Where is Your Focus?

Where is Your Focus?

I asked God for a word that would help me accomplish His plans for my life in 2020. The word, Focus, came to me, oddly enough, during the Total Strength class at the YMCA.

I recently became a Y member and joined the dreaded Total Strength class there. I say dreaded because I’m not a gym person and I don’t like to be uncomfortable. I enjoy walks, hikes and bike rides. Most anything other than being inside a big building with strangers who sweat, grunt and watch themselves in mirrors.

I couldn’t conjure up any valid excuses to keep from going. It takes me less than ten minutes to get there and it’s free because of….um….my particular stage in life. I knew I had to improve my health and strength, so I begrudgingly went.

The Total Strength class was going fairly well until we began the lunges. The instructor gave us emphatic directions: “Do not let your knee go beyond your toes; find a focal point in front of you. Do not look down. “Where your eyes go your body will follow.” My dilemma as a newbie: How do I insure my knee is situated correctly while simultaneously looking straight ahead?

I would glance down quickly to check the toes and knee situation and nearly tumble over. I was surprised that I found it difficult to keep my balance. I also lost balance when looking at other people. But when I kept my focus on a certain dumbbell in front of me, I was steadier on my feet.

Where your eyes go your body will follow kept coming to me in the fitness class and also at other times. I began to think of a similar concept I’d read in an article. It came from the world of auto racing. Drivers are taught that there is a natural tendency to fixate on danger while driving at a high speed. Danger, such as a concrete wall near the edge of the track. They’re trained to go against their tendency to focus on what they fear, and instead focus on where they want the car to go. Every instinct may be to look at the threat— but they must force themselves to look past it. They must train themselves to look straight ahead; not behind or to the side of them.

When we look straight ahead we are still able to notice important things in our peripheral vision. But those things are not as important as our forward vision, and don’t require our full focus.

In our daily lives if we focus on peripheral issues we may lose sight of our main goal: following Jesus. When we focus on the negatives, or even on other people’s lives, we may veer off our course with Him.

Keep your head up, your eyes straight ahead, and your focus fixed on what is in front of you. Take care you don’t stray from the straight path, the way of truth, and you will safely reach the end of your road. Do not veer off course to the right or the left; step away from evil, and leave it behind.

Proverbs 4:25-27

This verse helped me so many times when I didn’t know what to do next. I desperately try to keep my eyes focused on Jesus so I won’t be distracted by scary, seemingly impossible scenarios around me. The verse especially brought me courage during my years of single parenting two children, one of whom has autism and severe intellectual disabilities.

God doesn’t assure us a life without difficulty, but He clearly tells us in Scripture that He loves us and will always be with us, no matter what we go through. Keeping our focus on Jesus may seem a vague idea, like it once seemed to me.

Here’s what it looks like for me now:

  • The moment I wake up, about a million thoughts fill my mind— many are worrisome and fearful. I’ve trained my mind to immediately imagine a huge banner that reads: JESUS, which unfurls and covers my negative thoughts. Peace comes.
  • I grab my coffee and begin to read my Bible and devotionals. As I think about the verses, I often journal what the Holy Spirit shows me. I read aloud, which was awkward at first, but I enjoy it now because my voice drowns out the aforementioned distracting thoughts.
  • I give God praise and acknowledge that He is first place in my life.
  • In whatever commitments and activities I find myself in, I ask God to guide me as I work. As people’s names and needs come to mind, I pray for them.
  • I’m careful about where I give my attention. I read books that encourage me in my various roles and I listen to podcasts and videos that teach me. Time is limited. I don’t always need to know the latest secular scandal or political drama.
  • I keep a gratitude journal where I’ve listed nearly 2,000 gifts over several years. Reviewing that list of “gifts” is one of the most encouraging tools I’ve ever used!

My friends, let’s focus on growing closer to Jesus. Let’s keep less important issues and worries in the peripheral where they belong. As you keep Him in first place, I promise He will be faithful to you! I’ve experienced His faithfulness for 50 years!

Prayer for a New Year

 Heavenly Father,

This New Year came abruptly, like a tagalong unexpected guest to a party; eyes full of anticipation and wonder about the future. It caught me unawares. It’s wide-eyed face looked at me as if to say, “What will your offering be in this fresh New Year?” I’m slow to catch on. I find myself still wandering around in the old year working on the lessons I began there. I’m not as excited about a new year as I usually am. I want to be dazzled by the new number and the new decade but it hasn’t hit me yet.

So I come to you Lord, humbly, again offering myself completely to you. I don’t have it all together, but this is what I do know:  You are my everything. I am nothing without you. I fervently long for your will to be done in my life so that I will bring you glory in this bright and shiny New Year.

Thank you for calling me out of darkness into your marvelous light. Thank you for being my life.

Thank you for the many gifts you’ve given me.

