Sunday, December 31, 2017

Entanglements

Mama used to “wind off” yarn before she started any crocheting project. She’d fold a piece of paper into a small square and then pull out the end of the yarn from inside the skein and begin wrapping the yarn around the square, turning the square every few seconds. The rotation slowly transformed the square into a ball. By the time all the yarn from the skein had been pulled and twirled in that manner, Mama ended up with a ball about the size of large grapefruit or a small cantaloupe. 

She wound off the yarn in order to avoid having to deal with the inevitable tangles that she’d encounter during the project as the yarn dwindled inside the skein. Untangling the yarn was much easier to do when moving the ball (rather than an  afghan) through the various sizes of loops that were jumbled together. Once all the yarn was on the ball, Mama could crochet efficiently and calmly since the yarn rarely formed anything other than an occasional simple loop that could easily be untangled.

I thought of Mama and her balls of yarn again the morning I re-read the Entanglements chapter in Amy Carmichael’s wonderful devotional book, I Come Quietly to Meet You: An Intimate Journey In God’s Presence. In that chapter, Amy urges Christians to avoid any entanglements that would keep them from being free to serve God. She points out how easy it is to get ensnared by social responsibilities, expectations of others, duties at work and at home, and so forth. The greater our involvements, the less time we have to spend quality time before the Lord—seeking His will, studying His Word, listening to His voice, and learning His ways. Such quiet time spent alone with Him is essential, for that is when we “receive an in-flooding of the Lord’s life…,” she says on page 44.

Thus, you and I must find ways to avoid entanglements that keep us from spending time with Him. And if we’re already ensnared, we’ll do well to find ways out of them, even though that’s awfully hard to do. But we must do it because, as Amy says on p. 46, “We cannot allow ourselves to be entangled and, at the same time, believe that we will have spiritual power."

The beginning of a new year is a wonderful time to decide what we will or will not write in all those beautiful blank spaces on our calendars. We can choose to fill each one to the max, or we can choose to let go of the entanglements that clutter up our calendars and our lives and, thereby, keep us from spending our God-given moments and days on the truly important things: the things that please Him, the things that He commands us to do, the things that will minister to others....

No one serving as a soldier
gets entangled in civilian affairs,
but rather tries to please his commanding officer.
~the apostle Paul, 2 Timothy 2:4, NIV


Thursday, December 28, 2017

Enter On a New Year


I enter on a new year, 
not knowing 
what it will bring forth, 
but surely 
with a thousand reasons 
for thanksgiving, 
for joy, 
and for hope.
~Stepping Heavenward, 
by Elizabeth Prentiss

Friday, December 22, 2017

Follow!

Photo taken Nov. 2017 at Bellingrath Gardens in Alabama.
One recent morning, I woke up with the song, Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow, playing in my mind, like a musical CD set on repeat. As I listened to those words, I thought about the practical aspects of what "rise up and follow" meant for me:
  • Get up out of my warm, comfortable bed (even though I felt reluctant to do so) and begin the tasks I didn’t particularly want to do or feel competent to do.
  • Learn more about Jesus and try to follow His example and keep His commandments. I do the “learning” part reasonably well. For example, I listen to Max MacLean read from the New International Version Bible (via the YouVersion app on my phone). I read and study God’s Word. I read books and commentaries written by other Christians. I discuss insights with other Christians, etc. But I find the “following His example and keeping His commandments” far more difficult to do, despite the subject/skill.
  • Become a mentee, eager to learn from my Mentor, my Teacher, Who says in Matthew 11:28-30, NKJV:

Come to Me, 
all you who labor 
and are heavy laden, 
and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you 
and learn from Me,
 for I am gentle 
and lowly in heart, 
and you will find rest 
for your souls.
For My yoke is easy 
and My burden is light.

That invitation is so wonderful that I can hardly believe it’s meant for me--and for you, too! But He does invite us, imperfect and inept though we are, to follow Him: to go wherever He goes, to listen and learn from all He does and says, to converse with Him as easily as with a dear friend, to consult with Him about matters both great and small….

In order to follow Him, you and I may have to eliminate some current activities and/or greatly reduce time spent on them. Although that will be difficult to do, it will be exhilarating to stay in close contact with Him at all times and to simply be and do whatever He says.


