’t know how your day went, mine was an emotional roller coaster. My husband had to return to Ohio. We had a wonderful visit. He also accomplished several “honey do” items that will make my stay here easier. But good byes (even for a few months) are hard.

Then there was all the insanity in Washington with the attack on the Capital. I was up until after midnight watching the news. I grieve the loss of life and the loss of our ability to engage in civil discourse. Accountability and consequences for deplorable and illegal behavior is a thing of the past.

But I had determined that I was going to establish a weekly post utilizing the encouraging words given to me by friends. I couldn’t allow yesterdays emotional obstacles to deter me from my goal.

So, here it is. The post. I don’t feel all that great about it, but the feeling may come as I build upon the weekly achievements and prove to myself I can finish this goal.

Hopefully that’s what we’ll see together.

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