The sunrises, sunsets, the ocean roar, glassy lakes, the sky high evergreens, close family ties, sounds of laughter, the chubby baby hands, tight hugs from loved ones, the birdsongs, eyesight, legs for walking, hands for working and my spirit that melds with  yours.

I worship you Lord! I hallow your name!

As I remember your lifelong faithfulness to me, I trust you and yield to your loving hand.

My mind is cluttered with the cacophony of words and images swirling around. I pray for clearer and sharper focus this year. I no longer want to concentrate on unimportant things. I want to focus only on things that concern me; the roles you’ve designed for me.

I’m glad for the inspiration and insight from other peoples’ stories, but, Lord, please help me to not camp out in their lives. Help me to stay in the story you’re writing for me.

You knew all the days of my life before there were any. You’re the author of my story.

I desperately want to grasp every opportunity you give me; to not miss a moment of what you’re doing in my life. Help me to sign up for the opportunities you’ve designed for me and to be savvy about the ones that are for someone else.

My desire to know you grows stronger and stronger as the years whiz by and I grow older.

 Help me to always be a learner and for your Word to be the fabric of my being.

Father, I want to be riveted to you—my face set like flint.

Help me not to fear the unknown and unseen. It’s all known by you.

Lord, help me not to worry. Nor to dread the future. You are already there.

Nothing is accomplished by worry but precious time lost.

Help me to bring my wandering thoughts into captivity; to limit their space to roam.

You’ll never leave me.

You gave me the amazing gift of your Holy Spirit to be with me through the hard unknowns. To comfort me when I’m hurting and to empower me when I’m weak. The same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead!

I love you, Lord!

Amen

 

 

 

 

A Love Letter

November 2019

Dear Tom,

I’m having difficulty remembering my life before you. You were always here; always meant to be. To say I love you doesn’t rightfully convey. Loving you has become a selfish endeavor. To love you really says I love myself because, in you, are so many pieces of me; as in me are chunks of you. I can no longer see us separately. There’s no going back to those two people we were. We are forever and inextricably tied together, blended in such a way that if we were torn in two, the two pieces would be nearly the same.

It hasn’t always been this way for me—seeing us as one. We were strangers on our honeymoon as I described in I Married a Stranger . But there was a fiery spark between us (and still is). And our spiritual journeys clearly led us to one another; we had a knowing that we were “meant to be”.

It began as a blind date. No expectations on my part other than a free movie and meal. I was a little bummed that I didn’t get the movie. But what I got was a long conversation with a most unique person. I wasn’t sure what to make of you. We drove around the Barnett Reservoir in Jackson, Mississippi. You noticed the buildings and structures and were intent on figuring out their purposes. My introduction into the mind of an engineer. I was relieved when I didn’t see a pocket protector. You were so inquisitive and curious; still are.

Your IQ soared above mine, but I didn’t hold it against you. Maybe you’d benefit from my love for beauty and creativity?

At the restaurant, The Widow Watson, that you’ve forever called The Widow’s Watch, you drew a map of North Carolina on your napkin. I’d never been to North Carolina and I’d never been instructed by a napkin drawing. I was intrigued.

One probable discussion scared me: my children. I was afraid it would be a deal breaker. Especially the part about Dawn. But you wanted to know more. You didn’t flinch when I said, “She’s five and developmentally delayed…not verbal yet.”

When you met Ben and Dawn, you quickly got on their level and read books to them. We took them to Wendy’s in Pearl, and you fed Dawn a baked potato. Later you helped her eat ice-cream.

No one had ever responded to me in such a kind way—I was in shock.

I liked you and you liked me.

When you flew back to Wilmington, our fast and furious six month courtship began. Mostly by phone. We’d see each other only a few times before our wedding. Once when I waited for you at the airport, you almost didn’t recognize me! We’d write letters and talk on the phone every night. Since social media and texting weren’t yet the norm, we’d rely on our few shared memories to remind us of each other. Our blooming relationship was more than an image.

We drove to Arkansas with the children to visit my parents the summer right after we met. I stood at the kitchen window washing dishes; looking out on that vast green lawn; the beautiful Ozarks in the background. (I miss my parents.) You played with Dawn; giving her directions to see how she’d respond. My heart didn’t know how to process what I was watching. You were simply a rarity. More than I’d asked and hoped for. Gaining instant children, including a special needs child, didn’t deter you in the least. To you it was a bonus.

Right before our November wedding day, our friends hosted a big Thanksgiving celebration. Today we’d call it “Friendsgiving”. You stood up and declared that you were “buying the whole field to gain the treasure.” (reference- Matthew 13:44)

Six months is hardly time to really know someone. What I knew is that you were a godly man. I could trust that God brought us together. I hoped, in time, our love would grow by our faith and intention.

When I say, “Happy 34th Anniversary”, I realize that all 34 years weren’t happy. There’s not space here to list all the troubles; the stress of caring for a daughter who wouldn’t grow up as we’d hoped, the losses of loved ones, jobs, and relationships. And the private deep pain.