To listen to two different arrangements of that song, click here and here.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Pass It On!

A good friend gave me a "Giving Plate" for Christmas. I'd never seen one before, but I like it. 

Apparently, I'm supposed to place a delicious cake or cookies or other treats on it and pass it on to someone else, along with instructions to enjoy the goodies and then refill the plate before passing it along to someone else.

According to the words on the plate, "With each new sharing with its
gift, the love and blessings grow." Hence, the instructions to "...fill it up and pass it on."

That "Giving Plate"  reminds me of an experience I had years ago. Each time my friend brought home-cooked dinners to my family and me during the weeks I was on strict bedrest in order to keep from going into early labor, I thanked her.

One evening, I said, "I can never repay you for your kindness!"

She smiled and said, "You don't have to repay me. Just pass it on."

Her words have lingered with me these past 40 years, and I have tried to do as she said. 

As I reflect on that, I realize that I can (and should!) pass on much more than sweet treats and homecooked meals. Nothing is more important to pass on to others than the Gospel, the Good News that "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16, NKJV). 

It is the birth of God's Son that we celebrate, especially during the Christmas season. Those of us who have received God's gracious gift surely ought to tell others how they, too, can receive it. That's the BEST gift to pass on.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Pockets of Peace

NOTE: The story below is a fiction one I wrote in 2006. I hope you enjoy it and that you will let me know what you think of it.

A smile begins to form as I sit at the kitchen table and watch the softly-falling snow as it slowly hides the brown earth underneath a blanket of white. A soothing calm settles over me as I gaze at the beauty outside my window.

I linger over my morning coffee, reluctant to focus on the bitter realities of the day. My health is failing fast, as fast as early morning frost disappears under the rays of a rising sun. My daughter Dianne and her family no longer live nearby. Though they had to move across the country to find work, I miss them terribly. And I need them more than ever, now that the man who has been the love of my life for 55 years is slipping away from me, too. Alzheimer’s, the doctor says. Some days, he knows who I am. Other days, he looks at me as if I’m someone he’s supposed to know but doesn’t.

Here lately, my spirit feels as cold as my body did during the harsh winters my parents and I lived in a ramshackle farmhouse heated by a drafty fireplace in the living room and a wood-burning stove in the kitchen.

But, I say to myself as I sip the last of my coffee, we survived those bone-chilling days. By the grace of God, I’ll get through these difficult days, too. I may not be “at ease” every day, but I know I’ll have the strength and resources I need to get through this tough time.

I become even more convinced of that as I recall what happened yesterday. The doorbell rang around 8 a.m. When I peeped through the mini-blinds on the kitchen door, I saw Nancy, one of Dianne’s dearest friends. “My goodness!” I gasped, holding the door wide open. “What on earth do you have?”

“Just a little bit of Christmas cheer,” she said, juggling her festive load as she stepped inside.

Within minutes, she’d placed a miniature Christmas tree on the breakfast table and had unwrapped plates of food that looked more delicious than any I’d seen in magazines.

“Now, for the gifts,” she said cheerily, handing two packages to me. “Let’s get Tom so he can enjoy this, too.”
       
We found him sitting in his recliner facing the picture window, gazing out at the falling snow, his eyes as blank as an unpainted canvas.
       
“Honey,” I said, “come and see what Nancy brought us.”
       
He followed me, his steps (and mine) unsteady and slow. As we seated ourselves at the table, Nancy warmed our food in the microwave oven. “I thought you two would be up and around,” she said. “So, I rushed over to start Christmas day off just right for you.”
       
Other friends dropped by later, bringing gifts and offers of help for Tom and me. One neighbor promised to cut our grass next summer. Another said, “I’ll take you to the doctor whenever you need to go.” The young mother who lives four doors down said, “I’ll deliver your groceries.”

       
So, as I sit here today, I’m greatly comforted by their expressions of love and offers of help. I realize such kindnesses can’t remove my difficulties. But, like the snowflakes drifting down one by one and covering the bleakness of the winter landscape, accumulated kindnesses will mask my hardships—for brief periods, providing me with welcomed pockets of peace like this one.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

No Inkling

Note: The following column originally appeared in the Oct. 2017 issue of Chapel Hill News and Views magazine, for which I've written a monthly column since Feb. 2008. 