I confess, I’ve rolled my eyes at you when you weren’t looking. I’ve been hurt and angry when you were at work too much and home too little. I’ve hated the times you’ve left me for job responsibilities when hurricanes were coming. My insecurities were often tied to earlier devastating experiences.

I wish I could take back the times when I folded my arms, kept my distance and sulked silently. The minutes matter more to me now.

I’m sorry I’ve complained about your driving. That I told you to drive like me. For reminding you about stop signs and braking and not to drive with your knee (although I feel justified in that one).

I’m sorry when my selfishness has hurt you. When I didn’t love you completely and loved myself too much.

One day one of us will be alone without the other. I’m not willing to entertain that thought right now. I’m hoping that we’ll just fly to Jesus one day, all wrapped up together.

Oh the miracle of marriage— the miracle of our marriage. How can I ever thank God enough for His Plan? How can I ever thank you enough for taking a risk on me? To think of life without you is unbearable— it’s to think of myself not alive.

Thank you for the thousands of hours listening to me. For shedding tears with me when I couldn’t even express my pain.

For putting up with my many books and my many words.

I’ve loved watching you soften over the years, especially when I catch you crying over family dramas on television. Family means everything to us.

Thank you for loving our first two children. For helping to potty train Dawn. For staying up with her so many nights. For planting gardens with Ben and coaching his teams. For being so proud of them both. For sharing Dawn with inquisitive strangers— explaining her deficits so they wouldn’t withdraw from her. Thank you for our second pair of children; John and Katherine. For the delight of grand-parenting Eliza and William together. And our children by marriage: Adrienne, Mary and Matt—our answers to prayer!  Thank you for loving us all in actions as well as words.

I suppose the two become one theoretically at the exchanging of vows, but oh how sweet the process of truly becoming joined in a way that a lifetime of God’s faithfulness and our forging towards each other has provided.

Always,

Myra

The Miracle of the Open Door

The Miracle of the Open Door

“Most of all, love each other steadily and unselfishly, because love makes up for many faults. Show hospitality to each other without complaint. Use whatever gift you’ve received for the good of one another so that you can show yourselves to be good stewards of God’s grace in all its varieties. 1 Peter 4: 8-10

Crispy green celery sticks stuffed with crunchy peanut butter. That’s what I remember from the meal. They were delicious. I don’t recall what else we ate because, I guess, it wasn’t that important. What I DO remember is the way I felt. My close friend Barbara had again welcomed me into her home; to her table. My respite. On this particular night another friend joined us, also. I don’t remember where our kids were. Maybe they’d eaten earlier? I believe Barbara’s husband was out of town, but I’m not positive. She’d prepared the meal and put our heaping plates before us—but the sustenance I took in was far more than food.

“Share what you have with the saints, so they lack nothing; take every opportunity to open your life and your home to others.” Romans 12:13

Everyone needs a meal when the stomach is hungry. But there is so much more to the open door and table than the food we eat. I was hungry for peace. In her home, I could relax and breathe.

I brought no contributions to the table other than my familiar companions: shock, deep sadness, and fear, to name a few.

The memory of the food served has vanished. But I can still see myself sitting at that table in that kitchen, in that neighborhood in Mobile, Alabama. I don’t think I talked about my problems. But just being there, enjoying a change of scenery and watching life actually going on around me. That’s what helped. To hear, “Pass the salt”, or to talk about a new recipe or the weather was consoling. To know that everyone’s life hadn’t stopped just because I felt that mine had. Somehow I was surprised that those things helped.

Minutes before I arrived, I’d felt such heavy darkness and despair in my own little home, only five minutes from Barbara’s. Hopelessness was smothering me.

The hopelessness dimmed when I crossed the threshold into her warm home. My circumstances hadn’t changed but engaging with others took my mind off of my despair long enough to think about other things.

My husband had left days before. Or maybe it was weeks. He walked away from my young son and me. He walked right out of our door. But not before he reminded me to bring the garbage cans in because a hurricane was coming. *

I was pregnant with our second child.

It would take me years to recover from the horrendous experience that began when he left.

Thus this story of the “the open door” and its impact on my life. I credit Barbara and others for giving me a love and passion for the ministry of hospitality. I truly hope you’ve experienced serving others this way. And I hope you have received biblical hospitality. I really hope you see how valuable it is.

Hospitality can look like sitting on the sofa sharing coffee or a glass of cold water. It can be ordering pizza and eating on paper plates. You could offer hospitality in a coffee shop or on a park bench. When you have the time and inclination, you can also create a nice home-cooked dinner and serve it on your favorite plates.

THE FOOD IS NOT MOST IMPORTANT. NOR IS THE PRESENTATION. Your kindness, your willingness to give of your time to engage and listen; that’s what’s important.

What if a full laundry basket overflows on the sofa? That’s okay. Now your guests know you’re a normal person in the middle of a busy life. They may even offer to fold! I can promise you if the friends or strangers in your home are tasked with helping you out, they will feel more relaxed and welcomed. If you have it all together or seem too perfect, they’ll be less likely to invite people into their homes, especially you! Show them that they are important enough for you to hit pause on regular chores. I intentionally made a point of having people in our home during major repairs and construction. The times when the refrigerator was shoved across the room, or when we had huge holes in our sheetrock and sub-flooring was under our feet.

I’d be completely lost without God! He’s my Hope; His Holy Spirit helps and comforts me.

WE are Christ’s Body—His hands and feet. We are the ones with doors and tables and food that encourage other folks around us.

Jesus saved me. Hospitality and His Body brought me life.

We are made to be WITH, not alone. Nothing feels worse than loneliness. We need each other, especially in the tough times!

Why do I  share my story from so long ago? It’s good for me to remember. I want to keep fanning my own flame of hospitality as well as yours.

Let’s step out of our comfort zones and connect in a meaningful way with someone new. Let’s be on the lookout for someone dying to know the love and acceptance we’ve experienced.

“Share what you have with the saints, so they lack nothing; take every opportunity to open your life and your home to others.” Romans 12:13

*I hope to never dishonor others while being transparent about my life; my former spouse later regretted his actions and we were eventually on good terms.

 

 

Don’t Quit in the Middle

Years ago, around the time I was birthing babies #3 and #4, I quit right in the middle of a sewing project. I’d imagined how cute my gray dress would be, after perusing the gigantic pattern book and choosing the perfect one. I’d purchased the fabric and cut out the pattern per directions. Then I quit. I accomplished the easy and fun part by the impetus of my imagination, but quit right when the project became difficult. I felt terrible about my(frugal)self when I finally tossed that pretty gray fabric, already poised to be a stylish dress. My approximate expenses were $7.00, three hours and weeks of self-degradation. It was a failure; but not exactly a life-altering one.

Some quitting, however, produces dire results.

Awhile back I took a sweaty walk around “the loop” at Wrightsville Beach. I started to think of this subject of quitting. As I walked, I recalled a recent conversation with a friend who’d just retired. She said, “I wonder if I should have retired earlier; our time together is just so precious.” I looked at her, a bit shocked, replying, “Precious? I remember when your marriage was anything but precious…that season when awful things occurred and your marriage was hanging by a thread. When anger and hurt permeated your days”. I wanted to be sure she knew how profound her choice of adjectives was.

Precious: Of great value or high price. Highly esteemed or cherished.

We both teared up. We realized that it was by God’s Grace and their commitment to their vows that they now had more richness than they could’ve imagined; more than seemed feasible.

I was still dripping in 100% humidity as I continued my walk, still pondering the earlier chat with my friend. She and her husband could have quit in the middle and the fallout would have been devastating, causing ripple effects in the family and community. But they didn’t quit! I’d seen her smile and sensed her contentment—tangible fruits of righteousness.

One caveat: I understand that some marriages are not salvageable. I experienced a divorce in my early twenties, after trying everything in my power to keep it together. I then became even more passionate about the importance of fighting for marriage.

Statistics show that most couples who come to the brink of divorce and then decide rather to work on their marriages, actually become much happier in later years than they once were. Sometimes we have to navigate pain and struggles before we see the sweet fruit!

I thought of my Tom. We’re so happy and in love. But there have been many times when, behind the smiles on our faces, there was anger, hurt and resentment. Those years I wrote about earlier when we “passed like ships in the night” Marriage is So Much Trouble. When intimacy was a job to check off the to-do list. The times when I had unhealthily learned to “turtle” as Bob Goff likes to say. My natural response was pulling away—head in, tail in, arms and legs in. And I thought myself “nice” because I didn’t outwardly express anger. Then I learned that silence and withdrawing are just as negative a response.

 And if one person is vulnerable to attack, two can drive the attacker away. As the saying goes, “A rope made of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12

I’m convinced that the reason we didn’t give up and quit in the middle of our marriage was because of the Three Strand Cord. We have been able to stay true to our covenant with each other and with God because He has always been at the center, closely wrapped around us, even and especially in the hardest times. When life was anything but fun. When the dreamy days of flipping through the pages of a bridal magazine were replaced with poopy diapers, poopy bathrooms, tantrums, cleaning, an angry child, constant cooking, predawn sessions begging God for grace to survive, and finally, another 24-hour day was completed. The season I learned to take one step in the right direction and to not stop. To say one more kind word and reach out with a gentle touch when I just wanted to be held and comforted myself. Some days, weeks and even years were so hard to bear that it’s painful for me to remember now. But the gift of growing older is to see a broader clearer perspective. To see that He really was faithful and He really had a plan all along. And all the not-quitting was truly worth the sacrifices.