Wonderful gifts have been given to me in recent days, gifts I’ve had no inkling were being prepared.

First, an encouraging e-mail arrived from a woman who had read one of my columns in a magazine. (And I’d thought no one was reading them!!!)

Second, an email arrived from another stranger. She said that my story (The Cry of a Woman’s Heart) that had been published in 2002 in Chicken Soup for the Volunteer’s Soul was one of the 101 stories chosen for publication in Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Book of Christmas Miracles. (And I had no inkling that anyone was re-reading that story!)

The third gift (a copy of Hannah Whitall Smith’s devotional book, God Is Enougharrived in my mailbox. When I opened the padded envelope, I learned that a dear friend who knows how much I am strengthened by the writings of HWS had ordered it and had it shipped directly to me.

In each of these situations, I’d had no inkling that a special blessing was headed my way. No inkling the impact of each of those special gifts would have on my life. No inkling that these gifts would become the inspiration for this column. But God knew my needs and chose to use those dear people to encourage and uplift me at a time when I was feeling really “down” due to ongoing struggles with vertigo and extreme physical weakness. (The worse I felt, the more I doubted my ability to write the messages God sent from His heart to my heart to the hearts of others.)

As I reflected on that experience, I saw the similarity between it and the Chicken Soup story in which I told about how God used people to meet the cries of a woman’s heart.
     
She had no inkling that help was on the way. No inkling it would arrive the very day her need was most desperate. No inkling that I, a total stranger, would show up at her door with donated resources that were an answer to her cries for help.
      
That experience had God’s name written all over it! I was merely the delivery person He chose to use. Likewise, the special gifts I received recently also have God’s name written all over them. Two came from total strangers; one came from a friend. To none of them had I expressed any desire for what they provided. Yet, my loving heavenly Father knew my needs, for I’d cried out to Him about them. Thus, He motivated the people to send the gifts directly to me –and at the time when I needed them most! How awesome is that??? How awesome and wonderfully kind God is!!!
      
It thrills my very soul to know that God can do such miracles and that I don’t have to know what good things He’s preparing for me in order to love Him and trust Him. I just have to believe that He IS working all things together for His glory and for my good, as Romans 8:28 says.
      
Even if He, in His infinite wisdom, should choose to send “bad news” into my life, I pray I will have the faith to look upon those things as gifts from His loving hand, gifts He chooses to use to bless me, gifts that will give me opportunities to learn to trust Him in ALL situations.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Gift of Light

I received a Christmas card from a 90-year-old lady I’ve known over 30 years. She’s a tiny little woman with a lot of spunk. For example, even after battling cancer and undergoing the hard-to-endure treatments for it, she didn't let that and the permanent damage they created stop her from doing the things she loved. After the death of her beloved husband, she continued to live in the home they'd shared and to stay as independent as possible.

Her annual Christmas letter this year began with these words: "As we approach Christmas, let us remember how God has blessed us." Then she wrote about happy times and special people who had ministered to her. She also briefly mentioned several situations that surely had caused her much sadness and frustration, yet she did not whine about any of them, not even the malfunction of her computer and the loss of four years of data or her disappointment over having to miss an event she loved to attend. She spoke highly of the assisted living place where she now resides and expressed gratitude for the good care she receives there.

She concluded her one-page letter with these words: "I hope you have had a wonderful year and this Christmas is one of your happiest. Thank you for your prayers, love, and friendship. I continue to need your prayers."

I didn't immediately re-fold the letter and replace it inside the beautiful card she'd sent. Instead, I re-read it several times, allowing her words and her example to inspire and instruct me. I realized she was living proof that:
  • faith in God can remain and will strengthen us even in the most difficult circumstances
  • it's possible to remain thankful to God and others even (and especially!) when we're coping with great losses
  • prayers--our own and those of others--help sustain us
  • our light can (and should!) shine brightly for others even when we may think it's not.

I'm grateful to have received the gift of another letter from her, a gift that provided light for my journey through life.

...let your light shine before people,
so that they can see your good deeds and
give honor to your Father in heaven.
~Jesus (Matthew 5:16, NET)