We got married to be together. For better or worse. Guard your heart. Guard your eyes. Put on love. One touch here. A kiss there. A kind word. Love is made up of lots of little decisions. Let’s wear LOVE like a coat. Let’s wrap our SELVES completely in it.

Since you are all set apart by God, made holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a holy way of life: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Put up with one another. Forgive. Pardon any offenses against one another, as the Lord has pardoned you, because you should act in kind. But above all these, put on love! Love is the perfect tie to bind these together. Let your hearts fall under the rule of the Anointed’s peace (the peace you were called to as one body), and be thankful. Colossians 3:12-15

The Art of Life

I enjoy and appreciate art in all its forms.

I truly believe that unique art appears all around us in our day to day lives. If only we have eyes to see.

I first awakened to this idea about three years ago.

I found myself noticing our daughter-in-law, Mary’s hands and the way they moved when she changed our granddaughter, Eliza’s diaper. The routine chore looked like art to me. Her lovely slim hands gently, carefully and naturally smoothed and fastened the diaper around the precious bundle. I’d never thought of this before. It got me to thinking about other times I’ve observed such art.

I thought of my sweet mom—how I miss her and how she would have revelled in our sweet grandchildren. I remembered all the mending she did for me when she came for a visit. It was a needed contribution of time and effort. She’d hem dresses, sew on buttons, and make repairs when I couldn’t seem to find the time. I can still see those lovely aging hands (the same ones I see on myself now), gracefully, patiently using the needle, thread and that ancient thimble that she’d preach “you can’t sew without!”

I also thought of our daughter, Katherine, and how her hand so gracefully and intuitively moves along a canvas, a board or envelope with her lovely fluid hand writing. It’s a splendid gift; an art.

These things have me reminding myself to look for “art” more inclusively and more gratefully.

I love what Oswald Chambers has to say.

“At the basis of Jesus Christ’s kingdom is the unaffected loveliness of the commonplace.”

We’re wowed by the famous and beautiful! We find disparities between us and them and the wind goes out of our sails as we’re navigating in our little world. Let’s stop that. Let’s look close by and open our eyes to the art at hand.

The next time you see a young daddy snap his daughter into her pjs; his smile beaming with swelling love, just think of the gloriousness of the God-designed family.

Observe the routine flow and flair of the seasoned homemaker as she cleans her kitchen, after serving love up to her people.

What about the art of teaching? The teacher daily responds with patience and dogged determination to fight for her kids. The caring consistent voice on which her students come to depend remind them that they are valued and they are going to succeed. When relationship and trust form between student and teacher it’s awesome to behold.

A mama reading to her toddler; the gentleness with which they touch, the familiar smells, the unique sound of mama’s voice— the dialect, that’ll always be comfort and affirmation for the precious recipient.

I started to think of more ways art is evident.

The repairman who “restored” our fridge was both skillful and kind; graciously answering all of my questions with a smile.

My friend, Renee; the way she serves up tasty homemade chili in her one of a kind pottery bowls. Everything she cooks is delicious; more so because of the relaxed flair and love that go along with the experience.

I thought of Barbara and how she mentored me in the art of devotional reading and listening. I can still remember sitting in her yard, kids running all around us, while we read J.B. Phillips’ version of the New Testament. It wasn’t just a book. It was bread and life.

When I’m with my dermatologist I feel like I’m the only one that matters at that moment. She’s affirming, thorough, decisive; calm; a great listener. I don’t know how she does it with her swamped schedule. But I happen to know she treats all her patients the same way.

My long time friend Nancy’s art of listening is a treasure to me. She appears to plan conversations as appointments in her day and then employs them as life-giving ministry. I want to be a better listener for others as she’s been to me.

What if we vacuum, dust, and clean toilets with the notion that God has given us these magnificent bodies to express our worship and gratitude by offering up our everyday-ness as art?

I’m folding towels, painting furniture and writing a letter to a friend. This is my calling today–my place and my art. Join with me as we celebrate each other along the journey, spurring on the unique “artists” around us!

“Teach me to shepherd the small duties of this day with great love.”

Everymomentholy.com

 

 

Blindly Going

The year was 1980 and I was en route to my OB/GYN. You will think this odd, but I always looked forward to my regular appointment.

I found out I was pregnant with my second child at about the same time my husband decided to leave our marriage. It was not something I ever imagined going through and my pain was almost unbearable.

In the doctor’s pretty and quiet waiting area, I would sit in a comfortable cushy chair. I’d pile up as many magazines as I could gather on my diminishing lap, and hope the wait to see my doctor was extra long.

Back home in my little 900 square foot house my dear friend was watching my two-year-old little boy along with a set of twin boys, also two, and about three other kids, depending on the day.

I certainly had very little time for reading at home. There was no extra money to buy magazines so I perused as many as possible while I enjoyed having a babysitter. No matter what the exam entailed, the appointment was a break for me.

I’d opened a small daycare in my home to support my family. Having taught public school, including kindergarten, I was familiar with the art of childcare. My wonderful friends helped me by transferring their kids from other daycare centers and placing them in my care. It was an extremely difficult season but one where God’s grace shone bright.

All of these memories flooded into my thoughts a couple of months ago when I decided to take a walk across the Lake Murray dam in Columbia. I wasn’t really dressed for a warm four mile walk, but I happened to be in the area for a job with a client, so I couldn’t resist.

I began the walk along the concrete path and looked across the water which appeared to have no end. Instantly, the endless water triggered thoughts of that earlier time when my future was an endless scary blurry unknown —when going to the doctor was the highlight of my week. I’d been in a season of looking out over my life having no clue what was ahead; or how anything would turn out.

I would soon have my second child and I couldn’t know then that my daughter, Dawn, would have severe cognitive deficits. Her lack of appropriate development and need for constant attention would add a very difficult and complicated challenge to our little family’s life.

On my way to the doctor visit that morning so many years ago, I heard God speak clearly to me. Not audibly, but just as certain— I saw a picture in my mind. I was praying along the drive there about my life and how in the world was I going to make it!? As clearly as could be, I heard God speak that I was going to be fine because I was planted on the Rock. That I hadn’t built my life on shifting sands. These words referred to a familiar scripture (Matthew 7:24-27) and the message was simple enough.

It was just what I needed to hear that morning in order to keep going. One step at a time; one day at a time.

Earlier, when I was a teenager, I’d established continual communication with the Lord through the Holy Spirit. Diving into God’s Word had become a consistent habit in my life. In the darkest times, truth and hope became congruent and magnified during my desperate need for guidance.

Abraham traveled, by faith, to a land he did not know (Hebrews 11:8).

As a young woman with a toddler, pregnant and alone, I also saw myself going blindly into an unknown land. I continued to trust in the truths that had been spoken, and persist in the hope that I’d one day have a decent life. In case I sound emotionally “strong”, let me assure you that I felt very weak. There were so many times I felt like I couldn’t change another diaper, or survive another tantrum or comfort my daughter through the night when morning would come so quickly. That I’d never be able to enjoy a so-called normal life. But I also recognized the Holy Spirit coaxing me to keep going (without seeing).

I’m only telling you my story to encourage you, no matter what you’re going through. The great thing about living more years than some of your friends (a nice way to say “being older”) is that your retrospection is longer! I look back now with joy deep down; so grateful for my life. I couldn’t see this clearly years earlier; it’s taken me many years of closeness with Jesus to come to this place. So, don’t give up, my friends! I believe there is more good ahead for you, too. I am truly fine! And I believe you will be fine, too. In the meantime, keep pressing on and keep building a close relationship with Jesus. He’s the friend that sticks closer than a brother.

Just this morning, my long time companion, Oswald (Chambers) told me this:

“If we are going to live as disciples of Jesus, we have to remember that all noble things are difficult. The Christian life is gloriously difficult, but the difficulty of it does not make us faint and cave in, it rouses us up to overcome. Do we so appreciate the marvelous salvation of Jesus Christ that we are our utmost of His highest?”  

(July 7 entry from “My Utmost for His Highest”)

“Gloriously difficult”– sometimes he makes me laugh, but he speaks truth! Carry on, Beloved!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Me

I found a little bit of myself today.

I’d been planting a small garden in our yard. Not “officially summer” and already 97 degrees! Into the soil that I’d mounded high went large rocks and flowers from Lowe’s. And the big chunks of beautiful granite, quartz and other natural pieces of earth we found scattered around our yard when we moved in. So I incorporated them into the “design”. Actually, I kept adding stuff with little rhyme or reason. I stuck a “birdbath” in the center — a terra-cotta saucer atop a plant cage. The birds love it!

The only considerations were: flowers had to be shade loving and deer resistant. I’ve since learned that deer-resistant is a bit of a misnomer since our deer neighbors are not that predictable. We are living in their “home” after all. I keep hoping they’ll get lost before they traipse through our yard in the wee hours!

That familiar sense of “me” happened when I tossed two old colorful flowered pillows on the cute white wooden swing.

I found the swing at a popular resale store in Columbia. Tom built a frame for it and hung it in our yard. After the pillows landed, my eyes darted to a little yellowish pot that I’d picked up on trash day—I added it to the scene.

Most of my life I’ve had to pinch pennies so it’s kind of natural for me to use what I have instead of going out and buying something new. It’s fulfilling for me. I think my penny pinching ways are partly from our frugal parents and partly a necessity I learned when I was a single Mom and didn’t have two nickels to rub together.

Anyway, something clicked today. For one of the first times since moving here I remembered how I love to stage and decorate by using what’s at hand. And, of course, I enjoy shopping for home stuff when I need something, too! I don’t dumpster dive only. LOL

I’ve had a lot of sad moments in the last year-and-a-half. If I’m honest, a lot of sad days. Never ever did I want to leave our home of 30 plus years; that my husband mostly built with his own hands. I expected to live out all our days there. Here’s a link to the back story! Moving

But God had other plans as He sometimes does. We Christians may seem a peculiar brood in a lot of ways. We live by faith.

 The path we walk is charted by faith, not by what we see with our eyes. 2 Corinthians 5:7

We don’t make our life choices according to what we naturally desire at the moment. We inquire of God and act on the way we believe He’s leading.

A few years ago, my husband, Tom, was in the market for a new job. After months of praying together for God’s plan to unfold, it happened. He was invited to interview for a position in a hospital in Columbia, SC.  God knew we’d much prefer to stay in Wilmington, (I told Him often enough!). But after the interview, Tom received a job offer so swiftly that it made our heads spin! We came to know and firmly believe that moving to Columbia was what God had in mind for us.

So here we are in South Carolina. Tom has a job he absolutely loves! I’m still adjusting to the house, yard, neighborhood and people. Still missing our niche in Wilmington. I constantly remind myself that we’re here for purposes we may not fully know. Come to think of it, that’s also true of life in general!

What I mean when I say that I found myself is this: I’ve gotten out of the habits I was so deeply invested in. Having family over for Sunday dinners. Getting together with girlfriends and neighbors. Having friends to dinner or hosting parties for all the occasions. Serving folks in my Staging and Organizing business.

I realized when I tossed those pillows on the swing that the way I’m wired hasn’t curled up and died. My gifts for gathering people and warming up our home so people will feel loved and welcomed. This is who I am. I just haven’t known how to be that person in a different place.

Even when it’s difficult I’m determined to be intentional about fulfilling the roles God’s designed for me. Even here. Tonight our neighbors are joining us on the porch for watermelon and conversation.

I hope I can encourage a sister by my journey. We all have stories; each one unique. Mine may presently seem simple compared to those of deep suffering. But, for now, this is my story and my struggle, simple as it may be.

Have you experienced loss or change that’s caused you to misplace yourself? I’ve been surprised to find that it’s hard to replicate myself in a new community. People have been most kind; but it’s not easy to make friends with people who are rich in life-long relationships.

Let’s encourage each other to keep our eyes on the Prize! If we’re breathing, Jesus isn’t finished with us. Let’s be faithful to the life He’s designed for us wherever we find ourselves today!

 

 

How to Curate Your Life

How to Curate Your Life

In the last couple of years, I’ve been very focused on making each hour and day count. You can ask my friends. When they’ve offered to pray, I’ve said, “I want to know my purpose and not waste time!” Maybe there’s something about realizing that you’re well into the second half of life, and that your days are numbered.

In my earlier years, I’d robotically accomplish the next thing. That’s the reality when you’re trying to keep four young ones fed and happy!

Today’s different. There are so many dreams, ideas and opportunities clamoring for my attention. I’ve begun to see my life as a curation of sorts– learning to toss aside things that aren’t for me and attending to things that are.

 

curate: “to take charge of or organize.

to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation.

Eliza Jo & William

Imagine for a minute a beautiful, well curated, warmly lit art gallery such as The Smithsonian. On one wall do you find twenty renowned Renoir paintings? No, each incredible piece of art is encompassed by white space. We’re privileged to focus on one painting without distractions. The empty spaces help us to hone our focus.

Several years ago I helped a lady stage her house to sell. I remember her big smile and sweet disposition and how appreciative she was. Although she was a bit nervous about what I was doing with her belongings, she gave me full permission to shuffle things around. I quickly started removing stuff. Her home was clean and warm but crowded. Too crowded, I felt, for a positive presentation to prospective buyers. Some decorative pieces in the home needed to be culled and some curated. I was a bit uncomfortable as she watched me. “If you move that silk plant from the corner what will you put back in its place?”, she asked.

It was really difficult for her to imagine empty spaces —all the things had been in their assigned places for years. I tried to explain the concept of space and how it gives our eyes and minds rest and enables us to focus on a specific item. For instance, if there are multiple side tables, each one holding a large faux plant, we can be confused about what to look at and enjoy. There is also a practical benefit to having enough space in which to move around. To her credit, she allowed me to work my magic, accommodating me even while she didn’t fully understand. In the end, she agreed that her home was much more appealing, and it sold quickly.

The same kind of curation that takes place in staging a home to sell can also be helpful when arranging the homes we actually live in. The rearranging and culling can bring more comfort and peace.

Curation amounts to focus. The concept can be applied to a closet packed full of clothes. Pare down items to the few comfortable things I love and wear daily and I’ve just curated my collection. The less we own in any category, the more we enjoy. Less doesn’t amount to deprivation, but valuing what’s important and needful.

I once moved to another state with my oldest two children. I packed everything we needed in my station wagon and headed down the highway. We stayed with a family for a few months while looking for a more permanent home.

During those months, I remember thinking that there was nothing I missed. I could actually live without all my other earthly belongings. It was a surprising lesson that never left me.

“Be yourself! Everyone else is already taken.”

When my kids were young, it was important for me to be involved in their schools. I’d say no when asked to head up a large project or to serve as an officer on a board. I’m more of a helper when it comes to big projects. I also wanted my time to be spent around students; especially my children. I ended up doing what I loved and teachers seemed to really appreciate it—I read to their classes. Years later I’d run into former students and they’d comment on the books we read together. It was so nice the way it worked out. Some folks who were gifted administrators and leaders took on the roles I didn’t, and vice versa. You do you. And I’ll do me.

As I’ve spent time in prayer honestly asking what my life’s roles and priorities are, God’s faithfully shown me. I’m committed to the roles He’s called me to focus on in these years.

“No one else can play your part.”

It’s a good feeling to realize all the things you aren’t meant to be or do. I’m not a famous singer, competitive athlete, fashion blogger, shop owner, office worker, nurse, or celebrity. Those things are white space around me. My simple curated life includes being a wife, mother/grandmother, friend, writer, mentor/encourager, a “lover of hospitality” and a stager/organizer. When I discipline myself to focus and work within my spheres, I accomplish more and have less time to obsess over what others are doing. When I spend time comparing myself to women I admire, I always come up short.

What about you, friend? Any thoughts about your life?

“Decide what kind of life you actually want.

Then say no to everything that isn’t that. 

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Matters That Matter

It was a good morning! At first light my coffee brewed as I journaled and enumerated my “gifts”.

#1,491-great hike with Diane and Jim.

#1,492-Abigail’s sweet wedding

#1,494-Fall!

All mornings don’t begin like this. I hate to think how many mornings have started with my clicking on that little multicolored camera icon. Before I know it, 30 minutes have disappeared. And what have I to show for that squandered time? A really cool quote for my journal and several times feeling like I’m not as young, clever or known as I’d like to be. More often than I like to admit I’ve dragged a discouraged attitude into my fresh new day.

But today was different. With my trusty sidekick steaming in my favorite pottery mug, I wrote, prayed and read my devotions for the day as well as chapters in the Old Testament.

I walked four miles, listened to worship music and thought how much lighter I feel when I start the morning this way.

Walking helps me clear my head and think about the things that really matter.

There is a part of me that would like to climb up on my soapbox and tell you what I think about all the craziness in our world today. If I did, my voice would only heighten the cacophony all around, in which it is hard to distinguish a true voice that matters.

Interestingly, a synonym of cacophony is the word babel. Our world today and the Tower of Babel Biblical event have similarities.

There are harsh angry sounds coming from hoards of people. Some of them loosely invoke Jesus’ name. They like to tell us what He stands for and what He would do. Anyone who is championing one people group and crying out murderous threats toward another does not represent Jesus Christ.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” Luke 19

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3

Jesus loves the entire world — not just certain humans. His desire has always been for everyone to know Him and live with Him forever.

I worked as a nanny for several years and simultaneously became part of their wonderful family. I truly love them. When I began, I quickly learned that when it came to some key values, we didn’t share the same world view. I had to discipline myself to reserve opinions on occasion, because I like to discuss things I’m passionate about.

That five year period became an opportunity to revisit my deepest core beliefs. I held them up to scrutiny; placing them on one side of the scale and beliefs of my new “family” on the other side. I weeded out, best I could, acquired “truths” that weren’t really biblical. Even though I know God’s word and have followed Jesus continually for nearly 50 years, some traditions or mores can tag along with Bible Truth and become standard thought.

Over time, I came to a new excitement about my beliefs and how beautifully they have played out in my life. It’s hard to put these things into words.

I’ve heard that a person whose task it is to identify counterfeit bills, learns by intensely studying authentic dollar bills. In the same way, we study God’s Word so we’ll recognize the counterfeit ideas when they come along.

Looking back, I realize that I made an intentional choice to read and meditate on Scripture. Most often it was out of a desperate need to know Him. I wanted Him to be present in every part of my life.

In some seasons, I set the alarm to wake before the kids. When I was single mom, my study time was usually during the kids’ sleep time. It always takes effort and creativity to accomplish what’s important.

My hope is that it will be important enough for you to take a look at your schedule and carve out the time. Eat His Word daily, before the interruptions and noises begin. As Christ followers, we need it more than food. Let it find its home in the depths of who you are.

“Live in Christ Jesus the Lord in the same way you received Him. Be rooted and built up in him, be established in faith, and overflow with thanksgiving just as you were taught. See to it that nobody enslaves you with philosophy and foolish deception, which conform to human traditions and the way the world thinks and acts rather than Christ.”  Colossians 2